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Arabic papyri collection

Identifier: ubl658

Scope and Contents

The use of papyrus as a writing material, well known from Antiquity, was continued by the Arab conquerors of Egypt from the mid-seventh century onwards and remained in use until the eleventh century, when it was largely superseded by paper. Although papyrus was exported to, and used in, various other countries in the Middle East and even Southern Europe, the bulk of the surviving fragments hail from Egypt. Its use was widespread, ranging from ephemeral private and official correspondence to tax registers, land deeds or other official documents and business transactions. In all, about 150,000 of these fragments are known to exist, but most of these remain unedited.

Apart from isolated instances, Arabic papyrology began with the Austrian scholar Joseph von Karabacek (1845-1918) and after him Adolf Grohmann (1887-1967). It is now generally accepted among Western scholars that Arabic papyri provide important historical evidence that may help to refine, correct and even supplant the so-called 'narrative sources', the historical texts that were composed during the Abbasid era. Especially with regard to the early Arab conquests and the rise of Islam, the Abbasid literary sources appear to reflect an edited or reconstructed version that suited the needs of an established orthodoxy and statecraft which did not yet exist during or immediately after the conquests.

The Leiden collection of Arabic papyri is relatively modest in size with 104 items and c.146 identifiable text fragments. In terms of contents it covers the same range of subjects as described above. One of these, registered separately as Or. 8264, contains a fragment of the Qur’an, sura 71 verses 9-25. The objects are relatively small, most of them not exceeding c.20 × 10cm. Several items are not written on papyrus but textile or paper. The collection has received relatively close attention from the scholarly public, most notably in conjunction with the various initiatives deployed by the papyrologist and Leiden Professor of Arabic Petra M. Sijpesteijn and fellow scholars (see, for instance, Noseda 2003, Sijpesteijn 2013, Disclosing Arabic Papyri from the Leiden University Library project website).


  • Creation: c.700-c.1100 CE

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Since the entire collection is available online, access to the originals is restricted to qualified scholars. Permission must be obtained from the curator.

The papyri themselves are free of copyright, but Leiden University exerts the ownership rights to the originals and the digitised images. The descriptions are copyrighted by the authors.

Conditions Governing Use

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

Biographical / Historical

Cornelis van Arendonk (1881-1946), legator of papyrus Or. 8264, was curator of Oriental Manuscripts and Rare Printed Books at Leiden University Library. Mr A.A. Fatatri, who supplied the bulk of the collection, was an antiquarian bookseller in Leiden.


104 items in 4 boxes

Abstract in Dutch

Collectie van 104 Arabische papyri, afkomstig uit Egypte en daterend uit ca. 700-1100 AD.

Abstract in English

Collection of 104 Arabic papyri, originally from Egypt and datable to c.700-1100 CE.

Physical Location

Leiden University Library, Special Collections

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Papyrus Or. 8264 is part of the bequest of Cornelis van Arendonk which entered the library in 1947. He had previously acquired this item from Erik von Scherling, an antiquarian bookseller based at Leiden and subsequently Oegstgeest (Witkam, Inventory, vol. 9, p. 98-99).

The bulk of the collection, consisting of 103 items, was offered for sale by Mr A.A. Fatatri and registered in 1973 as Or. 12.885 (Witkam, Inventory, vol. 13, p. 333). Between 1964 and 1973 Fatatri supplied a total of c. 500 Arabic manuscripts to Leiden University Library.


No future additions are to be expected.

Existence and Location of Copies

The entire collection is available online in Digital Collections:


  • Coranica website, online via, visited 16 October 2019.
  • Disclosing Arabic Papyri from the Leiden University Library project website, online via, visited 16 October 2019.
  • [Edition and image of MS Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Or. 8264], online via, visited 16 October 2019.
  • Marx, M.J. & T.J. Jocham, Zu den Datierungen von Koranhandschriften durch die 14C-Methode, in: Frankfurter Zeitschrift für islamisch-theologische Studien 2 (2015), pp. 9-43.
  • Noseda, S.N., A third Koranic fragment on papyrus. An opportunity for revision, in: Rendiconti 137 (2003), pp. 313-326.
  • Sijpesteijn, P.M., An Arabic land lease from Ṭuṭūn, in: Rodney Ast et al. (eds), Papyrological Texts in Honor of Roger S. Bagnall, Durham 2013, pp. 301-306.
  • Witkam, J.J. Inventory of the Oriental Manuscripts of the Library of the University of Leiden, .. vols, Leiden 2006-…, online via
  • Youssef-Grob, E.M., Radiocarbon (14C) dating of early Islamic documents. Background and prospects, in: A. Kaplony & M. Marx (eds), Qurʾān Quotations Preserved on Papyrus Documents, 7th-10th Centuries, and the Problem of Carbon Dating Early Qurʾāns, Leiden, Boston 2019, pp. 139-187.


The materials can be requested in the online catalogue. They can be consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room. See Restrictions on access and Alternative form available.

Processing Information

  1. Before 1946 Or. 8264, the first Arabic papyrus to arrive in Leiden, was mounted between glass, photographed and transcribed in a notebook by the last private owner, Cornelis van Arendonk. The notebook is preserved under Or. 8264a (not digitised).
  2. In 2004 the Arabic papyri were first described by Petra Sijpesteijn in an unpublished inventory.
  3. In 2005 the collection was cleaned, sewn into Secol sleeves and repacked in boxes by conservator Karin Scheper.
  4. In 2006 the papyri were first photographed in JPEG format by Karin Scheper.
  5. In 2014 samples from Or. 8264 (1 item) and Or. 12.885 (9 items) were radiocarbon dated by Coranica, a project coordinated by the Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft (Germany) and the Agence nationale de Recherche (France) (see Marx & Jocham 2015, Youssef-Grob 2019).
  6. In 2016-2017 the description of the papyri was elaborated in a project ‘Disclosing Arabic Papyri from the Leiden University Library’ with funds provided by the Faculty of Humanities, Leiden University and coordinated by Jelle Bruning (Leiden) (see project website).
  7. 2017-present: Leiden University Library’s Centre for Digital Scholarship develops a IIIF-based platform that brings together digital images of the individual papyri and metadata entered into a Virtual Research Environment (VRE), not accessible to the public. The results of this project will be included in the inventory of this Collection Guide.
  8. In 2018 the papyri were digitised for a second time and uploaded to the Digital Collections.
  9. Prof. Petra M. Sijpesteijn (email link: and Dr Jelle Bruning (email link: currently work on an edition of a large number of items from Or. 12.885. Scholars wishing to contribute to, or comment on, their work are encouraged to contact both scholars by email.
Collection guide of the Arabic papyri collection (c.700-c.1100 CE)
Collectie Arabische papyri
Arnoud Vrolijk, 2019
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Beschrijving is in het Engels.

Revision Statements

  • 28 November 2019: latest update

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

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Leiden 2311 BG Netherlands
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