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.

describing the manuscripts are available in Reading Room E-West (under the shelfmark AMTO). The manuscripts are in the process of being digitized.
The main printed catalogues are:

  • Codices Orientales Bibliothecae Regiae Hafniensis, Pars I-III, Hafniae 1846-1857.  
    For a pdf version of Pars I, click  here.  
    For a pdf version of  Pars II, click here.  
    For a pdf version of  Pars III, click here.
  • Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts, Xylographs etc. in Danish Collections, Copenhagen 1966 ff.
    COMDC 1 (Ceylonese mss)
    COMDC 2,1 (Cambodian and Burmese Pali mss)
    COMDC 2,2 (Mss en Pali, Laotien et Siamois)
    COMDC 3 (Mongolian)
    COMDC 4,1 (Batak)
    COMDC 4,2 (Indonesian)

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

The manuscripts can be made available at Reading Room West, after previous arrangement (e-mail: or through an order in REX. 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.

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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).