Digital Access to Persian Manuscripts
(Click here to go straight to a list of all manuscripts digitised so far)
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illuminations, compiled in 1410-11 for Timur's grandson Sultan Jalal al-Din Iskandar, ruler of Fars, to unique historical documents and literary manuscripts, the Persian Manuscripts collection at the British Library is one of the most significant collections in the world in both size and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 ShÄhnÄmah (Book of Kings): Bath scene, illustrating the story in the preface of how FirdawsÄ« scornfully gave away to a bath house attendant half the paltry reward Sultan Mahmud gave him for writing the ShÄhnÄmah (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 now in Phase 3 of a program to enable digital access to the Persian collections. 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 and putting online some of the most significant manuscripts in the collection. During the first two phases, in partnership with the Iran Heritage Foundation and other supporters, we digitised 50 manuscripts and completed the cataloguing of all acquisitions made after 1903. In this third phase we are focussing on cataloguing the Persian manuscripts that were formerly part of the Mughal Imperial Library, Delhi, which were transferred to the India Office Library by the Government of India in 1876.
To date we have digitised 55 manuscripts which are available, cover to cover, at the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts (see list below for details). Our completed catalogue descriptions are being uploaded to the Library's own online catalogue of archives and manuscripts and additionally 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.
Our posts '15000 images of Persian manuscripts online' and 'Twenty more Persian manuscript treasures online' give 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' 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 our blog: A newly digitised unpublished catalogue of Persian manuscripts.
Details of a further 76 works on Qur'anic literature which were printed but never published are to be found in a subsequent blog: A newly digitised unpublished catalogue of Persian manuscripts: postscript.
We are currently seeking further funding to complete the current phase 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 EthÃ©. 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.
FirdawsÄ«. ShÄhnÄmah with the older preface. 16th century but extensively refurbished in India at the beginning of the 17th century. Contains 90 overpainted paintings by attributed Mughal artists. Restricted
Link to Rieu p.536
Blog: A Mughal Shahnamah
FarÄ«d al-DÄ«n Ê»Aá¹á¹Är, Maná¹iq al-á¹¬ayr, ca. 1490, containing 9 miniatures, late Timurid/Herat style. Restricted
Description of Add.7735
Link to Rieu pp 577-8
Blogs: âThe Speech of the Birdsâ: an illustrated Persian manuscript; Mantiq al-tayr ('the Speech of Birds'), part 2; Mantiq al-tayr ('the Speech of Birds'), part 3, part 4
á¸¤Äfiáº. DÄ«vÄn, copied by Sulayman al-Fushanji in Ramazan 855/October 1451. The imported Chinese paper includes 31 pages decorated with Chinese ornamentation. The paper is coloured various shades of orange, pink, blue, yellow/green, grey and purple. Restricted
Link to Rieu pp. 627-8
Blog: Ê»Two Persian âMingâ manuscripts on view at the British MuseumÊ¼
ShamÄkhÄ« anthology. A collection of poetry by 12 different authors of the 14th and 15th century copied in 1468 on Chinese imported paper in the capital city Shirvan by Sharaf al-DÄ«n á¸¤usayn, a royal scribe, possibly at the court of the ShirvÄnshÄh Farrukh Yasar (1462-1501). The manuscript contains one double-page and seven single miniatures. Restricted
Link to Rieu pp. 734-5
Blog: Ê»Two Persian âMingâ manuscripts on view at the British MuseumÊ¼
Nizami. Khamsah. Copy dated 846/1442-3 containing 19 whole-page miniatures, three ascribed to BihzÄd. 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-umarÄ. 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 JalÄl al-DÄ«n Iskandar ibn Ê»Umar 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
SaÊ»dÄ«, BÅ«stÄn dated at Agra, 26 RabÄ«Ê» I 1039 (13 November 1629) and illustrated with ten miniatures. Copied in large elegant nastaÊ»liq by the well-known physician and poet á¸¤akÄ«m Rukn al-DÄ«n MasÊ»Å«d, known as á¸¤akÄ«m RuknÄ, who went to India in the reign of Akbar and became one of Shah Jahanâs 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 KaÊ¼Å«s ibn Kay Khusraw ibn DÄrÄ. ZarÄtusht nÄmah
2) BahmÄn ibn KaiqubÄd. Qiá¹£á¹£ah-âi SanjÄn.
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 IsmÄÊ»Ä«l. Restricted
Link to EthÃ© 903, 911-913, 1028-1030
IO Islamic 137
Sharaf al-DÄ«n YazdÄ«, áºafarnÄmah, also called the TÄrÄ«kh-i jahÄngushÄÊ¼Ä«-yi TaymÅ«r, a biography of Timur by Sharaf al-DÄ«n YazdÄ« completed ca. 1424. Illustrated with 30 miniatures, 16th century Shiraz style. Restricted
Link to EthÃ© 175
IO Islamic 138
JamÄlÄ«, Khamsah. The only known copy of five masnavis composed by the poet JamÄlÄ« who lived at the beginning of the 15th century. Dated 1465 at Baghdad and illustrated with six miniatures. Restricted
Link to EthÃ© 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
SindbÄdnÄmah, 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 EthÃ© 1236
IO Islamic 3558
Fatá¸¥ Ê»AlÄ« ShÄh QÄjÄr. DÄ«vÄn-i KhÄqÄn. A beautifully illuminated copy in calligraphic shikastah of the poems of Fatá¸¥ Ê»AlÄ« ShÄh QÄjÄr, Shah of Iran (r. 1797-1834), whose poetic name was KhÄqÄn. Includes a floral painted lacquer binding with doublures containing portraits of Fatá¸¥ Ê»AlÄ« ShÄh. Restricted
Link to EthÃ© 2997
IO Islamic 4811
Sayyid Muá¸¥ammad MÅ«savÄ« VÄlih. KabÅ«tar nÄmah, an illustrated work on pigeons arranged here as two separate works with the same title, dated 24 Shaâban 1202 (30 May 1788). Contains 13 paintings in addition to illustrated panels depicting pigeons.
Blog: Ê»Pigeon keeping: a popular Mughal pastimeÊ¼
Gulbadan Begam, Aá¸¥vÄl-i HumÄyÅ«n PÄdshÄh. Autobiographical account of the reigns of the Mughal Emperor BÄbur and his son HumÄyÅ«n by BÄburâs 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
Muá¸¥yÄ« LÄrÄ«, FutÅ«á¸¥ al-á¸¤aramayn. A poetical description of the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina and the rites of pilgrimage by Muá¸¥yÄ« LÄrÄ« (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. 1539-43, 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) AsadÄ« á¹¬Å«sÄ«. GarshÄsbnÄmah
2) Aá¸¥mad TabrÄ«zÄ«. ShÄhanshÄhnÄmah
Link to Rieu Supplement no. 201
E. Wright, âFirdausi and More: A Timurid Anthology of Epic Talesâ, in R. Hillenbrand, ed. Shahnama: The Visual Language of the Persian Book of Kings. Aldershot 2004, pp. 65-84
NawÊ»Ä« KhabÅ«shÄnÄ«, SÅ«z va GudÄz. âBurning and meltingâ, a poem by Muá¸¥ammad RizÌ¤Ä NawÊ»Ä« KhabÅ«shÄnÄ« (d. 1609 or 1610â), commissioned for the Mughal Prince DanyÄl (1581-1614). Contains three miniatures, Mughal dating from the 17th century. Restricted
Link to Rieu Supplement no. 313
MÄ«rzÄ Ê»Abd al-Raá¸¥Ä«m KhÄn, VÄqiÊ»Ät-i BÄburÄ«. The Memoirs of the Mughal Emperor Babur (r. 1526-30), originally written in Chaghatai Turkish and translated into Persian at his grandson Akbarâs request by MÄ«rzÄ Ê»Abd al-Raá¸¥Ä«m KhÄn 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 BÄburnÄma: a Study of Sixteenth Century Mughal Historical Manuscript Illustration, PhD thesis submitted SOAS, July 1977
AbÅ« á¹¬Ähir á¹¬arsÅ«sÄ«. DÄrÄbnÄmah. 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
SaÊ»dÄ«. GulistÄn copied in 975 (1567/68) in Bukhara (Uzbekistan) and ascribed in the colophon to the famous calligrapher MÄ«r Ê»AlÄ« á¸¤usaynÄ«. 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 Mughalâs favourite books?
JahÄnÄrÄ Begam, MuÊ¼nis al-arvÄá¸¥, an autograph copy by Princess JahÄnÄrÄ (1641-81), daughter of ShÄh JahÄn, of her biography, composed in 1049/1640, of MuÊ»Ä«n al-DÄ«n ChishtÄ« with notices of some of his disciples
Blog: Princess Jahanaraâs biography of a Sufi saint
KhvÄjah MasâÅ«d-i Bek. MirâÄt al-âÄrifÄ«n. 18th century
Nizami. Khamsah. Late 15th century copy containing one double and 20 single miniatures ascribed to BihzÄd, MÄ«rak and others. Restricted
Description of Or.6810
Blog: The Khamsah of Nizami: A Timurid Masterpiece
LuqmÄn, SalÄ«m KhÄnnÄmah, 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
á¸¤Äfiáº. DÄ«vÄn, containing eight miniatures and text decorated throughout with birds. Imperfect at end. Copied by âAbd al-á¹¢amad ShÄ«rÄ«n-qalam in 990/1582-3 for Asaf Khan in Akbar's reign and subsequently enhanced by Jahangir c. 1611 with nine illustrations, eight of which are preserved here. Restricted
Blog: Jahangirâs Hafiz and the Madrasa Jurist
The 'Yazd Anthology', a collection of Turkish works written in calligraphic Uighur script in Yazd in 1431 with the addition of the Persian DÄ«vÄns of KamÄl-i Khujand and AmÄ«rÄ« in the margins. The Uighur scribe was Mansur Bakhshi who was working for Mir Jalal al-Din the governor of the city. Ornamented throughout with geometric floral and other designs.
Article: G. L. M. Clauson, âA Hitherto Unknown Turkish Manuscript in "Uighur" Charactersâ, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 1 (Jan., 1928), pp. 99-130
HÄfiáº SaÊ»d. DÄ«vÄn, copied by Shaykh Maá¸¥mÅ«d PÄ«r BÅ«dÄqÄ« at Shiraz for the library of PÄ«r BÅ«dÄq (d.1466), son of the JahÄnshÄh Qaraqoyunlu. Restricted
RazmnÄmah, the last five books of the Persian translation from the Sanskrit Mahabharata by Naqib KhÄn. Dated 1007/1598 it contains 24 paintings attributed to well-known Mughal artists. Restricted
Blog: Ê»Razmnamah: the Persian MahabharataÊ¼
NiáºÄmÄ«, Khamsah. An imperial copy of the Khamsah by NiáºÄmÄ« GanjavÄ« (1140 or 41-1202 or 3), dated between 1593 and 1595 and copied by Ê»Abd al-RahÄ«m Ê»AnbarÄ«n-qalÄm. It contains 38 illustrated folios attributed to the major artists of the imperial Mughal studio. Original lacquered binding. Restricted
Barbara Brend, The Emperor Akbarâs Khamsa of Nizami. London, 1995
Ê»Abd al-KarÄ«m al-QÄdirÄ« JawnpÅ«rÄ«, JavÄhir al-mÅ«sÄ«qÄt-i Muá¸¥ammadÄ« a musical treatise dedicated to Muhammad âAdil 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 Saá¹ gÄ«taratnÄkara, by the 13th century author ÅÄrá¹ gadeva. 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
AsadÄ« á¹¬Å«sÄ«. GarshÄsbnÄmah. 981/1573. Safavid/Qazvin style. 8 miniatures, 1 illumination. Restricted
Abu'l-Fazl ibn MubÄrak, AkbarnÄmah. 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
Naá¹£r AllÄh. KalÄ«lah 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, âAn illustrated Persian text of KalÄ«la and Dimna dated 707/1307-8â, British Library Journal 1/1 (Spring 1975) pp. 42-61
á¸¤Äfiáº. DÄ«vÄn, copied at Herat or Mashhad ca. 1470 by, according to Shah Jahanâs note of 1037/1628 (f. 1r), the famous calligrapher Sulá¹Än Ê»AlÄ« MashhadÄ«. 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, âThe âBute Hafizâ and the development of border decoration in the manuscript studio of the Mughalsâ, The Burlington Magazine 127 no. 993 (Dec. 1985), pp. 855-56; 858-71.
Two Zoroastrian works:
1) Zartusht BahrÄm PazhdÅ«. ArdÄ VirÄf nÄmah. The story of Arda the Just's visit to Heaven and Hell.
Blog: Zoroastrian visions of heaven and hell
2) ÄªrÄnshÄh ibn MalikshÄh. 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