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The Murex brandaris
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The Murex brandaris.

Byzantine mosaic of Jesus in royal purple

Byzantine mosaic of Jesus in royal purple.

Sea snails famous for proving beautiful, high-quality purple dye. The dye was non-fading and very often used for royal clothes, and called royal purple.
The Murex itself is medium to largely sized, between 2 and 10 cm long.
Phoenicians are often attributed to be the first to extract dye from these snails, in the early 2nd millennium BCE. It even appears that the Murex has given the people the name by which they are known, derived from the Greek word phoinix means 'purple red'. In particular, the town of Tyre was famous for the snail and the dye; another name for royal purple is tyrian purple.
The dye was very expensive, and became f.x. the exclusive colour used by the High Priest in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem. It always remained a colour of prominence, and in the Byzantine Empire, the use of the dye became restricted to the royals only, used for royal robes, and certain special garments.
The destruction of Constantinople in 1204 caused an end to advanced production of royal purple. Other sorts of red became associated with royalty: vermilion and crimson.

There are only two types of Murex that gave this dye, the brandaris and the trunculus. They were native to tropical waters, common in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as along the Atlantic coast of Morocco.
Snails were collected from coastal waters, rarely more than a few metres deep. The snails were first left to decompose, causing a terrible stench. The methods used after this point, that of extracting the dye, are lost and has never been reconstructed.

Early 2nd millennium BCE: The method of exploiting dye from the Murex is discovered, most likely centered to the town of Tyre.
7th century: The Phoenicians found the colony of Migdol on the Atlantic coast (at modern Essaouira, Morocco), exploiting the banks of Murex used for producing purple dye.
2nd century BCE: Roman traders build a trade station called Meninx on the southern shores of Jerba (Tunisia), exporting cloth dyed royal purple from the Murex.
1204 CE: Constantinople is destroyed, and the administration if, and production of, royal purple falls apart.

By Tore Kjeilen