Topic outline

  • Part 1: Parchment preparation and pre-use treatment

    The sheets of the manuscripts were made of animal skin called parchment, the preparation of which was long. Parchment, called “περγαμηνή” (“pergamini”) in Greek was named after the city of Pergamon in Asia Minor where it was produced in abundance. In the second century BC parchment was promoted as an alternative writing material to papyrus, which was gradually substituted. The process of transforming animal skins into clean and suitable writing supports was taking place in tanneries, immediately after the slaughter of the animals. The skins were selected according to strict criteria. Their special treatment included: washing and soaking in water; scraping the fur and other impurities after soaking in lime water; stretching and smoothing; and, in some cases, whitening them, or rarely, dying them purple.

  • Part 2: Copying the text

    Copying the text of a manuscript was a laborious intellectual and physical task. It required concentration, adequate lighting and good vision, but also some literary training for avoiding mistakes. The scribes often felt relieved to have completed their fatiguing work, or in other cases, they would ask the readers of the manuscript to pray for them, through an inscription written usually at the end of the text or of a chapter. Once the parchment was ruled, the scribes could begin copying the text. During the process they would take into account the instructions they had been given, or, the decisions they themselves had made regarding the spaces to be left for the decoration, miniatures, initials, titles, and sometimes also the musical notation. In some cases, they would leave instructions for the person who was going to illustrate or decorate the manuscript. After the main part of the manuscript was finished (the text), the musical notation (in the case of musical manuscripts), the captions of the miniatures, the titles and the various indications, which for some reason were not previously added, could be at this point executed. The different decorative elements and the miniatures were the last to be added.

  • Part 3: Binding

    Upon completion of the texts and of the decoration and illumination, the quires of the manuscript were delivered to the binder. The binder would sew the quires and add to them a protective cover that would facilitate the use of the manuscript and protect it. The process of binding was structured in separate stages. Often, due to lack of materials, older manuscripts were recycled and used to create new manuscripts. After erasing the content, their sheets could be reused, while in other cases they were used for binding new manuscripts or to consolidate and rebind others. The wooden boards, the leather cover, the metallic ornamental elements of the binding and the luxurious decorative plates were also reused by the binders.The materials used for binding the manuscript as well as the various ornamental and decorative elements of its cover were chosen based on the commissioner’s requests. Thus, the leather cover of the manuscript could be adorned with blind tooling, as well as with precious metals and stones. Unfortunately, many Byzantine manuscripts lost their original binding and therefore our knowledge regarding the method of work of binders, different decoration techniques and categories is fragmentary.

    Apart from the preserved manuscript bindings, the tools used by the binders provide information regarding their method of work, as well as the various decorative elements and patterns. Although binder tools from the Byzantine period have not been preserved, in the monasteries of Mount Athos, mainly in those where binding workshops were in operation, there is a considerable number of such tools from later periods.