Georgian treasure added to UNESCO Memory of the World Register

19 June 2014 

A Georgian national treasure from the Bodleian manuscript collection is the Libraries’ latest addition to UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register.

 Considered Georgia’s epic poem, Knight in the Panther’s Skin by Shota Rustaveli dates from the late twelfth century when the country reached the peak of its medieval social, economic, cultural and political development. The masterpiece is remarkable for the striking harmony and beauty of its poetry and the elegance of its language which makes it complicated to render in any foreign language. Probably the greatest attempt to introduce the English speaking communities to the Knight in the Panther’s Skin was undertaken by Marjory Wardrop and her brother Oliver, who was the first Chief British Commissioner of Transcaucasus in the early twentieth century.

The Bodleian’s Georgian poetry collection includes many rare books and manuscripts, including two richly illuminated seventeenth-century manuscripts of Rustaveli’s epic, as well as English prose translations undertaken by the Wardrops. The Bodleian Library’s Wardrop collection of books and manuscripts remains one of the finest collections of Kartvelain material outside Georgia, and includes many letters, travel notes and examples of Georgian music.

Wardrop letterDr Gillian Evison, Head of the Bodleian Libraries’ Oriental Section and Indian Institute Librarian said: ‘The Knight in the Panther’s Skin deserves a special place in the study of medieval epic tradition, both European and Oriental. The inscription of this remarkable epic poem in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register should raise awareness of this gem of the Georgian culture and promote interest in medieval Georgian culture in British and European academia and also among general public.’

Established in 1992, the UK Memory of the World Programme is part of a worldwide initiative to protect, preserve and promote access to the world’s documentary heritage.

The Knight in the Panther’s Skin is the third treasure from the Bodleian’s collection to be added to the register. It joins the Libraries’ ninth century Cura Pastorali of Gregory the Great, the first surviving book written entirely in English, and the fourteenth century Gough Map, the earliest surviving route map of the Britain, which were both added in 2011.

About the UNESCO UK/World Memory of the World Register

  • United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is the ‘intellectual’ agency of the United Nations and was established in 1945.
  • The UNESCO Memory of the World Programme aims to facilitate preservation of the world's documentary heritage, to assist universal access and to increase awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of this documentary heritage through both an international Register and individual country Registers. This globally-recognised status celebrates some of the UK’s most exceptional archive riches.
  • To learn more about the programme visit the MoW website.  

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