Persian collections

A prince or dignitary presenting poets with turbans of honour
A prince or dignitary presenting poets with turbans of honour. From an anthology of Dīvāns dated 1314-15 AD (IO Islamic 132, f. 16v)

Our Persian-language collections (New Persian, i.e. Fārsī, Darī and Tajik) comprise over 40,000 volumes of printed books, periodicals and newspapers; well over 11,000 manuscripts; and a range of other materials such as sound recordings and videos on CD or DVD.

About the collection

Our collections include material held by the British Museum prior to 1973 and acquisitions made since then, as well as the collections of the India Office Library which were transferred to the British Library in 1982. Our Persian printed books and Persian manuscripts originate from all over the Persian-speaking world, and especially from Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. They range in time from handwritten documents of the 10th century to the latest publications and include numerous rare texts on literature, history, religion, science and other subjects. Full details of our printed catalogues of Persian manuscripts are available in our Guide to Printed Persian Manuscript Catalogues.

Our collections also include early newspapers and printed books, illustrated manuscripts, calligraphy, in addition to archival material which is mainly in the India Office Records. Prints, drawings and photographs are to be found in the Visual arts collections.

Additionally we hold material in and about other Iranian languages:
  • old and middle Iranian languages, including Avestan, Pahlavi, Sogdian, and Khotanese
  • modern languages, including Pashto, Kurdish, and Baluchi

What is available online?

The material digitised through the Endangered Archives program includes several collections from Iran. You can find also images relating to Persian material in the British Library Images Online. The Asia, Pacific & Africa collections page in the British Library Online Gallery includes altogether more than 15,000 images. The International Dunhuang Database (IDP) also includes extensive photographic collections, such as those taken by Robert Byron in Iran and Central Asia in the 1930s. A list of our digitised manuscripts can be found on our dedicated webpage Digital Access to Persian Manuscripts.

British Library collection items are described in our Asian and African studies blog, to which you can subscribe if you wish to receive regular updates. We also tweet information on news, discoveries, bibliographical resources and collection items on Twitter.



Details of most of our Persian printed holdings are accessible in the online catalogue, Explore the British Library. Our older printed books are available in our Catalogue of the Persian printed books in the British Museum (London, 1922) and the Catalogue Of The Library Of The India Office Vol.ii Persian books (London, 1937). 

Work is in progress on adding our manuscript catalogue records to Explore Archives and Manuscripts. They are also included in FIHRIST, a searchable interface to basic manuscript descriptions from major Islamic collections in the UK.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

You can view printed materials, manuscripts and archives in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room. Some especially valuable or fragile material is restricted and available only in exceptional circumstances. Self-service photography is allowed for certain categories of material, provided that its condition allows this.

Further information

Useful resources include: