Altenburger Pergament und Trommelfell GmbH

History of Parchment

Parchment was likely invented around 2700 BC. Egypt's oldest parchment finds date back to that era. The name "pergament" (parchment) is derived from the city of Pergamon, where it was allegedly invented, though truly only significantly improved.

King Eumenes II of Pergamum (197-159 BC) was the one who, according to a report by the Greek writer John Lauritius Lydus from the 5th Century, 168 BC in Rome, presented thin, shaved sheep skins, which he called "membrane" (Latin membranum haut).

Even the Roman historian “Pliny the Elder” noted the prestige duel about the largest library in the world at that time between “King Eumenes II of Pergamon” and the “Pharaoh Ptolemy Epiphanes”, which granted parchment a new role in the 2nd Century BC.

Eumenes II was not allowed to exceed the Egyptian library at Alexandria in any way. Therefore, the Pharaoh Erlien remitted the export ban on papyrus and parchment became the only viable alternative for the Greeks. With all its advantages, it became, after a short time, more than a replacement and accomplished more and more from then on.

The use of dried skins offered not only the opportunity to be independent from the imports of the West, but also because this smooth, strong, writing material could be reused on both sides after the erasure of old records.

With the spread of Christianity in the 4th Century AD, parchment finally replaced papyrus scrolls. At the same time, the book form (Codex) was created, which was constructed out of several layers of parchment leaves which were enclosed by two wooden boards.

The parchment used for book production (bookbinding) and illumination (calligraphy) was better suited to the moist climate of the North than the brittle and hard, difficult to preserve papyrus.

Parchment was solely used for books and documents. One would carve everyday things and notes in wax tablets.

The tide turned during the course of the 13th Century in favor of cheaper and more time saving paper products which were made from old textiles. With the spread of printing and mass production, parchment paper entirely lost its monopoly in book binding and calligraphy.

Though today, sophisticated documents, such as certificates, coats of arms, family trees and copies of valuable original manuscripts, are often written or printed on parchment.

Steffen Kerbs