This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals.
This paper seeks to explain the function that gifts and gift-giving served in the early Qajar state, and argues that an examination of gift-giving practices in Iran of the early nineteenth-century sheds light on the nature of Qajar administration and how the nascent Qajar government functioned. Early Qajar rulers relied not only on the established administrative class to serve in their bureaucratic ranks, they also drew on pre-existing administrative practices as a means to reconstitute a government that could rule over Iran. Gift-giving was one such practice.
What kinds of gifts were exchanged in the early nineteenth century? What were the political and economic circumstances under which the gifts were given? How did the gifts help to shape relationships between individuals? The exchange of gifts fulfilled three objectives for the Qajars: they were a demonstration of generosity and good-will by the ruler, an expression of allegiance by subjects, and a source of revenue for the government and administrators. Gifts in early nineteenth-century Iran were, in other words, expressions of largesse, loyalty, and lucre. By identifying these three roles that gifts had in Qajar Iran this paper moves away from prevailing notions in the historical literature that the exchange of gifts in pre-modern societies was primarily defined by moral considerations of reciprocity, or that it was fundamentally opposed to commodity exchange.
Much has been written on gifts, gift-giving, and the economy of gift exchange. Scholars have, however, largely overlooked the function of gifts in the history of Iran. The exchange of gifts was a central component to the “court society” of early nineteenth century Iran, and ignoring it renders historical analyses of politics and state formation in Iran incomplete. This paper therefore will contribute to scholarship on the political economy of the Qajar period while also engaging with broader debates across disciplinary and historiographical boundaries about the nature of state formation.