Medieval Kashan: Crossroads of Commerce and Culture

In: Eurasian Studies
Mehrdad Amanat University of California Santa Barbara

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Roy P. Mottahedeh Harvard University

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This essay first attempts to explain why the Iranian city of Kashan is where it is and then how it came to grow.

Extensive use of irrigation allowed an adequate and perhaps abundant agriculture in the surrounding region. The arrival of substantial numbers of Arab immigrants in Kashan in the early Islamic period played an important role in the city’s development and its continuation as a center of Shiʿism. A strong educational tradition produced many talented Kashani officials, who served in the Saljuq and later administrations and sent some of their wealth back to Kashan.

It was also in the Saljuq period that Kashan gained a reputation for its production of luxury ceramics. Artisanal traditions were passed from generation to generation and contributed to exports of brass, and especially of textiles, which continued for centuries. Wealthy Kashanis (probably including a fair number of sayyids) invested heavily in charitable endowments, which served the poor and furthered learning in general. In the Timurid period, investments in mathematical education produced several outstanding mathematicians and astronomers. Tax yields from the medieval period may indicate the increasing prosperity of Kashan.

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