T’ao-K’larjeti: The cradle of the Georgian Empire

From crumbling cathedrals to gleaming spires

Boundaries of the Kingdom of T’ao-K’larjeti in 900. (source)

In the late ninth century CE, after centuries of foreign domination in Tbilisi, the Bagratid family fled to their ancestral lands of ტაო T’ao and კლარჯეთი K’larjeti to the south. Here in their place of refuge, the Bagratids established the Kingdom of the Iberians. In doing so, they launched a cultural, religious, and political renaissance which would culminate in the establishment of the Georgian Empire and a dynasty that would endure for a millennium…

Niko Kontovas and a local in the village of Cevizli in Artvin Provice, Turkey, formerly known as ტბეთი T’beti in Georgian.

My name is Niko Kontovas. I work as the Nizami Ganjavi Subject Librarian and Curator for the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Ottoman Turkish. Almost every summer for the past decade, I have toured the ruins of the Kingdom of the Iberians (Georgian: ქართველთა სამეფო Kartvelta Samepo, existing from around 888 to 1008 AD) in what is now southern Georgia and northeastern Turkey. Also known as the Kingdom of the Georgians or The Kingdom(s) of T’ao-Klarjeti, after its constituent regions, this state holds a special place in the memory of many Georgians as the place where the Bagratid dynasty established itself as the rulers of an “independant” Georgia. This is the same dynasty which would go on to found the The Georgian Empire (Georgian: საქართველოს სამეფო Sakartvelos Samepo) a.k.a. the Georgian Kingdom, the Empire of Georgia, or the Kingdom of Georgia. Though the Empire would only last around 500 years from 1008 to 1490/1493 AD, the Bagratids continued to play a role in Georgian political and cultural life, and remain the only serious current claimants to the Georgian throne — even though Georgia itself has become a republic.

Though my adventures in ტაო-კლარჯეთი T’ao-K’larjeti began long before my position here at Oxford, the collections of the Nizami Ganjavi Library hold materials on the region which are truly unparalleled in terms of their breadth and depth in collections outside Georgia. Our current book display combines photos and notes from my fieldwork in the region with selections from the library for readers to learn more about this fascinating but little studied slice of Eurasian history.

The devil’s in the details

The Devil’s Fortress at Çıldır. (photo courtesy of Niko Kontovas, 2023)

Among the most impressive structures in historical ტაო-კლარჯეთი T’ao-K’larjeti is the Devil’s Fortress (Turkish Şeytan Kalesi) in the Turkish province of Çıldır. Though its origin is uncertain, it had already attained its current form by 1064, when it is mentioned by the invading Seljuk Sultan آلپ آرسلان Alp Arslan, suggesting it dates to the period of the Kingdom of the Iberians.

In Georgian, the fortress is known as ქაჯის ციხე Kajis Cixe “The Kaji’s Fortress”. The ქაჯი kaji are a race of magical beings in Georgian mythology or, alternatively, a tribe of humans similarly adept at magic appearing in შოთა რუსთაველი Šota Rustaveli’s 12th c. epic ვეფხისტყაოსანი Vepxist’q’aosani “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin”. Many Georgians equate the ქაჯის ციხე Kajis Cixe in Çıldır with the ქაჯთა ციხე Kajta Cixe “Fortress of the Kajis” mentioned as the home this tribe in Rustaveli’s poem.

The heroes of შოთა რუსთაველი Šota Rustaveli’s ვეფხისტყაოსანი Vepxist’q’aosani “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin” look out upon the ქაჯთა ციხე Kajta Cixe “Fortress of the Kajis”. From a 2011 illustrated Georgian edition of the text available to read the the Nizami Ganjavi Library.

The unassuming origins of empire

If ტაო-კლარჯეთი T’ao-K’larjeti is the cradle of the Georgian Empire, კლარჯეთი K’larjeti is the cradle of the Kingdom of the Iberians which started it.

Ardanuç Fortress (photo courtesy of Niko Kontovas, 2023)

On a hilltop plateau in the centre of the modern town of Ardanuç in Turkey (Georgian არტანუჯი Art’anuji) stand the ruins of an impressive fortress. This fortress was built by the Bagratid prince and Duke of კლარჯეთი K’larjeti, აშოტ I დიდი Ašot’ I Didi, a.k.a. Ashot I or Ashot the Great, around 813-818 on the site of an older castle, supposed to have been built by ვახტანგ I გორგასალი Vaxtang Gorgasali, or Vakhtang the Wolf’s Head – the semi-legendary ruler of an earlier Georgian kingdom in the 5th c. Later Georgian historiography has tended to view Ashot I’s choice of location as a conscious reassertion of an older tradition of Georgian kingship, though whether Ashot I also thought this way is a matter of some debate.

It was from here that Ashot I launched numerous campaigns against the Muslim rulers who had taken over various Georgian duchies – a process continued by his son, ადარნასე II Adarnase II, who united კლარჯეთი K’larjeti with the neighbouring dutchy of ტაო T’ao, and his twice great grandson, ადარნასე IV Adarnase IV, the first ruler of the Kingdom of the Iberians. In time, these Bagratid-lead campaigns would result in the takeover of the old capital of Tbilisi and the proclamation of the Empire of Georgia.

Ashot I also sponsored the creation and expansion of Georgian Orthodox churches in the region, supporting the efforts of გრიგოლ ხანძთელი Grigol Xanżteli, or Gregory of Khandzta – another village currently located in Turkey which houses the ruins of one of the many monasteries which he built. Monks trained by Gregory would act as emissaries to the Byzantine Emperor, and may have been instrumental in his granting Ashot I the title of κουροπαλάτης kouropalatēs – employed as a sort of Byzantine Christian “defender of the faith” at the time in the Caucasian borderlands of the Empire.

You can read more about the rise of Bagratid არტანუჯი Art’anuji and Byzantium’s recognition thereof in Evans, N. “Kastron, Rabad and Ardūn: The case of Artanuji” in Matheou et al. (ed.) From Constantinople to the frontier: The City and the cities (2016).

What makes an empire?

Scholars debate whether the Georgian polity which followed the Kingdom of the Iberians in T’ao-K’larjeti should be referred to as the Georgian Kingdom or the Georgian Empire. Whatever you choose to call it, it is beyond doubt that it had a profound impact on neighbouring empires and, as a result, the history of Eurasia as a whole.

Its imperial nature is exemplified by the Georgian Bagratid dynasty (ბაგრატიონი Bagrat’ioni in Georgian), which for numerous reasons epitomized Georgian interconnectedness. In his article on Iberia on the eve of Bagratid rule (in Le muséon LXV, 1952, pp. 199-259), Toumanoff argues that the Georgian Bagratids emerge as political players from a branch of the Armenian Bagratids (Բագրատունի Bagratuni in Armenian). While this is a matter of much debate amongst scholars, the Georgian Bagratids undoubtedly controlled many lands previously inhabited by Armenian-speaking peoples and polities.

Exterior view of Սուրբ Գրիգոր Լուսավորիչ Եկեղեցի Surb Grigor Lusavorič’ ekeɫec’i The Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator at Ani, popularly referred to as Տիգրան Հոնենց Եկեղեցի Tigran Honenc’ ekeɫec’i The Church of Tigran Honents. Built during the period of Georgian imperial domination.
(photo courtesy of Niko Kontovas, 2023)

If a kingdom becomes an empire through its incorporation of foreign states, no single Bagratid ruler bears more right to claim the title of Emperor than თამარ მეფე Tamar Mepe Queen Tamar. Under her rule, the Georgian Empire helped to liberate the ancient Armenian capital of Անի Ani, which it then ruled first directly and then by proxy through the semi-Georgianised Armenian Զաքարյան Zak’aryan or Zakarid dynasty. Several churches the ruins of which are still well preserved at Ani were built during the period of Georgian domination, such as the splendidly decorated Սուրբ Գրիգոր Լուսավորիչ Եկեղեցի Surb Grigor Lusavorič’ ekeɫec’i Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, popularly referred to as Տիգրան Հոնենց Եկեղեցի Tigran Honenc’ ekeɫec’i The Church of Tigran Honents after the wealthy merchant who funded its construction.

To read more about the integral role which the Georgian Empire and other Georgian polities have played throughout Eurasian history, see Donald Rayfield’s Edge of Empires (London: Reaktion, 2012).

Likewise, the Empire of Trebizond, a Byzantine rump state centred around the Black Sea coastal city now called Trabzon, owes its existence to Bagratid Georgia. Though founded by the Κομνηνός Komnēnos family, the Empire of Trebizond’s founder, Αλέξιος Α΄ Μέγας Κομνηνός Alexios I Megas Komnēnos or Alexios the Great, had like his grandfather before him taken refuge in the Georgian imperial court during in-fighting over the Byzantine throne. Though the extent of Trebizond’s cultural Georgianisation has been debated, Alexios was no doubt aided in establishing the independence of his Empire by his maternal aunt, Queen Tamar.

How the mighty have fallen

Just northwest of the village of Penek in Turkey’s Erzurum province lies the ruins of a royal cathedral known as ბანა Bana in Georgian and բանակ Banak in Armenian.

Bana Cathedral (photo courtesy of Niko Kontovas, 2023).
You can read more about Bana – and the other sites mentioned in this exhibit – in Giviashvili and Akder(ed.)’s The Georgian Kingdom and Georgian Art: Cultural Encounters in Anatolia in Medieval Period (Istanbul: Koç University Press, 2014).

Bana Cathedral is a testament not only to the splendour of ტაო-კლარჯეთი T’ao-K’larjeti, but to its interconnectedness with the other regional powers. Though some have argued that it was built on the site of an earlier Armenian church (see Bogisch & Plontke-Lünning, “The Cathedral of Bana in Tao: Architectural Tradition and Liturgical Function” in Kudava (ed.) Tao-Klarjeti: Abstracts of Papers. Tbilisi: National Centre of Manuscripts, 2012. p. 126-7), the ruins which remain reflect a structure built by ადარნასე IV Adarnase IV, the Georgian Bagratid prince who proclaimed the Kingdom of the Iberians in ტაო T’ao and კლარჯეთი K’larjeti provinces in the year 888.

Heavily damaged by Russian fire in the late 19th c., Bana was once the royal cathedral of ტაო T’ao. In 1032, it hosted the wedding of ბაგრატ IV Bagrat IV of the newly established Georgian Empire and the Byzantine princess Ἑλένη Ἀργυρή Elenē Argyrē.

ႱႠႳႩႳႬႭ ႾႱႤႬႤႡႠ (Memory eternal)

Along with ტაო T’ao and კლარჯეთი K’larjeti, the historical region of შავშეთი Šavšeti (Turkish Şavşat) also occupies a special place in the Georgian imagination – in part because of the many monasteries which Georgian monks built there under Bagratid patronage. During the spring and summer months, the ruins of these monasteries are awash with Georgian pilgrims and tourists, many of whom light candles and leave offerings on the very walls built by the Bagratid rulers over a millennium ago.

The monastery of ტბეთი T’beti, now located in the town of Cevizli in Turkey’s Artvin province, was once home to the famous monk, გიორგი შავშელი Giorgi Šavšeli. He would later move to the Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem, where he would be known as Saint Prochorus the Iberian. Among other exemplary manuscripts, he penned a book of hours now housed in the Weston Library.

Pilgrims’ offerings at the ruins of ტბეთი T’beti monastery (photo courtesy of Niko Kontovas, 2023).
Leaf from Saint Prochorus the Iberian’s book of hours, 11th c. Jerusalem. Prochorus was born გიორგი შავშელი Giorgi Šavšeli, i.e. George of Shavsheti, and was trained at ტბეთი T’beti Monastery in what is now Cevizli village, Şavşat Prefecture, Artvin Province, Turkey. Written in Middle Georgian in ნუსხური nushkhuri and ასომთავრული asomtavruli scripts. (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Georg. b. 1)

Who cares for shared heritage?

The physical remnants of ტაო-კლარჯეთი T’ao-K’larjeti are overwhelmingly located within the borders not of the Georgian Republic, but of the Turkish Republic.

Though the region was the site of bloody battles between the Russian and Ottoman Empires in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, few now seriously challenge Turkish claims on these lands. Relatively free movement across the Georgian-Turkish border means that Georgians can visit medieval sites in Turkey fairly easily.

Tourism to ტაო-კლარჯეთი T’ao-K’larjeti generates significantly less revenue than, say, tourism to Ottoman or Classical Hellenistic sites in Western Turkey. Still, several joint projects have been undertaken to excavate and restore some Georgian sites within the region. You can learn more about these construction projects in გრემელაშვილი, „ტაო-კლარჯეთის ხუროთმოძღვრული ძეგლების კვლევისა და რესტავრაციის შესახებ“ in Kudava et al. (eds.) International Conference Tao-Klarjeti: Materials. Tbilisi: National Center of Manuscripts, 2010, pp. 106-124.

The fully restored church of იშხანი Išxani Ishkhani (Turkish İşhan) in Artvin Province; restoration complete as of 2019, yet still closed to the public as of 2023. (photo courtesy of Niko Kontovas, 2021)

Some of these projects, such as the reconstruction of the church of იშხანი Išxani Ishkhani (Turkish İşhan) in Artvin Province, were nearly complete as of 2019. Others, such as the reconstruction of the massive cathedral at ოშკი Ošk’i Oshki (Turkish Öşkvank) in Erzurum Province have proceeded much more slowly.

Even in the case of successful reconstructions, most sites which have been the object of big projects have, sadly, still not fully opened. While the reasons for this are officially uncertain, locals often claim that municipal and provincial governments are worried that an influx of Georgians may prompt official requests to hold religious services at these sites, which could aggitate local sensitivities and possibly provoke irredentist claims from Georgia. Some also claim that official openings have been delayed until Georgian authorities show similar interest in restoring Muslim religious sites in Georgia.

Read more about the fascinating history of ოშკი Ošk’i Oshki cathedral through two of the inscriptions found on the structure itself in ჯობაძე, ოშკის ტაძარი. თბილისი: მეცნიერება, 1991.

Despite this, some of the best preserved site still fully visitable in the region today are those which have been transformed into mosques, such as the church of the monastery of ხახული Xaxuli Khakhuli (Turkish Haho) in the village of Bağbaşı, Erzurum. Additionally, many Muslims in the region of შავშეთი Šavšeti Şavşat consider themselves both Turkish and Georgian, sometimes even speaking Georgian at home. Even where destruction of Georgian sites has been documented in the past, locals now overwhelmingly want to see the sites restored and reopened, as much out of a sense of pride for this shared heritage as to attract more revenue from tourism to otherwise impoverished rural areas.

You can see some older pictures of sites in the region with less destruction in Kalandia, Ekvtime Takaishvili and Tao-Klarjeti. Tbilisi: Zviad Kordzadze, 2017.

New LibGuide for the Caucasus and Central Asia!

Hello, Salam, Сәлем, Салам, Салом, Salom, سالام, سلام, Բարև, and გამარჯობა!

My name is Nicholas Kontovas, but I generally prefer to be called Niko. I’m the Bodleian Libraries’ new Nizami Ganjavi Subject Librarian for the Caucasus and Central Asia!

I say “new”, but those regular visitors of the NGL among you will doubtless have already caught a glimpse of me dipping into the reading room to check the card catalogue or fussing over the Nowruz book display. I started in this post in January 2023 with the goal of curating and strengthening our collections and drumming up interest in parts of the world that often get overlooked: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as some adjacent regions of Eurasia with cultural and historical ties to these countries, like the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the Peoples’ Republic of China.

Some day in the near future, I hope to properly introduce myself through a serious of posts where we interview the staff who manage to the NGL’s collections. For now, I just wanted to let you all know that the Caucasus and Central Asia LibGuide is up and running!

You can use the LibGuide to find resources in our collection related to any of the regions above. There are also links to freely available resources online which you might not be aware of.

As our collection grows and we discover new resources, I’ll be expanding the LibGuides and making updates on this blog. If you know of any resources we have that aren’t on there, feel free to drop me a line using the info on the LibGuide. If there’s a resource we don’t have access to, you can also write me to recommend we try to get access to it.

Until then, happy browsing and sağol, сау бол, пока, خدا حافظ, hoş sag bol, ئامان بولۇڭ, ցտեսութիւն, and ნახვამდის!

Celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month at the NGL

Last month was the UK’s LGBTQ+ History Month, and to celebrate this occasion, we at the Nizami Ganjavi Library created a display to showcase some of the Bodleian Libraries’ LGBTQ+ related materials, from across the Middle East. I hope that seeing this side of the collections was as enlightening for you as it was for me, and thank you for all those who expressed a positive interesWith the NGL’s blog newly up-and-running, I thought I would it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to provide a bit more information!

A collection of books on a table. Some are proppeA collection of Bodleian Libraries' books on LGBTQ+ themes. Behind the books is a board with images from 'There Are No Homosexuals in Iran' on the left and the movie poster for 'Alexandria Again and Forever' on the right. In the centre is a sign with text in the colours of the Progress Pride flag that reads LGBTQ+ History Month at the NGL Behind the Lens.
Last month’s display by the NGL issue desk.

Front cover for the book Islamicate Sexualities

The display included works from and about a wide range of countries are included – Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, and Armenia – representing a diverse range of perspectives on LGBTQ+ experiences. This was very necessary, because often conversations on LGBTQ+ issues are dominated by Western frameworks – some of which may be inappropriate to the cultures discussed. This is a difficulty that the volume Islamicate Sexualities tackles head-on, questioning how well Western queer identities can apply to subjects of study that are distant not only geographically, but also temporally. The volume’s contributors carefully excavate from documentary evidence how various historic Islamic writers represented normative sexuality as it existed in their time and region, making for a fantastic and subtle analysis. I highly recommend this title!

Front cover for the book Unspeakable Love

Similarly, Brian Whitaker, in representing the LGBTQ+ experience leading to the modern day, carefully writes to avoid simple orientalist narratives about a repressive Middle East and a tolerant West. At the same time, he acknowledges the many obstacles faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in the countries he discusses.

This reality can also be seen in how many of the queer authors included here write from outside of their country of origin, or in European languages, such as Abdellah Taïa who writes in French, and Khaled Alesmael who writes in German. This interplay is present in Siba Al-Harez’s novel The Others, in which the protagonist discovers same-sex attraction for the first time. Al-Harez writes about the difficulty of finding information about sexuality on the internet under Saudi censorship, and the different language that the unnamed main character encounters on domestic sites compared to foreign ones – language of sin versus language of identity – and how she finds both equally confusing.

Front cover for the book Selamlik by Khaled AlesmaelFront cover for the book Another Morocco by Abdellah TaïaFront cover for the book The Others by Siba Al-Harez

Image from There Are No Homosexuals in Iran depictingtwo fat women cover each other's faces in a well-lit white room. Both wear white t-shirts. One wears orange trousers and the other black trousers. One has blonde hair and the other has dark hair.
Image from ‘There Are No Homosexuals in Iran’ by Laurence Rasti

Yet another perspective can be seen in Swiss-Iranian photographer Laurence Rasti’s There Are No Homosexuals in Iran. This title is a reference to a comment made by then Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in 2007. In this beautiful series of photographs, Rasti shows a variety of queer Iranians defiantly and quietly living their daily lives, interspersed with images of Tehran and domestic scenes. Another reason why I chose to include Rasti’s work is because this year, the theme for LGBTQ+ History Month is ‘Behind the Lens’. This theme drew me to written works by queer Middle Eastern filmmakers like Khaled Alesmael, Saleem Haddad, and Abdellah Taïa, but also Hovhannes Tekgyozyan’s ‘movie novella’. This book both evokes the subject of filmmaking in the form of the protagonist, Gagik’s projects, and in its structure and style. To me, this novel is not only queer in having openly gay characters, but also in the way that Tekgyozyan’s use of ‘cuts’ and ‘scenes’ to play with time in this work, conjures the concept of ‘queer time’.

Movie poster for Alexandria Again and Forever with text in both French and English. In the foreground is the actor Amr Abdulgalil in a light suit and shirt, making a swooning gesture.
Movie poster for ‘Alexandria Again and Forever’.

I have also included in this display information about Youssef Chahine and his autobiographical Alexandria quadrilogy. While Chahine was never openly queer, the films in this series are notable for their nuanced depictions of masculine same-sex desire. Whether or not these representations illustrate anything about the creator’s own identity, the theme of ‘openness to the other’ runs through many of Chahine’s films, and his willingness to show queer perspectives fits this trend. In any case, these films are an indispensable part of understanding queer Egyptian cinema. I particularly recommend Alexandria Again and Forever – a genre-bending dramedy that examines themes of obsession, history, and auteur theory, but is also a fun experience.

It has been rewarding for me to look at LGBTQ+ history through a different ‘lens’ at the NGL, and I hope that you find something interesting or enlightening for you in these materials too. But this is nowhere near everything that the Bodleian has to offer on LGBTQ+ themes in the Middle East. For example, the book Queer Turkey: Transnational Poetics of Desire is also available online via SOLO. I can only encourage you to explore further!

Welcome to OIL!

Hello, and welcome to the first OIL blog post of the 19/20 academic year!

We are excited to meet all our new readers, and pleased to see people from previous years returning to us. Here are a few bits of news and a few reminders (we’ll try to keep it short; information overload is probably setting in already…)

Summer update

Returning readers will have noticed that the refurbishment which was supposed to happen this summer did not. We will instead be closed for a substantial part of next summer (2020) for the building works. More on that as and when we get information. We will be sure to put notices up around the library and add something on the Facebook page and in this blog if we get any firm dates or details.

Kate has rearranged the PJ section again, as part of the ongoing reclassification work. The shelves are all labelled, and it is only the area around the computers and in the middle of the library which has changed; the rest of the LC section is still largely in the same place it was last year.

The biggest change over the summer has been the moving of the periodicals – formerly on the shelves by the photocopiers – down to the basement, from where they will be eventually transferred to the BSF. Do ask staff if you can’t find something which was previously kept with this collection.

Housekeeping: a few reminders

Food and drink (except for water in bottles with a lid) are not allowed in the library. This is to prevent pests which might damage the books from being enticed in by crumbs. If you have a medical need to keep food with you, please speak to library staff. We are not trying to cause harm to anyone, but to prevent harm to the collections, which are, after all, why everyone is here.

All the shelves are labelled with the range of shelfmarks which they house, but if you cannot find something do feel free to ask the library staff. Most of the collection on the ground floor is classified under the Library of Congress Classification (LC), and is gradually being reclassified by Kate, who is in the library on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. The central section holds the remainder of the “old” classification with black labels, which duplicate to a certain extent the PJ and PK sections. If a shelfmark which you cannot find has a date at the end, it will be in the LC (white labelled) section. If it is short and does not have a date (i.e. PJ7700 Jam*) it will be in the “old” section.

*not a real shelfmark.

Korean books and books on Eastern Christianity are housed in the lower ground floor, down the stairs by the Library offices. These have a prefix on the record (KSL and ECL respectively) which identifies them as being part of these collections and not the general LC sequence.

The lower ground floor is also home to our South Asian and Hebrew collections, both of which use in-house classifications rather than LC. There is a plan of the library and the various locations of the different shelving schemes at the front desk, should anyone need one.

We have a Suggestions book by the front desk which readers can use if they think of a book or resource which we do not have but which they think we ought to have for the library. Our subject specialists look into all suggestions and reply to the original enquiry.

PCAS (Print, Copy & Scan) has changed its payment structure over the summer, so payments are now taken on a different platform – the new URL is on the website and on flyers which you can obtain from the library staff, so if you have bookmarked the old link you will need to change it for the new one.

Photocopiers are to be found by the Library Desk. Please do not remove paper from the photocopiers, and please let staff know if you notice that the paper has run out – we have a supply in the back office. Scrap paper is available in the box on the table next to the photocopiers; you are free to add to this if you have unwanted single-sided copies.

BSF (Book Storage Facility) books are delivered twice a day, Monday to Friday. If you order a book by 10.30 am it should arrive in the afternoon delivery.

OIL is on Facebook and Twitter, which is where we post urgent announcements such as problems with SOLO, or the van deliveries, or (rarely) closing the library early due to emergencies. You can find us at https://www.facebook.com/oiloxford/ and www.twitter.com/oiloxford.

Finally… ask us! There will always be a member of library staff at the desk during opening hours (if they are not at the desk they will be shelving in the library and should have left a note saying where they are) and we are here to help.

Have a wonderful Michaelmas Term!


Summer Closure: July 8th – September 30th 2019

We have now had confirmation of the summer closure for the refurbishment of the library following the endowment given by the British Foundation for the Study of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus.

The Library will be closed from the 8th July 2019 until the 30th September 2019 to enable substantial remodelling and building works to take place.

The vacation loan limit has been raised to 20 books per reader. We strongly advise people to borrow their books at the beginning of the vacation. Vacation loans will begin in 8th week to allow people who are leaving Oxford at the end of Term to borrow their books for the summer.

A daily fetching service of material from the Oriental Institute Library to the Sackler Library will be in operation during the closed period. If at any point it becomes impractical or unsafe to access parts of the collections we will keep everyone updated as to availability.

We would ask those who are planning to use Oriental Institute Library books over the summer vacation to get in touch with library staff to let us know as soon as possible what open shelf books you are intending to use.

If you know of any colleagues from outside of Oxford who are planning to use the Oriental Institute Library over the summer, we would be grateful if you could share this advance warning with them. Any further information that affects library users will be shared as it becomes available.

We will keep the Facebook page updated with any changes to the above as and when we know about them, and update the blog if there is detailed news.

Before the closure, OIL will continue to be open until 7pm on weekdays.


Vacation Opening for Easter 2019

Just a short post this month, as we covered all the news last month…

We are now issuing books on Vacation Loans, so they will be due back on Tuesday April 30th.

We will remain on our term-time opening hours of 9am-7pm next week (March 11th-16th) and thereafter will be open from 9am-5pm during the week and closed on Saturdays.

We will be closed for Easter for the usual five days: Thursday 18th – Monday 22nd April inclusive. We have yet to finalise the opening hours for the week beginning 22nd April, but will post an update on the Facebook page when we know. This is to a certain extent dependent on staff leave and the availability of cover.

As ever, please keep an eye on the Facebook page for any updates or last-minute changes to our opening hours, and have a great Easter Vacation!

Reminders for the Summer Vacation


Summer Closure

Readers will now be aware our four week closure for the planned heating works begins THIS FRIDAY, 13th July, after which we will not re-open until August 12th. We have made arrangements with our colleagues from the Sackler Library, who will be able to fetch books from OIL for readers to consult at the Sackler Library during the closure. Please email them on sac-loans@bodleian.ox.ac.uk  if there is anything you wish to see during the closed period. Note, please that the books will be made available in the Sackler Library for consultation only; they will not be borrowable.

If anyone is aware of potential visitors to the OIL during the period 16th July – 12th August please do make sure you let them know about the limited availability of the books and pass on the other contact information.

Most of the OIL staff will be on leave for much of the time during the closed period so the oilcirc@bodleian.ox.ac.uk address will not be closely monitored.

Unfortunately, due to a supply problem, the contractors have very recently informed us that they may not be able to finish all the work before we re-open. They have agreed to try to do the most disruptive work out of opening hours after the 12th August so that there is as little disruption as possible to readers, but there may necessarily need to be some areas which are screened-off for drilling or other disruptions. At present we do not know any details; we will keep readers informed after we re-open as soon as we have more information and will give as much notice as possible if there are likely to be inaccessible areas of the collection or other problems.


Vacation Loans and opening hours

Vacation Loans are now in effect until 16th October 2018; readers are permitted to borrow up to 15 books – an increase from the usual 8 – during the summer.

During the weeks on either side of the closed period the library has reverted to vacation opening hours, 0900-1700 on Monday-Friday and closed on Saturdays.

We will also be closed as usual over the August Bank Holiday (25th to 27th August inclusive) and for the two days of St Giles Fair, which falls on 3rd-4th September this year.


Have an excellent summer!

This will be our last post until the end of the summer (since there’s not really going to be any news). We wish all our readers an excellent summer and hope your studies aren’t too badly disrupted by our absence.

We look forward (even in this scorching weather) to a winter where we will finally be able to control the heating!


Autumn News

Hello, and welcome to the usual monthly blog post from the Oriental Institute Library! We’ve delayed by a few days to ensure that those of you who have recently liked our Facebook page will see the link – hopefully we’ve got some new readers as well as the regulars!

Summer reshuffles

Those of you who have been away over the summer may have noticed that the Library of Congress collection has been substantially rearranged since the end of last Term. The end of the sequence – from PK to Z has now moved into the middle of the library on the shelves where the rest of the old PJ and PK books are, and will continue to move down into that part of the library as the old sequence gradually diminishes. We have updated our plan of the library to show the changes and all the shelves are labelled clearly with the shelfmark ranges. If you have problems, do come to the desk and someone will be able to give you directions.

As well as the Library of Congress material, the few Z.Per. periodicals have now moved to the shelves where the rest of the periodicals are kept (round the corner past the photocopiers). Again, feel free to ask if you can’t find anything.

The past academic year has seen 1049 shelfmarks – equating to 1419 individual books – reclassified. This is a little down on previous years, which reflects that Kate, who has done most of the reclassification, is now only with us two afternoons a week instead of three.

Building Works

In preparation for a refit of the heating system in the entire building which is currently scheduled for next summer vacation, engineers will be replacing pipes and duct-work at various locations throughout the faculty. The Library is expecting this to happen during November – we are on the plan as having work carried out in our basement area from October 30th to November 16th. The noisy work should be taking place during closed hours, but if there is likely to be disruption we will inform readers as soon as we know. We will also keep readers informed if there is any change to the schedule, or if any areas of the basement are going to be off-limits. The ground floor of the library should not be affected, except by possible noise coming from other areas, but again, we will keep everyone informed as much as we can.

Arabic Reading Group

Alasdair Watson, the subject specialist for Islamic manuscripts, is seeking participants for an Arabic Reading Group :

Please contact him directly to express and interest.

Rules of the Library: a gentle reminder

In line with other Bodleian Libraries we would request that readers remember that food and drink are not allowed in the library. Bottles of water are permitted, as long as they have a lid and are kept sealed when not in use. Other drinks, including coffee, must not be brought into the library. This is to prevent damage to books and equipment and also to discourage pests – insects or other vermin which are attracted by your crumbs may stay and munch on the books afterwards!

We have now switched to our term-time opening hours of 0900-1900 on Monday – Friday and 1100-1700 on Saturdays. Readers are requested to pack up and leave promptly when the bell is rung at 1850 – you do risk being plunged into darkness if the staff do not realise you are here!

And finally…

Do keep an eye on the Sale Trolley for duplicate books which is located just inside the Front Office; we will be adding new books when time permits during the term.

New e-resources being trialled this Term!

From now until the end of March*, there are several exciting new electronic resources available through the OxLip+ portal which we would like to encourage our readers to try out:


Early Arabic Printed Books (Trial until 10th March)*

Gale’s Early Arabic Printed Books from the British Library, based on A.G. Ellis’ catalogue of the British Library’s collection, represents the first major searchable online archive of pre-20th century Arabic printed books. It includes examples from over 400 years of books printed in Arabic script as well as translations into European and Asian languages in the fields of Islamic religion, history, law, language, literature, philosophy and science. Together they demonstrate Europe’s fascination, study and assimilation of ideas and knowledge from the Arabic-speaking world with its rich heritage of science, poetry and Islamic texts and commentaries. Scholars can search on the full text of items in Arabic, English, French, German, Latin, Italian, Dutch and Spanish while also being able to discover content in Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Ottoman Turkish, Persian, Syriac and more.

eBook Arabic Subscription Collection (Trial until 31st March)

Serving the countries and territories of the Arabic League and beyond, this Middle Eastern collection of more than 4,000 Arabic e-books covers a broad range of academic subjects, including art, biography, business, child development, education, medicine, social sciences, humanities, Islamic studies, history, law, music, religion, political science, technology, engineering and more.

Arab World Research Source (Trial until 31st March)

This unique full-text database is ideal for students and researchers of Arabic Studies, Middle Eastern Studies and Islamic Studies. Covering many major subject disciplines, it offers academic journals, magazines, trade publications, conference papers and industry profiles that are published in or pertain specifically to the Arab World.

Islam in the Modern World (1804-1918) (Trial until 31st March)

Islam in the Modern World, 1804-1918 addresses the beliefs, practices, theology, spirituality, and history of Islam. Content includes biographies of the Prophet Muhammad, works comparing Christianity and Islam, key theological and philosophical texts (including the Quran), relevant mystical and spiritual works, and texts surveying the history of Islam.


2016 Highlights

Happy New Year!

We trust everyone had a pleasant holiday!

Before we get on with the serious business of reminding everyone of the exciting things which happened at OIL in 2016, readers interested in Rumi may wish to attend the lecture on the Poetry of Rumi which takes place on January 20th at the Weston Library: (details here). Note that you will need to book a place for this; we will post a reminder on the Facebook page nearer the time.

2016 Recap


Last year saw a number of adjustments and changes at the Oriental Institute Library; the Japanese collections were relocated to the Bodleian Japanese Library after a decision was made by the Faculty to consolidate all the Japanese holdings in one place.

The space freed up by the Japanese move enabled us to rearrange the books in the basement, so that the Korean Studies Library is now on the shelves just at the bottom of the stairs, with the Indian Institute section now also moved so it resides on the shelves on the ground floor by the photocopiers.

The space where the Korean books were kept is currently being used by the Taylorian Library for a number of their periodicals which are to be barcoded, but which needed to be moved out of their previous locations to make room for the books from the Taylor Slavonic library which left its previous location over the summer. We have welcomed a few slightly baffled Modern Languages scholars who were looking for their usual publications over the last few months, some of whom had no idea we were here!

At the end of Michaelmas Term a number of periodicals which had previously been shelved among the Library of Congress books were shifted to the empty shelves near the other OIL periodicals; these have had a suffix “Per.” Added to their shelfmarks on the system which should make them easier to locate, but do ask staff if something has vanished from its usual place!

Finally, as we mentioned in the previous post, Kate has finished the “D” section in the reclassification project, as well as a few smaller groups of books under “L”, “M” and “N” and will be starting the “P” section as soon as she has finished a bit of essential moving to make space. In the last calendar year, 1808 shelfmarks were reclassified, many of which were multivolume works – the total number of individual books reclassified was 2136.


In December we said goodbye to Jonathan Acton, who had worked with us since 2010. We hope he is enjoying retirement and able to spend more time with his grandson!

During the summer we had a number of guests from the Muller Library after a minor fire in the Clarendon Institute forced them to close and relocate for a number of weeks while the building was repaired. The library is happily now open and the staff have returned to their normal workplaces, but it was interesting to have different people around at OIL for a few weeks!


New PCAS – and with it shiny new photocopiers – was launched successfully in September, with only a few minor glitches being identified in what is otherwise a very similar system to the old one. Those of you with long memories may shudder at the thought of the original PCAS launch in 2009 which was very different; in the case of the new system we are happy to report that only minimal staff time has been taken up showing readers (usually those new to the system entirely) how to use the machines.

Building works

Over the summer we had the excitement of the replacement of the Library skylights, which actually proved far less disruptive than most of us had feared (visions of the entire LC section on the back wall being sheeted off proved unfounded), with crash-towers erected, but not preventing access to the books. One of these came into its own on a memorable Friday when Vasiliki was at the desk, heard a shouted expletive, and saw one of the workmen fall through the hole from the roof! Fortunately he was unharmed.

During the work we were given an interesting opportunity to see the sky from parts of the library which usually can’t…


Directly before Christmas work began to replace the lights in the common room area. This has taken longer than anticipated due to an unfortunate incident on the last Friday before Christmas when one of the workmen drilled through a water pipe in the common room ceiling. Library staff brought in a preventive conservation expert from the Bodleian to monitor the humidity in the basement during the weekend immediately after the accident, and happily there was no change, so the books at the end of the basement are at no increased risk of mould at present. Work to fix the problem is ongoing; we will keep readers informed if the library is affected.

And finally…

Readers who need to find out more about Open Access and how it affects them are encouraged to attend one of the following drop-in sessions this Term:

OA poster