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Corinthian Bronze

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The ancients were expert metallurgists that had a knack for creating wonderful metal alloys that rank nowhere near the metal alloys of today. While not exactly as lightweight or resistant to damage, ancient alloys were well noted for their unsurpassable beauty and elegance – a feature no longer common in metalworking found in this modern age. One of the most notable and mysterious of these alloys is known as Corinthian bronze.

What Is Corinthian Bronze?

Known alternately as Corinthian brass or Corinthiacum, Corinthian bronze is a metal alloy with no known existing samples. Highly prized in classical antiquity, this alloy was said to be more precious than gold, with statues, objets d'art, and vessels made of the alloy being reputedly priceless. [1] While ancients texts are replete with mentions of Corinthian bronze, no known examples of such metallurgical craftsmanship exist today, and so far, no accurate reproductions of the alloy itself has been made, as the process of creating Corinthian bronze is lost through time.

Considered a type of brass, Corinthian bronze was so named for its reputed place of origin – Corinth – a then thriving and well-known center of metalworking of the highest calibre. Of the many metallurgical marvels of the time, Corinthian bronze was said to be one of the finest, perhaps allotting it a position as material expressly used in ceremonial vessels and items. The Romans considered this alloy far more valuable than gold and silver, although the composition of the alloy itself is thought of as nothing more than a combination of gold, silver, and copper in varying amounts. The historian Pliny the Elder distinguished four types of Corinthian bronze. The first was known as luteum, an alloy of copper and gold; the second type was known as candidum which was an alloy of copper and silver – an early precursor to sterling silver; the third was an alloy composed of gold, silver, and copper combined. [2]

Pliny also describes a fourth variety of Corinthian bronze known as hepatizon, which was also an alloy of gold, silver and copper but one that possessed a uniquely dark, inimitable hue which made it highly valuable and aesthetically pleasing, although it was considered inferiot in value to the first three types of Corinthian bronzes. [2] The historian and former keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum, A. S. Murray once mentioned the probable constituents of Corinthian bronze as being composed of 7% gold, 20% silver, and 73% copper, although this is not attested to be an exact or historically accurate proportion of the alloy, nor did Murray specify which type of Corinthian bronze this composition would have been called; although its high silver content may point out to it being the formulae for the creation of candidum. [3]

Nowadays, there are items that are sold with the moniker of Corinthian bronze, usually owing to the fact that it is inspired by, or made from Corinth; although authentic artifacts made from Corinthian bronze are either rare, or inauthentic examples simply passed off as purported Corinthian bronze. Despite the modern advancements in metallurgy, a true recreation of Corinthian bronze has yet to be made, making it an alloy that will perhaps be an eternal enigma worthy of alchemical pursuit.



Corinthian Bronze - References:

[1] http://www.bartleby.com/81/4111.html
[2] Pliny the Elder - "The Natural History", chapter 3. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0137:book=34:chapter=3
[3] Carol C. Mattusch - "Corinthian Bronze: Famous But Elusive" http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/4390725

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