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p769 Murrhina Vasa

Unsigned article on p769 of

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

MURRHINA VASA, or MURREA VASA, were first introduced into Rome by Pompey, who dedicated cups of this kind to Jupiter Capitolinus (Plin. H. N. XXXVII.7). Their value was very great (Sen. de Benef. VII.9, Epist. 119; Martial, III.82.25; Dig. 33 tit. 10 s3 § 4). Pliny (l.c.) states that 70 talents were given for one holding three sextarii, and speaks of a murrhina trulla, which cost 300 talents. Nero gave even 300 talents for a capis or drinking cup.

Pliny (XXXVII.8) says that these murrhine vessels came from the East, and chiefly from Caramania. He describes them as made of a substance formed by a moisture thickened in the earth by heat, and says that they were chiefly valued on account of their variety of colours. Modern writers differ much respecting the material of which they were composed. Some think that they were variegated glass, and others that they were made of onyx, since that stone presents a variety of colours; but the latter conjecture is overthrown by a passage of Lampridius (Heliogab. 32), who speaks of onyx and murrhine vases. Most recent writers, however, are inclined to think that they were true Chinese porcelain, and quote in support of their opinion the words of Propertius (IV.5.26):—

"Murreaque in Parthis pocula cocta focis."

This opinion would be rendered still more probable if we could place dependence on the statement of Sir W. Gell (Pompeiana, vol. I pp98, 99), "that the porcelain of the East was called Mirrha di Smyrna to as late a date as 1555." (Becker, Gallus, vol. I p143).


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