IVANOW, VLADIMIR ALEKSEEVICH (b. St. Petersburg, Russia, 3 November 1886, d. Tehran, 19 June 1970; variously spelt Ivanov and Wladimir; FIGURE 1), Russian orientalist and leading pioneer in modern Ismaʿili studies. His father was a military doctor, and he spent his youth in his native city and Moscow, graduating in 1907 with distinction as a gold medalist from a gymnasium in St. Petersburg. From 1907 to 1911 he studied at the Faculty of Oriental Languages of the University of St. Petersburg. After studying Arabic with the noted Russian scholar Victor Rosen (1849-1908), Ivanow read Islamic and Central Asian history with Vasiliĭ Vladimirovich Barthold (1869-1930, q.v.), while specializing in Persian dialects under the eminent Russian authority Valentin A. Zhukovsky (1858-1918; Barthold, p. 320). In 1910, Ivanow visited Persia for a few months on a scholarship to improve his knowledge of Persian. After graduating from the University of St. Petersburg with a first class diploma in 1911, he joined the Persian subsidiary of the State Bank of Russia and served in Persia from 1912 to 1914, a career decision primarily motivated by his scholarly interests. Sent initially to Birjand and later to Kermānšāh, Ivanow embarked on his field research into Persian dialects as well as the folk poetry of Khorasan and elsewhere in Persia. The results of these linguistic and related ethnological and folkloric studies, which he pursued intermittently until the 1920s, were later published in some twenty articles (Daftary, 1971, pp. 62-63). They retain their importance as works of reference in the field of Iranian languages.

In 1914 Ivanow resigned from the bank in Persia and returned to Russia where a year later he joined the Asiatic Museum of the (Imperial) Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. The Asiatic Museum, then under the directorship of the eminent philologist Karl Salemann (1849-1916), had built up an important library. In the next year, 1915, Ivanow was sent to Bukhara to collect manuscripts and acquired over a thousand Arabic and Persian manuscripts for the museum. He was described as a “fanatical lover of manuscripts” by Ignatiĭ IUlianovich Krachkovskii (p. 68), who was at the time working on the Arabic collection of the museum. In 1916 Sergei Fedorovich Oldenburg (1863-1934), Salemann’s successor at the museum, appointed Ivanow as an assistant keeper of oriental manuscripts. His lifelong interest in Islamic manuscripts provided him with the basis for his pioneering work in Ismaʿili studies.

It was at the Asiatic Museum that Ivanow had his first contacts with Ismaʿili literature, his main research interest in later years. He catalogued a small collection of Persian Ismaʿili manuscripts acquired for the museum by Ivan Ivanovich Zarubin (1887-1964), the renowned Russian scholar of Tajik dialects and ethnology (Ivanow, 1917, pp. 359-86). These, like other Persian Ismaʿili manuscripts dating from the Alamut and post-Alamut periods in the history of Nezāri Ismaʿilis, had been preserved in Šoḡnān, Rušān and other districts of Badaḵšān (q.v.) in Russian Central Asia, a region now divided between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

In the spring of 1918 Ivanow was once again sent to Central Asia to enlarge the Asiatic Museum’s so-called Bukharan collection of Islamic manuscripts, but the mission was cut short because of the unsettled conditions of Russia in the wake of the October Revolution. For the same reason, Ivanow had to abandon his plans to visit the Samarkand region to conduct field research in certain local dialects related to Sogdian. Unable to return to St. Petersburg, he decided to go to Persia. He arrived at Mashad in June 1918, and served there during 1919-1920 as a Persian interpreter to Major-General W. E. R. Dickson, commander of the Anglo-Indian forces in Eastern Persia in World War I. During these years, he also met many Persian Ismaʿilis and acquired valuable details about their community and literature.

In November 1920 Ivanow went to India in the company of an Anglo-Indian force which was about to be disbanded. Thus began his long residency of some four decades in the Indian Subcontinent. Soon after, Ivanow settled in Calcutta, where Sir Ashutosh Mukerji, president of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (see BENGAL ii.), commissioned him to catalogue the extensive collection of Persian manuscripts in the Society’s library. He completed this task meticulously in two annotated volumes and two supplements, which were published during 1924-28 in the Bibliotheca Indica series (Daftary, 1971, p. 64). The same decade saw the appearance of his first major Ismaʿili publication (“Ismailitica,” in Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 8, 1922, pp. 1-76), which contained first editions of certain Nezāri Ismaʿili texts. In 1928 Ivanow went to Persia to collect manuscripts for the Asiatic Society, as he had done frequently in India. On this occasion, he made the first of several visits to Alamut (q.v.) and other Ismaʿili strongholds in northern Persia. Having done considerable work also on a catalogue of the Asiatic Society’s Arabic manuscripts, later completed by H. Husain and published in 1939, Ivanow ended his association with the Asiatic Society in 1930 and moved to Bombay. This initiated a new phase in his scholarly career, a phase devoted exclusively to his path-breaking Ismaʿili studies.

In the meantime, Ivanow had established relations with some members of the Nezāri Ḵoja community of Bombay who, in turn, introduced him to Solṭān Moḥammad Šāh, Āqā Khan III (1877-1957, q.v.), the forty-eighth imam of the Nezāri Ismaʿilis. In January 1931, the Āqā Khan employed Ivanow on a permanent basis to research into the literature, history, and teaching of the Ismaʿilis. Henceforth, Ivanow rapidly found access to the private collections of Ismaʿili manuscripts held secretly by the Nezāri Ismaʿilis of India, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Persia and elsewhere. At the same time, he established scholarly contacts with Asaf Ali Asghar Fyzee (1899-1981), the leading authority on Ismaʿili law, and a few other scholars of the Ismaʿili Bohrā community of Bombay, who placed at his disposal their valuable family collections of Arabic Ismaʿili manuscripts dating to the Fatimid and Mostaʿli Yamani phases of Ismaʿili history. It was in Bombay of the early 1930s that these scholars, led by Ivanow, brought about a breakthrough in Ismaʿili studies. Through the network of his Ismaʿili connections, Ivanow managed to identify a large number of Ismaʿili texts, which he described in an annotated catalogue (A Guide to Ismaili Literature, London, 1933). This catalogue was the first pointer to the hitherto unknown richness and diversity of the literary heritage of the Ismaʿilis and remained an indispensable research tool for several decades, providing the material for the advancement of Ismaʿili scholarship. By 1963, when Ivanow published a second edition of his Ismaʿili catalogue (Ismaili Literature: A Bibliographical Survey, Tehran, 1963), he had identified a few hundred more manuscript sources while the field of Ismaʿili studies as a whole had undergone a revolution thanks to the concerted efforts of Ivanow and a few other scholars, notably A. A. A. Fyzee, Ḥosayn F. al-Hamdāni (1901-1962), Zāhed ʿAli (1888-1958) and Henry Corbin (q.v.).

Ivanow was also instrumental in founding the Islamic Research Association in Bombay in 1933. Several of Ivanow’s early Ismaʿili works, including his major study on early Ismaʿilism (Ismaili Tradition Concerning the Rise of the Fatimids, London and New York, 1942), appeared in the Association’s series of publications. In these seminal Ismaʿili studies, Ivanow used archeological and epigraphic evidence, as well as literary sources. In 1937 he discovered the tombs of several Nezāri imams in the villages of Anjedān (q.v.) and Kahak, in Central Persia, enabling him to fill important gaps in the post-Alamut history of the Nezāris (see V. Ivanow, “Tombs of some Persian Ismaili Imams,” Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, N.S. 14, 1938, pp. 49-62). In 1957-58, building on his earlier work carried out in 1928 and 1937, he undertook extensive archeological studies of the fortress of Alamut, the seat of the Nezāri Ismaʿili state (483-654/1090-1256), and Lamasar, producing what still remains the most comprehensive monograph on the subject (Alamut and Lamasar, Tehran, 1960).

Ivanow’s systematic efforts in recovering Ismaʿili manuscripts and facilitating research and publication in the field led to the creation in 1946 of the Ismaʿili Society of Bombay (see ANJOMAN-E ESMĀʿĪLĪ), under the patronage of Āqā Khan III, and with Ivanow as the Society’s honorary secretary and the editor of its series of publications. The bulk of Ivanow’s numerous Ismaili monographs and editions and translations of Ismaʿili texts appeared in the same series. It was also mainly through Ivanow’s efforts that the Ismaili Society came to possess an important library of manuscripts in Bombay; these manuscripts were subsequently transfered, in the late 1970s, to the Institute of Ismaili Studies Library in London, which currently holds the largest single collection of Ismaʿili manuscripts in the West. In 1959, Ivanow settled permanently in Tehran where he spent his final years.

Ivanow was the moving spirit behind the modern progress in Ismaʿili studies; and as his associate of four decades has observed, his work will endure and constitute the basis for further studies in almost every major field of Ismaʿilism (Fyzee, p. 93). It was, however, the Nezāri branch of Ismaʿilism to which he devoted most of his attention. He identified, recovered, edited, translated and indefatigably studied a good portion of the extant literature of the Nezāri Ismaʿilis, a literature produced mainly in the Persian language (see Daftary, 1971, pp. 58-62), and he stands as the unrivaled founder of modern Nezāri Ismaʿili studies (Hodgson, pp. 30-32; Berthel’s, pp. 51-52). Largely thanks to his pioneering research and numerous contributions, the Nezāri Ismaʿilis of the Alamut period are no longer judged on the basis of medieval crusader legends and Marco Polo’s fantasies as a band of drugged assassins led by a fanatical “Old Man of the Mountain.”



V. V. Barthold, La Découverte de l’Asie, tr. Basil Nikitine, Paris, 1947.

Andrei Evgen’evich Bertel’s, Nasir-i Khosrov i Ismailizm, Moscow, 1959.

Farhad Daftary, “Bibliography of the Publications of the late W. Ivanow,” Islamic Culture 45, 1971, pp. 56-67; 56, 1982, pp. 239-40.

Idem, “W. Ivanow: A Biographical Notice,” Middle Eastern Studies 8, 1972, pp. 241-44.

Idem, “Vladimir Ivānof,” Āyanda 9, 1983, pp. 665-74.

Idem, The Ismāʿīlīs: Their History and Doctrines, Cambridge, 1990.

A. A. A. Fyzee, “Wladimir Ivanow (1886-1970),” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay 45-46, 1970-71, p. 92-97.

Marshall G. S. Hodgson, The Order of Assassins, The Hague, 1955.

V. A. Ivanow, “Ismailitskiya rukopisi Aziatskago Muzeya. Sobranie I. Zarubina, 1916 g.,” Bulletin de l’Académie [Impériale] des Sciences de Russie, série 6, 11, 1917, pp. 359-86; abr. Eng. tr. E. Denison Ross, in JRAS, 1919, pp. 429-35.

Idem (Ivanow), Fifty Years in the East: An Autobiographical Sketch (unpublished manuscript).

I. IU. Krachkovskii, Among Arabic Manuscripts, Memories of Libraries and Men, tr. Tatiana Minorsky, Leiden, 1953.

Sabine Schmidtke, ed., Correspondance Corbin-Ivanow: lettres échangée entre Henry Corbin et Vladimir Ivanow de 1947 à 1966, Paris, 1999.


(Farhad Daftary)

Originally Published: December 15, 2007

Last Updated: April 5, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIV, Fasc. 3, pp. 298-300