Purple in Ancient Greek Dress

Purple was coveted as a symbol of wealth in Ancient Greece.
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In ancient Greece, purple was a lavish symbol of social status and wealth, and in high demand as a clothing dye. Purple Greek textiles were coveted all over the Mediterranean world and in Persia. All-purple garments were worn by kings and generals, and society’s elite, including politicians, courtesans, and actors all wore purple as a sign of their affluence. Purple garments were also used as offerings and gifts for the Gods as idols were often dressed in purple robes.

1 Dye Materials

The purple dye was procured from shellfish, mainly snails, found in the Mediterranean. It was an expensive and involved process, as it required large quantities of shellfish. The Greeks mined every coast in the vicinity of their empire and established dye centers in Tyre, Hermione and Sidon. As the demand for purple colored clothing began to supersede the supply, less costly methods of producing purple were developed using insects, mulberry juice, amaranth blossoms and crushed bloodstone.

Rachel Alexander is a cultural and political area specialist of South Asia and the Middle East. She received the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in 2011, and again in 2012, to live in northern India and study advanced Hindi. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Loyola University of Chicago.