Manuscripts from the Middle East have been an important, continuously expanded part of the collection since the foundation of the Munich court library. Today, the library holds around 5,300 volumes, for example Arabic, Turkish or Hebrew manuscripts, but also smaller groups in the Armenian or Syrian languages.
Through the purchase of the library of the diplomat and Orientalist Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter (1506 – 1557), around 200 Oriental manuscripts came to the court library already at the time of foundation, among them pieces in the Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew and Syrian languages. While the Oriental collection profited from the secularisation in the form of only a small number of manuscripts, these are all the more important, such as the world-famous Babylonian Talmud.
During the 19th century, numerous Oriental manuscripts were acquired through purchases from private sources, which were required for the relevant university departments and their literature demand. The most spectacular acquisition was the purchase of the library of Étienne Quatremère (1782 – 1857), which included 1,250 manuscripts from the Middle East and India.
The collection of Codices arabici (Cod.arab. 1 – 2836) currently encompasses over 3,100 volumes, thus representing the largest collection group among works from the Middle East. Their period of creation reaches from the 9th to the 19th century.
The volumes were classified in a continuous series of classification marks, initially systematically (Cod.arab. 1 – 937), later on consecutively, in the order of their time of acquisition. Comprehensive collections, such as the Glaser collection (Cod.arab. 1178 – 1334), a convolute of manuscripts from Yemen acquired in 1902, were likewise incorporated in the collection.
Among the top pieces of the Arabic manuscripts there are a number of adorned Korans and illuminated texts in particular:
The collection group of Codices armenici (Cod.armen. 1 – 28) encompasses 30 volumes today, but three Armenian manuscripts already formed part of the holdings of the court library at the time of its foundation, in the form of the collection of Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter. They go back to the time between the 13th and the 18th century and contain theological texts in particular, but also works on Armenian history and dictionaries.
The oldest manuscript is an Armenian book of the four Gospels, a very beautiful parchment codex from the year 1278 (Cod.armen. 1).
Eusebius of Caesarea: Four Gospels (Cod.armen. 1)
The collection of Codices hebraici (Cod.hebr. 1 – 517) is one of the largest and most important collections of its kind in the German-language area, encompassing 694 volumes and 183 fragments. Its period of creation reaches from the 12th to the 18th century. In addition to the predominantly present form of the bound book (codex), there are also a large number of (Torah) scrolls. Although the Hebrew manuscripts are allocated to the group of Oriental works in accordance with their language, the majority of these works was created in Europe (predominantly Germany, France and Spain).
A large portion of the manuscripts has already been recorded on microfilm or digitized.
The foundation of the collection of Hebrew and Yiddish manuscripts was already contained in the library of the Orientalist Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter (1506 – 1557), which formed part of the holdings of the court library already at the time of foundation.
The works were classified in a continuous series of classification marks without systematic subdivision, however initially divided into the various formats: The largest books (folio formats) can be found in the range Cod.hebr. 1 – 154, which are followed – with a corresponding numbering gap – by the manuscripts in the quarto format (Cod.hebr. 200 – 396). The smallest books can finally be found in the range of classification marks Cod.hebr. 400 – 418. Starting with Cod.hebr. 419, this classification system was finally abandoned and the subsequent volumes were counted continuously, independently of their size, in the order of their acquisition (numerus currens).
The most important book by far contained in the collection is the world-famous Babylonian Talmud (Cod.hebr. 95), which was created in France in 1342 and has been preserved in an almost completely intact state as the only remaining medieval codex of this text. Among the further outstanding manuscripts there is, for example, the Tegernsee Haggadah (Cod.hebr. 200).
Würzburg Bible commentary (Cod.hebr. 5(1 and Cod.hebr. 5(2)
Machzor for the Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles (Cod.hebr. 86)
Babylonian Talmud (Cod.hebr. 95)
Collection of Yiddish narrations (Cod.hebr. 100)
Ibn-Abi-Suhula, Yitshak ben Shelomoh: Hebrew fable collection (Meshal ha-kadmoni) (Cod.hebr. 107)
Passah Haggadah (Cod.hebr. 200)
Collection of Jewish-German and Hebrew pieces and notes (Cod.hebr. 235)
Bible with Masoretic texts (Cod.hebr. 392)
The collection group of Codices persici (Cod.pers. 1 – 538) currently includes 546 Persian manuscripts, which were created during the period from the 14th to the 19th century.
The volumes were classified in a continuous series of classification marks and also put in a systematic order up to Cod.pers. 351. Starting with Cod.pers. 352, the volumes were then counted consecutively in the order of the time of their acquisition (numerus currens).
The Persian miniature manuscripts and lacquer bindings are particularly outstanding, such as the "Šāhnāma" (the Persian Book of Kings, Cod.pers. 10), a miniature manuscript from Iran (1497), or also a richly adorned Iranian leather binding from the 16th or 17th century, which originally contained a Koran (Cod.pers. 465).
The group of Codices syrici (Cod.syr. 1 – 29) includes 33 Syrian manuscripts from the 13th to the 20th century.
The draft of a Syrian dictionary handwritten by the Orientalist Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter (1506 – 1557) and the Syriac-Orthodox Bishop Moses of Mardin (ca. 1549 – 1592) is of particular value.
Syrian dictionary (Cod.syr. 1)
The 750-item strong collection of Codices turcici goes back to the period between the 15th and the 19th century. They are classified under Cod.turc. 1 – 750 in a continuous series of classification marks, and put in a systematic order up to Cod.turc. 295. Starting with Cod.turc. 296, the volumes were then counted consecutively in the order of the time of their acquisition (numerus currens).
Among the most valuable pieces there are the prayer book of the harem lady Düzdidil (Cod.turc. 553), a most luxuriously adorned volume, as well as an Ottoman paper cutting book from the 16th century (Cod.turc. 428).
The 111 Zend manuscripts (Cod.Zend 1 – 105) are texts from the Zoroastrian religion in Avestan, Pahlavi, New Persian, Sanskrit and Gujarati. They contain comments on and translations of the Avesta, the holy scriptures of Zoroastrianism.
This collection predominantly stems from the purchased personal collections of the Orientalists Marcus Joseph Müller (1809 – 1874) and Prof. Dr. Martin Haug (1827 – 1876). One example of the works is the Pahlavi version of the Mātīkān-i-Yvišt-i-Fryān, created in India in 1397 (Cod.Zend 51 b).
Pahlavi version of the Mātīkān-i-Yvišt-i-Fryān (Cod.Zend 51 b)
The collection of Oriental manuscripts also includes the following language groups, which respectively contain only one piece.
- Balochi manuscript – Codex Baluci 1:
A manuscript from Balochistan (Pakistan) from the holdings of the Orientalist Ernst Trumpp (1828 – 1885).
- Kurdish manuscript – Codex curdicus 1:
A convolute of texts in the Kurdish language.
- Mandaic manuscript – Codex mandaicus 1:
Mandaic is an east-Aramaic language. This manuscript comes from Quatremère's collection and contains the "Sidra-Rabba" (Aramaic for "great book"), the holy scripture of Mandaism.
The classification mark of Cod.or.polygl. 1 contains a total of seven notebooks of Oriental and Indian polyglot writings (i.a. in Kurdish and Hindi), which came to Munich as part of the collection of Étienne Quatremère. The texts are translations of Arabic fables, which were presumably written for the purpose of cross-language comparison.