Monthly Archives: April 2016

Writing Revelation: Game of Thrones, Greco-Roman Oracles, and the Epigraphy of Divination


Promotional photo of Carice van Houten as Melisandre on Game of Thrones. Image via Wikimedia.

Who doesn’t want to know the future? This question has been on my mind since finishing some solid binge-watching of Season 5 of Game of Thrones in order to catch up before the season premiere on Sunday. Over the course of the season, I became rather fascinated with the priestess of the Lord of Light, Melisandre, who served as the advisor to the rather unfortunate Stannis Baratheon. Although I cannot prove it, it seems to me that Melisandre is closely based upon another famous female prophetess named Martha, a Syrian woman whom the Roman commander Marius brought with him on campaign in an opulent litter (Plut. Mar. 17). Although the Senate of Rome had initially rejected her prophecies, after the imperator was victorious at the Battle of Aquae Sextiae in 102 BCE, her visions of the future became legitimized–at least to Marius. The Greek historian Plutarch wrote that as a result of his belief in her powers, “[Marius] would make sacrifices at her bidding” (Ibid).

Notably, Martha did not ask Marius to sacrifice a child, as Stannis Baratheon did on Game of Thrones. I suspect that in Stannis’ case, George R.R. Martin is actually alluding to the Greek myth that held that Agamemnon attempted to kill his daughter Iphigenia in order that his ships might sail safely to Troy (some versions of the myth have her dying). (Historical NB: It is always a bad idea to sacrifice your children in hopes of swaying the Gods in your favor.) As both Melisandre and Martha demonstrate, the future is a murky place, and people will do almost anything to try to make it more lucid. Moreover, Marius and Stannis had the luxury of funds in order to seek their futures, but what about those who did not have enough income to allow for a personal soothsayer (i.e. most of us)?

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A 1st c. Roman mosaic depiction of the sacrifice of Iphigenia from Ampurias in Spain. Image via Wikimedia. The mosaic is now at the Archaeological Museum of Catalunya.

Oracles: Throughout the Mediterranean, people from all social classes travelled to oracles in order to find out answers about the future. We are told by Pausanias (10.24.1) that at the famed Oracle at Delphi, there were γράματτα (inscriptions) in the pronaos of the Temple of Apollo that contained philosophical aphorisms for visitors to reflect on as they entered: ‘γνῶθι σεαυτόν’ (know thyself) and μηδέν άγαν (‘nothing in excess’). A bronze statue of Homer apparently stood nearby that had his Delphic prophecy inscribed on the statue base. Although we don’t have these inscriptions today, Pausanias and others historians’ descriptions of the inscriptions that covered Delphi indicate that the site contained many oracular responses, warnings, and writings that spoke directly to visitors seeking to find their future. Manuela Mari probably put it best when she noted about the inscriptions at Delphi that “A monument or inscription allows the amplification of the narrative beyond the limits of what is visible, or the evaluation of the distance between glorious past and its physical remains” (Mari 2013: 127). Inscriptions continued to connect visitors with the past, even as they sought their future.

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Memento Mori mosaic, convent of San Gregorio, Via Appia, Rome, Italy. Now in the National Museum, Rome, Italy. Image via Wikimedia.

Many of these pilgrimages to oracles are ephemeral visits, with the oral responses disappearing along with the ones that spoke or heard them. We must remember that most things were indeed spoken in antiquity rather than written down. However, we do have some inscribed evidence for prophecies beyond literary testimonies, which can tell us about how they may have played out in reality.


A map of the principal Greek sanctuaries. The hexagonal shapes indicate a sanctuary with an oracle attached. Image via Wikimedia.

The oracular tablets from the oracle at Dodona in Epirus are especially telling. Apparently, visitors wrote their query on a leaden strip and then folded it over numerous times. The inquiry was placed in a jar and then the the priestess drew from that jar various questions. At the same time, she drew responses from a separate jar. These said “yes”, “no”, et cetera. We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 of these responses. Most date to about 500-250 BCE (Oberhelman 2006: 240). They cover many of the same issues we would ask about today: children, marriages, health, and money. My favorite is perhaps just, “Did Thopion steal the silver?” Unfortunately, we do not know what the oracle’s response was.

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Lead tablet from the Sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona. A man named Hermon asks to which god address his wish to have children with his wife Kretaia. Ioannina Museum, Epirus, Greece, c. 500 BCE. Note that the text is in boustrophedon and thus is read right to left.

Astragaloi: Another common way of asking the future was quite literally to roll the dice, an approach called astragalomancy. A number of inscriptions on ἀστράγαλοι (Lat. astragali, i.e., the four-sided knucklebones from sheep, pigs, and goats or their imitations in bronze, wood, or other materials) have been found. Usually they were used for a popular betting game, but in some instances, they were used to divine the future. A number of inscriptions found in southwestern Asia Minor, at the Lycian site of Termessos, tell us about this divination game. The inscriptions date to the 2nd century CE and indicate that boards were sometimes setup so that certain rolls of the ἀστράγαλοι could divine the future. (Paus. 7.25, 10). There are 56 inscriptions on a pillar that then helped individuals interpret their roll. Epigrapher Fritz Graf has a great article on these inscriptions, which often have a formula: Roll of the Dice + Outcome + God to be sacrificed to (“If ____ is rolled, then____ will happen, and so appease the god (or goddess)______”).


A number of astragaloi game pieces now reside at the British Musuem. These are from 6th c. BCE Cyprus. Image via the British Museum.

Bibliomancy: A final way to consult an oracle as a common person was through using books for sortes. This means opening a book to a seemingly random passage and using it to divine your future. In his Confessions, Augustine seems to allude to this practice, noting that he randomly opened to a relevant passage written by the Apostle Paul in his Epistles: “I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: ‘Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence.’ No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away” (Conf. 8.12).

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Papyrus of Romans 16:34 – Hebrews 1:7. P.Mich.inv. 6238 [known as P46]. Might this be how Augustine read his Paul? You can explore the letters of Paul held at the University of Michigan library in a new iTunes App here.

Augustine clearly believed that the passage he had landed on spoke to his own personal conflict. There is, after all, often a notable narcissism to superstitions and to divination. However, patristic texts were not the only written words consulted to divine the future. Poetry could also be consulted. The term “rhapsodomancy” is the technical name for randomly consulting poetry for divine answers, and both Homer and Virgil were favored texts for this type of divination. A few years ago, Mary Beard ran an excellent column on the so-called Sortes Virgilianae.  As she explores: from the early empire forwards, people randomly opened passages of Virgil if they had a question that needed to be answered. There is an online version of the Sortes Virgilianae here, so go ahead and ask for your fate through the words of the poet. Into the Middle Ages, Virgil was still seen as something approaching a divine text.



Illumination on vellum from the Vergilius Vaticanus (Biblioteca Apostolica, Cod. Vat. lat. 3225). 5th c. CE.

Although early Christians were no longer supposed to consult “pagan” oracles after the fourth century, the oracular ritual of submitting written questions did not die out. The epigraphic habit simply transferred from shrines dedicated to pagan deities over to shrines dedicated to saints. One of the best examples of this comes from two papyri (P. Oxy. XVI 1926 and P. Rendel Harris 54) dated to the 6th century CE, originally from the shrine of Saint Philoxenus (The best article on these papyri is by the great papyrologist Herbert Youtie, but is unfortunately locked up in JSTOR). A man asking whether he should go into the banking business submits both an affirmative and a negative response on two pieces of papyrus. The priest was then supposed to hand back the correct answer, although we don’t know whether the oracle told the man to go into finance or not. These papyri illustrate the fact that the will to divine the future for one’s self is part of the human condition and not limited to a purely pagan practice.


Obverse of P. Oxy XVI 1926. Image via Oxyrhynchus Online. The papyrus is now at the Sackler Library in Oxford, UK.

As written remains indicate, divination was not a practice confined to the elites. Everyone from the poor living in the Subura at Rome to the emperor living in his palace on the Palatine wanted to know their futures. What differed was the means by which one attained a prophecy. While Stannis Baratheon and Marius had the means to hire a personal prophetess to follow them around, other people consulted local oracles, used dice, or consulted books (probably from local libraries) for answers to their questions. As I have written about before, dream manuals such as that of Artemidorus’ were also a popular way to divine the future. 


A young Cersei visited a witch named Maggy on Game of Thrones.

What is perhaps more interesting than how people attained divinations is what people then chose to do with these prophecies. As we saw last night on the season premiere of Game of Thrones, after being told by her brother about the death of their daughter, Cersei realized that the prophecy she had been given by a witch when she was a teenager was coming true. Namely that she would have three children and that “gold will be their crowns” and “gold their shrouds.” Although Cersei now seems completely convinced that the vision of the witch will be fully realized, Jaime was not as convinced. He still believed in their ability to shape their own future. In his words, “Fuck prophecy. Fuck fate.” One wonders to what degree divined answers shaped the lives, thoughts, and motivations of everyday people, and how many times people simply rolled the dice a second time. As the witch tells young Cersei, “Everyone wants to know their future… until they know their future.”

‘Can I Get Your Autograph?’: A Short History of Signature Collecting


Greek gold signet ring (c. 400 BCE). Athena is depicted seated with her owl; the Greek inscription reads “Anaxiles.” This is likely the artist who made the ring. Image via the British Museum.

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with collecting the signatures of the Atlanta Braves baseball players. It was a point of pride to show my friends the signatures of John Smoltz or Greg Maddux, and they provided me with a little residual cachet. Turns out that Romans had much the same reaction. The natural historian Pliny the Elder (NH 37.15) remarks that in the first century BCE, the dictator Sulla’s son-in-law was rumored to have a penchant for collecting rings in a cabinet called a dactyliotheca (Gr.δακτυλιοθήκη). Male and female Romans wore rings on the finger next to their pinky on their left hand–i.e. their ring finger (Aul. Gell. 10.10). Many of these were signet rings used to seal documents with wax or even clay in a design specific to an individual.

At first, these rings were made of iron and later of gold. They often passed from elder to younger kin within a family for use over several generations. Scaurus is an early example of an autograph collector who hunted down these seal rings for himself. He also started a trend. Not to be outdone (particularly not by someone related to Sulla!), Pompey later donated to the Capitol a ring that had belonged to King Mithridates. In the true spirit of one-upping, Julius Caesar then dedicated six ring cabinets to the Temple of Venus Genetrix.

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An imitative 18th c. intaglio in sardonyx of Demetrius Poliorcetes or perhaps Alexander the Great wearing a diadem with a small horn; inscribed with “KARPOU” “Of Karpos”–likely the name of a fake engraver; in gold mount. Image via the British Museum.


An Akkadian farmer’s cylinder seal from c. 2350 BCE now at the Walter’s Art Museum in Baltimore.

Long before the ascent of Greece or Rome, seals were used in ancient Near Eastern civilizations. Yet they were not just the purview of kings and dynasts. The Walter’s Art Museum has an Akkadian cylinder seal from 2350 BCE inscribed with the name of the owner: “Ur-Inanna, the farmer.” Using someone else’s seal could connect you with legitimacy and power. Ergo, Octavian may have used Julius Caesar’s ring as a signature at first, before adopting a Sphinx signet found among his mother’s rings (Plin. NH. 37.10). Briefly, Octavian used Alexander the Great as a seal, before becoming more confident in his role. During the principate he used an image of himself created by the artist Dioscurides (Dio 51.3.6; Suet. Aug. 50). He used it to seal diplomata (military diplomas), epistulae (letters), libelli (petitions), and other documents. It was this seal that was used by later emperors as a mark of the position of Augustus. Continuity in seal symbolized a continuity in power.

As I have written about before, the proliferation of artist signatures on vases, mosaics, gems, and other works do give us some famous autographs. These inscriptions were a popular way to advertise one’s personal creations or to signify the work of a particular workshop, and people definitely collected such signed works done by well-known artists in particular.


“Nikosthenes’ signature (Nikosthenes epoiesen–“Nikosthenes made [this]”) on the neck of a black-figure amphora, c. 530–520 BC, located in the Louvre.” Image via Wikimedia.

The word “signature” comes from the future active participle of the Latin verb “signo”. Thus signaturum is “something about to be sealed or marked.” Roman signatures didn’t just come in the form of waxen seals. Greeks and Romans also signed their names (often with the date appended) in order to authenticate certain legal documents. To write something with your own hand was in Greek called αὐτόγραφος. Transliterated, this later became the word “autograph.” The historian Suetonius (Ner. 10) relates an anecdote about the emperor Nero’s reluctance to give an autograph. When asked to sign the death warrant for a convict, the emperor lamented that he wished he had never learned how to write.

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In the 2nd or 3rd c. CE, the people of Aphrodisias had a subscriptio written by Augustus to the Samians copied and inscribed on the archive wall. Letters from emperors were often archived and then copied for public display in order to confirm civic grants (e.g., tax breaks). Image via the Inscriptions of Aphrodisias, King’s College-London.

In Roman law, this official underwriting was called a subscriptio, and was akin to the modern idea of the use of a signature as a judgement–a kind of signing off on a verdict. Witnesses to documents also signed on the bottom, as exemplified in a grant of citizenship given to Mauretanians under the reign of Commodus called the Tabula Banasitana. A number of witnesses’ signatures were copied onto the bronze tabula from the original document (a tabula was quite an expensive Xerox copy) in the late 2nd c. CE.

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The bronze Tabula Banasitana. (Morocco), Musée archéologique de Rabat. Note the bottom says “Signaverunt” (They signed), followed by a list of people. Image via the Studia Humanitatis Blog.

As Elizabeth Meyer has written, any subscriptio only added value to a document. Scribes and slaves often wrote letters for their masters, such that we don’t get the handwriting of the individual writing a letter except in legal documents requiring such a subscriptio. Even an imperial subscript or letter in the emperor’s hand said only “Vale”–“Farewell!” if a full subscript wasn’t needed (2004: 210). It was usually the seal that truly stood in as the personal signature of the man or woman sending the document, though later Roman emperors could also use special purple inks to denote their identity.

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A birth notice from July 11, 72 CE. The bottom is signed with a subscriptio by an amphodarch named Apollonius, along with the date. P. Warr.2 = HGV P.Warr. 2 = Trismegistos 13701 = leidenpapinst.apis.0002. Image via

Although Greece and Rome had strong oral relations for business negotiations, there were times when regular individuals also had to sign their signature on a document. If they were not literate enough to sign their name or had extremely bad eyesight, they could hire a ὑπογραφεύς (a subscriber) to sign for them as their proxy.


P. Petaus 121. Inv. No. 328 Cologne. 182-187 CE. Image via the University of Cologne.

These scribes had to practice their signature just like everyone else. We even have papyri illustrating a scribe named Petaus who over and over wrote the formula for a proper signature: Name + Title + “I have submitted.” Such scribes served as a kind of notary that could authenticate and sign documents for their clients, but they were often related to the individual in some way.

Well into the period of Late Antiquity, signatures remained potent and validating. They were required on documents produced during Church synods (In 325 CE, all bishops present–except those that had abstained– had to sign off on documents from the Council of Nicaea) and we have a number of them on early medieval charters. Many of these have been fabulously collected and written upon by Ainoa Castro over on the Visigothic Script blog. Both scribes and bishops developed their own distinctive monograms, signatures, and scripts in order to authenticate documents. These documents were often prized by churches and archives, and carried around by individuals as, say, proof of ownership or citizenship. Seals also continued to be used well into the middle ages, as evidenced by the database of Byzantine seals (called bullae in Latin) at Dumbarton Oaks. The one below is a 10th or 11th c. Byzantine seal that reads: Κύριε βοήθει τῷ σῷ δούλῳ Μαριανό κυβυκλισίῳ κὲ βασιλικό κλιρικῷ: “Lord, help your servant Marianos kouboukleisios and imperial cleric” (trans. Dumbarton Oaks). Such official seals were collectors items as well as authenticators.

Although imperial seals and autographed documents had been collected by cities, archives, and sometimes individuals in antiquity, the taste for signatures as transportable marks of status took hold particularly during the Renaissance of the 15th century. Manuscript hunters put great stock in possessing old documents and authenticating them, and the craze for vestiges of the past extended to the signature. Into the 16th century, people also began to collect the signatures of their friends and family members. These were called alba amicorum (“albums of friends”), and they were simply a way of showing off ones networks of friends. Think of it as a a Renaissance Facebook wall that could be displayed at parties or in houses, in order to gloat about the high and mighty people you had connected with.


Wikimedia Image uploaded on 02-10-2013 from the Flickr stream of the Royal Library, The Hague (Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB, national library of the Netherlands). This is a page from the album amicorum of van Hans van Wyckel.

Well into the Early Modern period, people continued to collect such albums and to keep visitor books at the front of their house in order to show off the list of people who had come. A small, magical part of a person was transmitted via a signature–producing an artifact that could be revisited over and over, even if the person was absent or dead. Certain signatures became recognizable (e.g., I can to this day still recognize a Thomas Jefferson signature), and the diversification of names (unlike most Roman names, which were rather limited in scope) allowed for the personal signature, rather than the seal, to become a much more individualized touch. Official documents carried signatures, and were displayed with pride–just as they had been in antiquity. I have a bunch of diplomas on my office wall functioning in this manner right now.

Collecting books with signatures from famous authors or owners remains in vogue, and many still cherish any evidence of touch or contact with a celebrated person. Signatures continue to function as a means of verification and a visualization of a social network. Much like Twitter or Facebook, which use our chosen profile image as our seal and personal signature to be left in the comments section, autographs showed the popularity, networks, and import of an individual to all who view it. As in antiquity, a name, seal, or complex monogram was a powerful thing to confer and to receive. Whether in wax, on papyrus, or on paper, people tapped into this transferrable potency by collecting and then displaying signatures as form of social currency to be spent again and again.

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The signature of George Washington from the 1789 imprint of the first acts passed by Congress. Image and signature via the Library of Congress.

Sacrificial Lambs: Livestock, Book Costs, and the Premodern Parchment Trade


Copenhagen, Royal Library. Ms. 4, 2o f. 183v. Image via Medieval Manuscript Manual.

Pliny the Elder remarks on a conflict that arose between King Eumenes of Pergamum and Ptolemy V, the Egyptian pharaoh, around 191 BCE. The naturalist notes the regal rivalry in his section on writing materials from the ancient world (NH 13.21). During an epic battle to build each other’s libraries bigger and faster (would that this were the nature of building competitions today!), Ptolemy prohibited the export of papyrus. As trade embargoes can do (e.g. the embargo placed on Tyrian purple after the sack of Constantinople), it sparked invention in what is today Western Turkey. By necessity, parchment was developed as an alternative to Egyptian papyrus–or so the legend goes. Here Pliny uses the Latin word membrana (‘skin’, Gr.μεμβράνα) to describe the use of animal skins as a writing surface. Later, the Latin word pergamenum developed in order to describe the material, and then the French parchemin. Today we just call it parchment.

Parchment Fragment 19

Parchment fragment 19 is from the 3rd c. and is made of a thicker leather-like material. Image  via the University of Minnesota 

In all likelihood, the use of animals skins as a writing material far predated the great papyrus tussle of the early second century BCE. However, the continued refining of the process used to produce hides thin enough to preserve writing may indeed have been a specialty of the Eastern city–so the name stuck. The apostle Paul likely used parchment notebooks, and we have surviving parchment pieces from Egypt and Dura Europos where the dry climate has preserved the perishable material for later inspection. The rather thick parchment piece (really almost leather) to the left is of an unknown provenance and is dated to 256-260 CE, during the reign of the emperors Valerian and Gallienus.

The Price Edict of Diocletian (301 CE) lists a parchment maker as making 40 denarii for 1 foot (called a quaternion) of white or yellow parchment (Lauffer 1971, 120, l.38). Based off of the Edict, Robert Marichal has estimated that a copy of Virgil’s Aeneid would have been 3,400 denarii, whereas one of lesser quality would have been 2,600 denarii (1963: 215). To put this into perspective: unskilled workers made just 25 denarii a day and were probably not saving up for their own copy of Virgil. Rosamond McKitterick puts it this way: “a teacher would have to have taken 52 students for a month, or a farmer would have had to sell 185 pounds of pork, or 160 litres of wine” in order to buy a parchment Virgil (1989: 137).

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A 15th c. parchment copy of Virgil’s Aeneid now at the Yale University Library, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Beinecke MS 1125.

Biblical texts could also command a high price tag. For example, take the Hexapla (the Ἑξαπλᾶ was Origen’s copy of the Old Testament), which is 7,623 pages and 40 lines per page (Fun fact for your next cocktail party: the Hebrew Bible alone has 304,901 words in it, according to the medieval scribes). The Hexapla has been priced at about 150,000-155,000 denarii (Grafton 2008: 106; Hale Williams 2006: 175). Grafton calculates that the cost of the book would have been the same as the subsistence level for 38 laborers (ibid. 324) for a year. That means about 20 denarii–a little less than a daily laborer’s wage–per 40-lined parchment page.

The oldest extant complete copy of the New Testament was made of parchment, the so-called Codex Sinaiticus. The manuscript dates to the 4th c. CE and is now held at the British Museum, however, an interactive online version is now available here. As the Price Edict indicates, large parchment codices were a luxury rather than a common household item.

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The new online version of the Codex Sinaiticus allows users to explore the 4th c. CE parchment of the New Testament and the Septuagint, written in Greek. This is a screenshot of Matthew 1:1, written in koine Greek by Scribe A.

The fourth century was a big time for the use of parchment. In his De viris illustribus, Jerome writes to Marcella, and notes that Euzoius, a Caesarean cleric (a bishop from 369 to 380), took deteriorated manuscripts and had them recopied onto parchment from their original papyrus. I should here note that many arguments over the differences between parchment and another writing material, vellum, still persist among academics (Avrin 1991: 212). Many say parchment is made from adult animals like cows and sheep, while vellum is made from baby animals like calves and lambs. I subscribe to the idea that parchment was simply defined as thicker and coarser, whereas vellum was thinner and softer. Adding dyes to codex pages and using expensive inks–as was done to the vellum Codex Argenteus, which used expensive purple dye and silver and gold inks–could really jack the price up. Regardless of such additional bells and whistles, scholars estimate: 200-225 hides of goat or sheep = 1 parchment Bible; 120 hides of goat or sheep or 60 cattle skins = 1 codex consisting of 240 folios (40 x 30 cm page size)

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Page from the 6th century CE Codex Argenteus, a vellum manuscript written in silver and gold ink on purple. Image via Wikimedia.

In the middle ages, monasteries became producers of parchment as well as consumers, and in turn needed to source a large number of animals: lambs, sheep, goats, calves, cows, and even donkeys. Notably, the brothers who made parchment were called fratres pergamentarii, but both monks and nuns travelled to the city in order to buy parchment and vellum at the market. These hides were not produced exclusively for parchment. Tanners, parchment makers, and butchers all used these animal parts. The hides at hand for a scriptorium could often be determined by the meat popular in the area. Goats were, for instance, popular in Bologna. As a result, lots of goat parchment was produced in that area of Italy. It also appears more difficult to obtain parchment during the non-meat-eating season of Lent.


Milking sheep illumination in the Luttrell Psalter, England ca. 1325-1340. British Library, Additional MS 42130, Folio 163v. Sheep.


“Parchment Maker.” The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Alexis Hagadorn. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, Trans. of “Parcheminier,” Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 8 (plates). Paris, 1771.

I have been writing a lot on the leather and fur trade lately, so stay tuned for more. I’ll close with some estimates on hides and prices for surviving codices. The biggest codex to survive the middle ages, the Codex Gigas, is a 13th c., 165 lb vellum codex that allegedly used 160 donkeys. The St. Albans Psalter of the 13th c. used 27-54 Calfskins, with 2-4 bifolia produced per skin. Finally, the Gutenberg Bible of 1455 was a 42 line Bible with 1,286 pages and 643 folio leaves. About 170 calfskins were needed. Multiply this by the 35 vellum copies produced = 5, 950 calves. About 300 sheep were used per parchment edition of the Gutenberg Bible, which means that 9,000 sheep died to make the 30 copies produced. It has been priced as equivalent to $1,650 per copy in today’s dollar. 

The introduction of paper from China, first to the Byzantine East (1050-1350) and then on to Western Europe meant a decrease in the consumption of parchment over the next 200 years. The economic relationship between meat consumption and parchment began to fade. The advent of paper and the increased use of a new textile called cotton undercut the demand for parchment and wool. Consequently, mutton appears to have become a less prominent part of the early modern diet. Studying the rise and fall of parchment tells us a lot about the history of book prices, livestock uses, monastic economies, and meat consumption from Roman antiquity to the Middle Ages. These histories remind us that an incredible amount of labor and resources were bound up in the book trades of the premodern world. They are also a reminder that a whole lot of animals died for our reading pleasure.


Leila Avrin, Scribes, Script, and Books : The book arts from antiquity to the Renaissance (Chicago, London: The British Library 1991). 

Megan Hale WilliamsThe Monk and the Book: Jerome and the Making of Christian Scholarship (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2006)

Siegfried Lauffer, Diokletians Preisedikt. (Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 1971 rep.2013).

Robert Marichal, ‘L’écriture latine et la civilization occidentale du Ier au XVIe siècle ‘ in L’Ecriture et la psychologie des peuples; XXIIe semaine de synthesis. (Paris: A. Colin 1963): 199-247.

Rosamond McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).