15 Websites for Reading Persian Manuscripts Online

Author: Ruben S. Nikoghosyan

Iran has a rich manuscript tradition in a number of ancient languages. The one relevant to today’s post, New Persian, has a manuscript tradition spanning over a millennium. The oldest Arabic-script Persian manuscript that has reached our days is a treatise on medical plants, copied by the famous classical writer and author of the “Garšāsp-nāme,” Alī b. Ahmad Asadī Tūsī (1055/6 AD).

In the following centuries, numerous gems of Islamic Iranian manuscript tradition were produced in various cultural centres of various empires. A prime example of excellent artisanship, for instance, is the Baysonghori manuscripts, produced under the patronage of Ghias-ud-dīn Baysonghor, the grandson of Tamerlane. Ghias-ud-dīn was a great appreciator of arts and an artist himself. He favoured the production of exquisite manuscripts, such as the manuscripts of Shahname of Ferdowsi or Golestān of Sa’adi (known as Baysonghori Shahname and Baysonghori Golestān accordingly).

Simply looking at these and other manuscripts fills the hearts of art-lovers with joy and admiration. Unfortunately, some of these priceless manuscripts were treated barbarically by some ignorant collectors in the West and have been torn apart.

Such is the case with another precious manuscript of the Shahname, the Shahnāme-ye Tahmāspī (mid-16th c.). You can read about it and see some of its digitized folios on the Metropolitan Museum’s webpage, where part of it is being preserved.

Below, I have compiled a list of websites of libraries and museums where a significant amount of Persian collections has been made available online. In some of them, you can have free access to entire volumes, while in others, only a few folios are displayed.

1. Bodleian Libraries

One of the world’s most renowned libraries, the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford, UK, houses an extensive collection of Persian manuscripts, totalling over 2800. These manuscripts encompass a diverse array of topics, with a predominant focus on poetry and history. Presently, there have been limited efforts to digitize a small fraction of the manuscripts, and substantial work remains to render more manuscripts accessible to scholars and students (given that it is such pain to obtain a UK visa for foreigners). As of now, there are only 41 digital copies available, with 5 of them partially digitized.

Physical Location: Oxford, UK

Website: https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/

About the Library: https://visit.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/plan-your-visit/history-bodleian

Persian Manuscripts: https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/collections/persian/

Other Collections with Persian MSS: South Asian Manuscripts

Digitally Available: 36 items (full volumes)

Notable Manuscripts:

Must watch (Bodleian Library):

Interested in reading a Classical Persian text, but struggling with each word?

2. The John Ryland’s Library (University of Manchester Library)

The John Ryland’s Library, incorporated into the University of Manchester Library in 1972, is another important centre for Persian manuscript studies. The University of Manchester Library’s special collection holds a distinguished position, ranking second in the UK and fifth globally. Consequently, it houses a substantial number of valuable Persian manuscripts, totalling around one thousand.

Physical Location: Manchester, UK

Website: https://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/

About the Library: https://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/rylands/about/our-history/

Persian Collection: https://www.digitalcollections.manchester.ac.uk/collections/persian/1

Digitally Available: 157 items (full volumes)

Notable Manuscripts:

3. Cambridge Digital Library

The University of Cambridge has a diverse collection of Persian manuscripts in its libraries. The digital library is home to many digitized manuscripts. Its Near and Middle Eastern manuscripts collection possesses great number of Persian manuscripts, numbering at least 1200 (excluding E.G. Browne’s collection), with a good portion available on the website. One drawback is that the Persian manuscripts are not grouped in a single digital collection. To find them (excluding the Shahnama Project collection), a simple search using the keyword “Persian” (or the title of a specific text) in the search box will do the trick.

Shahnama Project contains numerous manuscripts of Ferdowsi’s epic, and is an amazing source for the study of the Shahname manuscript and miniature tradition.

Physical Location: Cambridge, UK

Website: https://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/

About the Library: https://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/about/

Persian Collections: Shahnama Project

Persian Manuscript List*

Digitally Available: (?)

Notable Manuscripts:

*In order to see all Persian manuscripts, you need to search the word ‘Persian’ in the site search box.

Want to Explore Classical Persian Literature or Learn Middle Persian?

4. Malek National Library and Museum

The Malek National Library and Museum is one of the important Persian manuscript repositories inside Iran, containing thousands of precious Persian and Arabic manuscripts. The estimated number is 20000, though it is not specified which percent of it is in Persian. Many of these manuscripts have been digitised, though unfortunately are only partially available (only a few pages). The library logo is usually visible in the central part of the folios, so it is sometimes quite a bit of a challenge to read even the few available pages of the manuscripts. Nevertheless, it is a great source for getting familiar with hundreds of manuscripts from various historical periods and various authors.

The Museum also has other digitised collections of precious paintings, artefacts, coins, etc.

Physical Location: Tehran, Iran

Website: http://malekmuseum.org/en/

About the Library: http://malekmuseum.org/en/page/51/Library

Manuscript Collection (Persian & Arabic): http://malekmuseum.org/en/artifact/search?type=4

Digitally Available: (?)

Notable Manuscripts (partially available):

5. Library of Congress

The Library of Congress’ website is also a great place to find and read digitised Persian manuscripts. The vast majority of the manuscripts available are of comparatively recent origin, dating after 1700. Almost half of the digitised manuscripts originate from the Subcontinent.

Physical Location: Washington, DC, USA

Website: https://www.loc.gov/

About the Library: https://www.loc.gov/about/history-of-the-library/

Persian Manuscripts: https://www.loc.gov/collections/persian-language-rare-materials/about-this-collection/

Digitally Available: c. 170 items (full volumes)

Notable Manuscripts:

6. Chester Beatty Library

The Chester Beatty Library, founded by Alfred Chester Beatty, is a distinguished collection of manuscripts and artifacts with a focus on Oriental materials. Beatty, a successful mining engineer turned collector, amassed an exceptional Persian manuscript collection, emphasizing fine illuminations and illustrations. Housed in Dublin since 1950, the library’s Persian holdings include masterpieces ranging from the 7th/13th to the 13th/19th centuries, reflecting the rich literary and artistic heritage of the Islamic period. Among the most noteworthy manuscripts are Prince Baysunghur’s “Rose Garden” (Gulistan) by Sa`di (Per 119), dating back to 1427 AD, and the “Dīvān of Shams-i Tabrīzī” by Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, dating to around 1300 AD.

Physical Location: Dublin, Ireland

Website: https://viewer.cbl.ie/viewer/index/

About the Library: https://chesterbeatty.ie/about/chester-beatty-story/

Persian Manuscripts: https://viewer.cbl.ie/viewer/search/-/-/1/RANDOM/DC%3Apersiancollection/

Digitally Available: 243 items (single folios and full manuscripts)

Notable Manuscripts:

7. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin

Berlin State Library contains a rich collection of Persian manuscripts. The total number of the manuscripts is above 2900, which are preserved in various collections. The only available digital collection I could find, was the Diez collection, named after the former Prussian ambassador to the Ottoman court, Heinrich Friedrich von Diez (1751–1817). The latter contains only 51 Persian manuscripts, alongside a number of Ottoman and Arabic manuscripts. You can learn about the other Persian manuscripts collections by following the link provided below (About the Persian Collection).

Physical Location: Berlin, Germany

Website: https://staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/

History of the Library: https://staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/en/about-the-library/history

About the Persian Collection

Persian Manuscripts: Orientalia aus der Bibliothek Diez (collection)

Digitally Available: (?) few

Notable Manuscripts:

Read Our Testimonials Here

8. Gallica (Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

Bibliothèque Nationale de France is a highly important repository of Persian manuscripts, yet its website is quite unwieldy and in order to find the Persian manuscripts, you have to go to the search box and use your imagination and creativity to find any. There is not specific page or collection where you can easily access the Persian manuscripts.

 

Physical Location: Paris, France.

Website: https://gallica.bnf.fr/accueil/en/content/accueil-en?mode=desktop

About the Library: https://www.bnf.fr/en/gallica-bnf-digital-library

Persian Manuscripts: search in the search box (they really need to make their website user-friendly).

Bibliothèques d’Orient (about): https://heritage.bnf.fr/bibliothequesorient/en/

Digitally Available: (?)

9. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a fine collection of Persian manuscripts. On the website you will find mostly single folios containing fine specimens of Persian miniature tradition.

Physical Location: New-York City, USA

Website: https://www.metmuseum.org/

About the Museum: https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/history

Islamic Art Collection

Persian manuscripts (separate folios and miniatures)

Notable Manuscripts:

10. University of Pennsylvania Library

11. Sāzemān-e Asnād va Ketābkhāne-ye Melli-ye J. E. Irān (National Library and Archives of I.R. Iran)

Although the website is a bit old-fashioned and not as user-friendly as one would wish, it has a vast number of manuscripts readily available for studying. You can browse through their list and read many of the manuscripts online.

Physical Location: Tehran, Iran

Website: https://www.nlai.ir/

Persian Manuscripts: https://dl.nlai.ir/UI/Category/NewCategory.aspx?PageNo=1

 

12. Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland

Here you can find a small but precious collection of manuscripts (5 in number) and read them.

 

Physical Location: London, UK

Website: https://royalasiaticcollections.org/

Persian Manuscripts: https://royalasiaticcollections.org/collection/persian-manuscripts/

Digitally Available: 5

Notable Manuscripts:

13. Leiden University Libraries

14. Музей Редкой Книги МГИМО-Университета (Museum of Rare Books of Moscow State Institute of International Relations)

15. Det Kgl. Bibliotek (Royal Danish Library).

Physical Location: Copenhagen, Denmark.

Website: https://www.kb.dk/en

About the Library: https://www.kb.dk/en/about-us

Iranian Manuscripts (Few Zoroastrian manuscripts available (Avestan, New Persian, Pahlavi)).

 

 

 

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