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Schahname. Heroic Times
A Thousand Years of the Persian 'Book of Kings'

19.03.2011 to 03.07.2011


In 2010 the world celebrated the tenth centenary of the completion of the Persian 'Book of Kings'. Composed of more than 50,000 rhyming couplets, the 'Shah-nameh' is one of the greatest epics in the history of world literature. It is approximately twice as long as Homer's epics and 20 times longer than the 'Nibelungenlied'. The Persian epic poem covers a phenomenal time span, telling the entire history of the old kings of Iran, from their mythical beginnings right up to the conquest by the Arabs in 651 AD. The epic was written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi (sometimes spelled 'Firdausi', 935-1020), who by his own estimation spent 25 years composing the work before completing it in 1010 AD and dedicating it to the Ghaznavid ruler, Sultan Mahmud (r. 998-1020).

Berlin State Library's Oriental Department and the Museum für Islamische Kunst (Museum for Islamic Art) have seized upon the commemorations as an opportunity to illustrate the epic's influence in more than 100 magnificent objects, among them loans from the Museum of Asian Art, the Ethnological Museum and the German Historical Museum. The city of Berlin happens to preside over a unique collection of 'Shah-nameh' manuscripts and single sheets, many of which rank among the most spectacular treasures of Persian book art anywhere in the world. Also on display are examples of decorative art that illustrate the epic's influence on the various areas of daily life in Persia.

The exhibition provides profound insight into the world of the great kings and courageous heroes and illustrates just what a central role this piece of world literature plays for the Persian national consciousness, even today.