Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
Pub. Date
Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
822 of 1105



PERSIA. The name Persia awakens great memories. But Persia, or Iran, is no longer the flourishing empire of the sophis, and still less the vaster and more powerful empire of the great kings. Modern Persia has an area of scarcely more than 65,000 square geographical leagues (of twenty-five to a degree). It is bounded on the north by Russia, the Caspian sea and Turkestan; on the east by the kingdoms of Herat and of Cabul and the confederation of the Beloochees; on the south by the gulf of Oman and the Persian gulf; on the west by Turkey in Asia. This vast territory has scarcely nine millions of inhabitants; which is explained by the fact that the country has met with the fate of all the countries of western Asia, which, after having been in ancient times the theatre of a rich development of civilization, present to the traveler of the present day only the ruins of ancient cities and an abased people, ignorant, for the most part, of the glory of their ancestors.


—Nevertheless, the Persians are very intelligent and tolerably active. Only, their intelligence is principally exercised on metaphysical questions, while their activity is concentrated upon commerce and brokerage. The only laborious inhabitants of the country are the Turks, who conquered Persia about five hundred years ago, but their patience and spirit of order are exercised only in rudimentary agriculture.


—The name of Iran, which Persia gives herself, and which Europe allows to her, would mislead us should we persist in seeing in the modern Persians an Indo-European race. The Aryans of the ancient invasions have almost wholly disappeared in the Semitic masses of Farsistan; at the time of the Achemenidian kings, six centuries before Christ, this fusion was already far advanced. It has since only increased, and a truly Semitic people, under the name of Tadjik, now occupies all the towns of Persia and the countries of the southeast. The Aryan blood has been better preserved in the other Farsee group, the Kurds, who, to the number of about a million, inhabit the mountains of the west. An entirely different race, the Turks or Phlats, occupy the north. Neither must the name of Touran, which they give themselves, and which the Persians grant them, cause us to see in them a people exclusively Mongolian; they are Mongolians strongly Aryanized, like their ancestors, the Arsacidæan Parthians. It is they who have furnished to Persia the greater part of her dynasties. The reigning dynasty, that of the Kadjars, came from the heart of their feudal system, which comprises 700,000 to 800,000 individuals. The Turkish tribes are not subject to the king, but are merely his vassals. On the contrary, the king has for subjects all the Persians, Tadjiks or Kurds.


—The king is sovereign master of the state and of his subjects, of their lives and of their fortunes; this is, as we see, what has been called eastern despotism; a despotism which is not absolute, however, since it finds limits in religion, tradition and the privileges of the corporations and of the tribes. The crown is hereditary in the direct line; but the king, or shah, may choose his successor from among his sons. He designates him during his lifetime, in order to prevent civil war.


—There are a great number of offices in the court of the shah of Persia. There is a swordbearer, a shieldbearer, a cupbearer, etc. The functions of the grand marshal (nasaktchec bashee) consist not only in directing the service of the Persian army, but also in watching over the execution of justice. The grand master of ceremonies and the grand master of hospitality are charged with the reception of ambassadors and travelers of distinction. The highest dignity of the empire is that of the first minister (vizier-i-azem). He concentrates in his hands the whole government and administration. After him come the steward (ameen-ed-doulah), who has charge of the finances; the high chancellor of state (mounchee-il-memalik), who has charge of internal affairs; and finally, the mousteffi, or secretaries of state, among whom is found the eshker-nuvis, or secretary of state in the war department. The executor of confiscations is also an important functionary.


—The empire is divided into eleven provinces, which are administered in the following manner: In each province a governor (beglerbeg) has under his authority the commanders of the towns (kakims and zabits), the mayors of important localities (kelanter), those of the villages (ketkhodah), the lieutenants of police (darogha), the chiefs of police (mir-i-ahdas) the market commissioners (mouhtesib), and the (pakkee) or tax gatherers. The distinctive feature of the Persian administration, as in all the countries of the orient, is, that power is delegated in full; thus, the governors of provinces or towns are real kings, until the king exiles them or puts them to death. The police exercise their functions in a very remarkable manner in Persia. The towns are divided into districts. The inhabitants of each district choose their lieutenant of police from among the most honorable citizens. These functions are gratuitous, and are obtained only by a spotless reputation. In this respect, Persia possesses the germ of a fruitful principle of municipal liberty, which, carried out, would have a favorable influence upon the social condition of the country. Unlike other Mussulman (that is to say, Sunnite) countries, in which civil law and religious law are confounded, Persia distinguishes the precepts of the Koran, with the administration of which the clergy are charged, from the laical law. The urf, or customary law, comprehending the crimes or misdemeanors which disturb society, such as murder, theft, fraud, etc., is the province of a court composed of secular magistrates. The sovereign is the first of these magistrates. The governors of provinces, the commandants of cities, and the other officers of the government administer justice, in the name of the shah, each in his own jurisdiction. Another difference, of equal importance, between Persia and other Mussulman countries, is the existence of a clergy of priests, an institution contrary to the very spirit of Islamism, which admits only of jurisconsults and judges. The mollahs and the mooshtched, their chiefs, have inherited, in Mussulman Persia, some of the power of the mazdean môbeds, as well as of their unpopularity, justified, it is said, by the conduct of these priests, and which would, moreover, be abundantly explained by this fact: that Persia is Mussulman only in appearance. If we except, indeed, a certain number of Turks, strict Sunnites, like their Ottoman congeners, and as such, very hostile to a clergy of priests, Persian Islamism, or Shiism, while remaining the official religion, resolves itself into a national religion, which the Sunnites hold to be very similar to Christianity, and which in fact concentrates all veneration upon Ali; and some sects of which even make a god of him. But even this schismatic religion has but very few convinced adherents; every one makes an obligatory profession of it; but the entire bourgeoisie is made up of sufis, or free-thinkers, not that there are any atheists among them, nor, especially, any dogmatic materialists; all Persian imaginations, on the contrary, are full of the supernatural: but the sufis are absolutely freed from Islam. Lastly, the moral element, truly religious, of Persia, is to be found in the nossayris, monogamous gnostics, whom every one in Persia takes for Christians, and who, in reality, appear to have derived their doctrine from Buddhism. The nossayris comprise two-fifths of Persia. It would be unjust to forget, in this enumeration, a set of sufis, the babis, a recent sect founded by an enthusiast, prophet and martyr, who declared the religion of Mohammed abolished. His doctrine, which appears to be absolute rationalism, made great progress, and caused a riot, which was quelled only in the blood of its votaries.


—The system of finance established in Persia for the assessment and collection of taxes presents nothing analogous to the institutions which exist among the nations of Europe. The revenues of the state, or, to speak more accurately, the revenues of the sovereign, were estimated, in 1873, at about seventy-five millions of francs. This sum is the product of imposts and taxes of all kinds, which are assessed in the following manner: the land tax, or meliat, which is paid partly in kind and partly in money, and is one-fifth of the product; the tax to which domestic animals, horses, camels, sheep, goats, bees, etc., are subject, and which varies according to their different kinds; the personal tax and house tax, of which we can make no exact valuation, and which vary in the different provinces. These last taxes are not levied in the towns, except on the shops and stores of merchants, who pay in proportion to the amount of their business. Foreign goods are subject to a duty of 5 per cent., paid at the frontiers, and to an additional one of 1½ per cent., in the tollhouses, farmed out to private individuals, which pay considerable sums to the government. The tax is not always directly collected by the divan, which, on the other hand, does not always pay the functionaries directly. The latter receive an order to collect the tax of certain villages, which constitute their appanage. As the cadastre is old, the tax which the tax gatherer is authorized to collect according to his warrant, is frequently less than the two-tenths of the actual revenue, which the functionary does not fail to collect; therefore the king issued, in 1869, two edicts, one to enjoin the tax payers to pay only the quota registered at the divan; the other to order a census which was regarded as the prelude to a new cadastre.


—But we have as yet spoken only of the fixed taxes; there are variable ones, and a great number of them. There is the extraordinary tribute, which is one of the most vexatious; it is exacted to meet certain expenses of the royal family, such as the marriage of a prince of the blood, or any other solemnity; there is the sadr, designed to provide for the expenses occasioned by ambassadors of foreign courts, and to entertain high functionaries; there is the pik-ked, or present to the king, which, though called a voluntary tax, is none the less exacted. This present is made annually to the king by the governors of the provinces and the great dignitaries of the kingdom; it is necessarily the fruit of an arbitrary imposition. Public establishments are also subject to the payment of periodical dues.


—If the revenues of the crown are considerable in Persia, where the necessaries of life are much cheaper than in Europe, the functionaries are but slightly remunerated; in return, however, they are left at liberty to pay themselves, to the detriment of the people. When an important man or a dignitary of the empire sees that he can enrich himself by obtaining the government of a province, he makes his request to a sovereign, fixing in advance the sum which he pledges himself to pay annually into the treasury. The place is given to the highest bidder. It may easily be imagined what the conduct of this sort of royal farmers must be! It is true that the sovereign receives all the complaints which are made to him; but it is solely to the end of making the beglerbeg disgorge, for the benefit of the state, whenever his wealth has become too great. Thus the people and the sovereign are equally satisfied.


—The peasantry alone are subject to taxation. The merchants and workmen are legally exempt from it. The merchants transmit their business to their sons; their honesty is proverbial, and all unemployed funds are intrusted to them; they are the only bankers of the empire. It is they who lend to the state, and as all the money returns to their hands, they no longer fear the public bankruptcies which characterized the ancient governments of Persia. The workmen have their corporations, their regulations, their funds, their elected assemblies. It is the organization of St. Louis, or rather, it is the organization which St. Louis had regulated, and which came from the Roman empire, which had found it in the east. It was, in fact, after the capture of Ctesiphon that Alexander Severus organized the trade corporations. Industry has declined very much from what it was under the sophis. The ancient manufactories of silk and velvet (Kashan, Ispahan, Reschet), and the manufactories of arms (Kerman, Schiraz), are no longer in existence, but commerce is carried on in an indifferent way.


—As to the military forces of Persia, see the note hereto appended.


—The resources of Persia would be immense if it were possible to make the most of them. Gold, silver, copper, iron, jasper, white marble, sulphur, copperas, salt and saltpetre, turquoise, bitumen, naphtha and petroleum: all these abound in Iran. The soil is remarkably fertile wherever irrigation is practicable, but large areas of fertile land are uninhabited, and it is only the facility of finding fields to cultivate which compensates somewhat for the lack of work in the cities. The vast saline deserts in Persia might be brought under cultivation by supplying them with the necessary water. The products of the soil are flax, hemp, sesame, tobacco, cotton, saffron, terebinth, mastic, gums, gall nuts, and dye plants. Persia furnishes to commerce annually, 20,000 bales of silk. The opium-yielding poppy is very extensively cultivated there. Manna and rhubarb are exported. But this wealth can be sent out of the kingdom only at a very considerable cost for transportation, so imperfect are the means of communication. If Persia had roads kept in good repair, commerce there would develop immensely, the mines could be worked, and the public wealth would increase ten-fold in a very short time. Such must be, however, the foundation of all social renovation for the nations of the east, and since 1873, the year of the shah's first visit to Europe, we have been assured that measures have been taken to construct roads and to introduce into Persia several of the most important European institutions.*23


—BIBLIOGRAPHY. T. S. Andersen, My Wanderings in Persia, 8vo, London, 1880; General Blaramberg, Statistical Survey of Persia, male in the years 1837-40 (in Russian), 8vo, St. Petersburg, 1853; Do. Heinrich Brugsch, Reise der K. preussischen Gesandtschaft nach Persien, 1860 und 1861, 2 vols., 8vo, Leipzig, 1864; E. B. Eastwick, Journal of a Diplomate's Three Years' Residence in Persia, 2 vols., 8vo, London, 1864; A. H. Keane and Sir R. Temple, Asia, London, 1882; Col. C. M. Macgregor, Narrative of a Journey through the Province of Khorassan and the Northwest Frontier of Afghanistan in 1875, 2 vols., London, 1879; Clements R. Markham, A General Sketch of the History of Persia, 8vo., London, 1874; Capt. Hippisley Cunliffe Marsh, A Ride through Islam: being a Journey through Persia and Afghanistan to India, 8vo., London, 1877; Chas. De Molon, De la Perse: Etudes sur la Géographie, le Commerce, la Politique, l'Industrie, l'Administration, etc., 8vo, Versailles, 1875; Augustus Mounsey, A Journey through the Caucasus and the Interior of Persia, 8vo, London, 1872; John Piggot, Persia: Ancient and Modern, 8vo, London, 1875; Do. Jak. Ed. Polak, Persien: Das Land und seine Bewohner: Ethnographische Schilderungen, 2 vols., 8vo, Leipzig, 1865; Lady Sheil, Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia, 8vo, London, 1856; E. Stack, Six Months in Persia; 2 vols., London, 1882; Baron Thielmann, Travels in the Caucasus, Persia, and Turkey in Asia, 2 vols., 8vo, London, 1876; I. Thomson, La Perse: sa population, ses revenues, son armée, son commerce, avec notes par N. de Khanikof, in "Bulletin de la Société de géographic," Juillet, 8vo, Paris, 1869; John Ussher, Journey from London to Persepolis, including Wanderings in Daghestan, Georgia, Armenia, Kurdistan, Mesopotamia and Persia, 8vo, London, 1866; Robert Grant Watson, A History of Persia, from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the year 1858, 8vo, London, 1873.

F. M.

Notes for this chapter

By the treaty of Dec. 9 (21), 1881, ratified Feb. 28 (March 12), 1882, the boundary between the Persian province of Chorasan and the territory of the Turkomans, which had lately been occupied by the Russians, was finally established. By the stipulations of that treaty the boundary line is formed by the lower parts of the Atrek river upward to Fort Tschat, by the ridge of the Songu Dagh and by the Sjagirim mountains; it next crosses the upper Tshandyr, runs in a northeasterly direction to the Sumbar, following its course to its month; it then runs along the ridge of the Kopet Dagh in a southeasterly direction, following, as a whole, irrespective of some sinuosities and indentations, the northern water-shed of the Atrek river, up to Baba-Durmas, which remains in the possession of Persia. This conquest by Russia has at least the advantage for Persia, that a considerable portion of the latter country will henceforth be secure from the destructive invasions of the Turkomans; the Russians also gave their freedom to a great number of captive. Persians in the settlements of the Tekke (Turkomans). The sixth volume of Behm & Wagner's Die Berolkerung der Erde contains the latest estimates of the population of Persia, by Gen. Houtum-Schindler, who possesses a most thorough knowledge of the country; these estimates are based, partly on the general's own observations, and partly on the statements of the Persian minister of finance, and are as follows:

Table.  Click to enlarge in new window.

According to religion these 7,653,600 inhabitants are divided into 6,860,600 Shiites, 700,000 Sunnites and Mohammedan sectarians, 8,000 Parsees, 19,000 Jews, 43,000 Armenians, and 23,000 Nestorians. Of 1,000 Armenians, 528 are males, 472 females; of 1,000. Mohammedans, 495 are males, and 505 females.

—The cultivation and the export of opium, which are not only encouraged by the government, but even ordered by it, have lately considerably increased, while in other respects little or no progress has been made in the country. The Persian opium trade dates only from the Anglo-Chinese war. In consequence of the safety afforded by the occupation of Hong Kong by the English, Persian opium gradually made its way to China. The prohibitory duties exacted in the ports of India had been a great obstacle in the way of trade, and for a long time more opium was sent to Constantinople than to Hong Kong. Finally, some merchants of lead discovered the route via Ceylon, and now that drug is shipped via Bender-Abbas directly to China, by steamers of the Pei-ho line of steamships. In 1880 the export was 6,000 piculs (or boxes of 125 English lbs.), and in 1881, 8,000; while ten years previous, the export amounted to but 4,000 piculs, or one-half of the amount exported in 1881. 8,000 piculs are equivalent to 480 English tons, and are but one-tenth of the quantity of opium exported from India. With better roads. Persia might well night make its competition felt by India. Probably in consequence of the primitive method of manufacturing it, Persian opium is a little cheaper than that produced in India; crude Persian opium costs ten rupees per see (two lbs.); refined, thirteen and one-third rupees, against sixteen rupees for refined Indian opium.

—The Persian priesthood consists of many orders, the chief of them at the present time being that of Mooshteched, of whom there are but five in number in the whole country. Vacancies in this post are filled nominally by the members of the order, but in reality by the public voice, and the shah himself is excluded from all power of appointment. Next in rank to the mooshtehed is the sheik-nl-islam, or ruler of the faith, of whom there is one in every large town, nominated by, and receiving his salary from, the government. Under these dignitaries there are three classes of ministers of religion, the mooturelle, one for each mosque or place of pilgrimage; the muezzin, or sayer of prayers, and the mollah, or conductor of rites. The Armenians are under two bishops, one of them Roman Catholic, and both residing at Ispahan. There is wide tolerance exercised toward Armenians and Nestorians, but the Jews and Guebres suffer under great oppression. Education is in a comparatively advanced state, at least as far as the upper classes are concerned. There are a great number of colleges, supported by public funds, in which students are instructed in religion and Persian and Arabian literature, as well as in a certain amount of scientific knowledge, while private tutors are very common, being employed by all families who have the means. A larger portion of the population of Persia are possessed of the rudiments of education than of any other country in Asia, except China. The revenue and expenditure of the government are known only from estimates, as no budgets or other official accounts have ever been published. The receipts of the year 1875 amounted to 4,361,660 tomans, or £2,026,354, in money, besides payments in kind, consisting of barley, wheat, rice and silk, valued at 550,840 tomans, or £255,911, making the total revenue equal to 4,912,500 tomans, or £2,282,265. The bulk of the public expenditure is for the maintenance of troops, and salaries, with pensions, to the Persian priesthood, while each annual surplus is paid into the shah's treasury. Almost the entire burthen of taxation lies, as remarked above, upon the laboring classes, and, among these, upon the Mohammedan subjects of the shah. The amount of revenue collected from the Christian population, the Jews, and the Guebres, is reported to be very small. The government has no public debt.

—By a decree of the shah, issued in July, 1875, it was ordered that the army should for the future be raised by conscription, instead of by irregular levies, and that a term of service of twelve years should be substituted for the old system, under which the mass of the soldiers were retained for life. The organization of the army is by provinces, tribes and districts. A province furnishes several regiments; a tribe gives one, and sometimes two, and a district contributes one battalion to the army. The commanding officers are almost invariably selected from the chiefs of the tribe or district from which the regiment is raised. The Christians, Jews and Guebres in Persia are exempt from all military service. The whole external trade of Persia may be roughly valued at £4,000,000 annually, of which £2,500,000 may be taken as the value of the imports, and £1,500,000 as that of the exports. The greater part of the commerce of Persia centres at Tabreez, which is the chief emporium for the productions of northern India, Samarkand, Bokhars. Cabul and Beloochistan. There are no official returns of the value of the total imports and exports, the former of which are estimated to have averaged £1,000,000, and the latter £500,000, per annum, in the year 1876-80. The principal article of import into Tabreez during the five years consisted of cotton goods of British manufacture, of the average annual value of £800,000; while the chief article of export was silk, shipped for France and Great Britain, of the average annual value of £110,000. All the European merchandise that reaches Tabreez passes by Constantinople to Trebizond, whence it is forwarded by caravans. Upward of £100,000 worth of carpets are now annually exported to Europe.

—Persia has a system of telegraphs, established by Europeans. At the end of 1879 there were 3,367 miles of telegraph lines and 5,660 miles of telegraph wire in operation. The number of telegraph offices was seventy-one at the same date. The number of dispatches forwarded in the year 1878 was 500,000, the revenue of the year from telegraphs amounting to £15,000. The first regular postal service, also established by Europeans, was opened in January, 1877. Under it mails are conveyed from Julfa, on the Russian frontier, to Tabreez and Teheran, and from thence to the port of Resht, on the Caspian sea. In November, 1882, the Persian government arranged with a syndicate of French capitalists for the construction of a railway from Resht to Teheran, 250 miles. (See Statesman's Manual, 1883.)

Footnotes for PERU.

End of Notes

822 of 1105

Return to top