The Roman 'Frantic Passion for Purple' (Pliny 9.66): A Geographic Analysis of the Murex Dye Industry from the late Roman Republican Period to Late Empire.
Abstract: Murex shells (Murex
trunculus) were popular in antiquity because they were used to create the
famed “Tyrian Purple” dye. During the Roman Republic and Empire, the
dye was expensive and employed to display social status among the ruling elites. This
thesis focuses on the archaeological evidence of Roman murex
production, distribution, and consumption, and includes a provisional ... read moregazetteer of
murex producing sites. Analysis of the data suggests that
around the mid 3rd century B.C.E., there was an expansion of
murex dye production sites which subsequently contracted during
the later Empire. Sites also cluster on the coast of North Africa, and in this region, have
the longest period of usage. This thesis argues that the expansion of
murex dye sites can be attributed to the influx of agricultural
and luxury goods being imported into Rome during the late Republican and early Empire
period. During this period, North Africa was also exporting olive oil, fish products, and
textiles to Rome. Because the coastal North African cities were already exporting many
products to Rome, had the labor and production facilities necessary to create the dye, and
also clearly had access to abundant murex snail population, it
made sense that North African cities would also add murex dyed
textiles to the exports sent to Rome. During the Empire, murex
dye continued to grow in popularity, which in fact influenced the contraction of dye sites
shown in the gazetteer. This contraction occurred in the 3rd century C.E., during the
”Imperial Crisis”. The elite were fearful of their status symbol losing
its meaning and value because of the increased consumption. As a result, Roman emperors
then placed restrictions on the consumption of purple dye, thereby decreasing the number of
dye sites needed to supply the Empire.
Thesis (M.A.)--Tufts University, 2011.
Submitted to the Dept. of Classics.
Advisor: Bruce Hitchner.
Committee: Matthew Harrington, and David Proctor.
Keywords: Archaeology, Classical Studies, and Geographic Information Science and Geodesy.read less