the First Week of Lent
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Fig. 302—Murex trunculus
There is no reason to doubt that this color was obtained, like the far-famed Tyrian purple, from the juice of certain species of shell-fish. The dye called purple by the ancients, and its various shades, were obtained from many kinds of shellfish all of which are, however, ranged by Pliny under two classes: one called 'buccinum,' because shaped like a horn, found, he says, in cliffs and rocks, and yielding a sullen blue dye; the other called 'purpura,' or 'pelagia,' the proper purple shell, taken by fishing in the sea, and yielding the deep red color which was chiefly valued. Both sorts were supposed to be as many years old as they had spirals round. The juice of the whole shell-fish was not used, but only a little thin liquor called the flower, contained in a white vein or vessel in the neck. The larger purples were broken at the top to get at this vein without injuring it, but the smaller were pressed in mills. The Murex trunculus was the species used by the ancient Tyrians. It is of common occurrence now on the same coasts, and through-out the whole of the Mediterranean, and even of the Atlantic. The ancients applied the word translated 'purple,' not to one color only, but to the whole class of dyes manufactured from the juices of shell-fish, as distinguished from the vegetable dyes, and comprehending not only what is commonly called purple, but also light and dark purple, and almost every shade between.
Purple was employed in religious worship both among Jews and Gentiles. It was one of the colors of the curtains of the tabernacle; of the vail; of the curtain over the grand entrance; of the ephod of the high priest, and of its girdle; of the breast-plate; of the hem of the robe of the ephod, etc. The Babylonians arrayed their idols in it. It was at an early period worn by kings (). Homer speaks as if it were almost peculiar to them. In , reference is found to Lydia, of the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple cloth. The manufacture seems to have decayed with its native city. A colony of Jews, which was established at Thebes in Greece in the twelfth century, carried on an extensive manufactory for dyeing purple. It ultimately became superseded by the use of indigo, cochineal, etc. whence a cheaper and finer purple was obtained, and free from the disagreeable odor which attended that derived from shell-fish.