The Travels of Sir John Chardin into Persia and the East-Indies

Sir John Chardin traveled to Persia from the Ottoman Empire. Here he describes the steps taken by the Safavid government to deal with famine in Isfahan.

All this while the Dearth encreas'd at Ispahan, and the poor people cry'd aloud against the excessive price of it. And indeed there were many causes of this Scarcity. First, the last Harvest did not amount scarce to the half of what they expected; for the Locust had devour'd the Ears. Then the whole Train of the Court was come all together of a sudden to Ispahan before they were expected, so that they had tak'n no care to lay in their Stores against Winter. Moreover, at the King's first coming to the Crown, the greatest part of the Officers of the Empire coming to present themselves before Him, and a vast number of private persons crouding together about business, or for curiosity, the Multitude of Inhabitants was encreas'd to above half as many again, so that of necessity the Price of Provisions must be double in Proportion. But the chief Reason that all things were so dear was the bad appearance of the Harvest at hand, which promis'd no better then the last year. For in regard the Harvests in these Climates are generally reap'd in the Months of June and July, it is easie to conjecture in March and April what the year will produce. And therefore the Corn Merchants perceiving that there would be an infallible scarcity of all sorts of Grain, enhans'd their Prizes, and would not part with what they had, but staid till the Prizes were at the highest, so that the probability of a dearth to come caus'd a present Famine. Lastly, the ill Government was in part a great cause of the scarcity, for that the Laws were not observ'd, and the Magistrates neglected their duty, without fear of being punish'd. And this was the Reason that the Mochtesek, or Chief of the Government, receiv'd Bribes of those that sold the necessary Provisions, and therefore to gratifie'em he publish'd every Week the Prizes of things as those people desir'd; that is to say, at an excessive rate, and three quarters higher then in the time of the deceas'd King. For we are to observe, that it is a Custom in Persia, that every Saturday the Chief Justice sets the Price of all Provisions for the Week following, which the Sellers dare not exceed under great forfeitures. This Knavery then of the Judge of the City Government, who stood in no aw of the superior Government, was the cause that all things were sold at double and treble the Rate they ought to have been.

The People therefore almost starv'd by this Scarcity, redoubl'd their Cries, so that they reach'd the very Gate of the Palace Royal, which mov'd his Majesties Compassion to that degree, that he committed the Affair to Ali-Kouli-Kaan, General of all his Forces. Who began his first endeavours of redress with an Act of Generosity and Justice, which made him dreaded by all the Merchants and Corn-sellers. He had commanded one of the most eminent Merchants in Ispahan to send him in upon the place, the first day of the Market, two hundred Sacks of Wheat, and not to sell'em at a dearer rate then they were sold the year before. Now the Merchant thought that he expected a Bribe; and therefore upon the Market day, thinking to exempt himself from obedience to his Command he sent him two hundred Tomans, which amount to the value of about a thousandPistols. Thereupon the Generalissimo, being highly offended, sent for him, and when he came, Dog as thou art, said he, is it thus thous goest about to famish a whole City? For the Affront thou hast done me receive a hundred Drubs upon the soles of thy feet. Which were paid him at the same instant; and besides, the General condemned him in a Fine of two thousand Crowns; which he took to himself, sending the thousand Pistols to the King.

Presently, he order'd a great Oven to be built in the Royal Piazza, and another in the publick Piazza, ordering the Criers to proclaim that those Ovens were fixed to bake those alive, that should sell their bread at a rate above the set price, or that should hide up their Corn. There was moreover a fire continually kept in these Ovens, but no body was thrown in; because no body would venture the pain of such a rigorous punishment of his Disobedience.

At the same time he also went himself to visit all the Granaries and Store-houses of Corn and Meal that were in Ispahan, and having taken an accompt in Writing of their Number, every Week he commanded the Merchants to send a certain quantity according to the Proportion of what the Store-houses contain'd, and not to sell but at a certain Price, and not to deliver their goods to any but such as brought a Note under his hand. He gave the same Command for Barley: so that almost for a whole years time there was neither Wheat or Barley to be had without a Ticket seal'd with his Signet. All the Bakers went for such a Ticket And in regard the General knew full well what every one of 'em vented, he would not permit the Baker by vertue of his Ticket to buy any more then what he had occasion for. To that purpose he prohibited the Bakers to sell to any other then those of their own Precinct, nor to sell'em any more then what was needful for their subsistence according to the usual rate of their spending, to the end that the Bakers should not pretend that persons came from abroad to buy their bread, or that those in their Precincts bought more one Week than they did another, and so that the vent could not be always equally proportion'd. And for the Price, he order'd that the Batman-cha of Bread (the Royal weight of Persia, consisting of eleven pounds three quarters) should be worth an Abassi, which makes four Groats.

By this good management he wonderfully eas'd the People, who before paid for eleven pound and three fourths of Bread an Abassi and a quarter, or twenty pence; whence it also came to pass, that there was Plenty sufficient. Thus the Complaints and Cries of the People ceas'd. For the Bakers being oblig'd to furnish those in their Precincts with as much bread as they stood in need of, no body was apprehensive of the scarcity, but only that he paid five farthings for that which cost not above four in time of plenty. And to the end that the same rate might continue, he sent to all the Burroughs, Towns, and Villages, from either to nine days journey round about, to send in such a number of Waggon-Loads of Corn and Meal to Ispahan, and there to sell it at the net price. By which means there came enough to supply the City for six Months. Moreover, when any considerable Quantity arriv'd, he order'd it to be brought in, as it were, in triumph; the People dancing before with their Instruments of Musick, and the horses being cover'd with Housses, and gingling an infinite number of little Bells, which together with the Acclamations of the Rabble made a strange, confused, and yet pleasing noise.

Some villages there were mutiny'd and refus'd to send in their Corn; but the punishment of the Inhabitants of Ispahanim-cha strook a terrour into the rest. For the General had sent to this Place, being a great Town consisting of four thousand Houses, two Leagues distant from Ispahan, one of his Officers with a Command from the King to send at the set Price two hundred Sacks of Meal to the Capital City for the present necessity. The Townsmen made answer, 'twas nothing to them if there were such a Famine in the City, for that they had paid all their duties and Impositions for the last Harvest: that they had something else to do then to send their Corn and the Meal to Ispahan Market, and that those that wanted might come to them, for that they were not bound to sell but in their own Town. Thereupon the Officer remonstrated to the Principal of the Village that it was the Kings pleasure, and shew'd 'em the Kings Warrant which he had in his hands; to which their answer not being with that becoming reverence which became 'em, the Officer laid his hand upon his Sword, thinking to have frighted 'em into obedience. But the Country fellows not understanding his hard words, fell upon the Officer, beat him almost blind, and tore the Kings Command, crying out, 'twas a Cheat and Counterfeit.

The General highly offended at this Insolence of the Countrymen, gave the King an account of it, who order'd him to inflict such punishment as the Offence deserv'd. Upon which he sent two hundred of his Guards, who Drubb'd to excess the Principal of the Ringleaders. He also set a Fine upon their heads of a hundred thousand Crowns; which was mitigated to a third part, tho after many Petitions and Submissions, with a Present to the General of a thousand Pistols, which was all paid down upon the nail.

Sir John Chardin, The Travels of Sir John Chardin into Persia and the East-Indies, vol. 1 (London: Moses Pitt 1686).


General Works on Middle Eastern History

Beinin, Joel. Workers and Peasants in the Modern Middle East. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Very readable social history of labor in the modern Middle East.

Burke, Edmund III. Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Collection of biographies of lives of Middle Easterners— ranging from bedouin and peasants to workers and political activists — from the nineteenth century to the present.

Cleveland, William. A History of the Modern Middle East. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1994. The best comprehensive history of the modern Middle East.

Daly, M. W, ed. The Cambridge History of Egypt, vol. 2: Modern Egypt from 1517 to the End of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Excellent collection of essays on Egyptian politics, society, and culture from the beginning of the Ottoman period to the present day.

Faroqhi, Suraiya, et al., eds. An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, vol. 2: 1600-1900. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Detailed studies of three hundred years of Ottoman life written by top scholars in the field.

Hodgson, Marshall G. S. The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, 3 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961. Difficult reading and a bit dated, but a must for the serious student of Middle Eastern history.

Hourani, Albert, et al., eds. The Modern Middle East. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. An important collection of essays on the modern Middle East, most previously published elsewhere.

Keddie, Nikki. Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006. A readable, old-fashioned narrative history of Iran in the modern period.

Lapidus, Ira M. A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Large and comprehensive, covering the entire Muslim world from the time of Muhammad to the present. Lapidus is at his best in earlier periods.

Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Although deeply embedded in modernization theory, Lewis has written a flowing narrative history of Turkey from its Ottoman roots.

Specialized Works

Bozdogan, Sibel, and Kasaba, Resat, eds. Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997. Stimulating collection of essays on different perceptions of “the modern” in Turkey.

Brown, Carl. International Politics and the Middle East: Old Rules, Dangerous Game. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984. While the second half of this book deals with the cold war and is a bit dated, the first half provides a well-written synopsis of the relationship of the West and the Middle East during the “long nineteenth century.”

Foran, John. “The Long Fall of the Safavid Dynasty: Moving Beyond the Standard Views.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 24 (1992): 281-304. A unique study that applies world systems analysis to Persia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Gaonkar, Dilip Parameshwar. Alternative Modernities. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999. A collection of essays outlining a useful approach to the problem of modernity.

Hodgson, Marshall G. S. “The Role of Islam in World History” and “The Unity of Later Islamic History” In Rethinking World History: Essays on Europe, Islam, and World History, edited by Edmund Burke III, 97-125, 171-206. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Brilliant if densely written essays that put the Middle East and the Islamic world in a global context.

Huntington, Samuel. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72 (Summer 1993): 23-49. Influential article attempts to forecast the upcoming conflict between “the West” and “the rest.”

Islamoglu-Inan, Huri, ed. The Ottoman Empire and the World Economy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Collection of essays applying world systems theory to the Ottoman Empire.

al-Jabarti, ‘Abd al-Rahman. Napoleon in Egypt: Al-Jabarti's Chronicle of the French Occupation, 1798. Translated by Shlomo Moreh. Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener, 1993. An eyewitness account of Napoleons campaign in Egypt, told from the Egyptian point of view.

Kafadar, Cemal. Between Two Worlds: The Construction of the Ottoman State. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Accessible work on the history and historiography of Ottoman beginnings.

Kasaba, Resat. The Ottoman Empire and the World Economy: The Nineteenth Century. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988. Examines why the Ottoman Empire became a peripheral part of the world economy in the nineteenth century.

Kunt, Metin, and Woodhead, Christine. Suleyman the Magnificent and His Age: The Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern World. London: Longman, 1995. Solid collection of essays on the Ottoman Empire during its purported “golden age.”

Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon, 1978. This groundbreaking work analyzes the reasons for misperceptions of the Middle East in the West. A useful riposte to Huntington, although written a decade before.

Shannon, Thomas R. Introduction to the World Systems Perspective. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1989. Situates world systems theory in its historical context and analyzes its strengths and weaknesses.

Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. New York: Knopf, 2006. Well-written and timely history of the origins and evolution of al-Qaeda and similar groups and their ideology.

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