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1721, "alloy of copper and tin," from French bronze, from Italian bronzo, from Medieval Latin bronzium. Perhaps cognate (via notion of color) with Venetian bronza "glowing coals," or German brunst "fire." Perhaps influenced by Latin Brundisium the Italian town of Brindisi (Pliny writes of aes Brundusinum). Perhaps ultimately from Persian birinj "copper."
In Middle English, the distinction between bronze (copper-tin alloy) and brass (copper-zinc alloy) was not clear, and both were called bras. A bronze medal was given to a third-place finisher since at least 1852. The archaeological Bronze Age (1865) falls between the Stone and Iron ages, and is a reference to the principal material for making weapons and ornaments.
1640s, literally, 1726 figuratively, from French bronzer (16c.) or else from bronze (n.). Related: Bronzed; bronzing. Meaning "to make to be bronze in color" is from 1792.