History and Uses of the Parchment

The history of the Parchment is confidentially connected to that of writing.
According to periods and countries, various materials were used for writing: tablets covered with clay or with wax, silk tissue, papyrus, parchment or paper.

The Papyrus
By 2600 before JC, Egyptians developed from a plant growing in the delta of the Nile, a writing material, papyrus. The stalks of papyrus were cut in narrow small strips, arranged perpendicularly then compressed, hammered and polished. The obtained sheets were stuck end to end to form a roller the length of which could reach between 6 and 15 meters, on 30 40 centimeters in height. Until VIIth century, Egypt supplied the Mediterranean Basin with raw material in the form of virgin rollers. Papyrus is fragile and need to be rolled. According to the practised writing direction, these rollers are named differently. Rotulus takes place vertically for reading. On the other hand, Volumen is kept horizontally in two hands, the one unwinding and the other one rolling up. This shape will be preserved for the Torah by the Jewish people. Documents indicate us that the popes still used the papyrus between 788 and 1050.

The Parchment of Pergame
Later 324 before J-C, a date of the death of Alexander the Great, which established the great library of Alexandria (Egypt), the city of Pergame, in Mysie, (today Bergama in Turkey) reaches its peak during the reign of Eumènes II (197-159 before J-C). He is an important builder, he enlarges the city and embellishes it by decorating it with a large number of monuments including Asclépion, which becomes one of the most famous of the antique world and which shelters the great majority of the works of art of the school of Pergame which we admire today. Eumène II develops and enriches the library of Pergame, which goes down in history as the rival of the library of Alexandria. The city also was important in the development of astronomy, shipbuilding, literature, mathematics and philosophy. In 170 before Christ, Pergame possessed prosperous farming and industrial base, ceramic and especially, parchments which compete with the Egyptian papyri. A conflict grows between Alexandria and Pergame about which city houses the biggest Library of the world. That is why the word "parchment" derives from the name of the city of Pergame because it is in this city where was perfected this type of skin, to face the embargo of the papyrus, decided by Egypt. In 41 before Christ, Mark-Antony is said to have offered two hundred thousand volumen of parchment from the collections of Pergame to queen Cléopâtre to compensate for the loss of the works burned in the library of Alexandria.

Of the roller to the book
The move towards use of the parchment thus allows to evolve towards a more practical format, the codex or book. The assembly in the form of book is known from the year 84. This shape will be adopted by the Christian religion (the religion of the Book) and the first known Bibles, written on codex, date from the IIth century.

The use of the parchment really spread in Europe, around the year 400. Parchment is obtained from skins of sheep or goat, and the most beautiful quality, which is the vellum, is obtained from the calf. Skins are sold by packs of 24 or 36 rolls. They are folded in 2, 4 or 8 to obtain more or less big sheets which are combined in books.

The rule of Saint Benoît, which prescribes the presence of books, stimulated their production and between the year 500 and the year 1400, books were only produced in the scriptorium of monasteries. Their creation corresponds to an act of faith. By 1200 schools were created and the book goes beyond monasteries.

By 1300, independent artists create diaries and books of prayer illuminated for the rich families. The book becomes a personal object.

The paper
In 105, paper was invented in China. It arrived in Europe by 1400 and replaced parchment because it is 13 times cheaper. As for the papyrus, supply problems after the arrival of Arabic in Egypt in 639, accelerated its fall.

Photos above Write in a decorative hand


Parchment is used in many and various activities, some of them less well known.

History and uses of the ParchmentHistory and uses of the ParchmentHistory and uses of the Parchment