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METALLUM (μέταλλον). The Greek word bears only the meaning of mine; the Latin means either a mine or its product, mineral or metal.

I. Metals in Antiquity.--Of the precious metals--gold, silver, electrum, and copper--we have spoken under AURUM, ARGENTUM, ELECTRUM, and AES It remains to speak briefly of the commoner metals.

α) Iron (ferrum, σίδηρος). Although iron ore is common in all countries, yet the difficulty of smelting and manufacturing iron is so great that it is one of the latest of metals to come into use in the course of history. Of this fact the Greeks were aware, and the knowledge moulded the traditions recorded in Hesiod's Works and Days, in which the heroic age is represented as an age of bronze: τοῖς δ᾽ἦν χάλκεα μὲν τεύχεα, χάλκεοι δέ τε οἰ_κοι, χαλκῷ δ᾽εἰργάζοντο, μέλας δ᾽οὐκ ἔσκε σίδηρος (50.150). The transition from this age of bronze to an age when iron was commonly employed was very gradual, and took place in various countries at different times. In Greece it was in progress in the Homeric age. In the Iliad swords are often made of iron (18.34, μὴ λαιμὸν ἀποτμήξειε σιδήρῳ), but it is specially in use for ploughshares and other agricultural implements (Il. 23.826): the axle too of Hera's chariot is of iron (Il. 5.722). But defensive armour, as well as the heads of axes and points of spears and arrows, were in the Homeric age still made of bronze; and the epithet πολύκμητος which is applied to iron shows that it was still worked with difficulty. Many writers have supposed that the word κύανος in Homer stands for steel; but it has been proved by Lepsius that this is incorrect, and that it really means either lapis-lazuli or an artificial imitation of that mineral, and the view of Lepsius has been confirmed by the discovery of a frieze of alabaster and glass (θριγκὸς κυάνολο) in one of the rooms of the very early palace at Tiryns (Schliemann, Tiryns, p. 287).

From this time the use of iron gradually spreads. In one passage of the Odyssey (9.391)) knowledge is shown of the process of hardening iron by repeated plunging when hot in water [LACUS]; in Hesiod's Shield of Herakles, that hero is represented as arming himself with a helmet of steel, κυνέη ἀδάμαντος. In the age of Croesus, Glaucus of Chios is said to have discovered how to solder iron (σιδήρου κόλλησις). After that, iron was used in Greece not only for arms and utensils, but also for works of art. But we must beware of supposing that the use was at this time universal. Herodotus says that the Massagetae in his time used no iron, and that the Aethiopians in the army of Xerxes used arrows with points of stone, and lances with points of horn. The general use of iron passed slowly westward and northward, and took several centuries to reach the Gauls, Britons, and Germans, as is proved by the long-continued prevalence of bronze as a material for weapons in cemeteries, such as that of Hallstadt.

The nature of the process by which an iron age succeeded in various countries an age of bronze is well discussed by Mr. John Evans in the Introduction to his work on Ancient Bronze Implements.

Herodotus and Pausanias give us a clear record of this process as regards Greece. In the time of Croesus, during a war with Tegea the Spartans found bones supposed to belong to Orestes under a smithy used for the manufacture of iron weapons (Hdt. 1.67). Commenting on this story, Pausanias (3.3, 6) remarks that the arms of the heroic age preserved in Greek temples, such as the spear of Achilles and the sword of Memnon, were of bronze, but that by the time of Croesus iron was generally used for weapons.

We are told by Pliny (Plin. Nat. 14.139) that when Porsena had conquered the Romans, he forbade them to use iron except for agricultural purposes; which would indicate that they were already accustomed to use arms of iron. In their earlier encounters with the Gauls the Romans are said to have had the advantage of using swords of a superior quality to those of their enemies, which bent at every stroke, and had to be straightened by the foot. Mr. Evans, however, considers that these inferior weapons were made, not of bronze, but of soft iron. The Cimbri who invaded Italy in the time of Marius had, according to Plutarch, not only swords and javelins, but even breastplates of iron. In Caesar's time the Gauls were expert in working iron, and even made chains of it for their ships (B. G. 3.13).

In Greece the cities of Chalcis and Lacedaemon were celebrated for their iron goods. The sword-blades of Chalcis were praised in Aeschylus [p. 2.167](Plut. de Def. Orac., 43): weapons and agricultural implements of steel were largely made at Lacedaemon (Steph. Byzant. s. v.). Not unfrequently iron was used as a material for works of art: Alcon made an iron statue of Herakles, and iron vessels were dedicated in the temple of Mars Ultor at Rome (Plin. Nat. 34.141). But as a rule the Greeks did not excel in the working of iron, but imported goods in this metal fiom nations at a lower level of civilisation. Most noted were the Chalybes of Pontus, known to Aeschylus (Prom. V. 714) as σιδηροτέκτονες Χάλυβες: Xenophon (Xen. Anab. 5.5, 1) says they lived entirely by iron-work. The manufacture of arms and armour was carried to a high point of perfection by the people of Cyprus, who furnished Alexander the Great with a sword, and Demetrius Poliorcetes with a cuirass of wonderful power of resistance. In the time of Pliny (Plin. Nat. 34.145) the best iron came from China, the second best from Parthia. Iron was found in large quantities in the island of Elba (Aethalia), and thence exported to the neighbouring Populonia, where it was worked. Toletum in Spain was celebrated even in Roman times for sword-blades, and the toreutic art was applied to iron at Cibyra.

We are told that a currency of iron was in use at Sparta in antiquity, and this story has become more credible since the discovery of iron coins of Argos and other Peloponnesian cities. The people of Byzantium also used iron coins (Pollux, 9.78).

The extreme variation from place to place in the value of metals may be shown from the statement of the author of the Periplus R. M. (p. 59), that on the Arabian shore of the Red Sea gold passed as equivalent to three times its weight of copper, half its weight in iron, and one-tenth its weight in silver.

β) Lead (Plumbum nigrum; μόλυβδος). An account of the sources and uses of lead in antiquity will be found in Pliny (Plin. Nat. 34. § § 156 ff.). Its easiness to work and its imperishable nature made it useful for certain purposes, as for coffins and pipes. Its great value in medicine as a cooling remedy was also fully recognised. But it was scarcely used for purposes of art.

γ) Tin (Plumbum album). Few metals were in antiquity more widely used or more indispensable than tin. The implements and arms of the bronze age, the chief means of living during many centuries, contain almost invariably a proportion of tin. Tin (κασσίτεπος) was in the Homeric age largely used for the decoration of arms. Yet tin is a rare metal, and not found in the Levant. Herodotus (3.115) gives as its source islands of the Western Sea, the Cassiterides, generally identified with the Scilly Isles, where tin is abundant. Diodorus derives the metal from the British coast. But Pliny (34.156) rejects these accounts as fabulous, and says that it came from Gallaecia and Lusitania in Spain. The likeness of the Greek word κασσίτερος to the Sanskrit kastîra has induced some moderns to think that the chief source of tin was the coast of India. In any case it is probable that the purveying of it to the peoples of South Europe was an employment of the Phoenicians, and one of the chief sources of their wealth.

δ) Stannum. Pliny (34.159) says that when mixed ores of silver and lead are melted together, the first liquid product is stannum, the second silver. Stannum was used for plating bronze vessels, for mirrors, horse-trappings and other purposes.

ε) Quicksilver (argentum vivum; ὑδράργυρος, ἄργυρος χυτός). The use of quicksilver in gold mining was known to the ancients (Pliny, Plin. Nat. 33.99). It was commonly produced artificially out of cinnabar (Dioscor. de M. M. 5.110).

ζ) Zinc. The metal zinc does not seem to be mentioned by ancient writers, the word σποδός (Diosc. de M. M. 5.85) meaning only oxide of zinc. But in the analysis of Roman coins zinc is found in considerable proportions. It is present in some of the pieces of aes grave found at Vicarello; and in the large coins of yellow brass, sestertii and dupondii, issued by Augustus and his successors, the proportion of zinc to copper is sometimes more than 1 to 3 (Mommsen, Röm. Münzwesen, p. 763).

η) Nickel. This metal was used for coins by some of the Greek kings in India in the 3rd century B.C. (Numismatic Chronicle, 1868, p. 305).

The passages in ancient writers bearing on the subject of metals and minerals are collected and translated into German by Lenz in his Mineralog. d. alten Griechen und Römer, 1861. [P.G]

II. Working of Mines in Antiquity.--The subject of the working of mines in ancient times is obscure and difficult. It is only with reference to the silver and lead mines of Laurion in Attica, and the gold and silver mines in Spain, that we have any considerable data. Boeckh in his Dissertation on the Silver Mines of Laurion (printed as an appendix in the English translation of his Public Economy) discusses fully all that is known about the former. Xenephon, de Vectigalibus, 4, 2 (a chief source of information on the subject), says that the mines had been worked from time immemorial. The mines were worked by means of shafts and adits, and by the removal of whole masses, so that supports alone (μεσοκρινεῖς) were left standing. The processes of fusion carried on in furnaces on the spot seem on the whole to have been of the same imperfect kind as those carried on in other ancient mines. This is proved by the fact that at the present time a very handsome revenue is obtained by a French company from the working of the scoriae of the mines of Laurion by modern processes. The ores were smelted by means of charcoal (ἄνθρακες), the chief supply of which came from Acharnae. The state was sole proprietor of the mines; but they were never worked directly by the state, nor did the state ever let them for a term of years, like other landed property. Portions of them were sold or demised to individuals, with the reservation of a perpetual rent, and these leases were transferred from one person to another by inheritance, sale, and every kind of legal conveyance. The sale of the mines (that is, of the right of working them) was managed by the Poletae (POLETAE); this right was purchased at an appointed price, in addition to which the possessor paid the twenty-fourth part of the net produce as a perpetual tax. The purchase-money was paid direct to the state; the metal-rents were, in all probability, let to a farmer-general. The income derived from the [p. 2.168]mines of course depended on a variety of circum-stances, and consequently the revenue fluctuated. In the time of Socrates it was less than at the time when Themistocles persuaded the Athenians to build a fleet with the proceeds of the mines instead of dividing them. Boeckh estimates the annual revenue at that time as 33 1/3 talents. Citizens and isoteleis could alone possess mines. The number of owners was considerable. The common price of a share in a mine was a talent, or a little more. The labour was performed by slaves either belonging to the mine-owners or hired: great capitalists, such as Nicias, who owned 1000, bought slaves and let them out to the mine-owners at a drachm per diem. There was a special mining law (μεταλλικὸς νόμος) and a peculiar course of legal procedure in cases relating to mines (δίκαι μεταλλικαί), which in the time of Demosthenes were annexed to the monthly suits. [EMMENOI DIKAI]

Herodotus (6.46) tells us that the gold mines of Scapte Hyle brought the Thasians an annual income of 80 talents, and the mines on Thasos itself a sum not so great.

Diodorus Siculus (5.36), Strabo (iii. p.146 if.), and Pliny (H. N. xxxiii.) are our chief sources of information for the working of mines in Roman times. Diodorus (5.36) describes the elaborate system of shafts and galleries in the mines in Spain, the methods of draining them by cross drains and the use of the pump invented by Archimedes, and the miseries of the workmen, who were slaves and criminals (metallum was one of the regular penalties for lesser offences). Much gold was obtained in Lusitania and Gallicia by washing the river-sands in wicker baskets or cradles, just as placer gold is worked in modern times. Strabo (iii. p.146) describes the process of refining the gold found in nuggets (πάλαι, βοῦλοι). The nuggets were first refined by means of an astringent clay containing vitrol (στυπτηριώδης γῆ): the metal thus obtained was called electrum, a mixture of silver and gold. This was again subjected to a refining process, the silver was burnt away (ἀποκαίεσθάι) and the gold remained. On account of its soft nature gold was melted by means of a fire of chaff (ἄχυρος), the heat of coal (ἄνθραξ) being considered too strong and wasteful. Gold dust was obtained by washing in pits dug in the beds of the streams (ἐν δὲ ρείθροις σύρεται καὶ ἐν σκάφαις, ὀρύττεται φρέαρ, δὲ ἀνενεχθεῖσα γῆ πλύνεται). They built tall furnaces for smelting the silver, that the fumes, which were considered baleful, might be carried high into the air.

Pliny (Plin. Nat. 33.66) describes three methods of gold mining, and the elaborate method by which water for the washings was brought in a series of pipes or troughs along the precipitous sides of the mountains in Gallicia. By this method of washing some authors said that 20,000 lbs. of gold were obtained annually in Asturia and Gallicia.

Under the Roman Empire, the mines and quarries of all kinds, whether in the imperial or senatorial provinces, were worked for the emperor, and formed part of the revenue for the Fiscus, and also for the emperor's private purse, although under the Republic mines of all kinds belonged to private persons. Sometimes even under the Empire private persons owned saltworks and quarries. Thus Herodes Atticus worked the quarries of Pentelic marble. Quarries in some cases belonged not to the Fiscus, but to the emperor's private purse (patrimonium).

There was no central organisation for working the mines, but each mine or mining district was worked separately under an overseer (procurator, e.g. procurator aurariorum), probably himself a slave; sometimes the emperor let out the mines to a company of publicani. The revenue was managed by departments, consisting of a commentariensis, a dispensator, a tabularius, and an arcarius. Officers such as a tribunus militum, a centurion, or decurion, were detailed to superintend the carrying on of the operations. Under the Empire the workmen were slaves, free labourers, soldiers, or criminals. In the latter case there was a military station always near the mines. (Marquardt, Staatsverwaltung, 2.252 seqq.) [VECTIGALIA]


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