BASALTES: Balanites: Basalt.
rock, extremely fine-grained, of a deep black, but showing a slight
tinge of green when viewed at a certain angle. The Romans got it from
Egypt, and its name (Coptic) implied that it had both the appearance
and the hardness of iron (xxxvi. 11). Indeed sculptures in Basalt have
greatly the appearance of cast-iron figures. The surface, however
highly polished, exhibits a granular texture, serving to distinguish
it from the valuable antique black marble, the " Nero antico."
largest work in Basalt known to the Romans was the recumbent Nile, with
his sixteen infants sporting about him— alluding to the number of
cubits attained by his annual rise. This had been dedicated in the
Temple of Peace by Vespasian, and is now in the Capitoline Museum. It
is apparently a work of the age of the Ptolemies, and brought from
Alexandria by the Emperor named as the dedicator. Pliny mentions a
report that there existed at Thebes a similar statue, but of Serapis.
The Capitoline Museum also possesses some wonderful Centaurs and Stags
in Basalt, ascribed to the reign of Hadrian. His love for Egyptian art
had revived the use of this stone, in which some extraordinary
monuments of the earliest times were executed, such as the sarcophagus
in the British Museum commonly known as the Tomb of Alexander.
more compact pieces of this extremely hard material were used for
scarabs and intagli by the 'later Egyptians. It is not unusual to find
Gnostic amulets, belonging to the Alexandrian sects, engraved in
Basalt. Engravers, however, of a good period, have never made use of so
coarse a material. The only black stone ever presenting intagli of
artistic value is the Black Jasper, and even that was but in small
request with the Romans.