• Why “Purple Parchment”?

How in heck did I come up with THE PURPLE PARCHMENT? It’s a cute, alliterative name for a blog, to be sure… but does it mean anything?

Actually, it does.

In Ancient Roman times, people had three ways of writing things down.

Wax tablets might be called the first-century equivalent of our spiral notebooks. Using styluses, schoolboys wrote their lessons on wax tablets, which could be rubbed out and reused. Secretaries took dictation on them, using a form of shorthand.

Papyrus was the closest thing to our paper… used for some degree of permanence but obviously destructible.

Parchment was the most lasting medium of communication… used for things the writer wanted to endure, such as Imperial decrees, wills/deeds/bills of sale/certificates of manumission/et al, and Biblical texts.

Parchment was made of stretched animal skins, which explains the durability factor. Documents written on parchment would not tear, and it was tough to cut them up. When burned (as happens once in Rubies of the Viper), they stank and melted into a puddle of waxy ashes.

Usually, parchments were a natural tan. For special documents, however, they might be dyed. Purple parchments were the medium of choice for messages sent by the emperor and his family or staff.

Really important imperial messages always went out on purple parchment, dyed using secretions from a mollusk. They had a special name: Codex Purpureus. Ink used on these purple parchments was made with either gold or silver.

I figure… if purple parchment was good enough for Emperor Nero, it’s good enough for me.

—text copyright © Martha Marks—

One thought on “• Why “Purple Parchment”?

  1. What a wonderful wealth of factual detail from the times of Ancient Rome is provided by both Rubies of the Viper and these subsequent illuminating blogs. I found the book engrossing and the blogs no less so. Robert Davidson. The Tuzla Run

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