I am doing research about Lydia – seller of purple goods – in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 16. I am wondering where she would have obtained her purple dye. Some commentaries say she did not obtain it from snails but from a root or plant. She lived in land-locked Philippi (although she was from Thyratira) and the nearest coastal city was Neapolis–would it have been possible at all for her to acquire the snails there or were they exclusively found along the coast of Israel and Lebanon? Also, if the emperors were restricting use of purple in 55 CE–when Paul went to Philippi–it must have been a different shade of purple she was dyeing/selling, correct? Any light you could shed on this would be very helpful!
The most ubiquitous source to the best of my knowledge was the Murex family of snails, which was (and is) available throughout the entire Mediterranean Sea. Transport of the precious dye source reached far and wide (the Talmud provides evidence that it reached ancient Babylonia – i.e., Iraq/Iran). There were purple dyes which used alkanet (from Anchusa tinctoria) or orchil (from Rosella tinctoria) or alternatively to get better fastness they used combinations of madder or kermes (for red) in combination with indigo (for blue) to achieve purple (“The Red Dyes”, Sanberg, p.38, 40). In “The Royal Purple and the Biblical Blue”, Rabbi Herzog, p.22-23 gives a list of various finds: – William Cole found the Purpura lapilus off the British Coast to produce purple. – Pere Plumer found Purpura lapillus off the Antillian Islands of the Grenadines – There is some evidence that purple was used in Cerntal America especially near Santa Elena. – Rav Herzog also discusses Iakinthos, Hyacinth and other possible dye sources. See also Aristotle’s History of Animals Book V, ch.15. – Mois Navon.