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p25 Aes

Two articles by Philip Smith, B.A., of the University of London
on pp25‑26 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

AES (χαλκός). These words signify both pure copper and a composition of metals, in which copper is the predominant ingredient. In the latter sense they should not be translated brass, but rather bronze. Brass is a combination of copper and zinc, while all the specimens of ancient objects formed of the compound material called aes, are found upon analysis to contain no zinc; but, with very limited exceptions, to be composed entirely of copper and tin, which mixture is properly called bronze. Our chief information about the copper and bronze of the ancients is derived from Pliny (H. N. XXXIV). Copper, being one of the most abundant and generally distributed of the metals, was naturally used at a very early period by the Greeks and Romans. Pliny (H. N. XXXIV.1) mentions three of its ores (lapides aerosi), namely, cadmia, chalcitis, and aurichalcum or orichalcum, into the exact nature of which this is not the place to enquire.

In the most ancient times we can ascend to, the chief supply came from Cyprus, whence the modern name of copper is said to be derived (comp. Hom. Odys. I.184, and Nitzsch's Note; Plin. H. N. VII.56 s57); but according to an old tradition it was first found in Euboea, and the town of Chalcis took its name from a copper-mine (Plin. H. N. IV.12 s21). It was also found in Asia and the south of Italy, in Gaul, in the mountains of Spain (comp. Paus. VI.19 § 2), and in the Alps. The art of smelting the ore was perfectly familiar to the Greeks of Homer's time (comp. Hesiod. Theog. 861‑866).

The abundance of copper sufficiently accounts for its general use among the ancients; money, vases, and utensils of all sorts, whether for domestic or sacrificial purposes, ornaments, arms offensive and defensive, furniture, tablets for inscriptions, musical instruments, and indeed every object to which it could be applied, being made of it (Hesiod, Op. et Di. 150, 151; Lucret. V.1286). We have a remarkable result of this fact in the use of χαλκεύς and χαλκεύειν, where working in iron is meant (Hom. Od. IX.391; Aristot. Poët. 25). For all these purposes the pure metal would be comparatively useless, some alloy being necessary both to harden it and to make it more fusible. Accordingly, the origin of the art of mixing copper and tin is lost in the mythological period, being ascribed to the Idaean Dactyli. The proportions in which the component parts were mixed seemed to have been much studied, and it is remarkable how nearly they agree in all the specimens that have been analysed. Some bronze nails from the ruins of the Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae; some ancient coins of Corinth; a very ancient Greek helmet, on which is a boustrophedon inscription, now in the British Museum; portions of the breastplates of a piece of armour called the Bronzes of Siris, also preserved in our national collection; and an antique sword found in France, produced in 100 parts,

87·43 and 88 copper
12·53 and 12 tin
99·96 100

At a later period than that to which some of the above works may be referred, the addition of a variety of metals seems to have been made to the original combination of copper and tin. The writers on art make particular mention of certain of these bronzes which, notwithstanding the changes they underwent by the introduction of novel elements, were still described by the words χαλκός and aes. That which appears to have held the first place in the estimation of the ancients was the aes Corinthiacum, which some pretended was an alloy made accidentally, in the first instance, by the melting and running together of various metals (especially gold and bronze), at the burning of Corinth by Lucius Mummius, in B.C. 146 (Plin. H. N. XXXIV.2 s3; Florus, II.16). This account is obviously incorrect, as some of the artists whose productions are mentioned as composed of this highly valued metal, lived long before the event alluded to. Pliny (l.c.) particularises three classes of the Corinthian bronze. The first, he says, was white (candidum), the greater proportion of silver that was employed in its composition giving it a light colour. In the second sort or quality, gold was introduced, in sufficient quantity to impart to the mixture a strong yellow or gold tint. The third was composed of equal portions of the different metals. Some, however, contend that the aes Corinthiacum was no composition of precious metals at all, but merely a very pure and highly refined bronze (Fiorillo, in the Kunstblatt, 1832, No. 97). The next bronze of note among the ancient Greek sculptors is distinguished by the title of hepatizon, which it seems it acquired from its colour, which bore some resemblance to that of the liver (ἧπαρ). Pliny says that it was inferior to the Corinthian bronze, but was greatly preferred to the mixtures of Delos and Aegina, which, for a long period, had the highest reputation. The colour of the bronze called hepatizon must have been very similar to that of the cinquecento bronzes — a dull reddish brown. Before the invention of these sorts of bronze, the first in order of celebrity was the aes Deliacum. Its reputation was so great that the island of Delos became the mart to which all who required works of art in metal crowded, and led, in time, to the establishment there of some of the greatest artists of antiquity (Plin. l.c. 2 s4). Next to the Delian, or rather in competition with it, the aes Aegineticum was esteemed. No metal was produced naturally in Aegina; but the founders and artists there were most skilful in their composition of bronze. The distinguished sculptors, Myron and Polycleitus, not only vied with one another in producing the finest works of art, but also in the choice of the bronze they used. Myron preferred the Delian, while Polycleitus adopted the Aeginetan mixture (Plin. H. N. XXXIV.2 s5). From a passage in Plutarch it has been supposed that this far-famed Delian p26bronze was of a light and somewhat sickly tint (see Quatremère de Quincy, Jupiter Olympien; Plut. De Pyth. Orac. 2). Plutarch says, that in his time its composition was unknown. For further information on the composition of bronze, see L. Savot (Num. Ant. p. ii c17), Falbroni (in the Atti dell' Acad. Ital. vol. I pp203‑245, and Götting. Gel. Anzeig. 1811, No. 87), and Winckelmann (Werke, vol. V).

No ancient works in brass, properly so called, have yet been discovered, though it has been affirmed that zinc was found in an analysis of an antique sword (see Mongez, Mém. de l'Institut); but it appeared in so extremely small a quantity, that it hardly deserved notice; if it was indeed present, it may rather be attributed to some accident of nature than to design. On the subject of metals and metallurgy in general, see Metallum, and for the use of bronze in works of art see Statuaria.

AES (money, nummi aënei or aerii). Since the most ancient coins in Rome and the old Italian states, were made of aes, this name was given to money in general, so that Ulpian (Dig. 50 tit. 16 s159) says, Etiam aureos nummos aes dicimus (compare Hor. Ars Poët. 345, Ep. I.7.23). For the same reason we have aes alienum, meaning debt, and aera in the plural, pay to the soldiers (Liv. V.4; Plin. H. N. XXXIV.1). The Romans had no other coinage except bronze or copper (aes), till B.C. 269, five years before the first Punic war, when silver was first coined; gold was not coined till sixty-twoº years after silver (H. N. XXXIII.13). For this reason Argentinus, in the Italian mythology, was made the son of Aesculanus (Quia prius aerea pecunia in usu esse coepit post argentea. August. De Civ. DeiIV.21). Respecting the Roman copper money, see As, and respecting the Greek copper money see Chalcous.


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