The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
. IRANIAN HISTORY: SASANIAN DYNASTY
SASANIAN SOCIAL-CLASS OF DEHQÂN
By Professor Ahmad Tafazzoli
NPers Dehqân, Pahlavi dehgân (older form dahîgân), (Syriac dhgn´) (Margoliouth, p. 84a), borrowed from . The original meaning was "pertaining to deh" (< OPers. dahyu), the latter term not in the later sense of "village," but in the original sense of "land."
The term dehqân was used in the late Sasanian period to designate a class of landed magnates (Mojmal, ed. Bahâr, p. 420) considered inferior in rank to â bozorgân (qq.v.; Zand î Wahman Yasn 4.7, 4.54), and kadag-xwadâyân "householders" (Ardâ Wîrâz-nâmag 15.10, where dahîgân should be read for dâdagân). According to some early Islamic sources, the rank of the dehqân in the Sasanian period was also inferior to that of the š "chief of the small cantons" (Yaqûbî, Ta´rîkh I, p. 203; Masûdî, ed. Pellat, I, sec. 662; Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 140).
The origin of the dehqân class is usually attributed in both Zoroastrian Pahlavi books of the 9th century and early Islamic sources to Wêkard/t, brother of Hôšang, the legendary Iranian king (Dênkard, ed. Madan, pp. 438, 594, 688; Bîrûnî, Ât, pp. 220-21; Masûdî, ed. Pellat, I, sec. 662; Christensen, pp. 68, 134, 151, 156). In some sources the innovation is credited to Manûchehr (Thââlebî, p. 6; Tabarî, I, p. 434; Balamî, ed. Bahâr, p. 345; Ebn al-Balkhî, p. 37). Nevertheless, as the term dehgân is not attested in early Sasanian documents but is sometimes mentioned in the Pahlavi books and frequently occurs in descriptions of late Sasanian administration in early Islamic sources, it is admissible to suppose that dehqâns emerged as a social class as a result of land reforms in the time of Khosrow I (531-79). He is reported to have admonished future kings that they should protect the dehqâns, just as they would protect kingship, because they were like brothers (Thaâlebî, Gh, p. 6). According to one source (Mojmal, ed. Bahâr, p. 73), his own mother had been the daughter of a dehqân descended from Frêdon. In the late Sasanian period dehqâns and princes (wâspuhragân; Ar. ahl al-boyûtât) used to have audience with the king on the second day of the Nowrûz and Khorram-rûz (also Khorrah-rûz, Navad-rûz) festivals; the latter, celebrated on the first day of the tenth month (Day, q.v.), was their special feast day, on which the king ate and drank with the dehqâns and cultivators (Bîrûnî, Ât, pp. 218, 225; for this feast, see idem, I, 1954, p. 264; Gardîzî, ed. Habîbî, pp. 239, 254; Qazvînî, p. 83).
Management of local affairs was the dehqâns' hereditary responsibility, and peasants were obliged to obey them (cf. Tabarî, I, p. 434; Balamî, ed. Bahâr, p. 345; Ebn al-Balkhî, p. 37), but their landed estates must have been smaller than those of noble landowners. They probably represented the government among the peasants, and their main duty was to collect taxes (Christensen, Iran Sass., pp. 112-13). They were divided into five subgroups according to social status, each distinguished by dress (Masûdî, ed. Pellat, I, par. 662).
The Arab conquest (q.v.) of the Sasanian empire began with sporadic attacks on the lands of the dehqâns of the Sawâd, the cultivated areas of southern Iraq. After the defeat of the Persian army and the gradual disappearance of the nobles who administered the country, the local gentry, that is, the dehqâns, assumed a more important political and social role in their districts, towns, and villages. Some were able to protect their settlements from the conquering armies by surrendering and agreeing to pay the poll tax (jezya). For example, the dehqân of Zawâbî in Iraq made a treaty with the Arab commander Orwa b. Zayd, in which he agreed to pay a tax of 4 dirhams for each inhabitant of his district. BestÂâm, dehqân of Bors, also in Iraq, agreed with Zahra to construct a bridge for his army. When the Arab forces arrived at Mahrûdh near Baghdad the local dehqân agreed to pay a sum of money to Hâšem b. Otba, in order to deter him from killing any of the district's inhabitants. Šîrzâd, the dehqân of SâbâtÂ, a village near Madâ´en (see CTESIPHON), was able to save 100,000 peasants from the Arabs. There are similar reports for other parts of the Sasanian empire, for example, Sîstân, Herat, and Balkh (Balâdhorî, Fotûh, ed. Monajjed, pp. 307, 318, 324, 484, 516; Tabarî, I, pp. 2421, 2426, 2461; Gardîzî, ed. Habîbî, p. 102). Dehqâns who refused to collaborate with the Arabs either fled or lost their lives (e.g., Balâdhorî, ed. Monajjed, pp. 324, 420, 422, 464, 466, 514; Tabarî, I, pp. 2421-23). The fact that the last Sasanian king, Yazdegerd III (632-51), sought support from the dehqâns of Isfahan and Kermân is evidence of the rising power of this class at the end of the Sasanian empire (Tabarî, I, pp. 2875-77).
In the early Islamic period, as in late Sasanian times, the dehqâns had the task of collecting taxes. They were also responsible for cultivation of the land, maintaining bridges and roads, and providing hospitality to certain travelers (Tabarî, I, p. 2470). The lands of dehqâns in regions of the Sawâd where the population had accepted Islam were left to them, and they were exempt from the poll tax (Balâdhorî, p. 325).
It may be inferred from various reports that in early Islamic times some dehqâns functioned almost as local rulers, especially in eastern Persia, and that any man of wealth or social prestige might thus be called dehqân. Sometimes the same person was called dehqân in one source and marzbân (governor) in another. For example, in one report Tabarî referred to men with the title marzbân of Kermân and Marv and in another called the same men dehqân (I, pp. 2872-77; cf. Dînavarî, p. 148: âmel of Marv; Gardîzî, 102: sâlâr and dehqân of Marv). Balâdhorî (p. 466) mentioned the revolt of the dehqân of Šûš, whereas Dînavarî (p. 140) called the same person marzbân. Dêwâštîch (q.v.), the last ruler of Panjîkant, had the title of "lord" or "king" in the Sogdian documents excavated at Mount Mugh but was designated dehqân by Tabarî (II, p. 1446; Dokumenty II, pp. 132 ff.). In Persian poetry before the 12th century the title dehqân meant "ruler, amir, lord," especially in eastern Persia (e.g., Masûd-e Sad, p. 374; Nâser-e Khosrow, p. 107; Sûzanî, pp. 200, 224, 311, 326, 436, 485). Dehqâns were sometimes mentioned together with princes, grandees, local rulers, learned men (ahbâr), knights, and army commanders (Tabarî, I, p. 3249, II, 1237; Naršakhî, pp. 9-13, 54, 84-85; Mojmal, p. 328; cf. Balâdhorî, ed. Monajjed, p. 505).
The Arabs often consulted dehqâns on political and social affairs, and in some instances the latter were able to intervene on behalf of one of the parties to a conflict (e.g., Tabarî, II, pp. 1420, 1569). In the first half of the 9th century Sahl b. Sonbât, who first sheltered Bâbak Khorramdîn (q.v.) in his castle but later betrayed him to Afšîn (q.v.), was a dehqân. Another dehqân, Ebn Šarvîn Tabarî, was appointed to bring Bâbak's brother Abd-Allâh to Baghdad as a captive; on the way Abd-Allâh asked to be treated in the manner of the dehqâns, and Ebn Šarvîn gave him wine (Mojmal, ed. Bahâr, p. 357; Tabarî, III, p. 1231). Dehqâns enjoyed great respect and prestige at the court of the Samanids (204-395/819-1005). The poet Rûdakî, in an ode (qasîda) describing a banquet at the court of Nasr b. Ahmad (301-31/913-43), mentioned a dehqân called Pîr Sâleh, who sat with the nobles (horrân) facing the ranks of the amirs and the grand vizier, Mohammad Balamî (Târîkh-e Sîstân, p. 319). In the early Islamic centuries many important political figures of eastern Persia were dehqâns (e.g., the Samanid amir Ahmad b. Sahl b. Hâšem, q.v.) or descendants of dehqân families (e.g., the Saljuq grand vizier Nezâm-al-Molk, q.v.; Gardîzî, p. 151; Ebn Fondoq, pp. 73, 78).
In the first centuries of Islam many dehqâns, as the heirs of Sasanian gentry, led comfortable, even luxurious lives similar to those of their forebears. Jâhez (Bokhalâ´, p. 71; tr. p. 98) mentioned the table etiquette observed by the dehqâns. According to Balâdhorî (ed. Monajjed, p. 524; cf. Tabarî, II, pp. 1417-18), Saîd b. Abd-al-Azîz, governor of Khorasan under the Omayyad caliph Yazîd II (101-05/720-24), was called khodhîna (lady, wife of a dehqân; cf. Sogdian ©wt(´)ynk) because of his elegant garments and his flowing hair style. Dehqâns used to offer presents to the caliphs and local rulers at the Nowrûz and Mehragân festivals, just as their ancestors had done in Sasanian times. Tabarî (II, pp. 1635-38) described in detail those offered to Asad b. Abd-Allâh Qasrî, governor of Khorasan, at the Mehragân feast at Balkh in 120/738. Hârûn al-Rašîd (170-93/786-809), on his way from Baghdad to Tûs, fell ill in a village in Bayhaq and had to stay there four months as the guest of a dehqân, who served him with magnificence and offered him precious gifts when he departed (Ebn Fondoq, pp. 47-48).
Aside from their political and social significance, the dehqâns played an important cultural role. Many participated in the courts of caliphs or governors, and after the establishment of the Persian dynasties in the east they served kings, princes, and amirs as learned men who were well informed on the history and culture of ancient Iran. Bayhaqî (p. 299) reported that Zîâd b. Abîhi (d. 56/675), while still governor of Basra, had in his service three dehqâns, who told him stories of Sasanian grandeur and pomp, causing him to think Arab rule much inferior. In the Târîkh-e Sîstân (p. 106) a number of wise sayings, similar to the Pahlavi andarz (q.v.), are attributed to a certain Zoroastrian dehqân named Rostam b. Hormazd, who reportedly uttered them at the request of Abd-al-Azîz b. Abd-Allâh, an Omayyad governor of Sîstân (cf. Š, ed. Moscow, IX, p. 211 vv. 3380-83). The 9th-century author Jâhez (1385/1965, I, p. 115, II, p. 125) also quoted some pieces of folklore from dehqâns. In both Arabic and Persian sources the names of many learned persons and men of letters, including theologians, who were dehqâns or decendants of dehqân families are mentioned (Ebn Fondoq, pp. 116, 149). Some were patrons of Islamic religious scholars; for example, Ebn Fondoq (p. 185) mentioned a wealthy dehqân from Sabzavâr who, in 418/1027, founded a religious school for a Koran commentator named Ebn Tayyeb. The majority of dehqâns favored Persian culture, however, and some were patrons of renowned Persian poets. Rûdakî (p. 458) related that the dehqâns gave him money and riding animals. Farrokhî in his youth served a dehqân in Sîstân and received an annual pension from him. According to one tradition, Ferdowsî himself was a dehqân (Ch, ed. Qazvînî, text, pp. 58, 75).
Most of the credit for preservation of the stories in the national epic, the Š; pre-Islamic historical traditions; and the romances of ancient Iran belongs to the dehqâns. Abû Mansûr Mamarî (q.v.), who compiled the prose Š(346/957), now lost, wrote in his preface, which does survive, that in gathering his material he summoned a number of dehqâns from various cities of Khorasan (pp. 34-35). Ferdowsî often cited dehghans as sources, apparently oral ones, for his narratives (e.g., Š, ed. Moscow, I, p. 28 v. 1, II, p. 170 v. 15, III, pp. 6-7 vv. 8, 19, IV, p. 302 vv. 19-20, VI, p. 167 v. 25). Other poets, too, referred to traditions from the dehqâns (e.g., Asadî, p. 21 v. 1; Îrânšâh, p. 17; Nezâmî, pp. 436, 508). The term dehqân thus also came to be defined as "historian, versed in history" (Borhân-e qâte, ed. Moîn, II, p. 905). The profound attachment of the dehqâns to the culture of ancient Iran also lent to the word dehqân the sense of "Persian," especially "Persian of noble blood," in contrast to Arabs, Turks, and Romans in particular (e.g., Šâh-nâma, ed. Moscow, I, p. 21 v. 128, IX, pp. 307 v. 7, 319 vv. 105-06; Nâser-e Khosrow, pp. 83, 156, 288; Farrokhî, pp. 274, 282, 314; Abû Hanîfa Eskâfî apud Bayhaqî, ed. Fayyâzµ, p. 856; Onsorî, pp. 137, 239). According to Tabarî (I, p. 1040), Marvazân, governor of Yemen in the time of Khosrow I, had two sons, one Khorrah-Khosrow, who liked to recite Arabic poetry, and another, unnamed, a knight (aswâr) who spoke Persian and lived in the manner of the dehqâns. Sometimes the word dehqân meant a Zoroastrian (Š, ed. Moscow, IX, pp. 97 v. 1483, 134 v. 2106; Farrokhî, p. 294; Nezâmî, p. 238; Khâqânî, p. 411; Moezzî, pp. 604, 612; QatÂrân, p. 254).
With the development of the eqtâ (q.v.) system of land grants from the 11th century and the decline of the landowning class, the dehqâns gradually lost their importance, and the word came to mean simply a farmer (e.g., Nâser-e Khosrow, p. 118; Ebn Fondoq, pp. 28, 266), though even in the 12th and 13th centuries it was still occasionally used in its original sense (e.g., Jovaynî, pp. 53, 55; Najm-al-Dîn Râzî, p. 514).
Copyright © 1998-2015 The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS)