About the collection


The Oriental collection counts around 242,000 printed volumes of original-language literature and approximately 7,000 manuscripts in the languages Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Turkic languages, Pashto, Hebrew, Yiddish, Ethiopian, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian, Armenian and Middle Persian (Zend) and languages of the ancient Orient. These stocks have been built up systematically over the centuries according to scholarly criteria, representing important resources for research and education on a national and international level.

Geographic focus

Geographically, the acquisition of monographs and periodicals is focussed on North Africa, the Near and the Middle East.

Main focuses of content

The main focus of the content of original-language acquisitions is on humanities – philosophy, religion (Islam, Judaism, Christian Orient), history, archaeology, linguistics and literature, ethnic studies, architecture and art and classic text editions. A broad range of secondary literature in west European languages is acquired.

Oriental manuscripts

The Oriental and Asian Department manages the Oriental manuscripts technically (acquisition, subject information, guided tours, exhibitions), while the Department of Manuscripts and Rare Books administrates them and is in charge of their use. The Oriental manuscripts can be consulted in the Reading Room for Manuscripts and Rare Books.

List of catalogues of Oriental manuscripts

Literature on individual manuscripts can be found in the "Forschungsdokumentation Handschriften" (research documentation manuscripts).
► Forschungsdokumentation Handschriften

At present, the acquisition policy for Oriental manuscripts is determined by the scholarly relevance of texts and their aesthetic-museological aspect. The 6,750 Oriental manuscripts encompass around 1,240 items from the ancient Orient and 5,760 of the Middle Ages and the modern era. The Oriental manuscripts are categorised in line with the language.

Overview of manuscript groups and classification marks

Coptic manuscriptsCod.copt.
Hebrew and YiddishCod.hebr.
Turkish and Turkic languagesCod.turc.
Zend (Middle Persian)Cod.Zend

Ancient Orient

Arabic papyriPap.arab.mon.
Aramaic papyriPap.aram.mon.
Coptic papyriPap.copt.mon.
Demotic papyriPap.demot.mon.
Greek papyriPap.graec.mon.
Latin papyriPap.lat.mon.
Other writings
Cuneiform script tabletsMon.script.cun.
Hieroglyphic textsMon.script.hierogl.
Old South Arabian sticksMon.script.sab.
Ostraca Ostr.

Rare Oriental printed works

In the languages of the Orient, a significant number of first impressions, early printed works, rare prints and unique copies is present, among them 17 Hebrew incunabula. Rare Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian, Ethiopian and Syrian works of the 16th and 17th century, printed predominantly in Europe or Constantinople, mirror the gradual expansion of book printing in Oriental languages, which is of European origin and spread quickly also in the Ottoman Empire, where Jews and Christians used the new technology.

The 17 valuable Müteferikka prints acquired in Istanbul, such as the first illustrated print of the Islamic world containing a description of America (Res/4 A.or. 3548), and the famous cartographic work of Katib Çelebi (Res/2 A.or. 371), are all from the 18th century, as well as some extremely rare Arabic prints initiated by Christians in the Middle East. Numerous printed works from the Bulaq print shop in Cairo, the American Press in Beirut and the English Press in Malta, as well as Persian stone prints of the 19th century, when book printing became generally accepted in the Orient, are represented in a broad scope.

Among the important rare Oriental works of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek there are an Armenian calendar of 1512 (Rar. 1756), the first Ethiopian print of 1513 (Rar. 454), the first Arabic print in mobile letters of 1514 (Rar. 1348) and the first imprint of the Syrian New Testament of 1555 (Rar. 155). One of the oldest Hebrew incunabula is The Guide for the Perplexed by Maimonides (Res/4 A.hebr. 210). According to current knowledge, there are also unique copies among the Oriental prints, such as the Jewish graces (4 A.hebr. 365) acquired in Sulzbach in 1669.

Armenian calendar of 1512  (Rar. 1756)
The first Arabic print in mobile letters of 1514  (Rar. 1348)
First impression of the Syrian New Testament of 1555  (Rar. 155)
The Guide for the Perplexed by Maimonides (one of the earliest Hebrew incunabula)  (Res/4 A. hebr. 210)
Jewish graces of 1669 (unique copy)  (4 A.hebr. 365)

The Oriental prints can be searched in BSB DISCOVER!. The original script for Arabic, Persian and Hebrew has also been implemented for some years. Digital copies of Oriental printed works can be searched in BSB DISCOVER!.


History of the Oriental collection

Outset in the 16th century

The beginnings of the Oriental collection go back to the foundation of the Munich Court Library – today's Bayerische Staatsbibliothek – by Duke Albrecht V in the year 1558. The founding act of the Munich Court Library was constituted by the purchase of the private library of the highly educated and polyglot diplomat and Orientalist Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter (1506 – 1557), who was one of the pioneers of Oriental studies. More than 450 years ago, around 200 – a fairly substantial number at the time – manuscripts in the Hebrew, Arabic and Syrian languages were acquired by the library, among them a number of illuminated Korans from Islamic Spain and from Morocco, very important Hebrew works and very rare Oriental early printed works. The Oriental collection was expanded already in 1571 by the incorporation of the library of Johann Jakob Fugger (1516 – 1575), one of the most prolific book collectors of the 16th century. Fugger's library contained numerous Oriental works, in particular Hebrew works of great importance.

Important works from the collection at the time of its foundation

Andalusian Koran. Seville, 1226  (Cod.arab. 1)
 ♦   Two Maghrebi rulers' Korans. Fes?, 1306  (Cod.arab. 2 and Cod.arab. 3)
Arabic book of hours. Fano, 1514  (Rar. 1348)
Yitsḥaḳ Ben Shelomoh Ibn-Abi-Suhula: Hebrew fable collection. Germany around 1450  (Cod.hebr. 107)
First impression of the Syrian New Testament. Vienna, 1555  (Rar. 155)
Armenian four Gospels. Grner, 1278  (Cod.armen. 1)
 ♦   Ethiopian Psalter. Jerusalem, 14th/ 15th century  (Cod.aethiop. 1)
 ♦   Bible commentary by Rashi. Würzburg area, 1233  (Cod.hebr. 5-1 and Cod.hebr. 5-2)
 ♦   Letters missive by Suleiman the Magnificent to King Ferdinand I. Istanbul,   (Cod.turc. 135 and Cod.turc. 137)

17th to the start of the 19th century

From the collection history in the 17th and 18th century it is known that also Oriental works arrived at the library during this period, among them no small number of looted items from the Ottoman wars, part of which came to the library on a circuitous route, as well as some important early printed works. The Oriental and Asian stocks of the library also profited from the abolition of the Jesuit order in 1773.

19th century

The beginning of the 19th century marked a further apex in the history of the collection. Through the secularisation of the Bavarian monasteries in 1803 the then Royal Court and State Library acquired an enormous amount of valuable manuscripts and prints, among which there were also precious Oriental manuscripts and rare printed works. The most widely known Oriental manuscript from the secularisation is the world-famous Babylonian Talmud from the monastery of Polling. Almost at the same time, in 1803/ 1804, the Mannheim Court Library passed on by Elector Karl Theodor (1742 – 1799) was transferred to Munich and incorporated in the collections of the Munich Court Library. The holdings of the Mannheim court library added approximately 560 valuable Hebrew and Yiddish prints and further Oriental works to the library's collection.

Important works from the time of the secularisation

Babylonian Talmud. France, 1342  (Cod.hebr. 95)
Tegernsee Haggadah. Bavaria, 1475 – 1500  (Cod.hebr. 200)
Koran of Père Lachaise. Egypt, 14th century  (Cod.arab. 6)

Whereas all acquisitions of Oriental manuscripts had taken place rather by chance up to this point, the acquisition policy changed completely in the second third of the 19th century: When the Orientalist departments were founded at the universities, which required relevant literature for research and education, the Munich Court Library started acquiring materials in targeted manner and in accordance with a certain collection profile. The library staff received corresponding technical and philological training.

Exactly 300 years after the purchase of Widmanstetter's library, the most spectacular acquisition in the Oriental field took place in 1858, which was decisive for the status and growth of the collection and its reputation: the purchase of the famous book and manuscript collection of the French Orientalist Etienne-Marc Quatremère (1782 – 1857). This gigantic acquisition was not without controversy. In order to fund the purchase of the collection, the library director at the time, Karl Halm (1809 – 1882), sold a number of partly very valuable duplicates, among them a Gutenberg bible, which would on no account be regarded as "duplicates" from today's point of view. Quatremère's book collection originally comprised around 50,000 volumes, 250 Occidental manuscripts and 1,250 Oriental manuscripts, among them illustrated Islamic works of very high value. After 20,000 duplicate titles had been sorted out still in Paris, the manuscripts and the remaining 30,000 printed works, among them numerous, partly very rare Oriental prints, were incorporated in the Munich library collection.

A short time later, the library managed to acquire the collection of the Orientalist Marcus Joseph Müller (1809 – 1874), which contained important Zend manuscripts, and that of the Semitist Ernst Trumpp (1828 – 1885).

Important works from Quatremère's library

Muḥammed Ibn-Zakarīyā al-Qazwīnīs: ‘Aǧā’ib al-maḫlūqāt wa-ġarā’ib al-mauǧūdāt (The Miracles of Creation). Wasit, 1280  (Cod.arab. 464)
Kalīla wa-Dimna. Egypt or Syria, 1310 – 1350  (Cod.arab. 616)
 ♦   Šāhnāma (Persian book of kings). Shiraz, 1550 – 1600  (Cod.pers. 15)
Šāhnāma (Persian book of kings). Qazvin or Mashhad, 1560 – 1750  (Cod.pers. 10)
Firdevsî-i Rûmî: Şaṭrançnâme (chess book). Istanbul, 1510 – 1550  (Cod.turc. 250)

20th and 21st century

In the first third of the 20th century, the purchase of 157 manuscripts from the Glaser collection, a convolute of early Yemeni manuscripts which had been compiled by the Italian explorer Giuseppe Caprotti († 1919) in Yemen, merits special mention.

The Oriental collection largely escaped destruction during the Second World War, since the manuscripts could be saved by moving them in time. Nevertheless, the "Biblia" part of the collection, which also contained Bible prints in Oriental languages, fell victim to an air raid. As property of the Free State of Bavaria, the Hebrew collection remained untouched.

After the Second World War, Hermann Bojer (1913 – 1988) extended the collection of Yiddish works, today comprising 5,250 volumes, by prints from east European Judaism. The Oriental collection has been continuously expanded since then and survived the Second World War largely unharmed.

A new, extremely prolific period for the expansion of the collections of Oriental manuscripts and printed works started in the final third of the 20th century, when the collection could be complemented by important acquisitions, in particular magnificent Koran manuscripts. Thus, the number of Islamic manuscripts alone has more than doubled since 1973, from around 2,000 volumes then to 4,400 today. In 1973 alone, almost 650 Arabic manuscripts were acquired.

From 1991 to 1994, the library acquired the stock of antique Yemeni wood inscriptions in several instalments.

In 2003, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek was given a unique library as a permanent loan: The collection of the renowned Islam scholar Richard Gramlich SJ, containing predominantly rare writings on Sufism, above all valuable Persian stone prints.

The bequest of around 175 Islamic codices in the Turkish, Arabic and Persian languages from the personal collection of the Orientalist Theodor Menzel (1878 – 1939), came as a particular blessing in 2011.

Despite budget cuts, the collection of Oriental manuscripts and rare printed works, in particular of DP prints, could be further expanded and complemented in recent years – not least thanks to the support by generous sponsors.

Important acquisitions since 1965

Gold Koran. Iraq, around 1200  (Cod.arab. 1112)
Koran in Eastern Kufi. Iran, late 11th century  (Cod.arab. 2603)
Late Safavid Koran. Iran, Herat?, 1714  (Cod.arab. 1118)
Prayer book of the harem lady Düsdidil. Istanbul, 1845  (Cod.turc. 553)
Sa‘dī: Gulistān va Bustān. Qazvin?, 1579  (Cod.pers. 506)
Klausen Psalter. Prague, 1707  (Cod.hebr. 473)


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Rebhan, Helga; Riesterer, Winfried: Prachtkorane aus tausend Jahren: Handschriften aus dem Bestand der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek München: Ausstellung 7. Oktober – 28. November 1998. München: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 1998.

Noichl, Elisabeth (ed.): Schrift-Stücke: Informationsträger aus fünf Jahrtausenden: eine Ausstellung der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek und des Bayerischen Hauptstaatsarchivs: München, 19. Juli – 20. September 2000. München: Generaldirektion der Staatlichen Archive Bayerns; Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 2000.

Kreiser, Klaus (ed.): The beginnings of printing in the Near and Middle East: jews, christians and muslims. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2001.

Hanebutt-Benz, Eva; Glass, Dagmar; Roper, Geoffrey (ed.): Middle Eastern languages and the print revolution = Sprachen des Nahen Ostens und die Druckrevolution: a cross-cultural encounter: a catalogue and companion to the exhibition: Gutenberg Museum Mainz. Westhofen: WVA-Verlag Skulima, 2002.

Rebhan, Helga (ed.): Wertvolle orientalische Handschriften und seltene Drucke der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek = Precious Oriental manuscripts and rare printed books of the Bavarian State Library: 26th MELCOM International Conference, 24 – 26 May 2004: Ausstellung 24.05. – 18.06.2004. München: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 2004.

Fabian, Claudia (ed.): Kulturkosmos der Renaissance: die Gründung der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek: Katalog der Ausstellung zum 450-jährigen Jubiläum 7. März bis 1. Juni 2008 ... Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2008.

Rebhan, Helga (ed.): Die Wunder der Schöpfung = The wonders of creation: Handschriften der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek aus dem islamischen Kulturkreis = Manuscripts oft the Bavarian State Library from the Islamic world: Ausstellung 16. September bis 5. Dezember 2010. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2010.

Fabian, Claudia (ed.): Das Alte Testament und sein Umfeld: vom Babylonischen Talmud zu Lassos Bußpsalmen: Schätze der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek: Ausstellung 18. Juli bis 30. August 2013 anlässlich des 21. Kongresses der International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament (IOSOT) in München vom 4. bis 9. August 2013. Luzern: Quaternio, 2013.