Royal Purple

This shell is known as the Purple Dye Murex Bolinus brandaris, and it produced one of the most expensive dyes found in ancient times. The colour is known as Tyrian Purple, and was used by the Phoenicians and Romans. This dye was used to create royal and priestly garments, as up to 10,000 shells would be needed to dye just 1kg of wool. In nature the mollusc produces this chemical to scare away predators, and is a milky colour when submerged in water. When dried in air it turns a dark purple.

Posted by Clare but written and researched by Lisa French (biology intern, Spring 2010) who worked diligently on the wonderful conchology collections held at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Jenny Hack says:

    Pliny describes in some detail the source and method of extraction of the dye, and says the best quality was made at Tyre, probably the reason it is still called 'Tyrian Purple'. It was prepared from several mollusks including Murex brandaris and Purpura haemastoma, found on the shores of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coast, including the British Isles. The colour varies from purplish red to crimson depending on the species of mollusk and method of extraction. The dye was also used for the purple colour in some of the early English,Irish and French manuscripts, going out of general use by the 8th Century.


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