or MU´RREA VASA
were first brought to Rome in 61 B.C. by Pompey, who, after his triumph,
dedicated cups of this material to Jupiter Capitolinus (Plin. Nat. 37.18
). Pliny (ibidem
) states that the price of these vases was
continually increasing, and that 70,000 sesterces were paid for a cup
holding three sextarii.
He also speaks of a
which cost 300,000 sesterces, and of
a drinking cup for which Nero paid a million sesterces. The costliness of
these objects may t also be inferred from Seneca, de Ben.
7.9; Martial, 3.82
; Plin. Nat. 37.20
. [p. 2.182]
According to Pliny's account (H. N.
37.8), the material came
from various littleknown regions in Parthia, the best specimens being
obtained from Carmania. He states that it was supposed to be a moist
), solidified by subterranean
heat; that the pieces never exceeded the size of small tablets (abaci
) in breadth, and were rarely as thick as the
drinking cups above quoted. They were also fragile, and the chief value lay
in. the variety of the colours, which were purple and milkywhite, with
subtle gradations and interchanges between the two. Some connoisseurs
chiefly admired an effect of iridescence; others admired opaque fatty spots
), crystalline deposits (sales
), and warts (verrucae non
eminentes, sed . . . plerumque sessiles
). The smell was also
There has been much discussion as to the nature of the material thus
described by Pliny, and it has frequently been held that the murrhina vasa
were true Chinese porcelain. Confirmation is sought for this view in the
words of Propertius (4.5
), “Murreaque in Parthis pocula cocta focis.”
It is also argued that the importation of porcelain from the far East is
proved by the discovery of Chinese vases in Egypt. But probably all such
vases belong to a very late date. One specimen, for example, which is now in
the Egyptian Collection of the British Museum, is inscribed with a line from
a Chinese poet of the 11th century A.D. Moreover, the ancient witnesses to
the fact that the material is a natural mineral are too numerous and too
clear in their testimony, to let this theory be admissible. In addition to
Pliny's account above quoted, the following authorities may be cited:--Plin. Nat. 33.5
, 37.204; Sidon. Apoll.
11, 20; Peripl. M. Erythr.
100.48; cf. also Dig. 34
No mineral, however, has been suggested which answers very exactly to Pliny's
description. The onyx has been proposed, but our authorities plainly imply
that the onyx was a material akin to but yet distinct from that here in
question. (Cf. Lamprid. Heliogab.
32, and Peripl. M.
p. 27, 100.48.) Jade, fluorspar, and a special kind of
agate, the “Chinese agate,” have also been advocated, but at
present the problem is unsolved. (King, Precious Stones, Gems, and
p. 237; Marquardt, Privatleben d.
p. 743; Blümner,
iii. p. 276.)