Evolution of the Word “Bronze”

In ancient times, people can barely distinguish brass from bronze. However, from a linguistic point of view, both alloys have a common root.

The history of the term “bronze” dates back as early as ancient Persia, which called it “birinj.” It’s a bit weird because this meant “brass,” highlighting the thin line dividing brass and bronze back then. Nevertheless, it spurred derivatives in other languages such as “pirinac” (Serbo-Croatian, from “piring,” Persian for “copper”) and “brinjao” (Georgian for “bronze”).

After the split of the Roman Empire, the eastern half—later known as the Byzantine Empire—crafted its own identity, starting with coinage reforms. Heavily influenced by Greek culture, the bronze here was called “brontesion,” eventually shortened to “brontion.” However, historians believe that the term was named after the city of Brindisi in Italy, known for its bronze statues.

Around the 13th century, the Italians called it “bronzo” or “bell metal,” originating from Medieval Latin as “bronzium.” While also a copper-based alloy, bell metal is different as it doesn’t contain trace metals aside from copper and tin. Craftsmen consider it the purest form of bronze, but the lack of trace metals make it less durable than conventional bronze.

Finally, the French created the commonly-used etymological form of bronze but as a noun; the word “bronzer” was used as a verb, meaning “to tan.” It wasn’t until the 17th century that the English language unified “bronze” as both noun and verb, with the meaning unchanged.

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