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Headword: Ἤλεκτρον
Adler number: eta,200
Translated headword: electrum
Vetting Status: high
Translation:
[Meaning] gold of a different type,[1] mixed with glass and stone.[2]
The [sc. altar] table of the Hagia Sophia[3] is of this material.
Greek Original:
Ἤλεκτρον: ἀλλότυπον χρυσίον, μεμιγμένον ὑέλῳ καὶ λιθίᾳ. οἵας ἐστὶ κατασκευῆς ἡ τῆς ἁγίας Σοφίας τράπεζα.
Notes:
Repeated with slight verbal variation at chi 52.
The headword ἤλεκτρον , a neuter noun, means two things (see LSJ s.v.): (I) amber, the fossilized resin from pine-trees, known for its static electric properties; and (II) -- the meaning relevant to this entry -- a ternary alloy of gold, silver and copper. The Greeks recognized two types of alloys, one known as λευκὸς χρυσός and another known as electrum/elektron, an artificial alloy of gold, silver and copper, often used in Greek coins. The electrum alloy is much harder than gold or silver. Pliny (Natural History 33.80) says "all gold contains silver in various proportions ... Wherever the proportion is one-fifth, the ore is called electrum." This does not necessarily mean that electrum was an alloy of four parts of gold and one part of silver, but rather that any gold with a 20% silver content should not be classified as gold. Compare Isidore, Origines xvi, xxiv.
[1] Same glossing in Hesychius eta334.
[2] Same glossing in Photius (Lexicon eta111) and elsewhere. The explanation perhaps concerns inlays in the famous altar: see next note. The term ὑελός means some kind of crystal, rock crystal or glass (see upsilon 6, upsilon 74).
[3] In Constantinople; cf. sigma 809.
References:
Healy, John F., Mining and Metallurgy in the Greek and Roman World. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978, 201 ff
Also J.F. Healy in Revue belge de numismatique 120 (1974) 24, and id. "The Establishment of Die-Sequences in Greek "White Gold" and Electrum Coin Series," Numismatic Chronicle 1971, 31 ff
Keywords: art history; botany; Christianity; definition; religion; science and technology; trade and manufacture
Translated by: Carl Widstrand on 12 January 2000@18:36:20.
Vetted by:
Patrick T. Rourke (Cosmetics) on 11 January 2001@20:37:34.
Catharine Roth (modified translation, added keywords) on 30 January 2002@21:34:28.
David Whitehead (added notes; cosmetics) on 31 January 2002@03:05:51.
Catharine Roth on 4 September 2002@00:42:08.
David Whitehead (more keywords; tweaks and cosmetics) on 21 March 2011@07:46:44.
Catharine Roth (tweaks and cosmetics) on 19 May 2011@01:49:53.
David Whitehead (modified hw and tr; expanded and reworked notes) on 12 December 2012@05:09:51.
Catharine Roth (betacode cosmeticule) on 17 December 2012@22:05:43.
David Whitehead (coding) on 22 April 2016@09:48:04.

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