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Aes

χαλκός). Much confusion has arisen from the fact that both Greeks and Romans use only one term for copper and for that mixture of copper and tin which we call bronze. Excepting perhaps gold, copper is the easiest of metals to find and fashion, being found in lumps, and not, like iron, hidden in ore. Hesiod and Lucretius, and ancient writers generally, made the Age of Bronze precede that of Iron, and that they were right is abundantly proved by the excavations of modern times. There seems to have been a time immediately succeeding the Stone Age when implements were beaten out of pure copper, but it did not last long: the custom of adding tin to copper was introduced, and from that time until the close of ancient history, copper unmixed was seldom used for any purpose, various metals being added to it to increase its hardness. Bronze, containing about 12 to 14 per cent. of tin and 88 to 86 per cent. of copper, was made at a very early period in Egypt and Asia. The use of it was introduced into Greece in prehistoric times, probably by the Phœnicians. Tin is not found in Greece, and, in fact, exists in but few parts of Europe: the Phœnicians are supposed to have travelled in search of it as far as Cornwall and India. The likeness of the Greek word for tin (κασσίτερος) to the Sanskrit kastira seems to indicate that the original supply of Greek tin came from India. To account, however, for the enormous quantity of tin which in the Bronze Age must have circulated through Europe is not easy.

In Homer's time bronze is the usual material for tripods, vessels, armour of defence, and even spears, though iron was beginning to be used for offensive weapons. It is probable that soon after the Homeric age weapons of bronze fell out of use. This compound, however, continued to be largely employed for utensils of all kinds, for works of art and other purposes. The interior of the treasuries of Mycenae and Orchomenus were lined with bronze; bronze was used in historical times for vessels, candelabra, chariots, for the inscribing of treaties and laws, for personal ornament, and in places for coin. Also all instruments used for religious purposes were made of bronze from motives of religious conservatism. The abundance of copper sufficiently accounts for its general use among the ancients. We have a remarkable result of this fact in the use of χαλκεύς and χαλκεύειν, where working in iron is meant (Homer Od. ix. 391; Aristot. Poët. 25). One of the chief sources of copper in antiquity was Cyprus; from the name of that island is derived the Low Latin cuprum, and our word copper. The metal was also procured in Euboea, near the town of Chalcis, and in other parts of Greece; also in Campania in Italy, in Germany, and elsewhere. But the most celebrated bronze did not come from those regions, but was an object of special manufacture elsewhere. Two of the most celebrated mixtures were the Delian (Plin.xxxiv. 9) and the Aeginetan (l. c. 10), which were much used in art. We learn that Myron used the former mixture, Polyclitus the latter. The Delian was reckoned the more precious of these, but still more valuable was the hepatizon or liver-coloured bronze, and most valuable of all the Corinthian. With regard to the last-mentioned, a silly story was told that it was produced by a fortuitous mixture of melted metals on the occasion of the burning of Corinth by Mummius. Pliny (xxxiv. 7) sensibly remarks that this story is absurd, because most of the authors of the highly valued works in Corinthian bronze lived at a much earlier period. A large number of varieties of bronze of various colours were known to the ancients, and it seems that they tinted their statues by making them of a judicious mixture of sorts. Thus we find mention of a bronze Iocasté that was pale, of an Athamas that blushed, and of a Pallas with ruddy cheeks made by Phidias. The ancients also understood the art of hardening the metal by dipping it in water and exposing it to the air. Even in Homer there is one passage ( Od. ix. 391) which is supposed to allude to this process which recent experiments have proved possible. The mixture of copper and zinc which we call brass was known to the later Greeks and Romans, and by them called orichalcum (see Plin.xxxiv. 4). The chief authority as regards the kinds and working of bronze is Pliny (Pliny H. N. xxxiv.). He distinguishes copper ore into two kinds: cadmea, found in Italy and Germany, and chalcitis in Cyprus and elsewhere. Of Corinthian bronze ( 8) he distinguishes three kinds: in the first silver predominates, in the second gold, in the third the metals are balanced and harmonized. Of Cyprian bronze ( 94) the chief classes are coronarium, which is of golden hue when divided into thin layers, and regulare, which can be hammered and drawn out into bars and wires. A commoner kind of copper (not Cyprian), called caldarium, does not give to the hammer, and is only fit for melting. At Capua they added to copper to make bronze, 10 per cent. of Spanish plumbum argentarium, which was made of tin and lead in equal proportions. Pliny states that copper was largely used in medicine ( 100 foll.), being either mixed with milk or sulphur for external application to wounds, or taken internally, mixed with honey, in order to cause vomiting. For a mass of details of this character we must refer the reader to Pliny himself.

In the early bronze-work of Greece and Etruria, the manufacturing processes were simple. The usual process for utensils and ornaments was to work plates with the hammer into the required shape, fastening them with nails or solder, and beating up a pattern on them in repoussé work, the whole being finished with a graving-tool. Small figures were sometimes cast in the lump. When we are told that the Greeks, Rhoecus and Theodorus, first cast in bronze (Pausan. ix. 41.1), we must perhaps understand by this that these artists introduced the method of casting statues hollow, not solid, as their predecessors had done. These artists may have lived about the 60th Olympiad, and certainly soon after that time bronze statuary spread with great rapidity over Greece; and indeed bronze continued a favourite material with sculptors until the decay of art. Of the formative process we have a vivid picture on a Greek vase of good period, engraved as the frontispiece to Mr. Murray's History of Greek Sculpture. The extraordinary abundance of works of art in bronze, found on almost all ancient sites, especially at Herculaneum and Pompeii, is a notable fact.

Copper as Coin.—In the coinage of the Greeks and Romans copper is seldom unalloyed. A number of analyses made of late years of Greek coins show a proportion of tin of from 10 to 16 per cent., and an occasional 2 to 5 per cent. of lead. Roman aes signatum in republican times shows a proportion of 5 to 8 per cent. of tin and 16 to 29 of lead. After the time of Augustus a change was introduced in the composition of Roman coin. Thenccforward sestertii and dupondii were made of brass, that is to say, of a mixture containing 20 per cent. of zinc and 80 of copper; while the asses were made entirely of copper. Money of copper and bronze stood on a very different footing in Italy to that on which it stood in Hellas and Asia. For in western countries, copper was the usual medium of exchange and measure of value; the chief currency consisted in early times of huge ingots of copper stamped with an official type; and when gold and silver came into use, they at first passed merely as the equivalents and representatives of so much copper. In the East, on the other hand, where gold and silver were the true media of exchange, and copper was used only for very small values, it was seldom minted save as money of account. (See Numismatics.) The Ptolemies of Egypt minted copper pieces of full value; and Brandes (Gewichtswesen, p. 292) is disposed to think that the early Athenian and other copper money was minted up to full weight for a time. But this was exceptional; and in almost all Hellenic settlements, copper money was a currency of tokens; and the weight of it is consequently most irregular. Copper money was first minted in Greece towards the end of the fifth century, at which period the cities of South Italy, Sicily, and Hellas alike began to strike copper pieces in place of the minute silver coins which had hitherto passed as small change. Conservatives objected to the innovation, as we know from Aristophanes (Ran. 725).

Since the most ancient coins in Rome and the old Italian states were made of aes, this name was given to money in general, so that Ulpian (Dig. 50, tit. 16, s. 158) says, Etiam aureos nummos aes dicimus. (Cf. Hor. Ars Poët. 345; Ep. i. 7, 23.) For the same reason we have aes alienum, meaning debt, and aera in the plural, pay to the soldiers (Liv.v. 4; Plin. H. N. xxxiv. 1). The Romans had no other coinage except copper, till B.C. 269, five years before the First Punic War. See As.

hide References (6 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (6):
    • Homer, Odyssey, 9.391
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 34.1
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 34.4
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 34.9
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 1.7
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 4
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