Biography: Jacobus Golius

Jacobus Golius (1596-1667), Dutch Orientalist.

Jacobus Golius, also known as Iacobo Golio, occupies a central position in 17th-century Dutch Oriental scholarship. Born at the Hague in 1596, he came to Leiden University in 1612 to study mathematics, which he finished four years later by delivering a disputation on "the way of seeing". Note that he later published the work of Al Hassan Ibn Al Haitham (Alhazen), a famous Muslim optics scientist.

Then he started studying Arabic on a private basis.

In 1618 he was registered again in Leiden, now in order to study Arabic with Thomas Erpenius (1584-1624), who had become professor of Oriental languages in 1613.

Golius completed his study in 1621 and went abroad, to France, where he lectured in Greek at La Rochelle. In 1622-1624 he accompanied the Dutch embassy to Morocco, where he was an engineer to a Dutch mission which studied the possibilities of building a port near Agadir, as well as a diplomat. He visited Marrakech, from where his first manuscript acquisitions originate.

On May 12, 1625, Golius was appointed Erpenius’ successor.

He obtained permission to travel in the Middle East in order to acquire manuscripts. At that time he had become proficient in Persian and Turkish as well. He travelled to Arabia and Syria, and after having spent some time in Aleppo, he went to Istanbul in 1627, where he was temporarily employed as secretary to Cornelis Haga, the Dutch representative to the Sublime Porte. In Istanbul he continued to purchase manuscripts.

In 1629 he was back in Holland with a treasure of more than two hundred Middle-Eastern manuscripts which were deposited in Leiden University Library (now registered as Or.1 to Or. 211, marking the beginning of the Oriental department in that Library).

In the same year he was appointed professor of Mathematics as well, as the successor of Willebrord Snellius (1591-1626).

Then followed thirty-eight years of university life. In 1629 he published the first piece of Arabic poetry ever to appear in print, in 1636 an edition of the "Life and history of Timur Lenk", in 1640 a catalogue of the manuscripts which he had purchased on behalf of Leiden University, in 1653 his monumental Lexicon Arabico-Latinum, in 1654 he compiled a treatise on the empire of Cathay, which was published a year later as part of the Novus Atlas Sinensis by the Jesuit missionary Martinus Martinius.

Golius had started to study Chinese with the latter when Martinius was in the Netherlands in order to supervise the publication of his Atlas with the Amsterdam publishing house of Joannes Blaeu. In 1656 Golius published a new edition of Erpenius’ Arabic grammar. In 1669, two years after his death, appeared two more works by Golius: the Arabic edition and Latin translation of chapters of Al-Farghani’s astronomical handbook, and his Persian-Latin dictionary, as the second part of the Lexicon Heptaglotton by Edmundus Castellus of Cambridge.

When Golius died on the 28th of September 1667, he was succeeded immediately in his professorship in mathematics, but it would take some forty years till the University appointed his successor for Arabic in the person of J. Heyman.

His collection of printed books, a collection larger than that in Leiden University library, was auctioned off in 1668.

What few knew was that Golius had in fact purchased two collections of manuscripts. Over two hundred manuscripts were for the University Library, but he had purchased a similar private collection as well. That private collection was finally auctioned off in 1696, after a conflict between Golius’ children about his estate had been resolved. That private collection is now dispersed. Attempts at a reconstruction of the private collection of Golius reveal that most of the manuscripts are now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, as part of the Marsh collection. A few can be found in Hamburg and in Paris. Those that were purchased by Dutch orientalists circulated for many years in private hands, till most of them eventually came into the Leiden collections as well.


  • Lexicon Arabico-Latinum Leiden, 1653, which is based on the Sihah of Al- Jawhari.
  • Arabic Proverbs (Proverbia quaedam lis Imperatoris Muslemici et Carmen Tograipoelae doctissimi, necnon dissertatio guaedam Aben Synae, 1629
  • Ahmedis Arabsiadae vitae et rerum gestarum Timuri, gui vulgo Tamerlanes dicitur(1636). History of Tamer Lane.
  • New edition, with considerable additions, of the Grammatica Arabica of Erpenius (1656).
  • After his death, there was found among his papers a Dictionarium Persico-Latinum which was published, with additions, by Edmund Castell in his Lexicon heptaglotton (1669)
  • Arabic edition, with Latin translation, and annotation, of the astronomical treatise of Abu Al Abbas Ahmed Ibn Mohammad Ibn Kathir Al Ferghani. Muhammedis, filii Ketiri Ferganensis Elementa astronomica arabice et latine (Amsterdam, 1669).
  • Latin translation of a short treatise by Al Hassan Ibn Al Haitham (d. 1040 C.E.) (Hazeni Heitemide Arabis) on the elevation of the North Pole. 1643. Manuscript in Leiden.




Jacobus Golius

I wish to thank for availabling such valuable data about this wonderful dutch orientalist. They were very helpful in my researches. Best regards, Claudio (Environmental Techinician, Translator and Chemist)