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 p74  Alabastrum

Unsigned article on p74 of

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

ALABASTRUM and ALABASTER (ἀλάβαστρον, ἀλάβαστρος), a box or vase for holding perfumes and ointments; so called because they were originally made of alabaster, of which the variety, called onyx-alabaster, was usually employed for this purpose (Plin. H. N. XIII.2 s3, XXXVI.8 s12). They were, however, subsequently made of other materials, as, for instance, gold (χρύσεια ἀλάβαστρα). Such vases are first mentioned by Herodotus (III.20), who speaks of an "alabaster-box of perfumed ointment" (μύρου ἀλάβαστρον), as one of the presents sent by Cambyses to the Ethiopian king; and after his time they occur both in Greek and Roman writers (Aristoph. Acharn. 1053; Aelian, V. H. XII.18; Martial, XI.8; Matth. xxvi.7; Mark, xiv.3; Luke, vii.37). These vessels were of a tapering shape, and very often had a long narrow neck, which was sealed; so that when the woman in the Gospels is said to break the alabaster-box of ointment for the purpose of anointing Christ, it appears probable that she only broke the extremity of the neck, which was thus closed.

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