Corinthian bronze
Corinthian bronze, also called Corinthian brass or æs Corinthiacum, was a highly valuable metal
A metal , is an element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat. Metals are usually malleable and shiny, that is they reflect most of incident light...

An alloy is a mixture or metallic solid solution composed of two or more elements. Complete solid solution alloys give single solid phase microstructure, while partial solutions give two or more phases that may or may not be homogeneous in distribution, depending on thermal history...

 in classical antiquity
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

. It is thought to be an alloy of copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

 with gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 or silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...

 (or both), although it has also been contended that it was simply a very high grade of bronze
Bronze is a metal alloy consisting primarily of copper, usually with tin as the main additive. It is hard and brittle, and it was particularly significant in antiquity, so much so that the Bronze Age was named after the metal...

, or a kind of bronze that was manufactured in Corinth
Corinth is a city and former municipality in Corinthia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Corinth, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit...

. It is referred to in various ancient texts, but no known examples of Corinthian bronze exist today.

Classical antiquity

Of the known types of bronze or brass
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc; the proportions of zinc and copper can be varied to create a range of brasses with varying properties.In comparison, bronze is principally an alloy of copper and tin...

 in classical antiquity (known in Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 as aes and in Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 as χαλκός), Corinthian bronze was the most valuable—even more valuable than gold. Statue
A statue is a sculpture in the round representing a person or persons, an animal, an idea or an event, normally full-length, as opposed to a bust, and at least close to life-size, or larger...

s, vessels, or other objects that were formed of this metal were priceless. Vases and other ornaments that were made by the Romans
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 of this metal were of greater value than if they had been made of silver or gold. Those who accurately documented this metal, including Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

, distinguished it into three kinds, depending on the metal that is added to the copper base: in the first, gold is added (luteum); in the second, silver (candidum); in the third, gold, silver, and copper are equally blended. Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 and Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

 both comment that Corinthian bronze, unlike many other copper alloys, is resistant to tarnishing. Pliny also refers to a fourth, dark alloy, known as hepatizon
Hepatizon , also known as Black Corinthian Bronze, was a highly valuable metal alloy in classical antiquity...


According to legend, Corinthian brass was first created by accident, during the burning of Corinth by Lucius Mummius Achaicus
Lucius Mummius Achaicus
Lucius Mummius , was a Roman statesman and general, also known as Leucius Mommius. He later received the agnomen Achaicus after conquering Greece.-Praetor:...

 in 146 BC, when the city's immense quantities of gold, silver, and copper melted together. Pliny (HN, xxxiv. 7), however, remarked that this story is unbelievable, because most of the creators of the highly-valued works in Corinthian brass in Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 lived at a much earlier period than second century BC. According to Pliny, the method of making it had been lost for a long time, although some sources describe the process by which it is created, involving heat treatment
Heat treatment
Heat treating is a group of industrial and metalworking processes used to alter the physical, and sometimes chemical, properties of a material. The most common application is metallurgical. Heat treatments are also used in the manufacture of many other materials, such as glass...

, quenching, leaching
Leaching (metallurgy)
Leaching is a widely used extractive metallurgy technique which converts metals into soluble salts in aqueous media. Compared to pyrometallurgical operations, leaching is easier to perform and much less harmful, because no gaseous pollution occurs...

, and burnishing, in a process similar to depletion gilding
Depletion gilding
Depletion gilding is a method for producing a layer of nearly pure gold on an object made of gold alloy by removing the other metals from its surface. It is sometimes referred to as a "surface enrichment" process.-Process:...

. The lost ability to give an object made from bronze the appearance of gold or silver may be one strand behind the later alchemical
Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose early practitioners’ claims to profound powers were known from antiquity. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied; these include the creation of the fabled philosopher's stone possessing powers including the capability of turning base...

 quest to turn base metal
Base metal
In chemistry, the term base metal is used informally to refer to a metal that oxidizes or corrodes relatively easily, and reacts variably with diluted hydrochloric acid to form hydrogen. Examples include iron, nickel, lead and zinc...

s into precious metal
Precious metal
A precious metal is a rare, naturally occurring metallic chemical element of high economic value.Chemically, the precious metals are less reactive than most elements, have high lustre, are softer or more ductile, and have higher melting points than other metals...


Outside classical antiquity

Articles made of Corinthian brass are mentioned in the Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

. The Beautiful Gate (or Nicanor Gate) of the Second Temple
Second Temple
The Jewish Second Temple was an important shrine which stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem between 516 BCE and 70 CE. It replaced the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BCE, when the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon...

 in Jerusalem, mentioned in the Book of Acts 3:2–10, was a large, 18 metre (60 feet) wide structure said to be either solid, or covered in plates of, Corinthian brass. Another Biblical reference, in Book of Ezra
Book of Ezra
The Book of Ezra is a book of the Hebrew Bible. Originally combined with the Book of Nehemiah in a single book of Ezra-Nehemiah, the two became separated in the early centuries of the Christian era...

 8:27, is usually translated "fine copper [or bronze], precious as gold".

Similar alloys are found outside Europe. The Hông-hee vases (1426) of China were said to be made of a similarly-mixed metal allegedly formed when the Imperial palace was burnt to the ground. These vessels are of priceless value. An alloy of gold and copper, known as tumbaga
Tumbaga was the name given by Spaniards to a non-specific alloy of gold and copper which they found in widespread use in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and South America.-Composition and properties:...

 was in widespread use in Pre-columbian
The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during...

Mesoamerica is a region and culture area in the Americas, extending approximately from central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, within which a number of pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and...

, and has an essentially identical composition to Corinthian brass. A similar metallurgical
Metallurgy is a domain of materials science that studies the physical and chemical behavior of metallic elements, their intermetallic compounds, and their mixtures, which are called alloys. It is also the technology of metals: the way in which science is applied to their practical use...

 process for "the colouration [chrôsis] of gold" is described in the 15th recipe in the Leyden papyrus X
Leyden papyrus X
The Leyden papyrus X is a papyrus codex written in Greek at about the end of the 3rd century A.D. or perhaps around 250 A.D. and buried with its owner, and today preserved at Leiden in the Netherlands. It contains alchemical texts, mostly concerned with making dyes and alloys which can be made to...

, from Thebes
Thebes, Egypt
Thebes is the Greek name for a city in Ancient Egypt located about 800 km south of the Mediterranean, on the east bank of the river Nile within the modern city of Luxor. The Theban Necropolis is situated nearby on the west bank of the Nile.-History:...

 in Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, dated to the 4th century AD.


See also

  • electrum
    Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver, with trace amounts of copper and other metals. It has also been produced artificially. The ancient Greeks called it 'gold' or 'white gold', as opposed to 'refined gold'. Its color ranges from pale to bright yellow, depending on the...

     - a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver, often with trace amounts of copper, often used in antiquity
  • orichalcum
    Orichalcum is a metal mentioned in several ancient writings, most notably the story of Atlantis as recounted in the Critias dialogue, recorded by Plato. According to Critias, orichalcum was considered second only to gold in value, and was found and mined in many parts of Atlantis in ancient times....

     - another metal mentioned in ancient texts, later used to refer to brass
  • shakudō
    Shakudō is a billon of gold and copper , mostly designed for its dark blue-purple patina. It was historically used in Japan to decorate katana fittings such as tsuba and kozuka...

     - a Japanese billon (alloy)
    Billon (alloy)
    Billon is an alloy of a precious metal with a majority base metal content . It is used chiefly for making coins, medals, and token coins.The word comes from the French bille....

     of gold and copper with a dark blue-purple patina
  • thokcha
    'Thokcha' "sky-iron" are tektites and meteorites which are often high in iron content, refer Iron meteorite. The usage of meteoric iron is common in the history of ferrous metallurgy. Historically, thokchas were held in esteem for sacred metallurgical fabrication of weapons, musical instruments...

     - an alloy of meteoric iron or "thunderbolt iron" commonly used in Tibet
    Tibet is a plateau region in Asia, north-east of the Himalayas. It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups such as Monpas, Qiang, and Lhobas, and is now also inhabited by considerable numbers of Han and Hui people...

External links

  • Aes, from Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
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