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Sayyida Salma (Emily Ruete) and Rudolph Said Ruete archive

Identifier: ubl649

Scope and Contents

The collection contains:

  1. The 'Literarischer Nachlass' of Emily Ruete
  2. Correspondence of Emily Ruete, 1873-1889
  3. Personal documents of Emily Ruete, 1875-1929
  4. Photographs, paintings, lithographs and reproductions collected by Emily Ruete
  5. Documents collected by Rudolph Said Ruete on the history of Oman and Zanzibar, 1825-1935
  6. Documents of Rudolph Said Ruete on the Palestinian question, 1917-1921
  7. Correspondence of Rudolph Said Ruete, 1905-1939
  8. Photographs collected by Rudolph Said Ruete
  9. Miscellaneous documents, 1909-1976, including the file on the transfer of the collection from Rudolph Said Ruete to the Oriental Institute


  • Creation: 1850-1952
  • Creation: Bulk 1880-1936

Language of Materials

German, Arabic, other European languages

Conditions Governing Use

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

Biographical / Historical

I - Sayyida Salma (Emily Ruete)

Sayyida Salma (also: Salme) bint Said bin Sultan was born in Zanzibar in 1844 as the daughter of Said bin Sultan, ruler of Oman and Zanzibar, and his Circassian wife Jilfidan. In the summer of 1865 she met the Hamburg merchant Rudolph Heinrich Ruete. In August 1866, being with child, she escaped from Zanzibar on a ship of the British Navy and left for Aden, then a British Crown Colony. Her first child was born in Aden in December 1866 and died in April or May 1867. Heinrich Ruete joined her in Aden on 30 May 1867. On the same day Salma converted to Christianity, the couple married and left Aden, travelling via Marseille to Hamburg, Germany. They lived together for only three years. During those years three children were born: Antonie (1868-1945), Rudolph Said (born 1869) and Rosalie (born 1870). In 1870 Rudolph Heinrich Ruete died in Hamburg at the age of 31, leaving Princess Salma behind as a widow. In 1872 she obtained German citizenship. Out of piety to her husband she gave her children a Christian, German education. Until 1888 they lived in Dresden, Rudolstadt, Cologne and Berlin. Through her conversion she had lost all her rights in Zanzibar. In spite of this, and facing an insecure financial future, she succeeded in obtaining the support of the German government in her claims to the inheritance of her deceased brothers and sisters. German colonial politics were at their apogee in the 1880s, and this claim of a German citizen could be of use to the government in its negotiations on a new trade agreement with Sultan Barghash. But it turned out to be of no use when Emily Ruete and her children in 1885 were staying on a German Navy ship off the coast of Zanzibar. Her brother declined any direct contact with her and was unrelenting when the Germans informed him about the claim of his sister. She returned with empty hands. Her second voyage to Zanzibar in 1888 shortly after the death of Sultan Barghash, which she undertook her own initiative and against the advice of the German government, was equally unsuccessful. Disappointed by the handling of her affairs by Bismarck and his officials, she turned her back on Germany and decided in 1888 to settle in the Near East, where she lived in Jaffa, Jerusalem and for most of the time in Beirut. In 1914 she returned to Germany and lived with her daughter Rosalie in Jena. She died in 1924 and was buried in the cemetery of Ohlsdorf in Hamburg.

In 1886 Princess Salma published her Memoiren einer arabischen Prinzessin ('Memoirs of an Arabian Princess'), which allow a rare glimpse into life in a sultan’s palace. It was reissued three times in the same year and was soon followed by an anonymous English translation (London: Ward and Downey, 1888, reprinted in the same year in New Yor City: Appleton and Co.). A second English translation by Lionel Streachey appeared in 1907 (New York: Doubleday, Page and Co.). The first English translation caught the eye of none less than Oscar Wilde, who critically acclaimed the book in Woman’s World (Wilde 1888). A French translation by L. Lindsay was published in Paris (1905). A new edition of the German text had to wait for more than 100 years. It appeared, slightly adapted, in 1989 under the new title Leben im Sultanspalast ('Life in a Sultan’s Palace'), edited by Annegret Nippa (Frankfurt am Main: Athenäum Verlag, reprinted in 2007 and 2013 by Europäische Verlagsanstalt, Hamburg). None of these translations and (re-)editions could have taken into account the many manuscript revisions which are annotated in Emily Ruete’s own personal copy of the 1886 German edition, the existence of which was until very recently virtually unknown to the scholarly world. This copy is kept in the library of the Netherlands Institute for the Near East (NINO), Leiden. Until now, a text-critical edition of this revised German text has not been published. The second part of her memoirs, Briefe nach der Heimat ('Letters Home'), which tell the story of a young Arab woman torn between two cultures until about 1885, was only published in 1999 by Heinz Schneppen (Berlin: Philo Verlag). This text, addressed to an unknown female person in Zanzibar, is not a series of letters as the title suggests,but a continuous narrative. It is unknown whether she was still in any way involved in the preparation of this typescript version (now extant in the Leiden University Libraries collection, Or. 6281), which dates from around 1924, the year of her death.

Still unpublished in German are Nachtrag zu den Memoiren ('Sequel to the Memoirs') and Syrische Sitten und Gebräuche ('Syrian Manners and Customs'). The first text was written shortly after 1888 and tells about her second voyage to Zanzibar and her opinions on the colonial policy of Bismarck. The second, very short, text is the only one which deals with an aspect of her life in the period between 1888 and her death in 1924. Otherwise very little is known about her life in that period.

In 1993 the Dutch scholar Dr Emeri van Donzel published a new English translation of all the autobiographical texts of Emily Ruete on the basis of the manuscript materials, preceded by a 140-page introduction on her life and that of her son Rudolph Said Ruete(An Arabian princess between two worlds. Memoirs, Letters Home, Sequels to my memoirs, Syrian customs and usages, by Sayyida Salme/Emily Ruete. Edited with an introduction [and translation from the German] (Leiden etc.: Brill, 1993). A review by Werner Ende contains useful additional informatiion (Ende 1993).

From Emily Ruete only one other publication is known, on the climate of Zanzibar (Ruete 1886a). In this article she recommends the training of female doctors to provide better health care to women.

II - Rudolph Said Ruete

Rudolph Said Ruete was born in 1869 as the only son of Emily and Rudolph Heinrich Ruete. After attending the Wilhelm Gymnasium in Berlin he entered with the recommendation of the Imperial court the cadet school in Bensdorf near Cologne and later in Gross-Lichterfelde. In 1888 he received his commission as a second lieutenant in the 19th Thuringian field artillery regiment in Erfurt. In 1894 he was appointed for a one-year period to the German consulate in Syria. He used this stay to visit his mother in Beirut and to travel in Syria and Palestine. In 1898, as first lieutenant, he resigned from the army. From 1899 till 1900 he was employed in Egypt as 'inspecteur général des chemins de fer économiques de l’Est'. In 1901 he married Maria Theresa Mathias, born in Cologne in 1872. She was a niece of Sir Alfred Mond, first Baron Melchett, (1868-1930), son of the German-born Jewish chemist and industrialist Ludwig Mond (1839-1909). In 1906 the City of Hamburg gave him, his wife and his son permission to bear the family name Said Ruete. Until 1910 he worked for the Egyptian National Bank, explored for oil and coal in Jabal Zeit on the Gulf of Suez, and was director of the Deutsche Orientbank (1906-1910), which facilitated infrastructural railway projects and the construction of the Assuan dam. After 1910 he withdrew from active business life. Between 1910 and 1914 the family lived in London. During World War I Rudolph, still a German national, lived with his family in Switzerland. In 1934 he became a British citizen. Rudolph Said Ruete died in London in 1946, his wife in 1947. They had two children: Werner Heinrich Mathissen (1902-1962) and Olga Salme Mathilde Benvenuta (1910-19??).

Rudolph Said Ruete had a keen personal interest in the history of the family of his mother. He spent much of his time and energy collecting and studying books and documents concerning the history and the rulers of Oman and Zanzibar, which formed the basis for some publications and lectures. During four visits of Sultans of Zanzibar to London (1928, 1929,1937 and 1938) he renewed the family relations with with his cousins. In 1930 the reigning sultan Khalifa bin Harub bin Thuwayni bin Said awarded him the Royal Order of the Brilliant Star. In 1932 the same sultan recognised Rudolph Said, to his great personal satisfaction, as a grandson of Sultan Sa’id ibn Sultan. The fact that his mother had converted to Christianity, however, continued to be a taint on his relations with his royal cousins in Zanzibar and Oman.

Besides, he tried to play the role of a mediator on the international political scene, especially in the German-English relations before and during World War I and the Arab-Jewish relations in Palestine. As such, he was in regular touch with many influential people in politics, government and banking. In 1919 he published his correspondence and reports of interviews with high-ranking German officials during World War I. His many letters and documents relating to his personal involvement in Palestinian politics remain largely unexplored and unpublished. Among them figure names such as Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann and Jamal Husseini.

In addition to articles in newspapers and periodicals, he published several monographs (Said Ruete 1898, 1900, 1919, 1929) and autobiographical notes (Said Rute 1932). Three novels were written about the history of the Ruete family, by Mary M. Kaye (1963), Nicole Vosseler (2010) and Lukas Hartmann (2013).


2 metres

Abstract in Dutch

Archief van Sayyida Salma-Ruete (1844-1924), prinses van Oman en Zanzibar. In 1866 verliet zij Zanzibar en trouwde met de Duitse zakenman Heinrich Ruete en voerde daarna de naam Emily Ruete. Het archief bevat haar persoonlijke documenten, foto’s en correspondentie. Ze werd vooral bekend door haar boek Memoiren einer arabischen Prinzessin (Berlin 1886). Het archief bevat tevens materiaal van haar zoon Rudolph Said Ruete (1869-1946), een bankier die zijn persoonlijke invloed aanwendde om te bemiddelen tussen Europa en het Midden-Oosten.

Abstract in English

Archive of Sayyida Salma-Ruete (1844-1924), Princess of Oman and Zanzibar, who in 1866 left Zanzibar and married the German merchant Heinrich Ruete. After her marriage she called herself Emily Ruete. Her reputation rests mainly on her book Memoiren einer arabischen Prinzessin (Berlin, 1886). The archive contains her personal documents, photographs and correspondence. The archive also contains materials from her son Rudolph Said Ruete (1869-1946), a banker who used his personal influence to mediate between Europe and the Middle East.

Physical Location

Leiden University Library, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

See the inventory.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

In March 1887 Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje travelled to Berlin to give a lecture before the Gesellschaft für Erdkunde (Geographical Society) about his journey to Mecca. During this stay he took the opportunity to introduce himself to Emily Ruete, who was then living in Berlin and who welcomed every conversation about middle-eastern subjects (Letter from C. Snouck Hurgronje to P.N. van der Chijs, 23 March 1887, Or. 8952: L 4.27). He was impressed by her personality and intelligence. From that timewards on they maintained a friendly correspondence which extended to her children and especially to her son Rudolph Said Ruete. In a letter of April 1932 to Snouck Hurgronje, Rudolph Said Ruete writes to him that he is considering to make his private library available to the public, possibly already during his lifetime, and he thinks the most appropriate place would be the Oriental Institute, founded by Snouck Hurgronje in 1927. He had visited this institution shortly before when attending the 18th International Congress of Orientalists in Leiden (1931). Snouck Hurgronje was moved by Rudolph Said Ruete’s idea to create a lasting monument to his mother Emily Ruete. The idea materialised eventually in 1937, one year after the death of Snouck Hurgronje.

A formal agreement of donation was signed by Rudolph Said Ruete in June of that year, after which it was quickly shipped from London to Leiden. The library was housed in the former study of Snouck Hurgronje’s house at Rapenburg 61, which was used by the Oriental Institute after his death. After his death in 1946 his son Werner completed the donation with the decorations of his father. The Oosters Instituut left Rapenburg 61 in 1980. The legacy of Rudolph Said Ruete was then for a short time housed at the premises of the Netherlands Institute for the Near East (NINO) at Noordeinde, Leiden, after which it was removed to the present location at Witte Singel. For the relevant files see the inventory, Or. 27.135: J 1.

The original donation from Rudolph Said Ruete to the Oriental Institute of 1937 contained a collection of about 650 printed books relating to the history of Oman and Zanzibar, the archive of Rudolph Said Ruete (comprising many documents and letters on to Middle Eastern politics), some ethnographical objects, part of the legacy of Emily Ruete and a collection of paintings, photographs and reproductions. The legacy of Emily Ruete consists of autobiographical manuscripts, letters, photographs and documents concerning her personal life.

In November 1996 almost all archival materials formerly belonging to Emily Said Ruete, a small part of the archive of her son Rudolph Said Ruete, and some printed books, were donated by the Oriental Institute to the Library of Leiden University. The remaining part of the collection is still the property of the Oriental Institute and is stored in the premises of the Netherlands Institute for the Near East.


No future additions are to be expected.

Related Materials

Practically all books donated by Rudolph Said Ruete to the Oriental Institute in 1937, and part of his archive, are still the property of that institute. They are kept in the premises of the Netherlands Institute for the Near East (NINO), Leiden, since 1 January 2018 part of the Leiden University Libraries system.


  • Catalogus, Bibliotheca Academiae Lugduno-Batavae. Deel 42: Aanwinsten, Oostersch Instituut (Bibliotheek Said-Ruete), Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde. Leiden 1938, p. 119-142.
  • Damen, J. Waarom een prinses uit Zanzibar trouwde met een Duitse koopman - en hoe haar bibliotheek in Leiden terechtkwam, in: De Boekenwereld 25 (2008-2009), pp. 231-236.
  • Donzel, E. v., Sayyida Salme, Rudolph Said-Ruete und die deutsche Kolonialpolitik, in: Die Welt des Islams 27 (1987), p. 13-22.
  • Ende, W., [Review article], Sayyida Salme/Ruete, Emily, An Arabian Princess between Two Worlds […], in: Orientalistische Literaturzeitung 88 (1993), col. 544-546.
  • Hartmann, L., Abschied von Sansibar. Zürich 2013.
  • Kaye, M.M., Trade Wind. London 1963.
  • Ruete, E., Memoiren einer arabischen Prinzessin. Berlin 1886.
  • Ruete, E., Einige Bemerkungen über das Klima von Sansibar, in: Deutsche Kolonialzeitung (1886 Heft 19), p. 578-580.
  • Ruete, E., Leben im Sultanspalast. Ed. A. Nippa. Frankfurt a/M 1989; repr. Hamburg 2007, 2013.
  • Ruete, E., An Arabian princess between two worlds. Memoirs, Letters home, Sequels to my memoirs, Syrian customs and usages. Ed. with an introd. [and transl. from the German] by E. van Donzel. Leiden 1993.
  • Ruete, E., Briefe nach der Heimat. Ed. H. Schneppen. Berlin 1999.
  • Said Ruete, R., Meine Reisen in Syrien und Palästina mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der dortigen Tempelgemeinden. Berlin 1898.
  • Said Ruete, R., Ein Fremdenbuch aus Theben. Berlin 1900.
  • Said Ruete, R., Politische Korrespondenz und friedfertige Kriegsaufsätze 1914-1918. Zürich 1919.
  • Said Ruete, R., Said bin Sultan (1791-1856), Ruler of Oman and Zanzibar. His Place in the History of Arabia and East Africa. London 1929.
  • Said Ruete, R., Eine auto-biographische Teilskizze. Luzern 1932.
  • Schmidt, J., Collectie van het Oosters Instituut Leiden. Inventarisatie. [Unpublished typescript, Leiden 1990].
  • Vosseler, N., Sterne über Sansibar. Köln 2010.
  • Waldschmidt, J., Kaiser, Kanzler und Prinzessin. Ein Frauenschicksal zwischen Orient und Okzident. 2. Durchgesehene und ergänzte Auflage, Berlin 2006.
  • Wijk, H. van der, Het leven van Salme (1844-1924), prinses van Oman en Zanzibar, en de vroege uitgave van haar memoires, in: Jaarboek van het Nederlands Genootschap van Bibliofielen 2017, p. 183-205.
  • Wilde, O. Literary and Other Notes, in: Woman’s World 1-5 (March 1888), p. 229-232.


The material can be requested in the online catalogue. It can be consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Processing Information

In 1990, well before the transfer of the archive, a detailed description was made by Jan Schmidt of the entire holdings of the Oriental Institute, excluding, however, the book collections (Schmidt 1990). This description includes the archive now extant in the special collections of Leiden University Library.

In 2008 Jos Damen, former head of the Circulation Department of Leiden University Library, devoted an article to the Said Ruete collection (Damen 2008-2009).

In 2016-2017 Hans van de Velde repacked the collection in collaboration with conservator Karin Scheper. Simultaneously, Van de Velde prepared the present inventory of the archive.

In 2016 the archive was assigned the accession number Or. 27.135.

Collection guide of the Sayyida Salma (Emily Ruete) and Rudolph Said Ruete archive (1850-1952)
Archief van Sayyida Salma (Emily Ruete) en Rudolph Said Ruete
Hans van de Velde and Arnoud Vrolijk, 2018
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Beschrijving is in het Engels.

Revision Statements

  • 17 July 2020: latest update

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

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