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Goat skin parchment stretched on a wooden frame

Parchment is an untanned , only lightly processed animal skin that has been used as a writing material since ancient times. Parchment is thus a forerunner to paper . Parchment was mostly made from the skins of calves , goats or sheep .

Parchment paper is paper made from cellulose and therefore not to be confused with parchment made from animal skins. But it is often wrongly called parchment .

Manufacture and properties

Example: approx. 4 × 4 cm parchment with a rough surface
Example: approx. 4 × 4 cm parchment with a smooth surface
Scroll parchment: the Torah
Parchment maker in the Nuremberg house books around 1425
Parchment production around 1568

In the advanced cultures of the ancient Orient and the Mediterranean, leather has been used as a writing material since ancient times . Like leather, parchment is also made from animal skins, which, however, are placed untanned in a lime solution before the hair, epidermis and adherent remains of meat are scraped off. The skin is then cleaned, stretched and dried.

The surface is smoothed with pumice stone and whitewashed with chalk. Depending on the care taken in processing, the different surface structure of the meat and hair side remains more or less clear: the meat side is smooth, the hair side shows the pores.

The hairlines are visible as fine dots on calf parchment. Parchment from the goat has regular, somewhat lined up dots. Sheep parchment is honey-colored, paper-like, without clear hairlines. The finest quality was made from the skins of newborn or unborn goats and lambs.

The advantages of parchment over papyrus were its smoother surface, its strength and durability, as well as its predominantly light color. The good eradicability of the lettering also makes it easier to reuse parchment that has already been written on. In this case one speaks of a palimpsest (Greek palimpsestos " scratched off again") or a codex rescriptus (Latin "rewritten codex ").

The quality of the parchment and the care taken in its manufacture were a measure of the level of a scriptorium in the Middle Ages . The ability of the scribes and painters was evident in the handling of the extremely moisture-sensitive writing material. Recommendations for this have been handed down, for example in the anonymous manuscript Compendium artis picturae from the 12th century.

The standard value for storing parchment is a constant humidity of not less than 40% at temperatures around 20 ° C.

Parchment as writing material


The name parchment (Greek περγαμηνή pergamené ) is derived from the place name Pergamon , a place on the west coast of Turkey (today Bergama ). Greek membrana pergamena means "pergamene skins". According to a note from the elder Pliny , King Ptolemy , who ruled Egypt (apparently Ptolemy V , 210–180 BC), banned the export of papyrus to Pergamon, where King Eumenes II (197–159 BC) had a Egyptian Alexandria operated competing library; As a result, the Pergameners invented parchment out of necessity. The story is widely considered legendary today. According to today's view, the name probably goes back to the fact that the writing material in Pergamon was qualitatively improved.

The oldest Greek-language documents on parchment that can be dated date from the 2nd century BC. In the 1st century AD, parchment is indirectly attested as a carrier of literary works. Dating originals go back to the 2nd century AD.

Late antiquity and the Middle Ages

From the 4th century ( late antiquity ), papyrus scrolls began to be rewritten in codices on parchment, to which the future should belong in book form. The great masterpieces of late antique illumination , such as the Viennese Dioscurides or Vergilius Vaticanus , are codices made of parchment.

Further evidence of late antique book luxury are the so-called purple manuscripts, the parchment pages of which are colored with purple and written on with silver or gold ink, such as B. the likewise illuminated Vienna Genesis. As a particularly valuable document on so-called purple parchment the true marriage of the Empress Theophano from the 10th century whose coloration by red lead and madder has been reached.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages , parchment was increasingly being replaced by paper . On the one hand, paper became significantly cheaper to produce, and on the other hand, the increasingly widespread letterpress printing required paper because it absorbs the ink better. In the course of the rise of the art of printing, the medieval manuscripts written on parchment also became wasted .

Other uses

In addition to its use as writing material , parchment was and is used as a reference material for book covers .

Since parchment is translucent, lamps and windows were also covered with parchment.

Parchment was also used to reinforce wooden surfaces. Since ancient times, wooden shields have been covered with either leather or thick parchment in order to prevent the wood from splitting when being hit. In the construction of wooden prostheses, parchment has served to strengthen the hollow wooden shafts of arm and leg prostheses up to the present day. The brittle poplar would have torn in the long run without the shrunk-on parchment cover.


Parchment paper

So-called real parchment is a cellulose paper that has been made permanently grease-proof and wet-strength with the help of chemicals . Its invention took place simultaneously in different European countries in the middle of the 19th century:

  • Louis Plaidy, who came from France, and later his son Heinrich, produced a stone parchment made from graphite quartz slate and sodium silicate solution in Wermsdorf as early as 1810 . However, the plaidies kept their manufacturing technology to themselves, so that the process was not used industrially.
  • In 1847 the French IA Poumarède and Louis Figuer published a process for the production of papyrin with sulfuric acid, which the Viennese paper researcher Bartsch helped to make ready for production about 20 years later.
  • An almost identical process was also described in 1853 by the English chemist E. Gaine. Parchment paper could then be produced industrially in England for the first time in 1861 .

Parchment paper is produced in several separate operations. In a first step, the cellulose fibers are strongly ground in order to make them impervious to grease. After the pulp has been processed into paper in the second step, the next step, relevant for parchment, is treatment with sulfuric acid. Here, the paper fibers are loosened on the surface of the paper, so that they are permanently connected to form a closed surface. This means that one hundred percent grease tightness is achieved. The excess acid is then washed out in several water baths. In the last process step, the paper is dried. In contrast to parchment replacement paper (without sulfuric acid treatment), parchment paper is highly moisture-resistant and not compostable.

Today's tracing paper as a support for hand-made technical drawings is also used as parchment paper or short as parchment called.

Special types

  • Vellum - very fine, high-quality parchment made from the skin of calves and calf fetuses

Related topics

Sources on antiquity


  • Dieter Richter : The allegory of the parchment processing. Relationships between manual processes and the spiritual imagery of the Middle Ages. In: Gundolf Keil, Rainer Rudolf, Wolfram Schmitt, Hans Josef Vermeer (eds.): Specialist literature of the Middle Ages. Festschrift Gerhard Eis. Metzler, Stuttgart 1968, pp. 83-92.
  • Peter Rück (Ed.) [In memoriam Ronald Reed † March 23, 1990]: Parchment. History - structure - restoration - manufacture. Jan Torbecke, Sigmaringen 1991, ISBN 3-7995-4202-7 ( Historical auxiliary sciences 2).
  • Sylvie Fournier: Brève histoire du parchemin et de l'enluminure. Editions Fragile, Gavaudun 1995, ISBN 2-910685-08-X ( Collection Brève Histoire ).
  • Erika Eisenlohr: The Art of Making Parchment . In: Uta Lindgren (Ed.): European technology in the Middle Ages. 800 to 1400. Tradition and innovation. A manual . Gebr. Mann Verlag, Berlin 1996. pp. 419-434 ISBN 3-7861-1748-9
  • Julia Becker, Tino Licht, Bernd Schneidmüller : Parchment . In: Michael Ott, Thomas Meier u. Rebecca Sauer (Hrsg.): Materiale Textkulturen. Concepts - materials - practices (=  material text cultures ). tape 1 . De Gruyter, Berlin / Boston / Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-11-037129-1 , pp. 337-347 . in open access
  • Carla Meyer, Bernd Schneidmüller: Between parchment and paper . In: Michael Ott, Thomas Meier u. Rebecca Sauer (Hrsg.): Materiale Textkulturen. Concepts - materials - practices (=  material text cultures ). tape 1 . De Gruyter, Berlin / Boston / Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-11-037129-1 , pp. 349-354 . in open access

Web links

Commons : Parchment  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. Vera Trost: Gold and silver inks. Technological investigation of occidental chrysography and argyrography from late antiquity to the high Middle Ages. Wiesbaden 1991
  2. Parchment at, see illustration "Protective shield covered with thick parchment".
  3. Inside rosette of a baroque harpsichord. Retrieved February 4, 2016 .
  4. ^ Siegfried Fiedler: Was Plaidy the first? In: Sächsische Heimatblätter 2/1970, pp. 85–87.