Digital Access to Persian Manuscripts
(Click here to go straight to list of digitised manuscripts)
From the pocket encyclopaedia (Add.27261), with its exquisite miniature illuminations, written in 1410-11 for Timur's grandson Sultan Jalal al-Din Iskandar, ruler of Fars, to unique historical documents and literary manuscripts, the Persian Manuscripts collection at the British Library is one of the most significant collections in the world in terms of both its 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 has now reached the end of the second year of a planned three-year partnership project with the Iran Heritage Foundation and other supporters. The project involves creating catalogue records for manuscripts which are uncatalogued, standardizing the existing print records and creating digital files to make them available online. At the same time we aim to digitise 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, and will also be available within the Library's own manuscripts' catalogue.
At the present time we have digitised 27 manuscripts which are available in entirety at British Library's Digitised Manuscripts.
Our blog '15000 images of Persian manuscripts online' gives a general description of the project with examples of the images, and several posts are about manuscripts digitised as part of the project (search for 'Persian digital manuscripts' in the search box).
We are currently seeking further funding to extend the project by another three years to include updated 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 into 2014.
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
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)
Two Zoroastrian works dated 1677:
Kay Kaʼūs ibn Kay Khusraw ibn Dārā. Zarātusht nāmah
Bahmān ibn Kaiqubād. Qiṣṣah-’i Sanjān.
IO Islamic 3043
Sad dar. 100 Zoroastrian rules in Persian prose, transcribed in Avestan script with an interlinear translation in Gujarati. 1575
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:
Asadī Ṭūsī. Garshāsbnāmah
Aḥmad Tabrīzī. Shāhanshāhnāmah
Kūshnāmah. Shiraz?/Timurid style, 800/1397-8. 11 miniatures, 3 illuminations. Restricted
Link to Rieu Suppl no. 201
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 Suppl no. 385
Blog: The tales of Darab: a medieval Persian prose romance
Khvājah Mas’ūd-i Bek. Mir’āt al-‘ārifīn. 18th century
Asadī Ṭūsī. Garshāsbnāmah. 981/1573. Safavid/Qazvin style. 8 miniatures, 1 illumination. Restricted
Naṣr Allāh. Kalīlah va Dimnah. Persian translation of the Tales of Bidpai. Shiraz (?), 707/1307. 67 miniatures, 3 illuminations. Restricted
Two Zoroastrian works:
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
Īrānshāh ibn Malikshāh. Sad dar. A Zoroastrian book of 100 rules in Persian verse by. 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