Parchment in Roman times?

Yes it was a throw-away line, but that’s what you should do with it. Augustus in particular would be shocked. He fought a war to retain access to Egypt’s supply of reeds to make papyrus scrolls, the only source of ‘paper’ in those days. If I recall rightly, parchment (vellum) only started to be used a few centuries later, and only became ‘common’ during the (much later) middle ages.

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The Egyptians had export restrictions on papyrus, which drove up the price, so parchment was long an economical substitute outside Egypt. King Eumenes II of Pergamum used parchment books in building up his library in the 2d century B.C. The Dead Sea Scrolls from about the beginning of the Christian Era are written partly on papyrus and partly on parchment.

Sigh. The problem with any of this stuff is that any particular word or phrase can open up a whole realm of side-tracks.

I wanted to say that original documents have pretty much all rotted away, we only have copies, but that sounded awkward. I figured that “papyrus and parchment” was too long, so I just took the shortcut of mentioning only the one. Mea culpa.

I don’t know if it’s relevant, but in L. Sprague deCamp’s classic time-travel novel Lest Darkness Fall, his hero Martin Padway starts a newspaper in ancient Rome. His first print run, hiowever, uses up all the available vellum, and he’s forced to invent modern (non-papyrus) paper in order to have a medium to print on. DeCamp was a historical novelist and Historical writer, and usually gets his facts straight. I don’t know if he had a reference that strongly suggested Roman vellum use or not. On the other hand, I’ve caught him in historical errors. Not often, though.

I thought that vellum was made from a hide, while parchment was actually paper.

Parchment the word derives from the name of a place that was presumably famous for making it in antiquity (Pergamum). Once we knew how to make paper, some marketing genius made a paper to look like parchment and so named it. (At least according to my Collins dictionary), OEDs and such are at home.)