Beginning with the rule of Fath ‘Ali Shah, the Qajar state based a considerable portion of its salaries and patronage for local elites on iqta' land allotments leading to the formation of large rural estates by provincial elites. From the 1860’s to the early 1900’s, the fluctuating prices of cotton, opium and grain led to an even more spectacular growth in these landholdings. Investments in land became, in fact, a primary focus of elite competition as well as an enormously profitable enterprise when combined with cash cropping for international trade. This paper, based on a chapter of my upcoming dissertation, will discuss patterns of investment in landed properties by elite households in the province of Kirman, with particular attention to its implications for the socio-economic history of late 19th century Iran. Using contemporary geographies, local narrative histories, and vaqfnameh, it is possible to outline the spheres of proprietary interests among Kirman’s dependant villages for a number of important elite households, including the descendants of several Qajar princes, locally rooted bureaucratic households, and religious minority groups like the Shaykhis.
It is my contention that this consolidation of land ownership, control of local administrative functions, and networks of dependency divested rural elites of much of their social power in favor of urban-centered household networks under the late Qajars. Profits from cash cropping and tax collection flowed directly through networks of these powerful provincial households centered in Kirman. This expansion of control over the countryside by office holders linked to the provincial capitals is often cited as evidence of expanded Qajar bureaucratic control, or even “modernization.” I will argue that this phenomenon was not in fact an expansion of Qajar bureaucratic control in the sense of an abstract
bureaucratic framework enveloping the countryside. Instead, I will argue that this phenomenon was based squarely upon networks of urban-centered households driven by proprietary interests rather than systematic administrative control. The trappings of official offices and positions were a recognition of the functions of these household networks rather than a well-defined bureaucratic framework dependant on the Qajar state.