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fluorite - most colorful mineral

the 'true glory of luxury'

entrance, bluejohn mine, derbyshire
photo: peak district national park

After their conquest of Britain, the Romans mined fluorite in Britain for "Blue John" fluorite, also known as "Derbyshire spar." Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), Roman historian, naturalist and author of the world's first encyclopedia, recorded that Nero paid the modern equivalent of $240,000 for a particularly fine example of fluorite.
Pliny himself said his "most precious substance" was fluorite. The Romans believed that drinking alcoholic beverages from vessels carved of "Blue John" kept the drinker from getting drunk (possibly because it was close to the color of amethyst).

chinese fluorite vase

James Grout of the Encyclopedia Romana says that Pliny wrote in his Natural History that it was the victory of Pompey (106 - 48 BC) over Mithridates IV (132 - 63 BC) of Pontus that introduced myrrhina -- thought to have been fluorite -- to the Romans, for whom it became insanely desirable:

"...their value lies in their varied colors: the veins, as they revolve, repeatedly vary from purple to white or a mixture of the two, the purple becoming fiery or the milk-white becoming red as though the new colour were passing through the vein. Some people particularly appreciate the edges of a piece, where colours may be reflected such as we observe in the inner part of a rainbow."

Grout goes on to say:

"Perhaps the most famous example of the fragility of luxury is when Petronius (ca 27-66 AD), author of the Satyricon and "arbiter elegantiae" in the court of Nero (37-68 AD), was denounced to the emperor. Realizing his death was inevitable, he severed his veins and committed suicide (66 AD). But, before he died, he broke a myrrhine dipper for which he had paid three-hundred thousand sesterces, rather than have it fall into Nero's hands."

To commemorate the occasion, Pliny wrote:

"It came to be deemed the proof of wealth, the true glory of luxury -- to possess something that might be destroyed in a moment."