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Egypt), were deposited in the places whence they have been exhumed (ancient archive-offices) when attached by a string to documents, as is clearly proved by certain papyri still extant with similar clay seals appended. Others of later date, I have little doubt, served as moulds for making the pastes described above, and the coarseness of the material will account for that roughness of surface which so distinguishes the antique from the modern productions. This view is confirmed by the fact that the moulds used for the issue of the extensive base silver forgeries of the Lower Empire are also made of the same material and in a very similar manner; these coin-moulds have been found abundantly in Somersetshire, Yorkshire, and in France at Aries and Lyons.3 Many of the clay impressions of intagli come from Syria, a country always famed in ancient times for its glass manufactures. Some, however, have taken these stamped pieces of terra-cotta for "tesserae hospitales," or credentials carried by travellers as means of introduction from one friend to another at a distant city. In the 'Pseudolus' of Plautus the Macedonian soldier leaves an impression of his signet, his own portrait, in the hands of the slave-dealer, with a part of the purchase-money of the girl whom he has bargained for, and subsequently sends his servant Harpax with the remainder of the sum, who, to authenticate his mission, brings with him another impression of the same signet This Plautus styles Symbolum; and the various counters still preserved so abundantly in lead, ivory, and clay, are supposed to have been intended for similar purposes. The famous courtezan Glycera, amongst her other witticisms recorded by AthensBUS, on receiving the clay impression of her lover's

3 Hence it is certainly allowable analogous process of manufacturing to conclude that moulds of the same the cheap paste gems so much in material would be employed for the demand at the same period.

signet, a pre-arranged signal that she was to visit him, replies to the messenger, "Tell him I cannot come, for it is muddy (or mud)," the Greek word admitting both meanings; hence the joke. That too enthusiastic collector, Verres, has it laid to his charge by Cicero as a most heinous crime, that, having been greatly pleased with the seal on a letter, he sent for the signet itself, and never returned it to the owner, a proceeding which .would be reprobated and imitated by many antiquarians of the present day.


To treat of gems and to omit the Murrhine would be like writing a history of this century which should contain no mention of Napoleon, so fierce a war has been waged by theoretical archaeologists with one another about the real nature of this substance. Some have absurdly supposed it to be Chinese porcelain, basing this theory entirely upon the line of Propertius—

"Murrheaquo in Tarthis pocula cocta focis."

"And murrhine goblets baked in Parthian fires."

A mode of expression which is nothing more than one of his favourite poetical conceits for conveying the same idea as Pliny, when he says "Some consider it to be a liquid substance solidified by subterranean heat." This, by the way, is a strange anticipation of the modern theory ascribing the production of Agates and Jaspers to igneous action. One consideration alone suffices to show the utter absurdity of the porcelain hypothesis, as though Pliny, a man so skilled in the arts, could ever have mistaken the Chinese painting of figures, animals, or flowers, on their porcelain ware, for natural spots and colours on a real stone. Besides, the material itself was brought to Rome in the rough, and there wrought up into dishes and flat bowls, for which purpose alone it was suited, in consequence of the want of thickness of the strata. Pieces however were obtained of considerable superficial extent; for, amongst the valuable objects displayed at Pompey's triumph, was a draught-board four feet long by three wide, formed out of only two slabs. This was the first occasion on which the stone was introduced into Rome, and Pompey dedicated to Jupiter Capitolinus the unworked pieces (lapides) and the vases borne in procession during the triumph.4

The dimensions of a slab were never beyond those required for a dish (abaci escarii); and the trulla, especially particularised as usually made of this stone, was precisely of the form and size of a modern breakfast-saucer. These Murrhine vessels were, in spite of their high price, accumulated in large numbers by the wealthy Romans; those belonging to a single senator, and which, on the owner's death, Nero seized for himself, were sufficient, when set out as a spectacle to the public, to fill a theatre in the Palace-gardens of considerable capacity. They are mentioned by various ancient authors as being in use down to the close of the empire; and legal writers especially distinguish Murrhina from vessels of glass or of the precious metals. Heliogabalus is recorded to have employed Murrhine vases, as well as those of Onyx, for the basest purposes,5 which seems to have been regarded as the very extreme of licentious extravagance. As the material was indestructible, we should expect to find these

* This was his third triumph to Albania, Iberia, Crete, the Basterni,

celebrate his victories over the Cili- and the kings Mithridates and Ti

cian pirates, Fontus, Armenia, Cap- grancs. padocia, Paphlagonia, Syria, Judasa, 6 "I" murrhtata ct onyebtata minxit."vases, either whole or in fragments, amongst ancient remains, on the axiom that whatever cannot be annihilated must exist in some place or another, and the only vases we do meet with under circumstances fulfilling all the requirements of the case, are of Agate, fragments of which 1 have seen at Rome belonging to bowls of extraordinary diameter, fully accounting for the vast sums paid by the luxurious for the rarities amongst this class. For instance, Petronius possessed a trulla valued at 3000 talents, which, immediately before killing himself, he broke to pieces, in order to disappoint the expectations of Nero, who himself is said to have afterwards paid the same sum for a smaller vase. These fragments even now are found so abundantly at Rome as to prove the extensive use of these Agate vessels in ancient times: they are now cut up into brooch-stones, if not large enough to be preserved as curiosities for their own sake. Perfect vessels, as may be supposed, are of the greatest rarity.6

Pliny describes the Murrhine as a stone covered with spots varying from white to purple, which last colour at that time included all shades from dark-red to indigo. The substance also exhibited a mixture of tints, the purple passing into a flame-colour, and the milky shades turning to a red. Such changes I have myself witnessed in an Agate trulla belonging to an acquaintance, the colours of which are a nearly transparent white, milky in parts, and a reddishbrown, going through many curious changes of hue as the light is allowed to pass through the vessel at different angles. Agates present all possible varieties of colour: they occur with shades of Sapphire, blue mixed with the white, with well-defined stripes of the brightest opaque colours, and the China Agate has a milk-white ground, in parts semitransparent, variegated with a dark-red; and this last seems to come nearer to Pliny's poetical but somewhat obscure description than any other stone. "Murrhine vases have a lustre without any strength, or more properly a polish than a lustre. But their value lies in their variety of colours, the spots occasionally turning themselves into purple and white, and a third made up of both; the purple, by as it were a transition of colour, becoming fiery, or the milky hue turning red. Some especially admire the edges of these spots, and a kind of play of colours such as is seen in the rainbow. Opaque spots are most esteemed; any part transparent or pale is a defect, as are also flaws and warts not projecting from the surface, but as if implanted within the substance itself. There is some recommendation also in their agreeable smell." This description exactly agrees with that of a polished Agate: the absence of lustre, the infinite variety of shades, and even the defects noticed, can be observed in no other material of sufficient size for the purposes to which the Murrhine was employed. It has been supposed that this stone was Fluor Spar, the Blue John of Derbyshire; but, besides the fact that this is almost peculiar to England, I do not believe that fragments of it have ever been found amongst Roman remains. Even granting that a few fragments of the fluor spar of undoubted antiquity did occur, the great frequency of the pieces of Agate vases is a sufficient proof that they once constituted the class of vessels so abundant under the Empire. For, if the whole vessels of an imperishable substance were so plentiful at a former period, it is a logical consequence that at least their fragments must be as abundant at the present day, as no possible circumstance could have swept them out of existence.

* The splendid Agate vase of the Musco Borbonico was purchased for the sum of 10,000 ducati, or 1500?.

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