Copper is one of the six metals mentioned in the Old Testament, and is the most important of the seven mentioned by ancient historians. It was known and used by the people seven generations after Adam, as we are told that Tubal-Cain was the instructor of every artificer in brass and iron.1 Greek historians relate that copper was found by Cadmus on the island of Euboea, near the town of Chalkos, and copper is called chalkos by the ancient historian Homer in his writings.
The Romans knew copper by the name of cyprum, which was later changed to cuprum, both names being derived from that of the island Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea, where the Phoenicians had mined copper at a very early date. The island of Cyprus was dedicated by the ancients to the goddess Venus and copper later came to be known by the astronomical sign of the planet Venus, .
The English word copper, the French ouivre, and the German kupfer were introduced into those languages about the tenth century and are modifications of the old Latin cuprum.
The old Hebrew manuscripts make no distinction between pure copper and the alloy with tin which at the present time is known as bronze, but which the translators rendered by the word brass. This alloy could not have been made use of until long after copper was known and used, because tin was not found in the countries bordering on the shores of the Mediterranean. It could not have been used, therefore, until trade with Western Europe had been established, when the Phoenicians brought tin from Britain.
Euboea and Cyprus have already been mentioned as furnishing the Greek and Romans with copper. Spain also supplied them with copper; in fact, some of the same mines are being worked at the present time. The Egyptians drew their supply of copper from Arabia, and it is supposed that one of the objects that Rameses the Great had in view when he dug the canal across the isthmus of Suez about the year 1350 B. C. was to connect the copper producing territory of the Arabian peninsula with his kingdom on the Nile. Even at the present day archeologists find traces of mines buried in the sand and in them tablets bearing inscriptions proving them to belong to an age that is almost beyond the reach of the historian.
1 SeeGenesisis 4:22.
The Israelites had bronze weapons in the time of King David. Homer, the Greek poet, represents his heroes as fighting with arms made of bronze. The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the world, an enormous figure of a man that stood across the entrance to the harbor of the ancient city of Rhodes, was made of bronze. This figure was completed in the year 280 B. C, was about 110 feet high, and is a remarkable proof of the abundance of copper and of the skill of the workers of that early date.
When the Spaniard Pizarro conquered Peru in 1533 he found that they were well acquainted with the properties of copper and bronze, and used the alloys of copper and tin to make the tools that they used in building the vast aqueducts and temples for which they are famous.
Masses of the tough native copper detached by water from their original beds and deposited in the beds of streams where the natives went to obtain stones to make their weapons and tools, would, by reason of their weight, color, and malleability, attract attention. Then the step to the alloying with tin would readily follow.
The earlier money of the Romans was of bronze, and sometimes of an alloy of copper and zinc, now known as brass. During the reign of Julius Caesar, about 95 years before the birth of Christ, coins were made of pure copper.
During the middle ages, beginning about the ninth century, we find a very important use of copper and its alloy that developed with the rapid spread of the Christian religion. Church bells which are made of an alloy of copper and tin are first made mention of in the church records of the seventh century. They were brought into general use by Charlemagne, king of the Franks, who in the year 800 was crowned Emperor of the Romans by the Pope and took the name of Carolus Augustus.
The use of bronze in tools and ornaments was most fully developed by the Danes, but the most beautiful forms were found in Scandinavia. They made use of this alloy in making richly ornamented pins, buttons, clasps, rings, bracelets, and trumpets.
In the construction and ornamentation of churches, copper, bronze, and brass have played an important part; the altars, tablets, and sepulchral statues were often made of these substances.
The improvements in the manufacture of gunpowder and the consequent greater use of bronze cannon during the reign of King Edward the Third of England (1312-1377) had an important influence in increasing the value and the production and use of copper; and as we come down to the civilization of modern times there is scarcely a branch of human endeavor where copper is not found as an important means of attaining greater perfection. Either unmixed, or in the form of its numerous alloys, it is employed in the construction of nearly all kinds of machinery, and for forming the delicate instruments of the astronomer and engineer. It is an indispensable part of the huge electric generators and dynamos, and it furnishes a valuable reagent for the chemist. It is used in large amounts in ship building, and it furnishes a basis for dyes. Almost every advance made in the arts and sciences adds to the number of its applications.