Skip to main content

Oriental Manuscripts Collection

 Fonds
Identifier: Or Ms

Scope and Contents

The collection of over 700 oriental manuscripts includes some of the greatest treasures of Edinburgh University Library. The manuscripts are mainly Islamic, written in Arabic or Persian, but there are also Jewish Torah scolls, Buddhist texts on palm leaves and Hindu manuscripts.
The Al-Bîrûnî, Rashid al-Din and Mahabharata manuscripts are the best-known items (Or Ms 161, Or Ms 20, Or Ms 510). Other treasures include a beautiful Koran (Or Ms 148) which belonged to Tipu-Sahib, Sultan of Mysore, 1749- 1799 A.D., who was killed in the battle to defend his city, Seringapatam, against the British. Arabic manuscripts include commentaries on the Koran; traditions of the Prophet; prayers; law, general history and biography; medicine, mathematics, philosophy and ethics; and, grammar, rhetoric, poetry, prose, tales, dictionary, and controversy. Persian manuscripts include theology, history, biography, and travel; mathematics and astronomy; ethics, poetry, music, composition and proverbs, tales and romances; grammar and dictionary; and, agriculture and war. Hindustani manuscripts deal with history, poetry, tales and astrology. Turkish manuscripts include material acquired in Astrakhan with several early Ottoman texts, divans of Neva'i and items of dialectical interest. There are also around 100 bundles or parcels of Buddhist works on palm leaves in Burmese, Pali, Sanskrit, Siamese, Tamil, and Tibetan; and Sanskrit charters on copper plates.

Dates

  • 10th-19th centuries

Language of Materials

Mainly Arabic and Persian, but also Turkish, Hebrew, Latin, Burmese, Pali, Sanskrit, Siamese, Tamil, and Tibetan. Other languages represented include Ethiopic/Amharic, Armenian, Bengali, Cambodian, Hindustani, Javanese, Malay, Mon, Panjabi, Prakrit, Sinhalese, Syriac and Urdu.

Conditions Governing Access

Open, but please contact the repository in advance.

Extent

30 linear metres (approx)

Other Finding Aids

Apart from Or Ms 20, the collection is not yet catalogued online. See Mohammed Hukk, A descriptive catalogue of the Arabic and Persian manuscripts in Edinburgh University Library (Edinburgh, 1925) and R. B. Serjeant, A handlist of the Arabic, Persian and Hindustani MSS. of New College, Edinburgh (London, 1942). See also handlist H8.2.

Custodial History

Edinburgh University Library has over 650 manuscripts in oriental languages originating from the countries of the Middle East, South Asia, and South East Asia. The oriental collection includes material gathered by Lieutenant-Colonel John Baillie of Leys and presented to the Library in 1876 by his grandson, Mr. John B. Baillie, with the stipulation that a descriptive catalogue was prepared. This task was given to Mr. Mohammed Ashraful Hukk of Hyderabad who was then a student at the University. A greater part of the collection had been catalogued by 1906. Then, by 1914, Professor Hermann Ethe of Aberystwyth had added to the catalogue, and in the 1920s Dr. Edward Robertson carried out some more work. Other donors to the collection were R. M. B. Binning of the Indian Civil Service, George Bell M.D., and the Rev. John Dickson who had been a missionary in Astrakhan.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection includes material gathered by Lieutenant-Colonel John Baillie of Leys and presented to the Library in 1876 by his grandson, Mr. John B. Baillie. Other donors to the collection were R. M. B. Binning of the Indian Civil Service, George Bell M.D., the Rev. John Dickson who had been a missionary in Astrakhan, as well as brothers David (1750-1828) and James (1758-1833) Anderson, who gave a total of 167 manuscripts. A number of items came with the David Laing bequest, including several fragments of a 9th-century Koran, at one time in the Mosque of Amr in Fustat - the first mosque in Egypt and indeed Africa (Or.MS.175).
In recent years, the collection has also been augmented through purchase. For instance, at E2011.22 there is a group of 40 manuscripts from the Ottoman Provinces and Iran, mostly 18th and 19th centuries. At E2011.23 there is an illuminated prayer-book, Northern Nigeria, of 29 folios, each with lines of black stylized 'maghribi', with various illuminated panels and medallions.

Bibliography

Hukk, Mohammed, A descriptive catalogue of the Arabic and Persian manuscripts in Edinburgh University Library (Hertford: Stephen Austin, 1925)
Serjeant, Robert B., A handlist of the Arabic, Persian and Hindustani MSS. of New College, Edinburgh (London: Luzac & Co, 1942)

Processing Information

Top-level description compiled by Aline Brodin in April 2018.
Title
Oriental Manuscripts Collection

Repository Details

Part of the Edinburgh University Library Special Collections Repository

Contact:
Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379