Persian manuscripts

Gayumars and his court from the Shāhnamah ‘Book of Kings’ by Firdawsī
Detail from illustration of Gayumars and his court from the Shāhnamah ‘Book of Kings’ by Firdawsī. 16th century Safavid (IO Islamic 3540, f. 17r)

Consisting of over 11,000 works in almost as many volumes, our Persian manuscripts originate from all over the Persian speaking world, in particular Iran, Central Asia and India and range in time from the 10th century to recent years, representing most of the traditional fields of humanities and religious studies.

About the collection

Our collections include material held by the British Museum prior to 1973, and acquisitions made since then, together with the collections of the India Office Library which were transferred to the British Library in 1982. These were mostly acquired or purchased from diplomats, travellers, and government officials, two major collections being those of Claudius James Rich (1786-1821) and Richard Johnson (1753-1807). The India Office collection also includes the residual Mughal Imperial Library dating from 1858.

Many of the Persian manuscripts are copies of rare texts. Among the many artistic highlights are the illustrated Three Poems of Khvājū Kirmānī dated 1396 (Add.MS.18113 ); two copies of the Khamsah of Niẓāmī illustrated by Bihzād and artists of his school in the late 15th century (Add.MS.25900 and Or.6810), and many other fine Tīmurid manuscripts; from the Safavid period, Shah Ṭahmāsb's copy of Niẓāmī’s Khamsah ‘Quintet’ (Or.2265), a Shāhnāmah ‘Book of Kings’ from Shiraz (IO Islamic 3540), and much else. Masterpieces from India include the illustrated memoirs of the Mughal Emperor Bābur (Or.3714) and the first volume of Abū al-Faẓl's Akbarnāmah, both produced for Bābur’s grandson Akbar.

What is available online?

Digitised manuscripts

As part of our current project Digital Access to Persian Manuscripts 88 manuscripts of major importance have been digitised; these are all available on Digitised Manuscripts. Details of these, with catalogue descriptions and bibliographical references, can be found on our dedicated project page.

Other resources

A number of manuscripts from our collection are described in our Asian and African studies blog. We also tweet information on news, discoveries, bibliographical resources and collection items on Twitter.

You can find also images from selected Persian manuscripts in British Library Images Online.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Persian manuscripts are available to read in the Asian and African Reading Room. Some especially valuable or fragile manuscripts are restricted and available only in exceptional circumstances. Self-service photography is allowed for certain categories of material, provided that its condition allows this.

To locate individual Persian manuscripts you will need to consult our catalogues.

Further information

Essential tools

Other online resources