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Black bronze and the ‘Corinthian alloy’

  • D. M. Jacobson (a1) and M. P. Weitzman (a2)

Two recent studies by A. R. Giumlia-Mair and P. T. Craddock have been devoted to a form of bronze having a blackish tint.1, 2 The authors there describe examples ancient and modern, from as far apart as Mycenean Greece, Egypt, Rome, China and Japan. In Japan such bronze is prominently represented in decorative art and known as Shakudo.

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1 Giumlia-Mair A. R. and Craddock P. T., ‘Corinthium Aes. Das schwartze Gold der Alchimisten’, Antike Welt 24:5 (1993), 162.

2 Craddock P. and Giumlia-Mair A., ‘Hśmn-Km, Corinthian bronze, shakudo: black-patinated bronze in the ancient world’, in La Niece S. and Craddock P.. (eds.), Metal Plating and Patination: Cultural, Technical and Historical Developments (Oxford, 1993), pp. 102127.

3 Craddock P. T., ‘Corinthian Bronze: Rome's Purple Sheen Gold’, MASCAJ 2:2 (1982), 4041; id., ‘Gold in Antique Copper Alloys’, Gold Bulletin 15 (1982), 69–72.

4 Jacobson D. M. and Weitzman M. P., ‘What was Corinthian Bronze?AJA 96 (1992), 237–47.

5 English translation by Rackham H., in Pliny, Natural History, vol. ix (Loeb edition: Cambridge, MA and London, 1952), p. 133.

6 See p. 111 in the article cited in n. 2.

7 Apart from these references to continuous substances, Pliny also uses mixtura of smells (17.239), light and colour (11.148; 35.30, 46; 37.80), or simply of a list of varied items (2.241). At 8.213 he uses mixtura of animal breeding, and at 16.46 he writes of trees that are closely inter-related: tanta natalium mixtura est, while at 17.187 he warns against the planting of different vines in close proximity as mixtura generum. Pliny also uses mixtura meteorologically, of a blend of heat and moisture (2.190); in the same way the colours of the rainbow are due to the mixtura of clouds, fire and air (2.150). None of these instances, of course, in any way support the view that mixtura could indicate a combination of one metal (Corinthian bronze) juxtaposed with others (gold and silver) in which each retains its characteristic properties including colour.

8 Mishnah Middot 2.3; Tos . Yoma 2.4; TB Yoma 38a. See Jacobson and Weitzman , op. tit., pp. 240–41.

9 Dirksen P. B., ‘The Old Testament Peshitta’, in Mulder M. J. (ed.), Mikra. Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible (Assen. 1988), pp. 255–97, esp. pp. 259, 295.

10 This is MS. Mm 6.29. See Wright W., A Catalogue of the Syriac Manuscripts preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, 1901), pp. 1036–7. For a translation of this passage into French, see Berthelot P. and Duval R., La chimie au moyen âge. Tome II: l'alchimie syriacque (Paris, 1893), p. 230.

11 Engels D., Roman Corinth: An Alternative Model for the Classical City (Chicago, 1990), pp. 206–7, with n. 66; Jacobson and Weitzman , op. cit., p. 244 with n. 65.

12 Berthelot and Duval , op. cit., p. 223.

13 The French translation of the whole passage is in other respects broadly reliable, though the Syriac form w-mthblyn which puzzled Berthelot and Duval (p. 222, n. 3) seems a scribal error for w-mthmyn ‘and are heated’.

14 Giumlia-Mair and Craddock (see n. 1), p. 36 (illustration no. 18).

15 Oguchi H., ‘Japanese Shakudo: Its History, Properties and Production from Gold-containing Alloy’, Gold Bulletin 16 (1983) 125–32; Murakami R., Niiyama S. and Kitada M., ‘The Characterization of Black Surface of Shakudo’, Kobunkazai no Kagaku 33 (1988) 2432 (Japanese).

16 Lechtman H., ‘Tradition and Styles in Central Andean Metalworking’, in Maddin R. (ed.), The Beginning of the Use of Metals and Alloys: Papers from the Second International Conference on the Beginnings of the Use of Metals and Alloys, Zhengzhou, China, 21–26 October, 1986 (Cambridge, MA, 1988) pp. 344–78, esp. 373.

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The Classical Quarterly
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  • EISSN: 1471-6844
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