The Correspondence of Adriaan Reland

Primary Contributors:

Tobias Winnerling, with the assistance of the SKILLNET project members Milo van de Pol and Dirk van Miert

Portrait of Adriaan Reland, by Pieter I Schenk. 1703. Engraving. (Amsterdam Rijksmuseum, object no. RP-P-1905-255)

The Correspondence of Adriaan Reland (1676–1718)

Adriaan Reland (whose name may be spelled also as Reeland, Reelant, and Relant in Dutch; as Adrien Reland in French; and as Hadrianus Relandus in Latin) was born on 16 July 1676 in De Rijp [Ripen] near Alkmaar, Province of Holland, as the eldest son of the Dutch reformed minister Johannes Reland (d. 1703); his younger brother Pieter (1678–1714) became a lawyer but fostered a personal interest in classical studies. In 1687 the family moved to Amsterdam, where Adriaan Reland was educated at the Athenaeum Illustre, which he finished in 1689 at the age of thirteen.

Hailed as a kind of prodigy, Reland continued his education first at Utrecht University, then at Leiden, reverting to Utrecht for his doctoral studies. His focus was on oriental languages, primarily Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian, all of which he mastered, but he studied also theology, history, natural philosophy, and cartography. He had been taught by, or had attended lectures by, a number of well-known scholars at the time, such as Alexander de Bie (1623–1690), Petrus Francius (1645–1704), Johann Georg Graevius (1632–1703), Hermann van Halen (1633–1701), Johannes Luyts (1655–1721), Johannes van der Marck (1656–1731), Gerhard von Mastricht (1639–1721), Wolfgang Senkward (Senguerdius, 1646–1724), Willem Surenhuis (1666–1729), Henry Sike (Heinrich Siecke, 1669–1712), Friedrich II Spanheim (1632–1701), Jacob II Trigland (1652–1705), Gerardus de Vries (1648–1705), and Herman Wits (1636–1708). Evidence that he kept in contact with some of these scholars is to be found in his correspondence.

Immediately after his graduation in February 1698, Reland was called to a professorial post at Harderwijk University. In February 1701 he moved to Utrecht University where he took up the post of Professor for Oriental Languages, transferring from this on 2 February 1713 to the post of Professor for Biblical Antiquities and teaching the history of the Holy Land in ancient times. He was elected Rector Magnificus of Utrecht University for the academic year 1708/09. In 1702 he had married Johanna Catharina Teelinck.

Reland became an influential Oriental and Islamic scholar widely read at his time. In his scientific work he placed significant emphasis on the study of original documents related to his subjects wherever possible, and he seems to have regarded their evidence as highly as that of contemporary and classical European authors. Although he engaged with non-European matters in a remarkably unprejudiced way, he shared nevertheless some of the common assumptions of European scholars of his time regarding his main research interests, foremost of these being that Hebrew was the oldest language of the world (and that any other Semitic languages such as Arabic were of interest only because they could contribute to the study of it), and that Christianity in its Protestant form was the only true faith.

On 28 May 1718, Reland died of smallpox, shortly before his forty-second birthday. He was survived by his wife, his daughter Elisabeth Catharina (1703–1747), and his son Johann Hubertus Reland (1716–1760). He left a legacy of around fifty publications in various formats: orations, short treatises, edited volumes, monographs, and maps—primarily, but not exclusively, dealing with Arabic studies. Some of these publications were re-issued and translated in the eighteenth century. His most widely known work today, the two-volume study of Islam, De religione mahomedica libri duo (Utrecht: Broedelet 1705) was reissued in 1717 (Utrecht: Broedelet) and translated into French (1721), Dutch (1718), and German (1716, 2nd edn, 1717). This work caused controversy because Reland wanted to present Islam directly from Muslim sources in a non-biased way. Some commentators thought he showed himself to be too accommodating; the Catholic Church immediately placed the book on the index. Reland’s collection of classical knowledge concerning Biblical matters, the Antiquitates sacrae veterum hebraeorum (Utrecht: Broedelet 1708), was re-issued three times (Utrecht: Broedelet 1712, 1717, and 1741) and was used widely as course material. His last major publication, the two-volume Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata (Utrecht: Broedelet, 1714), which mapped the historical developments and features of the Holy Land by illustrating classical quotations with topographic maps, won him most critical acclaim with the contemporaries and was re-edited in Nuremberg two years after its publication (1716). Reland also produced maps of the East, of Persia, Japan, India, and Java, of which the map of Japan (1715) became influential because it was used as the model for the map of Japan in Engelbert Kaempfer’s History of Japan (1729), although it was based on a misunderstanding of the sources used. These reception processes indicate that Reland was regarded by his contemporaries as an authority in several of his fields of study, and this at least partly depended on his skilful use of correspondence to call attention to his works, which he actively distributed among his correspondents, sometimes with clear instructions to whom they should pass additional copies.

Adriaan Reland may be viewed both within an international context and as an example of a figure revealing the potential and capabilities of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Dutch scholarship in the humanities, and his letters offer interesting insights in the processes and circumstances of knowledge formation at this time.

Partners and Additional Contributors

Most of the letters in this catalogue have been investigated as part of the MSCA project ‘The Fading of Remembrance. Charting the process of getting forgotten within the humanities, 18th–20th centuries‘. The SKILLNET project has contributed by preparing the metadata of the letters for upload into EMLO.


Reland’s letters were not collected during his lifetime and those that survive were dispersed and are scattered now in libraries and archives all over Europe. The bulk of the surviving correspondence is kept in the Royal Dutch Library at The Hague, in the collection of letters of the learned mayor of Deventer Gijsbert Cuper (1644–1716) with whom Reland kept a regular correspondence. Some letters were purchased by collectors in the eighteenth century, for example those held by the British Library as parts of the collections of Thomas Birch (1705–1766). Others were edited as part of the letter collections of other scholars, such as the letters to Richard Bentley (1662–1742), Mathurin Veyssière de la Croze (1661–1739), and Antonio Magliabecchi (1633–1714). For many of Reland’s correspondents only a few letters survive from much larger exchanges, as is the case for de la Croze and Magliabecchi, and also for Jean Paul Bignon (1662–1743), Joseph Wasse (1671–1738), John Hudson (1662–1719), Theodor Jansson van Almeloveen (1657–1712), and Pieter Burman (1668–1741), among others. For others, such as his former pupil Matthias Anchersen (1682–1741), professor of Arabic at the university of Copenhagen, or the German historian Johann Hermann Schmincke (1684–1743), similar contacts are highly probable. Reland’s network of correspondence was far-reaching, spanning France, England, the Netherlands, the Holy Roman Empire, Switzerland, Italy, and probably Denmark.

Scope of Catalogue

Although the present catalogue is not complete and should be viewed as ‘work-in-progress’, it offers in its present form a preliminary look at Adriaan Reland’s communication within the republic of letters of his day.

A sub-section of these letters has been close-read in the context of the ‘The Fading of Remembrance. Charting the process of getting forgotten within the humanities, 18th–20th centuries’ project, resulting in mapping out the contents by the identification of the persons named and the publications referred to in each respective letter’s text. As a result, a substantial number of letters has been added which are not (yet) corroborated by archival or edited evidence but which are clearly described in the existing letters and thus could be safely inferred to have been written. Such letters are always indicated clearly and details of the source letter from which they were inferred are provided. As many more Reland letters remain to be added to the calendar, this catalogue will be updated to reflect the ongoing research of the project.

Further resources


Michel Bastiaensen, ‘Adrien Reland à la recherche d’une méthode comparative’, Histoire, épistémologie, langage, vol. 6, no. 2 (1984), pp. 45–54.

Alastair Hamilton, ‘From a “closet at Utrecht”. Adriaan Reland and Islam’, Nederlands archief voor kerkgeschiedenis / Dutch Review of Church History, vol. 78, no. 2 (1998), pp. 243–50.

Richard van Leeuwen and Arnoud Vrolijk, ‘Oriëntalistiek in de Lage Landen. De ‘verlichte’ oriëntalist Adriaan Reland’, Zemzem: Tijdschrift over het Midden-Osten, Noord-Afrika en islam, vol. 1 (2009), pp. 76–86.

Bernd Roling, ‘Humphrey Prideaux, Eric Fahlenius, Adrian Reland, Jacob Ehrharth und die Ehre des Propheten: Koranpolemik im Barock’, in: Wahrnehmung des Islam zwischen Reformation und Aufklärung, ed. Dietrich Klein and Birte Platow (Paderborn: Fink 2008), pp. 61–76.

Utrecht University, ed., Zes keer zestig. 360 jaar universitaire geschiedenis in zes biografieën (Utrecht: Universiteit Utrecht, 1996).

Utrecht University, ed., ‘Prof. A.L.M., Phil. dr. A. Reland (1676–1718)’, Catalogus Professorum Academiae Rheno-Trajectinae,

Primary Editions

Giovanni Targioni-Tozetti, ed., Clarorum Belgarum ad Ant. Magliabechium nonnullosque alios epistolae, 2 vols (Florence: Apollinis 1745).

Johann Ludwig Uhl, ed., Thesauri Epistolici Lacroziani Tomus [I-III]. Ex Bibliotheca Iordaniana Edidit Io. Ludovicus Uhlius, 3 vols (Leipzig: Gleditsch, 1742–1746).

Christopher Wordsworth, ed.: The correspondence of Richard Bentley, D. D., master of Trinity college, Cambridge, edited by C. Wordsworth, from material collected by the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rev. John Wordsworth, and from other sources, 2 vols (London: Murray, 1842).

Additional Resources

Johannes de Beyer, ed., Lettres de critique, d’histoire, de litterature, &c. ecrites a divers savans de l’Europe par feu Monsieur Gisbert Cuper (Amsterdam: Du Sauzet/Smith, 1742).

Adrianus Reland, entry on Biografisch Portaal van Nederland.


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