Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/73

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PERSIA.

at no loss for means of extortion. Besides, most of the offices of this kind are sold by government, and the price paid for them regulates the degree of oppression that is exercised: this practice is general, down to the very lowest stages. The whole body of collectors is a poisoned spring, and every stream that flows from it is infected. Let the payment of a certain sum be required of the humblest agent, and it matters not how it is levied: he has no other standard than his conscience. I have repeatedly seen, says Mr. Scott Waring, the servants of the prince's dependents enter a village and seize whatever they require, without making the smallest remuneration to the inhabitants. If the villagers evinced the least reluctance, they were threatened with the bastinado, the usual recompense which a poor man in Persia receives from his superior.

The sadeer is an arbitrary tax, raised on extraordinary occasions, such as the passage of a prince, grand dignitary, ambassador, or body of troops. The sadeer is fixed upon the same system as the malieh.

The presents which the governors are obliged to make to the king, at the festival of the Nowroose, or new-year's day, and called peshkeesh, are also levied upon the people.

From the preceding statement, it appears, that the cultivator is in the worst situation in Persia, and that the tradesman or shopkeeper fares much better. The latter pays a particular tax, it is true; but the merchant is not liable to any other than the duty of customs.

The customs are under the direction of several officers independent of one another, being farmed out by government to the highest bidder. No difference is made in favour of the produce of Persia, nor are the duties upon the manufactures of one country higher than upon those of another: but the rate is not invariable. At Bushire, the duty on goods imported into Persia amounts to about five per cent., and at Shiraz a duty of two and a half per cent. is levied. A caravan, going to any of the cities of Irak from Bushire, must pay the duties at Shiraz; if it passes Ispahan, at that city; and in short, at every city it may pass through, where duties are levied: so that, by the time it reaches the Caspian Sea, the merchants may probably have paid thirty per cent. on their goods.

The classes of people who pay the heaviest tax to government, are the female dancers and the votaries of pleasure. They exercise their professions under the immediate patronage of the governor: their names, ages, and places of abode, are carefully registered; and if one should die or marry, another instantly supplies her place. They are divided into classes agreeably to