Hidden Treasures of the Persian Collections

Arezou Azad discusses Akhbār-i Barmakiyān

Akhbār-i Barmakiyān (“The Accounts of the Barmakids”) is a collection of stories about the famed Barmakid family from medieval Afghanistan.



The pre-Islamic “Barmaks” were a family of administrators at Balkh’s major Buddhist institution, the Naw Bahār. After the Muslim conquests in the 7th and 8th centuries, the Barmakids became the most trusted advisors and senior administrators of the Islamicate caliphate. While the early Arabic accounts are compilations of terse historical “facts,” in this Persian text written by the chronicler Ziā al-Dīn Baranī under the patronage of the Delhi Sultan Firūzshāh in the 14th century, the Barmakid stories come to life with direct speech, fantastical stories about kings from China, fire-eating ostriches, seduction, and illicit love affairs. The story of the Barmakids is memorialised, above all, as a lesson that generous and kind people like the Barmakids must never be subjected to ill-treatment.  The Barmakid legacy continues in popular culture in the Islamic world and in western popular culture, amongst children and adults, largely thanks to the stories about them in the Arabian Nights (or One Thousand and One Nights). The Invisible East’s Arezou Azad and Pejman Firoozbakhsh and currently translating the Bodleian manuscript for future publication. For more on the Barmakids see here.

This video is part of a five-section series on the Bodleian’s Persian manuscripts launched in June 2021, beginning with a wonderful introduction by Bahari curator of Persian collections, Bodleian Library, Alasdair Watson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvssOL1UmiY. For details on the Bahari Fellowship, and for those interested to apply in future, see: https://www2.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/csb/fellowships.

Dr Azad presented on the manuscript at the Bodleian's Persian Art of the Book Conference on 13-14 July 2021. She also spoke about the Barmakids, more broadly, in Persian and Arabic historiography at the School of Abbasid Studies on 15 July 2021.