Union Catalogue of Manuscripts from the Islamicate World

Persian MS 932 (The John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester)

Persian Manuscripts


Summary of Contents: The composition of this epic poem, Shāhnāmah (Book of Kings), by Abū'l-Qāsim Firdawsī (fl. ca. 940–1020), dates to the the Samanid and Ghaznavid dynasties. The poet Abū Manṣūr Daqīqī (d. 975) commenced a thousand lines, but after his death, Firdawsī completed the work shortly before the year 1000 CE. He drew upon a number of pre-Islamic Pahlavi middle Persian sources, principally the now-lost Khwadāynāmag (Book of Lords) that recounted the ancient rulers of Persian until the Sassanian period, as well as Iranian mythology and folklore. This magnificent manuscript, probably completed in Shiraz in 1542 and one of nine copies held in the John Rylands Library, features thirty-eight illustrations, some of which depart from the usual depictive schemes. Persian translator Turner Macan (1792–1836), formerly owned this volume, one of several copies that he referred to when he published the first critical Persian edition of the text in 1829.
Incipit: (basmalla) برگ ۱پ، بالا (folio 1b, top): ای تازه و محکم از تو بنیاد سخن
Explicit: برگ ۴۰۶ر (folio 406a): هزاران درود و هزاران سلام * زما بر محمد علیه سلام.
Colophon: برگ ۴۰۶ر (folio 406a): تم اکاتب بعون الله الملک الوهاب و صلی الله علی محمد و اله اجمعین الطیبین والطاهرین و الحمد لله رب العالمین فی شهر محرم الحرام سنه ۹۴۹.
Language(s): Persian
Colophon: Dated but unsigned colophon on folio 604a
Language(s): Persian

While Macan reports in the introduction to his edition (Vol. I, p. xiv) how ‘His late Majesty, the King of Oude presented me with one fine manuscript’; on the next page, he also relates that ‘Major Raper presented me with a beautiful and correct copy dated A. H. 949 (or A. D. 1542) and containing fifty thousand, three hundred and two couplets’. Despite describing Raper's volume with a matching date, subsequent owners apparently mistook this manuscript as the former one that Macan received from the first King of Awadh (Oude), Ghazi al-Dīn Ḥaydar Shāh (b. 1769, r. 1818–1827). However, this volume noticeably lacks any inscriptions or seal impressions typically found in volumes from that library that would corroborate that association. Nevertheless, an unsigned inscription on folio 1a, likely that of subsequent owner Edward Craven Hawtrey, asserts this provenance (see Haines, The Persian Interpreter App. 4, no. 1), as does the Latin phrase ‘BIBLIOTHECA REGIS OUDE’ (Library of the Kings of Awadh) titled on the spine by London bookbinder Charles Lewis (1786–1836). For this reason, prior records mistakenly asserted that this volume came from that library rather than Maj. Raper.

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: Textblock of both straight and cross-grained, straw-coloured paper, probably manufactured in Iran, with ~ 8 laid lines per cm and no discernible chain lines. Subsequently entirely remargined with comparatively thin cream-coloured, straight-grained stock, probably handmade in Indian subcontinent, with ~11 laid lines per cm and no discernible chain lines. Thin wove paper interleaving, probably manufactured in Britain, likely added to protect the paintings and opening page illumination when last restored and rebound by Charles Lewis .
Extent: 604 folios (ff. ii + 604 + ii).
Dimensions (leaf): 320 × 192 mm.
Dimensions (written): 206 × 108 mm.
Foliation: Incomplete Hindu-Arabic numerals appear on folios 1a to 48a only.
Foliation: Modern pencilled Arabic numerals on the upper-left corners of a sides of folios 1a to 604a.


Handle with caution. Inset text in fair condition, with extensive strains, discolouration, and historical repairs. Outer margins in comparatively good condition.


Written iniitally in 1 column, but thereafter primarily 4, with 23 lines per page. Ruled with a misṭarah hand guide.


Written in black nasta'līq in with subheaders in blue.


Illuminated double title page on folios 1b and 2a and headpieces on folio 7b and headings on folios 15a and 298a.

Thirty-eight illustrations, likely by two different artists in Shiraz. The first one completed the initial sixteen in a less refined manner, while the second, a comparatively mature painter, completed the rest. (see B. W. Robinson, Persian Paintings, p. 163).

  • 7b 165 × 108 mm. The Court of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna.
  • 18b 172 × 108 mm. Kayumars enthroned.
  • 27b 172 × 108 mm. Faridun and Zahhak's wiseman, Kundru, the minister of Zahak.
  • 42a 158 × 108 mm. Manuchihr enthroned.
  • 64a 165 × 140 mm. Rustam kills Zal's white elephant.
  • 70b 172 × 108 mm. Nauzar is captured in battle with Afrasiyab
  • 78a 165 × 108 mm. Rustam lifts Afrasiyab by the belt
  • 87b 235 × 140 mm. Rustam's seventh labour: he kills the White Div.
  • 96b 158 × 152 mm. Kay Kavus airborne in his flying machine.
  • 112b 202 × 146 mm. Upon learning the identity of the dying Suhrab, Rustam tears at his chest and cries tears of blood.
  • 122a 209 × 146 mm. The fire-ordeal of Siyavush.
  • 164b 260 × 172 mm. Kay Khusrau's army besieges Bahman's castle.
  • 193b 209 × 146 mm. Fariburz marries Farangis, the widow of Siyavush and mother of Kay Khusraw.
  • 211a 209 × 146 mm. Rustam pulls the Khaqan of Chin from his elephant by his lasso.
  • 226a 165 × 146 mm. The captive Bizhan is brought before Afrasiyab.
  • 247b 267 × 158 mm. Nastihan makes a night attack and is killed by Bizhan.
  • 273a 209 × 140 mm. Kay Khusrau wrestles Shida to the ground.
  • 292a 216 × 114 mm. The execution of Garsivaz and Afrasiyab by Kay Khusraw.
  • 301b 140 × 108 mm. The coronation of Luhrasp.
  • 308a 172 × 127 mm. Gushtasp kills a dragon in Rum.
  • 318a 254 × 133 mm. Bastur son of Zarir attacks the Turanians.
  • 329b 152 × 133 mm. Isfandiyar questions Gurgsar about the Brazen Fortress.
  • 355a 241 × 114 mm. Rustam shoots Isfandiyar in the eyes with a double-pointed arrow.
  • 371a 158 × 127 mm. Iskandar disguised before Dara.
  • 381b 260 × 127 mm. Battle between the armies of Iskandar fire-breathing iron horsemen and the Indian army of Fur.
  • 389b 165 × 108 mm. Iskandar and his men kills a dragon among the rocks.
  • 402b 235 × 140 mm. Ardashir and Ardavan fight.
  • 408a 172 × 114 mm. Ardashir recognizes Shapur during a polo game.
  • 433b 165 × 127 mm. Bahram Gur fights two lions to win the throne.
  • 449b 267 × 165 mm. Bahram Gur captures the Khaqan of Chin.
  • 460a 178 × 146 mm. Bahram Gur entertains Shangul, King of Hind, and seven other monarchs.
  • 477b 158 × 140 mm. Anushirvan marches on Qalinius.
  • 510a 152 × 108 mm. Buzurjmihr predicts the contents of the locked chest.
  • 525a 228 × 165 mm. Hurmuzd watches a polo game.
  • 539b 158 × 105 mm. Ayin Gushasp's assassin is executed by Bahram Chubina.
  • 561b 216 × 140 mm. Bahram Chubina's night attack on the camp of Khusrau Parviz, after which he escapes.
  • 574a 172 × 114 mm. Gurdiya displays her horsemanship before Khusraw Parviz, whom is enthroned with Shirin.
  • 591b 158 × 114 mm. Shirin unveils herself before Shiruy and his courtiers.

  • Folio 1a: signed ‘Macan’ by former owner Turner Macan (1792–1836).
  • Unsigned description of the volume, possibly dated ca. 1840s by Edward Craven Hawtrey based on a comparison with letters held at Eton College.

    ‘This beautiful manuscript of Fidausi's immortal poem was the finest in the library of the King of Oude— It was written in the year 949 of the Hegira (A. D. 1542) and is therefore about 290 years old. It was one of the copies used by Captain Macan in collating this work ’.

  • The final right flyleaf b side (f. ivb) bears the ‘Bibliotheca Lindesiana’ bookplate with a pencilled shelfmark ‘F/9’.


Unsigned, but very likely rebound in the 1840s by the London bookbinder Charles Lewis (1786–1836) for former owner Edward Craven Hawtrey, who bound other volumes for the same client in similar styles with Hawtrey's arms (See Morris and Oldfield).

Oversewn on five cord supports trimmed off rather than laced into the pasteboards. Wove paper, with the second tolast left flyleaf (f. iiia–b) watermarked ‘J. WHATMAN TURKEY MILL’then owned by brothers Thomas, Robert and Finch Hollingsworth, but manufactured by William Balston (1759–1849) at Turkey Mill in Maidstone, Kent, until 1805. Edges trimmed and fully gilt, with double-core endbands sewn in green, black, and white silk threads. Covered in full, scarlet straight-grained Morocco goatskin leather, hollow-backed, with the same lining the internal doublures.

Board exteriors blocked with Hawtrey's arms in the centres. Borders of thick-and-thin gold fillet lines with triple blind fillets on either side and gold rosettes at the corners, surround the board perimeters, spine panels, and doublures. Spine titled ‘





>M. S. S.





335 × 213 × 72 mm.

Handle with caution. Extensive abrasion to the board edges, headcaps, and joints. Textblock split and binding separating from the textblock between folios 603b to 604a. Boxed.


Hawtrey's arms blocked in gold leaf in the centres of both boards feature an argent on a bend cotised sable with three lions passant gardant, crowned crested by a lion passant gardant, with his name surrounding the perimeter and single sextfoil blossom at bottom.

36.5 × 31 mm.


Origin: Probably completed in Shiraz; Muharram 949 AH (April 1542 CE).

Provenance and Acquisition

Probably formerly Major General Felix Vincent Raper (d. 1849), whom conducted a survey to determine the source of the Ganges river, about which he published an essay in 1812.

Raper presented the volume to Persian translator for the British East India Company, Turner Macan (1792–1836), when preparing the first critical edition of the Persian text before its publication in 1829, as reported by the latter in the introduction. Possibly auctioned at Macan's first estate sale by Jenkins, Low & Co. in Calcutta (Kolkata), as the subsequent one of his oriental manuscripts by Evans in London on 12 Dec. 1838 omits this title; however, the inscription on folio 1a indicating the age of the manuscript as ‘290 years old’ may also indicate that Macan sold it before his death.

Subsequently acquired by Edward Craven Hawtrey, Provost of Eton College, who probably wrote the unsigned inscription describing the volume on folio 1a. Since he describes the volume as ‘290 years old’, it suggests that he may have obtained the volume in ca. 1832 from Macan directly; although he may have also obtained it from other family members. Hawtrey employed rebound and impressed with his arms.

When appointed Provost of Eton, Hawtrey auctioned his library in two parts through Sotheby Wilkinson & Hodge, London, where this volume sold on 1 July 1853, lot 690, to bookseller Joseph Lilly (1804–1870), from whom Alexander Lindsay, 25th Earl of Crawford (1812–1880), acquired it in 1855.

Purchased by Enriqueta Rylands (1843–1908) in 1901 from James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford (1847–1913).

Bequeathed by Enriqueta Rylands (1843–1908) in 1908 to the John Rylands Library.

Record Sources

Bibliographical description based upon B. W. Robinson, Persian Paintings in the John Rylands Library: A Descriptive Catalogue and an index by Reza Navabpour circa 1993, derived in turn from a manuscript catalogue by Michael Kerney, circa 1890s concisely published as Bibliotheca Lindesiana, Hand-list of Oriental Manuscripts: Arabic, Persian, Turkish in 1898.

Image descriptions courtesy of the Cambridge Shahnama Project with reference to B. W. Robinson 1980 catalogue.

Emended, enhanced, and provenance corrected by Jake Benson in 2021 with reference to the volume in hand.


The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader, see Becoming a Reader for details. Please contact uml.special-collections@manchester.ac.uk for further information on the availability of this manuscript.

Custodial History

Exhibited in Persian Miniature Painting from collections in the British Isles at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Kensington, London, in 1967.
Exhibited in The Shahnameh: A Persian Cultural Emblem and a Timeless Masterpiece at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge in 2010.

Exhibited in Gilded Word and Radiant Image, sponsored by Altajir Trust, 9 Sept. to 21 Dec. 1992 .

Digital Images

Manchester Digital Collections (full digital facsimile).


Funding of Cataloguing

Iran Heritage Foundation and The John Rylands Research Institute


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