Sulfur (S), also known as sulphur, is a nonmetallic chemical element belonging to the oxygen group. Pure sulfur is a tasteless, odorless, brittle solid subject which is pale yellow in color. It is a poor conductor of electricity and insoluble in water. Sulfur reacts with all metals except gold and platinum and forms sulfides. Moreover it forms compounds with many nonmetallic elements.
The history of sulfur is part of ancient time. Perhaps the name of sulfur found its way into Latin from the language of the Oscans, ancient people who lived in the region including Vesuvius, where sulfur deposits are widely found. Prehistoric people applied sulfur as a pigment for painting the caves; one of the first recorded examples of the art of medication is in the use of sulfur as a tonic.
Sulfur combustion had an important role in Egyptian religious ceremonies as early as 4,000 years ago. The expression of “Fire and brimstone” in the Bible refers to sulfur, meaning that “hell’s fires” are fuelled by sulfur. The starts of practical and industrial applications of sulfur are related to the Egyptians, using sulfur dioxide for bleaching cotton as early as 1600 BCE.
Even sulfur is found in Greek mythology, for instance, Homer tells of Odysseus’ use of sulfur dioxide to fumigate a chamber in which he had slain his wife’s suitors. Sulfur application in explosives and fire displays relates back to about 500 BC in China, and flame-producing agents used in warfare (Greek fire) were made with sulfur in the middle Ages.
Pliny the Elder (Roman author) in 50 CE reported a number of individual applications of sulfur and ironically he himself was killed by sulfur fumes, at the time of the great Vesuvius eruption (79 CE).
Alchemists considered sulfur as the principle of combustibility. In 1777 Lavoisier considered sulfur as an element, although it was known by many to be a compound of hydrogen and oxygen. The French chemists Joseph Gay-Lussac and Louis Thenard established sulfur elemental nature.