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Persian language collections

The British Library's Persian language collections are rich and extensive. They comprise over 30,000 volumes of printed books and periodicals, approximately 12,000 manuscript texts in about 9,000 volumes of various types and a range of other materials.

The collections outlined on this page include material in Persian (i.e. Farsi; New Persian; Tajik; and Dari). 

Manuscripts

The manuscript collections originate from the whole of the Islamic world, in particular Iran, Central Asia and India. They range in time from the 12th century to handwritten and typed texts of recent years, and are strong in most of the traditional fields of humanities and religious studies. 

Many of the Persian manuscripts are copies of rare texts, and the arts of the book are copiously represented at the highest level: illustrated volumes include some of the most famous miniature paintings of the Persian and Mogul schools.

The British Library's collections also include archival materials (includes non-published and mixed material), mainly in the India Office collections.

Printed books and periodicals

Printed books and periodicals are from all parts of the Persian-speaking world and the Iranian diaspora, ranging in date from early Iranian and Indian imprints to a selection of the latest publications. The collection includes numerous rarities from Iran, Afghanistan and India. Since the 1960s especially, a wider selection of subjects has been covered.

Other resources

The British Library holds numerous other resources for the study of the Persian language, and the history and culture of the Iranian world. These include:

  • modern scholarly books and journals
  • maps (includes all types of cartographic material)
  • sheet music
  • newspapers (includes microfilm editions)
  • official publications
  • sound recordings
  • visual materials (includes photographs, prints, drawings, videos and films)

We also hold material in and about other Iranian languages:

  • Old Iranian (Avestan, Old Persian)
  • Middle Iranian (Pahlavi, Middle Persian, Sogdian, Khotanese)
  • modern languages including Pashto, Kurdish, Baluchi

For more information on these languages, please contact us.

Background

The holdings consist of three elements: 

  • material collected by the India Office Library prior to 1982
  • material collected by the British Museum Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts prior to 1973
  • subsequent acquisitions of the British Library era

Catalogues and guides

Manuscripts

These catalogues are available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room.

Catalogue of the Persian manuscripts in the British Museum.
Rieu, C.
London: British Museum, 1879-83.
3 vols. Reprinted 1966.

Supplement to the Catalogue of Persian manuscripts in the British Museum
Rieu, C.
London: British Museum, 1895. Reprinted 1966.

Handlist of Persian manuscripts, 1895-1966.
Meredith-Owens, G.M.
London: British Museum, 1968.

Catalogue of Persian manuscripts in the Library of the India Office.
Ethe, H.
Oxford, 1903-37.
2 vols. (vol. 2 revised and completed by E. Edwards). Reprinted London, 1980.

Hand-list of Islamic manuscripts acquired by the India Office Library, 1936-8.
Arberry, A.J.
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1939, part 3 (July), pp. [353]-396.

Notes on Islamic manuscripts recently acquired by the India Office Library.
Arberry, A.J.
Islamic Culture, vol. 13 (1939) , pp. 44-58.

Handlist of Islamic manuscripts acquired by the India Office Library 1938-85.
Sims-Williams, U.
London: India Office Library and Records, 1986.

Supplementary handlist of Persian manuscripts, 1966-1998.
Waley, M.I.
London: British Library, 1999.

Catalogue of two collections of Persian and Arabic manuscripts preserved in the India Office Library.
Ross, E. Denison, and Browne, E.G.
London, 1902.

A descriptive catalogue of miscellaneous Persian Mughal documents from Akbar to Bahadur Shah II.
Shakeb, M.Z.A.
London: India Office Library and Records, 1982.

A descriptive catalogue of Persian letters from Arcot and Baroda.
Shakeb, M.Z.A.
London: India Office Library and Records, 1982.

A descriptive catalogue of the Batala collection of Mughal documents, 1527-1757.
Shakeb, M.Z.A.
London: British Library, 1990.

Printed books and periodicals

Most modern, and some older, publications can be found in Explore the British Library. For older publications see also the following catalogues, which are available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room:

Catalogue of the Library of the India Office, Vol. II, Part VI: Persian books.
Arberry, A.J.
London: [India Office], 1937.

Catalogue of the Persian printed books in the British Museum.
Edwards, E.
London: British Museum, 1922.

Union catalogue of Persian serials & newspapers in British libraries.
Sims-Williams, U.
London: Ithaca Press for the Middle East Libraries Committee, 1985.

Visual materials

A selection of Persian prints, photographs and drawings is catalogued in our online database of India Office Select Materials. See also the following printed catalogues:

Miniatures from Persian manuscripts: catalogue and subject index of paintings in the British Library and the British Museum.
Titley, N.M.
London: British Library, 1974.

Persian paintings in the India Office Library: a descriptive catalogue.
Robinson, B.W.
London; New York: Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1976.

Contact

Asian and African Studies enquiries
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7873
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7641

E-mail: Ask the Reference Team