Asian and African studies blog

13 posts categorized "Ottoman Turkey"

24 March 2015

From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia

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The British Academy-funded research project Islam, Trade and Politics across the Indian Ocean, which ran from 2009 to 2012 adminstered by ASEASUK (Association of Southeast Asian Studies in the UK) and the BIAA (British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara), set out to investigate all aspects of links between the greatest Middle Eastern power – the Ottoman empire – and the Muslim lands of the Malay archipelago in Southeast Asia over the past five centuries. The project culminated in a conference held in Banda Aceh in 2012, as well as a travelling photographic exhibition produced by the British Library which toured the UK, with a Turkish version which travelled to Istanbul and Ankara, while Indonesian versions were displayed in various venues in Aceh and in Jakarta at the Bayt al-Qur'an & Museum Istiqlal. Now one of two books arising from the project has just been published – From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia, edited by Andrew Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop – as the auspiciously-numbered 200th volume in the series 'Proceedings of the British Academy', published by Oxford University Press.

TJ-15076_From Anatolia to Aceh copy

The first direct political contact between Anatolia and the Malay world took place in the 16th century, when Ottoman records confirm that gunners and gunsmiths were sent to Aceh in Sumatra to help fight against Portuguese domination of the pepper trade across the Indian Ocean. In later years the main conduit for contact was the annual Hajj pilgrimage, and many Malay pilgrims from Southeast Asia spent long periods of study in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which were under Ottoman control from 1517 until the early 20th century. During the era of European colonial expansion in the 19th century, once again Malay states turned to Istanbul for help. It now appears that these demands for intervention from Southeast Asia may even have played an important role in the development of the Ottoman policy of Pan-Islamism, positioning the Ottoman emperor as Caliph and leader of Muslims worldwide and promoting Muslim solidarity.

The 14 papers in this volume represent the first attempt to bring together research on all aspects of the relationship between the Ottoman world and Southeast Asia, much of it based on documents newly discovered in archives in Istanbul. The book is presented in three sections, covering the political and economic relationship, interactions in the colonial era, and cultural and intellectual influences, with an introduction by the editors and a historiographical survey by Anthony Reid, whose seminal 1969 article, ‘Sixteenth century Turkish influence in western Indonesia’ (Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10 (3): 395-414), could be seen as the starting point for modern research on this topic. A full list of the contents of the volume can be found here: Download 00_Anatolia to Aceh_i-xvi.

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Mawlid sharaf al-anam, 19th c. Reproduced courtesy of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2014.5.14.

The beautiful manuscript which adorns the front cover of the volume exemplifies well the myriad interactions documented in the volume: it was copied in Mecca by a Malay calligrapher from the 'Jawi' community of Southeast Asians resident in the Hijaz, and adorned with late Ottoman-style illumination. It is a copy of the Mawlid sharaf al-anam, ‘The birth of the noblest of mankind’, an anonymous compilation of devotional prayers on the Prophet, and the Arabic text is accompanied by a small interlinear translation in Malay. The scribe is named as Ibrahim al-Khulusi ibn Wudd al-Jawi al-Sambawi, his nisba indicating his origins on the island of Sumbawa in eastern Indonesia.

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Final pages of Mawlid sharaf al-anam, 19th c. Reproduced courtesy of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2014.5.14.

Although the colophon gives the date (in thinly-inked numerals) of 1042 AH (1632/3 AD), this is most likely erroneous and numerous factors indicate that the manuscript was probably copied in the mid-19th century. By coincidence, among the documents in the Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives ((Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi, BOA) in Istanbul relating to Southeast Asia discovered in the course of the research project was an Arabic letter of 1849/50 to Hasib Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of the Hijaz, thanking him for facilitating the Hajj pilgrimage, signed by ten Malay and Yemeni scholars (‘ulama) resident in Mecca. Among the signatories to this letter is one ‘Ibrahim bin Wudd al-Jawi’, whose seal impression reads Ibrahim al-Khulusi ibn Wuddin. Comparing the name ‘Ibrahim’ in the manuscript and the letter leaves little doubt that they were written by the same person.

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Letter in Arabic from Southeast Asian religious scholars in Mecca to Hasib Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of the Hijaz, 1849/50, with Ibrahim's signature and seal fourth from the left. BOA İ.DH 211/12286.

Ibrahim  P1030709-det
Detail of the signature of Ibrahim (left) in the letter of 1849/50, and (right) in the colophon of Mawlid sharaf al-anam, with the same concave-convex shape of ba-ra, and the letter alif bisecting the ha-ya ligature in both examples.

Further evidence locating this ‘Ibrahim’ as a master Malay calligrapher in the Hijaz in the mid 19th century is found in a letter in Malay and Arabic written in Mecca in 1866 by Abdul Rahman bin Muhammad Saman of Kelantan to Sultan Abdul Hamid of Pontianak on the west coast of Borneo (Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 1998.1.3680). In the letter, Abdul Rahman states that he had come to Mecca to study the ‘Istanbul style’ of writing (menyurat Istanbul), and that he is currently being considered the successor to his ‘late teacher Shaykh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi’ in teaching ‘Istanbul writing’ (patik ini … sudah dilatih? orang besar2 di Mekah akan bahwa patik inilah jadi ganti … al-marhum guru patik tuan Syaikh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi yang masyhur itu … pada pihak tolong mengajarkan segala muslimin menyurat Istanbulnya). Together, these sources suggest that Ibrahim al-Khulusi died in Mecca probably sometime in the early 1860s.

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Detail from a letter written by Abdul Rahman of Kelantan in Mecca in 1866 giving the name of 'my late teacher the great Shaykh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi' (al-marhum guru patik Tuan Syaikh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi yang masyhur). Reproduced courtesy of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 1998.1.3680.

Ironically, the Ottoman-Malay mawlid manuscript of Ibrahim al-Khulusi only came to light in 2014, well after the completion of the research project, and so is not discussed in the book itself.  (The manuscript is currently held in the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, and we are most grateful to the IAMM and its Director, Mr Syed Mohamad Albukhary, for permission to reproduce the manuscript on the front cover of the book).  But it is just such a discovery as this which raises hopes that, from time to time, yet more new evidence will emerge of the connections between the Ottoman empire and Southeast Asia, across the Indian Ocean from Anatolia to Aceh.

Annabel Teh Gallop
Lead Curator, Southeast Asia, British Library & Co-Director, 'Islam, Trade and Politics across the Indian Ocean'

With thanks to Tim Stanley for comments on the illumination.

From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks, and Southeast Asia
Edited by Andrew Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop
OUP/British Academy | Proceedings of the British Academy Vol. 200
300 pages | 22 illustrations | 234x156mm
978-0-19-726581-9 | Hardback | 05 February 2015
Price:  £70.00
Available from Oxford University Press

04 April 2014

Islamic seal matrices in the British Library Philatelic Collections

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The word ‘seal’ can refer to two quite distinct, yet related, entities: the object used for stamping, sometimes called the ‘seal matrix’, and the seal impression, also called a ‘seal stamp’ or ‘sealing’, which refers to the mark made by the seal matrix.  Seal matrices are usually made of a hard material such as metal or gemstone, and may be set in a ring, and are most commonly found in museum collections.  Seal impressions, on the other hand, are found on manuscript documents or books, and are thus usually encountered in libraries and archives - as illustrated by a recent blog post on the 'Islamic' seals used by British colonial officials, found impressed on documents in the India Office Records.  

An Indian seal engraver, preparing jewels for seal rings, drawn in the Benares style, ca. 1825.  British Library, Add. Or. 169.    noc

It was therefore a very natural partnership when the British Library and British Museum came together in 2010 to produce a travelling photographic exhibition, Lasting Impressions: Seals from the Islamic World, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  The British Museum’s rich collection of seals with inscriptions in Arabic and Persian, made of materials such as carnelian, onyx, turquoise and rock crystal as well as brass and silver, were complemented by royal letters, treaties and books bearing Islamic seal impressions from the British Library. The exhibition toured libraries and museums throughout the UK, and led to a further collaboration with the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur in 2012.

I was therefore very surprised when, in late 2011, my colleagues in the British Library’s Philatelic Collections, David Beech and Paul Skinner, mentioned in passing that the Library, too, had a small collection of Islamic seal matrices, alongside other European seals and philatelic paraphernalia. On further investigation there turned out to be ten metal seal matrices with inscriptions in Arabic script, unaccompanied, however, by any information on their provenance. On the basis of the calligraphy and style of inscription, nearly all the seals appear to be Ottoman, and all but one are dated.  A catalogue of the 10 seals, by A.T. Gallop and M.I. Waley, can be found here: Download BL Philatelic Collections Islamic seals-ATG-MIW.

Seals and other objects in the Philatelic Collections of the British Library.  The ten seals with inscriptions in Arabic are in the cluster on the right.  noc

BL Philatelic seals668 reversed
The ten Islamic seals, together with three others in Greek.  British Library, Philatelic Collections.  noc
BL Philatelic seals handles (1)
Side view showing the handles of the ten Islamic seals.  British Library, Philatelic Collections, Islamic seals 1-10.  noc

In Ottoman Turkey, seal engraving was a well established and highly regulated profession. Seal engravers belonged to professional guilds, and had to adhere to a strict code of practice, designed to prevent the fraudulent use of seals.  In the early seventeenth century there were separate guilds for engravers who worked in semi-precious stones such as carnelians and jade, those who produced seals for the officials of the state, and those who worked in silver, producing talismans as well as seals.  From the late eighteenth century and into the early twentieth century some Istanbul sealmakers engraved their pseudonymous signatures in tiny letters on the face of the seal.  It is therefore of great interest to find that three seals in the British Library collection appear to bear the initials/signatures of their engravers, two of which occur in the list of Ottoman seal engravers’ signatures published in Acar (1999: 290-295).  These signatures are always written in much smaller letters than the main inscription.

BL Philatelic Islamic seal 3
Ottoman brass seal, engraved with the name Ahmad Bijan / Ahmed Bican and the date 1343 (AD 1924/5), with in the bottom right corner the tiny signature of its maker ‘Aşki, one of the seal engravers listed by Acar (1999: 295). Width 17 mm. British Library, Philatelic Collections, Islamic seal 10.  noc

Further reading:

M. Şinasi Acar. Türk Hat Sanati / Turkish calligraphy.  Istanbul: Antik A.S., 1999.

Annabel Teh Gallop & Venetia Porter.  Lasting Impressions: Seals from the Islamic World. A travelling photographic exhibition from the British Library and the British Museum. [London]: British Library and British Museum, 2010.

Annabel Teh Gallop & Venetia Porter.  Lasting Impressions: Seals from the Islamic World. With contributions from Heba Nayel Barakat ... [et al].  Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2012.  [Available online from Areca Books.]

Venetia Porter. Arabic and Persian seals and amulets in the British Museum.  London: British Museum Press, 2011.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

07 October 2013

Islam, Trade and Politics across the Indian Ocean

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Southeast Asia has long been connected by trade, religion and political links to the wider world across the Indian Ocean, and especially to the Middle East through the faith of Islam. However, little attention has been paid to the ties between Muslim Southeast Asia – encompassing the modern nations of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and the southern parts of Thailand and the Philippines – and the greatest Middle Eastern power, the Ottoman empire. 

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The Indian Ocean world in the 16th century, from an Italian portolano.  British Library, Harley 3450, no.6    noc

In 2009, the British Academy funded a three-year research project Islam, Trade and Politics Across the Indian Ocean, administered by the Association of South East Asian Studies in the UK (ASEASUK) and the British Institute at Ankara (BIAA).  The project set out to investigate all forms of interaction between these two regions, from political, religious, literary and commercial exchanges to mutual influences in material culture, and culminated in a conference, From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia, held in 2012 in Banda Aceh in conjunction with the International Centre for Aceh and Indian Ocean Studies (ICAIOS).  The results of the research project have also been presented in a photographic exhibition produced by the British Library, which has been shown in Durham, Leeds, Cambridge, Leicester and Exeter.  Today the exhibition opens in London at its final UK venue, in the John Addis Gallery of Islamic Art at the British Museum.  Turkish and Indonesian versions of the exhibition have also been produced, and are currently on display in Istanbul and Aceh.

The Ottoman lands were known in Southeast Asia as Rum, after the Arabic term for the Roman empire.  The Raja of Rum occupies a fabled position in Malay, Acehnese and Javanese epics, and the ruling houses of Kedah, Johor, Perak and Jambi all traced their descent from Rum. In Turkey similarly exotic imaginings existed in parallel with concrete geographical knowledge, and well into the 18th century Ottoman artists continued to illustrate medieval texts describing mythical inhabitants of Southeast Asia. 

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Winged tree-dwellers of Zabaj, referring probably to Sumatra or Java, from ‘Aja’ib al-makhluqat by Qazvini, Persian text with Ottoman paintings, 1654/5.  British Library, Or.13935, f.76r (detail)

The main periods of direct political contact between Southeast Asian states and the Ottoman empire took place in the 16th and 19th centuries, with a long hiatus in between.  But after the Turkish conquest of Egypt in 1517 and until the early 20th centuries, the two holy cities of Islam, Mecca and Medinah, were under Ottoman control.  During this period, the main conduit for contact between the Ottomans and the Malay world was the annual Hajj pilgrimage.  Many Muslims from the Malay archipelago lived for long periods in Mecca, where they were known as the Jawi community. When they returned to Southeast Asia they brought back as souvenirs highly-prized Ottoman goods such as manuscripts, textiles and carpets.  Thus Ottoman motifs such as the tughra or royal monogram, and distinctive calligraphic styles such as zoomorphic and müsenna mirror writing, found their way into Southeast Asian art forms including batik textiles and woodcarvings.  The two-bladed sword of the Prophet called Dhu al-Faqar, so evident in Ottoman war flags and pilgrim banners, is also found on flags from Aceh, Siak, Riau and even Sulu in the southern Philippines.


Tughra of the Ottoman Sultan Murad III (r.1574-1595).  British Library Or.15504   noc

Reproduced in the ten exhibition panels are documents from the Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives (Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi) in Istanbul, including newly-discovered royal letters from Malay rulers to the Ottoman sultan, addressed as the khalifah and protector of Muslims worldwide.  Manuscripts, maps and drawings from the British Library and other institutions also testify to links between the lands of the Ottoman empire and early republican Turkey, and the Muslim peoples of Southeast Asia, from the 16th to 20th centuries.

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Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor – the first Malay monarch to visit Turkey – and his Turkish wife, Sultana Khadijah.  Na Tien Piet, Shaer almarhoem beginda Sultan Abubakar di negri Johor (Singapore, 1896).  British Library 14626.a.6

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The Indonesian version of the exhibition on display in the Library of Universitas Syiah Kuala, Banda Aceh, September 2013.  Photograph courtesy of ICAIOS.

Further reading

For a list of publications on Ottoman links with Southeast Asia, see:

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia
Co-Director, Islam, Trade and Politics across the Indian Ocean

Follow us on Twitter @BLAsia_Africa

29 July 2013

An Ottoman Turkish Mosque Library Register

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This volume, which opens with an ornate rococo illuminated heading, is the original handwritten handlist of the manuscripts of Mustafa Paşa, preserved in the Mosque of Hasan Paşa. Neither the former owner nor the mosque is more specifically identified. According to an inscription, in 1230/1814-15 the library’s holdings were scrutinized under the supervision of Devletlü (His Excellency) Haccı ‘Ali Paşa. Of the 230 volumes, 135 were found to be present and 95 on loan to students. Many are common textbooks on the religious sciences.

Defter-i kütüb-i Mustafa Paşa fī Cami‘ Hasan Paşa, undated (late 18th-early 19th c.).  Original hand (f. 2v-5v, 11v-19v) is clear nesih; later additions in untidy rıkʼa. Text frames: black, gold, black, red. Thick off-white laid paper; watermarks: stylized coronet above letters BVC (C below); smaller coronet above letters CSC; stylized lion rampant. 22 folios, plus 79 blank but for ruling. 271 x 157 mm; ruled area 224 x 116 mm (British Library Or.14878)

This defter is unusually concise. Each page has a grid of 18 squares, each entry stating only the short title (or a generic description such as ‘Treatise on Sufism’) or author (but rarely both) and the number of volumes; this is often insufficient to identify the text unequivocally. In some squares, the word mevcud (‘present’) has been added in red ink. The compilers exhibit a lower level of linguistic knowledge than one might expect. The defter contains entries on folios 2v-7v; blank ruled squares on 8r-10v; then 69 folios that are blank apart from the ruled gilt text frames (not counted in foliation, following British Library practice); then further entries from f. 11v to the top row of 20r; then ten more folios with only text frames.

It is curious that the written contents comprise two sequences, both with later additions, separated by so many blank pages. The handwriting of the best-written folios – 2v-5v and 11v-19v – is all by the same individual, although the contents of the two sequences differ. The volume may have been ordered to a fixed size and format, to accommodate future acquisitions.  There is an explanation. Examination of the second sequence shows that it represents the original writer’s attempt to re-order the entries by subject, beginning with Qur’anic literature before proceeding to Ḥadīth (Prophetic traditions), Fiqh (jurisprudence), and so on. Thus the Defter of the Mustafa Paşa Library, for all its deficiencies, reflects the care taken to maintain records of the holdings of a modest Ottoman mosque library.

Muhammad Isa Waley, Asian and African Studies

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01 May 2013

A 16th century Ottoman polymath: Matrakçı Nasuh

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Matrakçı Nasuh’s Ümdet ül-Ḥisāb (Or. 7988) and Cāmi‘ üt-Tevārīh (Add. 23586)

New information about manuscripts in our collections is often made known through the work of dedicated experts who study specific items in the course of their research.  One such case was brought to light through the work of Dr. Hüseyin Gazi Yurdaydın, who successfully identified the author of one of the British Library’s Turkish manuscripts which had previously been described as anonymous (Yurdaydın, 144).  The manuscript in question is Add. 23586, a work written in Ottoman Turkish.  In the British Museum’s late 19th-century catalogue, Charles Rieu describes this work in a fair amount of detail, even identifying it as a ‘portion of the history of the dynasty,’ referring to the Ottomans (Rieu, 46).  However, the work was not definitively identified as part of the historical chronicle written by Matrakçı Nasuh, the famous 16th-century Ottoman polymath, until Dr. Yurdaydın’s work on the manuscript.  Add. 23586 contains the section of Nasuh’s Cāmi‘ üt-Tevārīh dealing with the reigns of Beyazid II (1447-1512) and Selim I (1512-1520).

Add23586_f156r_720The section on Selim I, in which the Ottoman sultan sends an emissary with a letter of warning to the last Mamluk ruler of Egypt, Tumanbay (Add. 23586, f 156r)   noc

The author of this manuscript, Matrakçı Nasuh, was an Ottoman Renaissance man. He excelled in martial arts, mathematics, science, painting and literature, among other fields. Matrakçı Nasuh’s name, in fact, comes from the word for ‘cudgel’ or ‘mace’ in Ottoman Turkish, matrāḳ, as he was famous for his virtuosity in employing this weapon and creating games and military training involving the mace, as well as other weapons, even writing a work on the art of swordsmanship, Tuḥfat ül-Ghuzāt (Yurdaydın, 143-144). In addition to the art of chivalry, Matrakçı Nasuh’s contributions to Ottoman court life are numerous. His talents first came to attention of Sultan Süleyman (ruled 1520-1566) as a young officer in the Janissary corps. In 1530, Nasuh translated Ṭabarī’s renowned historical chronicle, Tarīkh al-Rusūl wa al-Mulūk (History of the Prophets and Kings, better known in English as the Annals) from Arabic into Ottoman Turkish and adapted it to include information from Ptolemy and al-Bīrūnī (Ebel, 4). 

This translation/adaptation, which Nasuh called the Cāmi‘ üt-Tevārīh, came to the attention of the new sultan in 1534 (Yurdaydın, 144). Perhaps in an effort to establish his status as a patron of the arts, as well as a universal monarch drawing his legitimacy from previous Islamic and pre-Islamic rulers, Süleyman commissioned Nasuh to continue his historical chronicle to include the Ottoman dynasty.  It is a copy of this work that is contained in part in the BL’s Turkish manuscript collection in MS. Add. 23586. Our copy of this work is dated AH 960 or AD 1553, making it contemporary with the life of Matrakçı Nasuh, who died in AD 1564.

Add23586_720The colophon of Cami’ üt-Tevarih recording the scribe as Ṣāliḥ ibn-i Ḥasan el-Ḳonyavī (Add. 23586)    noc

In addition to his contribution to the writing of history and the creation of games with cudgels, Matrakçı Nasuh was also famous as a technician. The most well-known episode of his engineering talent occurred during the circumcision ceremonies of Süleyman’s sons, Mehmed and Selim, when he famously constructed two moving citadels out of paper from which soldiers emerged and staged a battle, as part of the public spectacle and celebration in the Istanbul hippodrome (Yurdaydın, 144). He was also a talented painter and created a new form of art that depicted the topography of cities of the Ottoman Empire with great precision and detail (Ebel, 2-3). 

Matrakçı_Nasuh_Soltaniyeh_Map_720Beyan-i Menazil-i Sefer-i Irakeyn-i Sultan Suleyman, written circa 1537. (Istanbul University Library 5967)  noc  Wikimedia Commons

In addition to Matrakçı Nasuh’s work on historiography, the British Library also holds one of his manuscripts on mathematics, his famous treatise, Ümdet ül-Ḥisāb Or. 7988. 

Or7988_f16r_720Ümdet ül-Ḥisāb. From the chapter on fractions, in which the division of inheritance is explained (Or. 7988 f. 16r)  noc

However, the canonical work on the history of Ottoman mathematical literature, aptly titled Osmanlı Matematik Literatürü Tarihi, lists thirteen extant copies of Matrakçı’s mathematical treatises in manuscript libraries in Turkey and one manuscript in the University Library of Cambridge but does not mention the BL copy (İhsanoğlu, 72-73), meaning that this manuscript will have escaped the attention of many researchers.  It is hoped that by drawing attention to the existence of these manuscripts through our blog that we can create connections between scholars abroad and here in the UK in order to facilitate research on our manuscript collections and to make our collections more accessible.


Nur Sobers-Khan,  Asian and African Studies

Follow us on Twitter: @BLAsia_Africa


Further reading

Kathryn A. Ebel. ‘Representations of the Frontier in Ottoman Town Views of the Sixteenth Century,’ Imago Mundi 60/1 (2008): 1-22.

Sencer Çorlu, et al. ‘The Ottoman Palace School Enderun and the Man with Multiple Talents, Matrakçı Nasuh,’ Journal of the Korea Society of Mathematical Education Series D: Research in Mathematical Education 14/1 (2010): 19–31

Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, (ed). ‘Nāṣūḥ al-Maṭrākī,’ Osmanlı Matematik Literatürü Tarihi, Vol. 1.  Istanbul, 1999.

Charles Rieu.  Catalogue of Turkish Manuscripts in the British Museum.  London, 1888: 45-46.

Nasuhü’s-Silahi Matrakçı. Tarih-i feth-i Şikloş  ve Estergon ve Estolnibelgrad, tarih-i Sultan Bayezid: History of the conquest of Sıklös and Esztérgom and Székesfehérvar, the history of Sultan Bayezid. Ankara, 2001.

Dominique Halbout du Tanney. Istanbul vu par Matrakçı et les miniaturistes du XVIe siècle. İstanbul, 1993.

Hüseyin Gazi Yurdaydın. ‘Matrakçı Nasuh,’ İslam Ansiklopedisi, Vol. 28, Ankara, 2003: 143-145