Manuscripts in the Oriental Collection

Digitized manucripts and prints in Oriental Collections

In the Oriental Collection are kept 5000 manuscripts and block prints from Asia and North Africa dating from the 10th century C.E. onwards written on a variety of materials and in different techniques. The manuscripts illustrate the evolution of scripts and writing over a millennium as well as the ways of making books and the arts of the book. Of particular interest may be Kufic Qurans, Ancient Persian Avesta texts (among which are the oldest existing of their kind), Pali texts (on palm leaves and paper), Mongolian Buddhist texts (considered one of the best collections outside Mongolia). The Tibetan collection is important, as are, on a smaller scale, the characteristic South East Asian types of documents (texts also on bark, metal, bamboo). East Asia is represented by early Chinese manuscripts (including Dunhuang scrolls) and illuminated accordion albums, as well as Korean calligraphy.

  • The Near Eastern collection comprises 515 Arabic, 450 Iranian (43 are Avestan), and 100 Turkish manuscripts. The oldest items date from the 10th century C.E. (Qur'ân mss. in Kufi script).
    The numbers of printed books for lending in Near Eastern languages are: Arabic 5500,  Persian 1850, Turkish 5330, and Caucasian languages 600 (mainly Armenian and Georgian).
  • The South Asian collection comprises 1127 manuscripts in Sanskrit (the Pundit Library), 310 in Pali, 169 in Sinhalese, 152 in Newari, 97 in Tamil, and 13 in Urdu. Printed books amount to 2640 in Sanskrit, 12 in Pali, 860 in Hindi, 180 in Sinhalese, and 690 in Urdu.
  • The Central Asian collection of manuscripts and block prints comprises 1811 in Tibetan, 569 in Mongolian, and 75 in Manchu-Tungus. Printed books amount to 1650 in Tibetan, and 180 in Mongolian.
  • The South East Asian collection comprises 127 manuscripts in Indonesian, 66 in Pali-Burmese, 44 in Pali-Cambodian, 82 in Lao, and 10 in Thai. Printed books amount to 100 in Indonesian, 150 in Burmese, 2050 in Thai, and 480 in Vietnamese.
  • The East Asian collection comprises 30 manuscripts in Chinese (14 are Dunhuang scrolls) and 23 manuscripts in Korean. Printed books amount to 58.500 in Chinese, 5910 in Japanese, and 4540 in Korean.

In the early history of The Royal Library manuscripts were presented to the King, but later they were acquired at book auctions (remarkable are Rostgaard, Danneskiold-Samsøe, Thott in the 18th century), and beginning with the Arabian Journey 1761-1767 (a Danish expedition to Egypt and Yemen) manuscripts were more systematically acquired in order to build up collections for scholarly use. Until the mid-18th century the primary focus was on Arabic and other Near Eastern materials that could elucidate the Old Testament, whereas in the 19th century focus shifted to philology in its own right, in particular Indo-European philology. The Avesta manuscripts were acquired by the linguist Rasmus Rask during his journey to Iran, India and Sri Lanka 1816-1823, and supplemented by the Indologist N.L. Westergaard who travelled to India [1842-1844] and also acquired significant Indian manuscripts, thereby positioning the collection of The Royal Library as one of the leading at the time. The East Asian manuscripts are mainly acquisitions of the 20th century.


Codices Orientales Bibliothecæ Regiæ Havniensis, enumerati et descripti; København 1846-1957 (online)

Pars 1, Codices Indici, N. L. Westergaard, 1846

Pars 2, Codices Hebraici et Arabici, 1851

Pars 3, Codices Persici, Turcici, Hindustanici variique alii, A. F. Mehren, 1857


Catalogue of Oriental manuscripts, xylographs etc. in Danish collections (COMDC); København 1966-



Catalogue of Ceylonese manuscripts / Godakumbura, C. E. København: Det Kongelige Bibliotek 1980



Catalogue of Cambodian and Burmese Pāli manuscripts / by C. E. Godakumbura; assisted by U. Tin Lwin; with contributions by Heinz Bechert and Heinz Braun. Copenhagen: The Royal Library, 1983



Catalogue des manuscrits en Pāli, Laotien et Siamois provenant de la Thailande / par George Coedès. Copenhagen: Bibliothèque Royale, 1966



Catalogue of Mongol books, manuscripts and xylographs / by Walther Heissig assisted by Charles Bawden. Copenhagen: The Royal Library, 1971


COMDC 4 (online (part 1-2))

Part 1: Batak manuscripts / by P. Voorhoeve ; with a contribution by Carl Schuster. Copenhagen: The Royal Library, 1975

Part 2: Part 2: Old Javanese charters; Javanese, Malay and Lampung manuscripts; Mads Lange's Balinese letters and official letters in Indonesian languages / by F. H. van Naerssen, Th. G. Th. Pigeaud and P. Voorhoeve. Copenhagen : The Royal Library, 1977


COMDC 5[,1]

 ذخائر العربية في المكتبة الملكية .Catalogue of Arabic manuscripts: codices arabici additamenta & codices simonseniani arabici / Ali Abd Alhussein Alhaidary, Stig T. Rasmussen. Cph. : The Royal Library : Munksgaard, 1995. [Beskrivelser på arabisk, med sammenfatning på engelsk.]



Catalogue of Arabic manuscripts: codices arabici Arthur Christenseniani / Irmeli Perho. Kbh.: Nias Press : Det Kongelige Bibliotek, 2003



Catalogue of Arabic manuscripts: codices arabici et codices arabici additamenta / Irmeli Perho. 3 vols. Kbh. : Nias Press, 2007 : Det Kongelige Bibliotek


COMDC 6, 1-2

Catalogue of Tibetan manuscripts and xylographs / by Hartmut Buescher and Tarab Tulku. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Det Kongelige Bibliotek, 2000



Catalogue of Tibetan mandalas and other images / Anne Burchardi. Copenhagen: NIAS Press - Det Kongelige Bibliotek, 2016

COMDC 7[,1]

Catalogue of Sanskrit manuscripts: Early acquisitions and the Nepal collection. Copenhagen: NIAS Press - Det Kongelige Bibliotek, 2011



Catalogue of Sanskrit Manuscripts: The Pandit Collection/ Hartmut Buescher. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2019.


COMDC 8,1 (online: vol. 1 vol. 2)

Perho, Irmeli: Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts: Codices Persici Arthur Christenseniani, Codices Simonseniani Persici, Codices Persici Additamenta. 2 vols. Copenhagen: NIAS Press 2014



Catalogue of Persian manuscripts: Codices Persici, Codices Eyseriani, Codex Persicus add. / Irmeli Perho. Copenhagen : NIAS : Det Kongelige Bibliotek, 2017



Catalogue of Chinese manuscripts and rare books / Bent Lerbæk Pedersen. Copenhagen : NIAS Press - Det Kongelige Bibliotek, 2014


COMDC 10, 1

Catalogue of Japanese manuscripts and rare books / Merete Pedersen. Copenhagen : NIAS press - Det Kongelige Bibliotek, 2014


COMDC 10,2

Catalogue of Korean manuscripts and rare books / Bent Lerbæk Pedersen. Copenhagen : NIAS press - Det Kongelige Bibliotek, 2014.


COMDC 10,3

Catalogue of Yao manuscripts / Bent Lerbæk Pedersen. Copenhagen : NIAS Press - Det Kongelige Bibliotek, 2016



Catalogue of Ethiopic manuscripts / Dennis Nosnitsin. Copenhagen : NIAS : Det Kongelige Bibliotek, 2018

For a bibliography of publications (partly in Danish) about  the Oriental Collection, click here.

The manuscripts can be made available at the Research Reading Room, after previous arrangement ( or through an order in our library system. The user is required to show a Reading Room ID card.

Copies, photographs etc.
Requests for slides, scans and other types of reproductions should be directed to The Photographic Studio. Permission to reproduce is normally given, provided that it is for a non-commercial purpose and The Royal Library is duly credited.

- o -

The manuscripts in the Oriental Collection is quite frequently exhibited, both wthin the Royal Library and abroad. Different scripts can also inspire artists; here an example from the opening of the exhibition Ordets billeder ('The word as pictures', May 2004).