Orichalcum is a metal mentioned in several ancient writings, including the story of Atlantis as recounted in the Critias dialogue, recorded by Plato. According to Critias, orichalcum was considered second only to gold in value, and was found and mined in many parts of Atlantis in ancient times. By the time of Critias, however, it was known only by name. In numismatics, orichalcum is the golden-colored bronze alloy used for the sestertius and dupondius coins. In many sources of pop culture, such as novels and video games, orichalcum is presented as a valuable ore that can be mined and crafted into powerful armor and weapons.
2 Ancient literature,
4 In popular culture,
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The name derives from the Greek ὀρείχαλκος, oreikhalkos (from ὄρος, oros, mountain and χαλκός, chalkos, copper or bronze), meaning "mountain copper" or "mountain metal."
The Romans transliterated "orichalcum" as "aurichalcum," which was thought to literally mean "gold copper." It is known from the writings of Cicero that the metal they called orichalcum, while it resembled gold in colour, had a much lower value.
Orichalcum has variously been held to be a gold/copper alloy, a copper-tin or copper-zinc brass, or a metal no longer known. The Andean alloy tumbaga fits the same description, being a gold/copper alloy. However, in Vergil's Aeneid it was mentioned that the breastplate of Turnus was "stiff with gold and white orachalc" and it has been theorised that it is an alloy of gold and silver, though it is not known for certain what orichalcum was.
In later years, "orichalcum" was used to describe the sulfide mineral chalcopyrite or brass. However, these are difficult to reconcile with the text of Critias, because he states that the metal was "only a name" by his time, while brass and chalcopyrite continued to be very important through the time of Plato until today. For that reason, other authors on the subject conclude that orichalcum is either the gold-copper alloy tumbaga, or possibly amber.
There have been references that Orichalcum was in fact electrum by another name, and that through selective casting the metal smith could alter the amounts to vary the colour. Other references mention that a liquid metal was added possibly mercury (so a mix of gold, silver, copper and mercury), and that the alloy was heated while lighting in a jar was added (possibly an early reference to electroplating or low level electricity like the Baghdad Battery being applied, while the metal was heated.)
Orichalcum is first mentioned in the 7th century BC by Hesiod and in the homeric hymn dedicated to Aphrodite, dated to the 630s.
According to the Critias by Plato, the three outer walls of the Temple to Poseidon and Cleito on Atlantis were clad respectively with brass, tin, and the third, which encompassed the whole citadel, "flashed with the red light of orichalcum." The interior walls, pillars and floors of the temple were completely covered in orichalcum, and the roof was variegated with gold, silver, and orichalcum. In the center of the temple stood a pillar of orichalcum, on which the laws of Poseidon and records of the first princes after Poseidon were inscribed. (Crit. 116-119)
Orichalcum is also mentioned in the Antiquities of the Jews - Book VIII, sect. 88 by Josephus, who stated that the vessels in the Temple of Solomon were made of orichalcum (or a bronze that was like gold in beauty). Pliny the Elder points out that the metal has lost currency due to the mines being exhausted. Pseudo-Aristotle in De mirabilibus auscultationibus describes orichalcum as a shining metal obtained during the smelting of copper with the addition of "calmia," a kind of earth formerly found on the shores of the Black Sea.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Orichalcum coins.
In numismatics, orichalcum is the golden-colored bronze alloy used for the sestertius and dupondius coins. It was considered more valuable than copper, of which the as coin was made. Some scientists believe that the orichalcum could have been used for jewelry for poor people as it had the appearance of gold.
In popular culture:
Orichalcum is often mentioned in a number of high fantasy works and video games of fantasy theme, as one of the more valuable ores, along with fictional mithril. Notable examples include works of J. R. R. Tolkien, Guild Wars 2, Skyrim, Terraria and Dungeons & Dragons. Orichalcum is also a plot device and plot coupon in the classic adventure game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, alongside being used as the primary ore in forging the Ultima Weapon in Kingdom Hearts II.
It is also mentioned several times in Japanese anime under a slightly different name Orihalcon (Japanese: オリハルコン Romaji: oriharukon). Several anime use it such as "Slayers" (Lina Inverse has to fight a golem in one episode that is made of it), "Saint Seiya" (gold saint, Aries Mu uses Orichalcum to recreate bronze saints' cloths), Black Cat" (all Chronos Numbers weapons are made of Orihalcum), and "Hyper Police" (Sasahara Natsuki's dagger tanto was cut down from a broken sword katana). In each case, the metal is akin to a steel alloy that is much stronger, and almost indestructible.
For an extensive listing of uses in all popular culture works, a detailed list can be found here, on the TVTropes Wiki.