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Emeralds: The Lore and History Behind the Precious Green Gemstones

Since ancient times, Emeralds have been one of the most sought after precious gemstones. Emeralds have long been considered mystical gemstones due to being used to cure diseases of many kinds. Physicians from many other cultures used emeralds against poison and infections. It was more popularly believed to be an antipoison when used in powder form as well as having the ability to cure eye disease with its soothing green color. 

Moreover, Emeralds were used as talismans, used to reveal truths, maintain faithfulness and even protect against negative energies. Not only were they used as symbols of power and wealth amongst royalty, but there were many other mysterious reasons why these rulers always had possession of Emeralds. In this blog, we’ll share with you the hidden reasons, lore and historical significance behind Emeralds and why these precious green gemstones were so widely used as more than just adornment.

The Origin of Emeralds

emerald
While identified in much later civilizations, Emeralds are believed to have existed long before their discovery in ancient Egyptian or their use by the Greeks and Romans.

The word Emerald has had many names over the centuries depending on where these green gemstones were found or were accessible. Most commonly, the word Emeralds is derived from the Latin word esmeralda or also known as smaragdos in Greek which meant ‘green gem’. In ancient India, the stone was known as marakata which means ‘the green growing’. Both Persia and India were known to have reserves of Emeralds which eventually became a rich part of their culture and history. Initially the word Emerald was derived from an ancient Persian word for emerald which translates to ‘green gem’. This lends support to the fact that Emeralds existed at a time before any of these Empires and nations existed.

Emeralds in Ancient Egypt

Egyptian emerald necklace
Pictured above is an ancient Egyptian necklace made from beads of Emerald, other gemstones and gold. Image courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

Emeralds were found in vast quantities in ancient Egypt. In fact, the first known emeralds were mined in Egypt around 1500 BC wherein Cleopatra had seized a mine from the possession of the Greeks. This coincides with the saying from what is believed the be the oldest book in the world, the Papyrus Prisse. It stated: “But good words are more difficult to find than the emerald, for it is by slaves that it is discovered among the rocks”. This most likely referred to the same Egyptian mines.

It has been long believed that Cleopatra was very fond of these green gemstones and had vast quantities of the green gemstone in her personal collection. One might think that she only used Emeralds to adorn herself, however that wasn’t the only reason she sought them. The ancient Egyptians believed that the green color of the Emeralds was able to treat eye diseases. Not only that, for them is also symbolized fertility as well as rebirth, which is why they used to bury their dead with Emeralds to symbolize and aid youthfulness in their afterlife. Cleopatra’s Emeralds also symbolized power and prestige, which is why she often presented dignitaries with gifts of Emeralds.

Emeralds in Ancient Rome and Greece

Roman emerald earrings
A pair of Roman earrings featuring Emeralds from the 2nd to 3rd centuries. Image courtesy Bonhams.

Both the Roman and Byzantine Empires used the reserves in Egypt for themselves as well. Pliny, the Roman Scholar and Philosopher, was not only the first to be able to identify the Emerald as being one the Beryl minerals, but also claimed that emeralds had an healing effect, saying “…nothing greens greener”. He particularly pointed out that it was suitable for the eyes as the green color was soothing to look at. 

Pliny the Elder described them as a popular stone to use in the earliest lapidaries as the soothing green color would be used to help improve eye strain while taking a break from work. The Roman Emperor Nero was believed to oversee gladiator games from behind pillars made of Emerald. The Greeks and Romans also associated Emeralds with the goddess Venus, which translated into western Astrology to associate ‘sea green’ Emeralds with the planet ruled by the goddess of the sea.

Emeralds in Spain and Aztec Cultures

Colombian Emerald-set gold article
An early 17th Century Renaissance Colombian Emerald-set gold article recovered from a shipwreck. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

While Colombian Emeralds are known to be one of finest varieties of Emeralds today, they have long been sought after, with large quantities plundered by Spanish Explorers in the 16th Century. However, the Incas and the Aztecs had been using Emeralds as offerings as part of their religious rites and personal adornment for more than 500 years before. The Spanish held gold and silver in high regard, and so they traded emeralds in Europe and Asia in exchange for precious metals. This allowed a new kind of trade to open as well as a new item for Royalty to indulge in.

Emeralds in Persia and The Mughal Dynasty

the mogul mughal emerald
The Mogul Mughal Emerald is a dual sided carved rectangular-cut emerald tablet, and is one of the world’s largest emeralds. Image courtesy Allan Caplan/Harold and Erica Van Pelt/GIA.

Emeralds have been a part of the Crown Jewels of Persia and used extensively in jewelry for Royalty. These green gemstones had a special status in Safavid Persia, Mughal India as well as the Ottoman Empire as the color green is a sacred color in Islam. During the Safavid Era, the Emeralds were arranged from the only two known sources at the times which were in Colombia and Brazil.

Reserves of Emeralds were found abundantly at one point in Mughal India, whereby emeralds were extensively used in jewelry by Mughal royalty. An example is the Mogul Mughal Emerald, one of the largest emerald specimens in the world. The tradition of choosing Emeralds to inscribe sacred text onto has a story behind it. In the Mughal court as well as throughout the empire, Emeralds had a special name and meaning. 

The Mughals considered Emeralds the “Tears of the Moon” due to their glowing green color and a certain translucence, especially in larger pieces of the gemstone. Hindus had their own reverence for the precious green gemstones that they associate with planet Mercury and used them as offerings to appease their Gods. To date, Emeralds are used as navrattan gemstones, the nine gemstones that are tied to astrological significance in Indian culture. 

Conclusion

Emeralds have a lot of myths and legends behind them that surpass use by royalty. Emeralds have always also had a lot of spiritual uses and connections. Emeralds were also believed to be the four precious gemstones bestowed upon the Biblical King Solomon and their mention reoccurs many other times in Biblical scriptures. But history has proved that Emeralds have always been used for a reason. There’s no doubt why some of history’s most well-known figures have always had the precious green gemstone in their possession. 

In modern times, Emeralds are still used by Royalty but also hold significance otherwise. Emeralds are still considered gemstones beneficial for the eyes and are also used as chakra healing stones in meditation, more specifically for the heart chakra that resonates with the color green. Emeralds are now popularly worn as the modern as well as traditional birthstone for the month of May. It is also the gemstone used to mark the twentieth as well as thirty-fifth wedding anniversaries. Diamonds, Rubies, Emeralds, Sapphires, these four gemstones are considered ‘the big four’, the four main precious gemstones used in fine jewelry.

Conclusively, these precious green gemstones not only look beautiful, but hold much deeper meaning and have significant history behind them that makes them all the more precious and covetable. We stock emeralds as part of our loose gemstones catalogue as well as many fine jewelry pieces that feature Emeralds. We also offer customized services where you can pick a gem of your liking and have us create personalized jewelry according to your requirements. For more details visit https://galtandbro.com/personalized-creations/