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Continuity and Change in Medieval Persia: Aspects of Administrative, Economic and Social History, 11th-14th Century.

It is a great pleasure to welcome the recent publication of two books on Iranian history by Professor Lambton. The first, Continuity and Change in Medieval Persia, is an elaboration of five lectures given by the author in 1981 at Columbia University. The work covers a wide range of topics dealing with social, economic, and administrative aspects of the history of Iran in the period of the Saljuqs, Khwarazm-Shahs and II-Khans. After a clear historical introduction, Professor Lambton devotes six separate chapters to the wazirate, law and its administration, the iqta, landed property, agriculture and irrigation, and taxation. The remaining four chapters analyze the constituent elements of medieval Persian society: elements of "change" include the rulers, the "men of the sword" and the "women of the ruling house," whilst the "men of the pen" and "men of affairs" are classified under the rubric of "continuity." The book is also provided with a short epilogue.

The author's approach is meticulous and thorough, revealing a thorough knowledge of the sources. The book is a veritable mine of information painstakingly assembled. Generalizations are corroborated by textual evidence. More especially, Professor Lambton has a sure grasp of economic data and her long acquaintance with land tenure lends authority to her treatment of this tangled and thorny question. The book's usefulness is enhanced by a glossary, bibliography, genealogical tables, maps and index. There are remarkably few misprints and the volume is elegantly produced.

A few small points of emphasis or elaboration spring to mind. Chapter 1 on the wazirate (pp. 28-68) concentrates on the office of the sultan's wazir. It is a pity that there is no analysis of the caliph's wazir and of the interplay between the two offices. Chapter 9 on the "Men of the Pen" (pp. 297-327) and especially the treatment of the ulama (p. 309ff.) would have benefitted from a greater use of the biographical dictionaries of the period. The definition of adab as "profane" culture (p. 297) and the distinction drawn between the ulama and the Sufi shaykhs (p. 319) are arguable matters. Indeed, Professor Lambton rightly points out on the same page that it was the Hanbali ulama who led Sufi activity in the 6th/12th century.

More generally, perhaps the time has come to re-examine certain deep-rooted "truths" about the Saljuqs, even though the existing evidence may never prove the matter one way or another. Professor Lambton remarks (p. 5) that "on the whole, the coming of the Ghuzz into Persia under the Saljuqs appears to have caused little dislocation." It is true that there were large areas of Persia which were uncongenial to the nomads and that their impact was geographically limited. However, their presence in Iraq and Syria appears to have been detrimental and disruptive. There was often considerable tension between some nomadic groups and the urban populations near or within cities. The case of Baghdad is especially well documented. Ibn al-Jawzi chronicles the deep social unrest and increasing disruptions caused by the visits (or, more appropriately, visitations) of the Saljuqs and their soldiery to the caliphal capital.

How valid is it to generalize about Saljuq administrative practice from the reigns of the first three sultans - or rather, the period of the wazirate of Nizam al-Mulk? Whilst the patterns of Saljuq government were undoubtedly set in the first forty years, the turbulent ensuing century of Saljuq rule has not yet received the scholarly attention it deserves. An analysis of 6th/12th century Saljuq government, especially in the western sultanate, reveals a sorry picture of increasing instability, scant regard for institutions, and rapacious taxation. Professor Lambton's description of the Mongols who were "hostile to settled life and exploited the townspeople and the peasants" (p. 26) is probably just as applicable to most of the Saljuqs. It is quite likely that in this respect at least the "break with the past" caused by Mongol domination was less sudden than Professor Lambton suggests. Much has been made of the fact that the Saljuq sultans were Muslims when they invaded Iran whilst the Mongols were not. The actual religious stance of the Saljuqs remains, however, a historiographical puzzle which may never be solved.

Professor Lambton's second book, Qajar Persia, is a very useful collection of articles previously published over three decades in learned journals and as contributions to books. The importance of the Qajar era to an understanding of more recent Iranian history is now properly recognized, but cumulatively this book drives this point home, analyzing aspects of a traditional society in contact with the West, the rivalry between the Great Powers for hegemony in Iran and the reaction of the ulama to western economic and cultural penetration. It is perhaps invidious to single out one particular chapter for praise but chapter 2 on 19th-century land tenure and land revenue administration is a model of careful scholarship.

Professor Lambton's painstaking labors deserve thanks and admiration. These two books will remain invaluable works of reference for many years to come.
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Author:Hillenbrand, Carole
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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