Lapis Lazuli in The Ancient World

Egyptian Lapis and gold bracelet from the tomb of Tutankhamun. 1325 B.C.
Scanned photograph taken from Tutankhamun:
His Tomb and His Treasures, by Edwards (1976)

       Lapis lazuli was known to ancients as sapphire and was highly prized since ancient Babylonian and Egyptian times. The stone has been fashioned into magical amulets in the shape of an eye by the Egyptians, and often ornamented with gold. In powdered form, lapis lazuli was mixed into a paste or paint and applied to the eyelids by the Egyptians as one of the first forms of makeup.

Egyptian gold bracelet 1350 BC. Scanned photograph taken from: The Gem Kingdom, by Desautels, Random House New York.

Other uses of the stone included mosaics, inlaid work, vases and other ornamental objects.  The stone  was recognized as a symbol of ability, success and divine favor.  The breast plate of the Jewish High Priest Aaron was documented to have included the stone lapis lazuli (sapphire), in second to top center row.

19th-century conception of design of the breast plate of the biblical high priest of Jerusalem. Scanned photograph taken from: The Gem Kingdom, Desautels Random House New York.

It was said the stone could impart ancient knowledge and the wisdom to use it.   The Romans believed the stone to be a powerful aphrodisiac, while others said it could dispel melancholy and depression.  It was even believed that the stone could cure a recurring fever.

Many of the superstitions of the past have carried over to the present. Today some believe the metaphysical properties of the stone include, enhancement of one's awareness, insight and intellect, and the sense of peacefulness and self-acceptance. The astrological sign for lapis lazuli is Sagittarius.

Egyptian gold ring inlayed with lapis lazuli scarab and glass 1350 BC.  Scanned photograph taken from: Tutankhamun: His Tomb and His Treasure, by Edwards (1976)

The material for this section was taken primarily from:

  • Edwards (1976). Tutankhamun: His tomb and its Treasures. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Desautels. The Gem Kingdom. NY: Random House, New York.
  • Kraus and Slawson, (1947). Gems and Gem Materials. NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.