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

29 thoughts on “Imperial Purple of Rome

  1. What a sublime last quote, says she, who has chosen to wear her favourite amethyst ring today. I must have sensed the colour of your post would be purple, like your beautiful scarf.


    • I often think of this poem – Warning, by Jenny Joseph. In fact, on the day that I left my career behind, I went out and bought a purple cloak! I love wearing it!!

      When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
      With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
      And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
      And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
      I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
      And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
      And run my stick along the public railings
      And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
      I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
      And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
      And learn to spit.


    • And to think that you are now in the lands of the ancients as you write your comments!!!! I am so glad that you are finding a way to connect with us! I feel the warmth of colour and sunshine coming through your posts. 🙂


  2. Great post, lovely lifetime quotes as usual … and looking at your photo, I think purple is a big compliment to you, makes you glow!
    Have a lovely day, Rebecca.
    Greetings from the Far North, the country of red-white-blue


    • Thank you!!! I was thinking of you when I included the last quote! I am going to look up what the red, white, blue signify. You have just given me a new project!!! Many hugs!!!!


  3. Such a lovely post Rebecca.
    I’ve worn a lot of purple since I was young, but now in my seventies, it seems rather aging… too old lady-ish, so I wear aubergine with different shades of deep red and wine colours…mixing them up seems less purple!!!
    A favourite purple top was embroidered with turquoise.. they looked wonderful together…
    in fact there are so many colours that look wonderful with purple if one is brave !


    • When I was young, I was told that since I had red hair I should only wear green. It was the dictates of style at the time! Now, I find that green and purple are an excellent combination. You are right there are many combinations. As for bravery – my dear friend, you are the bravest person I know. You go where angels fear to tread…. 🙂


  4. Thank you Rebecca for your amazing bouquet which I’m not sure that I deserve..
    .I suppose those were the days when blue and green should never be seen !!
    I think people with red hair look absolutely amazing in red !!!!
    Have always longed for red hair and green eyes!!! – so Pre-Raphaelite and romantic, lucky Rebecca !!!


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