Oriental Collection

The Oriental collection consists of manuscripts, printed works, and other material originating in non-western language areas and cultures, mostly Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Color drawing of oriental warriors
Photo: Ophav ukendt

With a few exceptions, the works in the Oriental collection are written in non-western languages like Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Sanskrit, Tamil, and Turkish.

The collection closed for new acquisitions in 2012 and does not have any staff with linguistic or expert knowledge employed.

Access to the materials

The printed materials (books and magazines) are, with a few exceptions, registered in our catalogue and can be searched and ordered from our website; they can either be borrowed or viewed in the reading room.

Manuscripts and other special types of material are to a lesser extent registered in our library system. They can only be ordered for viewing in the Research reading room in The Black Diamond. Works that are mentioned in printed catalogues or other sources but are not registered in the library system are ordered through Ask the Library.

A number of dictionaries and source texts are on display in the Research reading room, and a small number of manuals are displayed in the information area on the second level, both found in The Black Diamond.

History of the collection

The interest in the Orient dates all the way back to the 1600s when Det Kgl. Bibliotek was founded. At the time, there was a need for Eastern languages to elucidate Bible texts and for use in missionary endeavors of the church, as well as new scientific and humanistic ideals for the classical Greek philosophers and scientific discoveries that often only survived in Arabic translations. Subsequently, knowledge of far-off countries became an asset when establishing trade promotion campaigns and (for a while) in founding colonies. In this context, it is worth mentioning the expedition ordered by Frederick V to ’Happy Arabia’ (known as The Arabian Journey 1761-1767) with Carsten Niebuhr as the only surviving and most famous participant. In the late 1800s and around the start of the nineteenth century, the focus shifted partly to the East, and manuscripts and prints originating from Persia in the west to Japan and Korea in the east were added to the collection.

For more information, please refer to:

Rasmussen, Stig T.: The Oriental Collections: A Guide [Guide to the collections of the Royal Danish Library; 1] Copenhagen: Det Kgl. Bibliotek, 2015.

Contents of the collection

In general, the collection can be divided into five main parts with associated language areas: the Near East (Arabic, Persian, Turkish, etcetera), Central Asia (Tibetan, Mongolian, etcetera), South Asia (Sanskrit, Hindi, Tamil, etcetera), Southeast Asia (Pali, Thai, Sinhalese, etcetera) and East Asia (Chinese, Japanese, Korean).

Examples of particularly interesting groups of material are:

  • The approximately 100 manuscripts acquired by participants of The Arabian Journey (mentioned above), primarily F. C. von Haven (1727-1763). Some of these works are available in digital form.
  • 14 scrolls from Dunhuang in western China, acquired in 1915. They contain Buddhist texts from the first millennia A.D., some of which are found nowhere else. See the online edition from the International Dunhuang Project.
  • 33 manuscripts containing texts from Avesta and other sources to the Zoroastrian and later Persian religious tradition. These were acquired by Rasmus Rask (1787-1832) on his journeys to Persia and India. These are, to some extent, available online.