MEFA: The Middle East Falconry Archive

Page from The Book on Falconry of Adham and al-Ghiṭrīf, Ms. Or 8187 (1787) © London, British Library
Chand Bíbí with hawk on horse, Or 2787 (1762-1790) © London, British Museum
Page from the Book on Chivalry, Ms. orient A 2091 (IX-XV C.) © Gotha, Forschungs- und Landesbibliothek
De scientia venandi per aves, MS 446, fol. 1r (1450 –1475) © Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University

2020 – Ongoing

MEFA is the digital home and a vital repository for the heritage of Arabic falconry literature, with the goal to safeguard and explore the deep roots of the heritage of Arab falconry.


  • Anna Akasoy | The City University of New York
  • Teresa Casado | Factum Foundation
  • Carolina Gris | Factum Foundation
  • Anne-Lise Tropato | New York University Abu Dhabi


In June 2020, Factum Foundation has been appointed by the International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC) to digitise 56 medieval and early modern manuscripts, all in Arabic and all relating to falconry, in libraries mainly across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and make them available under one digital roof.

After this first phase, a team was built to create a virtual collection of manuscripts dedicated to texts concerned with the training and care of birds of prey.

The Factum Foundation team working on MEFA from Venice, Madrid, and London have been collaborating closely with Dr Anna Akasoy (professor of Islamic intellectual history at CUNY – a specialist in medieval Arabic and an expert on falconry) and Dr Anne-Lise Tropato (NYU, Abu Dhabi). 

By assembling digital records on a dedicated database and by researching the manuscripts in their historical contexts, the MEFA team have been working to safeguard the intangible traditions, stories, and knowledge of falconry. MEFA collaborated with the libraries that preserve these precious manuscripts to digitise or obtain digital copies of them, allowing them to be brought together into a single digital collection for the heritage of Arabic falconry literature. The digital records of each manuscript – currently online – are supported by both technical information for academics and engaging educational information for all falconry heritage enthusiasts. 

To date, MEFA has identified approximately 70 manuscripts in Arabic alone, containing texts on falconry written between the eighth and sixteenth centuries across the Middle East. These texts range from falconry literature to technical treatises. Some of the famous passages, such as the book of Adham and al-Ghiṭrīf (one of the earliest Arabic texts on falconry) were copied 20 times, while others are stored in a single copy.



As part of its mission to study and popularise the history of falconry, MEFA assembled digital copies of Arabic manuscripts which preserve handbooks written centuries ago.

Book about Predatory Animals, their Natural and Contingent States, dedicated to the Abbasid caliph al-Mutawakkil, L.O. 24 © Lund, University Library
Note about the provenance of the manuscript, acquired in Tunis in September 1691 by the Swedisch diplomat and linguist Johan Gabriel Sparwenfeld.
This is the only known nearly-complete copy of the Arabic version of the manuscript dedicated to al-Mutawakkil, L.O. 24 © Lund, University Library

a ground-breaking discovery

Some of the books collected have survived in several copies, and others appear to have been lost despite being reportedly influential in the field. 

One such text was written for al-Mutawakkil, the Abbasid caliph who reigned from 847 to 861 in Iraq. This handbook about falconry and hunting circulated in the multi-lingual Mediterranean world of the 13th century. Kings Frederick II and Alfonso X of Castile both had translated versions of the Arabic text, and a Latin adaptation was also widely disseminated. 

For several decades, scholars have looked for a complete copy of the Arabic version, which has now been identified inside the University of Lund Libraries in Sweden by Dr Akasoy (Graduate Center of the City University of New York). This near-complete copy was added (in its digital form) to the Middle East Falconry Archive database and will help document and analyse the history of its transmission as one of the world’s most important falconry manuals. 

Dr. Anna Akasoy says, about the discovery:

“So far, no manuscripts have been identified which would allow us to document the presence of al-Mutawakkil’s falconry book in the Middle East independent of quotations in ‘The Book of the Hunt’ and an entry in a library catalogue from thirteenth-century Damascus. One may speculate that the near-simultaneous presence of the manual in several places around the Mediterranean was not a coincidence, but rather reflected the common exchanges of gifts among rulers of different cultures and faiths. The discovery of the Lund manuscript allows us to understand the process of translation from Arabic into Latin and medieval Spanish much better.”