Persia/Chapter 11

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In enumerating the different kinds of imposts, we have adverted to the peshkeesh or presents which the governors of provinces are obliged to make to the king or to his ministers: we might have added, that the lowest agent of power is frequently necessitated to pay this kind of tribute to his superiors. This system of presents is a remarkable circumstance, peculiar we should suppose to Persia. The king receives them from his ministers and the chief officers of the crown; the governor of a province from his subordinates; and they are wrung from the people, who never receive any. When the king wishes to reward one of his officers, he appoints him to carry a khilaut to some great dignitary: it is customary for the latter to acknowledge the king's present by another made to his envoy, and the value of which is frequently double that of the former. In this manner, the sovereign remunerates the services of his officers without any expense to himself.

The consideration and influence of an ambassador, depend on the value of the presents which he brings. As soon as he has delivered them, they are valued by the officers of the king, and deposited in the different storehouses to which from their nature they belong, after an inventory has been made of them. The amount at which they are estimated, determines the degree of respect to be paid to the ambassador.

It is impossible to conceive to what a degree this traffic of presents has degraded the Persian character, or the abject meanness to which it has furnished occasion. A governor of a town will not blush to return a present because it is not sufficiently valuable; and the donor is then obliged to add a more sumptuous offering to excuse this heinous offence. A judge will refuse his decision, unless the parties previously bribe him to the exercise of his functions; nay, he will even claim a share of the profits of his servants. The Persian never gives any thing, but in expectation of a return. If he makes you a present without receiving at least one of equal value, he will not hesitate to demand it of you again.