Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Middle Eastern Special Collections

The Middle Eastern Special Collections form the nucleus of the entire range of Oriental heritage collections of Leiden University Libraries.

Precious manuscripts, early printed books, letters, photographs, archives and audiovisual materials reflect half a millennium of scholarly engagement with a world beyond Western civilisation which was poorly understood, frequently regarded as hostile but always fascinating.

In a global context, the collections are not only a rich source of original materials from the Eastern world, but also a mine of information on the development of Western scholarship throughout Humanism, mercantile expansion, Enlightenment and colonialism.

Religions, Languages and Cultures

The collections comprise c. 6500 manuscripts and a much larger number of early printed books from regions as diverse as the Middle East and North Africa, Central Asia and Western China, and the Jewish World. It also covers the output of Western Orientalist scholarship from the dawn of printing in Europe until c. 1950.

Predominant is the written heritage in the main languages of the areas under consideration: Arabic, Persian, (Ottoman) Turkish and other Turkic languages, with smaller holdings in Hebrew and Aramaic, Syriac, Ethiopic, South Arabic, Armenian and Berber languages. Although Islam, Christianity and Judaism have left a strong mark on the collections, they cover the entire range of the human scholarly endeavour, from the exact sciences to literature, history and art.


  • The online catalogue provides access to printed books, manuscripts, and collection guides. Romanisation is used for non-Latin script records, but currently efforts are being undertaken to create records in vernacular script. It is possible to refine your search with criteria such as year of publication, material type or language. Manuscripts are always provided with a prefix β€˜Or.’ and an accession number. They are gradually being added to the online catalogue, but a constantly decreasing number remain available only through printed scholarly catalogues, usually organised according to language. The printed catalogues can all be found in Collection of catalogues of the holdings of Leiden University Libraries
  • Digitised materials can be searched through the online catalogue and are available in Digital Collections.

Subject Guides

The Middle Eastern Special Collections are divided into two categories, based not only on geographic but also on religious and cultural criteria. The first – and largest – covers the special collections from the Islamic world with a strong emphasis on the Middle East and North Africa, the second category covers Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac and other Semitic languages, Coptic, Armenian and Judaica. See the right side of this page for both subject guides. 

This website uses cookies.