Qajar (Kadjar) Social Classes and Class Structure


The Qajar Class Structure

By Ahmad Ashraf
Encyclopaedia Iranica

In the Qajar era, as in previous periods, there continued to be a fundamental division between a narrow stratum of courtiers, state officials, tribal leaders, religious notables, landlords and great merchants, at the top, and the vast majority of peasants, tribes people, and laborers in agriculture, traditional industries and services, at the bottom.

Recognition of this binary division is evident in the oft-cited distinction in the Qajar sources between the nobles and notables (a'yan va ashraf ), on the one hand, and the commoners or the masses (avam-al-nas or ra'iyat ), on the other. The use of such terms of contrast as khavas va avam (the elite and the masses), aghniya va foqara (the affluent and the poor), and aqva va zu'afa (the powerful and the meek), moreover, indicate an implicit awareness of the three main dimensions of inequality, i.e., social status, material resources, and power, respectively.

Between those with privilege and power at the top and the masses there were several "middling strata", including local notables, headmen of urban neighborhoods and villages, ordinary landowners and merchants, master artisans and shopkeepers, and the like. After the ruler, members of his court, and major governors, the leading religious leaders enjoyed the highest social prestige, followed by other high state officials, tribal chieftains, great merchants, master artisans, and petty landed proprietors.

This ranking is reflected in the period's official decrees and ceremonies, manuals of titles, genealogies, urban histories and chronicles. An especially revealing document, which reflects quite accurately the prevailing image of the social order in the late Qajar period, is the electoral law (Nezam-nama-ye entekhabat ), enacted on 19 Rajab 1324/12 August 1906. The purpose of the law was to set forth the basic procedures for electing deputies to the first session of the new national assembly (majles-e dar-al-shora-ye melli ). ...

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