By the time pharaohs ruled Egypt, the number of reds used in artmaking had multiplied to include cinnabar, a natural mercuric sulfide that was also incredibly toxic. (The mercury mine in Almadén, Spain, where Rome later extracted its cinnabar, was basically a death sentence for workers.) Ancient Romans loved the brilliant red pigment, a preference reflected in its high prices during that time. Pliny the Younger wrote that cinnabar cost 15 times more than red ochre from Africa and was equal in price to the precious Egyptian blue. Gladiators who emerged victorious from the Colosseum might be smeared with the shiny red mineral and then paraded through the streets of Rome. Cinnabar is also prominently featured in the murals that grace the walls of upper-class villas in Pompeii.
Cinnabar later became synonymous with the carved lacquer produced in China beginning in the 12th century. These elaborately patterned luxury items, which could be anything from vases to incense holders, were typically colored with the powdery red pigment that gave them its name.