Geology Rocks

Amethyst Keeps You Sober
My amethyst rings with stones from locally sourced amethyst. Yes, the pinky ring is a poison box ring.

Since a young age, I have collected rocks for any reason teetering on the logical fence. Naturally, as I get older, my interest lies in their composition and not just how pretty they are (although that definitely helps). As a leisure activity, I often like to go rock digging with my friends. There is nothing more awe inspiring than pulling a colorful quartz out of the dark muddy ground. Because I consider myself a “Rock Hound”, I often like to wear my findings in jewelry. My favorite piece to wear is an amethyst stone I dug up a few years ago. I casually wire-wrapped it into a pendant and wore it as a necklace. For the record, it is my favorite because my favorite color is purple and it is coincidently the stone associated with my birth month. It also has an interesting place in history.

Now I know what you’re probably thinking. What do rocks and minerals have to do with history? Everything, my friends… everything.

Let’s start with a brief classification. Amethyst is a form of quartz crystal that grows underground, often in caverns and geodes.  Its chemical classification is silicate, it has a hardness level of 7 on the Mohs scale, and its crystal structure is hexagonal. It is great for jewelry because it is not broken with cleavage (meaning it will not split into fractures across its surface plane) and mainly broken if subjected to conchoidal fractures (meaning a fracture creates a smooth rounding surface). Its color ranges from translucent purple to deep purple. Because of this combination in properties the amethyst gem was coveted by royalty and the pious. 

The use of amethyst goes way back in history, but it’s origin is usually associated with the ancient Greeks. One legend dictates that the God Dionysus was the creator of amethyst. After being insulted by a mortal, Dionysus in a drunken anger vowed to unleash tigers on the next person who crossed his path. The unfortunate person was a young maiden who was journeying to the temple of Artemis to leave an offering. Artemis protected the girl by turning her into a pillar of pure white quartz (as if there weren’t any better options). Once his drunken stupor subsided, Dionysus decided to honor the girl and show his remorse by pouring his richest red wine over the quartz which turned it a deep lustrous purple. He bestowed on the stone the gift of preventing the effects of alcohol. The Greek word for amethyst is “amethystos” meaning not drunken. 

Now readers, I hope I do not have to go over how the Greeks and the Romans influenced the growth of societies and the western world as we know it. So let’s fast forward to the Medieval ages because … The Middle Ages Were Magic! Thanks to the many magical legends of this stone and its similar color that is attributed to the most difficult pigment to produce, amethyst stones were coveted for the rings, necklaces, and jewels of the Catholic Church. Only certain bishops and clerics were given rings of amethyst to signify their marriage to the church and protect them from other worldly sins…you guessed it: alcohol. Ecclesiastical rings of amethyst were worn to prevent the effects of alcohol and the potential potent addiction. Amethyst continued to gain association with other supernatural abilities. Italian Renaissance artist, Leonardo Da Vinci, wrote in his journals that amethyst was a stone to sharpen the senses, intelligence, and decrease harmful thoughts. Is it any wonder why the monarchs included it in their jewels? To bad it didn’t solve those pesky crusades.

Amethyst has been around for thousands of years on this planet. There is debate on its earliest recording, but geologists can conclude it was used in the prehistoric era about 25,000 years ago. It was a crucial stone for the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Judaism, and Catholicism. Today you can find amethyst in most any rock shop. It is still a popular stone for jewelry. However, it is quickly becoming the sister industry to blood diamonds. The stone is harvested in many countries for low wage labor and even slave labor. So dear readers, if you are a rock hound like me, be informed about where your collection specimens come from. My best advice is to find a quarry that will let you dig your own. Experience your very own treasure hunt for amethysts (and other stones)! 

Subscribe to the History Through the Pages blog for more geological themed blogs and other interesting historical discussions. Questions for our Ask a Historian segment can be sent through the contact page. 

As always readers, I appreciate your time and patronage. 
Get out there and enjoy history! 


For further reading on this topic, we recommend
Jewels: A Secret History by Victoria Finlay
and Gemstones of the World: Fifth Edition by Walter Schumann. Check out your local library or your favorite book store for more books like this .

Published by pagesofhistory101

I am a historian, writer, and artist. Through writing, research, and art I share the fascinating world of history through the pages of typically unseen sources. Through my channel and blogs, you will discover things you wouldn't have learned in history class. My motto is "History is for everyone!"

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