Five years after founding the journal Der Islam, Carl Heinrich Becker published his study “Steuerpacht und Lehnswesen eine historische Studie über die Entstehung des islamischen Lehnswesens” (1914) in it. This article had a surprisingly deep impact. It is not only a milestone in the assessment of the “oriental” iqṭāʿ as very different from the European “fief”, but it also served some authors as basis for far-reaching statements: Max Weber and Marc Bloch referred to it in their work. The article was “state of the art” until 1953 when Claude Cahen opened up new axes for research on the iqṭāʿ in a ground-breaking study.
The present article outlines Becker’s perspective, starting with his statement that the iqṭāʿ falls short from being a fief first of all because “the Orient” does not know the homagium, the voluntary submission of a nobleman under a prince. The article identifies some of the sources for this statement, shows its implications and traces its impact, among others on Weber and Bloch. The article also names sources that must lead to a re-assessment of this statement: contrary to Becker’s claim, in Seljuq Iran, there were social relationships and ceremonies that can usefully be compared to the Latin homagium. At the end, the article contextualises the iqṭāʿ as one form of “benefit”, one duty that the lord has in the mutually engaging relationship of “service” (khidma).
From Freehold Castles to Vassality?
Khidma (Ar., literally “service”) denotes the binding subordination of a slave or free-born noble to a lord, master, or patron—often the ruling sultan, but sometimes lesser figures—involving mutual obligations and mutual loyalty. This article studies this relationship and the ceremonies by which it was concluded in eastern Iran in the twelfth century, on the level of political thinking and, as far as possible, of political practice.