Photo Courtesy of the Author

The coins of tyre reflect the importance of the dye industry—and of the Murex snails harvested for this trade—to this Phoenician city. Located 25 miles north of Akko, on the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon, Tyre was the center of a lucrative dye industry in the ancient world. Many Tyrean coins such as this one depict not only the Murex snail (lower right on coin) but also the legendary discoverer of the mollusk’s secret—Hercules’s dog (lower left). One day, according to tradition, the pooch bounded out of the waves with lips stained purple from all the snails he had eaten, thereby revealing to mankind the secret source of the dye.

Phoenicia literally means the “Land of Purple”—deriving from the Greek word for purple, phoinix. But the Tyreans should now probably be credited with creating precious blue dyes as well.