Arabic and Ethiopic manuscripts of James Bruce

Scope and Content

The collection consists mainly of Arabic manuscripts (96). There are 25 Ethiopic manuscripts, predominantly historical or biblical; a single Persian manuscript; and a single Coptic papyrus codex containing gnostic compositions (MS. Bruce 96), known as the Codex Brucianus, which Bruce bought in Upper Egypt around 1769.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Bruce (1730-94) was a great African traveller. He was educated for the legal profession, but in the course of a visit to Spain and a study of the manuscripts of the Escurial he developed a taste for oriental and especially Ethiopian literature. He was consul at Algiers in 1763-5, and from 1765 to 1773 led a roving life in Ethiopia and Upper Egypt. From 1774, until his death in 1794, he lived chiefly in Scotland. His Travels to discover the source of the Nile was first published in 1790. See the Dictionary of National Biography for details.

Access Information

Entry to read in the Library is permitted only on presentation of a valid reader's card (for admissions procedures see

Acquisition Information

Bruce's manuscripts were offered for sale in 1827, and again in 1842. The Bodleian purchased them in 1843.


Collection level description created by Susan Thomas, Department of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts.

Other Finding Aids

Brief descriptions are in Falconer Madan, et al., A summary catalogue of western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford which have not hitherto been catalogued in the Quarto series, with references to the oriental and other manuscripts (7 vols. in 8 [vol. II in 2 parts], Oxford, 1895-1953; reprinted, with corrections in vols. I and VII, Munich, 1980), vol. IV, nos. 22658-753.

The manuscripts are also summarily described in the card catalogue, arranged by language, located in the Oriental Reading Room.

Descriptions of the Ethiopic manuscripts are contained A. Dillmann Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum bibliothecae Bodleianae, pars vii. codices Aethiopici (Oxford, 1848).

There are also catalogues of the Bruce manuscripts in the sale lists of 1827 and 1842; both are based on printed lists by Alexander Murray in his edition of Bruce's Travels to discover the source of the Nile (1813), vol. vii.