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The sapphire is one of the four traditional precious gemstones, distinguished by its deep blue colour. Lighter varieties of sapphire are mined in Ceylon. Like the ruby it is a variety of the mineral corundum.

Sapphires are extremely rare and in period probably came to Europe from India via the Silk Road.

Sapphires take their name from a Greek word meaning "blue stone". Also known as the "Stone of Heaven", during the Middle Ages the sapphire changed its identity—originally the name referred to lapis lazuli. The following is a list of blue gemstones known in medieval times:

  • sapphire (also known as ultramarine; originally referred to lapis lazuli; changed its identity following the Crusades)
  • cyan (azurite or poss. sodalite; also referred to a ceramic imitation of turquoise)
  • callais (also known as turquoise; however, Pliny classed it as an emerald due to its greenish tint)
  • hyacinth (the identity of this stone is problematic; most experts believe it refers to modern sapphire (corundum)—nevertheless, Pliny's description of a stone "weaker and more diluted in color than amethyst, whose beauty fades before it reaches the eye" seems to be a perfect description of iolite, a variety of the mineral codierite, also known by the trade name "water sapphire")

See also


  • Sydney H. Ball, A Roman Book on Precious Stones (includes Eng. trans. of C. Plinii Secundi liber xxxvii de Naturalis Historia), Los Angeles, 1950
  • Cariadoc's "On gemstones"
  • Eduard Gubelin & Franz-Xaver Erni, GEMSTONES: Symbols of Beauty & Power, Tuscon AZ, 2000
  • Walter Schumann, Gemstones of the World, New York, (rev) 1997