In the medieval city of Tyre, in ancient Phoenicia, a purple dye was derived from the mollusks found on its shores. In a legend, Heracles is thought to have given a piece of cloth dyed and stained in this purple color to the King of Phoenix who declared it to be the new Royal color. It became known as Tyrian Imperial purple.
In stark contrast to its elegant end use, the dye was derived from the secretions of the rotting mollusks—with a smell so bad that only certain areas of the coast, far away from civilization, were used.
Just one Roman toga could take up to 10,000 mollusks to dye the robe. As a result, the production of rare and expensive purple dye was funded and controlled by royals, making it exclusive to leaders such as Alexander the Great and Roman Emperors. The penalty for wearing purple could include fines, property seizure and sometimes death. As Theopompus, a 4th century historian said, “Purple dye fetched its weight in silver at Colophon”.