Persia/Chapter 4

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The government of Persia is monarchical, and the throne is at present filled by Feth Ali Shah, of the tribe of the Cadjars, the origin of which is as follows:—

During the reign of Shah Abbas I. considerable assemblages of Turkish families, collecting on the northern frontier of Persia, placed themselves under the protection of that monarch, and entered into his armies. Abbas received them most cordially; but apprehensive lest they might in process of time become too powerful, he dispersed them throughout his empire. Part of them repaired to Mazanderan, where they had to make head against the Usbecks and Turcomans; while others defended the provinces of the Persian Gulf against the attacks of the Arabs. The Persians witnessed with mortification the reception given by the king to these new-comers, whom they contemptuously denominated cadjars, or runaways, an appellation which they still retain. In a short time, however, the horde of Mazanderan acquired great reputation for valour; it frequently signalized itself during the reigns of Hussain and Thamasp, and formed even part of the body-guard of the latter of those princes. The Cadjars were then commanded by Feth Ali Khan, great-grandfather of the present monarch. He obtained, in 1723, the government of Mazanderan, and was ordered to drive the Afghans from Teheran; but being defeated by them, he retired to Asterabad. After the expulsion of the Afghans by Nadir Shah, Mazanderan was in a state of rebellion. Ibrahim, Nadir's brother, reduced it, took Feth Ali Khan, and put him to death. He is considered as the first chieftain who rendered his tribe renowned, and bore the title of prince. Some time after this event, his son was taken into favour by Nadir, who appointed him governor of Asterabad, a city on the Caspian Sea. This was the celebrated Mohammed Hassan Khan, who was highly renowned at the time for his wars with Kerim Khan. In 1743 he commanded a corps of troops at the siege of Moossool. After the death of Adel, the successor of Nadir, and his brother Ibrahim, Mohammed marched from Asterabad against the governor of Mazanderan, whom he defeated and took prisoner; routed the Afghans, and in a short time found his ranks swelled with innumerable Turcomans and Usbecks, whom success drew to his standard. In 1752, he was master not only of Mazanderan, but also of Tabaristan and Ghilan. The same year he defeated Kerim Khan, and established his authority over the provinces contiguous to the Caspian Sea. A second victory, in 1756, put him in possession of Ispahan, where he found young Ismail, of the family of the Sofis, who had been invested with the title of Shah, and declared himself his protector. From that period it was apparently not self-interest by which he was actuated: he was influenced by a nobler sentiment, which prompted him to restore the crown to the family of the Sofis. About this time, Asad, another rebel, who had made himself master of several towns of Irak, retired to Georgia, and his flight put Mohammed Khan in possession of Adherbijan and Irak Adjemi. The Cadjar prince even found himself strong enough to march against Shiraz, the seat of Kerim Khan's power. His army amounted to 80,000 men, though he had left 10,000 at Ispahan, and 10,000 more were distributed in the provinces. Never since Nadir's time had any chieftain been able to collect so formidable a force; but Mohammed Khan's successes had so inflated him with pride, as to render him intolerably arrogant. He was detested by the officers; and the people, bowed down by his tyrannical yoke, and daily subjected to fresh oppressions, loaded him with execrations. Kerim Khan availed himself of this disposition to bribe his troops to desert. In a short time Mohammed had about him but a hand-full of Cadjars, with whom he fled with the utmost precipitation to Asterabad. This happened in 1758. In consequence of this reverse, Mohammed lost Ispahan and all the towns of Irak and Adherbijan, so that his possessions were reduced to the single province of Mazanderan, which is naturally defended by lofty mountains and by defiles, where a small number of men may keep in check a whole army. Treachery smoothed these obstacles to Kerim's general. Sheik Ali, a brave man and able negotiator, contrived, by means of promises, money, and dignities, to bribe the officer to whom Mohammed had committed the defence of the passes. Mohammed, surprised in the very heart of his country, resisted in vain: all he could do, was to maintain the military reputation which he had acquired, by selling his life at a dear rate; he was nevertheless defeated and slain, and his head was carried to Kerim. His death checked for some time the prosperity of the Cadjars; for Sheik Ali not only possessed himself of the treasures of the vanquished chieftain, but carried away his six sons as hostages to Ispahan. A circumstance which would appear unaccountable to a person unacquainted with Persian politics, is, that sixteen years after this event, Kerim conferred on Hussain Khan, one of these Cadjars, the government of Asterabad; nay more, that after he had rebelled, and been taken and put to death, his brother, Murtasa Kuli Khan, was appointed his successor. But it is no uncommon thing in Persia, to see a family, several members of which have manifested a rebellious spirit, nay, even a rebel himself, obtain his confirmation in some high dignity. The court keeps numerous and trusty agents about such a person, and all his motions are known to the government. Kerim's death set the other sons of Mohammed Khan at liberty, and they availed themselves of it to retire to Asterabad. Aga Mohammed, the most enterprising of them, expelled Murtasa from his government, and established himself in his stead. This act of violence sowed disharmony among the brothers, two of whom joined Ali Murad, a powerful rebel, while the two others espoused the cause of Aga Mohammed.

The latter became at length the undisputed soverign of Persia, though he never assumed the title of Shah. He was assassinated by two of his officers in 1797. The instigator of this crime, Sadik Khan, the general of his armies, took advantage of it to seize the royal treasures, before the death of Mohammed was publicly known, and at the head of 10,000 men fled to Adherbijan. It was his intention to succeed his victim. Three other competitors meanwhile entered the lists: these were Baba Khan, governor of Shiraz, nephew of Aga Mohammed; Ali Kuli Khan, Mohammed's brother; and Mohammed Khan, son of Zeki Khan, successor to Kerim: and the first of these is the reigning monarch of Persia.

The tribe of the Cadjars is at present divided into two branches, the Yocaroo-Bash and the Ashgah-Bash, which have several subdivisions. It is computed that there are from fifteen to eighteen thousand Cadjars in Khorasan, at Meru; five thousand at Erivan, and one thousand at Guindjeh. Ever since the accession of Aga Mohammed to the throne, the principal offices in the state have been filled by Cadjars, which renders them obnoxious to the public hatred and the jealousy of their rivals.



Feth Ali Shah, the present king of Persia, was the son of the same Hussain, on whom Kerim conferred the government of Asterabad, after the downfall of Mohammed Khan, and who perished in consequence of his rebellion, if that term may be applied to the attempts of a number of ambitious men to seat themselves on a throne to which there was no rightful owner. Feth Ali, who, prior to his elevation, was called Baba Khan, held a command in the army of his uncle Aga Mohammed, who also invested him with the dignity of governor of Shiraz, which he held at the time of Mohammed's death. Such a concurrence of circumstances as rarely happens in a country where the sword gives the only right to the sovereignty, seated him on the throne. When he heard of the assassination of Aga Mohammed, he hastened from Shiraz to Teheran, and was so fortunate as to gain possession of that important place, where the treasures of the empire and the families of all the principal officers fell into his power. He thus ensured the attachment of the soldiery and the fidelity of the most important personages in the state. Hadjee Ibrahim, the most distinguished man in Teheran, declared in his favour; and it was in a great measure owing to his powerful and extensive influence, that the prince met with so little resistance to the accomplishment of his wishes. The murder of this same Hadjee Ibrahim, to whom Feth All Shah was so largely indebted for his elevation, who looked upon him as his own son, and was attached to him with the affection of a father, is an indelible stain upon his character. It is true that he used rather too freely those rights which his services gave him; that he spared neither advice nor rebuke; but if it be frequently a crime to tell truth to princes, ought they to punish it by a crime still more heinous? Feth Ali nevertheless has not the reputation of being a tyrant.

The fate of Hadjee Ibrahim verifies the common remark—Confer a favour on a tyrant, and your reward will be death. It is related on undoubted authority, that the minister was aware of the designs against him, but declared he would not imbrue his hands again in blood: he could easily have destroyed the king, but relied on his gratitude, and conceived that the reward for giving away a crown would at least be mercy. He experienced the contrary, and his women even participated in the fate of their master. But the systematic treachery of the minister did not deserve a better fate. Hadjee Ibrahim experienced the same ingratitude he had shown to Lootf Ali Khan. He had been raised to his situation by the family of the Zunds, and he destroyed it; he was the principal instrument of the elevation of the Cadjars, and they destroyed him.

It is a generally received axiom among the Persians, that he alone is worthy of reigning who has felt the edge of the sword, or at least exposed himself to it. Valour in the estimation of these people is the first of qualities. This must be the case in a country where war is in some measure permanent, and where it is thought as glorious to cut off the head of an enemy with a single stroke of the sabre, as with us to perform the most virtuvirtuous action. Since Feth Ali Shah has filled the throne, he has had no opportunity for the display of military qualities: the Persians would probably hold him in higher estimation, had he spilled more blood. His expeditions have been confined to a few excursions into Khorasan, rather with a view to keep up the good opinion of his subjects respecting his bravery, and to inure his troops to the fatigues of war, than to subdue that province.

Sir Robert Ker Porter, to whom his majesty sat for his portrait, who seems to have been not a little flattered by his condescension, and to be not very sparing of flattery in return, describes, in the following terms, the personal character of this monarch :—

His face seemed exceedingly pale, of a polished marble hue, with the finest contour of features, and eyes dark, brilliant and piercing, a beard black as jet, and of a length which fell below his chest over a large portion of the effulgent belt which held his diamond-hilted dagger. This extraordinary amplitude of beard appears to have been a badge of Persian royalty from the earliest times; for we find it attached to the heads of the sovereigns, in all the ancient sculptured remains throughout the empire. His complexion, as before observed, is extremely pale; but when he speaks on subjects that interest him, a vivid colour rushes to his cheek, but only for a moment, it passes so transiently away. His nose is very aquiline; his eye-brows full, black and finely arched, with lashes of the same appearance, shading eyes of the most perfect form, dark and beaming, but at times full of a fire that kindles his whole countenance, though in general its expression is that of languor. The almost sublime dignity which the form of his beard adds to the native majesty of his features, is not to be conceived; and the smile which often shone through it, ineffably sweet and noble, rather increased than diminished the effect.

Though the reigning monarch has never been celebrated for that activity which demonstrates itself in ambitious projects or attachment to the pleasures of the chase, yet he manifests on every occasion that promptitude in the despatch of public business, and vigilance in maintaining the laws he has enacted for the security of the persons and property of his people, which bear every testimony to the soundness of his judgment on the duties of a king: while his encouragement of Persian literature, and his taste for poetry and the arts, show him to be a scholar and a man of genius. That his views are liberally directed toward the improvement of his people, is still more evident from the many Persians sent by him to Europe, to study the arts and sciences most wanted in their own country. These men generally conduct themselves well when abroad; and the quickness of their intellect soon making them masters of their objects, they return home in the prime of life, bringing back not merely the learning and practice for which they were sent out, but seeds of moral, mental, and national improvements; which being gradually sown in the minds of the people, nothing can prevent producing their natural harvest.

Th long tranquillity which has reigned in the interior of the empire, ever since the death of the last sovereign, Aga Mohammed Khan; the comparatively flourishing state of the country, with the increase of its population and revenue, speak strongly in favour of the reigning monarch, who is so far from having imbibed the tyrannous style of rule common with many of his predecessors, that the arm of blood is never raised by his order, but over the head of the robber and murderer.

Perhaps, however, his passion for riches is not less strong, though not indulged by violence, than that which impelled those short-sighted tyrants to sacrifice the life of a subject in order to secure his treasures. The whole of the higher orders pursue the same object, with an avidity by which the lower classes are great sufferers; a general system of exaction in those above them depressing their industry by extorting its fruits.

Feth Ali Shah is not merely a lover of poetry, but himself a poet, and the author of some pleasing compositions of that kind. The chief of the poets of his court is in high favour with him, and receives for his praises and the effusions of his genius more substantial remuneration. The king is said to pay him a toomaun (about eighteen shillings sterling) for every couplet; and it is even asserted that he has once released him from the payment of a considerable sum due from him to the royal exchequer, as a reward for a poem which he had composed.

The governor of Kashan was indebted for his appointment to his being an excellent poet. On his sending the king a present of one of his compositions, he expressed greater satisfaction at the gift than at the sumptuous offering of Chiragh Ali Khan, which amounted to some thousands of pounds; but, adds Mr. Scott Waring, he would be very sorry to have all his governors poets, and all their presentations poems.

The species of poetry for which his majesty shows the strong-predilection, is the light, amorous and playful. His compositions are chiefly ghazels, that is, odes or songs, the chief merit of which consists in expressions, metaphors, and allusions, which lose nearly all their beauty, spirit, and elegance, in translation. Of these pieces, the traveller just quoted gives the two following specimens:—

"If thou wert to display thy beauties, my beloved, to Wamiq, he would sacrifice the life of Oozra at the shrine of thy perfections. If Yoosoof beheld thy charms, he would think no more of Zuleekha. Come to me, and comply with my wishes; give me no farther promises of to-morrow. When the mistress of Khaqan[1] approached him with a hundred graces, one glance captivated his heart."

The second is as follows:—"When I yielded my heart, she began her cruelty, yet she terms this tyranny faithfulness. Call not thine eyes by their name, for truly they are the source of affliction; the loftiness of thy stature betrays thy pride. I shall never complain of thee, my love; for however great thy cruelty, it must be proper. Destroy me at once, for the height of my ambition is to die by the hand of my mistress. Khaqan has watched near thy dwelling until he has fallen into old age, and still thou maliciously callest him faithless."

In the library of the king of France, there is a collection of the poems of the Persian monarch. It is a handsome thick octavo volume, most beautifully written, which M. Joannin, interpreter to the French embassy to Persia, received from Feth Ali Shah himself, and presented to the noble establishment, to which it now belongs.



Under this head, we comprehend the king's sons only. We know not the precise number of the royal offspring at present; but in 1814, Feth Ali Shah had sixty-five sons, and about the like number of daughters. It has sometimes happened, that several women have made him a father in one and the same night. One day, while Mr. Morier was at Teheran, in his first visit to Persia, six of his women produced his majesty six children, four boys and two girls: hence the only wonder is, that his family is not still more numerous.

It has been customary with some of the Persian monarchs, to deprive their children of sight, lest they should prove rebellious subjects, leaving but one unmutilated, as heir to the throne: while others have been content with dooming them to perpetual imprisonment in the seraglio. Feth Ali has not imitated the barbarity of the former practice, or the injustice of the latter: several of his sons who have arrived at manhood occupy high posts in the empire, and are training in the art of government under experienced ministers, to whose guidance the king consigns them. The king's eldest son, Mohammed Ali Mirza, is invested with the government of Kermanshah. The condition of his mother, who is a Georgian slave, or perhaps the partiality of his father for another son, has excluded him from the throne. He is thirty-five years of age, with a pleasing physiognomy, affable manners, courage, and activity. These qualities will doubtless prove more detrimental than profitable to the state, on the death of Feth Ali; for Mohammed has frequently declared to the king, that the sword should either secure or deprive him of the throne, and that it was his determination to overcome the obstacles placed in his way. Aga Mohammed Khan, who used to treat him with much kindness, once asked him, what he would do were he king. The child, then not more than five or six years old, instantly replied, that his first act would be to destroy him. This answer so enraged his grand-uncle, that he ordered him to be strangled; but he afterwards pardoned him, at the intercession of the present king's mother.

Abbas Mirza, whose mother was of the tribe of the Cadjars, and whom Feth Ali has declared his successor, governs the province of Abherbijan. According to the concurrent testimony of all travellers, the qualities displayed by this prince justify the preference of his father. He is of middling size, his face, though pale, is full of majesty and good-nature, and animated by large black eyes, shaded by well arched eye-brows which meet. He is an excellent horseman, distinguished for his skill in all military exercises, and passionately fond of war. The simplicity of his dress bespeaks the dignity of his mind. When one of his officers once appeared at his court clothed in stuff of gold, and covered with rich ornaments—"What is the benefit of this luxury?" said the prince—"instead of this gold and this tinsel, why do you not buy a good horse, a good sword, and a good gun? Such finery as this belongs to women, and is unbecoming a man, and especially a soldier." The same spirit which dictated this rebuke, is manifested in an anecdote recorded of this prince by Captain Kotzebue, who accompanied the Russian embassy to Persia, in 1817. When the ambassador offered him the presents sent for him by the emperor, among which were a service of porcelain, diamond plumes, &c. Abbas Mirza selected only a superb gun and a sabre: "This," said he, "belongs to me; the rest is too handsome for me; and belongs to the king."

His visir one day entered his palace with a woful and dejected look. The prince inquired the cause of his affliction. The minister hesitated to reply. "Speak," said Abbas—has some public disaster befallen us?—have the Russians gained a victory?—have they taken from us some province?"—"None of these," answered the minister; but your highness's children are dangerously ill. Their lives are in imminent danger."—"Perhaps they are already dead!" rejoined the prince. The visit then confessed that three of his sons had just expired. "Dead!" exclaimed Abba—"but why should I grieve?—the state loses nothing by it. If I were deprived of three good servants, if death were to snatch from me three useful officers, then indeed, I should have cause for grief. My children, on the other hand, were very young; and God knows whether they would have been useful to their country."

Kotzebue, speaking of the reception of the Russian embassy by this prince at Tabreez, says:—We accidentally discovered an honourable trait in his character, which, in Persia, excited our astonishment. The ambassador observed in the garden a projecting corner of an old wall, which spoiled the beauty of the surrounding objects and disfigured the prospect. His excellency asked the prince why he did not order it to be pulled down. "Only conceive," replied his highness—"with a view to the forming of gardens on a grand scale, I purchased the ground of several proprietors. The owner of that where the wall stands is an old peasant, who has absolutely refused to sell his property to me, because he will not part for any price, with an ancient patrimonial possession of his family. His obstinacy, I must confess, vexes me exceedingly, and yet I cannot but honour him for his attachment to his forefathers, and still more for his boldness in denying me the ground. I must wait till the time when his heir will perhaps be more reasonable."

This prince has exhibited a phenomenon that is truly extraordinary in an Asiatic state, in the relinquishment of those inveterate prejudices which reject all innovations, how palpable soever the advantages with which they are attended. To Abbas Mirza alone is due the introduction of the regular discipline of Europe into the Persian army, and the formation of its artillery within the few last years; and it is allowed by all who have visited the country, that for so short a period he has, with the assistance, indeed, of able English officers, accomplished a great deal.

The character of this prince is thus drawn by Mr. Morier, who enjoyed ample opportunities for observation:—"Abbas Mirza is reported by all travellers to be as superior to the rest of his countrymen in mind, as he certainly is in external qualities. His countenance is always animated, his smile agreeable, and his conversation full of naïveté and pleasantry. In his dress he is scarcely to be distinguished from,other persons, for he generally wears the kadek, the common manufactured cotton stuff of Persia, made up into a single-breasted caba, with a Cashmere shawl round his waist. The greatest piece of finery belonging to him, is a diamond-hilted dagger, which was formerly the property of Lootf Ali Khan, and which, on an emergency, he once threatened to sell, that he might be able to pay up some arrears due to his troops. He wears English boots, and expressed great admiration of the helmets of our light dragoons, which he said he would not scruple to wear.

"To Europeans he is studiously polite: when they visit him, he enters into that kind of conversation which shows a mind eager for information. His rapid manner of speaking, which at first appears affected, is quite natural to him, and gives an appearance of sincerity to what he says, because it does not look premeditated. He is fond of reading, and his studies are chiefly restricted to the historians of his country, of which the Shah Nameh of Ferdousee is his favourite. He is anxious to acquire correct notions respecting the different states of Europe, and has got together a large collection of English books, which he frequently looks at without understanding them, and is always devising plans for getting them translated, but hitherto without success. A copy of the Encyclopædia Britannica was given to him; and it is related that, wishing to find out a piece of mechanism, which he was desirous to have made, he had the patience to turn over all the volumes of that work, until he came to what he wanted. He has also procured a collection of maps from the printing-press at Constantinople, which he has studied; so that he may be considered as perhaps the best geographer in his country. In short, from all that we can learn respecting the character of this prince, we are warranted in concluding, that if he had received an enlightened education, and been brought up with examples of virtue and honour constantly before him, he would not only have been an ornament to his country, but would have classed with the best of men and the best of princes."

Steadily pursuing the plans which he has formed for the improvement of his country, Abbas Mirza is solicitous to make the Persians more and more familiar with the arts and sciences of Europe, and has recently sent two young men to England, one of whom is engaged in the study of surgery, and the other of military engineering. In these plans the prince is faithfully seconded by his visir Mirza Bezoork, who is considered as the ablest statesman in Persia, and whose son is married to one of the king's daughters.

Hussain Ali Mirza, governor of Shiraz, is next to Abbas the greatest favourite with his father. His person and manners are dignified, but his disposition is very different from that of his brother Abbas. Pleasure is the sole occupation of Ali Mirza, who divides his time between the chase and his harem. The revenues of his province are squandered in silly expenses, in magnificent hunting equipages, splendid dresses, and the purchase of beautiful women. This prodigality pleases the Persians, and those people, who love to find defects in their superiors and to reveal them, speak of this prince with commendation only. He has none of those sanguinary inclinations inherent in despotism: he has never caused ears or noses to be cut off or eyes to be put out: the bastinado is the only punishment inflicted by his command.

There are other princes besides these three, who are invested with high dignities in the empire. Hassan Aii Mirza is governor of Teheran; and Mohammed Takee Mirza has for his appanage the town of Beroodyerd, situated near Nehavend, and cotaining 12,000 inhabitants. Each of these princes has a visir, who is devoted to the interest of the king, who closely watches the conduct of his master, reports it to the court, and thus thwarts any, plans of rebellion which he might entertain.



It is a very ancient custom with the monarchs of the East, to assume such titles as are most flattering to pride; and it must be confessed that very often their power has resided in these titles only. The reader will doubtless recollect the pompous epithets which the Parthian sovereigns appended to their names: the title of king of kings, did not always satisfy their vanity, and some of them assumed the appellation of god. Their successors, the Sassanides, imitated this practice. An epistle, addressed by a prince of this dynasty to Behram Tshoubin, opens as follows:—"Cosroes, king of kings, master of potentates, lord of nations, prince of peace, with relation to the gods a most excellent and eternal man, but with regard to men a most illustrious god, glorious conqueror, brilliant as the sun, who enlightens the darkness of night, noble by his ancestors," &c. In another epistle, preserved by Ammianus Marcellinus, Sapor entitles himself: "King of kings, companion of the stars, brother of the sun and moon."

In the treaty concluded with the emperor Justin, and inserted in the Embassies of Menander, the great Anushirvan is styled:—"The divine, the good, the pacific, the sovereign Cosroes, king of kings, the happy, the pious, the beneficent, to whom the gods have given a great kingdom and unbounded power; the giant of giants, made in the image of the gods."

As these pompous epithets are but the figurative expression of pride, and pride is inherent in the heart of man, it may naturally be supposed that this sentiment has lost none of its force, in the twelve or fifteen centuries which have since elapsed. Feth Ali Shah, if he does not arrogate to himself precisely the title of king of kings, employs other equivalent expressions. Thus, a letter written in the name of this prince contains the following passage:—"Since the seal, like unto fate, affixed to the decree of our sovereign power, is become the ornament of the commands received with submission over the surface of the earth," &c. In another place, he says:—"The impressions of my bounty, powerful as those of the luminary of day; the marks of my favour, like the rays of the rising sun." The ordinary title of the Persian monarchs, however, is Shah, which corresponds with our emperor; or Padishah Iran, great emperor of Iran, Kaqan, &c. His subjects indeed dare not give him so simple a denomination: they must not write his name without adding:—"The most exalted of men; the source of majesty, of grandeur, of power, of glory; the equal of the sun; the chief of the great kings, whose throne is the stirrup of heaven; the centre of the globe of the earth; the master of the conjunctions; the asylum of the world; the shadow of God, diffused over the face of all sensible things," &c. It should be observed, indeed, that these denominations vary according to the eloquence of the writer, and that very frequently they are employed merely to round a period, and to give a proper measure and cadence to the language.



The king's household consists, like that of European monarchs, of a great number of officers, each having his particular duties and functions. The chief of these is the high chamberlain, who is superintendant of the king's finances, manager of the royal domains and inspector of all the other officers. On him, all persons engaged in the arts and sciences at the expense of the royal exchequer are dependent; and to him such foreigners as come to Persia on commercial business have to address themselves. It is his duty also to make suitable provision for ambassadors, to assign them quarters, and to supply all their wants. Hence some idea may be formed of the influence attached to this dignity. The second officer is the Ichic-Agasee, whom Morier calls the master of the ceremonies: he superintends the porters, ushers, door-keepers, and other officers of that class belonging to the palace. Before him is borne a gold stick covered with precious stones, which is the mark of his dignity: and when the king quits his seraglio, he takes it in his hand, standing at
Master of Ceremonies (Persia).jpg

Master of the Ceremonies.

some distance from his majesty's person, and endeavouring to anticipate his commands from his looks. As soon as the king looks at him, he advances, takes his orders, lays down his stick, causes the orders to be executed, resumes his stick and returns to his place. He receives all petitions presented to the king, delivers them into his hand, and either reads or reports the substance of them to his majesty. His office by right requires him to lie every night at the door of the palace, but instead of performing this service in person, he places guards there.

The Yesaools and the Yesaools sohbet are immediately dependent on the Ichic-Agasee-Bashee. The former are a kind of messengers, who carry the orders of the king; the latter are a sort of assistants to the master of the ceremonies: they form a body, composed of the sons of nobles. When on duty, they carry painted and gilt sticks, impose silence, and keep order wherever the king may be. When the king gives audience to ambassadors, they go to the entrance of the palace to meet them, introduce them, and lay their presents before his majesty.

The Meer-akhor, or chief equerry, and the Chikkiar-Bashee, or chief huntsman, come next to the Ichic-Agasee-Bashee. They have each subordinate officers, as the Djeladar-Bashee, chief of the grooms; the Jindartshee-Bashee, chief of the saddlers; the Oozengoo-coortshidjy-Bashee or chief of the stirrup-holders; the Taoos-Kaneh-Agasee, head-keeper of the birds of prey; the Sekban-Bashee, keeper of the hounds. Here too we must place the Hakim-Bashee, or chief physician, and the Monaddjem-Bashee, or chief astrologer. The reader need not be surprised to meet with such an office as the latter, in a country where the sway of astrology is omnipotent among all classes. Such are the places which confer the right of sitting in the presence of the king. The chief of those to which this privilege is not attached, is the post of Mesheldar-Bashee, or chief torchbearer, who rides before the king, carrying a golden torch in his hand, and superintends the flambeaux for lighting the interior of the palace. These torches are brass cups fixed to the end of rods of the same metal, which are filled with oil, and in the middle of which is burned a cotton wick. The Persians seldom make use of wax, and never of tallow or rosin. In Chardin's time, the Mesheldar-Bashee had the superintendence of taverns, public prostitutes, musicians, and buffoons of all kinds. The Mehmandar-Bashee comes next to the Mesheldar-Bashee: he is the chief of the officers, whose duty it is to go out of the city to meet ambassadors, to conduct them to the quarters prepared for them, and to accompany them in their journey: for every foreigner of distinction, on entering the Persian territory, is furnished with an officer whose duty it is to attend him, to protect him from insult, and to procure for him whatever he wants. The Mehmandar-Bashee does not fail to pay frequent visits to ambassadors, to inquire how their Mehmandars conduct themselves.

The post of Mihtur, or chamberlain, is always filled by a white eunuch: it is considered as one of the most important in the royal household. In Persia, as in Turkey, there are two sorts of eunuchs, black and white. The latter are very rarely, if ever, admitted among the women, whereas the former never quit the palace. The chamberlain has not a right to enter the women's apartments, unless he be sent for; but he seldom leaves the king. He waits upon him at table on his knees, and tastes the dishes; he dresses and undresses him; and is entrusted with the care of the jewels and precious stones commonly worn by the sovereign. In Europe, gold keys or wands form the characteristic insignia of the office of chamberlain: in Persia, the Mihtur wears suspended from his waist a small gold box, in the shape of a gondola, enriched with precious stones, and containing two or three exquisitely fine white handkerchiefs, opium, perfumes, and cordials.

Several other places of inferior note we shall pass over in silence.



We apply, in our language, the term seraglio to that part of the oriental palaces which is inhabited by the women, and to which the prince alone has access. The idea attached to this term does not precisely agree with its meaning: serail, or serai signifies merely a house. Thus, the public buildings at which caravans stop, are called caravanserais. The spot which we call seraglio, the orientals denominate harem, that is, the sacred place—the place to which access is forbidden.

The harem is in general the most magnificent portion of the palaces of Persia and the East, for here the princes spend the greatest part of their time. All that here passes is enveloped in profound mystery: the harem is the theatre of pleasure, intrigues, and crimes; and them, too, the most important matters are irrevocably decided upon. Chardin, that minute and faithful observer, notwithstanding his familiarity with the great, could not gain much information concerning the harem. The same offices and places exist there as at court; but they are filled by women. The king has his chief and under-equerry who carry his arms, the captain of the gate, the captain of the guard, ushers, and gentlemen, all of whom are females: while others
Women of the Harem (Persia).jpg

Woman of the Harem.

read public prayers, and perform the rites of religion. These follow professions useful in common life; those practise medicine; and others inter the dead: for a harem contains a mosque, a cemetery, in short, all that is to be found in a city—in fact, it is a colony of Amazons.

In the harem, there are three classes of females distinguished by different appellations. The princesses of the blood are called Begum, and such of the king's women as have brought him children, are called Kanoom. Under the denomination of Kanoom are comprehended the women of inferior rank: and all those not belonging to any of these three classes are termed slaves.

Each female of the harem, one of whom is represented in the engraving at the beginning of this section, has an apartment to herself, or lodges with some aged woman, and cannot visit her fellow-prisoners without permission. Besides subsistence, she receives an allowance, half of which is paid in money, and the rest in stuff for wearing apparel. The number of her attendants increases with her rank. One of the black female slaves, kept for the purpose of waiting on the women belonging to the harem, is shown in the opposite plate.

When the king dies, the harem is filled with mourning, consternation, and dismay: but the tears that are shed, are not those of regret for the lost object. What these women deplore is the loss of the shadow of liberty, and of the illusory pleasures which charmed their captivity: they will be shut up for the remainder of their lives in the most retired part of the harem, and a guard of ferocious eunuchs will prohibit the entrance of all who are not brought thither by the natural wants of the victims.

The harem is divided into several quarters; each of which has its governor, and these governors are all under a Darogha, or general superintendent. The Darogha is like the Argus chosen by Juno to watch young Io: he has a hundred eyes, fifty of which sleep while the others wake. Age and ugliness are indispensable requisites for this office, to which immense responsibility is attached.

According to the report of the Persians, the king's harem contains the most beautiful women in the East. In any other country, the manner of supplying it would be the most execrable tyranny: in Persia, it is an honour combed by the most distinguished persons. No sooner does a beauty spring up in any part of the kingdom, and the rumour of her charms reach the court, than she is taken from her family, or, more properly speaking, her parents are anxious to offer her for his majesty's acceptance, and she is transferred from the paternal habitation to the royal harem. The favour and fortune of the parents keep pace with the king's fondness for his new mistress; and when she becomes a mother, the most elevated dignities are conferred on her father.

The name of mother, however, though it confirms the influence of her who presents the monarch with the first son, becomes to the others a source of apprehension and sorrow. Confined with their infants in a corner of the seraglio, they live in continual fear lest a supreme order should deprive them of life, or at least of sight. Hence the crimes of which the seraglio is the theatre—crimes, which the hand could sooner commit than the imagination conceive. When the number of children is too great, the queen-mother, who rules with despotic sway in the harem, coolly orders a certain proportion of them to be despatched, and custom stifles all remorse in her soul.

The only chance which such a female has of improving her condition, is that of being transferred from the royal harem to the arms of some grandee: for the king, by way of expressing his satisfaction with his favourites, makes them a present of one of his women; nay, it is often the case that a noble solicits this favour of the queen-mother. Fortunate is the lot of the lady thus given away: she receives the title of a lawful wife, exercises the rights which it confers, and is treated in every respect as a princess. Sometimes, however, it happens that a woman who has incurred the displeasure of the king or of the queen-mother, also quits the harem to be married: but in that case, she is given to some menial of the palace, and a more ignominious punishment than this cannot be inflicted.

There are three sorts of guards to the harem. The white eunuchs guard the outside, without ever entering the interior. The black eunuchs, mostly brought from the coast of Malabar, dwell round the second inner inclosure; within which women are on duty night and day, relieving each other by turns.

The Persians give the eunuchs the name of Kodja, which is equivalent to an old fellow. Their power is great, for they enjoy the full confidence of their master, transact his business, and manage his revenues. In the houses of the great, they superintend the education of children, who are instructed by them in the rudiments of science and the principles of religion. Till the moment when the princes of the blood quit the harem, either to fill some elevated post in the empire, or to ascend the throne, they are under the care of eunuchs, who act in the double capacity of preceptors and governors.
Attendants on the Queen of Persia.jpg

Attendants on the Queen of Persia.



We have just seen what precautions are taken to ensure the fidelity of the women of the harem, and to prevent the access strangers. From these precautions, we may infer the strictness of those which are practised when they appear abroad.

When the king's women are about to remove from one place to another, public notice is given five or six hours beforehand of the road which they are to pursue. Wo then betide the unfortunate wretch who should happen to be found in that road, or in any place from which he could perceive the camels or horses which carry these ladies. The very inhabitants of the villages through which this road passes, must quit their habitations. When the hour for their departure is arrived, troops of horsemen ride forward at a great distance before the cavalcade, crying: Coorook! coorook! prohibition!—which is a notice for every one to retire. Between these horsemen and the females come eunuchs also on horseback, who with thick sticks belabour such as have not retired with sufficient despatch.

The ladies commonly travel on horseback, riding astride, after the fashion of the East, like men—"the most natural and safest seat for a lady," gravely observes a recent traveller. Some of them, the favourite, for example, are carried in a species of litter called by the Persians takhtirevan. It consists-of a cage of lattice-work covered with cloth, borne by two mules, the one before and the other behind, and conducted by two men, one of whom rides on a third mule in front, and the other generally walks by the side.

Mr. Morier gives an instance of the severity with which the mehmandar to the British embassy punished one of his servants, for persisting to approach too near the takhtirevan in which Lady Ouseley was carried. He immediately called the man before him, and struck him with his sword, and afterwards with his whip. He then ordered his attendants to attack him. They threw him on the ground, beat him with their fists, then with their sticks, then jumped on him and so mauled him that he could scarcely be lifted on his horse. This was done without a single question being put to the poor creature himself; it was done in the middle of the road, in the dark, and with an immense cavalcade passing by at the time.

The coorook would be a very serious inconvenience, if the king were frequently to take a fancy to make his women accompany him; for no weather, neither hail, rain, snow nor mud, can in the least affect the prohibition to remain in the streets through which these ladies are to pass; every male who has attained the age of seven years must retire. This coorook obliged Chardin to lie from home twice during his residence in Persia.



The court of Teheran exhibits a luxury and a magnificence, that bespeak a great monarch. When Feth Ali Shah appears in all his royal ornaments, it is impossible to look at his person if the sun shines upon him. The throne, known by the appellation of Takti-thaous, the peacock throne, is particularly superb; it is said to have cost one hundred thousand toomauns, or upwards of £90,000 sterling.

When Nadir Shah, in his invasion of India, had made himself master of Delhi, he secured for his share of the booty all the precious stones collected during the space of more than three centuries by the Great Moguls, and carried off great part of them into Persia. He applied them to the construction of a large tent of the most extraordinary magnificence, and of a throne and canopy, supported by four pillars and surmounted by four peacocks, whence it is called the peacock throne. It was of massive gold, and entirely covered with precious stones. At Nadir's death, these riches were partly dispersed, and the rest preserved in the royal treasury. The latter Feth Ali Shah now possesses; and since his accession, he has recovered many articles which had been carried off during preceding revolutions.

When the king of Persia gives a solemn audience, all his guards, ranged in long files, are under arms: they occupy all the courts preceding the hall in which the throne stands. The fine horses, covered with harness and housings, enriched with precious stones, are fastened by thick cords of silk and gold to rings likewise of gold fixed in the ground: near them are implements for the stable of the same metal. Lions and bears, tied to posts, also figure in these parades. The court, which immediately conducts to the hall of audience, is filled with the chief dignitaries of the empire most magnificently dressed.

The divan-kaneh, or hall of audience, has usually several floors, and is quite open in front. At Teheran, the kalvet-kaneh withdrawing-room, is entirely painted and gilt: several pictures form its chief ornaments. One, placed on the left of the window, represents a battle between the Persians and the Russians, in which, as may naturally be supposed, the former have the advantage. The king is there seen on horseback. Another, opposite to the preceding, represents Feth Ali hunting, at the moment when he has just pierced a stag with a javelin. Several other pictures exhibit females dancing.

At the extremity of this hall is placed the peacock throne. It seems to have been made in imitation of Nadir's. This throne, as Morier informs us, is raised three feet above the floor, and seems to be an oblong square; twelve feet in length and eight in breadth: a high balustrade runs round it, and its extremities are adorned with vases and other ornaments. The back of the takti-thaous is very high: on each side there is a pillar supporting a bird, probably a peacock, glistening with precious stones and holding a ruby in his bill. The canopy of this throne consists of an oval ornament, from which diamonds throw a thousand brilliant rays. On this throne the king is seated, upon a cushion embroidered with fine pearls. His appearance at the Nowroose, or festival of the new year, when he receives the homage of all his subjects, is thus described by Sir Robert Porter :—

"He was one blaze of jewels, which literally dazzled the sight on first looking at him. A lofty tiara of three elevations was on his head, which shape appears to have been long peculiar to the crown of the great king. It was entirely composed of thickly-set diamonds, pearls, rubies, and emeralds, so exquisitely disposed as to form a mixture of the most beautiful colours, in the brilliant light reflected from its surface. Several black feathers, like the heron plume, were intermixed with the resplendent aigrettes of this truly imperial diadem, Whose bending points were finished with pear-formed pearls of an immense size. His vesture was of gold tissue, nearly covered with a similar disposition of jewellery; and crossing the shoulders were two strings of pearls, probably the largest in the world. I call his dress a vesture, because it sat close to his person from the neck to the bottom of the waist, showing a shape as noble as his air. At that point it devolved downward in loose drapery like the usual Persian garment, and was of the same costly materials with the vest. But for splendour, nothing could exceed the broad bracelets round his arms and the belt which encircled his waist; they actually blazed like fire, when the rays of the sun met them; and when we know the names derived from such excessive lustre, we cannot be surprised at seeing such an effect. The jewelled band on the right arm was called the Mountain of Light, and that on the left, the Sea of Light; which superb diamonds the rapacious conquests of Nadir Shah placed in the Persian regalia.

"The throne from which Feth Ali Shah viewed his assembled subjects was a platform of pure white marble, raised a few steps from the ground, and carpetted with shawls and cloth of gold, on which the king sat in the fashion of his country, while his back was supported by a large cushion, encased in a net-work of pearls.

"On the right of the king, on occasions of extraordinary state, stand several of his sons magnificently dressed, in respectful attitudes. At some distance in front are ranged the great officers of the crown, according to their dignities. Five young pages, habited in velvet and silk, bear different articles. One holds a crown similar to that worn by the king; the second, a superb sword; the third, a buckler and a mace of gold and pearls; the fourth, a bow and arrow enriched with precious stones; and the fifth, a spitting-pot, adorned in the same manner.

"Nothing can equal this magnificence, but the humble looks of the assembly. The presence of the king fills all with fear and respect; and Jupiter making heaven tremble at his nod is not more awful than a Persian monarch amidst his court. Whoever approaches the throne, must previously put off his shoes, and make frequent obeisances. None is allowed to sit excepting poets, persons of extraordinary sanctity, and ambassadors: the king's ministers never enjoy this privilege. The monarch, in fact, seems a being secluded from society, whom all are fearful of approaching: whether he speaks or is addressed, every thing demonstrates the influence of despotism or the meanness of servitude."



In the first rank of the troops composing the military household of the king must be placed the Gholamee-shah or Gholamshahee, the king's slaves,—a very numerous corps formed of the sons of nobles and of young Georgians. The name of Gholam, slave, denotes not so much a state of servitude, as a blind devotedness to the service of the prince. According to Mr. Scott Waring, the Gholam-shaees, who are considered as the choicest troops in Persia, amount to about 20,000. They have charge of the king's person, receive greater pay and are clothed in a more expensive manner than the regular cavalry. The flower of this corps is formed into a body of about four thousand, who are distinguished by the excessive richness of their dress and the insolence of their behaviour. Messrs. Morier and Kinnier, however, state the number of Gholams as being much lower: according to them it does not exceed three thousand.

Besides these troops, who may be called the life-guards, there are four regiments of kechikdjee, each composed of three thousand men, and commanded by a ser-kechikdjee. These are
Officer of the Guards (Persia).jpg

Officer of the Guards.

selected from among all the tribes, but more particularly from

that of the Cadjars. Half of these troops are disciplined in the European manner, and half in the Persian. The former, who belong to the king's household, are called Djan-baz, in contradistinction to those trained by the princes, and especially by Abbas Mirza, who are denominated Ser-baz. The first of these appellations signifies "one who plays with his soul," and the latter "one who plays with his head." Both are expressive of devotedness and valour. The costume of a superior officer of the Ser-baz is shown in the annexed plate.

The kechikdjees reside and have their families at Teheran, or in the adjacent villages: they are obliged to assemble at the first signal. Their duty consists in marching about in the ark, or citadel, in which the palace is situated, and in going from tower to tower. When they relieve guard, a Mirza, or prince belonging to the corps, reviews it and calls over the names. If any officer or soldier is absent, he is severely punished. The rank of Serkechidjee is in great request, and the princes of the blood themselves deem it an honour to be appointed to it.

The Gholam-shahees form the cavalry of the royal guard, and the kechikdjees the infantry. These troops are clothed, equipped, and maintained, at the expense of the king.


of the king's power.

It has already been stated, that the government of Persia is monarchical: perhaps it might be more properly called tyrannical —for what other term ought to be applied to the administration of a prince, whose power is not balanced by any class in the state, who has a right according to his caprice to deprive of property, nay, even of life itself, every subject who is so unfortunate as to incur his displeasure; in short, who can gratify his every whim, without being accountable to men for any of his actions? The opinion of the Persians respecting royalty is favourable to this unlimited power. Persuaded that the crown is conferred by the Almighty, and that the possessor, though neither Iman nor descendant of Ali, the son-in-law of Mahomet, is nevertheless the vicegerent of this legislator, the successor of the apostle of God, they set no other bounds to their submission than those of their fanaticism. Not but that they charge the sovereign with violence and injustice: for it is a common expression in their language, when a person has sustained an injury and complains to the judge, to say: "He has played the king with me?"—"Art thou then king?" cries the Persian to the rapacious governor who robs him of his property, and harasses him with his extortions. They murmur against the man, but they submit to the divine will of which the monarch is the organ. Let him give what order he will, in a paroxysm of anger, of intoxication, or of any passion whatever, it is instantaneously executed. Neither long services rendered to the state, nor tried integrity, nor distinguished merit, can skreen a man from his capricious cruelty. If but a look, a word, manifests his sovereign will, the head of the ablest minister, or of the most successful general, falls beneath the sabre of a Gholam. This tyranny finds no barriers but in religion. The same Persian who sacrifices a benefactor, a son, a father, in obedience to a royal firman, would rather die than drink wine, or be guilty of any violation of the precepts of the Koran. The despotic Nadir Shah could vanquish powerful rivals, destroy the Sofis, conquer India, threaten Turkey, and strike terror into all the East: but when he attempted to alter religious opinions, his efforts totally failed.

Notwithstanding the preceding statement of the nature of the royal power, and the excesses to which it tends, it would be wrong to assert that all the monarchs of Persia have been tyrants. The present sovereign, Feth Ali Shah, enjoys the affection of his subjects; and travellers relate of him but few of those acts of barbarity which were so frequent under most of his predecessors. It ought moreover to be observed, that the people are seldom the victims of the cruel caprices of the monarch, which generally reach only such grandees as are about his person. At the court of Persia, a man frequently goes to sleep in prosperity, and awakes stripped of every thing; yet the Persian is never the wiser for these catastrophes: there, as in every other country, the crowd of courtiers eagerly push forward on the road to fortune and favour.

  1. A title equivalent to Great Emperor.