As several historians of the Middle East have noted, a significant decline in tax revenue occurred in Iraq from the time of the Arabic conquest to the rise of the Buwayhids (945).1 The decline in tax revenue is a crucial element in the study of the social, political and economic history of the Medieval Middle East, because State income relied heavily on land tax. A decline in tax revenue from Iraq would have deeply affected the stability of the Islamic Caliphate, since the Caliphate relied heavily on tax income from the Mesopotamian plain.2 A decline in tax revenue could be seen as a consequence of inefficient tax collection, of weaker control on tax collectors or of changes in tax assessments, but it could also indicate a decline in agricultural production.
The scholars who have investigated this topic, including Robert McC. Adams, Eliyahu Ashtor and David Waines, however, have offered only partial explanations for the reasons behind the decline in tax revenue. Adams analysed an impressive data set generated by excavations in the Diyālā region of Iraq, which clearly show the decline in the number of tilled surfaces in Iraq (particularly in the second half of the 9th century). He tried to link the decline in the size of the tilled surface with an inefficient water-supply administration, but it is hard to find any analysis of the conditions of land tenure and tax administration in his work. He also did not have the benefit of a set of data on the prices of agricultural products, which were clearly connected to agricultural output. Ashtor realised that the decline in agricultural output was linked to the problems of land tenure and administration in the Arab Caliphates, and how this determined the social and political conditions that led to an ecological disaster which changed the face of the Near East in the Middle Ages. However, an extensive analysis of the elements of land tenure and tax administration that determined this evolution in Iraq cannot be found in his work. Waines linked the shrinkage of tilled surface area with the fall in tax revenue, and tried to relate them to the political crisis of the Abbasid Caliphate in the 3rd century ah. However, like Adams, Waines does not provide an analysis of the land tenure and its connections to tax collection and land administration. Furthermore, no link is established between the decline in tax revenue and the levels of food prices and wages, assuming that a decline of tax revenue automatically means a decline in agricultural production.
In this paper I will show that decline in tax revenue was mainly due to the fall in soil output. I will demonstrate that the fall in soil output, political administration, land tenure and the methods of tax assessment were deeply interrelated. I will endeavour to explain how land tenure, tax administration and political and social structure contributed to the decline in agricultural output, especially in food crops, and why the decline in tax revenue was an important indicator of this economic crisis. In particular, I will focus on the incentives and disincentives related to tax collection and administration and, in general, the role of the State in agricultural activity. Taxation was just another form of surplus extraction and reflected the relative power of different social and political groups. Different social categories were able to take advantage of this form of surplus extraction and influence reforms in tax assessment. It is also extremely important to understand the role of State investment in agricultural activity. The creation and maintenance of a good irrigation system, for example, was very important for Iraqi soil and was mainly implemented by the State.3 The State (an anachronistic term, employed hereafter for simplicity’s sake) also had considerable influence on the structure of land tenure. In this paper I will focus on these multiple aspects.
I will begin the analysis by refining the data on tax revenue used by previous historians, relying on primary sources for correction. I will conclude with an analysis of two important indicators: real grain prices (the main product of Iraqi agriculture) and military wages. The diachronic changes in the levels of these two indicators will provide us with: 1) another clue regarding the decline in agricultural production (increasing grain prices) and 2) a measure of the decline in the purchasing power of the State (increasing military wages).
The Arab Caliphates did not radically change the system of taxation that they inherited from their pre-Islamic predecessor, the Sasanian Empire.4 Changes in religion and the ruling classes did not modify the nature of these Middle Eastern Empires, which were typified by centralised governments ruled by elites who lived on the surplus extracted from the land. Taxation on the land was the main source of revenue for the State centralised. According to juridical sources,
This paper will focus on what was called the Sawād, the rural area of Iraq, extending roughly from Takrīt to ʿAbbadān and from Hulwān to Ḳādisiyya.9 This area is important for several reasons. Firstly, it was the rural region of Baghdad, the new capital city of the Caliphate in the Abbasid period. The area experienced a high rate of urbanisation under the Abbasid Dynasty,10 and the urban population obviously had to be fed. Sawād land is also of interest due to its particular status in the Caliphal taxation system. According to many Arab historians, ʿUmar I (634-644) decided to not distribute the land of as-Sawād among the conquerors as he wanted to turn it into a trust to benefit the whole umma.11 Instead of distributing the land among the Arab conquerors, he left it to its inhabitants, imposing
Tax revenues from Iraq probably declined after the Arab invasion. Towards the end of the Sasanian Empire, figures relating to tax revenue seem to have been higher than in the Arabic period.15 It is said, for example, that under Kawād (488-531), the revenue of as-Sawād was 150,000,000 dirhams mi
We should also remember that in 698 a new dirham was introduced, lowering the weight of the average coinage from about 3.98 g to 2.97 g.24 However, we should remember that at this stage a large part of the
Under the Umayyad, the revenue remained fairly stable, without any noticeable increase. These figures have already been adjusted for tax collection expenditures and other normal expenditures.27 Morony is sceptical about the possibility of comparing Sasanian figures and Arabic ones. He explains, for example, that there was no provincial division exactly equivalent to the Sawād in the Sasanian period.28 He also shows that the total revenue of 150,000,000 Kawād is said to have raised can be related to al-Māwardī’s claim that the land tax base in the 6th century was 150,000,000
After the first half century of Abbasid rule, the trend seems to have been a steady decrease in revenue. In the lists of revenue included in al-
Ḳudāma gives the amount of revenue for this year because it is the first one available in the State archives, as previous records were burnt in the year 197 of hegira. As was mentioned earlier, according to Ḳudāma the total revenue of as-Sawād seems to have been 108,457,650 dirhams. However, he clearly overestimated the value of the crops, since he calculated them according to the prices in use in his time, at the beginning of the 10th century. Furthermore, the data for the district of the Tigris are taken from the year 260 of the hegira, not 204 like the other data, but this should not significantly affect the final result. He also wrote that the ṣadaḳa of the area of al-Baṣra amounted to 6,000,000 dirhams, making the total sum 114,457,650 dirhams.35 At the time of Ibn Khurdādbih (middle of the 9th century), the revenue of as-Sawād amounted to 70,650 kurr of wheat, 112,050 kurr of barley or rice, and 11,848,840 dirhams.36 The first interesting thing to note is the abrupt fall in wheat production. Rice and barley were more robust grains and capable of growing on highly saline soils. If this amount is added into the total amount—in dirhams—of tax revenue, the final result is 113,097,760 dirhams (calculating grain prices in dinars and using an exchange rate for dinar/dirham of 1=20). It should be remembered, however, that these two sums are overestimated as they are based on prices at the beginning of the 10th century (see Appendix). Scholars have also proposed estimating the tax revenue for the year 893 (280 hegira) at 75,000,000. This estimate is based on a tax-farm leased in that year that included about half the Sawād.37
If we look at the budget for 306 hegira (918-19) under al-Muḳtadir, it can be seen that the amount of revenue for all Iraq is 1,547,734 dinars, which equals only 30,954,680 dirhams. If the customs, revenues from markets, mints, and other kinds of imports and duties are subtracted and the land revenue from Hulwān (
As previously mentioned, the decline in imperial revenue could also have been determined by an inefficient tax collection system. Ḳudāma, for example, thought that the decline in imperial revenue in his time was due to the weakness of the administration; many people simply refused to pay the taxes.40 Numerous tax reductions and tax exemptions could be granted by the government and the fiscal prefects (ʿummāl) could profit from the weakness of central power in order to increase their personal income.41 As was explained before, Waines, in his paper on the decline of the Abbasid Empire, explains the phenomenon by means of the decline in agricultural output: if the land-tax revenue decreased, it was because the land was producing less or less land was being tilled. His analysis seems correct, especially if two other phenomena are taken into consideration. Firstly, a large part of the tax income was collected, from the end of the 8th century, as a share of the land production (according to a system called muḳāsama, which will be described later) and this system clearly links agricultural output and state revenue.
The second relevant element is the rise in prices from the end of the 8th century to the middle of the 10th century. Wheat was the most important component in the diet of Middle Eastern populations.42 It is difficult to avoid the impression that real grains prices are increasing between the beginning of the Abbasid period and the first half of the 10th century, whereas real wages are declining. That points to a decline of grain production in the Sawād. Between the second half of the 8th century and the beginning of the 10th century, nominal prices of wheat increased around ten times (from 0.112 dinars for 100 kg to 1.36 dinars).43 In the same period, the wages of mounted soldiers (who had a very high bargaining power) increased between two and six times (according to the different sources available, see Appendix). Nominal wages increased, but real wages declined: if we want to calculate the real price of wheat in terms of wages, we can see how the price of 100 kg of wheat would have represented at the end of the 8th century only 1.723% of the monthly wage of a horseman, while at the beginning of the 10th century it would have been as much as 10.9% of a monthly wage of a cavalier.
The increase in prices could in the long term be the effect of the devaluation of coins. It can be very risky to estimate the effect of the devaluation of coins in determining inflation, since every analysis has to be based on the specimens which are still available. In Ehrenkreutz’s analysis of several specimens of mintless dinars from the Umayyad and early Abbasid period, we can see how their standard of fineness and weight do not show any consistent decline, with the exception of several specimens from the period of the civil war between al-Amīn and al-Maʾmūn (810-813).44 From the reign of al-Maʾmūn onwards, the inscription on the dinars mention the name of the mint where the coins were struck, but we cannot see any relevant sign of decline in the standard of fineness of the dinars struck in Baghdad and Samarra before the rise of the Buwayhids.45 Furthermore, the standard of fineness was increased under the reign of al-Maʾmūn.46 An analysis of silver coins shows that their weight tended to vary more, with different types of silver coins having different weights (often depending on the province where they were struck) and it is very likely that silver coins were circulated by weight. Dirhams struck between the 7th and the 10th century were almost always of high quality silver.47 All these elements show that the effect of the devaluation of coins in determining price increases can be neglected.
The relationship between the decline in grain production and the fall in tax revenue is not only confirmed by price data, but reveals that the decline was probably even sharper. As a large part of the tax revenue was collected in kind, the increase in grain prices suggests that the fall in agricultural production during the 9th century was very considerable. The increase of nominal (but not real) wages, especially military wages, also shows how the ‘purchasing power’ of the State income dramatically declined (see Appendix).
As we have seen, after the Arab conquest some land was considered only liable to pay the tithe (ʿushr, amounting to 10% or sometimes 5% of the harvest). Tithe-payers were often Arab landlords who received large land grants from the political authorities.48 Therefore, it was necessary to compensate for the financial losses caused by the introduction of the tithe by raising tax rates on kharādj-payers, taxpayers liable to pay the heavier land tax. Tax assessment on
The social and institutional framework of land tenure is very relevant to tax administration. To understand the nature of land tenure in the Sawād between the 7th and 10th centuries is a very delicate issue, due both to the scarcity of sources and the conceptual difficulties of legal theory. Several theories have been formulated, such as van Berchem’s idea that most of the as-Sawād ultimately belonged to the State, and Lambton’s approach, which tends to treat Sawād land as divided into individual properties.56 This problem cannot be solved in this paper. However, it is necessary to try to understand some relevant issues that link land tenure to tax collection.
Village estates were the normal agricultural and taxation units at the time of the Arab conquest, while at the end of the Sasanian Empire smallholdings were often absorbed by large estates, which were very common in the Sawād and along the Tigris. Under the Persians, such estates were usually apportioned off from crown lands as grants. The Arabs confiscated the crown lands, but left many of the land grants to Persian noblemen.57 After the Arab conquest Muslim landlords acquired estates in the Sawād of Kūfa and existing landlords converted to Islam. It has been argued that the Islamic conquest may have led to the partial emancipation of peasants, leading peasant-cultivators to become the proprietors of some of these lands.58 Nevertheless, sources show that a concentration of the land into the hands of Muslim elites occurred after the Arab conquest.59 We are informed of attempts to enforce the rule that
Finally, Muslim jurists tried to show that
Fiscal agents usually tried to deal with responsible individuals within the village or district in order to help them collect taxes and mediate between the peasantry and the bureaucracy.68 These people were usually larger landlords, recruited from the general class of tunnāʾ, large or medium-sized landlords.69 There is no doubt that these groups took advantage of their position by trying to increase the burden on the peasantry, or by lending money to the farmers at a high interest rate. The Syriac Chronicle of Zuqnīn, written at the end of the 8th century at the monastery of Zuqnīn, near Amida (nowadays Diyarbekir on the Tigris in Turkey),70 provides a gloomy picture of the situation: “When they were assessed for seventy thousand, they themselves demanded a further three (thousand), not sparing or saying: ‘such and such a village is broke and cannot bear (such a burden)’ ”.71 These men were responsible for tax collection in their villages and in this way part of the tax burden could be shifted onto their tenants, even if, according to legal theory, tax payment proved land ownership. Legal theory usually put the burden of
The first people to benefit from tax collection were, of course, the tax collectors who were supposed to rely on the villages’ resources while they were collecting taxes around the country and they often collected their wages directly from the imposts. There is no reason to doubt that the demands of the jurists (for example Abū Yūsuf in the late 8th century), to appoint rightful and honest people to the position of tax collector and to enquire constantly into their behaviour, had some real foundation.75 At lower levels, it seems that there was little control over tax-collectors. We read in the Chronicle of Zuqnīn: “because they trusted that they did not have to answer to anyone, (they) mercilessly and pitilessly determined (the tax) and imposed it on the people”.76
In addition to the
Sawāfī lands were also granted to Muslim conquerors, following a general process that led to the authorities granting large estates to their favourites. Usually the only land tax they were compelled to pay was the tithe, as is noted above. This process started to expand under the governor ʿAbd Allāh Ibn Amīr Ibn Ḳurayẓ (650-56), who granted land to many of his relatives and mawālī.80 Land grants were also a very common way of integrating military wages.81 The destiny of the large landlords who owed their position to land grants was connected with their political fortunes and misfortunes: dynastical wars and expropriations could threaten their position. The diffusion of large land grants (ḳatīʿa) led to much disappointment among the smaller aristocracy of the dahāqīn and Arab landlords. The contrast between the crown and its favourites who were granted big estates on the one hand, and the local aristocracy and Arab tribesmen on the other, led to the revolt against al-Ha
In addition to the effects of inequality on the distribution of the tax burden and of the birth of a new, politically supported landholding elite, an analysis of the evolution of water management is also crucial to understanding the decline of Iraqi agriculture. Political instability and the continuous wars that upset the Middle East in the 7th century seriously undermined the highly developed water management system of the Late Sasanian period, especially after Heraclius’ invasion of Iraq (627). An example of this is the Great Swamp in Southern Iraq which was created in 628 when the Tigris expanded out of its bed, and attempts made to restore it by the Umayyad governor
This should be linked to the fact that Sasanian irrigation was highly centralised, requiring a highly stable central government to work and to prevent the problems connected with high levels of irrigation (such as salinisation).88 In the late Sasanian period, direct investment by the State had been crucial for agricultural growth: written sources report that Husraw I (531-579) invested large amounts of money in building forts, bridges, canals, Ḳanāts (the famous underground canals) and other irrigation works and even in rebuilding villages.89 The most interesting case was that of the Ḳāṭūl al-Kisrawī, a huge canal (about 100 km long) drawn from the Tigris that solved the chronic problems of water shortage in some parts of the Diyālā region. Islamic sources, such as Yāḳūt ar-Rūmī (1179-1229) and al-Ḳazwīnī (1203?-1283), attribute the building of the canal to Husraw. At the same time, the king established the three administrative districts of the Upper, Middle and Lower Nahrawān, where the Ḳāṭūl al-Kisrawī played a central role in the canal system. As this illustrates, the growth of irrigated agriculture and the development of a central administration were clearly linked to each other: the fall of this administration would seriously have damaged the system.90
As I mentioned in the previous chapter, one of the most important strategies adopted by the Caliphate to bring untilled land under cultivation was to grant extensive land ownership to wealthy and powerful members of the elite. These land grants usually enabled the landlords to recover large areas which had fallen out of use because they had become swamps or lacked irrigation. There were disputes among the jurists concerning the necessity of granting the land as a condition for reclaiming it, but to a large extent this was a theoretical discussion: land grants and reclamation went together. In most cases only wealthy people were able to undertake this work and this led to an extension of the large estates.91 Owners of privately reclaimed land usually only paid the tithe (but there were debates among the jurists concerning this point) or even only half of it due to the extensive artificial works of irrigation or drainage that had to be carried out.92 Many of the land grants given by caliphs and governors consisted of dead land from the area of Basra, which was considered in the sources to be a tithe-paying area. Basra was an important area for sugar cane plantations.93 The largest estates were often used for market-oriented monocultures, often, from the end of the 7th century, due to the introduction of Zan
Arabic sources offer some concrete evidence of how members of the elite were awarded these grants. An interesting example is provided by Al-Balā
The reclamation process came to an end around the middle of the 8th century.98 Problems with salinisation arose and it was difficult to find drinkable water in the area of Basra. Al-Muḳaddasī writes at the end of the 10th century that water in Basra was scarce and even had to be imported by ship.99 Since the revival of dead land was a requisite to acquiring property rights on it, with an emphasis on irrigational works, it is also possible that this law contributed to the over-irrigation of some areas, causing increasing salinisation. The nature of the soil in Iraq is very fragile, requiring both irrigation and drainage to keep land productivity high.100 Water management was extremely important, since the delicate ecological balance that allowed high soil productivity could be seriously threatened by irresponsible land administration. Summer heat could dry out the land, but the floods of the Tigris and the Euphrates could be also a serious menace to the environment, turning the tillable surface into swamp.101 Soil salinisation could reduce land productivity, and over-irrigation or flooding could increase the salinity level. This delicate balance of drainage and irrigation work was difficult to achieve for a class of landlords whose property rights on land were established by land grants (ultimately linked to political positions) and by their capability to revive dead land, which was mainly linked to the presence of irrigation works. The arbitrary nature of these grants would have prevented any serious planning of the irrigation works, since the land grants were based on political rather then economic choices. A change in the central government entailed a change in the landholding elite, as can be seen to have happened under Abbasid policies in Southern Iraq, where the land was granted to people close to the dynasty.102 Climate, of course, also had a negative influence on the process of soil erosion and aridification in the Near East, but the decline in the area of the tilled surface in particular finds its roots in a more inefficient way of dealing with an environment that, in the past, had been successfully tamed by other societies.103
Poor water management was one of the causes of the process of land abandonment that can be observed in Iraq in this period. Between the 7th and 10th centuries, there was a growing phenomenon of abandonment of the land by peasants; indeed, under al-Hadjdjādj force was used in order to bring them back to the land.104 Many villages and fields were abandoned, leading to a decline in the size of the cultivated area. The abandonment of land was related to fiscal pressures, as shown by the Chronicle of Zuqnīn, which describes the dramatic conditions of peasants trying to escape the greed of tax collectors.105 But this abandonment of the land was also deeply interrelated with problems of water management. Abū Yusūf, one of the acutest observers of the situation in Iraq at the end of the 8th century, wrote that in the time of ʿUmar Ibn Khaṭṭāb the greater part of the land was cultivated (which suggests that in his time the situation was rather different) and he added: “there are lands which were not cultivated for a period of 100 years, more or less, and could not be developed and irrigated without expense beyond the means of the peasants”.106 Abū Yusūf put a lot of emphasis on the revival of the dead lands and the importance of irrigation for this purpose. He also mentioned cases of uncultivated areas where ancient watercourses and canals had been found, which could be cleared to supply the untilled land.107 He argued that “if the main canals and watercourses, from the Tigris and Euphrates, need clearing and cleaning the expenses should be borne by the Treasury and by those directly benefiting from such watercourses”. He also stated that “the expense of the upkeep of the walls on the river banks, to prevent flooding, of the dams and the water locks on the Tigris and Euphrates and similar great rivers, must be borne by the Treasury alone, because it is in the public interest that they should be kept in order as any mal function will cause damage to agriculture and decrease the income from taxation”.108 Ḳudāma affirmed that the most important Muslim jurists, including Abū Ḥanīfa (ca. 699-767) and Malik (708/716?-796), also asserted that the supervision of irrigation and the damming of the overflow of the great rivers had to be sustained by the government at the expense of the Treasury.109 It is possible that the relatively high tax revenue reported under the reign of Hārūn ar-Ra
A key case in understanding the history of water management in Ancient and Medieval Mesopotamia, the Diyālā plain, has been analysed by the archaeologist Robert McC. Adams. This area was crossed by the Diyālā River and the Ḳāṭūl al-Kisrawī canal. A network of smaller canals allowed the Diyālā region to have very high land productivity and a very large tilled surface area. The tilled surface area shrank from 8000 square kilometres at the end of the Sasanian era to just 6000 square kilometres by the middle of the 9th century.113 Two cities, five smaller urban centres, three large towns and ninety villages or boroughs were abandoned soon after the end of the Samarran period.114 Adams hypothesises that under the Sasanian Empire water management was more efficient and highly centralised.115 The evidence supports his views, as I have shown before: State investment and centralised administration were crucial in the last phase of Sasanian agricultural development. Other archaeological surveys conducted in the Central Euphrates floodplain show, according to Adams, a decline in land use since the 7th century, which almost became abandonment in the 9th and 10th centuries.116 Of course there are various methodological risks in using, as Adams does, the absence of diagnostic sherds to prove the absence of occupation at a site, and one of these problems can be the need to use pottery to establish a relative chronology of settlement.117 However, we should not forget that this process of abandonment seems to take place over several centuries, therefore making the possibility of an error in chronology or in settlement occupation smaller. Furthermore, there is less and less evidence of irrigational works taking place in the written sources from the 9th century onwards.118
As we have seen, the land was taxed in Iraq according to the system called ʿalā ’l-misāḥa. According to al-Balādhurī, at the end of the reign of al-Manṣūr (754-775) the people of the Sawād asked for a change in tax assessment. Under al-Mahdī (ruled 775-785), a new taxation system, based on a share of the crops, was enforced. As we know, this system was called muḳāsama: Yahyā Ibn ’Adam said: “concerning the muḳāsama in the Sawād; the people (nās) asked for this from the ruler in the last period of the Caliph al-Manṣūr’s reign”.119 Under this form of tax assessment, instead of a fixed amount of money or crops, the taxpayers had to pay a share of the crop: one half of the crop for land irrigated by flooding, a third for land irrigated by waterwheel and one quarter for land irrigated by animal-turned wheels, according to al-Māwardī.120 According to Ḳudāma Ibn
According to Ibn aṭ-Ṭiḳṭaḳā (wrote in 1302), the new system was introduced thanks to Abū ʿUbayd Allāh.127 It is interesting to note this bottom-top-bottom movement. The initiative for the tax reform came from the ‘people’ (nās in the Arabic text of Balādhurī), but was further promoted by a minister. Why does there seem to be this special agreement between the two levels? Who are the ‘people’ who asked for the reform and why?
It should first be noted that we are told of an abrupt fall in prices around the year 772 in upper Mesopotamia: the price of wheat was one dirham for five muḍḍ, which is equal to 0.027 dinars for 100 kg of wheat. From the Chronicle of Zuqnīn, we can estimate an average price of around 0.112 dinars for 100 kg of wheat just a few years before in 766-767,128 and 0.088 dinars for 100 kg in 768-769.129 Ashtor argues that this fall in prices occurred because of a lack of currency.130 With such a fall in prices, it would have been more difficult to pay taxes in cash. I have made a rough calculation of how much the taxpayer would have been expected to hand into the State with such prices. If we accept the reported tax rate of 4 dirhams per
We should not forget that the muḳāsama was specifically used to collect tax on grain, the staple food of the Mesopotamian populations since the Sumerian Era. Al-Māwardī, for example, explained that on palms, vines and trees the tax had to be collected under the ʿalā ’l-misāḥa system.132 Shimizu has shown how one of the reasons for the adoption of the muḳāsama system in as-Sawād was an attempt by the State to control the grain market in the area of southern Iraq, where the most important cities of the Empire needed to be supplied. With ʿalā ’l-misāḥa, the merchants had a lot of opportunity to speculate. Under ʿalā ’l-misāḥa the taxpayers had to sell the grain at a bargain price in order to pay their taxes: the merchants could therefore lead the dance.133 With the new system, it was probably easier for the government to ensure that the growing urban population was fed, in an area that became, with the rise of the Abbasids, the political centre of the Empire. However, we should not forget that under the ʿalā ’l-misāḥa system a portion of the taxes could nevertheless be collected in kind.
Muḳāsama did not necessarily mean tax collection in kind: the prevalent implication of the use of the word muḳāsama was the collection of the tax burden as a share of the crop (muḳāsama comes from the Arabic root ḳsm, to divide, to share). Basically, what muḳāsama offered was the possibility of risk sharing: in the case of a bad harvest the taxpayers would be not oppressed, in the case of a good harvest the State could increase its revenues. With muḳāsama it would have been possible to share the crops or the money gained by selling them at market, apparently preventing contention between the authorities and the taxpayers.134
We should also remember that Balādhurī wrote that the people of the Sawād asked for the reform: I believe that the diffusion of the new tax assessment was also related to the necessity of establishing good relationships between the Muslim landlords/taxpayers, who were purchasing or had purchased land in Iraq, as I have shown in the third chapter of this paper, and the new dynasty. This attitude was in marked contrast with the more severe fiscal policies of the Umayyads, who had to rely more heavily on cadastres to firmly establish fiscal duties on the basis of the ʿalā ’l-misāḥa tax assessment (based on the size of the tilled surface area).135 In particular, I refer to the land survey of the Sawād conducted in 105 ah (723-4 ad) by the governor ʿUmar Ibn Hubayra at the request of Yazīd II. This land survey is reported to have caused hardship and discontent among taxpayers.136
The payment of a share of the crops instead of a fixed amount would have meant that the landlords were better able to afford the payment of taxes. This system, however, perfectly fits into a situation in which investment in land administration was declining, and the landlords were living off their land as parasitic rentiers. If a share of the crops has to be paid instead of a fixed amount of money or cash, the State and taxpayer can share the risk, but this system also stimulates less investment in agriculture. Under the ʿalā ’l-misāḥa system, the taxpayers had to pay four dirhams for each djarīb of land planted with wheat, but they could keep the remaining crops for themselves: to produce one more pound of wheat meant to have one more pound for themselves. Under the muḳāsama assessment, each pound of wheat had to be shared with the State.
Another downside to muḳāsama was that it would have been more difficult to calculate the State budget. A similar case can be found in the history of the Sasanian Empire. At first, the Persians adopted a system similar to muḳāsama: a portion of the harvest was taken as tax. The harvest varied from year to year, making it difficult for the government to estimate its revenue. In the case of a shortage, the government had recourse to extra imposts, causing riots and discontent. The reform of the started tax assessment, already seen by Kawād (488-531), was finally fulfilled by Husraw I.137 A fixed amount, payable either in cash or in kind, was collected. This system probably made it easier to estimate the amount of revenue due to the State and would have provided a steadier source of income.138 As we know, this system was the predecessor of the Islamic ʿalā ’l-misāḥa.139
However, the possible weakening effects did not go unnoticed by Muslim scholars. It is noted, for example, that aṭ-Ṭabarī. (839-923) favourably portrayed the tax reform enforced by Husraw, since cadastral assessments, a land tax based on fixed rates and a centralisation of tax revenue would have strengthened the State.140 Since the taxation was not based on fixed cadastral assessments, but required a calculation of the State’s share, the role of intermediaries became more important in order to deal with the difficulties of centralisation. The difficulty of estimating tax revenue was one of the reasons the Abbasid Empire had to have recourse to more tax-farming and to different forms of tax revenue, which finally culminated in the creation of the iḳṭāʿ system under the Buwayhid. Tax-farming and iḳṭāʿ either assured a more stable income for the State, or saved the government from paying a salary to officers and soldiers and hiring agents to poll taxes around the Empire. The role of the tax-farmers (ḍāmin) was extremely important: in the year 280 ah, for example, the totality of the Sawād income depended on a contract with Aḥmad Ibn Muḥammad aṭ-Ṭāʾī.141
Tax-farming was possible at different levels, within the central or local government, or within smaller districts. Before the contract was signed, the sum to be handed over to the State, the general amount of the revenue and all the extra charges, was fixed on the basis of the previous incomes from that area. The Treasury could also order their officers, at the demand of the tax-farmer, to allocate some funds for important works in the farmed area (such as irrigation). However, the tax-farmers were expected to take upon themselves tasks such as ground amelioration and hydraulic works, and their activity was controlled by inspectors.142 As the contract ran for a limited period, the interest of the tax-farmer lay in the opportunity to minimise costs (including ground amelioration costs) in order to maximise profits. Therefore he had more interest in ‘squeezing’ money from the tax-payers than in investing in water management. The tax-farmer was forced to hand over a fixed sum to the State even if the general revenue was smaller than the sum fixed in the contract.143 In the case of a decline in revenue, the tax-farmer, since he could not modify the sum to be handed over to the State, would try to increase the burden on the taxpayers. To offer the necessary financial guarantees to the State, the tax-farmers had to be chosen from the upper classes of ʿAbbasid Society. According to al-Muḳtadir’s vizier Ibn al-Furāt, three social groups could act as tax-farmers; merchants (tā
Other possible areas exempted from tax collection rights were ī
The competition of the different ruling groups to gain access to land surplus seems therefore to have been the ultimate reason for the decline of Iraqi agriculture. These groups fought to receive land grants and to acquire fiscal privileges. Even when they made relevant investments in agriculture, as was the case with the diffusion of market oriented monocultures in the Basra region, they were made to a large extent through the massive importation of slave labour, a social time bomb, and at the expense of smaller landlords and cultivators. The diffusion of the iḳtāʿ system was the final consequence of a process in which different factions or groups of the ruling classes competed to acquire control over land and its surplus: this was. for them, a reward for their political affiliation, for their military service, another source of revenue to integrate into their political, bureaucratic or commercial activities, or a limited resource that they could speculate on. The possibility of acquiring and keeping possession of land surplus ultimately depended upon their political position- their need to make land prosper and fructify was secondary. In all probability, a stronger influence from those social groups whose life and prosperity entirely depended on the land and on its returns would have halted the process of decline in Iraqi agriculture.
1 I would like to thank Professor Michael G. Morony and Professor Michael L. Bates for their suggestions. R.McC. Adams, Land behind Baghdad. A History of settlement on the Diyala plain (Chicago and London, 1965), 71-102; E. Ashtor, A Social and Economic History of the Near East in the Middle Ages (London 1976), 36-60; D. Waines, “The Third Century of Internal Crisis of the Abbasids”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 20, 1977, 282-306.
2 Waines, “The Third Century”; P. Christensen, The Decline of Iranshahr. Irrigation and Environments in the History of the Middle East, 500 bc to ad 1500 (Copenhagen, 1993), 86-9; H. Kennedy, “The Decline and Fall of the First Muslim Empire”, Der Islam 81, 2004, 3-29; in particular 11-5.
3 Adams, Land, 85; Ashtor, A Social and Economic History, 45.
4 M. Khan Fateh, “Taxation in Persia. A Synopsis from the Early Times to the Conquest of Mongols”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies 4/4, 1928, 723-43; M.G. Morony, Iraq after the Muslim Conquest (Princeton, 1984), 99-124; A. Gariboldi, Il regno di Xusraw dall’anima immortale. Riforme economiche e rivolte sociali nell’Iran Sasanide del VI secolo (Milan, 2007), 178-9.
5 For a general survey of these topics, see: D.C. Dennet, Conversion and the Poll Tax in Early Islam (Cambridge, Mass., 1950); F. Løkkegaard, Islamic taxation in the classic period with special reference to circumstances in Iraq, second edition (Philadelphia, 1978); H.M. Tabūtabāʾī, Kharāj in Islamic law (London, 1983), A. Oran, S. Rashid, “Fiscal Policy in Early Islam”, Public Finance 44, 1989, 75-101. See also: V. Lagardère, “Structures étatiques et communautés rurales: les impositions légales et illégales en al-Andalus et au Maghreb (XIe-XVe)”, Studia Islamica 80, 1994, 57-95.
6 See for example Ḳudāma Ibn
7 See, for example, a
8 See, for example, Abū Yūsuf, Kitāb al-
9 Morony, Iraq, 137; see Yāḳūt ar-Rūmi, Kitāb muʿ
10 Adams, Land, 89-97; I.M. Lapidus, “The Evolution of Muslim Urban Society”, Comparative Studies in Society and History 15/1, 1973, 21-50.
11 Aḥmad Ibn Yaḥyā Ibn
12 F. Løkkegaard, “Fayʾ ”, in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd Edition, 12 vol. (Leiden, 1960-2004. From here onwards EI(2)), vol. II,869-870; Løkkegaard, Islamic Taxation, 38-72.
13 Ḳudāma Ibn
14 Al-Māwardī, Al-aḥkām sulṭāniyya, 219.
15 Adams, Land, 71.
16 Abū ’l-Ḳasim ʿUbayd Allāh Ibn Khurdādbih, Kitāb al-masālik wa ’l-mamālik (Liber viarum et regnorum auctore Abu ’l-Kasim Obaidallah Ibn Abdallah Ibn Khordadhbeh et Excerpta e Kitab al-Kharadj auctore Kodama Ibn Djaʾfar), ed. M.J. De Goeje (Leiden, 1889), 14 (Arabic text); this figure is reported also by Abū ’l-Ḳāsim Ibn Ḥawḳal al-Naṣībī in his Kitāb ṣurat al-arḍ. Opus Geographicum, vol. I (Leiden, 1938), 234; see Christensen, The Decline, 88.
17 F. Altheim-R. Stiehl, Ein asiatischer Staat. Feudalismus unter den Sasaniden und ihren Nachbarn, vol. I (Wiesbaden 1954), 41; Adams, Land, 70-71; estimates based on Ibn Khurdādbih; Kitāb al-masālik wa ’l-mamālik, 14-5 (Arabic text). See also Ibn Ḥawḳal, Kitāb ṣurat al-arḍ, 235; Morony is very sceptical about the liability of these estimates; Iraq, 120.
18 Ibn Khurdādbih, Kitāb al-masālik wa ’l-mamālik, p. 14 (Arabic text); Shams ad-Dīn ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad al-Muḳaddasī, Kitāb aḥsan at-taḳasīm fī maʿrifa al-aḳalīm, 133 (see also al-Muqaddasī, The best Divisions for Knowledge of the Regions, translated by B.A. Collins (Reading, 1994), 121); Ibn Hawḳal, Kitāb ṣurat al-arḍ, 234.
19 “The income from Sawād al-Kūfa amounted, one year before ʿUmar’s death, to 100,000,000 of dirham”; Abū Yūsuf, Kitāb al-
20 Al-Balādhurī, Kitāb futūḥ al-buldān, 270.
21 Morony, Iraq, 154.
22 See Ahmad Ibn Abī Yaʿḳub Al-Yaʿḳubi, Taʾrī
23 Adams, Land, pp. 84-85; Ahmad Ibn Abī al-Yaʿqūbi, Taʾrīkh, vol. II, 277. Yāqūt ar-Rūmi writes that Ziyād Ibn Abī Sufyān, governor of Iraq (665-673) collected 125,000,000 di dirham, his son ʿUbayd Allah († 685) 135,000,000, Kitāb muʿ
24 Ph. Grierson, “The Monetary Reforms of ʿAbd al-Malik: Their Metrological Basis and Their Financial Repercussions”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 3/3, 1960, 241-64; Ashtor, A Social and Economic History, 83; H. Gaube, Arabosasanidische Numismatik (Braunschweig, 1973), p. 63. Arabic authors are conscious of this change. Abū Yūsuf, for example, shows us that the dirham in use at the time of ‘Umar had a higher value than the dirham used in his time (at the end of the 8th century), since the weight of a dirham was one mithqāl, Abū Yūsuf, Kitāb al-
25 Al-Balādhurī, Kitāb futūḥ al-buldān, 270; Ibn Khurdādbih, Kitāb al-masālik wa ’l-mamālik, 14 (Arabic text).
26 Adams, Land, p. 85; E. Ashtor, A Social and Economic History, 63; Ibn Khurdadbeh, Kitāb al-masālik wa ’l-mamālik, 14 (Arabic text).
27 M. Shimizu, “Les finances publiques de l’Etat Abbaside”, Der Islam 42, 1965, 1-24, 9, A. von Kremer, Über das Einnahmenbudget des Abbasiden-Reiches vom Jahre 306 H. (918-919) (Wien, 1887), 9.
28 Morony, Iraq, 121-3.
29 Morony, Iraq, 120. See also Yāqūt ar-Rūmi, Kitāb muʿdjam al-buldān, vol. III, 272-3.
30 Morony, Iraq, 163-4.
31 The 14,800,000 dirhams collected from other sources is not included; Muḥammad Ibn ʿAbdūs al-Djahshiyārī, Kitāb al-wuzarāʾ wa al- kuttāb, ed. by M. al-Saqqa-I. al-Abyārī-A. Shalabī (El Cairo, 1938), 281-3; A. von Kremer, Über das Budget der Einnahmen unter der Regierung des Hârûn al-Raśíd (Wien, 1887), 4; D. Waines, “The Third Century”, 284-6. 240 riṭl of clay and 200 cloaks were also collected.
32 Ṣ.A. el-ʿAlī, “A New Version of Ibn al-Muṭarrif ’s List of Revenues in the Early Times of Harun al-Rashīd”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 14, 1971, 303-10.
33 Ḳudāma Ibn
34 Von Kremer, Über das Einnahmebudget, 43, Ḳudāma Ibn
35 Adams, Land, p. 85; Ashtor, A Social and Economic History, 42.
36 A. von Kremer, Culturgeschichte des Orients unter den Chalifen (Wien 1875-1877), vol. I, 291; Ibn Khurdādbih, Kitāb al-Masālik wa ’l-Mamālik, 8-14 (Arabic text). For the district of Hulwān, the text reports an income of 1,800,000 dirham. De Goeje proposes to follow
37 H. Busse, “Das Hofbudget des Chalifen al-Muʾtadidbillah (279-289/892-902)”, Der Islam 33, 1967, pp. 11-36. Waines, “The Third Century”, p. 286.
38 von Kremer, Über das Einnahmenbudget, 29.
39 von Kremer, Über das Einnahmenbudget, 26 (Arabic source) and 32 (German translation).
40 Ḳudāma Ibn
41 H.Q. es-Samarraie, Agriculture in Iraq During the 3rd Century ah (Beirut, 1972), 185-91.
42 D. Waines, “Cereals, bread and society. An essay on the staff of life in medieval Iraq”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 30, 1987, 255-85.
43 See Appendix.
44 A.S. Ehrenkreutz, “Studies in the Monetary History of the Near East in the Middle Ages”, Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient 2, 1959, 128-61, 135-43; see also M. Broome, A Handbook of Islamic Coins, London 1985, pp. 29-32; M.L. Bates, “The ‘Abbasid Coinage System, 833-946”, Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association, 1996 (available on http://www.numismatic.org/./collections/abbasid.html); J.L. Bacharach, “Thoughts about Pennies and other Monies”, Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, 35, 2001, 2–13 (available on http://fp.arizona.edu/mesassoc/bulletin/Pres%20Addresses/Bacharach.html).
45 Ehrenkreutz, “Studies”, 144-5.
46 T. El-Hibri, “Coinage Reform under the ʿAbbāsid Caliph Al-Maʾmūn”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 36, 1993, 58-83, in particular 72.
47 W. Hinz, Islamische Masse und Gewichte (Leiden, 1955), 1-4; J. Walker, A catalogue of the arab-Sasanian coins: Umaiyad governors in the east, Arab-Ephthalites, ʿAbbăsid governors in Ṭabaristăn and Bukhără (London, 1967), CXLVI-CLIV and 1-174 (catalogue); A.A. Gordus, “Non-Destructive Analysis of Parthian, Sasanian, and Umayyad Silver Coins”, in Near Eastern Numismatics, Iconography, Epigraphy and History: Studies in Honor of George C. Miles, ed. by D.K. Kouymjian (Beirut, 1974), 141-62; M.L. Bates, “Islamic Numismatics”, Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 12/2, 1978, 1-16; 12/3, 1978, 2-18; 13/1 1979, 3-21; 13/2, 1979, 1-9; Id., “History, Geography, and Numismatics in the First Century of Islamic Coinage”, Revue Suisse de numismatique 65, 1986, 231-62; Broome, A Handbook, p. 28-29.
48 See, for example: M. Morony, “Landholding and Social Change: Lower al-ʿIraq in the Early Islamic Period”, in Land Tenure and Social Transformation in the Middle East, ed. by Tarif Khalidi, (Beirut, 1984), 209-22.
49 Morony, Iraq, 100.
50 Occasionally different rates are found: for example, al-Muḳaddasī wrote that in Iraq a
51 Aḥmad Ibn Yaḥyā Ibn
52 Morony, Iraq, 103.
53 For example, paying one dirham per
54 Morony, Iraq, 103, Hinz, Islamiche Masse, 55 and 65-66.
55 Morony, Iraq, 107-8.
56 M. van Berchem, La propriété territoriale et l’impot foncier sous les premiers chalifes. Études sur l’impôt du kharāg (Genève, 1886); A.K.S. Lambton, Landlord and Peasant in Persia. A Study of Land Tenure and Land Revenue Administration, second edition (Oxford, 1969). Morony, “Landholding” 135. More generally, see also W. Schmucker, Untersuchungen zu einigen wichtigen bodenrechtlichen Konsequenzen der islamischen Eroberungsbewegung (Bonn, 1972); M.G. Morony, “Grundeigentum im frühislamischen Irak”, in Jahrbuch für Wirtschaftsgeschichte.Sonderband 1987 Das Grundeigentum in Mesopotamien, ed. by B. Brentjes (Berlin, 1988), 135-47.
57 Altheim-Stiehl, Ein asiatischer Staat, p. 141; Morony, “Landholding”, T. Daryaee, Sasanian Persia: The Rise and Fall of an Empire (London, 2009), 29 and 147-8.
58 Morony, “Landholding”, 157 and 165; B. Johansen, The Islamic Law on Land Tax and Rent, (London-New York-Sydney, 1988), 11-2. Johansen writes: “By transforming land into a commodity and the land tax into a proof of property, the Hanafite legal position on kharādj stands in the way of the attempt to consider the peasant as a serf bound to the soil”.
59 J. Banaji, “Aristocracies, Peasantries and the Framing of the Early Middle Ages”, Journal of Agrarian Change 9, 2009, 59-91, 78-86.
60 Morony, “Landholding”, 139-40 and 155; Lambton, Landlord, 22-3; Haque, Landlord and peasant in early Islam: a study of the legal doctrine of “Muzāraʾa” or sharecropping (Islamabad, 1977), 216-218.
61 Yahyā Ibn Ādam, Kitāb al-
62 Abū ʿUbayd, Kitāb al-amwāl (Bayrūt, 1989), 157.
63 Yahyā Ibn Ādam, Kitāb al-
64 Ḳudāma Ibn
65 Abū Yūsuf, Kitāb al-
66 A.A. Duri, “Notes on taxation in Early Islam”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 17, 1974, 136-44, in particular 138.
67 Gibb, “The Fiscal Rescript”, 3.
68 C. Cahen, “Fiscalité, propriété, antagonismes sociaux en Haute-Mésopotamie au temps des premiers Abbasides”, Arabica 1, 1954, 136-152; Løkkegaard, Islamic Taxation, 166-8; Morony, “Landholding”; Idem, “Landholding and Social Change”, 210.
69 Løkkegaard, Islamic Taxation, 166-8; Shimizu, “Les finances publiques”, 15-6.
70 Mistakenly attributed in the past to Dionysius of Tell-Mahre. The Chronicle of Zuqnīn. Parts III and IV. ad 488-775, Translated from Syriac with Notes and Introduction by A. Harrak (Toronto, 1999), 1. See also W. Witakowski, The Syriac Chronicle of Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Maḥrē (Uppsala, 1987).
71 The Chronicle of Zuqnīn, 267-8; see also 244-5.
72 Johansen, The Islamic Law, 7-19.
73 Morony, “Landholding”, pp. 149-53; M. ʿAbdul Jabbar, “Agricultural and irrigation labourers in social and economic life of ʿIrāq during the Umayyad and ʿAbbāsid Caliphates”, Islamic Culture 47, 1973, 15-31.
74 Yahyā Ibn Ādam, Kitāb al-
75 Abū Yūsuf, Kitāb al-
76 The Chronicle of Zuqnīn, 267.
77 Morony, Iraq, 104-5.
78 I.M. Lapidus, “Arab Settlement and economic Development of Iraq and Iran in the Age of Umayyad and Early Abbasid Caliphs”, in The Islamic Middle East 700-1900: Studies in Economic and Social History, ed. by A.L. Udovitch (Princeton, 1981), pp. 177-208, pp. 183-7; cfr. Ahmad Ibn Abī al-Yaʿqūbi, Taʾrīkh, vol. II, 277-8.
79 The Chronicle of Zuqnīn, 234-5 and 256.
80 Morony, “Landholding and Social Change”, 211-3.
81 H. Kennedy, The Armies of the Caliphs. Military and Society in the Early Islamic State (London-New York, 2001), 81-5.
82 Morony, “Landholding”, 162; see al-Balādhurī, Kitāb futūḥ al-buldān, 272-3.
83 Ashtor, A Social and Economic History, 61.
84 R.McC. Adams, Heartland of Cities. Surveys of Ancient Settlement and Land Use on the Central Floodplain of the Euphrates (Chicago and London, 1981), 205.
85 Adams, Heartland, 206-11.
86 Ḳudāma Ibn
87 Al-Māwardī, Al-aḥkām as-sulṭā niyya, 218-9.
88 Adams, Heartland, 213.
89 Adams, Land, 71; F. Rahimi-Laridjani, Die Entwicklung der Bewässerungslandwirtschaft im Iran bis in sasanidisch-frühislamische Zeit (Wiesbaden, 1988), 457.
90 Adams, Land, p. 76.
91 Ashtor, A Social and Economic History, p. 46.
92 Ḳudāma Ibn
93 es-Samarraie, Agriculture in Iraq, 94.
94 A.A. Duri, Arabische Wirtschaftgeschichte, aus dem Arabischen übersetzt von J. Jacobi (Zürich-München, 1979. First Arabic edition Beirut, 1969), 90-2. Slaves were also common on crown land; Morony, “Landholding and Social Change”, 210 and 218-9. On the Zandj: A. Popovic, La révolte des esclaves en Iraq au IIIe/IXe siècle, (Paris, 1976).
95 Ashtor, A Social and Economic History, 61.
96 Morony, “Landholding”, p. 150, pp. 157-9; Idem, “Landholding and Social Change”.
98 Morony, Iraq, 106; Christensen, Decline, 88-91.
99 Al-Muḳaddasī, Kitāb aḥsan at-taḳāsīm, 129.
100 C.E. Larsen, “The Mesopotamian Delta Region: a Reconsideration of Lees and Falcon”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 95/1, 1975, 43-57; E. Wirth, Agrargeographie des Irak (Hamburg, 1962), 97-8; P. Buringh, Soils and Soil Conditions in Iraq (Baghdad, 1960), 255-63; J.H.G. Lebon “The New Irrigation Era in Iraq”, Economic Geography 31/1, 1955, 47-59, 47-50.
101 Lebon, “The New Irrigation Era”, 47-50.
102 Morony, “Landholding and Social Change”, 215-7.
103 Ashtor, A Social and Economic History, 51; Lamb, Climate, History and the Modern World (London-New York, 1995), 184-5; A.S. Issar and M. Zohar, Climate Change-Environment and Civilization in the Middle East (Berlin-Heidelberg-New York, 2004), 214-5.
104 Forand, “The Status”, 28. On al-Hadjdjādj’s taxation policies see also: M. Cosgel, R. Ahmed and Th. Miceli, Law, State Power, and Taxation in Islamic History, University of Connecticut. Department of Economics Working Paper Series, Working Paper January 2007, revised July 2008, 20.
105 The Chronicle of Zuqnīn, e.g. 225, 237 and 257.
106 Abū Yūsuf, Kitāb al-
107 E.g. Abū Yūsuf, Kitāb al-
108 Abū Yūsuf, Kitāb al-
109 Ḳudāma Ibn
110 S. Moscati, “Abu ʿUbayd Allah”, in EI (2), vol. I, 157-8, D. Sourdel, Le viziral ‘abbaside de 749 à 936 (132 à 324 de l’Hégire), vol. I (Damascus, 1997, 94-103.
111 J. Schacht, “Abu Yusuf ” in EI (2), vol. I, 164-5.
112 Lapidus, “Arab Settlement”, 187-9.
113 Adams, Land, 102.
114 Adams, Land, 98.
115 Adams, Land, 70-1; about Sasanian water management, see also R.McC. Adams, “Intensified Large-Scale Irrigation as an Aspect of Imperial Policy: Strategies of Statecraft on the Late Sasanian Mesopotamian Plain”, in Agricultural Strategies, ed. by J. Marcus and C. Stanis (Los Angeles, 2006), 17-37.
116 Adams, Heartland, pp. 218-23; for land abandonment, see also R.McC. Adams and H. Nissen, The Uruk Countryside. The Natural Setting of Urban Societies (Chicago and London, 1972), 63-5.
117 M.G. Morony, “Land Use and Settlement Patterns in Late Sasanian and Early Islamic Iraq”, in The Byzantine and early Islamic Near East II Land Use and Settlement Patterns, ed. by G.R.D. King and Averil Cameron (Princeton, 1994), 221-29, 222-6.
118 Lapidus, “Arab Settlement”, p. 189. Christensen has argued that the decisive factor in the decline was the spread of epidemics in the Middle East and their demographic consequences. But demography does not directly explain the decline in water management. Whether population decline plays a role in water management or not depends on the social and political organisation of the water management system. The key issue is to explain how water management was organised. I remind the reader that plague epidemics had already occurred on the Mesopotamian plain in the 6th century, a period of expansion for irrigated agriculture; Christensen, Decline, 88-99.
119 Al-Balādhurī, Kitāb futūḥ al-buldān, 271.
120 Al-Māwardī, Al-aḥkām as-sulṭāniyya, 221.
121 S. Moscati, “Abu ʿUbayd Allah” in EI (2), I, 157-8.
122 Ḳudama Ibn
123 123. Abū Yūsuf, Kitāb al-
124 C.E. Bosworth, “Muqāsama” in EI (2), vol. VII, 506-7.
125 Al-Māwardī, Al-aḥkām as-sulṭāniyya, 221.
127 Muḥammad Ibn ʿAlī Ibn at-Ṭiḳṭaḳa, Al-Fakhri, translated by C.E.J. Whitting (London, 1947), 176-177; Arabic text: Al-fa
128 The Chronicle of Zuqnīn, 186 and 216.
129 The Chronicle of Zuqnīn, 245.
130 E. Ashtor, Histoire des prix et des salaires dans l’Orient médiéval (Paris, 1969), 42.
131 Adams, Land, 17 and 101-2.
132 Al-Māwardī, Al-aḥkam as-sulṭaniyya, 221.
133 Shimizu, “Les finances”, 20-2.
134 M. Campopiano, “Land Tax ʿalā l-misāḥa and muqāsama. Legal Theory and the Balance of Social Forces in Early Medieval Iraq (6th-8th Centuries ce), Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 54, 2011, 239-269.
135 A similar process has been observed by Elton E. Daniel for Khurasan “It is more likely that Umayyad attempts to survey land, draw up cadastres, and enforce the land tax led to dissent than their alleged impiety”; The Political and Social History of Khurasan under Abbasid Rule 747-820 (Minneapolis and Chicago, 1979), 196.
136 Wadād al-Qāḍī, “Population Census and Land Surveys under the Umayyads (41-132/661-750)”, Der Islam 83/2, 2006, 341-416, 365.
137 M. Grignaschi, “La riforma tributaria di Hosro I e il feudalesimo sassanide”, in Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Problemi attuali di scienza e cultura. Atti del convegno internazionale sule tema La Persia nel medioevo (Roma, 31 marzo-5 aprile 1970) (Rome, 1971), 87-138; R.N. Frye, The History of Ancient Iran (München, 1984), 324-5; Z. Rubin, “The Reforms of Khusro Anûshirwân”, in The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East. III: States, Resources and Armies, ed. by A. Cameron (Princeton, 1995), 227-97; U. Mårtensson, “Discourse and Historical Analysis: the case of al-Tabarî’s History of the Messengers and the Kings”, Journal of Islamic Studies 16/3, 2005, 287-331; A. Gariboldi, Il regno di Xusraw dall’anima immortale. Riforme economiche e rivolte sociali nell’Iran Sasanide del VI secolo (Milano, 2007), 178-97.
138 M. Khan Fateh, “Taxation in Persia. A Synopsis from the Early Times to the Conquest of Mongols”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies 4/4, 1928, 723-43, p. 730; A. Christensen, L’Iran sous les Sassanides, second edition (Copenhague, 1944), 124; Løkkegaard, Islamic Taxation, 110; Daniel, The Political and Social History, 195.
139 Løkkegaard, Islamic Taxation, 119.
140 Mårtensson, “Discourse and Historical Analysis”, 287-331.
141 Shimizu, “Les finances”, 11-12, for the contract with Aḥmad Ibn Muḥammad aṭ-Ṭaʾi: The Historical Remains of Hilâl al-Sâbi. First Part of his Kitab al-Wuzara (Gotha Ms. 1756) and Fragment of his History (389-393) A.H. (B.M.Ms, add. 19360), ed. by H.F. Amedroz (Leyden, 1904), 10-1.
142 Løkkegaard, Islamic Taxation, 96.
143 Shimizu, “Les finances”, 12-14.
144 The Historical Remains, 71. I write the Arabic words in their singular form as in the original text.
145 Aḥmad Ibn Muḥammad aṭ-Ṭaʾī’s speculations concurred with rising prices in Baghdad in 272 A.H.; aṭ-Ṭabarī, Taʾrī
146 146. C. Cahen, “L’évolution de l’iqtaʿ du IXe au XIIIe siècle. Contribution a une histoire comparée des societés médiévales”, Annales. Economies, Societés, Civilizations 8, 1953, 25-52, 28-9; Løkkegaard, Islamic Taxation, 107-8.
147 Cahen, “L’évolution”, 30-2.
148 Kennedy, The Armies, 85.
149 S. Tsugitaka, State and Rural Society in Medieval Islam. Sultans, Muqtaʿs and Fallahun (Leiden-New York-Köln, 1997), 20-1.
150 For a more detailed classification, see Cahen, “L’évolution”, 28-32; Tsugitaka, State, 1-4 and 18-38.
151 Ashtor, Histoire des prix, 71-2.
152 H. Ben Abdallah, De l’iqta’ étatique à l’iqta’ militaire. Transition économique et changements sociaux à Baghdad, 247-447 de l’Hégire/861-1055 ap. J.C. (Uppsala, 1986), 110-112.
153 Ashtor, Histoire des prix, 42-45 and 453-7.
154 The Chronicle of Zuqnīn, 186 and 216. Ashtor assumes 7 ḳafīz, but he was wrong in this case (Histoire des prix, 42).
155 The Chronicle of Zuqnīn, 245.
156 The Chronicle of Zuqnīn, 223.
157 Yazīd Ibn Muḥammad al-Azdī, Taʾrī
158 al-Azdī, Taʾrī
159 Ashtor, Histoire des prix, 48; see also Id., “Prix et salaires à l’ époque mamlouke. Une étude sur l’ état économique de l’ Egypte et de la Syrie à la fin du moyen âge”, Revue des études islamiques, 1949, 49-94, in particular 71.
160 See Ashtor, Histoire des prix, 40-41 (value of dinar) and 43-8 (prices).
161 Ḳudāma Ibn Djaʿfar, Kitāb al-kharādj (ed. M.J. De Goeje), 239 (Arabic text).
162 The Chronicle of Zuqnīn, 167, 186 and 213.
163 Hinz, Islamische, 48-9.
164 Ashtor, Histoire des Prix, 46.
165 Hinz, Islamische Masse, 42.
166 Ashtor, Histoire des prix, 43.
167 Ashtor, Histoire des prix, 64.
168 Ashtor, Histoire des prix, 65.
169 Ashtor, Histoire des prix, 65.
170 Kennedy, The Armies, 71.
171 Kennedy, The Armies, 156.
172 Ashtor, Histoire des prix, 61.
173 This is probably the wage of a horseman: ʿIzz al-Dīn Muḥammad Ibn al-Atīr, Tārīkh al-kāmil, 12 vol. (El Cairo, 1873), vol. V, 322.
174 ʿIzz al-Dīn Muḥammad Ibn al-Atīr, Tārīkh al-kāmil, vol. VI, 228.
175 Aḥmad Ibn Muḥammad Miskawayh, Ta
176 Aḥmad Ibn Muḥammad Miskawayh, Tadjārib al-umam (The eclipse of the ʿAbbasid caliphate; original chronicles of the fourth Islamic century), edited and translated by H.F. Amedroz and D.S. Margoliouth. 7 vol. (Oxford, 1920-21), vol. I, 43 (Arabic text).
177 Ashtor, Histoire des prix, 70-1.
It is extremely difficult to establish trends for wages and prices in early medieval Iraq, firstly because of the lack of sources. For example, the largest set of prices we have, wheat prices, only begins at the end of the 8th century. Furthermore, the sources we do have (essentially literary sources, chronicles, juridical treatises etc.) usually inform us about exceptionally low or high prices, making it more difficult to compare the different data available. However, it is not impossible to establish trends. First of all, some price data are not considered in the sources as exceptionally high or low, but as general or average prices. Furthermore, it is interesting to compare the peaks and valleys of a sequence at different periods in time. If, for example, exceptional prices tend to be higher at any one time, this fact could be eventually considered as an element in evaluating price trends over time: therefore we should only compare homogeneous entities (e.g. the ‘normal’ prices among them). Another problem is related to the fact that we have recourse to some data available for Upper Mesopotamia. Even though this region is close to Iraq (and in part belongs to what is now the Republic of Iraq) and was a grain supplier for the people of Sawād,153 we cannot assume that the level of prices was always the same.
The Chronicle of Zuqnīn tells us that in 766-767 25/30
At the beginning of the 10th century, Ḳudāma Ibn
Other sources give us exceptionally high or low prices related to particular events such as wars, famines and, in the case of low prices, lack of currency. The Chronicle of Zuqnīn tells us that the price of wheat rose, because of the famine, to one dinar for 7 or 8 ḳafīz in 743-4 (equal to one dinar for 22.715 or 25.96 kg); one dinar for one
The prices of grain have to be compared, of course, with wages. Notwithstanding the scarcity of primary sources, a consistent increase in nominal wages can be noticed from the 8th to the 10th century. However, real wages did not increase and even declined. In 762-766 an unskilled worker employed on the construction of Baghdad earned between 1 ¼ and 1 7/8 dirhams per month, equal to between 0.1 and 0.156 dinars. The price of wheat at this time was 0.112 dinars per 100 kg, so the monthly wage of an ordinary worker could be converted into 89-139 kg of wheat per month. However, it is also possible that the authorities distributed grain for free.167 In the second half of the 9th century a glass craftsman could earn 1.6 or 1.8 dinars per month.168 In the first half of the 10th century, a young accountant was hired for 2 dinars per month (but as the source explains that he was desperate, it can be supposed that his salary was quite low for his position). Two dinars per month, in the first half of the 10th century, more or less corresponds to 146 kg of wheat.169 If it is considered, as the evidence suggests, that the unskilled worker also received a contribution in kind, the second wage (that of a clerk) seems to be comparable or even lower than the first one.
The largest set of wage data available is for military wages. An analysis of military wages is interesting because the soldiers had considerable bargaining power. Military expenditure represented the bulk of the budget of the Caliphs. It can be estimated that under the governor Ziyād Ibn Abī Sufyān (665-673) 86% of the revenue from the provinces of Basra and Kūfa (which more or less covers the whole of Iraq) was devoted to military expenditure.170 When al Muʿtadid came to power in 892, 80% of expenditure was devoted to the army.171 The army was usually paid in mint coins, but they also received land grants (ḳaṭīʿa). At the time of the Arab conquest, it is said that the soldiers who took part in the early campaigns in Iraq were paid 3,000, 2,500, or 2,000 dirhams per year, but after the battles of Ḳādisiyya and Yarmūk and the collapse of the Persian empire their wages fell to 1,000 and then to 500, 300 or even 200 dirhams per year, which equates to a little less than 50, 30 or 20 dinars.172 It can be assumed that 30 dinars per year was a common soldier’s wage after the Arab conquest of Iraq. Under the Umayyads a soldier’s wage was usually 8 dinars per month. One ‘month’ of pay did not correspond to a common ‘month’, in this context a period of 3 or 4 months could be meant. There were also troops who earned less anyway. At the beginning of their power the Abbasids reduced the wages. As-Saffāḥ, the first of the Abbasids (d. 754), paid 6.5 dinars per month (80 dirhams), and this seems to have been an exceptionally high wage, due the conquest and the large booty of the Abbasid army.173 These lower wages were probably due to a greater supply of soldiers, since many non-Arabs, for example the Khurasians, were enrolled in the army. The evidence shows that under al-Maʾmūn, the infantrymen received one dinar (20 dirhams) per month and horsemen double this.174 In the year 200 ah Abū ’s-Sarāyā paid 1,000 dirhams to the horsemen and 500 to the infantry, probably per year, which equates to 50 and 25 dinars respectively.175 At the beginning of the 10th century, under al-Muḳtadir, the wage for mounted troops was 12.5 dinars per month until 917, when it was diminished by two-thirds.176 It can be seen that there were attempts to reduce wages, but eventually they increased again. In 929 a cavalier could be paid as much as 42 dinars per month, but this seems to be an exceptionally high wage.177
Therefore, if we want to calculate real wages in terms of wheat quantity, it must be realized that in the second half of the 8th century the real wage of a horseman with a nominal wage of 6.5 dinars would have been 5803.5 kg of wheat (using the wages reported for As-Saffāh, d. 754). At the beginning of the 10th century, the real wage of mounted troops (nominal wage of 12.5 dinars) would have been around 914 kg of wheat. It is even more interesting to calculate the real prices of wheat in terms of wages: 100 kg of wheat would have been more or less the 1.723% of a monthly wage of a horseman, and at the beginning of the 10th century it would have been 10.9% of the monthly wage of a cavalier.
M. Khan Fateh, “Taxation in Persia. A Synopsis from the Early Times to the Conquest of Mongols”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies 4/4, 1928, 723-43; M.G. Morony, Iraq after the Muslim Conquest (Princeton, 1984), 99-124; A. Gariboldi, Il regno di Xusraw dall’anima immortale. Riforme economiche e rivolte sociali nell’Iran Sasanide del VI secolo (Milan, 2007), 178-9.
Ibn Khurdādbih, Kitāb al-masālik wa ’l-mamālik, p. 14 (Arabic text); Shams ad-Dīn ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad al-Muḳaddasī, Kitāb aḥsan at-taḳasīm fī maʿrifa al-aḳalīm, 133 (see also al-Muqaddasī, The best Divisions for Knowledge of the Regions, translated by B.A. Collins (Reading, 1994), 121); Ibn Hawḳal, Kitāb ṣurat al-arḍ, 234.
Adams, Land, pp. 84-85; Ahmad Ibn Abī al-Yaʿqūbi, Taʾrīkh, vol. II, 277. Yāqūt ar-Rūmi writes that Ziyād Ibn Abī Sufyān, governor of Iraq (665-673) collected 125,000,000 di dirham, his son ʿUbayd Allah († 685) 135,000,000, Kitāb muʿdjam al-buldān, vol. III, 274.
Ph. Grierson, “The Monetary Reforms of ʿAbd al-Malik: Their Metrological Basis and Their Financial Repercussions”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 3/3, 1960, 241-64; Ashtor, A Social and Economic History, 83; H. Gaube, Arabosasanidische Numismatik (Braunschweig, 1973), p. 63. Arabic authors are conscious of this change. Abū Yūsuf, for example, shows us that the dirham in use at the time of ‘Umar had a higher value than the dirham used in his time (at the end of the 8th century), since the weight of a dirham was one mithqāl, Abū Yūsuf, Kitāb al-kharādj (transl.. Ben Shemesh), 107; Abū Yūsuf, Kitāb al-kharādj, 63 (Arabic text). Al-Māwardī says that the weight of ten dirham is equal to that of seven dirham mithāḳīl; al-Māwardī, Al-aḥkām as-sulṭāniyya, 195.
A.S. Ehrenkreutz, “Studies in the Monetary History of the Near East in the Middle Ages”, Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient 2, 1959, 128-61, 135-43; see also M. Broome, A Handbook of Islamic Coins, London 1985, pp. 29-32; M.L. Bates, “The ‘Abbasid Coinage System, 833-946”, Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association, 1996 (available on http://www.numismatic.org/./collections/abbasid.html); J.L. Bacharach, “Thoughts about Pennies and other Monies”, Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, 35, 2001, 2–13 (available on http://fp.arizona.edu/mesassoc/bulletin/Pres%20Addresses/Bacharach.html).
I.M. Lapidus, “Arab Settlement and economic Development of Iraq and Iran in the Age of Umayyad and Early Abbasid Caliphs”, in The Islamic Middle East 700-1900: Studies in Economic and Social History, ed. by A.L. Udovitch (Princeton, 1981), pp. 177-208, pp. 183-7; cfr. Ahmad Ibn Abī al-Yaʿqūbi, Taʾrīkh, vol. II, 277-8.
C.E. Larsen, “The Mesopotamian Delta Region: a Reconsideration of Lees and Falcon”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 95/1, 1975, 43-57; E. Wirth, Agrargeographie des Irak (Hamburg, 1962), 97-8; P. Buringh, Soils and Soil Conditions in Iraq (Baghdad, 1960), 255-63; J.H.G. Lebon “The New Irrigation Era in Iraq”, Economic Geography 31/1, 1955, 47-59, 47-50.
Forand, “The Status”, 28. On al-Hadjdjādj’s taxation policies see also: M. Cosgel, R. Ahmed and Th. Miceli, Law, State Power, and Taxation in Islamic History, University of Connecticut. Department of Economics Working Paper Series, Working Paper January 2007, revised July 2008, 20.
Adams, Land, 70-1; about Sasanian water management, see also R.McC. Adams, “Intensified Large-Scale Irrigation as an Aspect of Imperial Policy: Strategies of Statecraft on the Late Sasanian Mesopotamian Plain”, in Agricultural Strategies, ed. by J. Marcus and C. Stanis (Los Angeles, 2006), 17-37.
Lapidus, “Arab Settlement”, p. 189. Christensen has argued that the decisive factor in the decline was the spread of epidemics in the Middle East and their demographic consequences. But demography does not directly explain the decline in water management. Whether population decline plays a role in water management or not depends on the social and political organisation of the water management system. The key issue is to explain how water management was organised. I remind the reader that plague epidemics had already occurred on the Mesopotamian plain in the 6th century, a period of expansion for irrigated agriculture; Christensen, Decline, 88-99.
M. Grignaschi, “La riforma tributaria di Hosro I e il feudalesimo sassanide”, in Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Problemi attuali di scienza e cultura. Atti del convegno internazionale sule tema La Persia nel medioevo (Roma, 31 marzo-5 aprile 1970) (Rome, 1971), 87-138; R.N. Frye, The History of Ancient Iran (München, 1984), 324-5; Z. Rubin, “The Reforms of Khusro Anûshirwân”, in The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East. III: States, Resources and Armies, ed. by A. Cameron (Princeton, 1995), 227-97; U. Mårtensson, “Discourse and Historical Analysis: the case of al-Tabarî’s History of the Messengers and the Kings”, Journal of Islamic Studies 16/3, 2005, 287-331; A. Gariboldi, Il regno di Xusraw dall’anima immortale. Riforme economiche e rivolte sociali nell’Iran Sasanide del VI secolo (Milano, 2007), 178-97.
M. Khan Fateh, “Taxation in Persia. A Synopsis from the Early Times to the Conquest of Mongols”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies 4/4, 1928, 723-43, p. 730; A. Christensen, L’Iran sous les Sassanides, second edition (Copenhague, 1944), 124; Løkkegaard, Islamic Taxation, 110; Daniel, The Political and Social History, 195.