This is an online event.
Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
Perhaps no other color in history has been so celebrated and so reviled as the color purple. Although it has come to be known as the shade of royalty, the workers who labored to make the mucus-based dye in the Roman Mediterranean were often viewed as lowly and as smelly as the mollusks the harvested. During the later Roman empire, these workers were even subject to state control within a caste-like system that made their jobs hereditary. If we look to the history of another purplish hue, indigo, we see a similar regulation of the labor force — and the very bodies — of those enslaved workers used to produce it in the Antebellum South. From diamonds to coal to Tyrian purple to indigo, the workers who create luxury goods often do not enjoy the same status as their products. This lecture looks at the archaeological and literary evidence for these often-invisible workers in order to reconstruct the lives of ancient dye workers, while also reminding us of the enslaved labor that continues to create the products we use or the buildings we admire even today.
Sarah E. Bond, “The Hidden Labor Behind the Luxurious Colors of Purple and Indigo” Hyperallergic (October 24, 2017).
Andrea Feeser, Red, White, and Black Make Blue: Indigo in the Fabric of Colonial South Carolina Life. (University of Georgia Press, 2013).
Amalie Skovmøller, Facing the Colours of Roman Portraiture: Exploring the Materiality of Ancient Polychrome Forms (De Gruyter, 2020).