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Glass, Metals, and Amber, but not Woad 

Anthony Durham & Michael Goormachtigh

 version of 8 November 2012


The mistaken idea that ancient Britons understood a word like modern Welsh 'glas' to mean ‘blue’ has contributed to multiple historical misunderstandings.  To begin sorting them out, we delve into the linguistic development of colour words, the history of dyeing with indigo, the use of vitriol (metal sulfates) in tattoo inks, and the occurrence of glass in place-names.  It emerges that Caesar’s vitrum and Pliny’s glastum were not woad, while Anglo-Saxon wad and Greek-Latin isatis were probably dye plants more generally.  The Indo-European root of glas, glass, and many other words developed an early yellowish colour sense exemplified by Latin glaesum ‘amber’.

(PDF) Download and read the complete Glass-or-vitrum.pdf file.


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