Saturday, December 10, 2022

Lycurgus Cup - History Mystery

The question that may come to your mind is if the old Romans were ahead of their period or not. Hence, the famous Lycurgus Cup in the British Museum proves that Romans were highly advanced and talented in science, mainly in the Nanotechnology field.

What makes the 1,600-year-old glass goblet unique is that its color changes from green to red, but it depends on the direction of its illumination. If the light source is on the front, it will appear green. But when the light source is at the rear side, it will change to red. We know this incident as Dichroic behavior.

It is believed that the Roman craftsman had a deep knowledge of the science they used to make the artwork. The Romans were the first who accidentally discover the colorful potential of nanoparticles. But we must accept that they have made the world's best instance of the phenomenon.

You should know that the Lycurgus Cup is a 4th-century artifact to design in which dichroic glass is used. Depending on the passing through of light, it shows a different color. Remember that this one is the only Roman glass object design in which this kind of glass is used. People described it as the "most spectacular glass" of that time.

What is the Lycurgus Cup?

The glass chalice is known as the Lycurgus Cup. Behind its name and design is a myth involving King Lycurgus of Thrace (Balkan Peninsula).

In this regard, you need to know one thing: Lycurgus was a violent-tempered man who was behind the attack on the god of wine, Dionysius, and Ambrosia, a female follower of Dionysius.

Mother Earth called Ambrosia, and later she transformed Ambrosia into a vine. After that, she had coiled herself about the king. This coiling scene was captured on the Cup.

The change of green color to red indicates the red blood of Ambrosia. Besides, it can represent the red wine of Dionysius, the god of wine. On the flip side, the green refers to the ultimate triumph of Ambrosia. The vase indicates that Mother Earth saved the girl from Lycurgus and his evil behavior.

This cage cup comes with an outer cage and an inner glass. First, the artist cast a thick blank glass. Then, he had cut and grounded it. The process will continue until the figures are in high relief. Next, the artist needs to ground up gold & silver into nanograins to create the changing colors on the artifact. These grains should be finer than even sand. After that, he needs to fuse these proportionally into the glass to produce subatomic effects. Scientists still haven't found out how it was accomplished.

The Roman chalice, which is 1600 years old and now placed at the British Museum, is the key to the new technology which can be used to diagnose several human diseases.

What does Lycurgus Cup mean?

We call this cup "dichroic glass." "Dichroic" refers to "two colors" in Greek. The Romans are experts in the art of creating one color on a goblet while a specific light and different color will be seen in a different light but in the same goblet.

People believe it can change colors when you pour different substances into it. Thus, the artifact can detect temperatures. So naturally, nano technicians are excited after seeing these chances of old technology.

Like other medical and advanced technologies, Lycurgus Cup nanotechnology has both good and bad sides. However, when it comes to discussing its drawback, it is suspected that it can lead to abortion and euthanasia. Whereas this technology can be used to cure diseases. Besides, to recognize microbes and clean up water sources, it can be used. These are the benefits of this technology.

Romans used excellent techniques to make their wonders last for years. But once Rome died, the Dark Ages began. As a result, we saw that cement and indoor toilets were no more because these went away for more than 1,400 years. In addition, the Cup lets us know that humans can experience more than what they could have imagined.

If you see the Cup in reflected light, like in a flash photograph, the glass will appear green in color. But if you view it in transmitted light, the glass will look red.

Basically, this Cup is a rare example of a Roman cage cup or diatretum. To design the Cup, artists need to work hard as they need to cut the glass efficiently. Whereas they need to leave a decorative "cage" at the surface level.

In most cases, we can see cage cups come with a geometric abstract designed cage. Whereas the figure on this artifact displays the killing incident where Lycurgus attempted to kill Ambrosia. Later, she got transformed into a vine which has twined around the angry king and killed him. Whereas Dionysus, with two followers, were seen taunting the king.

The glass offers the dichroic effect because it is made up of nanoparticles of gold and silver in a small ratio. Although the process was not cleared. However, it is suspected that it was discovered due to accidental "contamination" with a little bit of ground gold and silver dust.

Although the glass-makers were confused about whether gold was involved in making it or not, as the quantity of gold was very little, it is suspected that they may have come from a tiny proportion of gold in silver added (most of the Roman silver ornaments contains little proportions of gold), or from traces of gold or gold leaf left accidentally in the workshop, as residue on tools, or from other work.

History of the Lycurgus Cup:

It was probably made in Alexandria or Rome around 290-325 AD. The size of this artifact is 6 1/2" x 5," and we are telling the measurement after judging it in the best condition. People probably never buried this because they kept it like a treasure. The Cup was placed in a noble Roman's villa first. After that, people placed it in a church and the elite's collections. Besides, according to a few people, it was recovered from a sarcophagus. Some people believe that the Cup was stolen from the church during the French Revolution. However, none of us know its original history.

The Science Behind the Chalice:

In French writings in 1845, we can find its mention. But we do not know why the item changed colors. The gold Nanoparticles on a microscopic level were behind the reason for the color change.

Hence, remember that the puzzle behind the incident of color Changing was not solved by scientists for decades. However, It was the 1950s when the British Museum acquired this Cup, but they were not capable of solving the mystery until 1990.

Then, researchers used broken fragments to examine these under an electron microscope. According to them, the Roman artisans were the pioneers of nanotechnology. As per their statement, Nano-particles of gold is the reason behind the color changing of the Cup.

As per the researchers, the particles are as small as 50 nm in diameter. It is less than one-thousandth of the size of a grain of table salt. Ian Freestone, the archaeologist at University College London, says that the existence of the exact mix of valuable metals indicates the amazing work of the Romans.

As soon as light hits, electrons of the metal flecks try to reflect the frequencies into human eyes. However, the color-changing process depends on the observer's position in relation to the light.

Was the Lycurgus Cup a Poison Detector?

According to the ruling class, glassware and goblets were created on Murano island in the Venice lagoon. These will be shattered if you pour poison into them.

Gang Logan Liu is a renowned engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He focused on discovering the process of using this nanotechnology to diagnose and treat diseases. And he said that when it comes to beautiful art, Romans know how to use nanoparticles very well. But, he added that we all want to make it a part of scientific applications. For example, he said that if you fill a nano-treated vessel with different liquids, the vibrating electrons can change the glass color, but it is based on the liquid type used.

Were there Other Dichroic Cups in the Ancient World?

Yes, there could be other Dichroic Cups, and the ruling class was expected to be conscious of these. It is suspected that they were the owners of the cups. Besides, they gave these as gifts and used them to drink on special occasions. But there are only a few Roman dichroic glass objects. However, less than ten dichroic glass objects are found.

Privileged Romans purchased these objects to enjoy the rarity of the products of changing color.

The bottom line:

From Vopiscus' life of the third-century pretender Saturninus, a letter that is claimed to be written by emperor Hadrian (117–138), we have come to know a few facts regarding this. First, these texts represent similar drinking vessels like the Lycurgus Cup. The second text lets us think about the artifact from the drinker's perspective.

According to a drinker, it was full of dark red wine while the outer part was green. Once the drinker lifts the glass and peers into it, the light source will be passed from the rear side. Then, it will look like the grapes have turned red. It is an artifact from Roman royalty, and people have been caring for it for the last 1600 years until modern scientists solved the puzzle.

Romans might know how to create nanoparticles and use them to make the beautiful artifact. However, according to modern scientists, nanotechnology is helpful in chemistry, biology, physics, materials science, and engineering.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q. How does the Lycurgus Cup work?

This old glass artifact displays dichroism because it can look green if you reflect white light. Whereas the color turns into red if you transmit white light through it. Remember that the peculiar dichroic effect is seen due to silver & gold nanoparticles that are available in the glass.

Q. Where was the Lycurgus Cup found?

It is suspected that the manufacturing location of this Cup was Rome, and the time was the fourth century AD. Currently, this one is housed in the British Museum, London.

Q. How did they make the Lycurgus Cup?

Researchers could not put liquid into this artifact, due to which small wells were imprinted onto a plastic plate by them. In addition, they have used sprays of gold or silver nanoparticles on wells.

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