The Ten Books on Architecture, 7.7

Vitruvius  translated by Morris Hicky Morgan

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Natural Colours

7As for colours, some are natural products found in fixed places, and dug up there, while others are artificial compounds of different substances treated and mixed in proper proportions so as to be equally serviceable. We shall first set forth the natural colours that are dug up as such, like yellow ochre, which is termed ωχρα in Greek. This is found in many places, including Italy, but Attic, which was the best, is not now to be had because in the times when there were slaves in the Athenian silver mines, they would dig galleries underground in order to find the silver. Whenever a vein of ochre was found there, they would follow it up like silver, and so the ancients had a fine supply of it to use in the polished finishings of their stucco work.

2Red earths are found in abundance in many places, but the best in only a few, for instance at Sinope in Pontus, in Egypt, in the Balearic islands of Spain, as well as in Lemnos, an island the enjoyment of whose revenues the Senate and Roman people granted to the Athenians.

Paraetonium white gets its name from the place where it is dug up. The same is the case with Melian white, because there is said to be a mine of it in Melos, one of the islands of the Cyclades.

Green chalk is found in numerous places, but the best at Smyrna. The Greeks call it θεοδοτειον, because this kind of chalk was first found on the estate of a person named Theodotus.

Orpiment, which is termed ἁρσενικὁν in Greek, is dug up in Pontus. Sandarach, in many places, but the best is mined in Pontus close by the river Hypanis.

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