Campus Gotha, Gotha Research Library

Looted, Lost, Forgotten: The Libraries of the Hafsids (c. 1250–1574) before the Sack of Tunis in 1535 and After

16. Mar 2022, 6.15 pm
Gotha Manuscript Talks
Gotha Research Library (FBG)
Dr. Laura Hinrichsen (Berlin)
Event type

Lecture by Dr. Laura Hinrichsen (Berlin) as part of the series "Gotha Manuscript Talks". The event will be held in English.

On 21 July 1535, Johannes Marquart von Königsegg found himself in the “capital of the Barbaric land called Thunis”, where he had joined a military expedition with the armies of Charles V against the Ottomans. During the sack of Tunis, which followed the conquest of the city, he pocketed a handwritten copy of the Qur’an, which he “carried away with [him] for [his] memory” and brought to Europe (note in a manuscript now kept in the Vadiana Library in St. Gall, VadSlg Ms 387, fol. 74v).

As this paper will show, in the course of the so-called Tunis expedition in 1535, the libraries of the Hafsids (the local ruling dynasty, c. 1250–1574) were plundered and many other manuscripts were taken as booty to Europe by the imperial armies of Charles V. There they were sold or donated to scholars and collectors of Arabic books. Both Arabic and European historiography declare the libraries of the Hafsids as lost since the Ottoman-European proxy wars in North Africa. Today, the Hafsid manuscripts are scattered in numerous European and Turkish collections – only a few manuscripts can still be located in Tunis.

The paper presents a selection of these Arabic manuscripts and focuses on the disruptive moment of the sack of Tunis and its libraries. It sheds light on the consequences this disruption had for the manuscript culture of the Hafsids and, more broadly, of the Maghrib. The paper explores the question of what the reconstructed corpus can still tell us today about the lost book culture of the Hafsids – and what it cannot.

Laura Hinrichsen is curatorial assistant at the Museum für Islamische Kunst in the Pergamonmuseum (Berlin). She studied Islamic Studies and Arabic Studies at Freie Universität Berlin and Islamic Art and Archaelogy at Oxford University. Her research focuses on material culture in North Africa and the transfer of culture and knowledge in the Mediterranean. Her dissertation Looted Letters (Oxford 2021/22) deals with the Arabic manuscripts that were taken as booty to Europe in the course of the looting of Tunis in 1535.

About the series

In 2022, the Gotha Research Library will continue the successful webinar series "Gotha Manuscript Talks" in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Konrad Hirschler (University of Hamburg). Thematic foci are the effects of violence on manuscript cultures and the provenance of manuscripts outside Europe.

Format: Lecture 45 min + discussion 45 min

Participation: via Webex

to the Webex room

About the anniversary year of the Gotha Research Library 2022

[Translate to English:] Logo "Bücher bewegen"

2022 is a particularly eventful year for the Gotha Research Library. We are celebrating our 375th anniversary of foundation. Under the guiding principle " Bücher bewegen" ("Books move"), you can expect a series of events on site and on the web. The anniversary year is at the same time a caesura in the history of the research library and a time of great challenges. We are moving a large part of our books out of the east tower of Friedenstein Palace, where the library has been housed since the end of the 17th century, in order to renovate the building. At the same time, we want to create optimal opportunities for our users in the library and in virtual space to continue researching and working with each other and with our outstanding library objects and collections.


Curator of the Oriental Manuscript Collection
(Gotha Research Library)
Gotha Research Library (Gotha, Schlossplatz 1)