Persia/Chapter 3

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Persia has been overrun alternately by the Gaznevides, the Karizmians, Togrul's Seljuks, Jenghis Khan's Moguls, Tamerlane's Tartars, the Turcomans, the Usbecks, the Afghans, the Courds, &c. These successive invasions could not fail to produce such a mixture in the population, that it would now be difficult to find the Persian blood in its original purity.

Chardin estimated the population of Persia at forty millions of souls: Kinnier considers this number as overrate and doubts whether the space between the Euphrates and Indus could furnish more than eighteen or twenty millions. This population, be its number what it will, may be divided into two classes: the stationary inhabitants, or those resident in towns and villages, and the migratory or wandering tribes.

The native Persians, who style themselves That or Tadjik, are a medley of all nations, Arabs, Guebres, and Jews, who have voluntarily or by compulsion embraced the religion of Mahomet.

The Eelauts, or wandering tribes, constitute the military force and the most considerable part of the population of the empire: their chiefs; to whom they are blindly devoted, form its hereditary nobility. They are mostly of Turkish origin, speak the Turkish language, and retain the custom of their ancestors, the Scythians. The tribes of the southern provinces, such as the Bakhtiarees, the Faceelees, and the Mamassounees, date their origin from the most remote antiquity; and they may be considered as the descendants of those savage hordes which dwelt in the same parts in the time of Alexander. It appears that when they first settled in the kingdom, certain tracts were allotted to them for a limited time, and at a certain rent: long possession has given them a right of property, and their chiefs are regarded as the owners of the districts in which they reside.

Almost all these tribes lead a pastoral life. Some of them have fixed habitations, but they are mostly rovers. The latter, however, have districts to which they confine themselves. They live in tents surrounded with mats, and covered with coarse black cloth. In winter they reside in the plains; but in summer they move about in quest of pasturage, retiring during the intense heats to the summits and slopes of mountains. In winter some of these tribes, such as the Karaguzloo and the Afshars, dwell in villages. In Daghistan, at Asterabad, and in the northern part of Khorasan, they have small portable wooden huts instead of tents. They subsist chiefly on the produce of their flocks and herds, pay of course very little attention to agriculture, and are almost utter strangers to the mechanic arts, though they make cloth and various other articles for their own use.

The wandering tribes collectively are divided into four great classes, according to the language which they speak, and from which they are denominated.

1. The Turkish language is the most numerous: it comprises 41 families or branches, and 428,000 persons. The Afshars and the Cadjars are the most powerful of these tribes. The former are spread over all Persia, but especially in Adherbijan, and amount to about 28,000 souls. The Cadjars dwell in Mazanderan, at Teheran, at Meru in Khorasan, at Erivan, and at Guindjeh: their number is estimated at 40,000. Feth Ali Shah, the reigning sovereign of Persia, is of this tribe, to which most of the great officers of the empire also belong.

2. The Courd language embraces nine families, and numbers about 79,000 individuals. To this class belonged the celebrated Kerim Khan, whose tribe, the Zends, has been almost exterminated since the tragical end of Lootf Ali; the few survivors being in some measure proscribed by the reigning dynasty, and bring concealed, or out of the kingdom.

3. The Louree language has six families, and comprises 84,500 persons. The numerous tribes of the Faeelees and Bakhtiarees form part of it. The latter supply the army with the best infantry, but inhabiting, like the former, a mountainous tract bordering on Turkey and Persia, they live independent of both powers.

4. The Arab language. The tribes of this division are of Arabian extraction. Time, and a long residence in a foreign country, have caused them to lose much of the language of their forefathers; so that they now speak a very corrupt Arabic, mixed with a great number of Persian words. This division comprehends eight families, and 93,500 souls.

Thus the total population furnished by the different families here enumerated, amounts to about 685,500 persons; but in this estimate are included only the tribes that are best known, while many others, concerning which we have no positive information, are wholly omitted.

Each of the principal tribes is divided into several tiraz, or branches, all having their respective chiefs, subordinate to the supreme chieftain of the tribe. These chiefs are, as to birth and the power they possess, the highest personages of the state; hence the king is anxious to keep them about him, by giving them offices at his court, that he may hold some pledge for the fidelity of their tribes: and as they are in general extremely jealous, and of a martial disposition, he consults his own security, and that of the empire, by habitually fomenting quarrels among them, and keeping their power nicely balanced. The son commonly succeeds his father in his dignity; but if he proves himself unworthy of it, it is transferred to the younger brother.

It has been just observed, that the military force of Persia resides in these tribes: their fondness for war, and their intrepidity, form the safeguard of the kingdom, when it is not convulsed by the spirit of rebellion, which too often seizes them. They all pay tribute, and are bound to furnish the king with succours in the wars in which he is engaged: each tribe being obliged to assemble at the first summons, and to bring into the field a quota proportionate to its number. To establish some order in regard to this point, a register, containing the number and names of the persons belonging to each tribe, is kept at court. Towards the festival of the No-rooz, the chiefs come to take the king's orders; if he requires their services for the year which is then about to commence, they remain in the royal camp: if he has no occasion for them, each contingent returns to its district, and receives its stipulated pay. This practice has existed from time immemorial.

Let us now proceed to the nations not of the Mahometan religion, dwelling in Persia. The Guebres are a remnant of the ancient Persians, who have retained the fire-worship and the doctrine of Zoroaster, amid all the revolutions which have so frequently changed the face of their country. In Chardin's time, but a small number of them remained: the late wars have nearly completed their extermination: the villages which they inhabited to the south of Ispahan are swept away, and a few families, which escaped death, have sought refuge at Yezd, and in Kerman. Kinnier informs us, that there are still at Yezd four hundred Guebre families, who groan under the tyranny of Persian agents. Each family pays a capitation-tax of twenty piastres, and is nevertheless liable to all sorts of extortions.

The Christians settled in Persia, are mostly Armenian schismatics, and chiefly dwell in the northern provinces. Their patriarch resides at the convent of Etschamiazin, near Erivan. These Armenians, so opulent under the Sofys, and especially under Abbas the Great, who planted a colony of them at Julfa, a suburb of Ispahan—the same people who had at one time nearly monopolized the commerce of all Persia and part of its manufactures—now lead most of them a vagrant life, bowed down by oppression and indigence. Julfa, formerly so populous, is now but a heap of ruins, and contains no more than five hundred inhabitants. A darogah, appointed by the beylerbey or governor of Ispahan, is charged with the office of fleecing these wretched people for the benefit of his master; and it is natural to suppose that he does not neglect his own interest. The tribute which they pay amounts to 15,000 toomauns, (a toomaun is equal to about eighteen shillings) and as much more is squeezed out of them by extortions. Some Armenians are likewise to be met with in Adherbijan, and in the districts of Meragah, Ourmiah, Sahnas, Tabriz, Carabagh, and Erivan. Their total number is computed at 60,000 souls, which perhaps exceeds the truth.

The Catholic churches of Nakshivan, and other places in Persian Armenia, no longer exist: the Catholics who live in the kingdom are in very small number, and are natives of India or Turkey.

It is the lot of the Jews in Persia, as in all the rest of the East, to live in degradation, poverty, and contempt. There are Jews at Ispahan, at Shiraz, and at Kashan, in Adherbijan: their number in these different places is estimated at about 35,000. Poverty depresses them more and more, and familiarizes them with vice and infamy. Some of them are artisans brokers, and usurers; the rest live by selling wines, procuring women, and all sorts of intrigues. Many addict themselves to medicine and magic; and as the populace of all countries have a great deal of credulity, and the Persians, high and low, are subject to that disease of the mind, they derive a great profit from their impostures. The Jewesses gain admittance into the seraglios of which they are the oracles. From them beauty purchases the art and the means of withstanding the ravages of time; the coquette, the gift of pleasing and of exciting love in her tyrant; the female solicitous to become a mother, the speedy accomplishment of her wishes. They also foretell future events, and sell potions possessing virtues of all kinds, to produce love and hatred, to ruin a rival, and so forth.

These Jews are the most ignorant in the world. Travellers distinguish two classes of them: the one descended from the wretched Samaritan captives, whom the Assyrians carried from Judea during the reign of Hosea, king of Israel, and who were dispersed over Media and Parthia; the other from the Jews who were led into captivity to Babylon. Both wear external marks by which they may be known: these are caps of a particular colour, or square patches of cloth of a different hue from their garments. At Ispahan the Jews are not permitted to wear cloth stockings.