Digital Access to Persian Manuscripts
(Click here to go straight to list of digitised manuscripts)
From the pocket miscellany (Add.27261), with its exquisite miniature illuminations, compiled in 1410-11 for Timur's grandson Sultan Jalal al-Din Iskandar, ruler of Fars, to unique historical documents and literary manuscripts, the Persian Manuscripts collection at the British Library is one of the most significant collections in the world in both size and importance. Consisting of over 11,000 works in almost as many volumes, it combines the two world-class collections of the British Museum and the India Office Library. These manuscripts originate from the whole of the Persianate world, in particular Iran, Central Asia and India and range in time from the 12th century to recent years, representing most of the traditional fields of humanities and religious studies. Many of the Persian manuscripts are copies of rare texts, with examples of some of the finest illustrated Mughal, Timurid and Safavid paintings.
Scene from the Shāhnāmah (Book of Kings): Bath scene, illustrating the story in the preface of how Firdawsī scornfully gave away to a bath house attendant half the paltry reward Sultan Mahmud gave him for writing the Shāhnāmah (IO Islamic 3540, f. 10r)
Although printed catalogues exist for most of this material, only some of the catalogues are available online. Moreover, very little of the collection has been digitised. Our Persian manuscripts have, until recently, only been accessible onsite to those who can physically visit the British Library to study in the Asian and African Studies reading room. With limited access to catalogue records, the collection has therefore been much underused.
The British Library is currently engaged in a program to enable digital access to the Persian collections and is now mid-way through a three-year partnership project with the Iran Heritage Foundation and other supporters. The project involves creating catalogue records for uncatalogued manuscripts, standardizing existing print records and creating digital files to make them available online. At the same time we are digitising 50 of the most significant manuscripts within the three year period. By the end of the initial three-year partnership, records of nearly all acquisitions made after 1903 will be available online. Currently, details of over 2,500 works are searchable on Fihrist, a union catalogue of some of the major Arabic script manuscript collections in the UK. They will also be available within the Library's own online catalogue of archives and manuscripts.
All our digitised manuscripts are available, cover to cover, at British Library's Digitised Manuscripts.
Our post '15000 images of Persian manuscripts online' gives a general description of the project with examples of the images, and several other blog posts describe manuscripts digitised as part of the project (search for 'Persian digital manuscripts' in the search box on the main blog page).
We have also published digital copies of over 1,500 previously unpublished descriptions of Persian manuscripts in the India Office Library compiled in the 1930s by C. A. Storey, A. J. Arberry and R. Levy. Details and guidance on how to use the catalogue are given in A newly digitised unpublished catalogue of Persian manuscripts.
We are currently seeking further funding to extend the project to include details of the manuscripts acquired by the India Office Library from the imperial Mughal Library in 1859 and to create digital records for all the manuscripts described in the groundbreaking catalogues of the late 19th century and early 20th century by Charles Rieu and Hermann Ethé. We also aim to digitise further selected Persian manuscripts. If you would like to support us or can help in any way please look here for more information.
We are grateful to our sponsors and partners for the financial support that has enabled this project:
List of digitised Persian manuscripts
Below we have listed the Persian manuscripts in the British Library which have been digitised up to the present time. Click on the manuscript number at the head of each description to go directly to the relevant entry on the British Library's digitised manuscripts site. Once there, click on the thumbnail image of the manuscript to get to the full digitised version which will open in a new window (please note that all subsequent digitised manuscripts that you view will appear in this same window). You can choose to view one page at a time or two together in book format (i.e. as if you were reading it). Make sure, however, that you select 'Right to Left' in the 'Direction' box.
Also included in the list below are links to catalogue descriptions, blog posts and other related documents for each manuscript, where available. If a manuscript is illustrated, the description will contain direct links to the illustrations.
The list will be updated regularly to reflect ongoing work.
Note: These manuscripts are also available to read in our Asian and African Studies Reading Room (Registered readers only - see Registering for a Reader Pass) . Certain illustrated mss, however, are restricted, in which case special permission must be obtained first. Note also that there are some discrepancies between the numbering of the manuscripts and the form cited on the digitised manuscripts site. For example:
Add.6613 is Add MS 6613 in 'Search our Catalogue: Archives and Manuscripts' and in our Digitised Manuscripts Viewer, but Add.6613 is the way it is cited in our printed catalogues and the number by which it should be ordered in our Reading Room.
Farīd al-Dīn ʻAṭṭār, Manṭiq al-Ṭayr, ca. 1490, containing 9 miniatures, late Timurid/Herat style. Restricted
Description of Add.7735
Link to Rieu pp 577-8
Blogs: ‘The Speech of the Birds’: an illustrated Persian manuscript; Mantiq al-tayr ('the Speech of Birds'), part 2; Mantiq al-tayr ('the Speech of Birds'), part 3, part 4
Nizami. Khamsah. Copy dated 846/1442-3 containing 19 whole-page miniatures, three ascribed to Bihzād. Restricted
Description of Add.25900
Link to Rieu p. 570
Blog: A Khamsah ascribed to the painter Bihzad (Add. 25900)
Colonel James Skinner. Tazkirat al-umarā. Biographies of the princely families of Rajputana, Haryana and Punjab, written by Colonel James Skinner (1778-1841) before 1830. Restricted
Description of Add.27254
Link to Rieu pp. 302-3
Blog: James Skinner's Tazkirat al-Umara now digitised
Miscellany containing 23 works, compiled for Jalāl al-Dīn Iskandar ibn ʻUmar Shaykh, a grandson of Timur. S. Iran 813-14/1410-11. 42 miniatures. Restricted
Description of Add.27261
Link to Rieu pp. 868-71
Blog: The Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan (Add. 27261)
This manuscript is featured in our Turning the Pages
Saʻdī, Būstān dated at Agra, 26 Rabīʻ I 1039 (13 November 1629) and illustrated with ten miniatures. Copied in large elegant nastaʻliq by the well-known physician and poet Ḥakīm Rukn al-Dīn Masʻūd, known as Ḥakīm Ruknā, who went to India in the reign of Akbar and became one of Shah Jahan’s favourite poets. Profusedly decorated margins. Bound in original painted and glazed covers. Restricted
Link to Rieu p. 602
Two Zoroastrian works dated 1677:
1) Kay Kaʼūs ibn Kay Khusraw ibn Dārā. Zarātusht nāmah
2) Bahmān ibn Kaiqubād. Qiṣṣah-’i Sanjān.
IO Islamic 132
Anthology of Divans. Dated 713-14/1314-15, containing 53 miniatures in a simplified Mongol style. From the library of the Safavid ruler Shah Ismāʻīl. Restricted
Link to Ethé 903, 911-913, 1028-1030
IO Islamic 137
Sharaf al-Dīn Yazdī, Ẓafarnāmah, also called the Tārīkh-i jahāngushāʼī-yi Taymūr, a biography of Timur by Sharaf al-Dīn Yazdī completed ca. 1424. Illustrated with 30 miniatures, 16th century Shiraz style. Restricted
Link to Ethé 175
IO Islamic 138
Jamālī, Khamsah. The only known copy of five masnavis composed by the poet Jamālī who lived at the beginning of the 15th century. Dated 1465 at Baghdad and illustrated with six miniatures. Restricted
Link to Ethé 1284
IO Islamic 3043
Sad dar. 100 Zoroastrian rules in Persian prose, transcribed in Avestan script with an interlinear translation in Gujarati. 1575
IO Islamic 3214
Sindbādnāmah, an anonymous version of the adventures of Sindbad in Persian verse. This copy is believed to have been made in Golconda, India, around the year 1575. It contains 72 illustrations in Golconda style. Restricted
Link to Ethé 1236
IO Islamic 3558
Fatḥ ʻAlī Shāh Qājār. Dīvān-i Khāqān. A beautifully illuminated copy in calligraphic shikastah of the poems of Fatḥ ʻAlī Shāh Qājār, Shah of Iran (r. 1797-1834), whose poetic name was Khāqān. Includes a floral painted lacquer binding with doublures containing portraits of Fatḥ ʻAlī Shāh. Restricted
Link to Ethé 2997
Gulbadan Begam, Aḥvāl-i Humāyūn Pādshāh. Autobiographical account of the reigns of the Mughal Emperor Bābur and his son Humāyūn by Bābur’s daughter Gulbadan Begam (1523-1603). Although this copy probably dates from the early 17th century, it is the only known copy to have survived.
Link to Rieu p. 246-7
Muḥyī Lārī, Futūḥ al-Ḥaramayn. A poetical description of the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina and the rites of pilgrimage by Muḥyī Lārī (d.1526 or 1527). Includes 17 miniatures, probably Persian, dating from the 17th century
Link to Rieu p. 655
Nizami. Khamsah. Shah Tahmasb's copy. 1535-43, with additions. 17 miniatures, 6 illuminations, 2 cover illustrations. Restricted
Description of Or.2265
Link to Rieu p. 1072
Blog: Some paintings by the 17th century Safavid artist Muhammad Zaman
A collection of epic poems. Shiraz?/Timurid style, 800/1397-8. 11 miniatures, 3 illuminations.
1) Asadī Ṭūsī. Garshāsbnāmah
2) Aḥmad Tabrīzī. Shāhanshāhnāmah
Link to Rieu Supplement no. 201
Nawʻī Khabūshānī, Sūz va Gudāz. ‘Burning and melting’, a poem by Muḥammad Riz̤ā Nawʻī Khabūshānī (d. 1609 or 1610), commissioned for the Mughal Prince Danyāl (1581-1614). Contains three miniatures, Mughal dating from the 17th century. Restricted
Link to Rieu Supplement no. 313
Mīrzā ʻAbd al-Raḥīm Khān, Vāqiʻāt-i Bāburī. The Memoirs of the Mughal Emperor Babur (r. 1526-30), originally written in Chaghatai Turkish and translated into Persian at his grandson Akbar’s request by Mīrzā ʻAbd al-Raḥīm Khān in 1589. This imperial copy, containing 143 illustrations mostly by attributed artists, was completed c. 1590-93. Restricted
Link to Rieu Supplement no. 75
A selection of highlights from this manuscript is available as part of British Library Turning the Pages
E. S. Smart, Paintings from the Bāburnāma: a Study of Sixteenth Century Mughal Historical Manuscript Illustration, PhD thesis submitted SOAS, July 1977
Abū Ṭāhir Ṭarsūsī. Dārābnāmah. An imperial copy containing 157 miniatures, mostly attributed. Mughal. c. 1580-1585. Restricted
Description of Or.4615
Index of artists in Or.4615
Link to Rieu Supplement no. 385
Blog: The tales of Darab: a medieval Persian prose romance
Saʻdī. Gulistān copied in 975 (1567/68) in Bukhara (Uzbekistan) and ascribed in the colophon to the famous calligrapher Mīr ʻAlī Ḥusaynī. Includes six Bukhara-style paintings which were commissioned apparently at Akbar's request. The manuscript was 'improved' in India in Jahangir's reign when seven more paintings were added, probably between 1605 and 1609. Restricted
Blog: What were the Mughal’s favourite books?
Jahānārā Begam, Muʼnis al-arvāḥ, an autograph copy by Princess Jahānārā (1641-81), daughter of Shāh Jahān, of her biography, composed in 1049/1640, of Muʻīn al-Dīn Chishtī with notices of some of his disciples
Blog: Princess Jahanara’s biography of a Sufi saint
Khvājah Mas’ūd-i Bek. Mir’āt al-‘ārifīn. 18th century
Nizami. Khamsah. Late 15th century copy containing one double and 20 single miniatures ascribed to Bihzād, Mīrak and others. Restricted
Description of Or.6810
Blog: The Khamsah of Nizami: A Timurid Masterpiece
Luqmān, Salīm Khānnāmah, a poetical history of the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Selim II (r.1566-1574) composed in 1580. Copy dated 1099/1687-88 contains 8 miniatures, Ottoman
Ḥāfiẓ. Dīvān, containing eight miniatures and text decorated throughout with birds. Imperfect at end. Copied by ‘Abd al-Ṣamad Shīrīn-qalam in 990/1582-3 and subsequently enhanced by Jahangir c. 1611 with nine illustrations, eight of which are preserved here. Restricted
Blog: Jahangir’s Hafiz and the Madrasa Jurist
A collection Turkish works written in calligraphic Uighur script in Yazd in 1431 with the later addition of the Persian Dīvāns of Kamāl-i Khujand and Amīrī in the margins. Ornamented throughout with geometric floral and other designs.
Article: G. L. M. Clauson, “A Hitherto Unknown Turkish Manuscript in "Uighur" Characters”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 1 (Jan., 1928), pp. 99-130
Hāfiẓ Saʻd. Dīvān, copied by Shaykh Maḥmūd Pīr Būdāqī at Shiraz for the library of Pīr Būdāq (d.1466), son of the Jahānshāh Qaraqoyunlu. Restricted
Niẓāmī, Khamsah. An imperial copy of the Khamsah by Niẓāmī Ganjavī (1140 or 41-1202 or 3), dated between 1593 and 1595 and copied by ʻAbd al-Rahīm ʻAnbarīn-qalām. It contains 38 illustrated folios attributed to the major artists of the imperial Mughal studio. Original lacquered binding. Restricted
Barbara Brend, The Emperor Akbar’s Khamsa of Nizami. London, 1995
ʻAbd al-Karīm al-Qādirī Jawnpūrī, Javāhir al-mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī a musical treatise dedicated to Muhammad ‘Adil Shah (r.1626-56), being a refurbishment and expansion in Persian dating from the 17th century of an earlier (c. 1570) illustrated manuscript, a translation into Dakhini of the Sanskrit musical treatise Saṅgītaratnākara, by the 13th century author Śārṅgadeva. Contains 48 Deccani miniatures dating from around 1570. Restricted
Blog: Indian Music in the Persian Collections: the Javahir al-Musiqat-i Muhammadi (Or.12857). Part 1 and Part 2
Asadī Ṭūsī. Garshāsbnāmah. 981/1573. Safavid/Qazvin style. 8 miniatures, 1 illumination. Restricted
Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubārak, Akbarnāmah. Volume 1 of Abu'l-Fazl's history of the reign of Akbar, describing Akbar's Timurid ancestry and the reigns of Babur and Humayun, completed ca.1602 with 39 paintings. Contains ownership notes (subsequently pasted over) on the flyleaf by Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Restricted
Naṣr Allāh. Kalīlah va Dimnah. Persian translation of the Tales of Bidpai. Shiraz (?), 707/1307. 67 miniatures, 3 illuminations. Restricted
Article: M.I. Waley and Norah M. Titley, “An illustrated Persian text of Kalīla and Dimna dated 707/1307-8”, British Library Journal 1/1 (Spring 1975) pp. 42-61
Ḥāfiẓ. Dīvān, copied at Herat or Mashhad ca. 1470 by, according to Shah Jahan’s note of 1037/1628 (f. 1r), the famous calligrapher Sulṭān ʻAlī Mashhadī. The whole work was refurbished and remargined at the Mughal court ca. 1605 with cartouches containing images of animals, birds, musicians, workmen, soldiers etc. Restricted
Article: J. P. Losty, “The ‘Bute Hafiz’ and the development of border decoration in the manuscript studio of the Mughals”, The Burlington Magazine 127 no. 993 (Dec. 1985), pp. 855-56; 858-71.
Two Zoroastrian works:
1) Zartusht Bahrām Pazhdū. Ardā Virāf nāmah. The story of Arda the Just's visit to Heaven and Hell.
Blog: Zoroastrian visions of heaven and hell
2) Īrānshāh ibn Malikshāh. Sad dar. A Zoroastrian book of 100 rules in Persian verse. In Persian with interlinear Avestan script, dating from the 17th century. Belonged previously to Thomas Hyde
Description of Reg.16.B.1
Link to Rieu p. 49