CSPSCentre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies

My name is Royal Purple

Project summary

CSPS has joined forces with our Classics and Archaeology colleagues at the University of Nottingham and the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki, Greece, to design this educational project.

The aim is to introduce children to the symbolism and significance of purple colour from prehistory to medieval times. 

Purple banner with an image of a shell; a mosaic of a king;  mosaic of a queen; and a chemical diagram, below a title reading 'My name is royal purple: CSPS educational project'


Project aims

Through experimental archaeology sessions and the study of ancient sources, artefacts and archaeological discoveries, schoolchildren will: 

  • study the painstaking production of purple dye from murex sea shells and its use in the manufacture of luxurious textiles since prehistoric times
  • explore porphyry statuary in Late Antiquity
  • develop an understanding of the exploitation of natural resources and industrial activities in the past
  • investigate the association of colour and materials to royalty and imperial power (you’ll even get the chance to wear an exact replica of a Roman imperial toga designed by Kula Tsurdiu)
  • consider related issues of environmental protection and marine sustainability.

Purple's history

Purple was antiquity’s most important colour. It was the colour of royalty as far back as anybody can remember! Below are a few fun facts about this colour's history. 

Did you know:

  • That one of the earliest written accounts of purple textile originates from Linear B texts of prehistoric Greece from the palace at Knossos on Crete around 1250 BC?
  • That King Tushrath of the Mitanni people gave as royal gifts a fine violet purple garment and shoes to his daughter’s soon-to-be husband, Pharaoh Amenhotep III’s son around 1400 BC? 
  • That the dye was so durable that when Alexander the Great conquered the city of Tyre in 332 BC, he discovered hidden store rooms with murex (purpura) dyed fabrics over 200 years old that still held their original radiance? 
  • That archaeologists from the University of Nottingham have identified a seashell hidden near the now submerged prehistoric town at Pavlopetri which could be evidence for the production of purple dye at the site from as early as the 2nd millennium BC? 
  • That by the early 6th c. BC the Phoenician city of Tyre had become the well-known producer of the most lavish purple crimson textiles in the then known world? 
  • That the Spartans were famous for their red crimson cloaks? Or that in Roman times purple dye was literally worth more than its weight in gold?

Project resources

We have prepared a bilingual resource package for students and teachers and all activities are tailored to the particular interests of each participating school.

A children’s book Life Code: Lydia is currently being written by our children’s author Sarantos Minopetros and will appear soon.

Project leader

Dr Chrysanthi Gallou (University of Nottingham)

Project team

Dr Mark Bradley (University of Nottingham)
Dr Rena Veropoulidou (Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki)

  • Sarantos Minopetros (children’s author)
  • Kula Tsurdiu (fashion designer)
  • Elisavet Fergadiotou (project research assistant; 2016/17)
  • Sophia Paraskevopoulou (project research assistant 2015/16) 
  • Eleni Toska (project research assistant 2015/16) 
  • Students from UoN UG modules Mycenaean Greece and Aegean Origins (2015/16, 2016/17)

Related research groups




Centre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0)115 951 4800
fax: +44 (0)115 951 4811
email: csps@nottingham.ac.uk