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Volume VI, Fascicle 4, pp. 356-388

COURTS AND COURTIERS i. In the Median and Achaemenid periods

Available information on the Median and Achaemenid imperial courts is very limited and not entirely reliable. From Herodotus’ report (1.114) of the child Cyrus’ playing at being king it seems that the Median court included bodyguards, messengers, the “king’s eye” (a kind of secret agent; see below), and builders, for it is likely that the game was modeled on the existing court (Hirsch, p. 105). When the boy became Cyrus the Great (559-30 b.c.e.) he probably continued Median courtly organization and practices, including forms of etiquette, ceremonial, and diplomatic protocol that the Medes had in turn inherited from Assyria, though there is no explicit information on this point (Root, pp. 264-66, 283-84). According to Ctesias, one of the Median court offices was that of royal cupbearer (König, p. 177).

Although the tablets from the Persepolis fortifications and treasury furnish little direct evidence on the Achaemenid court, the reliefs depicting the royal tribute ceremonies on the Apadāna are a major source. Among Greek authors Herodotus has provided many apparently reliable details on courtly secrets and intrigues, and Ctesias, who spent many years as a physician at the Persian court, has also provided much first-hand information about influential courtiers and harem intrigues. The works of later Greek writers, especially Plutarch and Athenaeus, are valuable additional sources. Finally, details of life at the Achaemenid royal court can be found in the Old Testament Book of Esther, which, however, contains many legendary elements and must be used with care.

The royal household. Although Susa was the Achaemenid administrative capital, where royal decrees were issued and provincial officials sent their reports and where visiting dignitaries were received, the Greek authors noted that the king and his imperial court moved from one city to the next, depending on the season. Autumn and winter were spent in Babylon, spring in Susa, and summer in Ecbatana, but the great national holidays were celebrated at Persepolis (Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.6.22; idem, Anabasis 3.5.15; Strabo, 11.13.1), and the coronation palace was at Pasargadae (Plutarch, Artoxerxes 3).

The imperial court comprised a large number of people, with the sacred figure of the king at its center. He lived in seclusion, and beside his mother and his principal wife only representatives of the six noblest Persian clans had the right of unannounced access to him. The clans were those of the six men who had assisted Darius I (522-486 b.c.e.) in overthrowing the usurper Gaumāta in 522 and thus enjoyed a favored position (Herodotus, 3.84). There is a reference in the Book of Esther (1:14) to “the seven princes of Persia and Media who could see the king’s face and held the first place in the kingdom.” On the Bīsotūn relief and the tomb at Naqs-a Rostam (Root, pls. VI, XII-XIII) Darius is depicted in the company of his courtiers, whereas in his later reliefs at Persepolis he is usually shown with the crown prince in attendance (Root, pls. XV, XXV, XXVII). That the royal prince (*vis-puΘra-, lit. “son of the (ruling) house”; cf. the calques Aram. br bytʾ and Bab. mār bīti, applied to Persian princes [Eilers, pp. 55-63; Benveniste, pp. 23-24] or to all male members of the Achaemenid family [Stolper, p. 60]) came to have a special importance at court is clear from these reliefs (Root, pp. 74-76; see crown prince).

The king had several wives and many concubines. He could marry women only from the six leading Persian noble families (Herodotus, 3.84). All the wives and daughters of the king bore the title *duxΘrī “royal princess” (lit. “daughter”), which has been preserved in Elamite transcription (dukšiš) in one of the Persepolis fortification tablets (Benveniste, pp. 43-48; see artystone). It was unlawful, on pain of death, for anyone but the king, close relatives, and eunuchs to see the royal wives and concubines. In the Book of Esther (1:11-21) there is a story in which the Persian king Xerxes I (486-65 b.c.e.; see ahasuerus), in his cups, ordered his wife, Vashti, to show herself to the people at a feast in Susa, in contradiction of the law; she refused and, as punishment, was deprived of her title as queen and turned into an ordinary concubine. Although the story is probably fictional, it does suggest the prevailing attitude toward seclusion of the royal women. According to later classical authors, there were 360 concubines in the harem of the Persian king (Diodorus Siculus, 17.77.6; Curtius Rufus, 3.4.24). In military campaigns the most beautiful captives were sent to the court for the purpose. Many eunuchs were required to serve in the harem. The Babylonians annually sent 500 boys as eunuchs to the court (Herodotus, 3.92), and, in addition, the best-looking boys taken in war were castrated for the same purpose. Beginning in the time of Xerxes, the eunuchs gained increasing influence over the king and his court, and constant harem intrigues became characteristic.

Courtiers. There seems to have been a hierarchy of rank among the many groups at court. Any person who had rendered important service to the king was called a “benefactor” (Gr. euergētai “benefactors,” orosangai, from OIran. *waru-saŋha “widely renowned”?; Schmitt, p. 131), and his name was entered on a special list (Herodotus, 8.85.90; Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae 11.6.4). Royal benefactors were rewarded with special clothing, horses, golden ornaments, vast landholdings, and the like. They included foreigners who lived at court and who might also receive entire villages and cities as gifts (Dandamaev and Lukonin, pp. 138-39). According to Xenophon (Anabasis 1.2.27), the normal way in which a Persian king showed favor was through such gifts as a horse with a bridle ornamented in gold, a golden torque, bracelets, a golden akinakes (dagger), and a robe. Darius I personally instructed that 530 karša (i.e., 44.52 kg) of silver be distributed among thirteen individuals, almost all with Iranian names (Cameron, 1948, pp. 88-89 no. 4).

In terms of their position at court men designated as “relatives of the king” and “friends of the king” followed immediately after the benefactors and had the right to partake of royal meals. For instance, Tiribazes, satrap of western Armenia, was considered one of the second group, and when he was present no one else had the right to assist the king in mounting his horse (Xenophon, Anabasis 4.4.4.; cf. Curtius Rufus,

Xenophon (Anabasis 1.9.3.) related that the sons of highly placed Persians were trained at the king’s court, where they learned both to command and to obey (cf. Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.6.10; Plato, Alcibiades 121-22). At various times foreign dignitaries, ambassadors, and local kings dependent on the Achaemenids were also to be found at the imperial court. For example, in the reign of Darius I the Egyptian Ujahorresne stayed in Susa for some time. The Spartan king Demaratus, who had fled his homeland, lived at Xerxes’ court and was numbered among his retainers (Herodotus, 7.101.237). The Athenian Themistocles, who had also fled to Persia, became influential there and participated in the king’s hunts and domestic entertainments (Plutarch, Themistocles 29; cf. Walser, pp. 189-202). Aelianus (Varia Historia 1.22) reported that the Persian king usually gave to each Greek or other ambassador who came before him a silver Babylonian talent (30 kg) in minted coinage, two silver vessels each worth 1 talent, bracelets, a Persian sword, a pectoral chain worth 1,000 darics, and a set of Median clothing. Egyptian and Greek physicians also lived at the Achaemenid court (Herodotus, 3.1). Democedes of Croton was personal physician to Darius I and was included among the royal table companions (Herodotus, 3.129-33). Apollonides of Cos was physician to Xerxes and Artaxerxes I (465-24 b.c.e.), whereas Artaxerxes II (405-359 b.c.e.) enjoyed the services of both Ctesias of Cnidos and Polycritos of Mende (Hofstetter, pp. 19, 111, 157 nos. 24, 186, 272). Finally, some Greek clowns and dancers also found security at the Persian court (Hofstetter, pp. 185, 190 nos. 327, 337, pp. 213-15).

Organization of the court. The Persepolis documents in Elamite are evidence that representatives of many peoples worked at Persepolis and that a large number of translators was required to coordinate their work; similarly at Susa a staff of interpreters was maintained for civil servants, who arrived from all parts of the empire (e.g., Syloson of Samos; Herodotus, 3.140), which extended from Egypt to India. A substantial proportion of the servants at the Achaemenid court (bakers, cooks, wine stewards, etc.) was recruited from among vanquished peoples (cf. Dandamaev and Lukonin, pp. 170-72).

The most powerful court official was the *hazāra-patiš “master of a thousand,” or chiliarch, who was responsible for security and order in the palace. As chief of the court and all its officials and commander of the royal bodyguard, which consisted of 1,000 Persian noblemen, he enjoyed the confidence of the king, to whom he reported on all important matters. Except for a few intimates anyone who wished an audience with the king had to make application to the *hazāra-patiš, who would conduct him into the royal presence (see Benveniste, pp. 67-70, for further references). According to Cornelius Nepos (Conon 3), the chiliarch occupied the second position after the king. Under Artaxerxes III (359-38 b.c.e.), however, the authority of the chiliarch Aristazanes was subordinate to that of the eunuch Bagōas (Diodorus Siculus, 16.47).

Another important official was the steward of the royal household, who apparently managed a single administrative department responsible for all the royal palaces and properties within the empire. Walther Hinz argued that his title was *viΘa-patiš “marshal of the court” and that he controlled the storehouses, wine cellars, and herds; Hinz also concluded that this official was always a Mede because in the Persepolis reliefs he is depicted in Median costume (1971, pp. 301-8; idem, 1979, pp. 79-89; but cf. Frye, 1984, p. 108 n. 75), but this conclusion can hardly be correct (see clothing ii). During the reigns of Cambyses and Darius I, between 529 and 497 b.c.e., the manager of the royal household was Pharnaces (Dandamaev,1972, p. 19).

Other prominent court dignitaries were the royal spear carrier (*arštibāra) and bow carrier (*vačabāra), who were probably officers of the king’s bodyguard (see aspačanā; cf. Frye, 1984, p. 108), and the royal charioteer (depicted on a seal of Darius I; see Wiseman, pl. 100). Under Xerxes I this last position was occupied by Patiramphes, son of Otanes (Herodotus, 7.40). There was also a royal cupbearer (Herodotus, 3.34; Xenophon, Hellenica 7.1.38); under Artaxerxes I this important post was held by the Jew Nehemiah, who lived at the court in Susa (Nehemiah 2:1).

A number of “royal judges,” appointed for life from the Persian nobility, lived at court and advised the king on the law and custom (Herodotus, 3.31; cf. dātabara). Royal emissaries, called “secretaries” of the king, were attached to each satrap, constituting the main administrative link between the imperial court and local governments (Herodotus, 3.128). The entire court, as well as the provincial governments, was under constant supervision of the “ears” and “eyes” of the king (Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.2.10-12; see Hirsch, pp. 131-34, with further references). Like the secretaries these secret agents were independent of the satraps and other local authorities and reported any seditious speech or act directly to the king.

The following civil servants also usually formed part of the royal court, though their titles were not necessarily court titles: announcers (azdākara), who proclaimed official decrees; treasurers (ganzabara; see Dandamaev and Lukonin, pp. 206-7, with further references); accountants (ha(m)mārakara; see Greenfield); judicial investigators (*fräsaka; Stolper, p. 31 n. 116); security police (*vistar-bara; Stolper, p. 63 n. 51); and scribes who could write in Elamite, Aramaic, or Akkadian (Dandamaev and Lukonin, pp. 114-15).

Expenses of the court. Although no comprehensive information on the imperial budget is available, several sources provide clues to the levels of expenditure required to maintain the court. Persepolis documents drafted between 509 and 458 b.c.e. reveal that even the highest courtiers and officials received their salaries in unminted silver and in kind, for in the Achaemenid period there was no coinage in Persia (Dandamaev, pp. 19-22). Normally 15,000 people were fed daily at the king’s expense; the total cost of such a dinner was 400 talents (12 tons) of silver (Athenaeus, 4.146c). Polyaenus (Strategemata 4.3.32) mentioned an inscription that Alexander the Great had found in the palace of the Persian king, recording daily expenditures for provisioning the royal household. The long list included 1,000 artaba (1 artaba = 30 liters) of the finest barley flour for the royal table; the bodyguard received 500 artaba of wheatmeal and other provisions (Bivar, pp. 638-9; Lewis, pp. 79-87; cf. cooking i). An official decree in 501 b.c.e. specified the issue of 12,610 bar (123,217 liters) of flour at Persepolis (Hallock, no. 701). Hinz (1971, p. 287) has suggested that this quantity was probably intended for the New Year’s celebrations; it would have provided sufficient bread for nearly 10,000 of Darius I’s guests over the course of ten days. Such large state receptions were no doubt held in the Apadāna.

Life at court. The dress and hairstyles of Median and Persian courtiers are reproduced in a number of Persepolis reliefs, where the courtiers are shown wearing torques and bracelets and sometimes carrying flowers (Roaf, pp. 94-103). One relief shows the ceremonial of the public audience. The king is seated beneath a canopy, wearing a long garment and a tall, crenellated tiara, with a staff in his right hand and a lotus blossom in his left. Behind him a man in Persian attire and a floppy pointed cap comparable to the later Turkish başlık holds a large fan above his head to keep the flies away, and behind him is a guardsman armed with a long spear. A man in Median costume with an akinakes at his side and a short staff in his hand stands before the king to present visitors to him (Walser, 1980, p, 79, pl. 81; cf. Root, p. 233). Before addressing the king, it was necessary to prostrate oneself (proskynesis) as a sign of respect (Bickerman). Xenophon (Cyropaedia 8.3.10; Hellenica 2.1.8) reported that in the king’s presence courtiers had to thrust their hands into their sleeves (but cf. Root, p. 277).

Less is known about the ruler’s private life. Although meals were served to large numbers of people in the palace each day (see above), the king dined in privacy with the queen and his mother in a separate room, from which, seated on a couch with golden legs, he could watch the guests through curtains. A servant wearing a bandage over his mouth, in order not to defile the king with his breath, waved a large fan over his head to keep away flies. Sometimes the king would invite a dozen or so favored courtiers to join him; they, however, sat on the floor. During the meal concubines sang and danced (Athenaeus, Deipnosophistai 4.145-46, citing Heracleides of Cyme; cf. Cameron, 1958, p. 172 n. 50). According to the Book of Esther (6:1), when the king suffered from insomnia he would summon a secretary to read to him from chronicles of the events of his time and those of his predecessors. When traveling he was cared for by royal carpet bearers, who spread soft rugs for him at every halt and also exercised a police function, using whips to clear the road of strangers (see Stolper, p. 63 and n. 51, with further references).

Provincial courts. The satrap’s court was a miniature version of the imperial court, including courtiers and civil servants. He, too, was responsible for feeding large numbers of people. For example, the governor of Judah had 150 regular table companions, and each day an ox, six sheep, fowls, and wine were required (Nehemiah 5:17-18). Information about the courts in Phoenician cities, Cilicia, and other parts of Asia Minor is very limited (see, e.g., Elayi, p. 20), but many Greeks are known to have lived at the courts of the satraps in Asia Minor, some of them as interpreters (Xenophon, Anabasis 1.8.12, 2.5.35, 4.4.5; etc.), and Greek girls were included in the harems (Hofstetter, p. 33 no. 55). According to the Babylonian and Aramaic documents, members of the Achaemenid family and influential dignitaries who owned extensive estates in Babylonia and Egypt had their own courts and judicial administrations (Dandamaev and Lukonin, pp. 135-37).


E. Benveniste, Titre et noms propres en iranien ancien, Paris, 1966.

E. J. Bickerman, “A propos d’un passage de Chares de Mytilène,” La parola del passato 91, 1963, pp. 241-55.

D. H. Bivar, “The Commissariat of Cyrus the Great,” in Camb. Hist. Iran II, 1985.

G. G. Cameron, Persepolis Treasury Tablets, Chicago, 1948.

Idem, “Persepolis Treasury Tablets Old and New,” JNES 17, 1958, pp. 161-76.

J. M. Cook, The Persian Empire, London, 1983, esp. pp. 138-40.

A. Cowley, ed. with tr. and notes, Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C., Oxford, 1923.

M. A. Dandamaev, “New Documents of the Royal Economy in Iran,” VDI 1, 1972, pp. 3-27.

Idem and V. G. Lukonin, The Cultural and Social Institutions of Ancient Iran, Cambridge, 1989.

G. R. Driver, Aramaic Documents of the Fifth Century B.C., 2nd ed., abr. and rev., Oxford, 1965.

W. Eilers, “Die altiranische Vorform des Vāspuhr,” in W. B. Henning and E. Yarshater, eds., A Locust’s Leg. Studies in Honour of S. H. Taqizadeh, London, 1962, pp. 55-63.

J. Elayi, “The Phoenician Cities in the Persian Period,” The Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society of Columbia University 12, 1980, pp. 13-28.

R. N. Frye, The Heritage of Persia, London, 1962, esp. pp. 97-104.

Idem, The History of Ancient Iran, Munich, 1984.

J. C. Greenfield, “*HAMARAKARA > ʾAMARKAL,” in M. Boyce and I. Gershevitsch, eds., W. B. Henning Memorial Volume, London, 1970, pp. 180-86.

R. T. Hallock, Persepolis Fortification Tablets, Chicago, 1969.

W. Hinz, “Achämenidische Hofverwaltung,” ZA 61, 1971, pp. 260-311.

Idem, Darius und die Perser II, Baden-Baden, 1979.

S. W. Hirsch, The Friendship of the Barbarians. Xenophon and the Persian Empire, Hanover and London, 1985.

J. Hofstetter, Die Griechen in Persien, AMI, Ergänzungsband 5, Berlin, 1978.

F. W. König, Die Persika des Ktesias von Knidos, Archiv für Orientforschung, Beiheft 18, Graz, 1972.

D. M. Lewis, “The King’s Dinner,” in H. Sancisi-Weerdenburg and A. Kuhrt, eds., Achaemenid History II, Leiden, 1987, pp. 79-87.

M. Roaf, “The Subject Peoples on the Base of the Statue of Darius,” CDAFI 4, 1974, pp. 73-159.

M. C. Root, The King and Kingship in Achaemenid Art. Essays on the Creation of an Iconography of Empire, Acta Iranica 19, Leiden, 1979.

R. Schmitt, “Medisches und Persisches Sprachgut bei Herodot,” ZDMG 117, 1967, pp. 119-45.

M. W. Stolper, Entrepreneurs and Empire. The Murašû Archive, the Murašû Firm and the Persian Rule in Babylonia, Leiden, 1985.

G. Walser, “Griechen am Hofe des Grosskönigs,” in E. Walder, ed., Festgabe Hans von Greyerz, Bern, 1967, pp. 189-202.

Idem, Persepolis. Die Königspfalz des Darius, Tübingen, 1980.

D. J. Wiseman, Cylinder Seals of Western Asia, London, 1958.

COURTS AND COURTIERS ii. In the Parthian and Sasanian periods

In the absence of records, a full picture of court life under the Parthians and Sasanians cannot be pieced together. The only available information is derived from a small number of inscriptions; from secondary contemporary sources in Greek, Latin, Armenian, and Syriac; and from later Arabo-Persian sources (Moḥammadī Malāyerī).

The court of the Arsacid kings of Armenia, about which more is known, may be taken as comparable in some respects, though not as typical, of all the courts in question, and the numerous Armenian titles of Parthian origin borne by court officials are useful indicators. About local courts in vassal principalities practically nothing is known. At the Armenian court the great nobles and dignitaries were allowed to be seated in the royal presence and were placed by rank, as described in one gāh-nāmag (book of ranks; cf. Christensen, Iran Sass., pp. 62-63). They sat on cushions that were placed progressively higher as they came nearer to the royal cushion (Généalogie, pp. 32-39; Chaumont, p. 481).

In the Sasanian period feasts and banquets were occasions for discussing problems of imperial policy, as well as handing out gifts (e.g., silver bowls; Trever and Lukonin, p. 38; Tsotselia, pp. 18-19); no doubt the custom had come down from earlier times. On visits to the court noblemen wore a tiara (kulāf) and a jewel-studded belt ii. as emblems of their rank (cf. KKZ l. 4). No one without a tiara was allowed to sit at the royal table or offer advice to the king.

The prime importance of the royal family at Iranian courts is always apparent. A number of customs sustained it. First, the rule of succession to the throne was strictly patrilineal; among the Parthians it generally passed from father to son and among the Sasanians sometimes from brother to brother (Lukonin, p. 688; see crown prince). The crises over the succession that arose in the 3rd century c.e. (Narseh’s overthrow of Wahrām III), the 4th century (Ardašīr II’s overthrow of Šāpūr III), and the 6th century (Wistahm’s challenge of Ḵosrow II Parvēz) all demonstrate that this rule could not easily be circumvented. Second, deceased members of royal families became objects of organized worship, analogous to the Greek cult of dead heroes, with endowments for the soul of the departed (pad ruwān), as attested by the Nisa documents (Lukonin, p. 694) and by the naming of fire temples after their founders and benefactors (see, e.g., the inscription of Šāpūr I on the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt at Naqš-e Rostam, ŠKZ; Maricq, passim). Finally, consanguineous marriage (xwēdōdah), which the Mazdean theologians deemed meritorious and the Sasanians actually practiced (see, e.g., the inscription of Kirdēr on the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt, KKZ, l. 14; Back, p. 433), served not only to keep property within the family but also to maintain endogamy within the clan. Not all royal marriages were incestuous, however, as external alliances are also recorded (e.g., marriages with Christian women).

According to Strabo (11.9.3), the Parthian monarch was assisted by a council the members of which were drawn from two groups: his close relatives and the Magi and sages. This statement hardly corresponds to the known facts, however. Fortunately, there is more information about the Sasanian period. The inscriptions of Šāpūr I (ŠKZ) and Narseh I at Paikuli (NPi) contain lists of court personalities graded in order of rank (for SKZ, see Maricq, pp. 318-31; for NPi, see Humbach and Skjærvø, III/2, table pp. 40-43). The first rank included members of the royal family, including queens and other “ladies” (bānūg). The queen of queens (bānbišnān bānbišn; see bānbišn) was not the king’s consort (Maricq, 1965, p. 76), for the latter held the title queen of the empire (šahr bānbišn). In the second rank were heads of the seven great families, though the order of precedence among them varied over the centuries. Under the Arsacids the most honored, and indeed the only attested, great families were the Sūrēn and the Kārin. The other five known from Sasanian sources were the Spāhbed, Mihrān, Spandiyād, Warāz, and apparently the Andīgān (Undīgān). In the third and lowest rank were the other dignitaries and officials, though not all the courtiers are enumerated in ŠKZ and NPi. Only sixty-six members of Šāpūr I’s court are mentioned in ŠKZ, whereas 165 were listed by the Armenian biographer of Saint Nerses, who was commissioned to prepare a gāh-nāmag fixing the positions of 400 cushions (Généalogie, pp. 32-39; cf. Chaumont, pp. 481-83).

In the Kār-nāmag ī Ardašīr ī Pābagān Sasanian princes and nobles were divided into four categories (ed. Īrānī, p. 84). The highest consisted of kings governing important regions, apparently comparable to the satraps of the Achaemenid period. Among the sons of Šāpūr, king of kings, were Narseh, who received in appanage “Sagestān, Tūrestān, and Sind down to the coast” and at a later date Armenia, with the title great king; Ohrmazd Ardašīr, who initially received Armenia; Šāpūr, who received Mēšān/Mesene; and Wahrām, who received Gīlān (cf. Maricq, p. 333). Evidently three levels of kingship were recognized: king of kings, great king (or kings), and kings of provinces or vassal states. The hierarchy of the senior clergy in the Sasanian period appears to have been graded on a similar model: mowbedān mowbed, great mowbed, and provincial mowbeds (Gignoux, 1993). In the second rank were wispuhr(ān) (BRBYTʾn), princes related to the royal family or belonging to the royal clan. Wuzurg(ān), “great” nobles, constituted the third rank (see bozorgān) and āzādān (see āzād), “free” nobles, the fourth (for the lists in NPi and the inscription of Šāpūr I at Ḥājīābād, see Humbach and Skjærvø, III/2, pp. 45-46). These terms can be traced back to the Achaemenid period, and the system may therefore already have been in existence under the Parthians.

Next to the Sasanian king of kings sat the pasāgrīw “second man after the king” (Man. Mid. Pers. psʾgryw, Sogd. pšʾγryw, Syr. pṣʾgrybʾ < *pasčā- “after” + *grīvā“self”; Benveniste, pp. 51-65). The exact nature of this office remains uncertain. It was probably held by the crown prince or heir apparent. His responsibilities may perhaps have been limited to administration of Mesopotamia. The title was taken over by the Manicheans (Benveniste, pp. 58-59). It seems likely that the pasāgrīw took the place of the bidaxš “second in command” of Parthian times, who was either the king’s heir or his representative at different courts, that is, a viceroy.

All courtiers were subject to the orders of the majordomo, darīgān sālār (dlykʾn srdʾr: ŠKZ, Mid. Pers. l. 33; Maricq, pp. 328-29; Back, p. 363; see also darīgbed). Also in attendance at court were counselors, handarzbed (ḥndlcpty; see andarzbad). The name of one “court counselor” (BBʾ ʾndlcpty), the eunuch Māhān, appears on a seal in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg (cf. Gignoux, 1991, pp. 17-21). Armenian sources confirm that a eunuch, šābestān (šʾpstn), might hold high office, for instance, guard of the queens (i.e., the harem) and steward of the palace (mardpet), as in Armenia, or chief of the royal counselors, as at Byzantium. The mardbed also had charge of the treasure kept in the royal castles; his title may imply that he was an auditor (Livshits). The counselor of the queens, Middle Persian *bānūgān (bʾnykʾn), Parthian *bānbišnān (MLKTHn) handarzbed, is mentioned in ŠKZ (Mid. Pers. l. 33, Parth. l. 27; Maricq, pp. 328-29; Back, p. 361); the counselor of the Magi, magūn/mogān handarzbed (mgwny ḥndrcpty), is mentioned on a seal found at Qaṣr-e Abū Naṣr near Shiraz (Frye, 1973, p. 61) and in Pahlavi literature (in Mādayān ī hazār dādestān; cf. Perikhanian). In addition, there were counselors in the provinces: One in Sagestān is mentioned in the inscription of Šāpūr II at Persepolis (ŠPs I, l. 6; Back, p. 493), and there are references in Armenian sources (Gignoux, 1985-88, p. 56).

Many important officials, like the hazāruft/hazārbed (see chiliarch) and the wuzurg framadār, were counted as members of the royal court. The same is true of the top-ranking clergy, for example, the high priest Kirdīr, who was promoted to the rank of wuzurg (KKZ, l. 8; Back, p. 408) in the 3rd century.


M. Back, Die sassanidischen Staatsinschriften, Acta Iranica 18, Tehran and Liège, 1978.

E. Benveniste, Titres et noms propres en iranien ancien, Paris, 1966.

M. L. Chaumont, “L’ordre des préséances à la cour des Arsacides d’Arménie,” JA 254, 1966, pp. 471-97.

R. N. Frye, ed., Sasanian Remains from Qasr-i Abu Nasr. Seals, Sealings, and Coins, Cambridge, Mass., 1973.

Idem, The History of Ancient Iran, Munich, 1984.

Généalogie de la famille de saint Grégoire et vie de saint Nersēs, Venice, 1853.

P. Gignoux, “Die religiöse Administration in sasanidischer Zeit. Ein Überblick,” in H. Koch and D. N. MacKenzie, eds., Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte der Achämenidenzeit und ihr Fortleben, AMI, Ergänzungsband 10, Berlin, 1983, pp. 253-66.

Idem, “Pour une évaluation de la contribution des sources arméniennes à l’histoire sassanide,” AAASH 31/1-2, 1985-88, pp. 53-65.

Idem, “D’Abnūn à Māhān. Étude de deux inscriptions sassanides,” Stud. Ir. 20/1, 1991, pp. 9-22.

V. A. Livshits, “Le titre mrtpty sur un sceau parthe et l’arménien mardpet,” Stud. Ir. 18, 1989, pp. 169-91.

H. Humbach and P. O. Skjærvø, The Sassanian Inscription of Paikuli III/1-2, Wiesbaden, 1983.

V. G. Lukonin, “Political, Social and Administrative Institutions, Taxes and Trade,” in Camb. Hist. Iran III/2, pp. 681-746.

A. Maricq, “Res Gestae Divi Saporis,” Syria 35, 1958, pp. 295-360; repr. in A. Maricq, Classica et Orientalia, Paris, 1965.

M. Moḥammadī Malāyerī, “Negāh-ī ba darbār-e sāsānī az ḵelāl maʾāḵeḏ-e eslāmī,” Īrān-šenāsī 3/3, 1991, pp. 567-81; 3/4, 1992, pp. 790-800; 4/1, 1992, pp. 78-89.

A. Perikhanian, Sasanidskiĭ sudebnik (The Sasanian legal code), Yerevan, 1973.

P.-H. Poirier, L’Hymne de la Perle des Actes de Thomas, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1981, pp. 212-48.

K. V. Trever and V. G. Lukonin, Sasanidskoe serebro (Sasanian silver), Moscow, 1987.

M. V. Tsotselia, Iz istorii vzaimootnosheniĭ Kartli s sasanidskim Iranom (On the history of Kart borrowings from Sasanian Iran), Tbilisi, 1975.

COURTS AND COURTIERS iii. In the Islamic period to the Mongol conquest

In Persia the organization of courts (Pers. bār, bādrgāh, dargāh, darbār; in Arabic, there exists no more precise designation than majles, lit. “session”), including the formation of a circle of courtiers in the early centuries after the Islamic conquest, was directly inspired by the court life of the ʿAbbasid caliphs at Baghdad and Sāmarrāʾ. The latter was itself, however, largely based on the elaborate ceremonial that had both protected the theocratic ruler and regulated his relations with his entourage in pre-Islamic Persia (see ii, above).

By the time of the caliph Hešām (105-25/724-43) the Omayyads (41-132/661-750) had already moved some distance from Bedouin simplicity and the tradition of general accessibility to the shaikh or ruler toward formation of a regular court circle (for Omayyad court ceremonial, see Sauvaget, pp. 129ff.). The caliphs displayed such insignia of authority as the Prophet Moḥammad’s sword, mantle (borda), staff (qażīb), and seal ring (ḵātam; by the 10th century a manuscript of the Koran that had been copied on the orders of the caliph ʿOṯmān [23-35/644-561 was also mentioned among the insignia of the ʿAbbasids (Helāl Ṣābeʾ, apud Sourdel, p. 135). One year after he came to power the ʿAbbasid ʿAbd-Allāh al-Saffāḥ (132-36/749-54) began to conceal himself from public view by means of a curtain (setr), a practice that Masʿūdī (Morūj V, pp. 121-22; ed. Pellat, sec. 2334) connected with the old Persian kings, specifically with the Sasanian Ardašīr I. In the mosque he sat apart in a special enclosure (maqṣūra), a practice introduced by the first Omayyad caliph, Moʿāwīa, after an attempt on his life by the Kharijites (Ebn Ḵaldūn, pp. 42-65, esp. 44; tr., II, pp. 48-73, esp. 50, noted that Persian and Byzantine clients had shown the early caliphs the way to court luxury and ostentation).

After the triumph of the ʿAbbasids in 132/750 the location of their successive capitals in the former Sasanian province of Iraq and their considerable support among Arabs previously settled in Persia, as well as among Persian clients (mawālī), naturally meant greater Persian influence at court. The caliph gradually became more and more removed from his subjects, a process that was accelerated by the transfer of the capital to Sāmarrāʾ, with its array of new palaces and audience halls, in 221/836. By the early 10th century, as Dominique Sourdel has noted, the elaboration of ceremonial both served as compensation for the caliphs’ loss of actual power and also reflected “a result of the profound iranization of customs and society.” Caliphal audiences were ever more minutely regulated, under the supervision of a chamberlain (ḥājeb); the caliph sat on his dais (sarīr, ṣoffa) concealed behind the curtain, which was drawn back to initiate the audience; rows of courtiers, in their assigned ranks and places (marāteb, whence probably the general designation of courtiers as aṣḥāb al-marāteb, possibly equivalent to Persian martabadārān, though the precise meaning of these terms is somewhat uncertain), would then greet him with verbal formulas of blessing (aḍʿīa), kissing the ground before him (proskynesis, taqbīl al-arż) or his stirrup if he was mounted, and so on. The caliph wore black robes and a tall cap (qalansūwa), black being the ʿAbbasids’ official color; the court dignitaries also wore black as tokens of their support for the dynasty (Helāl Ṣābeʾ, pp. 91-92; Sourdel, pp. 147-48). To put on garments of a different color, for example, white, red, or green, was a conscious declaration of support for some other sectarian religious or political group. Green was the color of the ʿAlids; according to Ebn Ḵāldūn (p. 45; tr., II, p. 51), the caliph Maʾmūn adopted it in place of the traditional ʿAbbasid black when he named Imam ʿAlī al-Reżā as his heir. Obviously Persian features in these ceremonies included holding the ceremonial parasol (Ar. meẓalla, šamsīya, Pers. čatr) above the ruler’s head, a practice familiar from Achaemenid iconography (see i, above); the use of banners and standards (Ar. ʿalam [see ʿalam va ʿalāmāt], lewāʾ, meṭrād, Pers. derafš; cf. derafš-e Kāvīān, the Persian national flag allegedly captured by the Arabs at the battle of Qādesīya), known from Parthian and Sasanian times; bestowal of robes of honor (Ar. ḵelʿa), the borders often richly embroidered with koranic inscriptions (ṭerāz), similar to the ornamental borders of Byzantine and Sasanian court dress; an ensemble of drums and trumpets (Ar. nawba, Pers. naqqāra-ḵāna) at audiences and festivals; and the caliph’s elevation on a proper throne (Pers. taḵt), rather than a dais, on certain occasions (Sourdel, p. 131).

The organization of the ʿAbbasid court was emulated, with varying degrees of elaboration, by provincial governors and successor autonomous rulers in Persia from the 9th century onward, perhaps with stronger emphasis on indigenous Persian elements. There is little specific information on practices at the Taherid court at Nīšāpūr, but governors like ʿAbd-Allāh b. Ṭāher (213-30/828-45) and his two successors, Ṭāher II (230-48/845-62) and Moḥammad (248-59/862-73), gathered around themselves some of the leading Arabic poets and grammarians of their day as boon companions (Ar. nadīm), already a feature of ʿAbbasid court life; this group included drinking companions, storytellers, jesters, comedians, and the like (Bosworth, 1969b, pp. 58ff.; Kaabi, pp. 272-312). As for the early Saffarids (253-88/867-901), they spent much of their time in military conquests; virtually nothing is known about their court life, though Yaʿqūb b. Layṯ (253-65/867-79) had a circle of court poets and eulogists, including Moḥammad b. Waṣīf, author of some of the earliest known verse in New Persian.

There is, however, more information on the elaborate court life of the Samanids (204-395/819-1005) in Transoxania and then in Khorasan. At least as early as the reign of Esmāʿīl b. Aḥmad (q.v.; 279-95/892-907) they surrounded themselves with an elite court guard composed of Turkish military slaves (ḡolām) comparable to that developed in the middle decades of the 9th century at Sāmarrāʾ (see barda and bardadāri v) and a hierarchy of military officials, including the commander of police (ṣāḥeb al-šorṭa) and the commander of the guard (ṣāḥeb al-ḥaras). The domestic organization of the court was in the hands of a wakīl (Barthold, Turkestan3, pp. 227-29). We know from Naršaḵī (pp. 28-29; tr. Frye, pp. 19-20) that there was a ṭerāz workshop in Bukhara from the 8th century, supplying local court ceremonial needs but also exporting fine products to the ʿAbbasid capital and even as far as Egypt and the Byzantine empire. The 11th-century Qāżī Ebn al-Zobayr (pp. 139-50) provided a particularly useful description of Samanid court procedure and ceremonial for the reception of distinguished foreign embassies (though the historicity of the specific occasion is in doubt). It includes details on the magnificent uniforms and bejeweled weapons of the court guards, among whom are mentioned “the keepers of the wild beasts,” ḥajabat al-sebāʿ, in the presence of Amīr Naṣr b. Aḥmad (301-31/914-43) seated on a gilded throne, wearing a crown (tāj)and covered by a sumptuous embroidered quilt (Ar. dowwāj; cf. Bosworth, 1969a, pp. 5-6).

The Daylamite Buyids of northern and western Persia emerged as part of the resurgence of Iranian mountain peoples, including the Kurds, in the 10th century. The Daylamites, only recently converted to Islam, showed particularly strong indigenous Iranian traits in their attitudes and ways of life. Mardāvīj b. Zīār conquered Ray and Isfahan in 315/927; seated himself on a golden throne, with a silver throne at a lower level for the person especially in his favor at that moment; and adopted a crown that he believed to have been modeled on that of Ḵosrow Anōšīravān. On ceremonial occasions his troops were drawn up in lines before him, and he liked to picture himself as Solomon son of David controlling an army of subject demons (Masʿūdī, Morūj IX, pp. 27-28; ed. Pellat, sec. 3600; Ebn Meskawayh in Margoliouth and Amedroz, Eclipse I, p. 162, IV, p. 182; cf. Bosworth, 1973, pp. 57-58). He also revived the celebration at Isfahan of Sada, the ancient Persian festival of fires on 10 Bahman (Ebn Meskawayh in Margoliouth and Amedroz, Eclipse I, p. 311, IV, p. 351). Once the Buyids had settled in their various provincial capitals in Persia and at Baghdad, the influence of ʿAbbasid practice naturally grew stronger at their courts, and the luxury of the court levées held by the second generation of Buyid amirs, for example, ʿAżod-al-dawla and his son Bahaʾ-al-Dawla, was in no way inferior to that of the caliphs in Baghdad, who were at a particularly low ebb of effective power (Busse, pp. 222-26).

Information is particularly rich on the court ceremonial of the Ghaznavids, ethnically Turkish but deeply imbued with Persian and Islamic courtly and administrative traditions; most notable is the detailed account of court life during the sultanate of Masʿūd b. Maḥmūd (421-32/1031-41) by Abu’l-Fażl Bayhaqī (see Fallāḥ Rastgār). The Ghaznavids, who had plundered the rich temple treasures of India, spared no expense in beautifying their capital, Ḡazna, building palaces and laying out gardens there and at such provincial centers as Herat, Balḵ, and Laškarī Bāzār (Bosworth, Ghaznavids, pp. 139-41). Bayhaqī described in minute detail the various occasions when the sultan received embassies from the ʿAbbasid caliphs or from the Qarakhanids of Central Asia, and it is clear that great efforts were made to maximize the impression of Ghaznavid wealth, splendor, and might. For example, when the envoy of the new caliph al-Qāʾem (422-67/1031-75) arrived at Balḵ in December 1031, 4,000 Turkish ḡolāms in ceremonial uniforms were arrayed around the palace; the sultan received the envoy seated on a dais with the vizier Aḥmad b. Ḥasan Meymandī beside him and the rest of the courtiers standing. The ceremonial deployment of elephants hung with brass plates was also mentioned; combined with drums and trumpets, they produced a most impressive din, “just as if it were the Day of Resurrection” (Bayhaqī, ed. Fayyāż, p. 382; cf. Bosworth, 1965, pp. 406-7). On formal occasions involving solemn processions (Ar. mawākeb) the sultan rode an elephant, as in September 1031, when Masʿūd proceeded to the plain of Šābahār outside Ḡazna to hold a session of the maẓālem court (for redress of wrongs; Bayhaqī, ed. Fayyāż, pp. 372-73). The throne, probably originally made of wood, was replaced in July 1038 by a luxurious gold version that had taken three years to make; when the sultan took his seat on it he was surrounded by the usual concourse of richly attired courtiers and elite guards. Other practices normally associated with such occasions included showering of money and presents (Ar. neṯār) on the spectators and giving feasts for the great men of state and the troops (in fact, an ancient Turkish custom from the steppes, one that was continued by the Saljuqs; see below; Bayhaqī, ed. Fayyāż, pp. 713-15; tr. in Bosworth, Ghaznavids, pp. 135-37; cf. Neẓām-al-Molk, pp. 162-65, tr., pp. 127-30).

The opulent attire of the sultan, the great men of state, and the elite troops on such occasions was frequently described in the literary sources, and some idea of what it actually looked like can be obtained from fragments of wall paintings preserved in the audience hall of one of the Ghaznavid palaces at Laškarī Bāzār (Lashkari Bazar … , pls. 121-24). There must have been workshops within the empire for the production of rich clothing on the extensive scale required; royal workshops (kār-ḵāna) for the making of ṭerāz embroidery and other such items were mentioned during the reign of the later Ghaznavid sultan Bahrāmšāh (512-52/1118-57). One important office at court, normally held by a slave soldier, was that of jāmadār, keeper of the sultan’s wardrobe (Bosworth, Ghaznavids, pp. 104-5, 137).

It is further noteworthy, and very explicitly stated in Bayhaqī’s narrative (Fallāḥ Rastgār, pp. 431ff.), that the sultan regularly celebrated at court the two ancient Persian festivals of Nowrūz and Mehragān at the spring and autumn equinoxes of the solar year respectively; those festivals had survived, though stripped of their original Zoroastrian religious significance, under the ʿAbbasid caliphs, as the verses of various contemporary Arabic poets attest (e.g., the Nowrūz poem by Ḥosayn b. Żaḥḥāk Ḵalīʿ and the Mehragān poem attributed to the caliph al-Maʾmūn; see Masʿūdī, Morūj VIII, pp. 277-78, 340-42; ed. Pellat, secs. 2962, 3502-3). A feature of such celebrations was the presentation of sets of rich clothing and other presents by the ruler and his receiving in return costly presents from his courtiers; such distribution of clothing is recorded for the Taherid ʿAbd-Allāh b. Ṭāher at both Nowrūz and Mehragān, specifically described as an imitation of the practice of the ancient Persian rulers ([Pseudo] Jāḥeẓ, pp. 168-69). In the sultanate of Masʿūd of Ḡazna the scattering of coins and jewels, the exchange of presents, and much drinking of wine—especially associated with the celebration of Mehragān since Achaemenid times—were recorded by Bayhaqī (Fallāḥ Rastgār, pp. 431ff.); a significant body of poetry composed by the great lyric poets of the early Ghaznavid period in praise of the two festivals and of wine drinking survives (Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia I, pp. 475-76; for the verses of Manūčehrī in particular, see Hanaway, pp. 69-80).

The Turkish Saljuqs—who had become Muslims by the turn of the 11th century but remained socially little assimilated to the traditions of Persian Islamic culture—took over from the Ghaznavids Khorasan and with it a good proportion of Persian Islamic administrative and ceremonial practices. At the time of Ṭoḡrel Beg’s first occupation of Nīšāpūr in 429/1038 his advance guard appeared with a banner (the Saljuqs’ banner on a slightly later occasion was described as black; Bosworth, Ghaznavids, p. 255 and n. 33), and subsequently Ṭoḡrel ensconced himself on Sultan Masʿūd’s own throne there, at the front of a dais, bearing a strung bow over his arm and three arrows in his belt; these weapons were to become the special emblems of Saljuq sovereignty (Spuler, Iran, p. 353; Bosworth, Ghaznavids, p. 256 and n. 34; Bayhaqī, ed. Fayyāż, pp. 728-33, tr. in Bosworth, Ghaznavids, pp. 252-57); when the Ghaznavid army temporarily recaptured the town Abu’l-Fażl Sūrī, the governor of Khorasan, ordered that the throne be broken up because of this profanation (Bayhaqī, ed. Fayyāż, p. 809). But the steppe traditions of the Saljuqs were still strong. Their military campaigns and peripatetic way of life, with the corollary lack of a single fixed capital, ensured that their court ceremonial and practices would remain more informal and flexible than those of the Ghaznavids. They continued such customs as awarding robes of honor; sought grandiloquent titles from the caliphs, as had been the practice of rulers in Persia since Buyid times (see alqāb va ʿanāwīn i); adopted the čatr; and attached special importance to the large tents to house the court and administration when, as so often happened, the ruler was on the move (according to Rāvandī, p. 170, in the time of Sanjar, 511-52/1118-57, such tents were red and made from material woven at Jahrom in Fārs: sarā-parda-ye sorḵ-e jahromī). The vizier Neẓām-al-Molk thought that the formal procedures and pomp of a properly ordered court, designed to impress the general populace and foreign visitors alike, were not followed strenuously enough by the Saljuq sultans. He therefore included in his Sīāsat-nāma chapters (xxix, xxx, xxxv) on the ruler’s circle of boon companions and intimates (nadīmān wa nazdīkān) and their appropriate ranks at court, modeled on the practices of the Samanids and Ghaznavids; he also prescribed the correct forms for the ruler’s regular drinking parties, public and private audiences, and feasts for courtiers, citing as parallels the practices of the Qarakhanids in Transoxania and eastern Turkestan. The beginnings of a court literature, exemplified in the ethical treatise of Yūsof Ḵāṣṣ-Ḥājeb Balāsāgūnī, show that court life and a degree of court organization had definitely already existed among the Turks; he included chapters (e.g., xxxi, xxxvii, xlvii, lxiv-lxv) on the duties of such court dignitaries as chamberlains and cupbearers, manners in serving princes, the etiquette for feasts and invitations to them, and the like (for a useful survey of what is known about Qarakhanid palace organization, see Geṇč, pp. 198-233). The Ḵᵛārazmšāhs also maintained circles of writers and eulogists, including Atsïz’s secretary and court poet Rasīd-al-Dīn Vaṭvāṭ, but almost nothing is known about the structure of their court. Given the origins of the dynasty as Saljuq military slaves, it was probably similar to that of the Saljuqs (cf. Horst, pp. 6, 16ff.)


C. E. Bosworth, “An Embassy to Maḥmūd of Ghazna Recorded in Qāḍī Ibn az-Zubayr’s Kitāb adh-dhakhāʾir wa’t-tuḥaf,” JAOS 85/3, 1965, pp. 404-7.

Idem, “An Alleged Embassy from the Emperor of China to the Amir Naṣr b. Aḥmad. A Contribution to Sâmânid Military History,” in M. Mīnovī and Ī. Afšār, eds., Yād-nāma-ye īrānī-e Mīnorskī [Minorsky], Tehran, 1348 Š./1969a, pp. 17-29.

Idem, “The Tāhirids and Arabic Culture,” Journal of Semitic Studies 14, 1969b, pp. 45-79.

Idem, “The Heritage of Rulership in Early Islamic Iran and the Search for Dynastic Connections with the Past,” Iran 11, 1973, pp. 51-62.

H. Busse, Chalif und Grosskönig. Die Buyiden im Iraq (945-1055), Wiesbaden, 1969.

Ebn Ḵaldūn, Moqaddama II, ed. E. Quatremère, Paris, 1858; tr. F. Rosenthal, The Muqaddimah, an Introduction to History, 3 vols., New York, 1958.

Qāżī Ebn al-Zobayr, Ketāb al-ḏaḵāʾer wa’l-ṭoḥaf, ed. M. Ḥamīd-Allāh, Kuwait, 1959.

G. Fallāḥ Rastgār, “Ādāb wa rosūm wa tašrīfāt-e darbār-e Ḡazna az ḵelāl-e Tārīḵ-e Bayhaqī,” Yād-nāma-ye Abu’l-Fażl Bayhaqī, Mašhad, 1350 Š./1971, pp. 412-67.

R. Geṇč, Karahanlı devlet teşkilâtı, Istanbul, 1981.

W. L. Hanaway, “Blood and Wine. Sacrifice and Celebration in Manūchihrī’s Wine Poetry,” Iran 26, 1988, pp. 69-80.

Abu’l-Ḥosayn Helāl b. Moḥsen Ṣābeʾ, Rosūm dār al-ḵelāfa, ed. M. ʿAwwād, Baghdad, 1383/1964; tr. E. A. Salem as The Rules and Regulations of the ʿAbbāsid Court, Beirut, 1977.

H. Horst, Die Staatsverwaltung der Gross-selğūqen und Ḫōrazmšāhs (1038-1231), Wiesbaden, 1964.

(Pseudo) Jāḥeẓ, Ketāb al-tāj, tr. C. Pellat as Le livre de la couronne, Paris, 1954.

Idem, Ketāb al-ḏaḵāʾer wa’l-ṭoḥaf, ed. M. Ḥamīd-Allāh, Kuwait, 1999.

M. Kaabi, Les Ṭāhirides au Ḫurāsān et en Iraq (IIIème H./IXème J.-C.), Tunis, 1983.

A. K. S. Lambton, “The Internal Structure of the Saljuq Empire,” in Camb. Hist. Iran V, pp. 203-82.

Idem, “Marāsim 3,” in EI2 VI, pp. 521-29.

Lashkari Bazar. Une résidence royale ghaznévide et ghoride, MDAFA 18/1 A-B, Paris, 1978.

Neẓām-al-Molk, Sīār-al-molūk (Sīāsat-nāma), ed. H. Darke, Tehran, 1340 5./1961; tr. H. Darke as The Book of Government or Rules for Kings, London, 1960.

Moḥammad b. ʿAlī Rāvandī, Rāḥat al-sorūr wa āyat al-ṣodūr, ed. M. Eqbāl, London, 1921.

J. Sauvaget, La mosquée omeyyade de Médine. Étude sur les origines architecturales de la mosquée et de la basilique, Paris, 1947.

D. Sourdel, “Questions de céré′monial ʿabbaside,” REI 28, 1960, pp. 121-48.

Yūsof Ḵāṣṣ-Ḥājeb Balāsāgūnī, Qutaḏgū bilig, tr. R. Dankoff as Wisdom of Royal Glory … A Turko-Islamic Mirror for Princes, Chicago, 1983.

COURTS AND COURTIERS iv. Under the Mongols

During the early stages of the Mongol presence Persia was ruled, on behalf of the great khan (qaḡan, qaʾan/qāʾān) in Mongolia, by military governors based in Azerbaijan and in Khorasan, but, with the coming of Hülegü (Hūlāgū) in 654/1256 and the establishment of the Il-khanid state, the country was once again the seat of a resident sovereign. Like their kinsmen in other parts of the Mongol empire, the il-khans followed a pattern of seasonal migrations in search of fresh pasturage, and Rašīd-al-Dīn and Kāšānī, the “court” historians, have made it possible to trace most of their movements. In the winter the court often halted in Arrān, in Qarābāḡ and the Mūḡān steppe, or at Ūjān in the neighborhood of Tabrīz. Favored summer residences included Ālātāḡ (Ala Dağ, northeast of Lake Van), where Hülegü built a palace (Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, p. 90), Tabrīz, and Qarābāḡ. All these locations lay within a relatively restricted area in northwestern Persia, as dictated by the military threat from the Mongols of the Golden Horde in the Caucasus. But occasionally the il-khan wintered in Baghdad, in the so-called “palace of the catholicus,” according to ʿOmarī (pp. 91-92); and Abaqa and Öljeitü (Ūljāytū) also sometimes wintered in Māzandarān. It should be emphasized that palaces and cities—even new cities constructed by the il-khans, like Solṭānīya, planned by Arḡun (Arḡūn) and begun under Öljeitü in 706/1306-7—fit into this pattern, inasmuch as they simply formed part of an annual itinerary. They were not “capitals” in the full sense. A vivid description of the formalities of striking and pitching camp and of the order of march was given by Ebn Baṭṭūṭa (II, pp. 125-28; tr. Gibb, pp. 342-44; tr. Mowaḥḥed, I, pp. 250-51), who visited the ordo (ordū “camp”) of Abū Saʿīd (q.v.) in about 727/1327.

As was the case with the Mongol qaḡans in the east, the court did not consist merely of the sovereign’s headquarters but also included an establishment (ordo) for each of his wives and adult children. The papal envoy John of Plano Carpini reported, in his Ystoria Mongalorum, that a prince’s camp was never broken up on his death but was entrusted to one of his womenfolk (Van den Wyngaert, p. 115), and this rule seems to have applied to the princesses’ ordos in turn. They were heritable: The ordo of Hülegü’s chief wife, Doquz Ḵatun (Dūqūz Ḵātūn), for instance, passed on her death in 663/1265 to Abaqa’s wife Öljei (Ūljāī) Ḵatun, and Abaqa ordered his grandson, the future island-khan Ḡazan (Ḡāzān), reared in the ordo of his wife Boloḡan Ḵatun (Boloḡān Ḵātūn), which the prince was destined to inherit. At first such establishments were maintained in the traditional fashion of the steppe: They were supported by levies from the subject population, gifts (pīškaš),and shares of the war booty. But from the last part of Abaqa’s reign special provision seems to have been made for them. Under Arḡun they were allotted for their upkeep sums drawn on the revenues of particular provinces; and Ḡazan endeavored further to regularize matters by granting to each ordo a province (welāyat) from the injū (īnjū), or “crown” lands (Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, pp. 536-38; idem, Tārīḵ-eḡāzānī, pp. 329-31).

Occasionally a particular amir was designated as an inaq (īnāq “intimate”) of the sovereign; for example, Buqa (Būqā) under Abaqa and Aqbuqa (Āqbūqā) under Aḥmad-Tegüder (Aḥmad Takūdār) were so described by Rašīd-al-Dīn (Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, pp. 153, 190; idem, 1975, pp. 36-7, 57). According to ʿOmarī (p. 99), the inaqs were a private entourage (ḵāṣṣa) comprising the sons of amirs, but there may be some confusion here with the kešig (kešīktān), or guard, for Grigor of Akner (Blake and Frye, pp. 343, 345) reported that Hülegü was surrounded by a guards regiment made up of young Georgians and Armenians of noble birth. In any case it must be assumed that the principal courtiers were largely identical with the vizier and great military officers of state, notably the four omarāʾ-e olūs (commanders of the olūs) headed by the amīr al-omarāʾ (commander in chief), whose names appeared on Il-khanid decrees of the early 14th century (cf. also ʿOmarī, p. 93).

Associated with the Il-khanid court were a number of officials who were periodically referred to by contemporary authors like Rašīd-al-Dīn; the functions of certain of them were described more systematically by Naḵjavānī, who wrote slightly later, in the mid-14th century, under Jalayerid rule (II, pp. 29-35, 53-72, 105-8). The yurṭči (yūrṭčī) was charged with setting up the royal encampment and with allotting pastures to the various ordos; the job of steward was performed by the baδuṛči (bāvoṛčī); the büke’ül (bokāvol), originally a food taster, became responsible for overseeing the commissariat; the čerbi (čerbī)acted as chamberlain; the šüküṛči (šūkūṛčī)held the ceremonial parasol; the quščis (qūščīān) were falconers; the yasaδul (yasā’ol/yasāvol)was marshal; the bularquči (bolārqūčī)oversaw lost property; and the aḵtači (aḵtājī) was master of the horse. Judicial functions were delegated to the yarḡu, presided over by the yarḡuči (yarḡūčī or amīr-e yarḡū), who naturally dispensed Mongol, rather than Islamic law (Lambton, pp. 83-89). Attached to the court were also bitikčis (bitīkčīān), or scribes, whose relationship with the administrative machinery headed by the vizier and other officials is unclear. And lastly there are references to ev-oḡlans (īw-oḡlān/ān), or “pages,” probably slaves, who were employed in various capacities, including missions to collect income (Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, pp. 167, 228, 254, 290, 335; idem, 1957, pp. 43, 80; idem, Tārīḵ-eḡāzānī, pp. 12, 62, 127).

Prior to the reign of Ḡazan, when the Il-khans (apart from Aḥmad-Tegüder) were still pagan, it must be assumed that assemblies and etiquette followed lines similar to those described by observers like Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck at the qāgan’s court in Mongolia. At a general council, or quriltai (qūrīltāy), for the election of a new qaḡan, once agreement had been reached, the princes and nobles removed their hats, slung their belts around their necks, took the successful candidate by each hand and had him raised up on a piece of felt before performing the triple genuflection, or čök (Jovaynī, ed. Qazvīnī, I, pp. 147, 207; tr. Boyle, I, pp. 187, 251-52; Simon of Saint-Quentin, pp. 90-92). The same procedure was apparently observed at the election and enthronement of an il-khan, as in the cases of Aḥmad-Tegüder in 681/1282, Arḡun in 683/1284, Öljeitü in 703/1304, and Abū Saʿīd in 717/1317, though in time the felt was superseded by a throne (Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, pp. 169-70, 198-99; idem, 1957, pp. 45, 62; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, pp. 66, 122-23).

Feasting (toy, ṭūy) followed an election but occurred on other occasions also: The monarch’s birthday was celebrated at the il-khan’s court in the same way as that of the qaḡan in the Far East, and so was the advent of the new year according to the Turco-Mongol calendar (Vardan, p. 300; Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, p. 352; idem, Tārīḵ-eḡāzānī, p. 143). Certain feasts were fixed, for instance, the one early in June at which all the white mares were consecrated and the first qumiz (qomīz, fermented mare’s milk) of the year was consumed (William of Rubruck, in Van den Wyngaert, p. 302). During such celebrations, including the election of a new sovereign, the Mongol nobles wore clothes of a different color each day (Jovaynī, ed. Qazvīnī, I, p. 147; tr. Boyle, I, p. 186; Vardan, pp. 300-1; Plano Carpini, in Van den Wyngaert, p. 117; William of Rubruck, in Van den Wyngaert, p. 306). Special formalities were observed for visitors to the court. The qams, or shamans, “purified” them by making them pass between two fires; gifts brought for someone who had died were treated similarly (William of Rubruck, in Van den Wyngaert, p. 301). Members of the “religious classes” were exempted from performing the triple genuflection before a sovereign; hence the Armenian chronicler Vardan Arawelci, being a priest, was exempt at Hülegü’s court in 1264 (p. 301).

There is relatively little information on court ceremonial in the Persian sources of the Il-khanid period, though Rašīd-al-Dīn described at some length a feast held by Ḡazan at Ūjān in the summer of 701/1302. The il-khan sat upon a golden throne studded with gems, dressed in cloth of gold, wearing a jeweled diadem (tāj)and a magnificent girdle; the royal ladies (whose participation in public ceremonies was one of the distinguishing features of the Mongol period), the princes, and the courtiers were also luxuriously attired and rode on splendid horses. The feasting was followed by consultation on new military appointments and troop dispositions on various fronts (Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, pp. 346-49; idem, Tārīḵ-eḡāzānī, pp. 137-40). These occasions furnished an opportunity for lavish displays of generosity by the il-khan: Rašīd-al-Dīn reported that on one occasion Ḡazan distributed 300 tümens (tūmān) of gold and twenty thousand richly embroidered garments (Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, pp. 393-94; Tārīḵ-eḡāzānī, pp. 184-85).


R. P. Blake and R. N. Frye, “The History of the Nation of the Archers by Grigor of Akancʾ,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 12, 1949, pp. 299-399.

Doerfer, II, pp. 217-19, s.v. īnāq (no. 668), and III, pp. 120-21, s.v. čūk (no. 1141).

Ebn Baṭṭūṭa, Toḥfat al-noẓẓār fī ḡarāʾeb al-amṣār wa ʿajāʾeb al-asfār, tr. M.-ʿA. Mowaḥḥed as Safar-nāma-ye Ebn Baṭṭūṭa, 2 vols., Tehran, 1348 Š./1969.

Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, Ḏayl-e jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ-e rašīdī, ed. Ḵ. Bayānī, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1350 Š./1971.

Abu’l-Qāsem ʿAbd-Allāh Kāšānī, Tārīḵ-eŪljāytū Solṭān, ed. M. Hambly, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969.

A. K. S. Lambton, Continuity and Change in Medieval Persia, London, 1988.

Idem, “Marāsim 3,” in EI2 VI, pp. 521-29.

C. P. Melville, “The Itineraries of Sultan Öljeitu 1304-16,” Iran 28, 1990, pp. 55-70.

Moḥammad b. Hendūšāh Naḵjavānī, Dastūr al-kāteb fī taʿyīn al-marāteb, 3 pts. in 2 vols., ed. ʿA. ʿA. ʿAlīzāda, Moscow, 1964-76.

Šehāb-al-Dīn Abu’l-Abbās Aḥmad b. Fażl-Allāh ʿOmarī, Masālek al-abṣār fī mamālek al-amṣār, ed. and tr. K. Lech, Wiesbaden, 1968, pp. 85-102.

Rašīd-al-Dīn, Geschichte der Ilḫāne Abāġā bis Gaiḫātū, ed. K. Jahn, 2nd ed., the Hague, 1957.

Simon of Saint-Quentin, Historia Tartarorum, ed. J. Richard, Paris, 1965.

Spuler, Mongolen4, pp. 217-20, 227-31, 278-80.

A. van den Wyngaert, ed., Sinica Franciscana I. Itinera et Relationes Fratrum Minorum Saeculi XIII et XIV, Quaracchi [Florence), 1929.

Vardan Arawelci, tr. and ed. É. Dulaurier as “Les Mongols d’après les historiens arméniens,” JA, 5e série, 16, 1860, pp. 273-322.

COURTS AND COURTIERS v. Under the Timurid and Turkman dynasties

One of the causes of Timur’s break, in 771/1370, with the Chaghatayid prince Amir Ḥosayn (see chaghatayid dynasty), who ruled northern Afghanistan and had been his ally in his early campaigns against the eastern Chaghatayid Tuḡluq (Tūḡlūq) Tīmūr, may have been Ḥosayn’s intention to build a fortified capital city for himself at Balḵ (Šāmī, I, pp. 51-52; cf. Gronke, p. 18). In that respect he was challenging a tenet of Mongol tradition that had until then been immutable. A nomadic existence was the established pattern among Mongol rulers, and a fortified capital was not permitted. Nevertheless, once Tīmūr had consolidated his own power, he no longer rejected the idea of such a capital for himself. He gave up his original plan to establish it in the vicinity of his birthplace at Keš (Šahr-e Sabz), in favor of Samarqand, which, after a period of flowering under the Samanids (204-395/819-1005), had gradually declined under the Qarakhanids (433-607/1041-1211) and, owing to subsequent plundering by Čengīz Khan, had finally sunk to an insignificant locality (Brandenburg, 1972, pp. 17-18). Tīmūr intended Samarqand to outdo in pomp and splendor all other capitals in the world known to him. For that purpose, from 781/1379, when he entered Organj, in every city that he conquered he selected architects, artists, craftsmen, teachers, and poets and transported them to Samarqand, where he founded new settlements, frequently named for other major Islamic cities: Cairo (Meṣr), Damascus, Baghdad, Solṭānīya, Shiraz (cf. Roemer, 1989, p. 107; Barthold, 1938, p. 11). By the time of Tīmūr’s death in 807/1405 Samarqand had become one of the foremost capitals of the Islamic world, ornamented by a number of splendid architectural monuments, many of which are still preserved today (see Golombek and Wilber).

Subsequent Timurid and Turkman rulers and princes established their seats in other cities and built them into important political and especially religious and cultural centers. During the short reign of Tīmūr’s grandson Oloḡ Beg (850-53/1447-49) Samarqand remained a significant center of cultural patronage. But already during the lifetime of his father, Šāhroḵ (807-50/1405-47), Herat had become a significant court center, and under Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā (875-912/1470-1506) it was developed into the most splendid capital of the period, usurping the position of Samarqand. Tabrīz under the Qara Qoyunlū (782-873/1380-1468) and Āq Qoyunlū rulers (780-914/1378-1508) and Shiraz under the Timurid princes Eskandar b. ʿOmar Šayḵ (812-17/1409-14) and Ebrāhīm b. Šāhroḵ (d. 837/1434) were also noteworthy urban centers. Despite the foundation of capital cities and court establishments, the Mongol nomadic tradition was not entirely given up by Timurid and Turkman rulers. It remained alive in the royal encampments (ordū-ye homāyūn) in which the princes customarily resided with their followers as they traveled about the countryside, far from the royal household established in the capital (see iv, above). Even the Safavids continued this practice until the time of ʿAbbās I (996-1038/1588-1629; see vi, below).

The princely entourage. Although the internal structure of the various Timurid and Turkman courts has not so far been the focus of extensive research, certain fundamental elements must have been similar in all of them. For example, neither Tīmūr nor his successors ever assumed the official title “khan,” though contemporary chroniclers frequently referred to them as such in their works. Tīmūr preferred to call himself “amir” and, underscoring his familial relation to the Chengizids, also adopted the Mongol title kürgän (lit. “son-in-law”; Šāmī, I, pp. 9, 15; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, pp. 430, 439, 457). Until 805/1402 he professed loyalty to successive princes of the lineage of Čengīz Khan, Soyūrḡātmīš (771-86/1370-84) and Solṭān-Maḥmūd (786-805/1384-1402), who as nominal rulers of the realm bore the title “khan,” though actually they functioned only as legitimizing figures and puppets in the hands of the conqueror (Roemer, 1989, p. 60; Barthold, 1935, pp. 108-9). His son Šāhroḵ did not adopt the title kürgän and maintained no shadow khan at Herat, but his other son, Mīrānšāh, who ruled in western

Persia, did use the title (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, p. 8; Dawlatšāh, ed. Browne, pp. 324, 329). Furthermore, both Mīrānšāh’s son Ḵalīl, who was Tīmūr’s immediate successor in Transoxania (807-12/1405-9), and Šāhroḵ’s own son Oloḡ Beg (Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, p. 444; Barthold, 1935, p. 109), in addition to calling themselves kürgän, also ruled with shadow khans, though Ḵalīl’s choice was a descendant of Tīmūr himself, rather than of Čengīz Khan; Oloḡ Beg’s shadow khan was a Chengizid, who lived entirely secluded at the so-called “khan’s court” (ḥeyāt-e ḵān), a walled precinct in the eastern part of Samarqand (Mīrzā Ḥaydar, pp. 71-72; Barthold, 1935, p. 109).

The influential class of nobles with the title tarḵāns constituted a special group at court. Various privileges accompanied membership in this group: free access to the ruler; immunity from punishment for nine infractions, both for the title holders and their descendants; release from the obligation of providing horses for the cavalry (olāḡ); and exemption from taxes and levies, including those on booty from hunting and military conquest (Šāmī, I, p. 123; Hinz, 1952, pp. 216-17, 220). Amirs from a Turkish tribal group called Tarḵān, which seems to have taken its name from a bearer of this title, played a leading role in Herat under Šāhroḵ (Ando, pp. 118, 138-45).

Understanding the organization of the court and administration in the 15th century poses severe difficulties for the researcher, for several reasons. There was obviously no uniformity between the practices of the Timurid and Turkman dynasties, which were also subject to internal variations at different periods. Furthermore, it is difficult to reach definitive conclusions because the distinction between court and state officials is not always clearly recognizable. In every instance these difficulties reflect the absence of scholarly investigation. No comprehensive survey of the period, which would have to be drawn from many different sources, has yet been written, to say nothing of a more systematic description.

As for those offices that were part of the court establishment, in most of the sources official posts that were already known earlier at the Mongol court are mentioned. Particularly prominent among them were the qūṛčīs (quiver bearers), who were members of the ruler’s bodyguard; the yūrṭčīs (stewards), who were responsible for provisions and arrangements for the entire royal encampment on campaigns, hunting expeditions, and journeys; and the aḵtāčīs (stable masters; Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ, Baku, p. 164; Naḵjavānī, II, pp. 62-67; Šāmī, I, p. 199, II, pp. 16, 114; Samarqandī, p. 355; cf. Doerfer, Elemente I, pp. 117-18, 429-32, IV, pp. 216-17). The Mongol legacy was also apparent in the presence at court of yār/yarḡūčīs (judges), whose duty it was to provide interpretations of the laws (yāsā) of Čengīz Khan and Mongol customary law. Supervising court ceremonial, organizing the reception of visitors, and similar official arrangements were the responsibility of the yasāvols (masters of ceremonies), who during audiences led forward those attending to hear the commands of the ruler and, in time of war, were supposed to take charge of mustering the troops for battle (Naḵjavānī, II, pp. 34, 57-62; Samarqandī, pp. 38, 226; Mīrzā Ḥaydar, p. 54; cf. Doerfer, Elemente IV, pp. 64-66, 166-72). The būkāvols appear to have been military quartermasters or staff officers, subordinate to the commanders; they were charged with administering the different divisions of the army, the provisioning of troops, the payment of wages, and the equitable distribution of the booty from war (Naḵjavānī, II, pp. 53-67; ʿAbd-Allāh Morvārīd, fols. 31b-32a, tr. pp. 61-63, comm. pp. 155-57; Hinz, 1952, p. 215; cf. Doerfer, Elemente II, pp. 301-7). The decrees of Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā at the end of the 15th century show that the būkāvols still also fulfilled their original function as tasters and cooks (ʿAbd-Allāh Morvārīd, comm. p. 156); in this connection official sūčīs (cupbearers; Šāmī, II, p. 138; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, pp. 447, 463; Doerfer, Elemente III, pp. 285-86) were also part of the court establishment. The tūḡčīs (standard bearers, banner carriers) carried the standards adorned with horse tails (Doerfer, Elemente II, p. 624), which, along with kettledrums, were the insignia of rank for nobles and higher officials (Doerfer, Elemente II, p. 620. For this reason, the ruler’s own military band, including tympanists (naqqāračīān), flutists (ṣūrnājīān), trumpeters (nafīrjīān), and cymbal players (senjīān), was also carefully regulated. The band was responsible not only for martial music but also for the nawba, a musical piece heard several times daily at fixed times. The leader of both the band and the court drum corps bore the title ostād (master) and also had jurisdiction over the circle of people who performed regularly at public festivities, as well as others who belonged to the socially scorned professions and minorities, like public entertainers (qawwālān) who performed in the markets, spinners (fartmālān), gypsies (lūlīan), sieve makers (ḡerbālbāfān), and especially foreigners (ḡarīb-zādagān), the proprietors of wine taverns (bāda-bānān), bathhouse keepers (ḥammāmīān), bath scrapers (dallākān), barbers (sartarāšān), cuppers (ḥajjāmān), peddlers (ṭawwāfān), and corpse washers (ḡassālān; ʿAbd-Allāh Morvārīd, fols. 20b-22a, tr. pp. 88-91, comm. pp. 174-76). For soft music, which was very popular at court, there were also court musicians. The musicians and singers in Samarqand during Oloḡ Beg’s reign enjoyed an especially high reputation for their artistry; under Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā they bore the title ostād (ʿAbd-Allāh Morvārīd, fols. 44b, tr. pp. 91, comm. p. 176). For the royal hunting expeditions there were bārs/pārsčīs (keepers of the hunting cheetahs) and qūščīs (falconers; Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ, Baku, pp. 372, 479, 486; Hinz, 1952, p. 214). The post of qūščī was an important military office, and the incumbents were amirs, numbered among the highest-ranking group of officers (ʿAbd-Allāh Morvārīd, fols. 19a-20b, tr. pp. 87-88, comm. p. 173). For his library at Herat Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā created the post of court librarian, with the official title dārūḡa-ye ketāb-ḵāna-ye homāyūn (Ḥabīb al-sīar, Tehran, IV, pp. 155, 188, 189; Barthold, 1938, p. 56). In keeping with Turkish tradition princes were educated by atabegs, who were responsible for teaching their young charges everything they, as future rulers and princes, were required to know (Šāmī, II, p. 58; Mīrzā Ḥaydar, pp. 140, 375). The treasurers (ḵezānačī), seal bearers (mohrdār), and secretaries (parvānačī), who were entrusted with writing the decrees of the ruler, were also included among the officials of the court. There is some confusion about the position of the bahādors (lit. “heroes,” perhaps field marshals), a designation that seems to have been only an honorary title conferred for bravery in battle and probably did not refer to a precise official function (for a discussion of this term, see Doerfer, Elemente II, pp. 366-77). Finally, there were also state chanceries (see dīvān) at the Timurid and Turkman courts; the details of the chancery system in the different realms are frequently unclear, but they belong outside the framework of official functions that were specifically part of the court, in the equally little understood arena of state administration (see cities ii).

Ceremonials and entertainments. The court life of Timurid and Turkman princes, with its entertainments and ceremonies, is depicted in the miniature paintings of the 15th century, which at present have been too little studied from this point of view. The parallel Islamic and Mongol-Turkish traditions of the period exerted varying degrees of influence on the court establishments of individual princes. For example, Šāhroḵ governed Herat as a pious Islamic ruler, strongly enforcing the provisions of the šarīʿa (Islamic canon law). Every Friday he attended the mosque in the role of a simple Muslim, without distinguishing himself in the slightest from the rest of the faithful. On Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays Koran readings were presented at his court audiences. Šāhroḵ also strictly observed the fast of the month of Ramażān (Barthold, 1935, p. 142). In contrast, his son Oloḡ Beg continued many Mongol customs in his court at Samarqand. Like his grandfather Tīmūr he loved banquets with music, singing, and copious wine drinking, and he paid only the slightest heed to the šarīʿa (Barthold, 1935, pp. 141-43). It is known that Uzun Ḥasan Āq Qoyunlū (857-82/1453-78), after morning prayer in the presence of the princes and amirs, took the opportunity to hear appeals personally. Poor and needy subjects brought petitions, which were presented by officials acting on their behalf, and the ruler handed down decisions and, through his secretaries, gave instructions for action (Woods, p. 122).

Receptions and banquets for ambassadors played an important part in court life. According to Mongol-Turkish tradition, the wives of the rulers and other women of their households participated in these festivities. A detailed report on the ceremonies observed at a reception of ambassadors was given by Ruy González de Clavijo, who left an eyewitness account of life at Tīmūr’s court in Samarqand. The seating order was arranged according to rank. Tīmūr himself sat in splendid dress on a seat of silk cushions arrayed on a platform. Hundreds of filled wine jugs stood ready, and there were music and processions of elephants. During the entire presentation ceremony the ambassadors were held under the armpits by servants, who loosened their grasp only when the ambassadors had returned to their places. The ceremonial wine drinking was also precisely regulated: Each guest stepped forward in turn, bent his right knee, stood up again in order to step forward somewhat farther, then knelt on both knees and received the filled beaker. Then he stood up, stepped back a little, knelt again, and drank the wine in a single draft. Finally, he stood and, as an indication of respect, placed his left hand on his forehead (Clavijo, tr. Markham, pp. 154-56). Frequently the royal audience concluded with a banquet. On such occasions and at other court festivities it was customary to distribute robes of honor and titles. Oloḡ Beg elevated several individuals to the status of tarḵān on the occasion of the circumcision ceremonies for one of his sons (Ḥabīb al-sīar, Tehran, IV, p. 35). In general not only the princes themselves but also their wives and high officials attended such revels, at which entertainment was provided by musicians, singers, and poets (Ebn ʿArabšāh, p. 163).

Most Timurid princes took a special delight in hunting expeditions in the open air. Oloḡ Beg, who was particularly enthusiastic about the sport, drew up for himself a list of the wild beasts that he had personally killed (Dawlatšāh, ed. Browne, p. 362) and was accustomed to undertaking winter journeys to the neighborhood of Bukhara in order to hunt birds. Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā particularly enjoyed hunting for pigeons (Barthold, 1938, p. 55).

Splendid receptions, banquets, and hunting parties were no less typical of the court of the Āq Qoyunlū at Tabrīz under Uzun Ḥasan and his son Yaʿqūb (883-96/1478-90; Alderly, 1873b, pp. 52-63).

Patronage and cultural life. Every Timurid and Turkman prince strove to enhance his prestige not only by displaying the trappings of power but also by turning his court into a center of cultural life. The courts thus swiftly developed into centers of learning and the arts. The princes and their courtiers were important patrons of literature and poetry, miniature painting, calligraphy, and the art of bookbinding; they assembled large numbers of scholars at their courts and adorned their capital cities with splendid architectural monuments. To name only the most important examples, Samarqand under Tīmūr and Oloḡ Beg; Herat under Šāhroḵ, his son Bāysonqor, and Ḥosayn Bāyqarā and his vizier, ʿAlī-Šīr Navāʾī; Tabrīz under Uzun Ḥasan Āq Qoyunlū and his son; and the smaller court cities like Shiraz under Eskandar b. ʿOmar Šayḵ and Šāhroḵ’s son Ebrāhīm developed in similar ways into cities of refined aspect and artistic accomplishment, as well as centers of pleasant living, where the most outstanding contemporary scholars congregated.

The Timurid and Turkman are particularly noted for the rich historical and poetic literature fostered at their courts. Although the best historians, like Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Samarqandī, and Mīrḵᵛānd, did not perhaps achieve the magisterial level that characterized Mongol historical writing, nevertheless they left works of considerable scope. Princely patronage also engendered new vitality in the art of court poetry (see ix, below). Although the number of poets thus increased greatly, their works do not rank intellectually or aesthetically with the output of the great period of Persian literature in the preceding centuries. Poetic conventions and a strong emphasis on formal elements came more and more to replace originality and richness of thought. The 15th century produced only one truly great Persian poet: ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Jāmī, who lived in Herat in the time of Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā. When he died Sultan Ḥosayn himself and his entire court attended the funeral services (Ḥabīb al-sīar, Tehran, IV, p. 338). In addition, patrons also interested themselves in scientific works, especially in astronomy and mathematics. The court of Oloḡ Beg in Samarqand was especially renowned as a center of such studies; the observatory constructed there was known to contemporaries far and wide (Barthold, 1935, pp. 165-66). The culmination of this work was the set of astronomical tables known as Zīj-e Oloḡ Beg or Zīj-e jadīd-e solṭānī, in the formulation of which the ruler himself participated. His son ʿAbd-al-Laṭīf, following in his father’s footsteps, also showed an inclination toward study of the exact sciences, as Eskandar b. ʿOmar Šayḵ had done earlier in Fārs (Aubin, pp. 82-83).

Literary works were extremely popular as gifts between princes and leading figures, but these men did not limit their cultural activities to patronage. Many of them participated directly in the flourishing literary activity of the age. Two examples may be cited to demonstrate the regard for the literary life among the ruling families: an edition of Ḥāfeẓ sponsored by Farīdūn Ḥosayn Mīrzā, a son of Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā, and an anthology of classical Persian poetry compiled by Eskandar b. ʿOmar Šayḵ in Fārs (ʿAbd-Allāh Morvārīd, fols. 97a-100a, tr. pp. 134-39, comm. pp. 200-201; Aubin, p. 77). Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā, Eskandar b. ʿOmar Šayḵ, Jahānšāh Qara Qoyunlū (841-72/1438-68), and Yaʿqūb Āq Qoyunlū composed poetry in Persian and Turkish. Oloḡ Beg, who was very well acquainted with Persian literature, corresponded on literary subjects with his brother Bāysonḡor in Herat (Dawlatšāh, ed. Browne, p. 351). Yaʿqūb Āq Qoyunlū exchanged letters with Jāmī (Woods, p. 150). In addition to the historic, scientific, and poetic literature in the Persian language, in the 15th century Chaghatay, an eastern Turkic language, was also elevated to a literary language, under the tutelage of ʿAlī-Šīr Navāʾī in particular, though the inclusion of Persian literary material is noteworthy (see chaghatay language and literature). Princes of the blood were also to be found among the numerous composers of the period (Bouvat, pp. 267-68).

Owing to the intense interest of Timurid and Turkman princes, painting also developed rapidly into a major art form; although no murals or pictorial textiles are known today, a great many book illustrations survive. In Shiraz a lively school of miniature painting flourished successively under Eskandar b. ʿOmar Šayḵ and Ebrāhīm b. Šāhroḵ; it soon found a strong competitor in the Herat school, which developed under the patronage of Šāhroḵ and his son Bāysonqor and eventually of Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā. Toward the end of the 15th century the calligrapher Solṭān-ʿAlī Mašhadī lived and worked in Herat, as did Kamāl-al-Dīn Behzād, perhaps the greatest painter ever produced in the Islamic world. Painting and calligraphy also flourished at the court of the Turkman dynasties at Tabrīz, especially under Uzun Ḥasan and Yaʿqūb Āq Qoyunlū (883-96/1478-90). It reached a high level of originality there, and comparison with the much more renowned painting of the Timurids is not inappropriate.

Following the example of Tīmūr, who had been active as a patron of architecture in Keš and especially in Samarqand, the princes of the 15th century embellished their residential cities with numerous religious and public buildings: mosques, schools, baths, hospitals, and the like (Golombek and Wilber). In addition to the rulers themselves, court officials also enhanced their reputations by sponsoring buildings; the most famous example is ʿAlī-Šīr Navāʾī. The architecture of the period was distinguished by an unprecedented use of color in surface decorations, particularly tile revetments (Roemer, 1989, pp. 170-71), as well as a general preference for ostentation, which expressed itself in costly ornamentation and a multiplication of domes and minarets. Tīmūr ordered a palace, the Kök Sarāy (Blue palace) to be built for him in the center of Samarqand, but he preferred to spend most of his time in a series of pleasure palaces that he had constructed in the midst of extensive gardens, for example, Āq Sarāy near Keš and Taḵt-e Qarāča south of Samarqand (Yazdī, fols. 163a, 295b); the ruins of the former, the most significant surviving example of Timurid palace architecture, have been preserved. Tīmūr’s garden pavilions were faced with tiles and on the interior with wall paintings in, which his military victories were depicted (Ebn ʿArabšāh, pp. 227-28). His successors also preferred to withdraw from the urban centers to the suburbs or to establish their courts entirely outside the cities, developing new centers of intellectual and cultural life around their princely residences. Large garden installations with palaces and pavilions, providing a glittering backdrop for royal receptions and festivities, were equally characteristic of both Timurid and Turkman courts (Gaube, pp. 231-32). On the occasion of banquets or entertainments lavish canopies and expensively furnished tents were erected for guests. The most glittering parallels for Tīmūr’s garden palaces were to be found in the Herat of Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā. Already Šāhroḵ had moved his court from the center of the city to the outskirts, to the Bāḡ-e Zāḡān, which had been founded in the Kartid period (see āl-e kart; Allen, p. 22). Then under Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā a new court center, the Bāḡ-e Jahānārā, was established north of the city on formerly uninhabited terrain; it included palaces, mosques, and other buildings located in the midst of large gardens. The plan of this entire complex was most probably based on that of Tīmūr’s Āq Sarāy at Keš (Allen, pp. 51-54).

The Āq Qoyunlū court at Tabrīz also lay outside the city, near the settlement of Ṣāḥebābād, from which it was separated by a stream. From a central square, on which Uzun Ḥasan had built a mosque decorated with ceramic tiles, a door led into the palace proper, which was surrounded by extensive gardens. Construction of this splendid palace, the Hašt Behešt, had probably already been started by Uzun Ḥasan and was completed by Yaʿqūb; it consisted of a glittering domed building, the interior rooms of which were ornamented with faience and gilding. The ceiling of the great hall was covered with painted battle scenes, embassies, and hunting parties of the Āq Qoyunlū rulers. The harem, which was separate from the palace, had space for a thousand people (Alderly, 1873a, pp. 173-77).

In the courts, as well as the courtly life, of the Turkman and Timurid princes traditions of very different kinds seem to have been intertwined, though the separate components have not yet been investigated. A number of elements surviving from the Sasanian period may have been incorporated (see ii, above); the characteristic practices of the ʿAbbasid caliphal courts and especially of earlier Turkish courts like those of the Saljuqs, were probably even more influential. Some aspects were probably taken over from the Il-khanids as well, and Byzantine elements, perhaps transmitted through the marital connection between the Āq Qoyunlū and the imperial house of Trabzon, must also be considered.


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COURTS AND COURTIERS vi. In the Safavid period

The organization of the court and its administration. Some ninety years ago W. W. Barthold made his classic statement on the subject of the political organization of the eastern Muslim world: “Throughout the whole system of the Eastern Muslim political organization there runs like a red thread the division of all the organs of administration into two main categories, the dargāh (palace) and dīvān (chancery)” (Turkestan2, p. 227; Taḏkerat al-molūk, tr. Minorsky, pp. 24-25).

Although Barthold was describing the situation before the beginning of the 13th century, his statement is still valid for the Safavid period, as the whole Safavid administrative system was divided vertically between the ḵāṣṣa (crown) and the ʿamma or mamālek (state) branches. At the same time the Safavid administrative system was initially divided horizontally between the two “founding nations” of the Safavid state, the Turks and the Persians (Savory, 1986, pp. 352-53; the term used to designate the Persians was Tājīks; cf. Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 159, 215, 287, tr. Savory, I, pp. 251, 320, 419). In addition, it was divided functionally between the “men of the sword” and the “men of the pen.” In popular perception, these categories corresponded to the division between Turk and Persian, but in practice the correlation was never as neat and tidy as conventional stereotyping would suggest. From the time of Shah Ṭahmāsb (930-84/1534-76) onward members of the qezelbāš (mainly Turkish) tribes began to receive special training that equipped them to function as “men of the pen” (on the progressive blurring of the line between “men of the sword” and “men of the pen,” see Savory, 1987, XVI, pp. 170-76; for examples of “men of the pen” functioning as “men of the sword,” see Savory, 1987, IV, pp. 95-97, VI, pp. 124-27).

The composition of the personnel resident at the Safavid court reflected these basic divisions. First in importance were the members of the council of amirs (dīvān, later jānqī; Savory, 1986, pp. 353ff.; for jānqī, see Doerfer, Elemente I, pp. 280-82; cf. Lambton, p. 334). The council of amirs was chaired by the shah or, in his absence, by the wakīl-e nafs-e nafīs-e homāyūn or by the grand vizier (Savory, 1986, pp. 353-54). The amirs of high rank (ʿālījāh) in the Safavid state fell into one of two broad classes: amirs of the marches (omarāʾ-ye sarḥadd), who did not reside at court, and amirs of the court (omarāʾ-ye dawlat-ḵāna), who did (Taḏkerat al-molūk, tr. Minorsky. pp. 43ff., 112ff.). The names of the offices and the associated titles held by the amirs of the court varied as the Safavid state evolved. To the author of the Taḏkerat al-molūk, completed about 1138/1726, the composition of the council of amirs seemed not to have changed “since early times” (p. 44). He enumerated seven persons who constituted the jānqī: the qūṛčī-bāšī (commander in chief of the army) the qūllar-āqāsī (commander of the qezelbāš cavalry); the īšīk-āqāsī-bāšī (grand marshal); the tofanġčī-āqāsī (commander of the musketeers); the grand vizier; the dīvānbegī; and the wāqeʿa-nevīs (or majles-nevīs; recorder of the king’s audience). The first four on the list were known as “pillars of the state” (arkān-e dawlat; Taḏkerat al-molūk, p. 44). However, the office of īšīk-aqāsī-bāšī was first recorded in 985/1577-78 (Eskandar Beg, I, p. 136, tr., I, p. 220; cf. I, pp. 198, 206, tr., pp. 293, 306; Savory, “Īshīk-Āḳāšī”; and that of qūllar-āqāsī (commander of the ḡolām regiment) was created by ʿAbbās I (996-1038/1588-1629; Eskandar Beg, II, p. 1106; tr. Savory, I, p. 527). Toward the end of the Safavid era Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn (r. 1105-35/1694-1722) is said to have admitted to some meetings of the jānqī three other officials: the nāẓer (superintendent of the royal workshops); the mostawfī al-mamālek (controller general); and the amīr-šekār-bāšī (chief huntsman; Taḏkerat al-molūk, tr. Minorsky, p. 44). Cornelius Le Brun, who was in Persia in 1115/1703-4, provided a list of officers who “have a right and title to sit in the royal palace.” Only the shah actually sat at council meetings; the courtiers remained standing. Le Brun’s list tallies with the extended list of court officers under Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn, with two exceptions: Le Brun added the amīr-āḵᵛor-bāšī (superintendent of the royal stables; Taḏkerat al-molūk, tr. Minorsky, pp. 52, 120) and the mostawfī-e ḵāṣṣa (accountant of the royal household; Taḏkerat al-molūk, tr. Minorsky, pp. 25, 123). He also commented, curiously, that “the principal of those who lay no claim to that particular privilege” [i.e., of sitting in the royal palace] is the īšīk-āqāsī-bāšī, whom he correctly called the “grand master of the court” (pp. 288-89). Jean Baptiste Tavernier (Paris, I, pp. 583ff.) made no distinction between those officers who had the right to reside at court and those who were simply officials of the royal household, nor did Raphaël Du Mans, who otherwise provided much useful information on the Safavid administrative system.

In the formative period of the Safavid state, before the accession of ʿAbbās I, however, other officials held the rank of rokn-e dawla and were therefore presumably privy to the councils of state; they included the wakīl (vicegerent), the amīr al-omarāʾ (not infrequently the same officer held both positions), and the tofanġčī-āqāsī (see Savory, 1987, IV, pp. 91-105, V, pp. 65-85). With the introduction of significant numbers of Armenians, Georgians, and Circassians into Persia from the time of Shah Ṭahmāsb onward, the ethnic mix of Safavid society underwent a radical change. This change was reflected in appointments to the principal offices of state and consequently in the list of ʿālījāh amiss in attendance at court. For example, the position of amīr al-omarāʾ is not found among the list of qezelbāš amirs who held office under Shah ʿAbbās I (Eskandar Beg, II, pp. 1084ff.; tr. Savory, II, pp. 1309ff.), and the qūllar-āqāsī became a member of the jānqī, as also, probably, did another ḡolām officer, the tofanġčī-āqāsī.

In addition to the amirs of the court and other officials who had the “right and title to sit in the royal palace” (Le Brun, p. 289), there were vast numbers of officials who were responsible for the administration of the royal household, the royal treasury, and the harem. Many of these officials were customarily present at the shah’s public audiences (dīvān-e ʿāmm). They fell into one of two broad categories: moqarrab al-ḵāqān and moqarrab al-ḥażrat; Taḏkerat al-molūk, ed. Minorsky, pp. 56ff.). All officials of the internal palace administration were moqarrab al-ḵāqāns, and many of them, especially those employed in the harem administration, were eunuchs (ḵᵛāja-sarā). Before the reign of ʿAbbās I only black eunuchs were employed, but from then on both black and white eunuchs were employed (Taḏkerat al-molūk, ed. Minorsky, pp. 56ff.). Moqarrab al-ḵāqāns who were not eunuchs included the royal physician (ḥakīm-bāšī), the royal astrologer (monajjem-bāšī), officials of the royal mint (moʾayyer al-mamālek), and the keepers of various seals (mohrdār), the dīvānbegī, the wāqeʿa-nevīs, the state secretary (monšeʾ al-mamālek), and the head of the royal treasury (ṣāḥeb-jamʿ-e ḵezāna-ye ʿāmera; Taḏkerat al-molūk, ed. Minorsky, pp. 50, 52, 56-63, 65; Savory, 1986, p. 355). The category moqarrab al-ḥażrat comprised all those officials whose duties lay at the entrance to or outside the harem and the shah’s private quarters. They included the īšīk-āqāsī-bāšī; the superintendent of the royal workshops (nāẓer-a boyūtāt-e ḵāṣṣa-ye šarīfa); innumerable doorkeepers (qāpūčī), ushers (īšīk-āqāsī-e majles), and gentlemen-in-waiting (yasāvolān-e ṣoḥbat, called by Chardin “huissiers d’honneur”), often recruited from among the sons of the noblest amirs (see Taḏkerat al-molūk, ed. Minorsky, p. 133); and the like.

Revenues and expenditures of the royal treasury. The vizier, who was the head of the royal secretariat (daftar-ḵāna-ye homāyūn), had ultimate responsibility for the entire financial administration of the Safavid state, both its mamālek and its ḵāṣṣa branches. He “authorized assignments on the revenue, grants, pensions and immunities of many different kinds; the payment of troops, and the keeping of muster-rolls and other military records; and the keeping of the archives” (Taḏkerat al-molūk, ed. Minorsky, pp. 44-46, 114-16; Savory, 1986, p. 354). The actual preparation of the budget and the assessment and collection of taxes were the responsibility of the mostawfī al-mamālek. As the ḵāṣṣa branch of the administration expanded, particularly from the time of ʿAbbās I (996-1038/1588-1629) onward, the office of comptroller of finance (estīfā-ye mamālek), like the office of ṣadr, was divided into a mamālek and a ḵāṣṣa section; but in practice the mostawfī al-mamālek seems to have carried more weight than the mostawfī al-ḵāṣṣa (Taḏkerat al-molūk, ed. Minorsky, pp. 54-55, 122-25; Savory, 1986, p. 354).

The expenditures of the court and the royal household came under the immediate supervision of the nāẓer-e boyūtāt-e ḵāṣṣa-ye šarīfa. There were thirty-three workshops according to the author of the Taḏkerat al-molūk (tr. Minorsky, p. 30; according to Chardin, III, p. 381, there were thirty-two); each was headed by a manager (ṣāḥeb jamʿ), who held the status of moqarrab al-ḥażrat, except for the head of the royal treasury, who was called moqarrab al-ḵāqān (Taḏkerat al-molūk, ed. Minorsky, pp. 63-69). At the beginning of the year an estimate of expenses for the royal household for six months was submitted to the vizier of the workshops (wazīr-e boyūtāt), who after making it known to the superintendent (nāẓer) of the workshops would send a report, signed also by the controller, to the grand vizier (eʿtemād-al-dawla) and request that the head of the treasury be instructed to pay the estimated sums to the heads (ṣāḥeb jamʿs) of departments against receipts. The workmen’s salaries and vacations were subject to approval by the nāẓer, who also managed the royal stables and the arsenal (Taḏkerat al-molūk, tr. Minorsky, pp. 48ff.). The nāẓer’s involvement in the affairs of the royal household made him a very powerful official; during the reign of ʿAbbās II (1052-77/1642-66) a particularly influential nāẓer encroached on the prerogatives of the grand vizier (Taḏkerat al-molūk, ed. Minorsky, p. 119).

On the basis of the revenue statistics contained in the Taḏkerat al-molūk, ḵāṣṣa revenue amounted to 176,900 tomans, or about 22.5 percent of the total revenue of the Safavid state (tr. Minorsky, pp. 174-75). These figures do not tell the whole story, however, for a significant amount of revenue went directly to the royal treasury. It is probable that the revenue of the provinces, which was under direct ḵāṣṣa administration, was collected by the shah’s agents and remitted to the royal treasury without being recorded in the books of the mostawfī al-mamālek (Taḏkerat al-molūk, ed. Minorsky, p. 176). For this reason, it is impossible to determine accurately the total amount of ḵāṣṣa revenue. In 1633 the Dutchman Jan De Laet estimated it at 357,000 tomans, that is, more than 50 percent of the total dīvān revenue of 608,600 tomans given in the Taḏkerat al-molūk (ed. Minorsky, p. 179). There is no doubt that large sums in specie, as well as in jewelry, precious stuffs, and so on, were hoarded in the royal treasury. The parsimony of Shah Ṭahmāsb is well known (Savory, 1980, p. 57). The Kurdish chief Šaraf Khan Bedlīsī was commissioned by Shah Esmāʿīl II in 984/1576 to make an inventory of the royal treasury as he had inherited it from Ṭahmāsb. Šaraf Khan commented that no ruler of Persia since Mongol times had amassed such a quantity of cash, precious stuffs, jewelry, and the like (Savory, 1980, pp. 184-85). Foreigners were not admitted into the royal treasury, but Chardin claimed to have seen in one room alone some 3,000 bags, each containing 50 tomans (V, pp. 430-33; cf. Taḏkerat al-molūk, tr. Minorsky, p. 184 n. 2). If Chardin was correct, one room in the treasury contained a sum of money almost as large as the percentage of the total dīvān revenue taken by the king and equivalent to almost half the much larger estimate of the total ḵāṣṣa revenue given by De Laet. No wonder Engelbert Kaempfer, who was in Persia from 1684 to 1688, gave up in despair when he tried to estimate the ḵāṣṣa revenue (quoted in Taḏkerat al-molūk, ed. Minorsky, p. 184).

The ruler’s daily schedule. The most specific surviving description of a typical day in the life of the shah is contained in Sir John Malcolm’s The History of Persia (II, pp. 307-8). Malcolm was, of course, describing the Qajar court of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah in the early 19th century (see vii, below), but available information about the daily routine of the Safavid shahs suggests that little had changed since their rule. Indeed, an official of the court of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah told Malcolm that “his majesty desires to follow in all points the usages of the Seffavean kings” (Malcolm, 1861, p. 208). The royal day began “at an early hour,” when the principal ministers and secretaries attended the shah, made reports on what had occurred, and received his commands. This private audience (bār-e ḵāṣṣ) was followed by a public levée (bār-e ʿāmm) lasting about an hour and a half. The levée was attended by the princes, the ministers, and the officers of the court: “[A]ll affairs which are wished to be made public, are transacted; rewards are given, punishments commandeḍ … .” Afterward the shah retired to the council chamber, where he spent a further hour or two with his “personal favorites” and his ministers. After this fatiguing morning the shah withdrew to his private apartments for lunch and a nap. He reappeared for an evening levée, which was “less public than the morning one.” Altogether, according to Malcolm, the shah was available to the public for six or seven hours a day, “during which he is not only seen by, but accessible to, a great number of persons of all ranks.” When the shah was in camp, away from the capital, he followed the same routine. The arrival at court of foreign ambassadors was deemed to warrant a special levée and occasions “when the king ought to appear in all his grandeur” (Malcolm, 1829, II, p. 400). It is no wonder that Malcolm concluded, “In no country has the monarch more personal duties than in Persia: the mode of performing them appears to have differed very little from the most ancient times to the present day” (1829, II, pp. 307-8).

Court ceremonial. Both Persian sources and the accounts of European visitors agree on the magnificence of the spectacle at the Safavid court. “Nothing,” commented Malcolm (1829, II, p. 400), “can exceed the splendour of the Persian Court on extraordinary occasions.” As the Safavid rulers always treated the arrival of a foreign embassy as an “extraordinary occasion,” ambassadors were in a better position than most to observe and comment upon the scene. Most foreign visitors also emphasized the strictness of court protocol. The ambassador would present himself at one of the interior gates of the palace and would be taken to a small apartment, where he would be met by one of the principal officers of state, who conducted him into the audience hall (Malcolm, 1829, II, pp. 400-401). Once inside the audience hall, ambassadors were generally struck by the “rigid attention paid to ceremony. Looks, words, the motions of the body, are all regulated by the strictest forms. When the king is seated in public, his sons, ministers, and courtiers, stand erect, with their hands crossed, and in the exact place belonging to the rank” (Malcolm, 1829, II, p. 399). When Sir Dodmore Cotton, ambassador from Charles I of England, was received in audience by ʿAbbās I, one of the gentlemen in his suite was impressed by the silence and immobility of the courtiers, the ranks of “tacite meerzaes, chawns, sultans and beglerbegs” (Thomas Herbert, quoted in Malcolm, I, p. 364 n. b).

Once stationed in the audience hall, the ambassador would present his credentials to the īšīk-aqāsī-bāšī, who would hand them to the vizier for translation (Ḵāleqī-Moṭlaq, p. 60). Adam Olearius (p. 709) recorded that, when the Holstein embassy was granted an audience in 1084/1673, the vizier took charge of these letters. The wāqeʿa-nevīs then informed the ambassador that the shah would have the letters translated and would subsequently grant him and his companions a second audience to settle their affairs. At the same time, the ambassador would present to the shah the gifts that he had brought. Protocol dictated that the shah should not “make any public show of pleasure at the gifts presented to him” (Malcolm, 1829, II, p. 400; for a more detailed account of the protocol governing royal audiences, see bār). The formalities concluded with a banquet in honor of the visitors; the meal was customarily served on dishes of gold, and wine was passed in golden goblets (for a vivid description of such a banquet, see Chronicle I, pp. 488ff.). A diplomatic incident, involving the resident of Muscovy, shows how strictly protocol was observed at the Safavid court. In 1698 the resident, contrary to protocol, refused to hand over his letters of credence to the vizier, and insisted on placing them in the shah’s own hands. He was placed under house arrest and ultimately given his congé. This incident placed the archbishop of Ankara, who reached the Safavid court in May 1699, in a quandary. Not wishing publicly to depart from the precedent set by the resident of Muscovy, he conceived the strategem of requesting the bishop of Isfahan to take his letters of credence to the house of the vizier. This device “so pleased the court” that Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn immediately granted the archbishop an “extraordinary reception” at ʿAlī Qāpū, one of his palace buildings. At the conclusion of the banquet the mehmāndār-bāšī (master of ceremonies), with two captains of the guard, escorted the archbishop and his suite home, and “all the drums and pipes began to play” as they crossed the Meydān-e Šāh. The following day the archbishop was invited to another lavish reception, and the palace was illuminated, “an honor never paid save to guests who are kings or of royal blood” (Chronicle I, pp. 488ff.)

The mehmāndār-bāšī (Taḏkerat al-molūk, ed. Minorsky, p. 110 n. 2) was responsible for providing lodgings for foreign guests and affording them hospitality while they were in the capital, but it was a member of his staff (mehmāndār) who actually met them when they reached the Persian border and escorted them all the way to the capital. During that time the shah provide per diem expenses and horses, and similar provision during their stay were based on the court’s assessment of their status; as the Carmelites recorded (Chronicle I, p. 490), visitors were not necessarily treated with the same honor and courtesy when they left the country as they had been when they entered it. Hospitality accorded to foreign dignitaries was not granted out of pure altruism. An important part of the job of the mehmāndār-bāšī was to discover the real, as opposed to the stated, reason why these foreigners had come to Persia. Persians were loath to believe that a desire to travel was a legitimate motive for visiting their country (Stevens, p. 448). Such thinking probably underlay the rule that foreign ambassadors were not to leave their lodgings in the capital until after their first official audience with the shah (Chronicle I, p. 437 n. 3). Chardin commented that “Persians believe that every stranger is a spy if he is not a merchant or a handicraftsman” (Stevens, p. 448), but the Safavid court possibly received more than its fair share of European charlatans and impostors (Stevens, p. 447).

Location of the Safavid courts. European visitors have written disparagingly of the two main surviving Safavid palaces in Isfahan: the ʿAlī Qāpū and the Čehel Sotūn. Apart from the fact that both buildings have suffered at human hands, as well as from the ravages of time, the disappointment of Western observers probably reflects the fact that Safavid palaces were relatively informal and of modest scale, in comparison, for example, with the grandiose palaces of the Mughal emperors. Furthermore, neither building was the official residence of the shah and his court. Both were used mainly for official audiences, receptions of foreign dignitaries, and the like (Savory, 1980, pp. 166-67).

Little remains in Qazvīn as a memorial of the fifty years (955-1006/1548-98) during which that city was the Safavid capital (see Hillenbrand). Equally, at Tabrīz, which was the first Safavid capital (907-55/1501-48); a series of devastating earthquakes (the worst occurring in 1139/1727 and 1194/1780) left few early monuments standing (Curzon, Persian Question I, p. 518; Minorsky, p. 538; Dībāj and Kārang, pp. 12ff.). Under Shah ʿAbbās I the winter palace complexes that he established at Ašraf (1021/1612-13; see behšahr) and at Faraḥābād (1020-21/1611-12) in Māzandarān, assumed an importance almost as great as that of the capital, Isfahan. The entire court moved to one of these palaces during the winter months, and foreign envoys who desired an audience with the shah had to visit him there (Savory, 1980, pp. 96-100; cf. Savory, “Ashraf”; idem, “Faraḥābād”).


R. M. Savory, “Īshīk-Āḳāsī,” in EI2IV, pp. 118-19.

J. Chardin, Voyages du Chevalier Chardin en Perse et autres lieux de l’Orienṭ … , 4 vols., Amsterdam, 1735.

A Chronicle of the Carmelites in Persia, 2 vols., London, 1939.

E. Dībāj and ʿA.-ʿA. Kārang, Rāhnemā-ye šahr-e Tabrīz, 1342 Š./1963.

R. Du Mans, Estat de la Perse en 1660, Paris, 1890.

R. M. Hillenbrand, “Ḳazwīn ii,” in EI2IV, pp. 862-63.

J. Ḵāleqī-Moṭlaq, “Bār wa āʾīn-e ān dar Īrān,” Īrān-nāma 5/3, 1366 Š./1987, pp. 392-438; 6/1, 1366 Š./1987, pp. 34-75.

A. K. S. Lambton, “Dīwān iv,” in EI2II, pp. 332-36.

C. Le Brun (Cornelis de Bruyn), Travels into Muscovy, Persia and Divers Parts of the East-Indies, London, 1759.

J. Malcolm, The History of Persia, 2 vols., London 1829.

Idem, Sketches of Persia, London, 1861.

V. Minorsky, “Tabrīz,” in EI1IV, pp. 583-93.

A. Olearius, The Voyages and Travels of the Ambassadors Sent by Frederick Duke of Holstein, to the Great Duke of Muscovy, and the King of Persia, tr. J. Davies, London, 1662.

R. Quiring-Zoche, Isfahan im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert, Freiburg, 1980.

R. M. Savory, “Ashraf,” in EI2I, p. 701.

Idem, “Faraḥābād,” EI2II, p. 783.

Idem, Iran under the Safavids, Cambridge, 1980.

Idem, “The Safavid Administrative System,” in Camb. Hist. Iran VI, pp. 351-72.

Idem, Studies on the History of Ṣafawid Iran, London, 1987.

R. Stevens, “European Visitors to the Safavid Court,” in Studies on Isfahan II, Iranian Studies 7, 1974, pp. 421-57.

D. Wilber, “Aspects of the Safavid Ensemble at Isfahan,” in Studies on Isfahan II, Iranian Studies 7, 1974, pp. 406-15.

COURTS AND COURTIERS vii. In the Qajar period

The court (darbār, darbār-e aʿẓam, dar(b)-e ḵāna) in the Qajar period was essentially organized on the ancient Perso-Turkish model inherited from the Safavid and Zand courts (see vi, above) but with modifications in practice and function largely designed to accommodate the Qajars’ nomadic habits. It consisted of the ruler and his household, including all the immediate and sometimes more distant members of the royal family, their dependents, and retainers. The personnel of the court, the palaces and royal buildings, and the crown properties were all considered to be the ruler’s personal property, over which he could exercise full authority. Moreover, at least in the early Qajar period, the two chief organs of the government, the bureaucracy (dīvān) and the army (laškar), were considered extensions of the court (dargāh). Efforts to rationalize the court administration as part of the reforms of the late 19th century met with only limited success; before the Constitutional Revolution in the first decade of the 20th century the government failed either to sever its tics with the court or to bring it under control. The Ottoman distinction between the sultan’s palace and the Sublime Porte (Bāb-e ʿālī) was only partially achieved in the Qajar system.

A faint reflection of this division of labor may, however, be seen in the way that titles were granted by the Qajar rulers. Following Safavid and Mughal practice, titles with the suffix -solṭān ([of] the king), as in amīn al-solṭān (lit., “confidant of the king”), were in theory supposed to denote appointees of the royal enclosure (ḵalwat), whereas those with the suffix -salṭana ([of] the kingdom), as in eʿtemād al-salṭana (lit., “the trust of the kingdom”), were associated with the public life of the court, and those with -dawla ([of] the state), as in mošīr al-dawla (lit., “consultant to the state”), were associated with the government. In practice, however, titles were granted in great abundance and with little attention to the recipient’s actual attachment to the court or government (see alqāb va ʿanāwīn).

During the rule of Āḡā Moḥammad Khan (1200-12/1785-97), founder of the Qajar dynasty, the size and extravagance of the court were kept to a functional minimum. His nomadic habits and puritanical simplicity were reflected in his preference for life in the saddle or the tent, rather than the urbane but decadent life of the palace. Nevertheless, he remained faithful to certain courtly practices, including the public audience or levée (salām-e ʿāmm), and initiated few of his own. The coronation ceremony was probably based on that of Nāder Shah (1148-60/1736-47), but the use of a royal crown, the so-called tāj-e kayānī, seems to have been an innovation without precedent in Islamic Persia (see crown iv).

The court of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah (1212-50/1797-1834) was, in contrast, extremely elaborate and characterized by close attention to ceremonies, protocol, and the physical appearance of the monarch. His palaces, extensive harem, and all the opulence and splendor that were characteristic of his age seem to have been intended as conscious reminders of the ancient Persian monarchy. The extravagance of the outer court was a reflection of the Qajar’s refined taste, whereas the enormous expansion of the royal harem signaled not only the shah’s sexual license but also his effort to consolidate his position through marital alliances. The cost of maintaining the court was an enormous burden upon the Qajar state and no doubt contributed to its later bankruptcy. The court of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah’s successor, Moḥammad Shah (1250-64/1834-48), was relatively modest; although it reflected his austere taste and his Sufi inclinations, it was also symbolic of the state’s financial destitution, to which mismanagement by the grand vizier Ḥājī Mīrzā Āqāsī certainly contributed.

In the reign of Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah (1264-1313/1848-96) there was an attempt to balance functional efficiency and royal splendor. The austerity program adopted by the vizier Mīrzā Taqī Khan Amīr(-e) Kabīr, in spite of resistance by the shah and his courtiers, reduced court expenditures. His dismissal of some low-ranking parasites and reductions in the pensions of high-ranking courtiers were major reasons for his eventual downfall. Similarly, the administrative reforms of the 1860s and those undertaken by Mīrzā Ḥosayn Khan Mošīr al-Dawla in the 1870s, though they helped to centralize the court administration and reduce the staff and expenditures, were also resisted by the courtiers and the harem. Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah’s palace-building projects and his artistic patronage followed a relatively stable and logical course but nevertheless resulted in overspending and eventually drained off a substantial portion of the state budget. Huge salaries and pensions had been granted from the government treasury, and tenure of land (toyūls) had been assigned to courtiers and functionaries. In the early 19th century tax revenues, as well as the enormous treasures accumulated by Nāder Shah, had paid for Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah’s lavish court, his own indulgences, and his wives’ expenditures. Monetary offerings (pīškeš) from high officials and confiscation of portions of the legacies of deceased courtiers were among the shah’s other sources of income. In the later part of Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah’s reign, however, the expenses of the inner court and the harem were covered exclusively by revenue from the Persian customs (gomrokāt).

Whatever progress in rationalizing the budget had been achieved under Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah was lost during the reign of Moẓaffar-al-Dīn Shah (1313-24/1896-1907), when the domination of the entourage that had followed him from Azerbaijan led to depletion of the royal treasury and even auctioning of the royal furniture. During the Constitutional Revolution Moḥammad-ʿAlī Shah’s court became the nucleus of royalist plots that eventually ensured its near ruin. As a result the court of Aḥmad Shah (1327-44/1909-25) was substantially reduced in size and influence. When in 1303 Š./1924 Moḥammad-Ḥasan Mīrzā, the last Qajar heir apparent, was forced to leave the Golestān palace, little was left of the splendor of earlier times. Some magnificent palaces were demolished, and the furnishings, including royal paintings, were auctioned off or left to decay by Reżā Shah (1304-20 Š./1925-41) and his officers.

Like most state institutions of the Qajar period the administration of the court was flexible and often subject to the monarch’s taste. As noted above, the ancient division between the dargāh and the dīvān was not strictly observed. The dīvān-ḵāna, the administrative and judicial core of the government, located in the royal citadel (arg-e salṭanatī)in Tehran, consisted of the office of correspondence (daftar-ḵāna), the treasury (ṣandūq-ḵāna), and the arsenal (jobba-ḵāna). But as early as the 1860s the dīvān-ḵāna was gradually dismantled and its functions delegated to newly established ministries of justice (ʿadlīya), finance (mālīya), and war (jang) as the result of administrative reforms. The newly created ministry of the court (Wezārat-e darbār-e aʿẓam) was largely responsible for administration of the affairs of the private enclosure (ḵalwat-ḵāna). Ironically the reduction in size and functions of the dargāh did not lessen the shah’s power but rather brought control of the government closer to the inner court.

The most enduring function of the dargāh was the public audience (see bār) held on important holidays like Nowrūz, the most lavishly celebrated event in the court calendar; the Islamic feasts of Ażḥā (sacrifice), Feṭr (breaking the fast), Mawlūd (birthday of the Prophet Moḥammad), and the birthday of Imam ʿAlī; and in the later reign of Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah his own birthday and such special occasions as his accession (jolūs) and coronation (tāj-goḏārī), significant military conquests, and nomination of the crown prince. The public audience was a symbolic manifestation of royal authority and the ruler’s primary position in the political hierarchy, the microcosm of a universal order headed by the monarchy. In a spectacle of pomp and splendor directed toward the elite, the government, and the military the shah displayed all the implements of kingship on the Marble Throne (Taḵt-e marmar), located in the veranda of the Tālār-e salām-e ʿāmm (Hall of public audience) in the Golestān palace, the earliest Qajar royal construction. In this rite of renewing allegiance to the shah the royal house, chiefs of the Qajar tribe, the ʿolamāʾ, high-ranking government officials and court dignitaries, military chiefs, urban notables, and the diplomatic corps were present, each positioned according to rank on either side of the throne or behind or in front of it in the spacious courtyard of the palace. The private audience (salām-e ḵāṣṣ), on the other hand, was held, often in the Tālār-e salām (Audience hall) in the interior of the Golestān palace, for the purpose of receiving foreign envoys, major dignitaries, or public delegations. For the protocol-conscious Qajar rulers the private salām for foreign envoys was a symbolic arena in which the elevated status of the shah among the world’s rulers was to be underscored.

The master of ceremonies (īšīk-āqāsī-bāšī, lit., “lord of requests”), who was also chief of protocol (īšīk-ḵāna), presided over both public and private audiences and supervised the attendants at the public audience (pīš-ḵedmatān-e salām-e ʿāmm). An oration (ḵoṭba) was read by the “addressee of the public audience” (moḵāṭab-e salām-e ʿāmm), a Qajar dignitary who represented the audience and was addressed in reply by the shah. The royal astrologer (monajjem-bāšī) announced the auspicious hour (e.g., the vernal equinox during the Nowrūz celebration), and the chief court poet (malek-al-šoʿarāʾ) recited the appropriate panegyric (qaṣīda) composed for the occasion. During Nowrūz and other court celebrations wrestlers, gymnasts, animal trainers (lūṭīs, lit., “rogues”), and buffoons entertained the court and the public.

The royal enclosure

The Qajar inner court was divided into three basic parts: the royal enclosure (ḵalwat-e ḵāṣṣa, ḵalwat-sarkārī) and associated service departments (ḵedmat-e ḵāṣṣa); the royal harem and associated services (ḵāna- or andarūn-e ḵāṣṣa); and the palace security and outdoor services (rekāb-e homāyūn). The boundaries of the ḵalwat divisions and the rekāb were fluid, and frequently several departments from different divisions were assigned to a single powerful court official from the ranks of one of them, often recognized as vizier of the “sublime court” (wazīr-e darbār-e aʿẓam). Moḥammad Khan Qājār Davallū, chief of the royal guards in the 1860s, and Maḥmūd Khan ʿAlāʾ-al-Dawla Qājār Davallū, Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah’s chief of protocol during the 1870s, were officials of the rekāb division, whereas the later court ministers Mīrzā Ebrāhīm Amīn-al-Solṭān and his son Mīrzā ʿAlī-Aṣḡar Khan Amīn-al-Solṭān were from ḵalwat backgrounds. As early as 1274/1858 efforts were made to rationalize the court administration and define the lines of authority by institutionalizing them in the Ministry of the sublime court (Wezārat-e darbār-e aʿẓam), possibly adapted from the Ottoman Tanẓīmāt. The minister of court, appointed by the shah, also oversaw the court finances. Not until the Constitutional Revolution, however, was the court administration fully integrated into the government.

General organization. The ḵalwat in a broader sense consisted of all officials and attendants in the private service of the court (ajzāʾ wa ḵoddām-e darb-e ḵāna). Specifically the royal enclosure (ḵalwat-e ḵāṣṣa) housed attendants in waiting (ʿamala-ye ḥożūr). These functionaries, essentially the shah’s companions, were of diverse social backgrounds, ages, and status and included royal confidants and aristocrats, sons of the nobility at the outset of their public careers, and page boys (ḡolām-baččas). The page boys were employed to move freely between the harem and the ḵalwat, as well as to serve as playmates for the young princes. Their number increased as Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah grew older and fonder of youthful company. In the late Qajar period the ḵalwat became more notorious, as sycophants, hangers-on, idlers, and spoiled page boys, including Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah’s favorite, ʿAzīz-al-Solṭān, better known as Malījak II, crowded the palace. Tales of court intrigue, gossip, and harem scandals abounded, and members of the ḵalwat were frequently manipulated in the interests of ministers, officials, foreign envoys, and women of the harem. The shah, too, used members of his own ḵalwat to outmaneuver all these players in the complex game of power.

The supervision of the entire ḵalwat rested upon the royal chamberlain, the most senior official and often a confidant of the shah or a member of the Qajar nobility. Initially known as elder of the ḵalwat (rīš-safīd-e ḵalwat) and later as chief (raʾīs-e ḵalwat) and subsequently minister of attendance (wazīr-e ḥożūr-e homāyūn), the occupant of this post was elevated to minister of the sublime court (wazīr-e darbār-e aʿẓam) after 1288/1871. The superintendent of the enclosure (nāẓem-e ḵalwat), who was often also the headwaiter (pīš-ḵedmat-bāšī), was responsible for regular attendance, orderly conduct, and cleanliness of the servants in waiting (pīš-ḵedmat-e ḥożūr) and valets de chambre (farrāš-e ḵalwat). The amīn(-e) ḵalwat, on the other hand, served as secretary within the enclosure. The page of honor (ḡolām-bačča-bāšī) supervised the page boys. In 1303/1887 Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana (supplement, p. 32) identified five officeholders (ṣāḥeb-manṣab), often with -e ḵalwat added to their titles, and twenty-four other attendants (tābīn).

Service departments. The service functionaries (ʿamala-ye ḵedmat) provided for all domestic needs of the shah and his court. The culinary division was headed by the royal caterer (ḵᵛān-sālār, nāẓer), who headed the palace supervisory department (dār al-neẓāra) and was responsible for the supply of provisions, food preparation, and table service. In 1303/1887 forty people were employed in his office and the associated storehouse (taḥwīl-ḵāna): eighteen in the kitchen (āšpaz-ḵāna), headed by the royal cook (āšpaz-bāšī, ṭabbāḵ-bāšī); five in the bakery (čorak-ḵāna); twelve in the buttery (šarbat-ḵāna); two in the coffeehouse (qahva-ḵāna); and sixty-one in the pantry (ābdār-ḵāna) and water house (saqqā-ḵāna), including the chief butler (ābdār-bāšī), fifteen aides, and thirty-seven water carriers (saqqās). The size of the pantry partly reflected its function as the private kitchen for Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah, whose gastronomic habits ensured the ascendancy of the butler Ebrāhīm Amīn-al-Solṭān to the position of royal chamberlain and later minister of court. During his tenure the ābdār-ḵāna was frequented by all state dignitaries seeking access to the shah through his butler. The 138 culinary employees constituted the largest group within the ʿamala-ye ḵedmat. Other departments included the royal purse (ṣarf-e jīb-e mobārak); the royal wardrobe (raḵtdār-ḵāna), headed by the master of the robes (jāmadār-e ḵāṣṣa); and the royal chest (ṣandūq-ḵāna), headed by the master of the chest (ṣandūqdār) aided by an assessor (moqawwem; Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, 1303/1887, supplement, pp. 33-38).

The state treasury (ḵezāna-ye mobāraka-ye mālīya) was also part of the court administration, for up to the time of Moẓaffar-al-Dīn Shah the Qajar rulers resisted delegation of full control of the treasury to the government. Also known as the royal treasury (ḵezāna-ye ḵāṣṣa), distinct from the private treasury of the harem (ḵezāna-ye andarūn), it was staffed by accountants (mostawfīs). Other accountants were assigned to various court departments, though technically their appointments were to the government accounting department (dīvān-e estīfāʾ) and later to the ministries of interior (dāḵela) and finance (mālīya). The royal treasury, and later the royal museum (oṭāq-e mūza-ye mobāraka), housed the greater part of the celebrated royal treasures (jawāherāt-e salṭanatī), some of which, including the Peacock Throne (Taḵt-e ḵoršīd, better known as Taḵt-e ṭāwūs), were on display in the Tālār-e salām and later in the Tālār-e āʾīna (Hall of mirrors) in the Golestān palace. The royal library (ketāb-ḵāna) was also part of the Golestān complex. In the time of Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah there were a royal librarian (ketābdār-e homāyūn) and a curator (ḵāzen). In 1302/1885 the royal atelier (naqqāš-ḵāna), a remnant of the royal workshops (kārḵānajāt-e ḵāṣṣa) of earlier decades, consisted of five artists under the direction of the celebrated royal painter (naqqāš-bāšī) Mīrzā Moḥammad Khan Ḡaffārī Kamāl-al-Molk. There was also a photographic department (ʿakkās-ḵāna), which owed its survival largely to Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah’s interest in photography (see ʿakkās-bāšī).

The royal translation department (dār al-tarjama-ye mobāraka) was headed by the chief royal dragoman (motarjem-e maḵṣūṣ-e ḥożūr-e homāyūn) and employed several French, Turkish, Russian, and English interpreters seconded from the Ministry of publications (Wezārat-e enṭebāʿāt). At the Qajar court, as in the administration as a whole, a single officer could hold several posts. Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana (previously Ṣanīʿ-al-Dawla), for instance, was court chronicler, chief royal dragoman, royal librarian, and for a while chief of the royal palaces and gardens and head of the municipal administration (eḥtesāb) of Tehran, as well as minister of publications. The court chronicler (malek al-mowarreḵīn) and the keeper of royal stationery (dawātdār-e homāyūn) were regarded as independent officials, but the keeper of the royal seal (mohardār-e homāyūn) was head of the mohardār-ḵāna and presumably served as royal archivist, in charge of recording all royal papers and correspondence. In practice, however, this department was never established on solid foundations. Typical of their chaotic ruling habits, the Qajars remained unenthusiastic about maintaining orderly and extensive archives.

The shah’s private secretary (dabīr-e ḥożūr) headed the department of royal correspondence (rasāʾel-e ḵāṣṣa), which in principle was responsible for collecting petitions (ʿarāyeż) and issuing royal decrees (farmāns), including autographs (dast-ḵaṭṭs), and all other royal correspondence. The informal manner in which the Qajars attended to official business, however, allowed for several other channels through which petitions could be received and responses conveyed. Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah’s resistance to rationalization and his attendance to all details, public and private, combined with petty rivalries among officials and their hasty reshuffling, compounded the bureaucratic confusion at court.

A number of palace employees were unattached to any department. The royal physicians (aṭebbāʾ-e ḵāṣṣa), both Persian and European (see campbell; cormick, john; cormick, william), enjoyed special respect and were in close contact with the shah and his harem. As they were also able to practice privately, the shah’s physicians (ḥakīm-bāšī-ye homāyūnī) often acted as confidants; Europeans might also serve as intermediaries between the shah and foreign missions. Such physicians had been resident at the court in Tehran as early as the 1830s, but in the later reign of Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah there were only three of them, compared to ten Persians. The grandiose titles given to Persian physicians were perhaps intended to compensate for loss to Europeans of the monopoly of medical treatment. The royal barber (ḵāṣṣa-tarāš-bāšī) and the chief herald (jāṛčī-bāšī) were also court retainers, but the royal jeweler (zargar-bāšī) and medal maker (nešānsāz-e mobāraka) were honorary appointees patronized by the court. Court musicians (arbāb-e ṭarab) were employed either individually or as part of the court ensemble (dasta) under the chief musician (rīāsat-e arbāb-e ṭarab). Under Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah the European director of the department of military music in the Dār al-Fonūn also served as director of the court military band (mūzīkāṇčī-bāšī). The naqqāra-ḵāna-ye mobāraka, an ancient Persian institution that survived until the Pahlavi period, announced the movement of the sun in the sky five times daily with traditional military instruments and also declared the start of royal celebrations and annual festivities. The shah’s storyteller (naqqāl-e homāyūn) and chief court jester (dalqak-bāšī) were much appreciated, and the latter, who headed a group of entertainers, enjoyed remarkable liberties. The mehmandār-bāšī (chief host) was appointed by the shah, often from among high-ranking officials or the Qajar nobility, to oversee the reception of foreign dignitaries and to accompany them on their tours in the country.

Under Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah the maintenance and upkeep of the royal palaces, the attached gardens, and the royal qanāts (subterranean channels) were concentrated in the department known as edāra-ye bāḡāt, ʿemārāt wa qanawāt-e mobāraka, also known as the boyūtāt-e ḵāṣṣa. Its director supervised the work of the royal gardener (bāḡbān-bāšī) and the chief of irrigation (moqannī-bāšī). The crown lands (ḵāleṣajāt-e homāyūnī, dīvānī), however, were administered by the accounting department and later the Ministry of finance on behalf of the crown. The department of construction (bannāʾ-ḵāna, later edāra-ye bannāʾī), headed by the chief architect (meʿmār-bāšī), carried out major construction projects.

The elevated status of the appointees in charge of maintenance and construction was particularly apparent under Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah. In addition to constructing new halls and living quarters in the Golestān complex and refurbishing old ones, they constructed new palaces, royal villas, and summer residences in and around Tehran, including ʿEšratābād, Qaṣr-e Qājār, Salṭanatābād, Ṣāḥeb-qerānīya, Aqdasīya, Sorḵa Ḥesār, Qaṣr-e Fīrūza, Dūšān Tappa, Faraḥābād, and Šahrestānak. Royal buildings were also erected at Anzalī and Ašraf (Behšahr), as well as in seats of the prince-governors in Azerbaijan, Isfahan, Fārs, Khorasan, Kermānšāh, Qazvīn, and elsewhere. Such Safavid structures as the Čehel Sotūn in Isfahan, the ʿAlī Qāpū in Qazvīn, the Ašraf in Māzandarān, and the Bāḡ-e Fīn near Kāšān were repaired, but others were neglected and occasionally even destroyed. Enormous sums were spent on the new buildings and on interior decoration and furnishing of palaces and mansions. The chief architect, often working under the close supervision of the shah, played some part in the preservation of the Persian architectural tradition and later in the emergence of a mixed style. The influence of European architecture can be seen in the ʿEmārat-e abyaż (White palace) or the ʿEmārat-e ḵᵛābgāh (Palace of rest, now destroyed), built in 1303/1886 by Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah for his private quarters in the Golestān, as well as in Kāmrān Mīrzā’s Amīrīya mansion and Masʿūd Mīrzā Ẓell-al-Ṣoltan’s Bahārestān. These buildings were designed according to a European conception of royalty, in which the physical division between the inner and outer quarters was not clearly stressed. The incorporation of modern amenities also became common in the last decade of the 19th century. The lighting department (čerāḡ-ḵāna), which initially had been responsible for maintaining ceresin lampposts, candelabra, and chandeliers, later took charge of maintaining the gaslights that were first installed in the Golestān palace and its grounds in the 1870s and the electric lighting that appeared in the 1890s. Earlier in the 19th century there had also been a chief torchbearer (mašʿaldār-bāšī).

The royal harem (ḥaram-ḵāna, andarūn-e ḵāṣṣa) was the most restricted quarter of the inner court; devoid of most of the glamour attached to its image in the West, it was a golden cage housing all the women of the royal family and their female companions, maids, and retainers. The size, composition, accessibility, and influence of the harem varied substantially, depending upon the shah’s appetites, his marital alliances, and his choice of companions, but as one of the “attributes of monarchy” (aṯāṯīya-ye salṭanat) its existence, whatever its size and composition, was essential. Āḡā Moḥammad Khan maintained a harem of mostly Qajar and Turkman women, some of them wives of his deceased brothers. The harems of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah and Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah were large (containing perhaps as many as a thousand inhabitants) and extravagant, in contrast to Moḥammad Shah’s more modest harem.

As a hierarchical institution, the harem remained essentially intact throughout the Qajar period, though some minor freedoms were permitted to its members in the postconstitutional period. In compliance with the Qajar matriarchal pattern, the harem was headed by the queen mother (mahd-e ʿolyā “sublime cradle”) and after her death by the most senior, noble, or favorite wife of the shah, though not necessarily by the mother of the heir apparent. In the early Qajar harem the highest rank was reserved for women of Qajar blood or aristocratic (mostly Turkman and Zand) background; they were often distinguished by the title begom. Next in rank were women of the urban and tribal nobility, with the title ḵānom, and after them women of the lower classes, often identified as ḵātūn. Slave girls, whether captured or purchased, were ranked as kanīz. In addition to the four permanent (dāʾema) wives, the shah had temporary (moṭʿa) wives, including concubines for sexual pleasure, female musicians (moṭreba), dancing girls (raqqāṣa), and wives of humble backgrounds with menial duties.

Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah’s harem, housing several hundred wives and many of his unmarried daughters, was a court within a court, in which he even held regular private audiences (salām) for the women. The magistrate of the harem (dārūḡa-ye ḥaram) was chosen from among the shah’s senior wives to administer the women’s affairs, presumably under the mahd-e ʿolyā. Senior wives had their own secretaries (mīrzā-bājī)and other female functionaries. Ṭāwūs Ḵānom Ṭaj-al-Dawla, Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah’s favorite, after whom the popular name Tāḵt-e ṭāwūs was given to the throne, maintained an independent household replicating that of her husband. A private treasurer (ḵāzen), appointed by the shah from among his senior wives, was in charge of the private royal treasury (kezāna-ye andarūn), and one of the shah’s educated wives or daughters often acted as his harem secretary. Other senior wives were assigned responsibilities ranging from food distribution to direction of entertainment for the harem.

The women’s quarters, secluded physically as well as administratively from the rest of the palace, were guarded by the dreaded chief eunuch (ḵᵛāja-bāšī) and his subordinates (ḵᵛāja-sarāyān). Like the Ottomans the Qajars employed both white and black eunuchs. The white eunuchs, mostly second-generation Georgians whose parents had been enslaved in Āḡā Moḥammad Khan’s campaign of 1208/1794, guarded the exterior gates of the harem and were permitted to enter it only in the company of the shah. In the early Qajar period several white eunuchs were promoted to high state positions, but their number and status had declined by the last years of Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah. The black eunuchs, originally Abyssinian and Zanzibarian slaves, imported despite the ban on the slave trade in the 1850s, were responsible for the internal security of the harem and were permitted to enter it at all times. The lifelong service of black eunuchs could be rewarded when the young royal princes in their care reached high government position or succeeded to the throne, but more than once such hopes were shattered by maltreatment from their ungrateful masters. Nevertheless, in general both white and black eunuchs were treated with respect by the women of the harem, as well as by courtiers and the shah himself. They appeared in public only during processions of the royal women through the city streets, enforcing with great severity “prohibition” (qoroq), obliging bystanders to turn their backs on the procession. Their conduct, accompanied by beatings and abuse from the royal outdoor servants, often fueled public hatred and diplomatic friction. In spite of tight security and the apparent isolation associated with this symbol of royal sanctity, the women of the harem maintained contact with the outside through relatives and servants. After the death of Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah it was not rare for them to appear at horse races and on the shah’s domestic tours and outdoor excursions. Tales of illicit affairs were also rampant.

The outer court

The “riding attendants” (ʿamala-ye rekāb, lit., “agents of the stirrup”) generally encompassed the royal guards, security officers, outdoor and transport officers, and stewards whose duties took them outside the ḵalwat. Next to the department of protocol (īšīk-ḵāna) the royal guardhouse (kešīk-ḵāna), headed by a sar-kešīkčī-bāšī, often a prince or member of the Qajar nobility, was the most prominent. The royal bodyguards (ḡolāmān-e šāhī, qarāvolān-e ḵāṣṣa) were recruited from the best of the tribal regiments. Although the term ḡolām denoted a slave bodyguard, by Qajar times such an institution had in fact ceased to exist. Under Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah the bodyguard consisted of four regiments, of which one, the ḡolāmān-e nāṣerī, was headed by the chief bodyguard (qollar-āqāsī-bāšī). The royal escort (yasāvolān-e ḵāṣṣa) was responsible for the security of the shah when he was in residence and accompanied him on his official tours, as well as being in charge of the government horses (savārān-e dīvānī). The royal musketeers (tofangdārān-e ḵāṣṣa) were organized in the tofangdār-ḵāna, the housekeepers (sarāydārān) and gatekeepers (qāpūčīān) in the housekeeping department (saraydār-ḵāna), under the direction of the saraydār-bāšī (chief housekeeper).

Particularly important at the Qajar court were the farrāš-ḵāna and the nasaq-ḵāna, representing the executive power of the shah. The royal footmen or tent pitchers (farrāš, lit., “spreader of carpets”), under the influential farrāš-bāšī, were responsible for outdoor and camp services, carrying messages, and executing royal punitive commands for arrests, extortion, beatings, the bastinado, and the like. The sight of the farrāšes rushing through the streets and private houses in pursuit of supposed culprits and the humiliating treatment of those apprehended were enough to remind all subjects of the ferocity of the sovereign. The shah’s most extreme wrath, however, was manifested by the executioners (nasaqčīs, lit., “discipliners”), generally known as “agents of torment” (ʿamala-ye ʿaḏāb), who were responsible for more severe punishments, including torture; blinding; severing of ears, noses, and limbs; and gruesome executions. The nasaqčī-bāšī was often a confidant of the shah and was perhaps the most dreaded officer in the early Qajar court. Although in the later reign of Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah the most brutal practices were rare, the nasaq-ḵāna (sometimes merged with the farrāš-ḵāna) remained a symbol of the shah’s punitive power. The presence of the nasaqčī-bāšī at the public audience, stationed close to the throne, was often attested by foreign visitors anxious to detect implements of “oriental despotism.”

The officers, aides-de-camp, and stewards of the royal camp (ordū-ye homāyūn), generally identified as “riding companions” (moltazemīn-e rekāb), constituted one of the most prominent groups at the Qajar court. In the course of the 19th century elaborate camps and military reviews gradually replaced military campaigns as potent symbols of monarchical power and legitimacy. The nomadic habits of the Qajars persisted to the end, and love of the outdoors and of riding and hunting excursions often meant days and even months away from the capital. On royal tours and in military reviews the entire court, including officials, secretaries, members of the ḵalwat, and some women of the harem, accompanied the shah. In reviews held at Solṭānīya and later in Lār, as well as on tours to Isfahan, Khorasan, and ʿErāq-e ʿAjam, tens of thousands of regular and irregular troops were present. Most of the transport needed for such mass movements was provided from vast camel stables (šotor-ḵāna) and mule stables (qāṭer-ḵāna), but the royal stable (eṣṭabl-e ḵāṣṣa), under the supervision of the equerry (mīr-āḵor) and staffed by the master groom (mehtar-bāšī) and several hostlers (mehtars), was the most cherished royal possession because of the pedigreed Turkman, Arabian, and Kurdish horses housed in it. Covered litters and palanquins, mostly for women travelers, were kept in the taḵt-ḵāna. The saddlery (zīn-ḵāna, rakīb-ḵāna), the carriage house (kāleska-ḵāna), and the tent store (ḵayma-ḵāna) were additional travel and camping departments. As late as the turn of the 20th century the court maintained a šāṭer-ḵāna, employing outriders (šāṭers) dressed in colorful uniforms and headgear, who ran beside the royal cavalcade, relics of an ancient institution. The master of the hunt (mīr-šekār), together with his men, enjoyed high status among Qajar rulers and princes proud of their hunting skills. There was also a royal falconry (qūš-ḵāna), which was headed by the qūščī-bāšī. The camp bedmaker (raḵt-e ḵābdār-e safar) and the boot puller (bāšmāqčī)were part of the outdoor retinue as well. Not infrequently camp attendants were given military responsibilities and private missions beyond their official capacities.


European accounts: H. J. Brydges, An Account of the Transactions of His Majesty’s Mission to the Court of Persia, London, 1834, pp. 184-92, 241-44, 326-28.

Curzon, Persian Question I, pp. 390-432.

E. B. Eastwick, Journal of a Diplomat’s Three Years’ Residence in Persia, 2 vols., London, 1864, II, pp. 106-26, 300-309.

D. Feuvrier, Trois ans à la cour de Perse, Paris, 1906, chaps. 3-5.

J. B. Fraser, Narrative of a Journey into Khorasan in the Years 1821 and 1822, London, 1825, pp. 145-240.

R. Ker Porter, Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, Ancient Babylonia, 1817-20, London, 1821-22, I, pp. 303-57.

J. Kitto, The Court and the People of Persia, 2 vols., London, 1850.

J. Malcolm, The History of Persia, 2 vols., London, 1815, II, pp. 544-70.

J. Morier, A Journey through Persia, Armenia and Asia Minor, London, 1812, pp. 186-248.

Idem, A Second Journey through Persia, Armenia and Asia Minor, London, 1818, pp. 169-99.

W. Ouseley, Travels in Various Countries of the East, More Particularly Persia, 3 vols., London, 1819-23, III, pp. 115-375.

J. E. Polak, Persien. Das Land und seine Bewohner, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1865, II, chap. 1.

F. Shoberl, Persia, 3 vols., London, 1822, pp. 44-134.

C. Serena, Hommes et choses en Perse, Paris, 1883, chaps. 15-23, 46-48.

M. Sheil, Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia, London, 1856.

Persian accounts: ʿA. Amīn-al-Dawla, Ḵāṭerāt-e sīāsī, ed. Ḥ. Farmānfarmāʾīān, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962.

Aḥmad Mīrzā ʿAżod-al-Dawla, Tārīḵ-eʿażodī, ed. ʿA.-Ḥ. Navāʾī, Tehran 2535 = 1355 Š./1976, pp. 12-171.

Y. Ḏokāʾ, Tārīḵča-ye sāḵtmānhā-ye arg-e salṭanatī-e Tehrān, Tehran, 1349 Š./1970.

M.-Ḥ. Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana (Sanīʿ-al-Dawla), al-Maʾāṯer wa’l-āṯār, Tehran, 1305/1885.

Idem, Rūz-nāma-ye ḵāṭerāt, ed. Ī. Afšār, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966.

M.-ʿA. Ḡaffārī, Ḵāṭerāt wa asnād, ed. M. Etteḥādīya, Tehran, 1362 Š./1983.

D.-ʿA. Moʿayyer-al-Mamālek, Yāddāšthā-ī az zendagānī-e ḵoṣūṣī-e Nāṣer-al-Dīn Šāh, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1362 Š./1983.

Mostawfī, Šarḥ-e zendagānī I, pp. 359-64, 380-421.

H. Nūrbaḵš, Dalqakhā-ye mašhūr-e darbārī, Tehran, 1363 Š./1984, pp. 88-202.

M.-T. Sepehr, Nāseḵ al-tawārīḵ (qājārīya) III, Tehran, 1344 Š./1965, pp. 139-78.

Ṣūrat-e enteẓāmāt-e bāḡ wa ka²lwat-e nāṣerī, Tehran, 1298/1880; repr. FIZ 21, 1355 Š./1976, pp. 193-210.

Tāj-al-Salṭana, Ḵāṭerāt, ed. M. Etteḥādīya, Tehran, 1362 Š./1983; tr. A. Amanat as The Changing World of Taj al-Saltana. Memoirs of a Qajar Princess, Washington, D.C., 1993.

COURTS AND COURTIERS viii. In the reign of Reżā Shah Pahlavī

When Reżā Shah (r. 1304-20 Š./1925-1941) acceded to the throne he retained a number of lower officials from the royal court of the Qajars (see vii, above), specifically those who had not been vocal in support of republicanism. They included Ṣādeq Homāyūn, keeper of buildings (sarparast-e ʿemārāt), and Ḥājj ʿAdl-al-Salṭana, master of the wardrobe (raʾīs-e ṣandūq-ḵāna). The shah’s intent was probably not to reward their loyalty to the royal family but to surround himself with officials committed to upholding royal authority (for a list of the earliest office holders at Reżā Shah’s court, see Behbūdī, pp. 163, 174). The inner circle of courtiers included members of his secreteriat during his service as prime minister and minister of war, including Faraj-Allāh Bahrāmī Dabīr Aʿẓam, and Solaymān Behbūdī. Military ties were particularly important to Reżā Shah (see COSSACK BRIGADE), and many of his court officials were officers on active duty. These men and other, newly appointed officials were placed under the authority of ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Teymūrtāš (Daštī, pp. 135-51; Ḵᵛājanūrī, pp. 29-70), minister of the Pahlavi court (wazīr-e darbār-e pahlavī). Indeed, in the early years the court of Reżā Shah was largely controlled by this ambitious and powerful man. It was he who set the formal, ceremonious royal style, which survived his tenure. Unlike the shah he came from a family of provincial notables with a tradition of land ownership and authority. He had been educated at the military academy in St. Petersburg, where he became familiar with Europe and sophisticated in matters still foreign to Persian society. The respect for the social hierarchy engendered at the academy reinforced his already strong class identification, which caused him to look down even upon the shah, who came from humble origins (Rezun, pp. 66-69; Bāmdād, Rejāl II, pp. 239-40).

On the other hand, Teymūrtāš shared the shah’s vision of Persia’s future, and he used the court ministry as an instrument of social change and the nucleus of a modern centralized bureaucracy. As the second most powerful man in the kingdom, he attended cabinet meetings, a practice that was not provided for in Persian law and did not survive him; he even dictated cabinet decisions and influenced the conduct of foreign affairs. His commands were considered to be those of the shah, who announced at one cabinet meeting: “Teymūr speaks for me” (Hedāyat, p. 472). “Teymurtash was not only the eyes, but the very ears and mouth of the shah” (Wipert von Blücher, cited by Rezun, p. 71). From his experience in the military and in the ministries of justice and public works Teymūrtāš was better prepared and informed than the shah in several crucial areas (Farroḵ, pp. 635-36; Rezun, pp. 69-72).

For example, he personally approved candidates for parliamentary elections, and the minister of the interior reported to him (Colonel Jahānbānī to minister of the interior, decoded telegraph from Kāzerūn, with the minister’s reply in the margin, 7 Ābān 1311 Š./29 October 1932, Iranian national archives [Asnād-e mellī-e Īrān, I.N.A.], no file box [f.b.] no., registration [reg.] no. 1198; cf. Dawlatābādī, Ḥayāt-e Yaḥyā IV, pp. 390-92).

During his tenure Teymūrtāš organized the Ministry of the court along modern functional lines. It comprised two protocol offices, one dealing with Persian citizens (tašrīfāt-e dāḵelī), the other with royal protocol and procedures for foreign nationals (tašrīfāt-e ḵārejī); an accounting department (moḥāsebāt); a secretariat (kābīna-ye darbārī-e pahlavī); and separate offices for the chamberlain (raʾīs-e farrāš-ḵāna), the stables (eṣṭabl-e ḵāṣṣa), the royal gardens (bāḡāt-e salṭanatī), the royal hunts (šekārgāh-e salṭanatī), the shah’s personal secretary (daftar-e maḵṣūṣ-e šāhanšāhī), affairs of the crown prince (sāzmān-e pīškārī-e welāyat-e ahd), and logistics (ḵīām-ḵāna). Nevertheless, in 1311 Š./1932, when Teymūrtāš, on his way home from a mission to negotiate with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, stopped off in Moscow, he apparently aroused the shah’s suspicion. “To Reżā Shah he was simply gathering immense prestige as the result of his successful diplomacy and internal reform, and the ruler most probably regarded this as a manifestation of an unbounded ambition where his Court Minister was concerned” (Rezun, p. 144; cf. Taqīzāda, pp. 223-35). In 1311 Š./1932 Teymūrtāš was dismissed; he was subsequently tried by the order of the shah and convicted of corruption and embezzlement. Five months later he was murdered in his prison cell (Taqīzāda, pp. 223-24; ʿAbbāsqolī Ḡolšāʾīān in Ḡanī, pp. 519-20; Daštī, pp. 135-51; Rezun, pp. 144, 160-61).

The administrative structure that Teymūrtāš had initiated remained substantially unaltered after his dismissal (Sāl-nāma-ye rasmī-e kešvar, Tehran, 1309 Š./1930, pp. 67-68; Sāl-nāma-ye Pārs, Tehran, 1310 Š./1931, p. 76, and subsequent issues until 1320 Š./1941). The crown prince’s office was expanded into a kind of parallel court, with distinct branches, including one devoted to military matters. The accounting office also became more complex as the shah’s holdings were enlarged to include more than 3,000 villages, as well as a number of factories and hotels. In fact, in 1315 Š./1936 a new office was created within the court ministry to deal solely with the maintenance of the shah’s landholdings (Dāʾera-ye amlāk-e šāhanšāhī; Sāl-nāma-ye Pārs, 1316 Š./1937, p. 176).

Other court officials were less ambitious than Teymūrtāš and more submissive to the shah’s will. Wary of creating a rival for power, the shah decided not to appoint another court minister. Ḥosayn Šokūh (Šokūh-al-Molk), director of the private secretariat (raʾīs-e daftar-e maḵṣūṣ-e šāhanšāhī) throughout Reżā Shah’s reign, typified his courtiers. Šokūh’s long tenure can best be explained by his internalization of bureaucratic norms: He did not offer political advice, carried out his duties as the ruler instructed, and did not arouse the shah’s ire by interceding for anyone. Although he controlled access to the shah, he is not known to have used his authority for his own benefit (Daštī, pp. 138-41). Another representative courtier was Ḥosayn Adīb-al-Salṭana Samīʿī, who came from a family of rank and was known for his personal integrity and competence. After Teymūrtāš’s downfall he was appointed director of protocol, a position that placed him above Šokūh, and in 1314 Š./1935 he became chief of staff for the court (raʾīs-e darbār), serving for four years. In 1318 Š./1939 the shah again appointed a court minister, Maḥmūd Jam, his daughter’s father-in-law and a former prime minister, knowing that he would not become another Teymūrtāš (Sāl-nāma-ye Pārs, 1319 Š./1940, p. 141).

The shah, in the tradition of Persian kingship, was eager to commemorate his reign by means of a major building program. His desire for distance from the public, space, and formality necessitated new constructions on a less intimate scale than those of his Qajar predecessors. The finest of his palaces was the Marble palace (Kāḵ-e marmar) in Tehran. The shah’s study measured 6 x 8 m; its lofty ceiling was completely faced with exquisite inlaid wood (ḵātam). One hundred fifty master inlayers and their assistants worked on this room alone. Master craftsmen were brought from the provinces to make the palace gates; Behbūdī, who was in charge of the building program, provided an extensive description of the shah’s palaces and the names of the master artisans who worked on them (pp. 213-23). Reżā Shah took a personal interest in every detail of the work, even marking the trees to be cut. He took particular pleasure in overseeing the progress of construction (Behbūdī, pp. 159-60). The queen, Tāj-al-Molūk, lived with her children in separate quarters in a series of new palaces.

Among the functions of the court ministry were those of ombudsman. Court officials served as arbiters among government institutions with overlapping responsibilities. They also received complaints and petitions from the public and dispensed royal justice. Complaints were carefully catalogued, registered, summarized, and investigated; the final determinations were meticulously recorded. Much of the information received in this way was used for intelligence and control purposes (I.N.A, f.b. no. 117002, no reg. no.). The court maintained close contact with the religious hierarchy. Although many lower-ranking ʿolamāʾ no longer received financial support (administrator of the Pahlavi court to the prime minister, 29 Ābān 1305 Š./20 November 1926, I.N.A., f.b. no. 117001, no reg. no.), ties with the higher-ranking clergy were maintained and in certain instances strengthened (see, e.g., communications between the Pahlavi court and Sayyed Abu’l-HaÂṟsan Mojtahed Eṣfahānī and Ayatollah Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Nāʾīnī, as well as others, I.N.A., f.b. no. 117001, no reg. no.).

The court of Reżā Shah at first functioned as an unelected parliament, instituting legislation that was both modern in conception and autocratic. Officials kept the monarch informed of political demands requiring his attention; the court bureaucracy thus contributed to extending his control over the state and Persian society. By the 1930s this task had been largely completed. It was at that point that the court was gradually transformed from a political to a financial and ceremonial institution. The shah no longer needed the court to mediate between him and men of influence, for the latter had come to serve him directly (see, e.g., Sajjādī, pp. 129-32); nor did he need a minister of the court.

Financial aspects. Teymūrtāš had simply incurred expenditures as he deemed necessary, instructing the prime minister to make payments (Teymūrtāš to premier, 20 Bahman 1305 Š./9 February 1926, I.N.A., f.b. no. 113016, reg. no. 119). After his dismissal formal requests for authorization of payments had to be made to the cabinet. In fact, after 1311 Š./1932 all communications between the court ministry and the office of the prime minister to be found in the national archives involved money. Political decisions were probably communicated to the prime minister by the shah himself (see, e.g., I.N.A., proceedings of cabinet meeting, 7 Ordībehešt Š./27 April 1937, f.b. no. 113016, reg. no. 1848). The communications between the court and the cabinet not only throw light on the functioning of the former during the last decade of Reżā Shah’s reign, but they also show the contrast between the outward pomp and ceremony of the court and the often trivial reality. For instance, on one occasion the cabinet met to exempt a box of imported French sweets, valued at 25 tomans, from customs duties (minister of commerce to the cabinet, 14 Bahman 1318 Š./2 February 1939, I.N.A., f.b. no. 1-2/113016, reg. no. 34669/P50095). On another the ministry refused to pay a customs bill of 5 tomans for an automobile carrying a suitcase to the court, and the cabinet authorized payment by the treasury (cabinet executive order no. 9264/1380,11 Ābān 1317 Š./2 November 1938, I.N.A., f.b. no. 15-2 113016, reg. no. 9264/1380). The dress uniforms of court officials were paid for by the Ministry of foreign affairs (Yūsof Šokrāʾī to the prime minister, 1316 Š./1937, I.N.A., f.b. no. 15-3/113016, no reg. no.). The court ministry increasingly functioned as a corporation with extensive holdings, exploiting its connection to the state for the purpose of financial aggrandizement. Indeed, the boundary lines between court and state, between the personal and the public, became confused to the point of vanishing. The cabinet met frequently and always decided favorably on requests from the court, for example, a demand by the accounting office that all chemicals imported by royal industrial concerns be exempt from customs (cabinet executive order, 15 Šahrīvar 1314 Š./7 September 1935, I.N.A., f.b. no. 113016, reg. no. 4171). Three months later the cabinet acceded to another request, exempting the royal factories in Šāhī from custom duties on whatever they imported (executive order, Āḏar 1314 Š./December 1935, I.N.A., f.b. no. 113016, reg. no. 6547). Such practices continued after Reżā Shah’s abdication in Šahrīvar 1320 Š./September 1941. The cabinet even exempted citrus fruits from the palace gardens by the Caspian Sea from municipal taxes (executive order, 20 Bahman 1320 Š./ 9 February 1942, I.N.A., f.b. no. 11301, reg. no. 12555/1927). It is thus clear that the court budget in no way reflected the real situation. Many different court expenditures were absorbed by other ministries and state organizations. Foreign currencies were sold to members of the court and the shah’s household at artificially low rates of exchange. When the government sent a bill for telephone and postal services, the court minister was outraged and informed the prime minister that such services were to be provided free of charge (minister of the court to the prime minister, 9 Ābān 1322 Š./31 October 1943, f.b. no. 113016, reg. no. 3294; 10 Ābān 1322 Š./1 November 1943, I.N.A., f.b. no. 113016, reg. no. 18712). For the wedding ceremonies of the crown prince, Moḥammad-Reżā, and Princess Fawzīa of Egypt in 1318 Š./1939, purchases by the department of exports and imports alone amounted to more than half the total annual official budget for the court (office of the premier to the Ministry of finance, 27 Esfand 1318 Š./18 March 1939, I.N.A., f.b. no. 113016, reg. no. 16-726/1269).

Ceremonial function. Aside from finances, the court ministry was responsible for overseeing all ceremonies. The shah, though his background was simple and his own life-style Spartan, wanted to impress his subjects with the grandeur of the “Pahlavi dynasty.” Frequent processions, carnivals, and military parades bedazzled the population and reinforced a myth of invincible power. The luxury of the court should not be understood in the context of irrational consumption; rather, it was a form of self-assertion. For example, construction of austere and imposing royal palaces that did not resemble the houses of even affluent Persians helped to set the shah and his court apart. These palaces, Western in design, symmetrical in plan, sometimes incorporating elements of ancient Persian architecture, represented new realities. Whereas Qajar court traditions had been more personal and informal, the Pahlavi court ceremonies were partly patterned after those of European rulers (Sackville-West, pp. 49-50), for example, the coronation of the shah (Amīr-Ṭahmāsb, pp. 697-717; for the complete program of the ceremony, see Behbūdī, pp. 166-73) and the crown prince’s wedding. The shopping list for the latter event, provided by the court to the office of the prime minister, included 5,000 “excellent bottles of champagne, 800 bottles of liquor of fine quality, 10,000 invitation cards.” The ministry of foreign affairs was to hold receptions at which “3,000 bottles of excellent champagne,” among other luxuries, were to be served. All municipalities and government departments held separate receptions as well (for the list, on court stationery but undated, N.I.A., f.b. no. 117001, no reg. no.).

Court ceremonials, including holidays, openings, and royal inspections, were managed by the master of ceremonies (executive order to all ministries, 10 Dey 1315 Š./9 January 1936, I.N.A., f.b. no. 1170010, reg. no. 1400/840). Mahdī Farroḵ (pp. 392-405) recalled a major political problem that he, as governor-general of Azerbaijan, faced over how to array military and civilian officers flanking the shah’s picture during official celebrations. Court etiquette and court dress were also designed to impress. For example, the public ceremonies marking the birthday of the crown prince were intricate, extensive, formal, and reverential. The ceremonies themselves had little to do with Persian tradition but reflected European notions. Reżā Shah’s presence subtly underscored the young prince’s royal authority (for a description of the event, see chief administrator of the court to the prime minister, 8 Āḏar 1317 Š./29 November 1938, I.N.A., no f.b. no., reg. no. 1205).

The court of Reżā Shah was thus institutionalized, regulated, military, and bureaucratic. At the same time the domestic life of the shah and his family was frugal and unostentatious, even puritanical. The shah ate simply, slept on the floor, and washed in a basin brought to him by a servant. He even kept track of the cigarettes and tea entrusted to the servants (Behbūdī, pp. 191-95). His third wife, Eṣmat, and her son had to beg for a refrigerator, a request that was denied (for the shah’s domestic life, see “Ḵāṭerāt”; Moʾassesa, I, pp. 73-75).

Court etiquette regulated the rank and prestige of each official. From the shah to the lowliest courtier, behavior toward superiors and subordinates was prescribed in detail. Courtiers’ honor was derived from their situations, rather than from blood descent, as it was in Europe, for class distinctions in Persia were less pronounced. The Persian “nobility” was primarily a noblesse de cour. Those who were not members of the court or had no access to it rarely could rise to become part of the political or financial elite. There was no other institution that could confer as much power and prestige on individuals. As a result loyal obedience derived from a concept of family honor was secondary to obedience guided by fear and by expectation of immediate and future rewards. When Reżā Shah abdicated in 1320 Š./1941, even before he had reached the port of embarkation, Bandar-e ʿAbbās on the Persian Gulf coast, his entourage had expressed the wish to desert him (Pahlavī, pp. 6-9; cf. Golšāʾīān, in Ḡanī, pp. 522-604). The court of Reżā Shah was thus a specific social constellation, the conscious creation of a single person, in contrast to the Persian monarchical tradition, which had been characterized by relative informality and accessibility.


ʿA. Amīr-Ṭahmāsb, Tārīḵ-e Šāhanšāhī-e Reżā Šāh Pahlavī, Tehran, 1305 Š./1926.

S. Behbūdī, Bīst sāl bā Aʿlāḥażrat Reżā Šāh, n.p., 1357 Š./1978.

ʿA. Daštī, Panjāh o panj, Tehran, 1354 Š./1975.

M. Farroḵ, Ḵāṭerāt-e sīāsī, Tehran, 1347 Š./1968.

A. Ḡanī, Yāddāšthā-ye Doktor Qāsem Ḡanī, ed. S. Ḡanī, XI, London, 1984.

M. Hedāyat, Ḵāṭerāt wa ḵaṭarāt, Tehran, 1329 Š./1950.

E. Ḵᵛājanūrī, Bāzīgarān-e ʿaṣr-e ṭelāʾī, Tehran, 1340 Š./1961.

“Ḵāṭerāt-e Maleka-ye Tūrān,” Tārīḵ-emoʿāṣer-e Īrān 2, Tehran, 1369 Š./1990, pp. 149-60.

Moʾassesa-ye moṭālaʿāt wa pažūhešhā-ye sīāsī, Ẓohūr wa soqūṭ-e salṭanat-e Pahlavī I. Ḵāṭerāt-e artešbod-e sābeq Ḥosayn Fardūst, Tehran, 1369 Š./1990.

Š. Pahlavī, “Ḵāṭerāt-e Vālāḥażrat Šāh-doḵt Šams Pahlavī,” Eṭṭelāʿāt-e māhāna 2, Ordībehešt 1327 Š./April-May 1948, pp. 2-3.

M. Rezun, The Soviet Union and Iran, Geneva, 1981.

V. Sackville-West, Passenger to Tehran, London, 1926.

M. Sajjādī, “Yād-ī az dawrān-e sāḵtman-e Īrān-e jadīd,” Sālnāma-ye donyā 30, 1353 Š./1974, pp. 129-32.

S.-Ḥ. Taqīzāda, Zendagī-e tūfānī: Ḵāṭerāt-e Sayyed Ḥasan Taqīzāda, ed. Ī. Afšār, Tehran, 1368 Š./1989.

COURTS AND COURTIERS ix. In the reign of Moḥammad-Reżā Shah



Until modern times there were strong incentives to patronize poets and other writers wherever the seat of power was renowned as a center of culture. Such incentives arose mainly from the service of literature to a reigning dynasty, particularly in glorifying the ruler’s status and helping to legitimate his exercise of power. Courtly protocol and ritual often required the use of highly ornamented poetry. The practice of literature was useful to courtiers and state officials, as it helped them to cultivate their verbal skills. The royal life style demanded the production of texts to provide entertainment, as well as instruction. Court literature was therefore apt to take on similar forms in societies otherwise not sharing the same cultural background.

In view of the long history of the Persian monarchy, there is reason to assume that court literature was an equally ancient tradition in Persia. The scarcity of documentation on pre-Islamic courts makes it difficult, however, to substantiate this assumption fully. Before the advent of Islam the use of writing was limited in Persia and hardly included artistic literature. The absence of adequate means for preserving texts ensured the loss of most of the evidence. On the other hand, this very condition also hampered the development of a sophisticated court literature (Boyce, “Middle Persian Literature,” pp. 31-33).

At the court of the Achaemenids oral poetry of some kind must have been in use already, for mention is made in the classical sources (Athenaeus, 14.633d; cf. Strabo, 15.3.18; Xenophon, Cyropɶdia 1.2.1; cf. Cook, p. 226) of singers who entertained the king of kings and his attendants. The references to “royal books” in the Book of Esther (6:1-2,10:2) and in an unreliable report by the Greek physician Ctesias (Cook, pp. 235-36) are too vague to be of much value. Nevertheless, according to Strabo (15.3.18), the Persian epic was of some importance in the education of princes of the royal house (cf. Nöldeke, pp. 130-34).

The existence of a minstrel tradition can be attested as early as the Parthian period, if only through echoes in parallel traditions and a few remnants that survived into Islamic times. Some texts preserved in the Pahlavi books (notably, the tenson Draḵt-ī asūrīg and the epic poem Ayādgār ī Zarērān) have their roots in Parthian court literature. In the Persian version of the Parthian story Vīs o Rāmīn, Faḵr-al-Dīn Gorgānī (p. 220) introduced a minstrel, called a gōsān, who uses enigmatic allusions in his song to inform King Mowbed about the secret love of the two protagonists of the story.

A great deal more is known about Sasanian poetry. To medieval Muslim writers the reign of Ḵosrow II Parwēz (591-628) seemed the apogee of ancient Persian court life. In many historical and literary sources there are references to the artists at this king’s court, particularly Nagīsā and Bārbad), whose fame continued in the early Islamic period. Court poets were still no more than minstrels (Mid. Pers. huniyāgar, NPers. ḵonyāgar). In the Pahlavi text Xusraw ī Kawādān ud rēdag-ē (Ḵosrow son of Kavād and the page) the king’s page boasts of his skills as a minstrel (par. 13). The complete loss of this body of oral poetry cannot be compensated for by the examples occasionally cited by later Persian writers. Ferdowsī, for instance, introduced Bārbad in an episode in which he sings an elegy at the catafalque of Ḵosrow (Šāh-nāma, Moscow, IX, pp. 278-79). The anaphoras in this elegy are reminiscent of Farroḵī’s famous qaṣīda at the death of Maḥmūd of Ḡazna (pp. 90-93). Neẓāmī Ganjavī inserted several other specimens in his Ḵosrow o Šīrīn. In one instance a singing harpist (rāmešgar-e rūd) presents a ḡazal in which the transience of life serves as an excuse for drinking wine, a motif familiar from later anacreontic poetry. In another ten female attendants lead the royal court in a contest of riddles (afsāna), all referring to the love between Ḵosrow and Šīrīn. Bārbad displays his skill as a musician in a series of thirty melodies (sī laḥn); together with Nagīsā, he enacts a dialogue between the royal lovers in an exchange of ḡazals (pp. 98-99, 131ff., 190ff., 355ff.). Such verses are, however, no more than pastiches of what Muslim poets imagined the ancient art of the minstrel to have been. Although they may represent the survival of pre-Islamic forms, no documentary value can be attached to them.

In the late Sasanian courts there was a keen interest in the epic of the Iranian kings, culminating in compilation of dispersed traditions in the Ḵwadāy-nāmag, an official codification of the epic (cf. Yarshater, pp. 391-93; Ṣafā, 1363 Š./1984, pp. 58-72). A taste for foreign lore is also attested in the integration of the Alexander Romance, from a Syriac source, into the Iranian epic (see Eskandar-nāma), as well as in the interest of the Sasanian rulers in the Indian fables from Kalīla wa Demna (see borzūya).

Because of the great gaps in documentation of the earlier periods, direct knowledge of Persian court poetry is possible only from the 9th century, with the rise of a number of small local courts in the remote eastern parts of the ʿAbbasid caliphate. An important incentive for literary use of the Persian vernacular in place of Arabic was the shift of political power to rulers who did not have sufficient erudition in Arabic. This shift is clear from a story about the Saffarid Yaʿqūb b. Layṯ, who, after his conquest of Herat (253/867), ordered his secretary Moḥammad b. Waṣīf to compose a panegyric to him in Persian verse, so that he might be able to understand it (Tārīḵ-eSīstān, pp. 209-13). The most important primary sources for medieval Persian court poetry are chapters 35 (on šāʿerī) and 36 (on ḵonyāgarī) in the Andarz-nāma (q.v.) of Kaykāvūs b. Eskandar (pp. 189-97) and the second essay in Neẓāmī ʿArūżī’s Čahār maqāla (ed. Qazvīnī, text, pp. 42-86).

Muslim writers of the Middle Ages did not regard Sasanian minstrelsy as the true ancestor of classical Persian poetry. Instead, the consensus was that Persian poets had continued the tradition of Arabic poetry in a new linguistic medium (e.g., ʿAwfī, Lobāb I, pp. 19-20), certainly a biased view. The Persian literary language, initially known as fārsī-e dārī (courtly Persian; see dārī), actually originated in the polite speech of the Sasanian court. There can be no doubt that the earliest poetry written in this idiom was also influenced by the artistic conventions of its original environment. Furthermore, it came into being at Persian courts, where the ancient tradition of minstrel poetry was still very much alive. It is undeniable, however, that the Arabic contribution to Persian poetry was of primary importance and quite consciously accepted by poets and connoisseurs alike. Local princes in the east sought to emulate the etiquette and the bureaucratic apparatus of the ʿAbbasid court in Baghdad—themselves largely based on Sasanian models. Under the political and cultural conditions prevailing after the Islamic conquest Arabic poetry had become a courtly art. The qaṣīda was still the basic poetic form, not least because it provided a convenient pattern for panegyrics. The “modernists” (moḥdaṯūn) of the 8th and 9th centuries had expanded the repertoire with several new genres, for example, poems of love, wine, hunting, and warfare, which were appropriate to courtly life. In addition, the poetic idiom had been enriched by the introduction of new rhetorical devices and metaphors.

More important still was the impact of Arabic philology, which in the early centuries of Islam had been developed into a solid foundation for the transmission of written literature. An entire new dimension was brought to poetry collected in divans and anthologies or quoted as examples by the authors of dictionaries and other scholarly works. Not only could poems survive their authors, but they could also easily be disseminated. The advantage for court poetry can hardly be overestimated. Poets could establish reputations, both for themselves and their patrons, reaching far beyond their own time and place. According to a well-known topos often cited in defense of court poetry, famous court poets conferred immortality upon rulers whose empires had crumbled and who would otherwise have been forgotten (e.g., Čahār maqāla, ed. Qazvīnī, pp. 44-45). Rūdakī performed this service for the Samanids, ʿOnṣorī and Farroḵī for the Ghaznavids. The lasting success of these poets and their works proved the effectiveness of court poetry.

This change in attitude toward the usefulness of poetry gave rise to a new social status for the poet. The poet (šāʿer) of Islamic times enjoyed a far higher status at court than his predecessor, the ancient minstrel, had ever achieved (see, in particular, the comparison between poets and minstrels in the two chapters of the Andarz-nāma mentioned above). He could rise to the rank of boon companion (nadīm) and thus enter the inner circle of his royal patron (e.g., Čahār maqāla, ed. Qazvīnī, p. 52). The poetic profession could in fact be divided into two distinct classes, the poets and the minstrels. The distinguishing feature of the new kind of poet was his connection with a written tradition, which brought his art close to the realm of scholarship. Although this development had already taken place in Arabic poetry before the development of Persian poetry, the sources permit a view of the process during the earliest period of the latter. Neẓāmī ʿArūżī (Čahār maqāla, ed. Qazvīnī, p. 52) described the Samanid court poet Rūdakī as a minstrel who performed his own poetry and was also a renowned musician. The early Ghaznavid poet Farroḵī was also still close to the minstrel tradition. Nevertheless, both poets also participated fully in the tradition of written poetry. In the mid-11th century, however, Kaykāvūs b. Eskandar made a sharp distinction between the two professions. In his view, the craft of the poet (šāʿerī) was related to that of the minstrel (ḵonyāgarī) in the same way that theory is related to practice. As poets were writers of texts they had to command all the learning that such a task required. Minstrels, on the other hand, were basically performers of the works of others and had even to be discouraged from adding their own compositions to the repertoire (pp. 194-95). Kaykāvūs also noted a social difference between the two professions: The poet was advised to learn courtly behavior (p. 192), whereas the place of the minstrel was among other performers, the musicians and dancers, who were not allowed to mingle with the guests (pp. 196-97).

The number of poets at a single court could become quite considerable, but very few among them were able to reach positions of trust and intimacy with the ruler. The highest social status accrued to those who became boon companions, with whom the ruler spent his leisure time. Only rarely did poets assume state duties, and in those instances the appointments were not always to their advantage, as the disgrace of Masʿūd-e Saʿd-e Salmān attests (Čahār maqāla, ed. Qazvīnī, pp. 71-73; see also De Bruijn, 1983, pp. 47-48). Although a formal organization of court poets did not develop, the position of poet laureate, amīr- or malek-al-šoʿarāʾ, seems to have carried with it the authority to decide on the admission of would-be poets at court. The 15th-century anthologist Dawlatšāh (ed. Browne, pp. 44-45) recorded the formal appointment of ʿOnṣorī to this office by Maḥmūd of Ḡazna (388-421/998-1030), possibly following earlier precedent. Already in the 8th century the Barmakids had entrusted to Abān b. ʿAbd-al-Ḥamīd Lāḥeqī the direction of the dīwān-al-šeʿr, a branch of the bureaucracy responsible for distributing rewards to poets.

Patrons bartered gifts for the services that poets could provide. There was therefore nothing dishonorable in court poets’ frequent requests for rewards (ṣela). Equally their frequent praise of their own accomplishments was no more than legitimate marketing of their professional skills. The nature of the rewards could vary according to the needs of the poet or the degree of his favor with the patron. The amount was often determined by mere impulse: A well-chosen improvisation might result in extravagant remuneration (e.g., Čahār maqāla, ed. Qazvīnī, pp. 70-71, 74-75; Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 515-16). Apart from cash, gifts in kind were common; clothing, particularly the robe of honor (ḵelʿat), constituted the most precious items. A poet laureate received more consistent remuneration through the assignment of sources of regular income like those assigned to other officials. For instance, a salary (jāmagī) and an allowance (ejrā) from the revenue of Isfahan were granted to Moʿezzī (Čahār maqāla, ed. Qazvīnī, p. 68).

The ceremonial function of court poetry consisted mainly of bestowing praise on the royal patron on appropriate occasions, prominent among which were seasonal festivals, especially Nowrūz, the Persian New Year, but also, at least in the early period, the autumn festival Mehrgān and the mid-winter celebration of Sada. The ʿīd al-feṭr at the end of Ramażān was the greatest annual event from the Muslim calendar at court. Other occasions calling for the activity of poets were the accession of the ruler, his departure on a military campaign, the return of his victorious army, and his feats on the hunting ground. Poets also commemorated the construction of buildings and parks and events in the ruler’s personal life like births and deaths. Formal presentation was usually made, particularly in later periods, by the poet himself standing before the throne.

The characteristic genre of this kind of court poetry was the panegyric (madḥ). The anthologist ʿAwfī (p. 8) divided those concerned with court poetry into two categories: the praised (mamdūḥ) and the praisers (mādeḥ). Under the influence of Arabic poetry, the qaṣīda became the common, though not exclusive, form for a poem of praise. Stanzaic poems often served the same purpose, and even ḡazals were sometimes intended as panegyrics, as can be concluded from reference to a patron in the final passage of a ḡazal. Passages of praise, often designated as eṭāb-e zamīnbūs (address by means of kissing the ground) were inserted in the introductions to narrative and didactic works in maṯnawī verse or in prose.

It is necessary, therefore, to distinguish between the pattern of laudatory speech and its realizations in one particular form or the other. The centerpiece of this pattern was the actual eulogy (madīḥ) directly following mention of the patron’s name. In lyrical poetry the eulogy was nearly always preceded by a prelude (nasīb, šabīb) on a subject that was connected with the main theme only by analogy. The transition from the prelude to the eulogy (originally taḵalloṣ or maḵlaṣ, later gorīzgāh) involved an elegant comparison between one feature of the introductory theme and the person praised. In panegyric ḡazals the eulogy was reduced to this transitional passage. The conclusion of the laudatory address consisted of a prayer (doʿā) for the well-being of the patron, usually phrased in conditional form (šarīṭa).

Beside these basic elements the structure of the panegyric allowed for the introduction of optional items, for example, specific requests to the patron (ṭalab), praise of the poet’s own professional merits (faḵrīya), and other topics concerning his relationship with the patron (ḥasb-e ḥāl). In many instances the panegyric was at the same time a topical poem, containing more or less detailed references to the occasion for which it was primarily intended. Matters of topical interest were further dealt with in fragments (qeṭʿahā, moqaṭṭaʿāt) and quatrains (robāʿīyāt), which provide valuable insights into the daily life of the courts, though the specific circumstances referred to are not always clear. One group of short maṯnawīs, all dating from the early 12th century, specifically treat aspects of court poetry: Moḵtārī’s Honar-nāma, containing a demonstration of the versatility expected from a court poet, especially in the use of enigmatic descriptions (pp. 699-745); Sanāʾī’s Kārnāma-ye balḵī, in which he surveyed his circle of professional contacts, extending far beyond the immediate surroundings of the Ghaznavid sultan (pp. 142-78); and Masʿūd-e Saʿd-e Salmān’s description in an untitled maṯnawī of the conviviality at the court of the Ghaznavid viceroy at Lahore, in which the entire array of participants and performing artists is described (II, pp. 787-817).

The performance of entertaining poems was still left to the minstrel (moṭreb), who was also a singer and instrumentalist. The convivial gathering (majles) devoted to merrymaking and wine (našāṭ o šarāb) was the appropriate setting for his performances, and the ḡazal, with its anacreontic themes, was the suitable form for this purpose. Even after the ḡazal was adopted by Sufis as one of their principal forms of mystical expression, it continued to be cultivated at the courts.

Narrative poetry should be included among the literature intended for entertainment, but it served other purposes as well. The epics about kings and heroes of the past were highly appreciated because of their exemplary value. The choice of epic verses for an ornamental inscription in a Ghaznavid palace attests the ideological importance of this genre (cf. Bombaci). For the same reason, its contents could be adapted by historians and writers as “mirrors for princes.” Occasionally there are historical references to the recitation of epic stories. According to Bayhaqī, for example, a storyteller (moḥaddeṯ) had to be present at the palace gate at night, so that he could be summoned immediately to entertain a sleepless monarch (ed. Nafīsī, I, pp. 139-40). This practice perpetuated age-old customs of oral transmission.

Romances about famous lovers, akin to the genre of the ḡazal, were appreciated for various reasons. Apart from the attraction inherent in the stories themselves, these poems transmitted ethical values and provided moral guidance. They must have played a considerable role in fostering a courtly style of living.

Both in the heroic and in the romantic maṯnawīs didacticism was always a conspicuous element. The hortatory genre was already extremely popular in pre-Islamic Persia (cf. Boyce, “Middle Persian Literature,” pp. 51-55); it permeated other genres and became an important item in the repertoire of the court poet before eventually being integrated into mystical literature.

The remnants of Samanid court poetry collected by modern scholars bear witness to a varied use of forms and literary themes. One of the rare poems that is preserved in its entirety is Rūdākī’s “mādar-e meyqaṣīda, in which the description of the making of wine introduces a sketch of the majles, with the amir sitting among his attendants (Tārīḵ-eSīstān, pp. 317-23). Daqīqī’s evocation of a palace garden in full flower at the time of the early morning audience is another characteristic specimen from this period (cf. Lazard, Premiers poètes II, pp. 151-54).

In the first half of the 11th century the court of Ḡazna provided the first well-documented example of a center of Persian court poetry. ʿOnṣorī, Manūčehrī, and Farroḵī, the leading eulogists of the sultans Maḥmūd and Masʿūd I (421-32/1030-41), set a high standard for future generations of poets, especially in the panegyric qaṣīda. Many details about the role of poets and minstrels in the daily life of the Ghaznavid court were recorded in the contemporary chronicle of Bayhaqī.

Other Turkish dynasties showed a similar interest in court literature. Under the Qarakhanids the Persian tradition of the Samanids was continued in western Transoxania, the best-known poet laureate being ʿAmʿaq Boḵārāʾī. The eastern branch of this dynasty promoted court poetry in Turkish. A revival of Ghaznavid poetry at about the turn of the 12th century gained momentum at the court of the Ghaznavid viceroys of Hindustan, at Lahore, where Abu’l-Faraj Rūnī and Masʿūd-e Saʿd-e Salmān began their careers. Slightly later, at Marv, the Saljuq sultan Sanjar (511-52/1118-57) emerged as a great patron of poets. Initially Moʿezzī (d. ca. 519/1125) was the leading personality at his court. As a panegyrist he was considered the equal of Rūdakī and ʿOnsorī. His dīvān contains examples of the full range of Persian court poetry.

Until that time it had hardly been possible to distinguish between court poetry and Persian poetry in general, for only at court could poets find the protection and economic support without which the practice of their art was unthinkable. Outside this framework the writing of poetry was a pastime for dilettantes. Both rulers and members of their entourages indulged in it occasionally, but their output was minor in comparison to the enormous production of “professional” poets.

The dependence of poetry upon the patronage system was not without critics, however. Neẓāmī ʿArūżī adduced the imprisonment of Masʿūd-e Saʿd-e Salmān, during which he composed his famous “prison poems” (ḥabsīyāt), and Sultan Maḥmūd’s miserly reward for the dedication of Ferdowsī’s Šāh-nāma as examples of the ill-treatment some poets had to suffer from their patrons (Čahār maqāla, ed. Qazvīnī, pp. 71-73, 75-83). Court poetry was often blamed for insincerity, manifest in both the often fictional nasībs and the flattery of the panegyric (see, e.g., ʿAwfī, Lobāb, pp. 10-15). A more fundamental criticism was expressed by Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow and Sanāʾī (De Bruijn, 1987, pp. 20-21), two poets who devoted their art to religious goals and denounced the insincerity and frivolity forced upon the professional poet guided by economic motives. They found new justification for the practice of poetry in the cause of Fatimid propaganda and in the service of Islamic preachers, respectively. Eventually poets who wished to devote themselves to lofty ideals found shelter in communities of mystics.

The growing importance of mystical themes in Persian literature had an effect on court poetry as well. Already in the 12th century the leading court poet of Sanjar’s later years, Anwarī, sought greater depth of expression in panegyric. He was particularly distinguished as a poeta doctus, enriching conventional imagery with learned allusions derived from the sciences. The trend was enforced in the latter half of the century, when the main centers of patronage were located in the western parts of Persia. It is exemplified in the work of Jamāl-al-Dīn ʿAbd-al-Razzāq, who enjoyed the protection of nonroyal patrons in Isfahan, and especially in that of Neẓāmī Ganjavī and Ḵāqānī, the outstanding talents of the century. Neẓāmī maintained his distance from court life, though Ḵāqānī could never completely divorce himself from the court of the Šīrvānšāhs. This evolution also affected poetic forms. Ḵāqānī perfected the qaṣīda, but more as a vehicle for moral and religious didacticism than for courtly panegyric. At the same time the qaṣīda began to give way to other forms of lyrical, narrative, and didactic poetry, probably because the ceremonial function for which it had always been the most obvious choice was no longer as favored at court as the functions of entertainment and instruction so fundamental to court poetry, wherever it is practiced.

During the following centuries ḡazals and romantic and didactic maṯnawīs were the prominent genres in Persian court poetry. Mystical ideas proved by no means alien to the courtly atmosphere. They were intertwined with more mundane themes in remarkable fashion, which makes interpretation of the ḡazals of Saʿdī and Ḥāfeẓ, both linked to the courts of the rulers of Shiraz, particularly difficult. ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Jāmī was a Sufi poet and also had close relations with the Timurid court in Herat.

In the 16th century a central court was again established in Persia, under the Safavids, but it did not provide a fresh impulse to court poetry. On the contrary, the theocratic nature of the regime tended to favor the development of religious poetry on Shiʿite themes. Shah Ṭahmāsb I (930-84/1524-76) discouraged Moḥtašam Kāšānī from writing panegyrics and advised him to write elegies on the martyrdom of the imams (cf. Ṣafā, Camb. Hist. Iran, p. 954). Nevertheless, court poetry was revived to some extent at Isfahan in the 17th century, though for the majority of contemporary poets the Indian courts offered more attractive prospects.

Shortly before the Qajars rose to power in the late 18th century there was a return to the style of early Persian poetry (bāzgašt-e adabī), which naturally entailed a renewed interest in ancient traditions of court poetry. The court of Ḡazna had remained an authoritative example throughout the centuries, and an effort was made to emulate it under Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah (1212-50/1797-1834). The anjoman-e ḵāqān (the king’s assembly) was a circle of court poets serving the shah himself; the poet laureate was Fatḥ-ʿAlī Khan Ṣabā Kāšānī (Āryanpūr, Az Ṣabā tā Nīmā I, pp. 15, 193). The neoclassic tendency continued to dominate Persian poetry until the middle of the present century, though court poetry itself had come to an abrupt end in Persia as the result of social changes following the Constitutional Revolution of 1323-29/1905-11 (i, vii), in which poets played a significant role. Just as the šāʿer had emerged as the principal bearer of literary court traditions in the early Islamic period, so early 20th-century politics created the independent poet, whose loyalty was no longer to a patron but to political and social ideals.


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M. Boyce, “The Parthian gōsān and Iranian Minstrel Tradition,” JRAS, 1957, pp. 10-45.

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Cite this page
Dandamayev, Muhammad A., Gignoux, Philippe, Bosworth, C. Edmund, Jackson, Peter, Gronke, Monika, Savory, Roger M., Amanat, Abbas, Sheikholeslami, Alireza and Bruijn, J.T.P. de, “COURTS AND COURTIERS”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 23 July 2024 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_7854>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 19931215

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