The Shāhnāmah – Book of Kings (or King of Books) – is an epic poem written in Persian by Abū l-Qāsim Firdawsī of Ṭūs. Completed in about 1010 CE, the book is composed of some 60,000 verses which narrate the history of Greater Persia from mythical beginnings until the Arab conquests of the 7th century.
Said to be the longest poem ever to have been written by a single person, the significance of Firdawsī’s Shāhnāmah to the Persian-speaking world can be compared to that of the works of Homer to Greece.
No manuscript copies of the Shāhnāmah survive from the 11th or 12th centuries, and only two from the 13th century are still extant, but many copies from the Timurid and Safavid periods are preserved in Library collections today.
Three of the grandsons of Tīmūr (Tamerlane) are known to have had lavish copies of Firdawsī’s Shāhnāmah or Persian Book of Kings made for them. The Shāhnāmahs of Bāysunghur, Muḥammad Jūkī, and Ibrāhīm Sulṭān are preserved in the Golestan Palace, Tehran, the Royal Asiatic Society, London, and the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, respectively.
Left: Shamsah showing inscription dedicated to Ibrāhīm Sulṭān. (MS. Ouseley Add. 176, fol. 12a). Right: Ibrāhīm Sulṭān holding court outdoors. (MS. Ouseley Add. 176, fol. 1b).
Thought to have been made in Shiraz sometime between 1430 and Ibrāhīm Sulṭān’s death in 1435, this copy of the Shāhnāmah is known for its exceptional miniature paintings and exquisite illuminated panels.
The manuscript was acquired by Sir Gore Ouseley, a Diplomat and Linguist, during travels in the East in the early 19th century, and came into the Bodleian in the 1850s along with many other of Sir Gore’s collections. It is now preserved as MS. Ouseley Add. 176.
Ibrāhīm Sulṭān’s Shāhnāmah is now digitally available online via Digital.Bodleian. Recently, its sibling Muḥammad Jūkī’s Shāhnāmah was published online by the Royal Asiatic Society; both in good time for Nawruz or Persian New Year on 20th March!
Abdullaeva, F., & Melville, C., The Persian book of kings : Ibrahim Sultan’s Shahnama (Treasures from the Bodleian Library). Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2008.
Beeston, A. F. L., Hermann Ethé, and Eduard Sachau. Catalogue of the Persian, Turkish, Hindûstânî, and Pushtû Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library . Oxford: At the Clarendon, 1889.
Robinson, B. W., A Descriptive Catalogue of the Persian Paintings in the Bodleian Library. Oxford: Clarendon, 1958.
The Bodleian Libraries would like to thank the Bahari Fund for helping to make this digitization project possible.