Dr. G.R. (Gabrielle) van den Berg

  • University Lecturer in the Cultural History of Central Asia and Iran
  • Persian language and literature

Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 2023
E-Mail: g.r.van.den.berg@hum.leidenuniv.nl
Faculty / Department: Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Leiden Institute for Area Studies, SMES APT
Office Address: Witte Singel-complex
Witte Singel 25/M. de Vrieshof 4
2311 BZ Leiden
Room number 1.18a


Gabrielle van den Berg’s present research focuses on the Persian epic tradition and the Shahnama of Ferdowsi.  

The Persian Epic Cycle Project
With the advent of critical editions of the Persian poet Ferdowsi’s Shahnama in the 19th and 20th centuries, epic material not included in the corpus was discarded as a collection of secondary epics. By analogy with the Greek Epic Cycle of poems supplementing the Iliad and the Odyssey, these epics are now known as the Persian Epic Cycle. The primary aim of this project is to recover, order, and assess Persian Epic Cycle material in order to provide the field of Iranian studies with the first comprehensive and balanced analysis of the form and contents of the epics within the Persian Epic Cycle. The secondary aim is to show how these so-called secondary epics form a body of literature that not only offers insight into ten centuries of Shahnama reception, but also represents a literary heritage in its own right. This project will address questions such as: What is the Persian Epic Cycle and where does it stand vis-à-vis the Shahnama and within the Shahnama tradition? Why and how has the subject-matter of the Persian Epic Cycle come to be included in so many Shahnama manuscripts? How have written and oral traditions influenced each other? How have these epics come to play such a prominent role in the oral and written traditions of the Iranian cultural area? These questions will be addressed on the basis of an analysis of a representative corpus of material from the Persian Epic Cycle, including manuscripts up to the 19th century, lithographed books of the 19th and 20th centuries, transcripts in storytellers’ scrapbooks (tumar), and recordings of traditional Iranian oral performances of the epics (naqqali). An important envisaged result of this project is the re-evaluation of the Shahnama as a living tradition.  

The Persian Epic Cycle Project is a result of an ongoing involvement in the Shahnama Project, directed by Charles Melville, Cambridge, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the British Academy.  

Firdausi’s Shahnama (Book of Kings), completed in eastern Iran in around A.D. 1010, is a work of mythology, history, literature and propaganda: a living epic poem that pervades and expresses many aspects of Persian culture. Hundreds of manuscript copies of the text, the earliest dating from 1217, exist in libraries throughout the world. Large numbers of these are illustrated with miniature paintings, some of them among the most magnificent masterpieces of Persian art. The Shahnama Project aims to provide a corpus of illustrations of the Shahnama, with details of the manuscripts and of the textual context within which they occur. This powerful resource opens the door to almost limitless areas of study and comparative analysis. The chief aim of the Project is to stimulate research into the role of Firdausi’s epic in Persian history and culture, and to investigate the relationships between the text of the poem and the many miniature paintings that have been created to illustrate it. These date from the early 13th to the late 19th century: an almost unbroken stream of artistic activity over 600 years. See for the Shahnama Project Database

Van den Berg’s other research interests include:

  • The literary history of Central Asia, in particular contemporary Tajik literature and on oral poetry and prose in Tajikistan, both in Persian and in the eastern Iranian Pamir languages.
  • The cultural heritage and history of the Ismailis of Tajik Badakhshan.
  • The Pamir languages, in particular Shughni-Rushani

Curriculum Vitae

  • 2006-2011 Researcher and coordinator of the NWO Vidi project: ‘The Persian Epic Cycle and the Shahnama of Ferdowsi’, University of Leiden
  • 2003-present Lecturer in Persian, School of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Leiden
  • 2001-2004 Researcher on behalf of the project: ‘A Pictorial Corpus of the Shahnama’, Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Cambridge
  • 2002-2003 Lecturer in Persian, Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres, Institut de philologie et d’histoire orientales, Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • 2000-2003 Researcher for the project ‘Living Traditions of the Ismaili World: The Case of Tajik Badakhshan’, Institute of Ismaili Studies, London
  • 1998-2001 E.G. Browne Lecturer in Persian, Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Cambridge
  • 1997, PhD University of Leiden
  • 1997-1998 Lecturer, Faculty of Arts, Persian Section, University of Leiden
  • 1992-1996 Research and Teaching Assistant at the Research School CNWS for Asian, African and Amerindian Studies, University of Leiden.
  • 1991 MA Persian language and culture, University of Leiden

Teaching Activities

Gabrielle van den Berg runs courses in Persian grammar, Persian literature, and Shiism.

Last Modified: 11-12-2015