2018 July, Exeter Project Workshop: Transactions

Transactions and documentation in the Persianate world

Exeter, 13-14 July 2018

Mercure Southgate Hotel, Exeter

This workshop assembles scholars to investigate traditions of legal documentation related to trade and other transactions related to property in a vast but under-studied commercial sphere – the Persianate world. This was an enormous, multi-ethnic and durable cosmopolis that stretched from Bengal to Bosnia, and variably included within itself major Islamic empires as well as more regionalised states. It also provided the cultural framework within which merchant networks had to function, whether these be family and community-based, such as those of the Armenians, Gujaratis and Multanis, or chartered corporations such as the European trading companies. This workshop offers an opportunity for a close reading and comparison of legal instruments employed by these and other entities within the Persianate world. It invites study of legal instruments used to record a full range of transactions including the commercial but stretching beyond it to the pious and familial, so as to capture the various social contexts in which material transactions required documentation.

In particular, scholars were invited to reflect upon:

  • The nature of the economies within the Persianate sphere, with reflections on the ‘bazaar’ as well as globalisation
  • The boundaries and relations between law and economy, with special attention to institutions such as notaries and tribunals
  • The substantiation of law in specific cultural and linguistic terms, through specific documentary devices
  • The linguistic, formulaic and semantic variation of legal and technical terms across sub-regions within the Persianate sphere, and the implications of such variations.

This workshop is located within an ERC-funded project titled ‘Forms of Law in the early modern Persianate world, 17th-19th centuries’, and as such, the organisers are particularly keen to learn about legal documents written in Persian, alone or in conjunction with other languages. We have also welcomed papers about legal instruments written in other languages demonstrably present within the Persianate sphere.

We have invited scholars to present 30-minute papers derived from their research, and focussed on a specific Persianate legal instrument or collection of documents.

Participants of the workshop will be invited by the organisers to contribute an article-sized publication to an edited book with a reputed press, or the special issue of a peer-reviewed journal. It is envisaged that every submission will include a facsimile image of an representative sample of the material discussed, and an appendix with full transcription and translation of it. Assistance may be provided in some cases for clearing permissions and with transcription.

For invited participants, travel costs to and from Exeter will be reimbursed by the project; accommodation and meals will be organised in local Exeter hotels and restaurants.

There is space for up to 10 additional participants; there are no fees but there are no subsidies to available to help defray costs of travel or accommodation. Those wishing to participate must write to Dr Nandini Chatterjee n.chatterjee@exeter.ac.uk before 4 July 2018.


Venue: Mercure Southgate hotel, Exeter

Mercure Southgate hotel, Exeter

Seymour Suite 1, 9-5 each day

Friday 13 July
9:00-9:15 Coffee in lobby
9:15-9:30 Welcome and introduction to the project and its aims – Nandini Chatterjee
9:30-11:00 Royal orders – chair Samira Sheikh
Zahir Bhalloo, Safavid mithāls
Arash Khazeni, Arakanese farmāns
11:00-11:30 Tea-break in lobby
11:30-1:00 Sale – chair Nur Sobers-Khan
Gijs Kruijtzer, Central Asian bai‘-i ja’iz
Nobuaki Kondo, Qajari bay‘-ishart
1:00-2:15 Lunch in Gate House restaurant (in hotel)
2:15-4:00 Indian ocean trade– chair Christoph Werner
Fahad Bishara, Indian Ocean documents
3:00-3:15 Tea break
Ghulam Nadri, Navsari collection
4:00-4:45 Discussions about Asnad Hasenclever, Stringer, Tupman, Werner, Vendell, Thelen and Chatterjee
7:00 – Conference dinner
Saturday 14 July
9:00-9:30 Coffee in lobby
9:30-11:00 Innovative forms – chair Sajjad Rizvi
Nandini Chatterjee, Mughal /post-Mughal fārigh khaṭtīs
Christoph Werner, Qajari muālaa-nāmas
11:00-11:30 Tea break in lobby
11:30-1:00 Transfers – chair Prachi Deshpande
Samira Sheikh, Gujarati bahis
Dominic Vendell, Marathi karār-nāmās
1:00-2:15 Lunch in Gate House restaurant (in hotel)
2:15-4:00 British-Persian – chair Elizabeth Thelen
Huntington Lyman Stebbins, British consular documents
3:00-3:15 Tea break
Prachi Despande, Marathi kaul-nāmas
4:00-4:45 Summary discussion and plans


Zahir Bhalloo (Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies, Freie Universität Berlin)

A Safavid Decree on the Administration of the Shrine of Shaykh Abū ʻAbdallāh Dāstānī (d. 417/1026)

The paper examines the development of the mithāl, a type of document relating to waqf administration issued by the chancery of the religious office of the adr in Safavid Iran (1501-1722). We demonstrate how the scribes working at the chancery of the adr (dīwān al-idāra) constructed his religious and administrative authority through the formulaic text and paratexts of the mithāl, in particular, increasingly complicated calligraphic signatures (ughrāʼ). Our discussion will focus on a hitherto unpublished Safavid mithāl relating to the shrine of a prominent Sufi shaykh in Bisṭām associated with the Ṭayfūriyya tradition, Shaykh Abū ʻAbdallāh Muḥammad b. ʿAlī Dāstānī (d. 417/1026).



Fahad Bishara (Department of History, University of Virginia)

Into the Bazaar: The Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Capitalism

The nineteenth century marked a moment of massive economic transformation in the Western Indian Ocean, as the region became more firmly integrated into the new global regimes of finance, marketing, and distribution. But for these global regimes to take root locally, they had to pass through the world of the bazaar – through the circuits of actors, idioms, and contractual forms that gave exchange its transregional shape around the ocean’s shores. This paper explores the documentary regimes that underpinned the bazaar economies of the Indian Ocean in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Drawing on a polyphonic and far-flung archive of financial paper from around the ocean’s shores,  it reflects on the legal and commercial forms that gave a moment of global transformation its moorings in the regional vernaculars of contracting, from Basra to Zanzibar.


Nandini Chatterjee (Department of History, University of Exeter)

Documents that bind and release: tamassuk and fārigh-khaṭṭi in the Indo-Persian koine

A regular feature of legal and administrative documents produced in India in the extended Mughal period (that is, between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries) was their tendency to self-nominate, that is, to specify their own type, usually in the first or final lines of the document. This was true of all grades and classes of documents, ranging from the imperial farmān down to the humble bai‘-nāma. The tendency, therefore, was for the proliferation of highly specific types of legal and administrative documents, functionally tied to specific types of orders/transactions.


In this paper, I will discuss the implications of such typological specificity, especially with reference to a paired set of such documentary types – the tamassuk and fārigh-khaṭṭi, which were used for recording obligations (including debts) and their fulfilment (or literally, ‘emptying’). Based on detailed discussion of two actual documents from a seventeenth and eighteenth-century collection, I will tentatively propose that such specificity may have permitted legal documentation without recourse to advanced juristic knowledge, principally by non-Muslim Persian-writing scribes.


I will pursue this argument further based on two other kinds of literary/linguistic evidence: low-brow Persian literature produced in India in the eighteenth century, such as ‘spoof’ formularies, where the formulaic regularity of model documents, by now part of popular culture, was combined with improbable specific details in order to entertain; and Bengali-language formularies produced even later, where the remembered formulae of Persian documents were phono-semantically assimilated into a specific kind of ‘law-Bengali.’


Prachi Deshpande (CSSSC, Kolkata)

Kaulnāmas: Maratha adaptations of a Persianate form

Kaulnamas (qaul-nāma in Persian) were ubiquitous documents in the Maratha state, which adapted a wide variety of Persianate legal and documentary forms. In the Mughal empire, they served as promises to potential allies, treaties between powers, as well as formal reassurances from the state. Their usage continued into the era of the East India Company. The Marathas deployed kaulnāmas most often as a form of reassurance from the state about hereditary rights of all kinds under threat from warfare or invasion; in agreements the term qaul appeared jointly with qarār as kaulkarār. In this paper, I survey these forms, and closely read a third form of kaulnāmas, given by the state as grants of land tenure, usually of waste land to cultivators, or of uninhabited peths, to merchants. Such grants, sometimes bilingual Persian-Marathi, and sometimes exclusively Marathi, were to prevent flight from troubled areas, extend the cultivable area, and encourage commerce. These usually specified the nature of agrarian or commercial business to be transacted, and specified the due to the state. Notably, the actual documents invoked not just individual peasants or families, but also local hereditary revenue officials, and provide rich, tantalizing snapshots of the distribution of local power. I track and contextualize the shifts in the language and specifics of the kaulnāmas over the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as they became more time-bound and specifyed istawa clauses, i.e. graduated increases in the revenue. I explore their precise status as legal documents, the ways in which their form and vocabulary departed from similar Mughal forms, and their position vis-a-vis other Persianate documentary forms – such as ināmpatra, sanad, ajnapatra – through which the Maratha state conferred rights of different kinds. Finally, I explore the change in their function and efficacy under the Company’s changed constellation of private property, public revenue, and legality.



Arash Khazeni, Pomona College

In the Realm of the Golden City: Persian Letters and the Trade of the Burmese Empire, 1728-1795

Halted by instilled constructions of regional and cultural boundaries, studies of the Persianate and Indo-Persian world have only rarely touched upon interactions with Southeast Asia, while the strand of existing works have been on the early modern.  Yet into the late Mughal and early colonial periods, Persian still extended as a language of encounter, exchange, and correspondence to reach the Southeast Asian mainland and its littoral.  This paper explores eighteenth-century Persian farman documents (decrees), letters, and permits from the sovereigns of Burmese and Arakanese kingdoms to merchants and agents in India regarding the customs of trade in elephants, precious stones, and teak across the Bay of Bengal.  This archive of correspondences from the royal cities of Mrauk U and Amarapura conveys the place of Burmese and Arakanese empires in the world of Indian Ocean trade, depicting them as forest kingdoms of manifold rarities and luxuries under the stewardship of Persianate and Buddhist universal sovereigns navigating early colonial commerce and markets.


Nobuaki Kondo (Tokyo University)

“Conditional Sales” and other Types of Loans in Qajar Iran

A loan with interest always contains a legal issue under Islamic law. A “conditional sale” (bay‘-i shart) is a legal device for a loan with interest, which can avoid the prohibition of ribā. The transaction consists of two parts. First, the owner of property sells the property to another party. Then, the buyer leases the property to the seller with a rent. The seller can use the property even after the contract, and when the seller pays the rent and the sale price to the buyer, he can retake the property. Here, the buyer becomes the lender, the seller means debtor, the sale price becomes the debt, the rent denotes the interest, and the property means security. This transaction was very common in Qajar Iran, both in cities and rural areas. However, when one investigates Qajar court registers, one finds other types of loans named dayn or dhimmah, which eventually had interest. The question is why they used different legal devices for the loans with interest.

I will analyze individual deeds as well as court records to answer the question.


Gijs Kruijtzer

“The Lifting of Shariatic Obstacles”: Two Revocable Sale Contracts from Sixteenth-Century Samarqand

In the period between 1200 and 1600, in the Persianate as well as the Latinate worlds a variety of financial instruments were developed to render acceptable what might otherwise be considered usury/riba. These instruments were often highly complex and for the Latinate world some historians have remarked that we will probably never be able to decide whether their purpose was indeed to disguise usury or they were simply what they appeared to be at face value: sale deeds, bills of exchange etc.. Remarkable about the Persianate world, at least the parts of it where the “quasi-formalist” (in the words of Wael Hallaq) Hanafite school was dominant, is the explicitness with which legal stratagems were approached. A case in point are two Persian documents, each recording a bai‘-i ja’iz  (revocable or permissible sale), found in a volume of legal deeds done at the Samarqand qazi office in the late sixteenth century. The recorded transactions both involve the same buyer/lender, a maulana or religious scholar called Kamal al-Din. Both may be summarised as follows: so and so attested in accordance with sharia that he had made a bai‘-i ja’iz of such and such property to Kamal al-Din for such and such sum of money, and after the transfer of the property so-and-so leased the said property from Kamal al-Din for such and such amount per day. In both cases the temporarily sold property was an income generating real property: seasoning shops in the first case and a part of a caravanserai in the second. Remarkable is the phrase that connects the two parts of the transaction in the documents: “and after the receipt and relinquishing and the lifting of the shariatic obstacles [raf‘-i mawani‘-i shar‘iya], I have taken in lease this aforementioned sold entity.” This phrase seems to spell out the intention with which the document was drawn up, suggesting that the whole official relinquishing of the property was done only in order to lift the obstacles that sharia put in the way. A century later, the compilation of legal opinions put together under Mughal emperor Aurangzeb also explicitly stated that such contracts were a stratagem for usury, which was not in itself a condemnation since the compilers of the work did leave space for certain stratagems. In this paper I want to briefly look at the development of this particular instrument (also known as bai‘ bi’l-wafa or bai‘ al-wafa, “sale on trust,” or as bai‘ al-mu‘amalat, “transaction sale”) in the Central-South Asian branch of the Hanafite school and at what its use tells us about legal consciousness in the period.


Ghulam A. Nadri (Department of History, Georgia State University)

The Tradition of Documenting Commercial Transactions in Early Modern India: Evidence from a Collection of Persian Documents from Surat

Contrary to the assumption that commercial transactions between local merchants, peasants, craftsmen, and other economic actors in early modern India were generally verbal (unwritten), a number of contemporary documents in Persian (as also in other languages) from the early seventeenth century onward, which are now accessible to scholars either in original or copies (naql), suggest that there was a strong tradition of recording commercial transactions on paper. Based on some Persian documents from Surat preserved in the Dastoor Mehrjirana Library in Navsari, Gujarat, this paper examines how different types of transactions were written down in different formats and what further information were added to make them look authentic. Commercial transactions were documented primarily for legal purposes and to use them to settle disputes arising from those transactions. Through a textual analysis of a set of documents in Persian and Persian and Gujarati (bilingual), including a power of attorney (mukhtar nama), an agricultural loan (taqavi), a mortgage or surety (rehn), and two court decisions (faisla-i adalat) on disputes involving Surat merchants, this paper seeks to understand the social and economic contexts in which such material transactions took place, and which necessitated their documentation. It also examines the meaning and significance of the vocabulary used in these documents for a comparison with similar transactions elsewhere in the Persianate world.


Samira Sheikh (Department of History, Vanderbilt University)

Land revenue in transition in Gujarat: 1770-1820

The East India Company took control of the fertile hinterland of south Gujarat after the conquest of Bharuch (Broach) in 1772. As Company officials endeavoured to understand local revenue systems and render them profitable, they continued to rely on intermediaries, including those from families who had held hereditary appointments going back to Mughal times. Records from early revenue surveys – including sample bahis (record books) and transaction documents – reveal much about the precise nature of Mughal-style land revenue arrangements in the region as well as about speculative innovations that connected land revenue systems with south Gujarat’s celebrated trade and banking systems. This paper will investigate the Persianate terminology of land revenue in early colonial Gujarat with two aims: to better understand the proliferation of commercial transactions pertaining to land, including mortgage and insurance, and to determine how and when such transactions were phased out.


Huntington Lyman Stebbins (La Salle University)

Extraterritoriality and Empire in the Persianate World, c. 1900

As commerce and empire bound Iran and British India together in the late Qajar period, merchants and officials navigated overlapping legal and linguistic boundaries. Extraterritoriality, the exemption of foreign subjects from local jurisdiction, was an attempt to disentangle and clarify these boundaries. British subjects enjoyed extraterritoriality in Iran from 1841 to 1928. This privilege is correctly cited as a means by which Britain exercised influence in Iran and as a spur to Iranian nationalism and state building. (Similar patterns emerged in the Ottoman Empire, Qing China, and Meiji Japan.) Using Persian and English correspondence from British consular files at the National Archives in Kew (FO 248/), this paper, however, reveals a more complicated legal and linguistic situation in southern Iran. Persian officials and Shi‘i ulama, for example, challenged British jurisdiction, as revealed in the case of Bushihri boy killed by a British merchant in a cricket accident in 1893. Although British officials rejected Iranian efforts at prosecution, the accused batsman voluntarily agreed to the local shari‘ah court’s demand for compensation to the deceased boy’s father. Hindu Indian merchants in Kirman, meanwhile, complained to a British officer against Qajar officials and defaulting Iranian merchants in a Persian petition, only to be dismissed as usurers in an English memorandum by a British legation secretary, who himself was a member of a well-known Persian family. In Lingah, a British consul met with Iranian merchants to settle their claims against a defaulting Indian, who had also served as a government tax farmer at the port, and ultimately deported him from Iran to Karachi in 1906 for failing to pay his debts. In Sistan the following year, another British consul sentenced a Muslim Indian to prison in Quetta with hard labor and a fine after the man, who had been found guilty of contempt of the consular court, unsuccessfully appealed to the local mujtahid. Extraterritoriality was often used to protect British subjects from Persian prosecution, but it also proved a means to identify Indians in Iran as British subjects and to exercise imperial authority over them. English and Persian records of commercial disputes and criminal proceedings in late Qajar Iran located in British consular archives thus reveal the contested, intersecting boundaries of British, Indian, Islamic, and Iranian legal orders, a conflict in which the Iranian state would ultimately triumph during the Pahlavi period.


Dominic Vendell (University of Exeter)

From Iqrār to Karār: Transacting Politics in Eighteenth-Century Western India

In the days and months leading up to the battle of Kharda of 1795, the scribes Krishnarao Madhav and Shridhar Laxman and the merchant moneylender Baburao Visvanath Vaidya brokered a fresh alliance between the Maratha governments at Pune and Nagpur. On April 5, 1795, they affixed their names to a written engagement (karār-nāmā) stating that they would equally divide any business that they might receive in the future. The karār-nāmā was the basis of a joint claim to tax-free revenues in several villages made available by the Pune government; however, it did not avert the development of a dispute over Vaidya’s share of the revenues during the transition to British East India Company rule. In this paper, I explore the ways in which the karārnāmā reveals the permeability of the legal, commercial, and political domains in the Maratha Empire of eighteenth-century western India. Derived from the Persian iqrār and iqrār-nāma, the Marathi terms karār and karār-nāmā designated spoken and written formulae and documentary devices pertaining to a range of transactions between two or more parties. While iqrār across the Persianate sphere carried the binding force of an admission or obligation, its adaptation into the Marathi vernacular enabled Maratha governments to constitute the terms and conditions of relationships of trust. At the same time, ambitious individuals in government service employed it to secure their own enrichment. The Company-state considered such blurring of public and private interests to be indicative of a culture of corruption, but I argue that it attests to the remarkable degree of flexibility with which Persian legal terminology linked disparate local and regional contexts.


Christoph U. Werner (University Marburg)

Flexible Forms of Contracts: Transactions through Fictitious Settlements (ul/muālaa) in Iran

There is a tendency in the second half of nineteenth century Iran to look for more flexibility in contractual forms used to conclude transactions of properties and services. While this might be regarded as contrary to the still widely proclaimed absence of freedom of contract in Islamic Law, the customers of the legal system and the notarial practitioners of law must have agreed to allow more elasticity in the application of contractual forms.

Even a superficial look on private legal deeds from nineteenth century Iran reveals the predominant position of contracts that are drawn up according to one special universal type. This type of contract is referred to as muālaa, derived from the legal concept of ul that is understood basically as a contract to arrange the amicable settlement of disputes. In muālaa-nāmas from preceding centuries we usually encounter inheritance disputes that made litigation necessary, or find clearly specified claims that were first acknowledged and then ceded for a compensation payment. However, towards the end of the Qājār period, increasingly few muālaa contracts contain concrete references to a preceding claim, debt or legal dispute. Instead this contract is used freely to emulate a wide variety of legal transactions, the most frequent of which are those of sale (bayʿ) and lease (ijāra) or a combination of both.

The present paper attempts to define and categorise the kind of transactions for which this universal contractual type could be employed and define the limits of what was actually possible. Furthermore, the question will be raised what advantages such a “new” contractual form might have brought along for involved parties and what is behind the reluctance to rely on traditional, well established forms of contract.

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