Died in the Wool
Text and art by Anupam Arunachalam
This might not be easy to appreciate in a world where most industrial paint is made in labs using chemicals, but in the old world, colour used to come from things. Specifically, natural things.
In ancient times, it was easy(ish) to get your clothes dyed blue and red and green, but finding a good purple dye was almost impossible. The only way to make purple dye that didn’t wash off or fade away in the sun was to… well, you read the comic.
This ‘Tyrian Purple’ was more expensive by weight than gold, and the process of making it was kept secret for a long time. A whole bunch of kings and emperors made it illegal for common folk to wear purple clothes, and soon the colour came to signify the monarchy. If a baby was born to a sitting monarch, they were said to be ‘born in the purple’, which solidified their claim to the throne.
In 40CE, Ptolemy of Mauretania, a client of Rome, was welcomed into Rome and then promptly assassinated by the emperor, Caligula. The ancient historian, Suetonius, claimed this was because he dared to wear a toga that was even ‘purpler’ than Caligula’s. There might have been a more sensible (economic or political) reason behind the murder of Ptolemy, but Caligula was famously insane, so we can’t entirely discount this possibility.