Guilds, Merchants, and Ulama in Nineteenth-Century Iran
Willem Floor
In Stock

Merchants and bankers managed much of nineteenth-century Iran’s economy and finances. The ulama—clerical leaders—who considered themselves responsible for the spiritual welfare of their flock also played an important economic role, in particular, through management of religious endowments. Numerically, however, the most important group was that of the traders and craftsmen, who were organized into guilds and who formed thirty to fifty percent of the urban population. Finally, there were the unskilled, mostly seasonal, laborers. [more]


Guilds, Merchants and Ulama analyzes the major functions and characteristics of these groups, and discusses how they each coped with the pressures of the world market to which Iran was increasingly exposed and which resulted in the disappearance of jobs reducing Iran’s economic and political independence. After 1870, Iran’s economic situation was aggravated by an influx of peasants into the main cities significantly increasing the size of permanent unskilled labor in these cities. Guilds only provided some measure of social and economic benefits and protection to its members but could not prevent major downsizing, which is detailed in a contemporary report included here in translation. Meanwhile, both the merchants and the ulama demanded government action to better protect the country’s economy and its independence. To make a bigger fist, the ulama, merchants and reformists mobilized the guilds to support their political ends. As such, the guilds provided the force that powered the political events, which resulted in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution in 1906.

The ulama’s interference in economic life only made matters worse. They had no grasp of economics, beyond stating that people should not be greedy. And the guilds, despite their visible role during the 1905–06 events, found themselves used, and discarded when they were no longer needed. This created the parameters for major structural change to finally take place after 1925.

In Guilds, Merchants, and Ulama Willem Floor provides a detailed analysis of primary source references essential for a better understanding of the socio-economic conditions that led to Iran’s push toward modernization in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

coming soon

return to top

Table of Contents

Foreword xi

The Structure of Qajar Society 1

The Working Class in Iran, 1880-1900 7
increase of urban population 7
the size and composition of the working class 8
state sector 8
skilled crafts and trades 9
service sector and day laborers 10
day laborers 11
prostitution 12
modern factory labor 13
working conditions 15
working hours 16
wages 17
diet 19
conclusion 21

The Merchants in Qajar Iran 23
what is a merchant? 23
the function of the malek al-tojjar 28
merchant-state relations 31
the nature of the merchants’ business 35
commercial reaction of merchants to the rise of european influence 42
political reaction of merchants to the rise of european influence 45
government efforts to support merchants 47
political action by merchants 49

The Bankers (Sarraf) in Qajar Iran 53
availability and terms of credit 53
sarrafs facilitate access to credit 56
what kind of transactions were sarrafs involved in? 58
what kind of commercial paper existed? 60
how did the credit system with drafts function? 61
introduction of modern european banking methods and institutions 64
sarrafs maintain market presence 67

The Economic Role of the Ulama in Qajar Iran 69
introduction 69
the size of the religious class 71
who were these religious professionals? 73
why the label “mullah” does not always stick 75
the descendants of the prophet or sayyeds 75
the financial dependence of the ulama 77
sources of income 78
personal wealth 79
income from administrative functions 81
judicial income 82
state endowments: stipends, pensions, and functions 83
religious alms and gifts 84
endowments 87
what was the money was spent on? 89
in pursuit of economic gain 93
discussion 96

The Guilds in Qajar Iran 99
i. introduction 99
ii. general aspects of the guilds 109
iii. organization of the guilds 120
iv. the social function of the guilds and fotovvat 126
v. guilds and taxation 139
vi. price-fixing and the control of standards of workmanship 145
vii. political function of the guilds 150

Chapter Seven 159
The Guilds in Isfahan According to Tahvildar 159
translation 161

Appendix I
The Fiscal Categories of Isfahan. 213

Appendix II
The Sacrifice of the Camel Ceremony in Isfahan 217

Appendix III
Three Notes on Guild Taxes From the Persian Ministry of
Foreign Affairs 221

appendix IV
Text of the 1926 law abolishing guild taxes 225

Appendix V
Note on Hawkers 233

Appendix VI
Joint Declaration by the Anjomans of the Merchants, Guilds and
Bankers Concerning the Need to Protect the Constitution and
Parliament (14 June 1908) 235



Table 2.1: Urban Employment by Sector in Iran (circa 1910) 8
Table 2.2: Number of Factories and of their Labor Force in Tabriz (1922) 14
Table 2.3: The Rate of Wages for the Chief Handicrafts in Tabriz (1870) 17
Table 2.4: Wages in Bushire and Lengeh (1870) 18
Table 2.5: Prices of Provisions in Tabriz (1870) 19
Table 2.6: Prices of Provisions in Lengeh (1870) 20
Table 4-1: Number of Religious Professionals in Tehran in 1880 71
Table 4.2. Income and Expenditures of the Imam Reza Shrine (in riyals) 89
Table 6.1: Number of Artisans and their Employment in Tehran (1886) 114
Table 6.2: Number of Artisans and their Employment in
Bandar Abbas (ca. 1900) 115
Table 6.3: Number of Guilds, Shops, Masters, Workers and Boys
in Tehran (1922) 116
Table 6.4: Artisan Membership of the Faqr-e `Ajam Dervish Order 134

Images in the book on the pages listed below are from the following:
Pages: Cover, 98, Mme Jane Dieulafoy, La Perse, La Chaldée, et La Susiane (Paris, 1887).
Pages: 22, 161, 166, 190, 200, S. G. W. Benjamin, Persia and the Persians (London, 1887).
Pages: 191, 204, 207, Postcards circa 1900.
Pages: ii, xii, 72, 168, 192, 201, 206, Henri-Rene d’Allemagne, Du Khorassan au Pays des Backhtoiaris. Trois mois de voyage en Perse 4 vols. (Paris, 1911), vol. 1.
Page: 51, Iraj Afshar (compiled), A Treasury of Early Iranian Photographs (Tehran, 1992)
Pages: x, 162, 165, 170, 199, 208, Jürgen W. Frembgen, Derwische und Zuckerbäcker (Munich, 1996).
Pages: viii, 136, 158, 164, 177, 189, 193, 194, 197, 198, 200, Friederike Voigt, Qadscharische Bildfliesen im Ethnologischen Museum Berlin (Berlin, 2002).


coming soon

return to top

Willem Floor has published numerous works of history as well as translations. His more recent books include:
Public Health in Qajar Iran; Agriculture in Qajar Iran; The History of Theater in Iran; The Persian Gulf: A Political and Economic History of Five Port Cities and its second volume, The Persian Gulf: The Rise of the Gulf Arabs; and A Social History of Sexual Relations in Iran. His recent translations include: Samuel Gottlieb Gmelin’s Travels Through Northern Persia 1770–1774; Mirza Naqi Nasiri’s Titles and Emoluments in Safavid Iran; and with Hasan Javadi, Abbas Qoli Aqa Bakikhanov’s The Heavenly Rose Garden: A History of Shirvan & Daghestan. His companion volume to Guilds, Merchants, and Ulama, in Nineteenth-Century Iran titled Labor and Industry in Iran, 1850-1941 was published in March 2009.

return to top
8.5" x 11"
292 pages
original paperback