Skip to main content Accessibility help

Purple Pasts: Color Codification in the Ancient World

  • Charlene Elliott


While developments in intellectual property have opened the door for trademarking color alone or color per se, it is important to observe that color codification is not a new phenomenon. This article outlines the quest to metaphorically trademark purple in antiquity and to provide it with clear “secondary meaning.” It highlights how language, literature, and sumptuary law was deployed to infuse purple with the appropriate symbolism, and it links contemporary debates to some of the historic moves to sequester color.



Hide All
Ball, Philip. 2001. Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour. London: Viking.
Bandstra, Barry. 1995. Reading the Old Testament. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.
Birren, Faber. 1963. Color: A Survey in Words and Pictures, from Ancient Mysticism to Modern Science. New York: Van Nostrand.
Bosworth, Brian. 1980. Alexander and the Iranians. The Journal of Hellenic Studies 100:121.
Bowra, C. M. 1941. Xenophanes, Fragment 3. The Classical Quarterly 35 (3/4): 119–26.
Brewer, E. Cobham. 1998. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Language, 15th ed. London: Harper Collins Publishers.
Brusatin, Manilo. 1991. A History of Colors. Boston: Shambhala Publications.
Coombe, Rosemary. 1999. The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Coppersmith, Walter. 1993. The Color Conundrum Continues. The Cumberland Law Review 24 (2): 299323.
Davidson, Kristi. 1996. Supreme Court Says Yes to Color, Pure and Simple: Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co. University of Dayton Law Review 21 (3): 855–84.
Druding, Susan. 1982. A History of Dye from 2600 BC to the 20th Century. Paper presented at Convergence, Seattle, WA. (accessed May 24, 2007).
Gage, John. 1993. Color and Culture: Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Garfield, Simon. 2000. Mauve: How One Man Invented a Colour that Changed the World. London: Faber and Faber.
Gibbon, Edward. 1990. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. New York: The Modern Library. (Orig. pub. 1776.)
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang. 1994. Theory of Colours. Trans. Eastlake, Charles Locke. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Orig. pub. 1840.)
Herodotus. 1936. The History of Herodotus. Trans. Rawlinson, George. New York: Tudor Publications.
Houston, Mary. 1959. Ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine Costume and Decoration. London: Adam and Charles Black.
Hunt, Alan. 1996. Governance of the Consuming Passions: A History of Sumptuary Law. New York: St. Martin's Press.
James, Richard. 1996. Trademark Law—Lanham Trademark Act of 1946. Duquesne Law Review 34 (2): 419–34.
Jensen, Lloyd B. 1963. Royal Purple of Tyre. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 22 (2): 104–18.
Kearns, Jean Hayes. 1996. Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co.: Orange You Sorry the Supreme Court Protected Colour? St. John's Law Review 70 (2): 337–58.
Kemp, Martin. 1990. The Science of Art. London: Yale University Press.
Moore, Adam. 2003. Intellectual Property: Theory, Privilege, and Pragmatism. Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 16 (2): 191216.
Murray, Oswyn. 1972. Review: History of Purple as a Status Symbol in Antiquity by Meyer Reinhold. The Classical Review 2 (22): 293.
Overcamp, Elizabeth. 1995. The Qualitex Monster: The Color Trademark Disaster. Journal of Intellectual Property Law 2 (2): 595620.
Ovid. 1994. Metamorphoses. Trans. Garth, Samuel and Dryden, John. The Internet Classics Archive. (accessed May 24, 2007).
Peters, John Durham. 1999. Speaking Into the Air. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Petronius. 1930. Satyricon. Trans. Allinson, Alfred R. New York: Panurge Press. (accessed May 24, 2007.
Pharr, Clyde. 1952. The Theodosian Code and Nnovels and the Sirmondian Constitutions: A Translation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Pliny the Elder. 1855. The Natural History. Book 9, Chapter 60. Trans. and eds. Bostock, John and Riley, H. T. (accessed May 24, 2007).
Poovey, Mary. 1998. A History of the Modern Fact. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Reinhold, Meyer. 1970. History of Purple as a Status Symbol in Antiquity. Brussels: Collection Latomus.
Rose, Carol M. 2002. Romans, Roads and Romantic Creators: Traditions of Public Property in the Information Age. Law and Contemporary Problems 66:89110.
Rossotti, Hazel. 1983. Colour. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.
Schneider, Jane. 1978. Peacocks and Penguins: The Political Economy of European Cloth and Colors. American Ethnologist 5 (3): 413–47.
Schneider, Jane. 1987. The Anthropology of Cloth. Annual Review of Anthropology 16:409–48.
Scott, Samuel P. 1973. Corpus Juris Civilis: The Civil Law. New York: AMS Press.
Stieglitz, Robert. 1994. The Minoan Origin of Tyrian Purple. The Biblical Archaeologist 57 (1): 4654.
Velde, Francois. 2000. The tincture purpure. Heraldica, April. (accessed May 24, 2007.
Virgil. 1909. Aeneid. Trans. Dryden, John. (accessed May 24, 2007.
Visintine, Laura. 1996. The Registrability of Color Per Se as a Trademark After Qualitex . Saint Louis University Law Journal 40 (2): 611–47.
Werner, Louis. 1998. Via Porphyrites. Aramco World 49 (6): 29.

Purple Pasts: Color Codification in the Ancient World

  • Charlene Elliott


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed