). 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
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
, where working in iron is meant (Homer Od. ix. 391
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.
) 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
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.
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
, which is of golden hue when divided into thin layers, and
, 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
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.
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
Ep. i. 7, 23.
) For the same reason we have aes
, meaning debt, and aera
in the plural, pay to the soldiers
; Plin. H. N.
). The Romans had no other coinage except copper, till B.C. 269, five years
before the First Punic War. See As