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Arabic manuscripts collection

Identifier: ubl071

Scope and Contents

It must be emphasised that Arabic collections are not necessarily Arab collections, Arabic being the cultural vehicle of the entire Islamic world. Thus, Arabic manuscripts may originate from countries as wide apart as Niger and Malaysia. Most Islamic countries are represented in the Leiden collections, with a certain emphasis on the Middle East, North Africa and Indonesia.

The collections are rich and varied in contents, from Islam to Arabic poetry and prose, medicine, pharmacology, history, geography, biography, astronomy, biology and magic.

Although it is difficult to single out highlights of the collection, the following manuscripts deserve to be mentioned:

Cod. Or. 289: Kitāb al-ḥašāʾiš fī ḥayūlā al-ʿilāğ al-ṭibbī, an illustrated translation, mostly by Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq (810-873), of Dioscurides’ Materia medica, dated 475/1082. One of the oldest illustrated Arabic manuscripts in existence.

Cod. Or. 927: Ṭawq al-ḥamāma fi ʾl-ulfa wa ʾl-ullāf (The ring of the dove, on love and lovers) by Andalusian scholar ʿAlī b. Aḥmad Ibn Ḥazm (994-1064), dated 738/1338. The sole surviving manuscript of the text.

Cod. Or. 3101: an abridgment of Kitāb al-masālik wa ʾl-mamālik (The book of itineraries and kingdoms) by Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad al-Iṣṭakhrī (4th/10th c.), dated 589/1193. With 18 coloured maps.


  • Creation: 9th-20th century CE
  • Creation: Bulk 13th-19th century CE


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Use

Many manuscripts are too old and fragile to handle. Where available, a microfilm will be offered as an alternative.

Regulations that apply during the use of these materials can be found on the website of Leiden University Library.


192 metres, including all other Middle Eastern holdings (c. 4,000 manuscripts)

Abstract in Dutch

Verzameling van ca. 4.000 Arabische handschriften uit de 9e tot en met de 20e eeuw. De kern van de collectie bestaat uit de nalatenschap van Levinus Warner (1619-1665), oriëntalist en diplomaat. De gehele Leidse collectie staat nog steeds bekend onder de naam ‘Legatum Warnerianum’ (Warners nalatenschap), hoewel zowel voor als na Warner vele geleerden de collectie hebben uitgebouwd. De collectie omvat het gehele spectrum van het geschreven Arabische erfgoed.

Abstract in English

Collection of c. 4,000 Arabic manuscripts dating from the 9th till the 20th century. The core of the collection consists of the legacy of Levinus Warner (1619-1665), Orientalist and diplomat, after whom the entire Leiden collection is still known as ‘Legatum Warnerianum’ (Warner’s Legacy). However, many scholars before and after him have contributed to its growth. The collection covers the entire range of the Arabic written heritage.

Physical Location

Leiden University Library, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

All Arabic manuscripts, loan collections excepted, have the shelfmark Cod. Or. (for ‘Codex Orientalis’, Oriental manuscript) plus number.

A caveat on the use of catalogue entries in Brockelmann (GAL) and Sezgin (GAS):

Carl Brockelmann’s Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur (GAL) (2nd ed., Leiden 1943-1949) reflects numbering systems that are now obsolete. Any number starting with ‘Leyden’ refers to the 1851-1877 catalogue in 6 vols by R.P.A. Dozy [et al.], Catalogus codicum orientalium, abbreviated CCO.

Numbers starting with ‘Leyden2’ refer to the 1888-1907 catalogue in 2 vols by M.J. de Goeje [et al.], Catalogus codicum arabicorum, abbreviated CCA.

The second edition of Voorhoeve’s Handlist of Arabic manuscripts (Leiden 1980), p. 621-707, contains a conversion table from CCO and CCA numbers to modern Cod. Or. shelfmarks. Our Special Collections staff will be happy to help you find the correct number.

None of the problems mentioned above arise in Fuat Sezgin’s Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums (GAS) (Leiden 1967-), where all Leiden manuscripts are mentioned with their Cod. Or. number.

A second caveat: The ‘Brill collection’

Please note that the ‘Brill collection,’ mentioned as such in Brockelmann, is NOT in the Leiden University Library. The collection was sold through the care of Messrs. Brill of Leiden to the Princeton University Library, Garrett collection, in 1900-1904 (see cat. Hitti 1938, p. iii).

A number of manuscripts can also be found in the online catalogue.

Custodial History

From its very onset in the late sixteenth century, the Leiden University library has been actively collecting handwritten materials in Arabic. Before the introduction of the printing press in the Middle East in the early nineteenth century, manuscripts were the only textual witnesses that gave access to the language, culture, religion and history of the Arab and Islamic world. The reasons for acquiring these manuscripts were manifold, starting with the humanist scholar’s need to study Arabic as a cognate language of Hebrew in order better to understand the Holy Scriptures, and the more urbane need of the statesman, diplomat and merchant to gain a more perfect understanding of an important commercial partner and, at times, political opponent. In the course of the nineteenth century the element of colonial expansion was added, with the pressing need to gather knowledge about the population of the Netherlands' colonial possessions in an Islamic country like Indonesia. In the post-colonial era a new world order called for a continued interest in the developing world and, especially since the 1970s, in an ever growing immigrant community from the Arab and Islamic world, resulting in what many like –or dislike– to call the ‘multicultural society’. The present-day place of Leiden as an internationally renowned centre of Arabic and Oriental studies need not be specified here.

The Leiden Arabic collections have acquired their present shape and character through the care of many generations of collectors, scholars and curators.

The Leiden University possesses the MSS left by early Orientalists like Josephus Justus Scaliger (1540-1609) and more than 200 MSS once owned or acquired by Jacobus Golius (1596-1667). The remaining Golius MSS are now in the Bodleian library in Oxford. The MSS in the private collection of the Leiden Orientalist Thomas Erpenius (1584-1624) are now in Cambridge. Among the early collectors the person of Levinus Warner (1619-1665) stands out, a Dutch diplomatic representative to the Ottoman Turkish Government, who left his collection of about 1,000 predominantly Arabic manuscripts to Leiden University.

The eighteenth century saw little progress in the Arabic holdings, except for the manuscripts and scholarly notes of three generations of Schultens (Albert, Joannes Jacobus and Hendrik Albert), professors of Arabic from 1732 to 1793.

In the nineteenth century the eminent philologist M.J. De Goeje (1836-1909) secured the accession of no less than 750 mainly Arabic manuscripts, brought from the East by an Egyptian scholar, Amīn al-Madanī al-Ḥulwānī, in 1883 and sold through Messrs. Brill of Leiden. In the first half of the twentieth century one should note the bequest of the collections of Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936), perhaps the most famous among Dutch Orientalists. Snouck Hurgronje’s Arabic MSS consist predominantly of Islamic texts from Indonesia.

Until the 20th century the post of curator of Oriental collections was directly linked to the Chair of Oriental languages. In 1729 the title of Interpres Legati Warneriani (‘Interpreter of the Warner Bequest’) was created, emphasising the interest in the Leiden Oriental collections and the need to study, edit and publish its contents.

An excellent introduction to the history of the Leiden Arabic collections is Levinus Warner and his legacy (1970).

The broader context of Arabic studies at Leiden until the first half of the 20th century is described in J. Brugman [et al.], Arabic studies in the Netherlands (1979).


The Leiden Arabic collections have acquired their identity under the impact of Dutch civil society. In many European countries the responsibility for acquiring Oriental materials lay with the monarch and his government, resulting in the splendid collections of the royal libraries of Paris, London and Berlin. At Leiden, the intellectual curiosity of the well-educated burgher took the place of the regal display of wealth and power in neighbouring countries. In addition, the dual rôle of Professor of Arabic and curator of Oriental Collections ensured the acquisition of manuscripts that served the immediate needs of research and education.

As a result, the Leiden collections stand out through their emphasis on rare texts instead of rare objects, giving Leiden a position that is to a large extent unique in an international context.


The Leiden University Library maintains an active acquisition policy. Nevertheless, the current price level and tighter restrictions on the export on manuscripts in almost all Arab and Islamic countries constitute a serious impediment.

Existence and Location of Copies

Parts of the collection have been microfilmed.

Related Materials

The Leiden Arabic MSS are part of the larger Leiden collection of Middle Eastern MSS, among which Persian and (Ottoman) Turkish figure most prominently. Other Arabic MSS can be found in the permanent loan collection of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.



The material in this collection can be requested at the Special Collections Reading Room.

Processing Information

The Leiden Arabic MSS of the Golius, Scaliger and Warner collections were first described in the Leiden Catalogus of 1674, and again in 1716.

In modern times, H.A. Hamaker (1789-1836) was the first to engage in a preliminary cataloguing project, which resulted in the rather text-oriented Specimen catalogi codicum Mss. orientalium […] (1820).

Three decades later the Arabic MS holdings were incorporated in the comprehensive Catalogus codicum orientalium bibliothecae Academiae Lugduno Batavae, abbreviated CCO, published between 1851 and-1877 by R.P.A. Dozy (1820-1883) and others.

The Amīn al-Madanī collection, acquired in 1883, and other new accessions were described by M.J. de Goeje [et al.] in the Catalogus codicum arabicorum bibliothecae Academiae Lugduno-Batavae (1888-1907), abbreviated CCA. This catalogue was discontinued after the death of De Goeje and it lacks an index.

In 1957, almost half a century after the publication of the last volume of De Goeje’s catalogue, P. Voorhoeve (1899-1996) published his Handlist of Arabic manuscripts in the library of the University of Leiden and other collections in the Netherlands, comprising the entire Arabic MS collections until Or. 8822, which was acquired early 1957. In 1980 a second edition enlarged edition of this work was published with elaborate indexes. Voorhoeve’s Handlist still counts as the most complete finding aid for the Arabic MS holdings.

Between 1983 and 1989 J.J. Witkam, curator of Oriental MSS from 1973 to 2005, published his Catalogue of Arabic manuscripts in the library of the University of Leiden and other collections in the Netherlands. Five fascicles were published with an in-depth description of several hundred Arabic manuscripts acquired between 1973 and 1978 (Cod. Or. 14.000-14.471).

Collection guide of the Arabic manuscripts collection (9th-20th century CE)
Collectie Arabische handschriften
Dr Arnoud Vrolijk, 2006
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
This finding aid has been written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

Witte Singel 27
Leiden 2311 BG Netherlands
+31 71 527 2857