In some ways the history of the alphabet is a history of art supplies. How you write is influenced by what you have to write with—or on.
For a very long time, scribes wrote on papyrus. The papyrus reed seems to grow only in the Fertile Crescent: the delta of the Nile or between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. If you didn’t live there, papyrus had to be imported which made it pricey. As more and more people bought papyrus, it became scarce. Not only that, papyrus as a writing surface likes to be in a hot, dry environment. Places farther north are too humid for papyrus and it rots.
On the eastern side of the Aegean Sea, just down the coast from Ilium, in a little town called Pergamon, craftspeople were developing a new writing surface that would be more durable than papyrus—and smoother, too. This new stuff was made out of animal hide, kind of like leather, sliced really thin. Its name, ‘parchment,’ is likely derived from its hometown: Pergamon. It’s also known as ‘vellum,’ if made from calfskin.*
*The words ‘vellum’ and ‘veal’ are related.
Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.