Parchment Paper- Parchment sheet

Parchment is a processed animal skin, which has been used since ancient times as writing material. It is thus a precursor of our paper.

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For civilizations of the ancient Orient and the Mediterranean, animal skins were always a readily available commodity, a byproduct of food production. The animal skins are usually put into a solution of lime to be able to remove any hair or adhering meat residues which are being scraped off by the tanners. Then, once the skin is cleaned, stretched and dried, they smoothen the surface with pumice stone and whitened it with chalk. Depending on the the texture of the animal meat, some hair may remain, but usually the flesh side is smooth, while the hair page shows pores.

Durable writing material

The advantages of parchment over and against papyrus were its predominantly light colour and durability. It is much stronger than papyrus and its surface far smoother. This allowed scribes to correct easier and also to scrap off older texts and reuse the skin for a secondary writing. In this case we speak of a palimpsest parchment (Greek: palimpsestos = " scratched out again") or, in case of a codex, of a codex rescriptus (Lain: "a code which has been written on again").

Both the quality of parchment and the care taken in manufacturing it highlighted the standard of any so-called scriptorium. The most famous scriptoria would only use the best writing material. And it also needed the expertise of the scribe or artist to deal with this expensive and extremely moisture sensitive material, one of the reasons why often the scriptorium was the only heated room of a monastery. Parchment should be kept or stored at a constant humidity of not less than 40 percent and at temperatures of around 20 degrees Celsius.

Old parchment

The oldest documents in Greek on parchment date back to the 2nd century B.C. During the 1st century A.D. parchment was used for literary works, although the originals that we still have and can date go back to the 2nd century A.D. From the 2nd, and then especially the 4th century A.D., scribes began to transfer texts from papyrus rolls on to parchment texts, bound in codices, in order to better preserve the old treasures, it was the beginning of the future books. Extraordinary examples of late antique book luxury and bibliophily are preserved with purple manuscript, illuminated parchment pages, written in silver or gold ink. The signed marriage contract of Empress Theophanu from the 10th century is regarded as a particularly valuable document on so-called purple parchment.

Parchment history

The name parchment derives its name from Pergamon, a city famous for its altar (most remnants kept in the Pergamonmuseum in Berlin, Germany), located at the Western coast of Turkey, today Bergama. Membrana pergamena means "pergamene skins". According to a note by the elder Pliny, Egypt's then ruling King Ptolemaios (180 - 145 BC) had forbidden the export of papyrus to Pergamon, where King Eumenes II (197 - 159 BC) operated a library competing with that of Egyptian Alexandria. Out of necessity, the citizens of Pergamon - so the story - invented parchment. Although the story is still considered a legend, there might be some historical truth to the relation between parchment and Pergamon, perhaps because in this city the quality of the final product through en enhanced manufactering process had been achieved there.