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Writing methods and technologiesBy BYGIA ALIBEGASHVILI
Writing surfaces were made of bronze, marble, iron, stone or clay. The inscriptions they bore were executed by rulers or invaders as a way to immortalize their heroic deeds. In times of antiquity, plates on which writings were produced were made of gold, silver and lead. They formed a treasure trove of museum rarities and memorabilia. Wooden boards and ivory tablets were also used; the latter were mainly incised with dedicatory inscriptions. A thin layer of wax was set into a wooden frame and the writing impressed into it with a pointed writing utensil called a stylus.
Among a number of inscriptions found in Georgia, the most ancient is the bilingual Greco-Aramaic tombstone inscription running as follows: "I am Serapita, daughter of Zevakh the younger, pitiakhsh of Pharsman the king, and wife of lodmandagan the victorious, winner of many conquests, master of the court of Ksefarnug, the great king of the Iberians, and son of Agrippa, master of the court of King Farsman. Woe, woe, for the sake of her who was not of full age, whose years were not completed, and so good and beautiful that no one was like her in excellence; and she died at the age of twenty-one”. The text is dated the 2nd century.
Based on the reports of the Byzantine historian Georg Kedren, Homer's epic poems Iliad and Odyssey and the glorious deeds of other heroes were written in letters of gold upon the “dragon" (python) vellum. Birch bark documents were unearthed in Novgorod, Russia. The emergence of alphabetic scripts was followed by a powerful writing boom. An increasing volume of complicated scientific concepts, administrative orders, theological studies, moral teachings, works of fiction, translations and love lyrics stepped up demands for special writing materials.
This burgeoning interest in writing activity was further spurred by the invention of paper-like material - Papyrus (Chili in Georgian). Egyptians referred to papyrus as paperaa (meaning a kingdom). Papyrus belongs to the sedge family that was once abundant in Egypt's Nile Delta. The plant is widely used in making boats, baskets, ropes, utensils, furniture, clothing, sandals and mats. It is grown in gardens, parks and greenhouses for decorative purposes. In addition, papyrus is a source of food and candle wick was derived from papyrus pith. The main use of papyrus was, however, in the manufacture of paper. Greeks and Romans called papyrus paper a charter. Papyrus soon gained currency as an educational term in Georgia. To fashion a piece of papyrus paper, the following steps were taken: tall stems were cut and then placed side by side slightly overlapping, and then another layer of strips was laid on top.
The strips were soaked in Nile water. The two or even three layers were hammered together, mashing the layers into a single sheet. The sheet was then trimmed and dried. After drying, the sheet of papyrus was polished to a smooth finish by rubbing with ivory or seashell. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder (AD 23/24- 79) identified four basic standards papyrus had to meet: flimsiness, firmness, polish and smoothness. The drawback of papyrus was that it cracked if folded. Besides, texts on papyrus were written on the recto. Papyrus was rolled up as a scroll because of the impossibility of shaping it into a book with pages. There were 40m lengths of papyrus scrolls - increasingly cumbersome for use. Normally, papyrus was limited to a standard size running 6-10 m in length and 30 cm in width leather detail attached to the bottom of the scroll displayed the title of the manuscript.
There are no reports of widespread use of Chili in Georgia. Two manuscripts that have come down to us are of Palestinian origin and were preserved in Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai. One of them is ladgari (a collection of hymns) dated 9 - 10 AD (National Centre of Manuscripts) and the other - psalm (two pages) copied in the 10 century (St. Petersburg Public Library, department of manuscripts).
Papyrus was gradually relegated to the fringes of the writing industry and was eventually superseded by parchment. The latter had long gained a wide hold in Egypt and the Near East. The Cairo museum features a parchment scroll dating back to the second millennium. In the first millennium parchment made an entry into Mesopotamia and later extended its range to Phoenicia and Asia Minor. Parchment derives its name from Pergamon, an ancient Greek city founded in Asia Minor in the 12 century BC where parchment (Etrat in Georgian) was first adapted for use as a paper.
Parchment is a material made from the skin of calves, sheep, goats and, rarely, of antelopes. Special value was placed on the skin of newly-born lambs or baby-goats. One of the manuscripts runs that parchment was prepared by washing the skin, soaking it in a lime solution sharpened by the use of potassium carbonate, de-hairing the skin, removing blood and grime, then moistening it again and drying on a stretching frame, rubbing it with chalk to remove grease and scouring it with pumice until it was smooth. The finest grade of parchment is known to originate from Constantinople. Parchment was sometimes tinted in a variety of colours including purple, cherry-red, brown and even black. Texts were illuminated with gold and silver ink.
Compared to fragile papyrus, parchment was more durable and elastic. It did not crack and was suitable for writing on both sides. However, the costs involved in its manufacture were prohibitively high and could buy a habitable house. Parchment was largely folded into book form but documents and liturgical texts still appeared in the shape of rolled scrolls. From the 4 AD parchment began to replace papyrus. “St Nino's Life" is presumed to have been chronicled on parchment or some other consistent fabric. Calligraphers and scribes of ancient manuscripts seated themselves with papyrus scrolls unfolded on their knees and feet perched on a small chair.
Parchment was placed on the table, unlike papyrus. Parchment books are of interest not only for the content they convey. They are also viewed as works of art. Skins were attached on a stretching frame with metal hooks or leather strips. Bookbinding in many cases was silver-embossed and richly jeweled. Manuscript decorations included meaningful miniatures coming between the texts. A good example is an ornamental silver engraving on the Berti and Tskarostvali gospel 6 bindings executed by Beshken and Beka Opizars (12 AD). Both bindings feature masterly representations of the Crucifix and Prayer. “Vepkhistkaosani" copied by Mamuka Tavakalashvili in 1646 and decorated with 39 miniatures is unique among secular literary works. Parchment was used as a writing material for other important literary texts: Khanmeti Lektsionari (7*0), SHnuri liturgical collection (Mravaltavi) (867), four gospels (Otkhtavi) of Adishi (897), Jruchi (936), Parkhali (973), liturgical collection (Mravaltavi) of Udabno (iCc) and Shatberdi (973-976), etc.
Just like papyrus was crowded out by parchment, the latter too was forced out of use with the invention of paper in China millennia ago. Paper spread from China to Japan. In the 8* century, Arabs in Samarkand embraced papermaking technologies. The oldest surviving Arabic paper book is dated 866. Paper appeared in Byzantium in the 11"’ century. Papermaking involves placing wood pulp on a wire screen. Then a weight is placed on top until paper fibers form a flat and tight coating. Wire lines of the screen - horizontal and vertical - can clearly be seen when the paper is held up to the light. To bind fibres into the sheet, eastern manufacturers used to apply starch rather than gelatin made from horns and hooves, which was a more preferred product in the west. Therefore, eastern paper is characteristically brown and its western counterpart - of yellowish colour or almost white. Paper quality improved immeasurably from the 13th century on.
The assortment of writing instruments was varied. A large thin columns and lines. Drawings were made with a slate pencil - a rod of soft clay. A pair of compasses served as a tool suitable for measuring distance. Later Punctorias equipped with prickers were introduced. The Ancient Egyptians preferred reed pens as writing implements. (The Greek word for a reed pen is Kalamos, which entered the Georgian language together with ink. “For ink I have used a lake of jet, and for pen a pliant crystal” - runs the poem of Shota Rustaveli). Pens also came from flight feathers discarded by birds. Feathers from geese, swans or peacocks were tempered in sand or ashes, stripped of barbs, plumes and fat, their points - sharpened to provide sharp strokes. Arabs are even credited with having created the first-ever fountain pens with ink reservoirs.
Based on a number of proven recipes, it took ingredients like soot, cherry glue and charred animal bones, including those of elephants, to prepare ink. The resulting substance was mixed with powder derived from various fruit stones and wood pulp and sometimes with melanin squirted by ink-fish. Arab-made ink was made of soot, burned vegetable oil and kerosene. A new technology, which was developed as a follow-up to the invention of parchment, consisted of extracting ink from oak galls. The resulting marks would adhere firmly to the parchment and could not be erased by rubbing or washing - only by scraping off the writing surface with the use of pumice stone. A Byzantine recipe for so-called “boiled ink” - encaust - called for oak galls to be smashed and steamed. The obtained solution had a portion of blue vitriol, charcoal, soot and gum added to it. Ink-pots were made of stone, horn or metal, including silver. Many of them have come down to us still containing dried particles of ink.
Parchment manuscripts were scraped off and used again due to the high cost of the material. Such rewritten scrolls or books are known as palimpsests. The word "palimpsest" comes from Greek and means scraped and used again. A legacy of Georgian palimpsests is made up of about 4500 pages, mainly texts of Old and New Testaments (dated 5th - 6th cc) and other ecclesiastical works. Georgian palimpsests are preserved at Oxford, Bodleian and Cambridge universities and the Vienna national library.
Scripts added a decorative accent to manuscripts. Like illustrations, they were the handwork of skilled calligraphers or specialized rubricators - chistographs or illuminators. Sometimes it took a number of artists to illuminate a manuscript. Headings appeared in blue, green and vermilion red. The latter was a more traditional color for rubrication.
Given above is a snapshot of how our forefathers created writing materials, translated foreign texts, wrote original Georgian works in the Georgian language and alphabet and illuminated manuscripts.
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