Throughout human history, from the ages of cave paintings through to advanced civilizations, colours have had meaning. Live Science lays out all of the symbolic meanings of the core colours, such as red implying passion and purple connoting royalty. That said, it’s clear that great civilizations have understood colours to have different meanings to what we assign them today, and we even associate colours shown alongside ancient cultures and mythologies differently because of our understanding of life in those times. Ancient Civilisations-
Interaction of Color, available at Yale Books, details colour theory and how even the ancient Egyptians would practice phototherapy, as would civilizations in Greece, India, and China. So here, we’re delving into the colours that were used by and are presently strongly associated with some of the great civilizations of human history and Ancient Civilisations, particularly in popular entertainment media.
Egypt’s deep blues and golds
When conjuring up iconic images of ancient Egyptian society, the first things that likely come to mind are their monumental structures, like the pyramids and Great Sphinx, crafted from limestone and now a colour akin to their surroundings in the desert. Next, however, would be the iconic pharaoh’s headdress, as famously donned by king Tutankhamun, hooped in deep blue and gold. As detailed by Artsy, gold was thought to be the skin of the mythological deities, which is why pharaohs were both draped in the colour and had the metal used to seal their tombs. Blue, or specifically, a deep blue, was created in ancient Egypt by mixing copper oxides with silica.
The colour was used to symbolize life, rebirth, and fertility, per World History, all of which linked back to their worship of the anthropomorphized river Nile. The Nile’s timely flooding would provide fertility to the land and life to its inhabitants. Now, primarily because of the iconic image of King Tut’s Nemes, gold and deep blue are the colours most widely associated with ancient Egypt. In the 1999 hit movie The Mummy, the halls of the cursed high priest Imhotep are covered in gold, perhaps reflecting the character’s new god-like powers and importance. You’ll see a similar sentiment used throughout the best Assassin’s Creed game, Origins.
Norse’s browns and icy blues- Ancient Civilisations
The main aspects of Norse society that we know the most about today are their conquests and their mythology. However, while the people who comprised those known as the Vikings’ lands were prolific, much of what we know in historical records about their mythology comes from texts, as detailed by English History, as opposed to images and colourations. Picture stones have been recovered, but like much of Viking Art, little survived beyond the carvings on metal and stone: colouration beyond red backgrounds is rarely found, such as that found on the Tjängvide image stone or Stora Hammars I stone. However, Science Nordic relays that it’s known that Vikings did love colourful clothing.
Without much to signal iconic Viking colours, we modern people have assigned our own logical associations to them. Dark browns are a common feature through the assumption of Vikings wearing pelts made from animals to keep warm, as are icy blues to reflect the cold climate, ice, and steel. This colour scheme plays a part in the aesthetic of the Betway Casino game Thunderstruck II, which is centred on Thor but also features Odin and the Valkyrie. Powering the use of icy blue is the lightning summoned by Thor. In the top Mac game Banner Saga, you see this same blue make up many house colours, striped shields and be prevalent across the snow-laden backdrop.
Aztec’s dark greens and reds
The infamously fearsome Mesoamerican civilization of the Aztecs built great cities on lakes, ritually sacrificed people to the gods, and has one of the richest mythologies on record. Eye-witness accounts of the time have greatly, but likely with some bias, helped us to understand this long-lost culture. The Florentine Codex is one such invaluable source, with the original copy documenting the history, religion, and culture of the Aztecs. In the codex, images of warriors like Capitulo 21 have helped us to create a colour association, with red and green being the most prominent. What tends to stand out are the bright red pigments used for rituals and the dark greens often from the feathers worn.
Colour Meanings details that red represented the rising of the sun, with the incredibly important feathered-serpent deity Quetzalcóatl often shown in red and facing east – as is customary of red Aztec figures. The long green feathers of the now-named resplendent quetzal bird became associated with Quetzalcóatl, with the green of a snake also important to its image. Perhaps the most striking use of this Aztec imagery, especially as we’re discussing deities, is Ogre from the Tekken video game series. Debuting in Tekken 3, which can now be played at Retro Games, the “God of Fighting” has dark green skin, wears a crown of long red feathers, and wears Aztec-sculpted gold armour. While Tekken 7 may be one of the best fighting games out there, Ogre’s last appearance was in Tekken Tag Tournament 2.
Small insights into the history of these great ancient civilisations and cultures have created a foundational colour association with each of them, which has, in turn, continued to be leaned upon in modern entertainment media to reinforce such relations.