Brief Historical Notes



The Oriental Studies Library

The Oriental School
Sapienza University of Rome is one of the most ancient Italian Universities, with a long tradition in the teaching of oriental languages. In the 16th and 17th centuries, greater importance was given to the Semitic languages, especially Hebrew, Arabic and Syriac, next
to the teaching of Greek and Latin. We can find the first evidence of the teaching of Far Eastern languages only in 1879, with the establishment of this professorship assigned to Carlo Valenziani (1879-1896), expert of Japanese. His successor, Lodovico Nocentini, one of the founding members of the Oriental School, was on the contrary specialised in Chinese.
The beginning of the 19th century marks a turning point in the development of Oriental studies in Italy. The Oriental School was founded in Rome in 1903 by a group of specialised scholars: Angelo De Gubernatis (1840-1913), professor of Sanskrit, Celestino Schiaparelli (1841-1919) professor of Arabic, Ignazio Guidi (1844-1935), professor of Hebrew and Semitic languages, Lodovico Nocentini (1849-1910) professor of Chinese, and Baldassare Labanca (1829-1913) professor of History of Christianity.
According to the School’s regulation the teaching subjects were:
2.Arabic language and Literature
3.Hebrew language and Comparative Semitic languages
4.Far East languages and literatures
5.History and languages of Abyssinia
6.History of Christianity
The first director of the Oriental School was Angelo De Gubernatis.






Regulation of the Oriental School

One of the main tasks of the Oriental School was the management of the Library. At first its collections were mostly composed of works concerning the Arabic language and literature and History of Islamic institutions. From the time of foundation onwards, the books of the professors of the School were sometimes donated to the Library, sometimes purchased from the heirs, and their private collections constitute the initial nucleus of the Library collection.
The other fundamental task of the Oriental School was the publication of its magazine, the Rivista degli Studi Orientali, founded in 1907 and active until today (last number XCI 2018).
In 1960 the disciplines of the School have been divided in three groups, each group constituting an Institute: Institute of Ancient Near East, Institute of Islamic studies, Institute of India and East Asia studies. The School at that time had the task of coordinating the three Institutes, and remained the editor of the Journal and the unifying element of the Library.
In 1982 the three Institutes joined again in the Department of Oriental Studies, which became in 2001 the Faculty of Oriental Studies: this change constituted a response to the widespread demand to know about "the East" manifested in those last years with a progressive and stable increase in the number of enrolments in the degree courses offered: Oriental Languages and Civilisations, both 3-years and master degree courses. The Faculty grouped 40 disciplines in five distinct areas: linguistic, philological, archaeological and historical-artistic, philosophical-religious and historical, each in turn subdivided according to the following geographical-cultural areas: Ancient Near East, Islam, South and South- Oriental Asia, Far East. In 2010 the Faculty came back to being a Department, The Italian Institute of Oriental studies, still active today.
The Department Library
The Library of the Department Italian Institute of Oriental Studies is now located at the second floor of the building “Marco Polo”, and includes more than 130,000 volumes in over 30 oriental languages, extinct and current, ranging from Arabic to Persian, Hebrew, Syriac, Sanskrit, Tamil, Urdu, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Ethiopian, Mongolian, Turkish, Tigrinya, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian , Hindi, Bengali, Tibetan, Vietnamese. It has also some manuscripts, ancient and rare texts mainly from Arab, Chinese and Japanese (from the 16th to the 19th century) and maps of Asia, including some Chinese-Korean bounded maps of the 15th century known world.