ENCYCLOPAEDIAS, PERSIAN Pre-modern. In Persia, as in other Islamicized lands, the notion of an encyclopaedia developed out of the “need for inventory” of the knowledge acquired through numerous translations of foreign (mainly Greek) scientific texts subsidized by Baghdad (Arnaldez et al., p. 448). The newly introduced sciences were variously combined with indigenous sciences. The first Persian author who distinguished himself in the encyclopaedic field was Abū Naṣr Fārābī (d. 339/950) in his EḥsÂāʾ al-ʿolūm, composed in Arabic (ed. Amin, Cairo, 1931-48). During the next centuries, Persia herself produced a number of specialized works of an encyclopaedic nature. In philosophy and science, some works in Arabic dealing with a particular field (e.g., Šefāʾ on philosophy and Qānūn on medicine by Avicenna [q.v.]; al-Qānūn al-masʿūdī on astronomy and al-Tafhīmle awāʾel ṣenāʿat al-tanjīm on astrology by Bīrūnī [q.v.]) were soon followed or already paralleled by works of the same kind in Persian by the bilingual authors themselves, e.g., Avicenna’s Dāneš-nāma-ye ʿalāʾī (q.v.) on philosophy; the Persian version of Tafhīm by Bīrūnī; Esmāʿīl Jorjānī’s monumental medical encyclopedia Ḏaḵīra-ye ḵᵛārazmšāhī (q.v.); and Dorrat al-tāj le ḡorrat al-Dabbāj on philosophy and exact sciences by Qoṭb-al-Dīn Maḥmūd Šīrāzī. Many encyclopaedic works and important compilations in the traditional fields such as religion, sufism, history, grammar, lexicography, and poetry (See ARABIC iv) were frequently abridged in Persian.

Works of a more general scope intended to collect and summarize the vast available knowledge began to appear in Persia through the compilation of various manuals in Arabic for high-ranking secretaries with important responsibilities. The authors sometimes adopted the arbitrary division of knowledge into the ʿolūm-e awāʾel (sciences of the first ones) and the ʿolūm-e awāḵer (sciences of the later ones). The former roughly correspond to ʿolūm-e ʿaqlī (rational/speculative sciences), referring to disciplines introduced after the advent of Islam; the latter approximately correspond to ʿolūm-e naqlī (traditional sciences), that is, the branches of knowledge supposedly possessed by the Arabs in pre-Islamic times (for an outline of these categories, see Āmolī, I, pp. 16-21). Of the aforementioned manuals, two deserve special attention.

1. The Jawāmeʿ al-ʿolūm was composed in 327-44/938-55 by Šeʿyā b. Farīḡūn (Sezgin [GAS II, p. 388] reads the name as Motaḡabbī [Matabḡā] b. Forayʿūn; for a discussion of this name, see Ḵadīv-e Jam, pp. 150-52), a pupil of Abū Zayd Balḵī (q.v.), for Amīr Abū ʿAlī Aḥmad b. Moḥammad Čagānī (See ĀL-E MOḤTĀJ). It is a sketch of “sciences,” mostly presented in the form of genealogical trees and apparently produced for secretaries in charge of registering land taxes, drafting official documents, and performing other functions as advisers to kings and rulers. This compendium is divided into two sections: (a) Arabic grammar; ketāba (secretarial art), including the moral qualities expected from good secretaries, calligraphy and penmanship; knowledge of arithmetic, geometry, and mesāḥa (land surveying); religious duties and practices; vices and virtues; etc. (b) Very confused and of unequal presentation, this section deals with government, administration, faith, worship, morals, different sciences (e.g., theology, mathematics, natural sciences), as well as with the occult arts and similar subjects.

2. The Mafātīḥ al-ʿolūm, a different kind of work, was composed by Abū ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad Ḵᵛārazmī in 365-81/976-91 for Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿObayd-Allāh Aḥmad ʿOṭbī, the vizier of the Samanid Nūḥ II b. Manṣūr. It is a valuable dictionary of technical terms and uncommon names likely to be encountered by secretaries of the period using works about different sciences, which Ḵᵛārazmī divided into two categories (p. 5): sciences of the šarīʿa (Islamic law) and “allied sciences,” and sciences of the ʿAjam (q.v.) (non-Arabs, i.e., the Greeks and others). The former, corresponding to the ʿolūm-e awāḵer, are feqh (Islamic jurisprudence), kalām (theology), Arabic grammar, ketāba, poetry, prosody, and chronicles (aḵbār); the latter, corresponding to the ʿolūm-e awāʾel, comprise philosophy, logic, medicine and pharmacology, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy/astrology, music, mechanics (ḥīal), and alchemy/chemistry.

The same binary division of sciences was adopted by the two major Persian encyclopaedists, Faḵr-al-Dīn Moḥammad Rāzī and Šams-al-Dīn Maḥmūd Āmolī (q.v.), only under the headings ʿaqlī and naqlī sciences.

Rāzī, an Ashʿarite theologian, is the author of Jāmeʿ al-ʿolūm, also called Ketāb settīnī or Ḥadāʾeq al-anwār fī ḥaqāʾeq al-asrār, written in Persian in 574/1179 for the Ḵᵛārazmšāh ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Tekeš and intended as a repertory of knowledge available at the time (p. 3). It is extant in differing versions (Dānešpažūh, ed., p. dāl, Monzawī, Nosḵahā, pp. 656-57; Storey, II, pp. 351-52). The naqlī sciences dealt with by Rāzī are theology (kalām); polemics (jadal); controversial issues in feqh (ḵelafīyāt); ʿelm al-maḏhab (different opinions about the problems concerning religious obligations, practices, etc.); farāʾeż (lit. “appointed or obligatory portions,” i.e., fixed shares in an estate given to certain heirs); waṣāyā (testamentary dispositions); interpretation of the Koran; reasons for eʿjāz (inimitability of the Koran); different readings of the Koran; prophetic traditions; history, including the Prophet’s military expeditions; Arabic syntax, morphology (taṣrīf), and lexical derivations; proverbs; and prosody, rhyme, poetry, and rhetoric.

The ʿaqlī (rational) sciences include: logic, physics, oneiromancy, physiognomy, medicine (particularly dietetics), anatomy, pharmacology, ʿelm al-ḵawāṣṣ (miraculous properties attributed to many things), alchemy, mineralogy (particularly gemology), talismans, agriculture, stain removal (qalʿ-e āṯār), veterinary medicine, falconry, geometry, mesāḥa, moving and lifting heavy objects (ʿelm-e aṯqāl), weights and measures, unusual engines of war, Hindu arithmetic, ḥesāb-e hawāʾ (mental calculation), algebra, arithmetic, science of magic squares (ʿelm-e wefq-e aʿdād or aʿdād-e wefq), optics, music, astronomy, astrology, geomancy, metaphysics, religions and sects, morals, politics, home economics, science of the āḵera (the hereafter, i.e., how to secure felicity for oneself in the hereafter by reading the Koran and performing prayers and other religious duties), royal ethics (ādāb al-molūk), and chess. Some of the chapters have been studied: politics by de Fouchécour (pp. 425-29) and the section on arithmetic by Brentjes (pp. 77-99). The chapter on music was edited by Pūrjawādī (pp. 88-110).

Šams-al-Dīn Āmolī, lecturer at Solṭānīya in the time of Oljāytū (Öljeitü )and Abū Saʿīd Bahādor Khan (q.v.), is the author of Nafāʾes al-fonūn fī ʿarāʾes al-ʿoyūn, composed in Persian around 740/1340 for Shaikh Abū Esḥāq Īnjū (q.v.). Although the author initially proceeds with a different, more systematic classification of sciences (I, pp. 14-16) by dividing these into philosophical (ḥekmī) and non-philosophical (ḡayr-e ḥekmī) ones, each with numerous subdivisions, he actually presents his material under the categories ʿolūm-e awāḵer and ʿolūm-e awāʾel. The ʿolūm-e awāḵer consist of: (a) literary sciences (adabīyāt): calligraphy, lexicology, etymology and lexical derivation (ešteqāq), morphology, syntax, semantics, rhetoric (ʿelm al-maʿānī wa’l-bayān), rhetorical embellishment (badīʿ, q.v.), prosody, rhyme, poetry, acquaintance with the poems of major Arab and Persian poets as well as the ability to quote from them (ʿelm-e davāvīn), proverbs, epistolary art, and the science of estīfāʾ (state accountancy); (b) religious sciences (šarʿīyāt): kalām, exegesis of the Koran, ʿelm al-aḵbār (i.e., evaluation of the authenticity of Prophetic traditions), feqh, daʿwat (invocations or prayers transmitted from the prophets and Imams), etc.; (c) Sufism (taṣawwof) and its subsidiary sciences, such as arithmomancy (jafr, ʿelm al-ḥorūf); (d) the art of conversation (moḥāwara), including the topics usually brought up in high-class company (e.g., history, witticism, pleasantry, different religions and sects, imamology, the Prophet’s military expeditions, literary puns, and puzzles). The ʿolūm-e awāʾel consist of: (a) philosophy (ḥekmat): ethics, politics, and tadbīr-e manzel (including home economics and childhood education); (b) theoretical philosophy (ḥekmat-e naẓarī): logic, first philosophy (falsafa-ye ūlā), theology (ʿelm-e elāhī); natural science (ʿelm-e ṭabīʿī): cosmology, meteorology, and the three kingdoms of nature; (c) principles of mathematics (oṣūl-e rīāżī): geometry, astronomy, arithmetic, and music; (d) subsidiary natural sciences (forūʿ-e ṭabīʿī): medicine, alchemy, sīmīā (talismans, exorcism), oneiromancy, physiognomy, astrology, ḵawāṣṣ al-ašyāʾ; natural professions or skills (ḥeraf-e ṭabīʿī): veterinary science, falconry, stain removal, agriculture, ʿelm-e aktāf (scapulimancy), palmomancy (eḵtelāj-e aʿżāʾ); two Hindu sciences: ʿelm-e dam (divination by interpreting someone’s breath, expiration) and ʿelm-e wahm (self-delusion, illusion); and (e) mathematical subdivisions (forūʿ-e rīāżī): cosmography, optics (ʿelm-e manāẓer), intermediate sciences (motawasseṭāt; an introduction to Euclidean geometry, Ptolemaic astronomy, etc.), arithmetic, algebra, land surveying, the study of celestial constellations, astrology, horoscope, astrolabe, etc., geography (ʿelm-e masālek o mamālek), magic squares; geomancy, mechanics, and games: chess, backgammon, etc.

On the whole, Āmolī’s work, a fluently written book covering 160 sciences, is particularly instructive on the evolution of the subdivisions of Aristotelian classification of sciences (applied physics and mathematics) following Avicenna’s Resāla fī aqsām al-ʿolūm al-ʿaqlīya. The chapter on fotowwat was included in Rasāyel-e Javānmardān (ed. Ṣarrāf, pp. 58-68); the vocabulary was studied by Ṯarwatīān.

Institutionalized transmission of philosophy and science, which was minimal, took place mainly through the court, intellectual circles, and family lineages (Makdisi, introd.) There was no common format for encyclopaedias in Persia either for instruction or for use as a model “book containing all the sciences.” The contents of an encyclopaedia (sometimes designated as jāmeʿ [sing.] /jawāmeʿ [plur.]; but florid literary titles were preferred) depended very much on the personal knowledge of the author and libraries accessible to him. The term ʿelm was used indiscriminately for all religious and secular sciences, arts, and the like. Therefore, besides the works of Rāzˊī, Āmolī, and some later authors influenced by them (Dānešpažūh, ed., p. ḏāl,Monzawī, Nosḵahā, p. 664; Storey, II, pp. 358-59), which are rather close to the modern concept of an encyclopaedia, there were other Persian models of this kind of literature favoring either foreign or Islamic sciences in their practical aspect. Outstanding examples among them include:

1. The anonymous Yawāqīt al-ʿolūm wa darārī al-nojūm, written in Persian for a governor of Qazvīn before 573/1177. It contains thirty chapters, each arranged under twelve questions and answers (for a general discussion of this genre, see Daiber). Fourteen chapters concern religious sciences, seven literary and linguistic sciences, one history, and eight ancient (awāʾel) sciences: oneiromancy, roqyas and afsūns (incantations, spells), medicine, agriculture, astronomy/astrology, land surveying, reckoning, and divination.

2. The rather voluminous Nozhat-nāma-ye ʿalāʾī of Šahmardān b. Abi’l-Ḵayr, written in Persian between 488/1095 and 513/1119) for ʿAlāʾ-al-Dawla Abū Kālījār Garšāsp, ruler of Yazd (p. 50), is as representative of the personal interests of Šahmardān, author of various works (see Jahānpūr’s intro., pp. 19-21), as of the cultural taste of the Kakuyid dynasty, whose rulers were well known for their patronage of Avicenna and other learned and literary men (see, e.g., Bayhaqī, I, pp. 110-11, no. 65). The Nozhat-nāma deals with: (a) the three kingdoms of nature, particularly their ḵawāṣṣ (marvelous properties), namely, human beings, domestic animals, wild beasts, birds, insects and reptiles, plants, agriculture, and minerals; and (b) physics, including a description of the universe, arithmetic, astronomy and astrology, logic, reckoning, astrological seals, practical astrology (eḵtīārāt, i.e., favorable/unfavorable days), physiognomy, meteorology, oneiromancy, and some “sciences and mechanics” (such as alchemy, everyday mechanics, tricks, perfumes, eye remedies, etc.). Although he incorporates a wide range of sources, Šahmardān mainly develops the practical sciences. In 580/1185 Abū Bakr Moṭahhar Jamālī Yazdī composed his Farroḵ-nāma-ye Jamālī to complement the Nozhat-nāma. He dedicated this work, also written in Yazd, to Amīr Esfahsālār Bahāʾ-al-Dawla Moḥammad b. Rūzbehān and to his own son (pp. 5-6). The contents are limited to the ḵawāṣṣ al-ašyāʾ and to some occult sciences (scapulomancy, palmomancy, astrology, and theurgy). The principal topics supplemented by Jamālī include: scapulomancy, palmomancy, a table to predict an ill person’s early recovery or impending death, poisons and antidotes, cryptography, and a long chapter (pp. 309-29) on “the meanings of Pahlavi words” (i.e., early N. Pers. words obsolete at the time). Vladimir Ivanov (pp. 863-68) considered Nozhat-nāma and Farroḵ-nāma as the most important sources for the study of superstition in medieval Persia.

3. The Nawāder al-tabādor le-toḥfat al-Bahādor, written in Persian by Šams-al-Dīn Moḥammad b. Ayyūb Donayserī in 682/1283 for an unknown amir of Qaraḥeṣār. The work was obviously intended for practical use as well as for pleasant reading. The subjects range from the divisions of philosophy to miracles and include astronomy, astrology, medicine, poisons, precious stones, physiognomy, “marvels,” ḵawāṣsá, agriculture, etc. The editors have published a second version of the text in the same volume (pp. 285-333), as well as an interesting list of sources (pp. 278-81).

Several Persian encyclopaedias, particularly of later periods, still await study and critical editions. Among those produced in India, the most important ones are Maṭlaʿ al-ʿolūm, by Wājed-ʿAlī Khan in 1261/1845-46 (Storey, II, pp. 366-67), and Šajara-ye dāneš, written before 1059/1649 by Neẓām-al-Dīn Aḥmad Gīlānī (Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, pp. 673-74).

Two factors influenced the development of pre-modern Persian encyclopaedias in the Islamic period. First, a pragmatic division was made between foreign and Islamic sciences, providing a flexible frame for the inventory of all known branches of knowledge at any given period. Second, the dynasties ruling Persia obviously were interested in learned literature. Works not accessible to them in Arabic were translated and frequently discussed at court banquets, as noted in introductions to Persian scientific treatises. Such court interest favored the composition of encyclopaedias in Persian rather than in Arabic, with the latter largely reserved for specialized fields and professional circles.

Modern. Notwithstanding the trend of encyclopaedism in the Iranian world in the past centuries, it was only in the first half of the 20th century that, owing to the impact of Western cultures, encyclopaedias in the modern sense of the word (i.e., comprehensive, objective, methodical, and usually alphabetical) began to be compiled in Persia. Both the term dāʾerat/dāyerat al-maʿāref and the methods were borrowed from the Dāʾerat al-maʿāref, which the Lebanese scholar Boṭros Bostānī began publishing in Beirut in 1876, as well as from the twenty-volume Dāʾera maʿāref al-qarn al-ʿešrīn published in 1938 in Egypt by Moḥammad Farīd Wajdī. Because the Islamic contents of these encyclopaedias were thought by Persian scholars to be unfair to Twelwer Shiʿism, attempts were made to rectify this imbalance The first venture was by ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz Jawāher-kalām, who spent “about forty years” to prepare the Dāʾerat al-maʿāref-e eslāmīya-ye Īrān o hamagī-e maʿāref-e Šīʿa-ye eṯnā-ʿašarīya, but only six fascicles thereof—from alef to al-ḥojjat al-bālēḡa—were published in 1336-39 Š./1957-60 (Mošār, Fehrest II, col. 1971; for an appraisal of this work, see Dāyerat al-maʿāref-e ṭašayyoʿ, intro., I, pp. xi-xiii). The currently published Dāyerat al-maʿāref-e tašayyoʿ, represents another attempt to produce an encyclopaedia reflecting the Twelver Shiʿite viewpoint and beliefs; the contributors include many Persian authorities on Islamic subjects. So far three volumes have been published (Tehran, 1366-71 Š./1988-92).

The major encyclopedias with a wider scope include: the encyclopaedic dictionary Lōḡat-nāma (Tehran, 1325-58 Š./1946-79) by ʿAlī-Akbar Dehḵodā (q.v.); Dāyerat al-maʿāref-e fārsī (q.v.); Dāneš-nāma-ye Īrān o eslām (q.v.); Dāneš-nāma-ye jahān-e eslām, so far (October 1996) six fascicles (b to Baḥr-e ṭawīl) have appeared (articles translated from EI2, EIr., and encyclopaedias published in Turkey as well as original articles); Dāyerat al-maʿāref-e bozorg-e eslāmī, represents a colossal academic enterprise treating the Islamic civilization past and present, with a Twelver Shiʿite approach. Thus far six volumes—from ā to Aḥmad b. ʿAbd-al-Malek —have been published (Tehran, 1367-73 Š./1988-94). Two volumes of the Arabic version thereof, Dāyerat al-maʿāref al-eslāmīya al-kobrā, have been published.

The only encyclopaedic work in Persian exclusively devoted to all aspects of Persia, both in historical and contemporary perspectives, is the large two-volume (2142 pages) Īrānšahr, published by the UNESCO National Commission in Iran (Tehran, 1342-43 Š./1963-64). A great number of Persian scholars have contributed to the production of this encyclaopaedia, which is arranged by topic.

Persian encyclopaedias published outside Persia are: Ārīānā dāʾerat al-maʿāref, published by the former Anjoman-e Dāʾerat al-maʿāref-e Afḡānestān in Kabul. Originally planned on a grand scale (cf. vols. 1-3, ā-Ūkrāyn, [1328-35 Š./1949-56] each consisting of a thousand pages), it was later drastically reduced in volume and coverage (vols. 4-6 ūltīmātūm-Yūnos [1341-48 Š./1962-70] include only 2,371 pages taken collectively); Entsiklopediyai sovetii tojik (q.v.; Tajik Soviet Encyclopedia), in Tajiki Persian in Cyrillic alphabet, sponsored by the Academy of Sciences of the (former) Soviet Socialist Republic of Tajikistan, with M. S. Asimov as its general editor (Dushanbe, 1978); it is international in coverage, with special emphasis on subjects directly concerning Tajikistan.



Šams-al-Dīn Moḥammad b. Maḥmūd Āmolī, Nafāʾes al-fonūn fī ʿarāʾes al-ʿoyūn, ed. A. Šaʿrānī, 3 vols., Tehran, 1377-79/1957-59.

Arnaldez et al., “La science arabe,” in La science antique et médiévale (des origines à 1450), ed. R. Taton, Paris, 1966.

ʿAlī b. Zayd Bayhaqī, Tatemma ṣewān al-ḥekma, ed. M. Šafīʿ, Lahore, 1935.

S. Brentjes, “Das Kapitel ʿilm al-ariṯmāṭīqī aus der persischen Wissenschafts-Enzyklopädie von Faẖr al-Dīn ar-Rāzī: Edition, Übersetzung und Kommentar,” Persica 13, 1988-89, pp. 77-106.

H. Daiber, “Masāʾil wa adjwiba” in EI2 VI, pp. 636-39.

Dāyerat al-maʿāref-e tašayyoʿ, ed. A. Ṣadr, K. Fānī and B. Ḵorramšāhī, Tehran, 1366 Š./1988-.

M.-T. Dānešpažūh, ed., Yawāqīt al-ʿolūm wa darārī al-nojūm, Tehran, 1345 Š./1967.

Šams-al-Dīn Moḥammad b. Ayyūb Donayserī, Nawāder al-tabādor le-toḥfat al-Bahādor, ed. M.-T. Dānešpažūh and Ī. Afšār, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971.

Ebn Farīḡūn, Jawāmeʿ al-ʿolūm, facs. ed. F. Sezgin, Frankfurt am Main, 1985.

C.-H. de Fouchécour, Moralia, Paris, 1986.

V. Ivanov, “Faraḥ-Nāma-i Jamālī,” JRAS 4, 1929.

F. Jahānpūr, “Nozhat-nāma-ye ʿalāʾī,” Rāhnemā-ye ketāb 19, 1355 Š./1976, pp. 622-31, 896-904; 20, 1356 Š./1977, pp. 399-414, 867-77.

Abū Bakr Moṭahhar Jamālī Yazdī, Farroḵ-nāma, ed. Ī. Afšār, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.

Ḥ. Ḵadīv-e Jam, “Ketāb-e Jawāmeʿ al-ʿolūm taṣnīf-e Šaʿyā b. Farīḡūn. . .” in Ḥ. Yaḡmāʾī et al., eds., Nāma-ye Mīnovī, Mojtabā Mīnovī’s festschrift, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971, pp. 148-62.

Abū ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad b. Aḥmad Ḵᵛārazmī, Mafātīḥ al-ʿolūm, ed. G. van Vloten, Leiden, 1895.

G. Lazard, “Un amateur de sciences au Ve siècle de l’hégire, Shahmardân de Rai,” in Mélanges Henri Massé, Tehran, 1963, pp. 219-28.

A.-Ḥ. Pūrjawādī, ed., “ʿElm-e mūsīqī bargerefta az Jāmeʿ al-ʿolūm-e Faḵr-al-Dīn Rāzī,” Maʿāref 10/2-3, 1372/1993.

Faḵr-al-Dīn Moḥammad b. ʿOmar Rāzī, Jāmeʿ al-ʿolūm, Bombay, 1323/1906, repr. with intro. and indices by M. Tasbīḥī, Tehran 1346 Š./1967.

Šahmardān b. Abi’l-Ḵayr Rāzī, Nozhat-nāma-ye ʿalāʾī, ed. F. Jahānpūr, Tehran, 1362 Š./1983.

M. Ṣarrāf, ed., Rasāyel-e javānmardān, moštamel bar haft “fotowwat-nāma” (Traités des Compagnons-chevaliers: Recueil de sept “Fotowwat-Nâmeh"), with intro. by H. Corbin, Tehran, 1352 Š./1973.

B. Ṯarwatīān, Farhang-e eṣṭelāḥāt o taʿrīfāt-e Nafāyes al-fonūn, Tabrīz, 1353 Š./1974.

E. Yār-e Šāṭer (Yarshater), “Dāneš-nāma-ye Īrān o Eslām,” published as an appendix to Rāhnemā-ye ketāb 19/7-10, 1355 Š./1976-77.

(Živa Vesel and Hūšang Aʿlam)

Originally Published: December 15, 1998

Last Updated: December 15, 2011

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Vol. VIII, Fasc. 4, pp. 435-439