A highly interesting memoir about Iran, written by Jean-François-Xavier Rousseau (1738–1808), an agent of the French East India Company (Compagnie des Indes orientales) in Basra, apparently unpublished and unknown until now, covers the political situation of the late Zand period of the 1770s in an effort to promote French trade in the Persian Gulf. This text, entitled Situation actuelle du royaume de Perse (The Current Situation of the Kingdom of Persia), is a valuable document that sheds light on the French commercial strategy towards Iran and testifies to the social contacts between European merchants, diplomats, local rulers, and the Zand court in the eighteenth century.
A short manuscript, entitled Situation actuelle du royaume de Perse (The Current Situation of the Kingdom of Persia), discovered recently, stands out as an important source on Iran during the Zand period.1 The author of this memoir, Jean-François-Xavier Rousseau (Esfahan, 1738–Aleppo, 1808), was the son of the Genevan clockmaker Jacques Rousseau (1683–1753), who had been part of an embassy sent to Persia by Louis XIV (r. 1643–1715) in 1708, where he became a jeweler working for the last reigning Safavid shah Soltān-Hosayn (r. 1694–1722). After the sack of the city of Esfahan by the Afghans in 1722, Jacques Rousseau earned the favors of the new sovereign, Tahmāsp II (r. 1729–32), when he revealed to him the place where a eunuch had hidden the Safavid crown jewels. He married Reine de l’Estoile, the daughter of a French merchant from Lyon, whilst in Iran, where (in Esfahan) their son Jean-François was born on 16 October 1738 (Dehérain 1927, 356). Jean-François was also the second cousin of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78).
Jean-François Rousseau was educated by Jesuits in Esfahan and spent his youth in Iran. He was familiar with Persian language and literature and also learned Arabic, Armenian, and Turkish. After the death of his father, he went to Basra, where he settled in 1756 and became the agent for the French East India Company (Compagnie des Indes orientales), which led him to carry out diplomatic and commercial missions in Persia, trading in pearls and precious stones. In 1768 and 1770, he went to Shiraz, seat of the Zand court, to promote French trade and diplomatic interests. Returning to Basra in 1772, he collaborated with the director of the Compagnie des Indes local agency, Claude Pirault (d. 1773), the nephew by marriage of the Carmelite bishop of Babylon and consul of Baghdad, Emmanuel Ballyet (1702–73) (Mézin, 528; Potts, 598). Jean-François Rousseau had free access to the court of Karim Khan Zand (r. 1751–79) and was often invited to hunt around Shiraz. He was also able to discuss diplomatic affairs and Persian literature with the Zand ruler (Dehérain 1927, 358). Rousseau benefitted from his two stays in Shiraz, where broadcloths that he had brought from France sold very profitably. From Karim Khan he obtained the cession of the island of Khark (or Kharg), located in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Bushehr, where he had visited twice during the Dutch occupation. The annexation of this island would have been advantageous for French trade and navigation, but the government of Versailles did not see fit to develop an establishment in this region (ibid., 359). The plague epidemic which ravaged Mesopotamia in 1773 led to the deaths of both Ballyet (ibid., 357) and his nephew Pirault (“Turquie,” 7–9). After this disaster that ravaged the French community in Basra, Rousseau took over from Pirault without a well-defined title, performing both commercial and consular functions (Dehérain 1927, 359–60).
In 1774, war broke out between Iran and the Ottoman Empire (Perry 1991, 91–92), during the course of which the Zands attempted successfully the capture of Basra. During the siege of the city by Karim Khān’s brother Sādeq Khān (r. 1780–82)), which lasted nearly a year (April 1775–16 April 1776), Rousseau was able to escape trouble thanks to his good relationship with the Zand dynasty (Rousseau, 5). As soon as he entered Basra, Sādeq Khān granted military protection to the French consular lodge. Rousseau interceded on behalf of the Ottoman governor, preventing him from being subjected to torture, as well as welcoming a large number of inhabitants into his house. However, the rampage of Basra ruined the city’s trade and security. Rousseau resolved to leave and returned to Europe (Dehérain 1927, 361–62). During his stay in France from 1780 to 1782, he was appointed French consul in Basra by Louis XVI (r. 1774–92) and he returned to the region. But the necessities of trade and politics led him more than once to travel from Mesopotamia to Esfahan or Shiraz (Dehérain 1926, 163). In 1783, he assumed in addition the position of consul in Baghdad, which he continued to hold during the French Revolution and afterwards until his death in 1808. An Orientalist scholar, he authored numerous memoirs, mostly unpublished, dealing with the history and trade of Persia and the Persian Gulf. He also translated various pieces of Oriental literature and history. According to Mézin (528–30), “his education and culture remain exceptional among consular staff.”2
Rousseau refers to Mohammad Karim Khān (1705–79), de facto ruler of much of the country from 1760 to 1779 and founder of the Zand dynasty that controlled much of Iran until the Qajars took over in 1794, as “Kerimkan.” At the time of writing, Karim Khān had already died and his son Abu’l-Fath Khān was technically the ruler (though, as a minor, real power was in the hands of his uncle), allowing us to date the manuscript quite precisely to his short reign from 06 March until 22 August 1779. Moreover, in a letter dated 19 October 1780 and addressed to the Charles Gravier, the count of Vergennes and foreign minister (r. 1774–87) under Louis XVI, Rousseau mentions his intended return to France, among other reasons, for the purpose of “presenting a memorandum on the extensive and easy trade that we [the French] could do in Persia” (Dehérain 1927, 361–62). It is therefore probable that this memoir was written in the second half of 1779 or, at the very latest, at the beginning of 1780.
According to the summary of the manuscript on the first page, this document contains an abridged description of Persia, recommends the establishment of a treaty between the French and Persian rulers, lists Persian goods suitable for France, records the consumption of French products in Persia and outlets for their sale, offers considerations about the way in which Karim Khān assumed authority, describes the character of Karim Khān and his son Abu’l-Fath Khān, surveys the military forces and financial resources during the reign of Karim Khān, details advantages that Karim Khān received from his war against the Ottoman Empire, suggests ways in which French prestige in the province of Baghdad could be enhanced, and lastly suggests trade opportunities in Basra and Persia.
The following French transcription of the manuscript retains its original spelling, while the English translation, which precedes my commentary, modernizes proper names and punctuation. Manuscript pages are indicated in the brackets. The notes accompanying the English translation are reduced to what is strictly necessary for a good understanding of the places, people, objects, and events mentioned in the document. The commentary, finally, takes up the main points of the document while providing some clarifications, without however claiming to exhaust the abundant material of Iranian history on the Zand dynasty.
Situation actuelle du Royaume de Perse (Current Situation of the Kingdom of Persia)
The main topic of Jean-François Rousseau’s document is Iran’s foreign trade and his text focuses on France, England, and India.44 This author clearly aims to revive French trade in Mesopotamia and Iran which had been troubled by the plague of 1773 and the political instability following the death of Karim Khān in 1779. His organization of ideas is not always very rigorous, insofar as the text contains a certain amount of repetitions (Rousseau, 12), mixing observations about history, politics, and ethnography with theoretical considerations for commercial projects, and this short memoir ends abruptly with an isolated remark about the Indian jewels of Nāder Shāh (Tucker 1998, 207; Babaie 2018).
First, Rousseau gives a brief overview of Afsharid political history, mentioning the rule of Nāder Shāh, ʿĀdel Shāh, Ebrāhim Shāh, and Shāhrokh Shāh (Rousseau, 3–4; Perry 1983, 452; 1997, 75–76). Karim Khān tolerated Shāhrokh’s continued rule even after taking power in 1760, but his control was limited to the province of Khorasan (Ricks, 115–21). Shāhrokh’s son Nāder Mirza, who shared power in Khorasan with his father, was a rival of his older brother Nasrollāh Mirzā during this time. Shāhrokh had been blinded during a revolt in 1750, but nevertheless continued to govern Khorasan until his execution by Āghā Mohammad Khān Qājār.
Rousseau describes Karim Khān’s rise from among several “chiefs and generals”: the Pashtun commander Āzād Khān Afghān (Perry 1979, 43–45, 48–61; Ricks, 176), Fath ʿAli Khān Afshār (Perry 1979, 52–53), the Bakhtiari chieftain ʿAli-Mardān Khān (Perry 1979, 21–24; 1991, 69) and Mohammad Hasan Khān Qājār, the Turkoman chief in the Caspian coastlands around Astarābād (Bosworth, 285). After briefly surveying the Karim Khān’s ascent to power, Rousseau picks up chronologically from the start of introduction to describe the unrest following the ruler’s death in 1779. Rousseau’s memoir conforms to the literary and historiographical tradition which casts Karim Khān as a wise and benevolent sovereign (Perry 1991; Ricks, 1; Morgan, viii). The author is accurate in not using the title of “king” to describe Karim Khān, referring to him as regent, alleging that the founder of the Zand dynasty considered that his origins were too common to avail himself of the royal title (Dehérain 1927, 358). Indeed, Karim Khān used first the title vakil al-dowla (regent) and then increasingly vakil al-raʿāyā (deputy of the subjects) (Garthwaite, 18; Matthee 2018, 26–27). Later (Rousseau, 13–16), Rousseau recounts the nomadic and tribal origins of Karim Khān. Lambton theorized the tribalization of Iran in the eighteenth century in a study (120–21) that remains inspiring (see also Garthwaite, 15–16; Floor 2018b). As Matthee noted (440), tribal power dominated not just the margins, but, in some ways, the very core of Iran, even after the Safavids had reduced the strength of the Qezelbāsh by forming an army and an administration largely composed of Armenian and Georgian slave-soldiers (gholams) (Tapper, 1–33).
Rousseau underscores the stability, moderation, and popularity of Karim Khān, minimizing the severe succession crisis that followed his death. He mentions only one rival figure opposing Zand power: Nasrollāh Mirzā, the son of Shāhrokh, whom he considered the “true heir to the crown of Persia” (Rousseau, 5, 14). The French diplomat also considered him to be close with Karim Khān, who became his father-in-law (ibid., 4). We know that this Afsharid ruler visited twice the Zand court in 1767 and 1775, even if, according to Perry (1991, 95), he did not derive much benefit from these encounters. Rousseau refers indirectly (4, 15) to the power struggle that followed Karim Khān’s death in 1779. He stresses the success with which Abu’l-Fath Khān, Karim Khān’s son, overcame the threats to his succession thanks to his qualities (“a young prince with great mind,” 15). This positive view, certainly aimed at convincing French investors of the reliability of Zand government, contrasts with scholarly opinion which sees Abu’l-Fath Khān and his brother as “frivolous and incompetent” (Perry 1991, 93). In fact, the Zand dynasty was torn apart and ultimately destroyed by civil war, with opposing factions forming around each of Karim Khān’s sons, Mohammad ʿAli Khān and Abu’l-Fath Khān. Karim Khān’s half-brother, Zaki Khān declared Mohammad ʿAli, the younger son, as ruler and occupied himself the regency (Perry 1979, 103). But in order to compromise with the opposing party, he also made Abu’l-Fath Khān his brother’s co-monarch. When Karim’s brother Sādeq Khān asserted a claim to the throne, Zaki Khān imprisoned Abu’l-Fath Khān out of suspicion. And, indeed, after Zaki Khān’s assassination, Abu’l-Fath Khān was installed as the sole ruler in Shiraz (19 June 1779), but forced to abandon the conduct of state affairs to Sādeq Khān (Busse, 286). According to the contemporary account of Mirzā Mohammad Kalāntar Shirāzi (1745–1800/1), the mayor of Shirāz during the late Zand period, Abu’l-Fath spent his short reign in incompetence and debauchery (cited in Busse). Meanwhile, Shāhrokh’s dynasty continued to exercise power in Khorasan. The situation of Iran as Rousseau described it therefore predates the overthrow of Abu’l-Fath Khān on 22 August 1779.
In describing his diplomatic achievements at the Zand court, Rousseau alludes to long-standing privileges obtained by the French under the Safavids. The French East India Company made its first agreement with the Safavids in 1665, but little resulted (Ferrier, 465). In 1671, a new agreement was signed with Shāh Solaymān, though the French continued to face difficulties in promoting their trade interests (ibid., 465–6). European commercial concerns were exacerbated by the Seven Years’ War (1756–63) and the financial difficulties of the companies. Pirault, the French consul in Basra, had received from the minister of the navy, César Gabriel de Choiseul (r. 1712–85), the duke of Choiseul-Praslin, the authorization to expand commercial relations with Persia, and he chose Rousseau to carry out the task. Furthermore, the purpose of the trip was to request that the Iranian court to take action regarding piracy in the Persian Gulf, which was detrimental to both the English and the French traffic (Dehérain 1927, 357). The insistence with which Rousseau underlines the commercial privileges that he had obtained from Karim Khān contrasts with the frequent accounts of onerous taxation recorded by British observers (Greaves, 354). The Iranian economy was subject generally to close state regulation, including price-fixing, road infrastructure projects, market inspection, revenue collection, customs tariffs, forced sales, monopolies, in the settlement of commercial conflicts and the protection of property rights, with commercial advantages enjoyed by privileged partners (Floor 2000, 40–49).
Rousseau minimizes the consular role played by Bishop Emmanuel Ballyet, whom he perceives (19) solely as a religious dignitary. The bishopric of Babylon, established in Baghdad, had been created in 1638 thanks to the donation from the Frenchwoman Marie Ricouard and was recognized as French by the founding acts of Pope Urban VIII (r. 1623–44) (Mézin, 120). Arriving in Baghdad in 1728, the Carmelite monk Ballyet had obtained from the city’s pasha authorization to establish a mission around a church, a residence for missionaries, a hospice, and a school. Faced with the jealousy of other Christian communities and Ottoman persecution, the mission was destroyed in 1737. Invoking the protection of the king of France, Ballyet became French consul of France in Baghdad on 08 May 1741; two years later, he was consecrated Bishop of Babylon in the cathedral of Malta on 21 December 1743. Back in Baghdad in 1746, his position remained precarious owing to the resumption of anti-Christian persecutions following the death of the local governor Ahmet Pāshā (r. 1724–34, 1735–47) in 1747. From 1753 to 1756 and again from 1765 to 1767, he made two trips to Europe. Even though he encountered difficulties in his relations with the agents of the French East India Company in Basra, his last years in Mesopotamia seemed to be more peaceful. Shortly before his death in Baghdad during the plague of 1773, he reported that trade, which had suffered from the Russo-Turkish War (1768–74), resumed in 1772, during a brief cease-fire (Mézin, 118–9).
By contrast, Rousseau highlights (4–5, 19) Pirault’s active role in promoting French trade interests. A doctor by training, Pirault had obtained a royal patent around 1757 to practice medicine in the Levant. After settling in Basra in 1758, he became an agent of the French East India Company and, in 1759, he wrote Projet d’un Commerce Générale des Établissements français dans les Indes, avec Mascate, Bassora, Bagdad, Alep ou Constantinople (A Project for the General Trade of French Trading Posts in the Indies, with Muscat, Basra, Baghdad, Aleppo, and Constantinople). On his return to Persia after a visit to France in from 1762 to 1763, Pirault became the leading official agent of the French East India Company until his death in 1773 (Mézin, 119; Floor 2007, 163, 169–71).
Despite all the positive qualities that Rousseau identified in Karim Khān and his son Abu’l-Fath, the situation in the Persian Gulf and, more specifically, in southern Iraq, was not without turmoil for the Zand rulers. The name “Arabian River” to designate the part of the Shatt al-ʿArab connecting the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers to Persian Gulf can probably be explained by the increased influence that the tribe of Banu Kaʿb exerted on this region. In 1765, the Kaʿb raided the area around Basra shortly after the signing of a peace agreement with the Zand dynasty (Floor 2006a, 283–84; 2007, 270–81). Numerous clashes and disturbances between local Arabs and Zand forces and governors of Basra rocked southern Iraq during the 1770s and 1780s (idem 2007, 285–87). Yet this recurrent instability, which undermined the stability necessary for trade, is not noted by Rousseau, who obviously prefers to ignore what is disadvantageous to his argument. His embellished vision of Iran also led the author not to disregard the famine of 1775 which hit Esfahan and Fārs (Perry 1979, 99).
The “latest war with Turkey” (Rousseau, 17) probably refers to the Zand expeditions to eastern Anatolia and Iraq during the final years (1774–79) of the reign of Karim Khān. The cause of the war certainly has its origin in dynastic struggles within the Kurdish territories around Shahrazur, but the scope of the conflict widened. Alleging the mistreatment of Shiʿi pilgrims to Karbala, the Iranian ruler intervened in the political struggles of Mesopotamia by trying to install his own candidate in Baghdad, while his forces besieged and captured Basra in 1776 (Shaw, 311). Despite the efforts of the Ottoman sultan ʿAbd al-Hamid I (r. 1774–89), Basra remained in Iranian hands until Sādeq Khān withdrew in 1779 after Karim Khān’s death; the Ottomans retook the city from a local tribe shortly afterwards (Donner).
Thereafter, Rousseau reviews (9–12) suitable Iranian products for export. The increase in foreign trade in the seventeenth century was due partly to the Safavid investment in the silk and precious stones industries (Fragner, 527). Fine goats’ wool from the province of Kerman, used to make hats and shawls in Great Britain, was available in different colors—black, white, and red (Greaves, 356). The gall nut, a growth produced on oaks by the bite of certain insects, was used as a black dye and an ingredient for making ink. Orpiment, an arsenic sulfide mineral, was found in volcanic fumaroles and used in ancient China as a pigment due to its yellow color. Asafœtida is the gum oleoresin exuded from Ferula perennial herbs and used as a spice for food (Floor 2000, 162–63). Opoponax is a type of herbaceous plant whose resin is used in perfumery and medicine (Romieux). Ammoniacum, or gum ammoniac, is also a gum resin exuded from a perennial herb (Dorema ammoniacum) and was appreciated for its therapeutical effects. Arabic gum is a solidified sap exudate, produced naturally or following an incision on the trunk and at the foot of acacia trees, whose numerous qualities have earned it various uses in food, textiles, painting, and construction. Dragon’s blood is a reddish resinous substance produced by various plant species, used since classical Antiquity as a medical material and as a coloring substance. The resin of gummy ferrule, called galbanum, was used in the creation of perfumes and incense. Semen contra (Artemisia cina) is an herbaceous plant traditionally used against intestinal worms. Finally, the thickened aloe juice, obtained from the incised leaves, is used as a laxative and its gel is also recognized for its soothing effect on wounds.
As for European products that may be of interest to the Iranian market, cloth is clearly dominant, in particular for use in the military, whose size of eighty thousand soldiers given here by Rousseau must be compared to the seventy thousand he mentioned in a letter dated 15 July 1768 to his cousin Théodore Rousseau in Geneva (Dehérain 1927, 357–8). Analyzing the state of Iranian economy at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Floor argues (2018a, 129) that “the vast majority of these imports were consumer goods; very little was for productive use.” These imports would not have been balanced by exports, since Persia would not have developed its carpet and textile manufacturing sector before the nineteenth century (Floor 1999, 68–127, 337–48, 357–80). Lacking gold and silver, Persia was structurally in deficit in the balance of payments and exported only unprocessed agricultural goods such as raw silk, cotton, wool, dried fruit, wheat, and animals (idem 2000, 125–95). The Afghan occupation and constant warfare of the Afsharid period caused a sharp decline in the country’s international trade (idem 2018a, 138). During the Zand period, trade in the Persian Gulf and with Russia continued, but at a reduced level (ibid., 143).
In the final part of his report, Rousseau suggests (18–26) developing trade by focusing on land routes and the main cities of the Iranian trade market. By connecting Shiraz and Esfahan to the Strait of Hormoz, the port of Bandar Abbas occupied a crucial place in the system of trade routes around the Persian Gulf (Floor 2011a; 2011b, 251–93). Following the Afghan siege in 1722 and the downfall of the Safavid dynasty, Esfahan lost its status as capital of the country and was reduced to a provincial city, inasmuch as the seat of rule under the Afshar, Zand and Qajar sovereigns was transferred to Mashhad, Shiraz, and Tehran, respectively (Babaie, 36). Rousseau’s memorandum confirms the importance of the city of Shiraz in the Zand period, both as a political capital and as a major trade outlet for the Persian Gulf (Emtehani, Nagendra, Tali, and Rafiee, 175). The French East India Company struggled to assert itself in this market, establishing a short-lived trading post in Bushehr between 1763 and 1768, before re-establishing it a few years later (Floor 2007, 310). Owing to competition with Basra, Muscat, and Kuwait, Bushehr went through a challenging period during the 1770s and 1780s (Floor 2011b, 8–9).
The plans of Jean-François-Xavier Rousseau as manifested in his memoir should not mislead us regarding the real issues surrounding the French presence in the Persian Gulf (Takeda; Mousavi). In her study on the dragoman Étienne Padery (c. 1674–?), a French dragoman and diplomat serving in Iran from 1719 to 1725, Touzard shed light (24–25, 42, 299–301) on the episodic and incoherent nature of French-Iranian relations during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. According to Perry (1979, 267), “The French … showed little interest in overtaking the British and Dutch in [Persian] Gulf commerce and established no lasting commercial or diplomatic rapport with the Vakil [viz., Karim Khān],” insofar as “[t]heir major preoccupations were political,” given that they saw Iran as a counterweight to the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, French agents in the Persian Gulf would have been “unable to overcome the enormous disadvantage of their own superiors’ comparative lack of interest” (ibid., 268). As the French were “in no position to emulate” on trade and finance, Karim Khān, “despite his poor view of the parsimonious British, did not take French overtures seriously even when they were eventually made” (ibid.). As Matthee has concluded (2018, 32), “the French were not really vested and invested in Iran.” The island of Khark, which had been allocated to Rousseau on behalf of France, had previously been occupied by the Dutch between 1753 and 1765 (Floor 2007, 95–188; Floor and Potts, 25–108). Mir Mohannā Zaʿabi, a pirate in rebellion against Karim Khān, had exercised power on the island between 1766 and 1769 (Greaves, 354; Floor 2007, 112–56; Floor and Potts, 44–99; Sarvestani, 1254–57). Thus, the cession of Khark to the French was, for Perry, a “cavalier insouciance,” or a high-handed act by the vakil, given that the governor Hasan Khān who controlled this island had no intention of abandoning it (Perry 1979, 268). Even Rousseau admits (22) in this document that the development of the island of Khark would be too expensive for the French and instead advises building a fort near Basra. Although this port city had undoubtedly lost its commercial role during the siege of 1775–76 (Perry 1991, 93), Rousseau’s testimony suggests that the city retained its potential in the eyes of for European merchants.
Despite its obvious superiority among European nations, the English presence in the Persian Gulf trade was not without its problems (Matthee 2018, 31). The statistics of the English East India Company (EIC) show an increase in the quantity of goods exported to the Persian Gulf during the 1750s, a decline from 1761 to 1763, and then a revival between 1763 and 1768. However, from the end of 1760s, British trade at Iranian trading posts decline continually until the late 1780s (Greaves, 358). In 1754, the EIC decided to set up a trade factory in Bandar Rig in order to benefit from a place less exposed to Arab pirates and to the raids of tribal chiefs. The local leader of Bandar Rig, through the resident of Basra, invited the British to build this factory, which was set up by Francis Wood, the former agent in Bandar Abbas, with the agreement of Karim Khān. However, this enterprise collapsed after a few years (Greaves, 360; Ricks, 127). The 1770s as a whole was unfavorable to English trade in the Persian Gulf. The EIC maintained a reduced presence in Basra and Bushehr to protect what remained of the British presence and to secure communications with Europe. After 1775, most military operations of the EIC ceased, since they had not provided much benefit. The Zand occupation of Basra in 1776–77 seriously harmed the interests of the EIC (Floor and Potts, 105). Those who gained influence in the region were the Arabs of the coasts: ʿOmanis, ʿOtobis, Qavāsem, the Banu Maʿin, and the Banu Kaʿb, as well as the leaders of Bushehr and Bandar Rig (Floor 2007, 318–19). In this situation of fluctuation, Rousseau saw the possibility of increasing the French presence, which was the driving idea behind this document.
One factor in the growing gap between Karim Khān and the English resulted from strategic divergences regarding the Arab tribe of the Banu Kaʿb (Floor 2011b, 201–6). In September 1766, the Iranian ruler demanded the withdrawal of the Anglo-Ottoman forces which were waging war against the Banu Kaʿb, on the pretext that the latter were subjects of Iran. The English negotiations, particularly concerning the granting of an island in the Persian Gulf (preferably Khark) were unsuccessful and increased the disagreement between Karim Khān and the representatives of the EIC (Greaves, 362–63; Floor 2007, 278–85; Matthee 2020, 72). By granting privileges to the French, Karim Khān sought to diversify his European partnerships to avoid relying exclusively on English merchants. On the island of Khark, only a very small amount of trade activity continued during the 1780s and thereafter, showing that the island had lost its commercial value, not only for the French (Floor and Potts, 105–9).
This text, reflecting on the political and economic relations between France and Iran, was written by an experienced practitioner of contemporary trade and diplomacy. This document confirms the importance of the territories in Iran’s orbit, including Basra, the Arab and southern Iranian hinterlands, and the islands and the ports of the Persian Gulf (Ricks, xx; Potter). It also testifies to the substantial capacity for Iranian leaders to accommodate Western merchants and diplomats in exchange for the benefits of foreign trade (Matthee 2020a, 67). The author, as a merchant and diplomat, acknowledges, in so many words, the supremacy of the English in the broadcloth trade, but minimizes the factors of instability and insecurity so as not to discourage French investors. If its direct impact was probably limited, this memorandum written by “the Rousseau of Persia” offers, on the other hand, a valuable testimony revealing the perception of the Iranian world in the Zand era through European eyes (Perry 1979, 246–71; Matthee 2018, 24).
I warmly thank Rudi Matthee, Willem Floor, Mehdi Mousavi, Ibrāhīm Šafiʿī, and Louise Sampagnay for their valuable comments, as well as D. Gershon Lewental for his editing, which helped to improve this article.
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, “ S. Babaie Nader Shah, the Delhi Loot, and the 18th-Century Exotics of Empire,” in , ed., Crisis, Collapse, Militarism and Civil War: The History and Historiography of 18th Century Iran, M. Axworthy New York City, , pp. 2018 215– 234, DOI10.1093/oso/9780190250324.003.0012.
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, “ W. M. Floor The Persian Economy in the Eighteenth Century: A Dismal Record,” in , ed., Crisis, Collapse, Militarism and Civil War: The History and Historiography of 18th Century Iran, M. Axworthy New York City, a, pp. 2018 125– 150, DOI10.1093/oso/9780190250324.003.0008.
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, “ W. M. Floor Tribal Resurgence in the Eighteenth Century: A Useful Label?,” in , ed., Crisis, Collapse, Militarism and Civil War: The History and Historiography of 18th Century Iran, M. Axworthy New York City, b, pp. 2018 151– 162, DOI10.1093/oso/9780190250324.003.0009.
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, “ G. R. Garthwaite ‘What’s in a Name?’: Periodization and ‘18th-Century Iran’,” in M. Axworthy New York City, , pp. 2018 9– 19, DOI10.1093/oso/9780190250324.003.0002.
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, “ R. L. Greaves Iranian Relations with the European Trading Companies, to 1798,” in , eds., The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. , P. Avery , and G. R. G. Hambly C. P. Melville 7, From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic, Cambridge, , pp. 1991 350– 373, DOI10.1017/CHOL9780521200950.011.
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, “ R. P. Matthee Historiographical Reflections on the Eighteenth Century in Iranian History: Decline and Insularity, Imperial Dreams, or Regional Specificity?,” in M. Axworthy New York City, , pp. 2018 21– 41, DOI10.1093/oso/9780190250324.003.0003.
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I bought this manuscript on 19 May 2020 at the Rodolphe Chamonal Bookstore at 5 rue Drouot in Paris. It is a small folio (34.6 × 19.8 cm) of 1 unnumbered blank sheet and 26 unnumbered pages, registered under the reference FM-25297. The manuscript entered the documentary collections of the National Library of France under number NAF 29012.
Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.
After the assassination of Nāder Shah (r. 1736–47) in June 1747 by a cabal of Afshār and Qajar officers, his nephew ʿAli-qoli claimed the throne and assumed power in July as ʿĀdel Shah (r. 1747–48) (Tucker 2006).
Ebrāhim (1717–49), a brother of ʿĀdel Shāh, ruled briefly from July to September 1748. Shāhrokh (1734–96) was installed on the throne in Mashhad in 1748 whilst ʿĀdel Shāh struggled to put down Ebrāhim Shāh’s rebellion, and ruled until he was overthrown and blinded in 1750. Nevertheless, the deteriorating situation led to his restoration several months later—as the grandson of both the last reigning Safavid shah Soltān-Hosayn and Nāder Shāh Afshār, he enjoyed a strong claim to legitimacy—but his subsequent rule (1750–96) did not extend beyond Khorasan (Avery, 59–62; Ricks, 115–21).
Āzād Khān Afghān (d. 1781) rose to power between 1752 and 1757, controlling part of the region of Azerbaijan as far as the city of Urmia, northwestern and northern Persia, and territories in southwestern Turkmenistan and eastern Kurdistan (Perry 1987, 173–74).
Fath-ʿAli Khān Afshār (d. July 1764) was an Afsharid dynast who ruled the Urmia Khanate in northern Iran from 1747 to 1763 (Perry 1979, 52–53).
ʿAli-Mardān Khān (d. 1754) was a Bakhtiāri chieftain and autonomous leader of Golpayegan (1749–51) and Esfahan (1750–51), as regent (vakil al-dowla) for the puppet shah Esmāʿil III (d. 1773), who legitimized his power. After numerous conflicts with Karim Khān, he was defeated in 1754 and killed the following year (Perry 1979, 21–24; 1991, 69).
Mohammad Hasan Khān Qājār (1715–59) was a chief of the Qoyunlu (Qavānlu) branch of the Qajar tribe of Turkomans in the Caspian coastlands around Astarabad (Bosworth, 285). His son Āghā Mohammad Khān Qājār (r. 1798–97) would go on to found the Qajar dynasty. I cannot identify Lor Khān Qājār.
After a long struggle for power (1751–63), Karim Khān became the first Zand sovereign of Iran, retaining the title of vakil (representative) from his capital of Shiraz (Perry 1979).
Abu’l-Fath Khān, the son and successor of Karim Khān, ruled briefly as noted above from March to August 1779 (Busse).
Sādeq Khān, Karim Khān’s brother, was in charge of Basra when his brother died. He returned and occupied Shiraz after the death of his rival and half-brother Zaki Khān, who had ruled as regent briefly from 02 March until his demise on 06 June 1779 (Perry 2000).
In the succession dispute that followed the death of Karim Khān on 02 March 1779, Zaki Khān’s nephew ʿAli-Morād fought against the Qajars led by Āghā Mohammad in northern Iran, before ultimately challenging his uncle and making a claim for power himself (Perry 1991, 93). It seems that, at the time when Rousseau wrote his memoir, ʿAli-Morād had not yet betrayed his uncle—or at least the author ignored this event.
Nasrollāh Mirzā, the eldest son of Shāhrokh, was in competition with his brother Nāder Mirzā (Perry 1979, 207; 1991, 95). On two occasions, Nasrollāh is said to have made official visits to Shiraz, which is likely the origin of Rousseau’s statement that the two ruled Iran jointly.
An abbreviation for londrins seconds; see n. 25.
Antoine de Sartine (1729–1802) served as minister of the navy under Louis XVI from 1774–80.
After his victorious campaign in India, Nāder Shah began his journey back to Persia at the beginning of May 1739 (Avery, 39–41).
Both Shāh ʿAbbās (r. 1588–1629) and Shāh Solaymān (r. 1666–94) ruled Iran at a time general prosperity.
Here and elsewhere, Rousseau uses “Turks” and “Turkey” to refer to the “Ottomans” and “Ottoman Empire.”
I have been unable to identify this figure.
For more on Kerman fine down goat hair (known as kork), see Floor 2000, 171.
Gombroon is a form of the old name of Bandar Abbas, known as Cambarão and Porto Comorão to the Portuguese (Greaves, 350; Floor 2006a, 237–322).
Chitra is an Indian art form deriving from a Sanskrit word meaning “colored picture,” while a kalamkari is a type of hand-painted cotton textile (Kossak, 148–52).
For more on the Russian trade with Safavid Iran, see Floor 2000, 232–40. On Iranian-Russian views on the Caspian Sea in eighteenth century, see Rashtiani, 171–74.
Londrins were lightweight woolen broadcloths that were made, in imitation of the Londonian cloths, in southern France (Morineau and Carrière).
For more on Elbeuf drapery, see Becchia 2000; 2001.
For more on pushāki, see Ziyāpur.
These two terms obviously refer to fabrics of coarse quality for popular use, however, I have been unable to identify them in the scientific literature.
Today, the islands of Mauritius and La Réunion.
The Zand were originally a branch of the Lak. Established in Zagros, south of Hamadan, they had been deported to Khorassan by Nāder Shāh; after his death, Karim Khān brought them back to their native territories (Perry 2000). According to a personal correspondence with Ibrāhīm Šafiʿī, “zenu hazary” would be a compound in the Lori dialect, of which the correct form would be Zennoy hazāri, and which means “the thousand Zands” or “the Zands who reach to thousand(s)” as a way of showing their numerousness.
I have been unable to identify this term; possibly, it could be a corruption of āqā.
On this campaign in 1762–63 to subdue Fath-ʿAli Khān Afshar (apparently confused here by Rousseau with his Qājār namesake), see Perry 1979, 90–4.
Mazandaran, formerly called Tabarestān, is a province in northern Iran, bounded by the Caspian Sea to the north.
This toponym is difficult to identify since the first letter is ambiguous and resembles an “N” in the manuscript; it may perhaps refer to the area of Kars.
I cannot identify this individual or the region that he governed.
Jean-Baptiste Fabre, from Marseille, left to serve as ambassador in Iran in 1705 and died in August 1706 (Herbette, 10). Louis Michel (1678–?), served as embassy secretary in Constantinople between 1703 and 1705. After Fabre’s death, he was despatched to Iran. In Esfahan, he concluded a treaty with the shah in 1708. Later, he would serve as consul in Tunis (ibid.). The dragoman Étienne Padery (c. 1674–?) served as a French emissary in Iran from 1719 to 1725 (Touzard, 24–25, 42, 299–301). For more on the diplomatic exchanges between France and Iran under Shāh Soltān Hosayn, see Herbette, passim; Floor 2003; Lockhart, 434; Touzard, 81.
Several members of the Gardane family exercised diplomatic functions in the Orient. Ange I. Gardane (d. 1736) served as consul in Iran from 1715 to 1731. His younger brother Jean-François-Mathieu de Gardane was vice-consul of France in Bandar Abbas until 1719 (Mézin, 306–11, 665).
I have been unable to identify these individuals.
Petro de Perdriau (1721–c. 1810) served as an agent of the French East India Company in Basra from 1754 to 1759 and again from 1761 to 1766 (Mézin, 483–84).
Solaymān Abu Layla Pāshā, the son-in-law and successor of the previous governor of Baghdād, ruled the province from 1749 to 1762.
The “right of the annesins” appears to be a type of local tax, about which I have been unable to find any information.
During his return trip to France in 1780, Rousseau was robbed and ransomed by brigands in Aleppo (Mézin, 528).
The Gulf of Cambay, known today as Khambhat, is situated on the western coast of India, bordering the province of Gujarat, north of Mumbai. The mouth of the Indus is not located here, but further north (see Fatima).
After his victory over the Mughal army of Mohammad Shāh (r. 1719–48) at the Battle of Karnāl on 24 February 1739, Nāder Shah captured, looted, and sacked the city of Delhi on 20 March (Avery, 39–41). The value of the booty seized by Nāder Shāh has been estimated at roughly $10.5 billion, one of the largest ever extracted (Amanat, 149).
For a historiographical overview of the relations between Iran, India and European nations in the eighteenth century, see Matthee 2018, 28–32.