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The ancients used the words χαλκός‎, aes, indiscriminately for copper and for the harder and more fusible bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. Implements of bronze are found in Egypt and Mesopotamia before 3000 bce. During the third millennium (the early Minoan period of Crete) the general use of bronze and the normal composition of the alloy (one part of tin to nine of copper) were established (see metallurgy). Until the introduction of iron, bronze was the sole metal for utilitarian purposes, and afterwards it continued in general use to the end of antiquity for sculpture, many domestic objects, and, after the 5th cent. bce, for small-denomination coins. Brass (ὀρείχαλκος‎, orichalcum, a mixture of copper and zinc) is not found before Roman imperial times, when lead was also added to bronze in increasing quantities.

Copper is widely found in classical lands, where the principal sources of supply were, for Greece, Chalcis in Euboea and Cyprus, and for Italy, Bruttium, Etruria (see etruscans), and Elba, while under Roman rule Spain produced largely. Tin may at first have come from Iran or beyond, and later Herodotus speaks of the metal as coming from the extremities of Europe (3. 115): Spain, Brittany, and Cornwall seem to have been the main sources. In comparison with the noble metals, bronze was inexpensive.

Several varieties of bronze were distinguished in antiquity—Corinthian, Delian, Aeginetan, Syracusan, Campanian—but these cannot be identified with any certainty. The technical processes employed were: hammering into plates which were riveted together (σφυρήλατον‎), used in the making of utensils, and, during the Archaic period, of statues; and casting with wax, either solid (usually in the case of small statuettes or the handles, rims, and feet of vessels) or hollow over a core of clay or plaster (πρόπλασμα‎, argilla) to produce large-scale sculpture. Relief decoration was produced in repoussé work (ἐμπαιστική‎); incised ornament is also common, especially on mirrors. Tin and copper solders were used in addition to riveting for joins. The dull patina of bronzes in museums is the result of time; ancient bronzes were kept bright to resemble gold, and the surface was often gilded, or variegated with damascening, inlay, or enamelling.


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                C. Mattusch, Classical Bronzes: The Art and Craft of Greek and Roman Statuary (1996).Find this resource:

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