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Corinthian bronze, also called Corinthian brass or æs Corinthiacum, was a highly valuable metal alloy in classical antiquity. It is thought to be an alloy of copper with gold or silver (or both), although it has also been contended that it was simply a very high grade of bronze, or a kind of bronze that was manufactured in Corinth. It is referred to in various ancient texts, but no known examples of Corinthian bronze exist today.
Additional recommended knowledge
In classical antiquity
Of the known types of bronze or brass in classical antiquity (known in Latin as aes and in Greek as χαλκός), Corinthian bronze was the most valuable—even more valuable than gold. Statues, vessels, or other objects that were formed of this metal were priceless. Vases and other ornaments that were made by the Romans of this metal were of greater value than if they had been made of silver or gold. Those who accurately documented this metal, including Pliny the Elder, distinguished it into three kinds, depending on the metal that is added to the copper base: in the first, gold is added (luteum); in the second, silver (candidum); in the third, gold, silver, and copper are equally blended. Plutarch and Cicero both comment that Corinthian bronze, unlike many other copper alloys, is resistant to tarnishing. Pliny also refers to a fourth, dark, alloy, known as hepatizon.
According to legend, Corinthian brass was first created by accident, during the burning of Corinth by Lucius Mummius Achaicus in 146 BC, when the city's immense quantities of gold, silver, and copper melted together. Pliny (HN, xxxiv. 7), however, remarked that this story is unbelievable, because most of the creators of the highly-valued works in Corinthian brass in Ancient Greece lived at a much earlier period than second century BC. According to Pliny, the method of making it had been lost for a long time, although some sources describe the process by which it is created, involving heat treatment, quenching, leaching, and burnishing, in a process similar to depletion gilding. The lost ability to give an object made from bronze the appearance of gold or silver may be one strand behind the later alchemical quest to turn base metals into precious metals.
Outside classical antiquity
Articles made of Corinthian brass are mentioned in the Bible. The Beautiful Gate (or Nicanor Gate) of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, mentioned in the Book of Acts 3:2–10, was a large, 18 metre (60 feet) wide structure said to be either solid, or covered in plates of, Corinthian brass. Another Biblical reference, in Book of Ezra 8:27, is usually translated "fine copper [or bronze], precious as gold".
Similar alloys are found outside Europe. The Hông-hee vases (1426) of China were said to be made of a similarly-mixed metal allegedly formed when the Imperial palace was burnt to the ground. These vessels are of priceless value. An alloy of gold and copper, known as tumbaga was in widespread use in Pre-columbian Mesoamerica, and has an essentially identical composition to Corinthian brass. A similar metallurgical process for the "the colouration [chrôsis] of gold" is described in the 15th recipe in Leiden Papyrus X, from Thebes in Egypt, dated to the 4th century AD.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Corinthian_bronze". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|