(ἐλέφας, ebur; elephantus, poet., Georg.iii. 26; Aen.iii. 464 Aen., vi. 896). African ivory was known to the ancients, through Phnician trade, long before the elephant. Accordingly, early writersHomer, Hesiod, Pindarspeak of the material only. Herodotus, indeed, was aware of its origin (iv. 191; Plin. H. N.viii. 7), but the Greeks generally only became acquainted with the animal from the Macedonian expeditions into Asia, the Romans from the arrival of Pyrrhus in Italy. Both wordsἐλέφας, eburpossibly contain the [figure in text: Ivory Spoon. (Schliemann.)] Egyptian b, ivory, elephant (Schrader, Linguist. histor. Forsch. zur Handelsgesch. i. 71.
The use of ivory in the manufacture of small objects of use or ornament, and for purposes of decoration, is earliest in Egypt and Assyria. There have been found, for instance, castanets, stick-handles, hilts and hefts, combs, flutes, sceptres, caskets, statuettes, made of the tusk, and many different articles of furniture inlaid with it. In Homer, besides its employment when carved in mass, it is referred to in connection with walls, doors, harness, etc., and was then probably attached in plates by nails to a metal or wooden ground. In later times true inlaying was resorted to, and almost every kind of furniture, as beds, sofas, thrones, carriages even, enriched with the precious material.
Among objects not enumerated above may be mentioned masks and writing-tablets. The latter (δέλτοι, libri elephantini), with two, three, or more [figure in text: Ivory Handle. (Schliemann.)] leaves (diptycha, triptycha, pentaptycha, etc.), were either entirely, or had their covers only, of ivory. Those extant are chiefly of the later Roman age. They are of two classes, consularia and ecclesiastica, distinguished by the subjects of the carvings on their covers, the former being figures of consuls at the pompa circensis, missiones, etc., while the latter are of a Biblical nature (Mller, Arch. d. Kunst. 312, n. 3). They were presented to officers and dignitaries to commemorate their appointment. See Diptycha.
For further information see H. Blmner, Tchnol. u. Terminol. d. Gewerbe, etc., ii. 361-375, where there is a full bibliography; and cf. the article Chryselephantina.