Shah Sulayman I (AH 1079-1105) silver presentation coin, 20-Shahi, Isfahan 1099 AH/1690 AD. Obverse: in the center in Farsi: "bande-ye Shah velayat, Sulayman" with border inscription, Reverse: Shi'a legend in the center and the names of 12 Shi'a Imams on the border. 35.45 g., 50 mm. [Album #2664 type C, KM #229]
see also Persia:Dynasties
The period 1501-1736 became the era of the Persia's Safavid dynasty. The 17th and early 18th century reigns are: Shah Abbas I (1587-1629), Safi I (1629-42), Abbas II (1642-66), Safi II (1666-94), Shah Soltan Hosseyn (1694-22), Tahmasb II (1722-25), Abbas III (1732-36). The years 1722-1729 were marked by an interregnum of Ghalzay Afghan rulers with Mahmud (1722-1725) and Ashraf (1725-29). The Safavids came back into power in 1729 yet ultimately had to give over to the Afshari, ruling from 1736 to 1749.
In administrative terms Persia was a kingdom. Isfahan became the capital under Abbas I. Whilst the Moghul Empire in the East and the Ottoman Empire in the West financed themselves to a good deal through territorial expansions, Persia suffered the problematic situation of the big block between these two neighbouring powers. State finances rested on the "crown lands" while the frontier provinces were entrusted to tribal warriors under Divan administration. Crown-property administrators "wezirs" were appointed to the crown provinces for limited periods of power during which they strove to enrich themselves while exacting as much as possible for the crown – a system which lead to a decline and an economic crisis reducing both production and revenues in the 17th century. The dual system of crown an divan administration proved impractical. Provinces like Fars with great productive capacities could no longer be maintained as crown property and came back under divan rule, the central government had to relieve the financial burden and lost revenues. The financial position of the royal house got worse with the money it spent on royal endowments to finance projects like the Safavid family shrine or improvements of the infrastructure such as caravansaries, bridges, and dams (Fragner, Camb. Hist. Iran, p. 527).
The collapse of the Safavids, beginning with the Afghan war in the second decade of the 18th century, lead Persia into a long-term crisis in both political and economical terms. Isfahan lost its leading role, Persian politics saw a revival of tribalism and a reversal of the centralizing tendency which had characterised the preceding century. After a decade of insecurity the Afsharids seized power. Nader Shah's (1148-60/1736-47) Indian expedition of 1151-52/1738-39, culminating in the plundering of Delhi with an Indian death toll of an estimated 30,000, marked not only the beginning of the end of the Moghul Empire. The booty outweighed the cost of the adventure and justified the following Transoxanian expedition; whilst state finances began to follow the pattern of redistribution of claims to resources among the supporters of the new regime at the costs of its opponents.
Trade and Commerce
Persia profited from its geographical position at the silk route. The land route from Europe to India passed through Kandahar, the highly coveted city at the Indo-Persian frontier – rulers of both dynasties, Safavid and Moghul took every opportunity to capture the city which changed hands between the two on a dozen occasions.
The most important participants in Indo-Persian commercial relations were communities of Indian merchant-moneylenders, agents of a number of heavily capitalized family firms centered in Multan, an important commercial center in northwestern India (Dale, chs 3, 5; Levi, chs. 2-4). Their economic activities focused on money-lending and large-scale trans-regional trade between India and Persia, and also between Persia and Russia.
Silk, largely produced in the provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran, was the most important manufactured item in early modern Persia and an important export commodity (Steel, p. 277; Chardin, 1811, IV, pp. 162-65; Lambton, p. 116; Matthee, ch. 1). Armenian merchants dominated the transport of Persian silk to foreign markets, including those in India (Ferrier, passim; McCabe, chs 4 and 9; Steensgaard, p. 381). Horses were another Persian export in great demand in India. The climatic conditions made it difficult to breed horses for the needs of the expanding Moghul military empire in India.
Trade relations with the Dutch East India Company were tight throughout and marked by periodic tensions as well as by a readiness of the Dutch to support Persia's rulers in times of crisis [see Willem Floor's and Mohammad Hassan Faghfoory's The first Dutch-Persian commercial conflict (2004) and his article on Dutch-Persian relations in the Encyclopædia Iranica]. European traders supplied goods from textiles over Guatemalan Indigo to – becoming important in the late 17th century – sugar, now produced in the Carribeans at cheapest prices (thus ruining Persia's own sugar production). Indian spices passed through Persia. Iron, steel, cowry shells (to be used by the British as money in the African slave trade) took the same trade route.
Money in Persia
Adam Olearius (?1603-1671) gave the following account of Persia's money or rather of money in Persia looking back at his journeys of the mid 1630s in 1647 and in a second enlarged edition of his book in 1656. The English translation by John Davies, published in 1662, reads:
- The ordinary money of Persia is of silver and brass, very little of gold. The Abbas, the garem-Abbas, or half-Abbas (which they commonly call Chodabende), the scahi, and bistri, are of silver. The former were so called from Shah Abbas, by whose command they were first made, being in value about the third part of a rixdollar; so that they are about 18d. sterling though they do not amount by weight to above 15d. Shah Chodabende gave his name to the half-Abbas. The scahi are worth about the fourth part of an Abbas, and two bistri and a half make a scahi. Shah Ismail had coined in his time a kind of money which was called Lari, and it was made after the manner of a thick Latin wire, flatted in the middle, to receive the impression of the characters, which showed the value of the piece. The Persians call all sorts of copper or brass money, pul, but there is one particular kind thereof, which they call kasbeki, where of forty make an Abbas. When they are to name great sums, they accompt by tumains, each thereof is worth fifty Abbas. Not that there is any piece of money amounting to that sum, but the term is only used for the convenience of accounting, as in Muscovy they account by rubles and in Flanders by thousands of livers. They will receive from foreigners no other money than rixdollars, or Spanish ryals, which they immediately convert to Abbas, and gain a fourth part by the money. The king of Persia farms out the mint to private persons, who gain most by it, and share stakes with the money-changers, whom the call xeraffi, who have their shops, or offices, in the Maydan, and are obliged to bring all foreign money to the public mint, which they call Serab-Chane.
- There is this remarkable as to the brass money, that every city hath its particular money and mark, which is changed every year, and that such money goes only in the place where it was made. So that upon their first day of the year, which begins on the vernal equinox, all the brass money is cry’d down and the mark of it is changed. The ordinary mark of it is a stag, a deer, a goat, a satyr, a fish, a serpent, or some such thing. At the time of our travels, the kasbeki were marked at Isfahan with a lion, at Scamachie with a devil, at Kaschan with a cock, and in Gilan with a fish. The king of Persia, on the one side, makes a great advantage by this brass money, inasmuch as he pays for a pound of this metal, but an Abbas, which amounts to about eighteen pence, and he hath made of it sixty four kasbeki; and on the other he, by this means, keeps the kingdom from being too full of uncurrent and cry’d down money Further extracts
Copper money - to which Olearius referred in the last passage - was frequent yet restricted to local use: Coins were minted by each gouvernate, they had full value for one year within the gouvernate and a value of 50% outside. Each February the coinage had to be returned to be newly minted - remaining coins could only expect to circulate at half of their origial value - a practice which came close to a tax on copper money - a money which was hence avoided by merchants and international traders.
Bigger sums were from the 1500s until the 1900s noted in toman (or tuman) - a mere unit of account matching an unstable quantity of gold. (First toman coins of 8,2 g came to be minted in 1209 AH/ 1794 AD under Aka Mohammed Kha.) The unit of the 17th and 18th centuries had to be redefined periodically – probably also to pay respect to the fluctuations of the gold silver ratio: 50 silver abbasi (of an only relatively stable silver content) had to match the gold toman. Information about the value of the toman is difficult to get. According to some web sources the toman equalled 3 pounds, 7 shillings in the early 17th century, 2 pounds, 6s. 8d. in 1678, and 2 pounds, 4 s. in the early 18th century, the 1 pound parity was reached 1815, the value of 15 shillings in 1835, that of 10s. 9.5d. in 1839 and a value 5s. 9d. of finally in 1891. The rates might refer to the changing quantities of gold denoted – they might not take Persia's gold/silver ratio into account. Willem Floor quotes several exchange rates from 38.5 Dutch guilders to the 42.5 Dutch guilders he saw as an equivalent of the toman in 1712, (which would have been 3 pounds, 16 s 6 d).
Gold coins were rare and hardly minted in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Indian mohur seems to have been the leading circulating gold coin of the Safavid era. Foreign traders also noted the circulation of Venetian gold zeccini. A gold abbasi had been minted under Abbas I, first with a coin weight of 9.2 g, later with a reduced weight of 7.68 matching the regular silver abbasi. Under Soleiman the coin weight of the gold abbasi was brought down to 7.28 g, under Soltan Hosein to 5.37 g. Under Soleiman and his successors the Ashrafi became the more important gold coin with a weight of 3.45 g matching the international standard of ducats and zecchinos.
Silver money dominated the market with the abbasi, first minted under Abbas I as the leading coin. Information about the abbasi is somewhat incoherent. The article Stephen Album, L. Bates, and Willem Floor presented in the Encyclopædia Iranica, vol. 6 ("Coins and Coinage,") portrayed the orginial abbasi as a coin of 9.3 g weight (silver of the highest purity) and introduced a second abbasi of 7.7 g as a coin of lower value which sometimes dominated the production and which sometimes lost its position when the old standard of 9.3 g was reintroduced. The period around 1700 returned, so the authors implied here, to the orginal 9.3 g abbasi-standard.
In his The Economy of Persia (2000) Willem Floor quotes Stephen Album with the following table of Persia's silver coins - we add an additional column for silver equivalents of the toman (of 50 abbasi) - the 9.3 g or 9.2 g Abbasi is missing here; the table tells the story of a simple devaluation:
|Shah||Year||Name of the Coin||toman
or half shahi
or half pul
|Safi II||1666-68||Coins too rare for an accurate average|
|S. Album quoted after W. Floor, The Economy of Safavid Persia (2000), p.72.|
Silver abbasi of Sultan Husayn (1105-1135 AH/ 1694-1722 AD) struck at the mint of Mashhad in 1130 AH/ 1717 AD. 23 mm, 5.4 g. The obverse translates to "Husayn, dog at the doorstep of Ali" referring to Ali, the first Shia spiritual leader
Two massive devaluations marked the period of the Afghan wars and the Ghalzay interregnum: abbasis of 5.34 g were minted in 1717, abbasis of 3.5 g in 1721, while the "old Abbasi" remained the accepted equivalent of 200 dinars.
The system was best handled if one calculated in coinweights (the fineness of silver minted was "high" and not debated), and if one differentiated between gold and silver – both metals found their equivalents at unstable market rates. Dutch Leeuwendaalders had entered the market as the leading coin of the Levant trade. Venetian gold coins, Spanish Pieces of Eight, German thalers circulated though the official decrees afforded all foreign coins to be brought to the mints to be changed there into indigenous Persian coins.
The number of mints operating dropped – and this says much about the attention Persia's currency enjoyed: By the end of the reign of Abbas I the number of mints had been reduced to about 20, it was furthermore reduced to a mere eleven at the time of the fourth and last coinage of Soltan Hosayn (1129-35/1717-22). Little later Nader Shah closed all the Persian mints except for those in Isfahan, Tabriz and Mashhad. A number of smaller, mostly private mints, operated to provide the necessary copper cash.
A system of coins and monetary units for the period 1688-1717 might under these premisses include Persian and foreign coins at roughly these equivalents (the weights in brackets refer to coin weights, not to grams of fine metal content):
A unit of accounting was the Toman (of 50 silver Abbasis or 10,000 Dinars). Gold coins were the Mohur [11.34 g] (an equivalent of 3,000 Dinars), the Abbasi [7.68 g] (an equivalent of 2,000 Dinars) and the Ashrafi [3.45 g] (an equivalent of 900 Dinars).
Circulating silver coins, both Persian and foreign were the Thaler and the Peso (600 Dinars), the Leuwendaalder (480 Dinars), the Panj Shahi (250 Dinars), the Abbasi of 7.39g (200 Dinars), the Abbasi minted in 1717 of 5.4g (115 Dinars), the Abbasi minted in 1721 of 3.5g (75 Dinars), the Shahi (50 Dinars), and the Bisti (20 Dinars). Coppe coins were the Kazbeki (5 Dinars) and the Dinar.
Conversion tools might in this case be given for practical purposes with a division of tomans, abbasis and dinars – paying no regard to other modalities of accounting this should be the practical set for a tool to handle sums of coins and the most important unit of account.
The conversion rates remain a problem. Olearius noted that one changed the Reichsthaler into 3 Abbasi and complained the rate did not reflect the Persian coin's actual value. An Abbasi of 7.68 g was effectively changed into European money at the rate an Abbasi of 9.2 g silver might have deserved. The rates noted by contemporaries differ from a toman of 38.5 Dutch Guilders in 1640 to the toman of 42.5 Dutch guilders with which Willem Floor calculated for the year 1712. At the moment our tools operate with a value of 416 2/3 Dutch guilders matching 10 tomans. The evaluation would be approbriate with an Abbasi of 9.2 or 9.33 g noted by Album, Bates, and Floor in 1993 as the official standard of the period around 1700. Change the value of 416.667 to 384 for the period 1598-1644, if you look for a more realistic rate taking the actual silver coin into account. The appropriate values for 1644-1666 will be 369.5.
Shah Sultan Hussein Safavid (AH 1105-1135) silver 5-Shahi rectangular, Tabriz mint, 1128 AH/ 1715 AD. Reverse: the usual Shi'a formula in the center. Obverse: Name of the mint and date in the center without cartouche as well the legend: Bandeh shah velayat, Hussein. 28 x 19 mm. 8.6 g.
Persia's currency system changed in several steps: Under Nadir Shah (1736-1747) the Rupee was introduced (according to unverified web-information at a rate 2.5 abbasis). In 1825 Persia began issuing silver krans with the toman equalling 10 silver krans, 50 abbasis, 200 shahis or 10,000 dinars. In northern Iran, the currency came to be linked to the ruble while in southern Iran, it was linked to the English pound sterling. Different coins circulated from now onwards in different parts of Iran. In 1877, Persia adopted a silver standard, whilst the toman was linked to the Gold Napoleon at the rate of 1 toman matching 0.5 Napoleon or 5 francs. On March 13, 1932, the rial was substituted for the kran at par. The Imperial Bank of Persia issued banknotes between 1890 and 1932, and the Bank Melli Iran, founded in 1927, issued banknotes between 1932 and 1979, and by the Bank Markazi Iran from 1981 until 1985, and by the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1985.
- Floor, Willem M./ Faghfoory, Mohammad Hassan, The first Dutch-Persian commercial conflict. The attack on Qeshm Island, 1645 (Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazda Publishers, 2004).
- Scott C. Levi, "Indo-Persian Commercial Relations," Encyclopædia Iranica (Winona Lake, IN, 2003) link
- Matthee, Rudi, "The Safavid Mint of Huwayza; The Numismatic Evidence" in Andrew Newman (ed.), Society and Culture in the Early Modern Middle East (Leiden: E.J Brill, 2003), pp. 265-291.
- Matthee, Rudi, "Mint Consolidation and the Worsening of the Late Safavid Coinage: the Mint of Huwayza", Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Volume 44, Number 4 (Brill Academic Publishers, November 2001), 505-539.
- Floor, Willem M., The economy of Safavid Persia (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2000).
- Barendse, R. J., "Trade and State in the Arabian Seas: A Survey from the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth century," Journal of World History, 11 no. 2 (Fall, 2002), 173-225. pdf
- Matthee, Rudi, "Between Venice and Surat: The Trade in Gold in Late Safavid Iran", Modern Asian Studies (Cambridge University Press, 2000), 34:223-255.
- Floor, Willem M./ Clawson, Patrick, "Safavid Iran's Search for Silver and Gold," International Journal of Middle East Studies, 32 (2000), 345-368.
- McCabe, Ina Baghdiantz, The Shah's Silk for Europe's Silver: The Eurasian Trade of the Julfa Armenians in Safavid Iran and India (1530-1750) = University of Pennsylvania, Armenian Texts and Studies, Number 15 (Atlanta: Scholars Press 1999). Review by Willem Floor
- Album, Stephen, A Checklist of Islamic Coins, 2nd ed. (Santa Rosa, 1998).
- Floor, Willem M., A fiscal history of Iran in the Safavid and Qajar periods, 1500-1925 (New York: Bibliotheca Persica Press, 1998).
- Floor, Willem M., The Afghan occupation of Safavid Persia, 1721-1729 Studia Iranica, 19 (Paris: Assoc. pour l'Avancement des Études Iraniennes, 1998).
- Floor, Willem M., "Dutch-Persian Relations," Encyclopædia Iranica, vol. 7 (Winona Lake, IN, 1996). link
- Album, Stephen/ Bates, L./ Floor, Willem, "Coins and Coinage," Encyclopædia Iranica, vol. 6 (Winona Lake, IN, 1993). pdf
- Avary, P./ Fragner, G./ Simmons, J. B., "Abbasi," Encyclopædia Iranica, vol. 1 (Winona Lake, IN, 1985). pdf
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