Imperial Purple of Rome


There is no evil that does not promise inducements. Avarice promises money, luxury, a varied assortment of pleasures, ambition, a purple robe and applause.  Vices tempt you by the rewards they offer.”



Our ancestors shared our love for colour and would sacrifice great amounts of wealth to obtain the plants and substances that could be made into dyes. You had to be exceedingly rich to afford Tyrian purple, named after Tyre, the city that manufactured this exclusive dye.  Prized above silver or gold, its colour would never fade; only grow vividly brighter under the nurturing warmth of the sun.   Purple, from the beginning, assumed the symbol for royalty, pomp, power, wealthy and majesty.

The ancients believed that Tryian purple was discovered by Heracles, or rather his dog, which had a fondness for dining on the tender snails he found along the coastline of the Levant. It was only a matter of time before Heracles put two and two together to establish the cause of the purple stain around the mouth of his dog. It was truly a gift from the sea, for there was only one source for this brilliant colour – the secretions of a specific gland of the unfortunate sea snail called the Murex brandaris.  Whether the discovery was Hercules’s dog or the Minoans as archaeological evidence suggests, it was an immediate success with the power elite of emperors, kings, and clergy.  And if the Minoan theory is correct, Tryian purple has been around for at least 3500 years.  Purple has never gone out of style, gracing the toga wear of the Roman Republic, the mosaics of the Emperor Justinian in Ravenna, and the haute contour designs on the runways of Paris.

Purple includes a range of hues that occur between red and blue. We experience purple through our senses – the heady juice of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, the pleasantly bitter taste of eggplants, and the sweetness of ripe plums. We admire the delicate majesty of amethyst and linger over gardens filled with fuchsia and azaleas. Nature, with her infinite generosity, continues to bring colour to our world.  As John Keats, once wrote, “The poetry of the earth is never dead.” 

“If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.” 
 Rainer Maria Rilke, Rainer Maria Rilke’s the Book of Hours: A New Translation with Commentary