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  • James M. Gustafson

The governorships of Muhammad Ismaʿil Khan Vakil al-Mulk (1859–68) and Murtaza Quli Khan Vakil al-Mulk II (1868–78) in Qajar Kirman were highlighted by an extensive building campaign which initiated a period of significant social and economic change in the province. This article explores the activities of local elites in managing their family estates in the context of this project through a careful analysis of provincial geographical and historical writings, Persian-language travelogues, and commentary by European administrators and travelers. Kirmani elites began investing in land and commercial agriculture on an unprecedented scale, accelerating Kirman's absorption into global economic patterns as a producer of raw materials like cotton, wool, and opium. An integrated political economy developed regionally through the expanding networks of elite households and their estates, reinforced by families combining landownership with administrative functions in rural areas. This process demonstrates the extent to which Iranians were active participants in transforming their communities in the context of the advance of global capitalism, with longstanding patterns of elite household competition playing an important role in mediating social and political change locally.

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James M. Gustafson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Ind.; e-mail:
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Author's note: I gratefully acknowledge the Iran Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute for supporting my research and travel during the preparation of this article. I also thank Rudi Matthee, Joanna deGroot, and Roger Thompson, each of whom patiently read and commented on drafts of this work. Any shortcomings are, of course, entirely my own.

1 Vaziri-Kirman, Ahmad ʿAli Khan and Parizi, Muhammad Ibrahim Bastani, Jughrafiya-yi Kirman (Tehran: Intisharat-i Ibn Sina, 1974), 27, 29, 31, 32, 37; Schindler, Albert Houtum and Kiepert, Heinrich, Reisen Im Südlichen Persien 1879 (Berlin: n.p., 1881), 830. The historian Edward Browne remarked that these new additions remained among the finest buildings in the city when he visited in 1888. See A Year amongst the Persians: Impressions as to the Life, Character, and Thought of the Persian People (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910), 469.

2 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 111, 135, 182, 185, 187.

3 Ibid., 86, 94–95, 111, 117, 123–24, 188.

4 Smith, Euan, “The Perso-Afghan Mission,” in Goldsmid, F. al., Eastern Persia: An Account of the Journeys of the Persian Boundary Commission, 1870–71–72 (London: Macmillan and Co., 1876), 179.

5 Oliver B. St. John, “Narrative of a Journey through Baluchistan and Southern Persia, 1872,” in Goldsmid, Eastern Persia, 100.

6 For the former argument, see Gilbar, Gad, “The Opening Up of Qajar Iran: Some Economic and Social Aspects,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 49 (1986): 7689. For the dependency approach, see esp. Foran, John, “The Concept of Dependent Development as a Key to the Political Economy of Qajar Iran (1800–1925),” Iranian Studies 22 (1989): 556.

7 There are three notable exceptions of detailed provincial histories on Qajar Iran. Walcher's, Heidi recent work, In the Shadow of the King: Zill Al-Sultan and Isfahan under the Qajars (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2008), is a history of Isfahan under the Qajars, heavily focused on the relationship between Zill al-Sultan and various British administrators and missionaries. There is a stronger focus on provincial society itself in Werner's, Christoph work on Tabriz, An Iranian Town in Transition: A Social and Economic History of the Elites of Tabriz, 1747–1848 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2000), although this deals only with the Zand and early Qajar periods. Mohammad Ali Kazembeyki has written a thematic study of the social and economic structure of Mazandaran, Qajar, Society, Politics and Economics in Mazandaran, Iran, 1848–1914 (London: Routledge, 2003). A special edition of Iranian Studies in 2000 was devoted to provincial histories and includes a study of a local history of Tabriz from the Qajar period, Werner, Christoph, “The Amazon, the Sources of the Nile, and Tabriz: Nadir Mirza's Tarikh va Jughrafiya-yi Dar al-Saltana-yi Tabriz,” Iranian Studies 33 (2000): 165–85. See also, in the same volume, Melville, Charles, “Persian Local Histories: Views from the Wings,” Iranian Studies 33 (2000): 714.

8 Markovits, Claude, The Global World of Indian Merchants, 1750–1947: Traders of Sind from Bukhara to Panama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). See also Markovits, Claude, “Structure and Agency in the World of Asian Commerce during the Era of Colonial Domination (c. 1750–1950),” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 50 (2007): 106–23.

9 Gilbar, Gad, “The Muslim Big Merchant-Entrepreneurs of the Middle East, 1860–1914,” Die Welt des Islams 43 (2003): 136.

10 Ashraf, Ahmad, “The Roots of Emerging Dual Class Structure in Nineteenth-Century Iran,” Iranian Studies 14 (1981): 527.

11 See, for example, Shahnavaz, Shahbaz, Britain and the Opening Up of South-West Persia 1880–1914: A Study in Imperialism and Economic Dependence (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005); and Amirahmadi, Hooshang, The Political Economy of Iran under the Qajars (London: I. B. Tauris, 2012).

12 See, for example, the discussion of Iran's transition from “pseudo-feudalism” to “proto-capitalism” in Amirahmadi, Political Economy.

13 Doumani, Beshara, Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 1700–1900 (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1995). Manu Goswami makes a similar observation in relation to the Indian Ocean region, writing that “the first sustained articulations of nationalism in colonial South Asia crystallized around the notion of a territorially delimited economic collective, a national economy during the 1870s and 1880s.” Goswami, Manu, “From Swadeshi to Swaraj: Nation, Economy, Territory in Colonial South Asia, 1870–1909,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 40 (1998): 611.

14 Meeker, Michael, A Nation of Empire: The Ottoman Legacy of Turkish Modernity (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2002).

15 Matthee, Rudi, The Politics of Trade in Safavid Iran: Silk for Silver (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Mann, Michael, The Sources of Social Power, 3 vols. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986–2013).

16 Vaziri, Jughrafiya. This geographical treatise was written as the introduction to a larger work on the history of Kirman, now published separately as Vaziri Kirmani, Ahmad ʿAli Khan and Parizi, Muhammad Ibrahim Bastani, Tarikh-i Kirman (Tehran: Nashr-i ʿIlm, 2006). A summary of the Jughrafiya is available in German, and has been used much more widely than the original text itself. Busse, Herbert, “Kerman im 19. Jahrhundert nach der Geographie des Waziri,” Der Islam 50 (1973): 284312.

17 Kirmani, Yahya Ahmadi and , Muhammad, Farmandihan-i Kirman (Tehran: Danish, 1975). See also Ahmadi's timeline of Kirman's history placed alongside broader Iranian and global historical developments: Kirmani, Yahya Ahmadi, Najmi, Shams al-Din, and Bahunar, Danishgah-i Shahid, Tarikh-i Yahya: Salshumar-i Tarikh-i Iran va Jihan Az Khilqat-i ʿAlam Ta Sal-i 1336 Hijri Qamari (Kerman, Iran: Danishgah-i Shahid Bahunar-i Kirman, 2007).

18 Farmanfarma, ʿAbd-al-Husain and Afsar, Iraj, Musafaratnamah-yi Kirman va Balucistan (Tehran: Intisarat-i Asatir, 2003); Farmanfarma, Firuz Mirza and Ittihadiyyah, Mansura, Safarnamah-yi Kirman va Balucistan (Tehran: Babak, 1981); Farmanfarma, Firuz Mirza, Nikpour, Madjid, Parizi, Muhammad Ibrahim Bastani, and Muhandis, Riza, Mallahan-i Khak va Sayyahan-i Aflak: Safarnamah-yi Firuz Mirza Farmanfarma, Kirman 1289 Hijri Qamari; va, Safarnamah-i Mirza Riza Muhandis, Kirman, Yazd, Shiraz, Bushihr 1322 Hijri Qamari (Kerman, Iran: Markaz-i Kirmanshinasi, 2007).

19 The financial activities of prominent merchants are telling in this regard. Those who achieved wealth and power through activities that lay beyond land, religious learning, and administration—such as international trade—were commonly excluded from the ranks of the aʿyān notables. Many of the most successful Qajar-era merchants, such as Amin al-Zarb and Hajj Aqa ʿAli Rafsanjani, invested heavily in land, which could hardly have returned profits equivalent to their investments in international trade. This can best be explained as an attempt to acquire sociocultural resources and a level of prestige that would help secure and reproduce their social standing.

20 Hodgson, Marshall G. S., The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 2:6469. A similar model for Ottoman elites is presented in Hourani, Albert, “Ottoman Reform and the Politics of Notables,” in Beginnings of Modernization in the Middle East: The Nineteenth Century, ed. Polk, William R. and Chambers, Richard L. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968). Hourani's “politics of notables” model was noted as a “structural, long-term feature of the political domain in the Middle East, as well as other Islamic regions,” in Shoshan, Boaz, “The ‘Politics of Notables’ in Medieval Islam,” Asian and African Studies 20 (1986): 179215.

21 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 58, 68. Vaziri notes that these districts remained under his family's ownership in the 1870s.

22 Ahmadi, Farmandihan, 47; Vaziri, Tarikh, 369, 388.

23 Ahmadi, Farmandihan, 50–52; Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 68–69. Ibrahim Khan's sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons married a who's who of Kirman's elite and are mostly listed as absentee landlords or administrators over their personal landownings. Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 55–58.

24 Precise information on crop-sharing agreements from the Qajar era is not available. In his fieldwork in Kirman in the 1960s, Paul Ward English reports that a longstanding 70 percent share for the landowner remained standard at that time, though it is unclear whether this extended back to the Qajar period. English, Paul Ward, City and Village in Iran: Settlement and Economy in the Kirman Basin (Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1966). Floor, Willem estimates an 80 percent share for landlords in the Qajar period, in Agriculture in Qajar Iran (Washington, D.C.: Mage Publishers, 2003). The consensus is that the peasants received only a small share of the produce from the land they worked, with the majority making its way into the hands of elite households in larger villages and urban centers.

25 Weber, Max, Roth, Guenther, and Wittich, Claus, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1978), 357–59.

26 Joanna deGroot also noted the correlation of land rights and administration in her study of “regionalism” in Kirman; see “Kerman in the Late Nineteenth Century: A Regional Study of Society and Social Change” (PhD diss., Oxford University, 1977).

27 Abrahamian, Ervand, “Oriental Despotism: The Case of Qajar Iran,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 5 (1974): 1317.

28 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 126.

29 Euan Smith, “The Perso-Afghan Mission,” in Goldsmid, Eastern Persia, 234–35.

30 Matthee, Rudi, “The East India Company Trade in Kerman Wool, 1658–1730,” in Etudes Safavides, ed. Calmard, Jean (Paris and Tehran: Institut Français de Recherche en Iran, 1993).

31 On the commercialization of agriculture in Qajar Iran, see esp. the works of Seyf, Ahmad: “Commercialization of Agriculture: Production and Trade of Opium in Persia, 1850–1906,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 16 (1984): 233–50; “Foreign Firms and Local Merchants in Nineteenth-Century Iran,” Middle Eastern Studies 36 (2000): 137–55; and “Obstacles to the Development of Capitalism: Iran in the Nineteenth Century,” Middle Eastern Studies 34 (1998): 54–82. See also Floor, Agriculture in Qajar Iran.

32 Gilbar, “The Muslim Big Merchant-Entrepreneurs.”

33 Gilbar, “The Opening Up of Qajar Iran,” 78.

34 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 158.

35 Malcolm, John, Sketches of Persia: From the Journals of a Traveller in the East (London: Murray, 1828).

36 Vaziri, Tarikh, 803–804.

37 Sheikholeslami, A. Reza, The Structure of Central Authority in Qajar Iran, 1871–1896 (Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1997).

38 Vaziri, Tarikh, 806.

39 Khan, Muhammad Hasan and Rizvani, Muhammad Ismaʿil, Tarikh-i Muntazam-i Nasiri (Tehran: Dunya-yi Kitab, 1984), 3:1826. Ahmadi gives 1282/1866 as the date of Muhammad Ismaʿil Khan's formal appointment, but also mentions that “if you ask 100 different people . . . you will get 100 different answers.” That he was de facto governor since 1859 is more significant. Ahmadi, Farmandihan, 108.

40 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 43. Vaziri notes that in establishing alliances with the tribal khans, Vakil al-Mulk “gave a daughter and took a daughter for his sons.” A brief account of his military campaign in Baluchistan is contained in “Translation of Extract from Tehran Gazette of 29th May 1862,” United Kingdom, The National Archives at Kew, Foreign Office archives (hereafter FO) 248/203.

41 Matthee, Politics of Trade, 69–74.

42 See, for example, Seyf, Ahmad, “Commercialization of Agriculture: Production and Trade of Opium in Persia, 1850–1906,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 16 (1984): 233–50; and Gilbar, “The Opening Up of Qajar Iran.”

43 R. Thomson, “Memorandum on Opium Trade of Persia,” 6 March 1869, FO 60/322, reprinted in Issawi, Charles, The Economic History of Iran, 1800–1914 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 240–41.

44 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 83, 86, 87, 104, 152, 178. Fine opium is listed among Kirman's agricultural produce by numerous other travelers and diplomats prior to the 1860s. See, for example, Abbott, Keithet al., Cities & Trade: Consul Abbott on the Economy and Society of Iran, 1847–1866 (London: Ithaca Press, 1983); and de Khanikoff, Nicolas, Memoire Sur La Partie Meridionale De l'Asie Centrale: Par Nicolas De Khanikoff (Paris: L. Martinet, 1861), 198.

45 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 83.

46 Evelyn Baring, “Report by Mr. Baring on Trade and Cultivation of Opium in Persia,” 23 September 1881, House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, Reports by Her Majesty's Secretaries of Embassy and Legation on the Manufactures, Commerce, &c., of the Countries in which they Reside. Part I [C.3103] (1882).

47 Percy Sykes, “Report on the Trade and Commerce of the Consular Districts of Kerman and Persian Beluchistan from March, 1894 to March, 1895,” House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, Reports from H.M. Diplomatic and Consular Officers Abroad on Trade and Finance [c.7919] (1896).

48 G. Lucas, “Memorandum on the Cultivation and Exportation of Opium in Persia,” in “Report on the Trade of the Persian Gulf and Muscat for the Years 1874–75” (23 Jan 1875), House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, Reports from Her Majesty's Consuls on the Manufactures, Commerce, &c., of their Consular Districts. Part II [c. 2529] (1880), 66; Baring, “Report,” 50.

49 Consul-General Ross, “Bushire, Report by Consul-General Ross on the Trade of the Persian Gulf for the Year 1884,” House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, Commercial. No. 20 (1885). (Trade Reports.) Reports from Her Majesty's Consuls on the Manufactures, Commerce, &c., of their Consular Districts. Part VII. [c. 4524] (1884–85), 1146.

50 Lewis Pelly, “Report by Colonel Pelly to the Indian Government,” in Issawi, Economic History, 166–67.

51 Katouzian, Homa, The Political Economy of Modern Iran: 1926–1979 (New York: New York University Press, 1981), 27.

52 Even European observers, who tended to overlook the activities of native merchants in favor of their own, consistently note the predominance of Iranian merchants in the Perso-Indian trade prior to the 1890s. See, for example, Baring, “Report,” 52.

53 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 78–79, 100, 172.

54 Although Iran's first telegraph lines were operative in 1865, according to Shaykh Yahya Ahmadi the first telegraph line did not reach Kirman until 1879. Ahmadi, Tarikh-i Yahya, 321, 325.

55 A.H. Gleadowe-Neucomen, “Report on the Commercial Mission to South-Eastern Persia During 1904–1905,” FO 368/38; Sykes, “Report on Trade and Commerce.”

56 St. John, “Narrative of a Journey,” 100.

57 Schindler and Kiepert, Reisen, 830.

58 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 32; Ahmadi, Farmandihan, 115.

59 Vaziri, Tarikh, 808.

60 One instance cited in Vaziri is of multiple branches added to the qanāt at Nusratabad. Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 105.

61 Ahmadi, Farmandihan, 106, n. 1.

62 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 170–71.

63 See, for example, the discussion of politics in Kirman leading up to the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, in Kirmani, Nazim al-Islam and Sirjani, Saʿidi, Tarikh-i Bidari-i Iraniyan (Tehran: Muʾassasah-yi Intisharat-i Agah, 1983), 1:309.

64 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 152.

65 Farmanfarma, Mallahan-i Khak, 88–89.

66 Gleadowe-Neucomen, “Report on the Commercial Mission,” 46–47.

67 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 158.

68 Sykes, “Report on Trade and Commerce.”

69 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 157.

70 Sheikholeslami, The Structure of Central Authority.

71 Perhaps the best demonstration of this appears in Werner, An Iranian Town in Transition.

72 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 63–64.

73 Ibid., 64–65, 91.

74 Ibid., 65.

75 Sykes, “Report on Trade and Commerce.”

76 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 169.

77 Ibid., 44–45.

78 Ibid., 31.

79 Ibid., 45.

80 Ahmadi, Farmandihan, 126.

81 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 45.

82 Ibid., 30.

83 Ibid., 54–58.

84 Muhammad Karim Khan's return to Kirman City took place in the context of a struggle for control over the Ibrahimi estate after a certain Sayyid Javad married into the Ibrahimi family and attempted to assert his control over the madrasa and its endowments. See Rizvi, Niʿmat Allah, Tadhkirat al-Awliya fi Sharh Ahwal . . . Muhammad Karim Khan al-Kirmani (Bombay: n.p., 1895), 7273.

85 Several Shaykhi vaqfnāmahs from Kirman are reprinted in Hermann, Denis and Rezai, Omid, “Le rôle du vaqf dans la formation de la communauté shaykhi kermani à l’époque qajar (1259–1324/1843–1906),” Studia Iranica 36 (2007): 87131.

86 Ahmadi, Farmandihan, 123. On Haydari-Niʿmati factionalism, see Floor, Willem, “The Political Role of the Lutis in Iran,” in Modern Iran: The Dialectics of Continuity and Change, ed. Bonine, M. E. and Keddie, N. R. (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1981), 8395; and Perry, John R., “Toward a Theory of Iranian Urban Moieties: The Ḥaydariyyah and Niʿmatiyyah Revisited,” Iranian Studies 32 (1999): 5170.

87 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 169.

88 See Muhammad Ibrahim Bastani-Parizi's annotations in Ahmadi, Farmandihan, 140–41.

89 Shahidi, Muzaffar, “Amlak-i Khaliṣah va Siyasat-i Furush-i An dar Dawrah-yi Nasiri,” Tarikh-i Muʿasir-i Iran 1, no. 3 (1976): 65. Shahidi suggests that the advice of these courtiers was ultimately self-serving, as Nasir al-Din Shah's advisors themselves were among those who profited most from the policy, buying up enormous tracts of khalīṣah land throughout the country.

90 A notice in the Qajar state paper on Vakil al-Mulk I notes that even the core agricultural districts like Sirjan and Rafsanjan contained substantial khalīṣah lands. Entry for 14 Jumadi II 1280, in Ghaffari, Saniʿ al-Mulk and al-Hasan Khan, Mirza Abu, Ruznamah-yi Dawlat-i ʿAliyyah-yi Iran, 1 (1861), 622. ʿAbd al-Husayn Mirza Farmanfarma commented repeatedly on khalīṣah lands during his 1894 journey through Bam and Narmashir, at which time they still made up a large portion of the overall landholdings in the eastern portions of the province. Farmanfarma, Musafaratnamah.

91 Farmanfarma et al., Mallahan-i Khak, 140.

92 Ibid., 137; Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 87.

93 Ahmadi, Farmandihan, 107.

94 Foran, “The Concept of Dependent Development,” 5.

95 Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 183.

96 Ibid., 184.

97 Ibid., 173.

98 Ibid., 62, 125.

99 Ibid., 73–74.

100 Ibid., 113, 120.

101 Gazetteer of Persia: Compiled for Political and Military Reference . . . in the Intelligence Branch, Quarter Master General's Dept. in India. Simla; Calcutta: 1885, 4:36; Vaziri, Jughrafiya, 98–99.

102 Farmanfarma, Musafaratnamah, 54–59.

103 Ibid., 62–101.

104 For an alternate view, see Ashraf, “The Roots of Emerging Dual Class Structure.”

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