arabicized form of Syriac dhgnʾ, borrowed from Pahlavi dehgān (older form dahīgān).


DEHQĀN, arabicized form of Syriac dhgnʾ (Margoliouth, p. 84a), borrowed from Pahlavi dehgān (older form dahīgān). The original meaning was “pertaining to deh"(< OPers. dahyu), the latter term not in the later sense of “village,” but in the original sense of “land.”

i. In the Sasanian period.

ii. In the Islamic period.



The term dehqān was used in the late Sasanian period to designate a class of landed magnates (Mojmal, ed. Bahār, p. 420) considered inferior in rank to āzādān, bozorgān (Zand ī Wahman Yasn 4.7, 4.54), and kadag-xwadāyān “householders” (Ardā Wīrāz-nāmag 15.10, where dahīgān should be read for dādagān). According to some early Islamic sources, the rank of the dehqān in the Sasanian period was also inferior to that of the šahrīgān “chief of the small cantons” (Yaʿqūbī, Taʾrīḵ I, p. 203; Masʿūdī, ed. Pellat, I, sec. 662; Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 140).

The origin of the dehqān class is usually attributed in both Zoroastrian Pahlavi books of the 9th century and early Islamic sources to Wēkard/t, brother of Hōšang, the legendary Iranian king (Dēnkard, ed. Madan, pp. 438, 594, 688; Bīrūnī, Āṯār, pp. 220-21; Masʿūdī, ed. Pellat, I, sec. 662; Christensen, pp. 68, 134, 151, 156). In some sources the innovation is credited to Manūčehr (Ṯāʿālebī, p. 6; Ṭabarī, I, p. 434; Balʿamī, ed. Bahār, p. 345; Ebn al-Balḵī, p. 37). Nevertheless, as the term dehgān is not attested in early Sasanian documents but is sometimes mentioned in the Pahlavi books and frequently occurs in descriptions of late Sasanian administration in early Islamic sources, it is admissible to suppose that dehqāns emerged as a social class as a result of land reforms in the time of Ḵosrow I (531-79). He is reported to have admonished future kings that they should protect the dehqāns, just as they would protect kingship, because they were like brothers (Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, p. 6). According to one source (Mojmal, ed. Bahār, p. 73), his own mother had been the daughter of a dehqān descended from Frēdon. In the late Sasanian period dehqāns and princes (wāspuhragān; Ar. ahl al-boyūtāt) used to have audience with the king on the second day of the Nowrūz and Ḵorram-rūz (also Ḵorrah-rūz, Navad-rūz) festivals; the latter, celebrated on the first day of the tenth month (Day), was their special feast day, on which the king ate and drank with the dehqāns and cultivators (Bīrūnī, Āṯār, pp. 218, 225; for this feast, see idem, I, 1954, p. 264; Gardīzī, ed. Ḥabībī, pp. 239, 254; Qazvīnī,p. 83).

Management of local affairs was the dehqāns’ hereditary responsibility, and peasants were obliged to obey them (cf. Ṭabarī, I, p. 434; Balʿamī, ed. Bahār, p. 345; Ebn al-Balḵī, p. 37), but their landed estates must have been smaller than those of noble landowners. They probably represented the government among the peasants, and their main duty was to collect taxes (Christensen, Iran Sass., pp. 112-13). They were divided into five subgroups according to social status, each distinguished by dress (Masʿūdī, ed. Pellat, I, par. 662).

The Arab conquest (q.v.) of the Sasanian empire began with sporadic attacks on the lands of the dehqāns of the Sawād, the cultivated areas of southern Iraq. After the defeat of the Persian army and the gradual disappearance of the nobles who administered the country, the local gentry, that is, the dehqāns, assumed a more important political and social role in their districts, towns, and villages. Some were able to protect their settlements from the conquering armies by surrendering and agreeing to pay the poll tax (jezya). For example, the dehqān of Zawābī in Iraq made a treaty with the Arab commander ʿOrwa b. Zayd, in which he agreed to pay a tax of 4 dirhams for each inhabitant of his district. Besṭām, dehqān of Bors, also in Iraq, agreed with Zahra to construct a bridge for his army. When the Arab forces arrived at Mahrūḏ near Baghdad the local dehqān agreed to pay a sum of money to Hāšem b. ʿOtba, in order to deter him from killing any of the district’s inhabitants. Šīrzād, the dehqān of Sābāṭ, a village near Madāʾen (see CTESIPHON), was able to save 100,000 peasants from the Arabs. There are similar reports for other parts of the Sasanian empire, for example, Sīstān, Herat, and Balḵ (Balāḏorī, Fotūhá, ed. Monajjed, pp. 307, 318, 324, 484, 516; Ṭabarī, I, pp. 2421, 2426, 2461; Gardīzī, ed. Ḥabībī, p. 102). Dehqāns who refused to collaborate with the Arabs either fled or lost their lives (e.g., Balāḏorī, ed. Monajjed, pp. 324, 420, 422, 464, 466, 514; Ṭabarī, I, pp. 2421-23). The fact that the last Sasanian king, Yazdegerd III (632-51), sought support from the dehqāns of Isfahan and Kermān is evidence of the rising power of this class at the end of the Sasanian empire (Ṭabarī, I, pp. 2875-77).

In the early Islamic period, as in late Sasanian times, the dehqānshad the task of collecting taxes. They were also responsible for cultivation of the land, maintaining bridges and roads, and providing hospitality to certain travelers (Ṭabarī, I, p. 2470). The lands of dehqāns in regions of the Sawād where the population had accepted Islam were left to them, and they were exempt from the poll tax (Balāḏorī, p. 325).

It may be inferred from various reports that in early Islamic times some dehqāns functioned almost as local rulers, especially in eastern Persia, and that any man of wealth or social prestige might thus be called dehqān. Sometimes the same person was called dehqān in one source and marzbān (governor) in another. For example, in one report Ṭabarī referred to men with the title marzbān of Kermān and Marv and in another called the same men dehqān (I, pp. 2872-77; cf. Dīnavarī, p. 148: ʿāmel of Marv; Gardīzī, 102: sālār and dehqān of Marv). Balāḏorī (p. 466) mentioned the revolt of the dehqān of Šūš, whereas Dīnavarī (p. 140) called the same person marzbān. Dēwāštīč (q.v.), the last ruler of Panjīkant, had the title of “lord” or “king” in the Sogdian documents excavated at Mount Mugh but was designated dehqān by Ṭabarī (II, p. 1446; Dokumenty II, pp. 132 ff.). In Persian poetry before the 12th century the title dehqān meant “ruler, amir, lord,” especially in eastern Persia (e.g., Masʿūd-e Saʿd, p. 374; Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow, p. 107; Sūzanī, pp. 200, 224, 311, 326, 436, 485). Dehqāns were sometimes mentioned together with princes,grandees, local rulers, learned men (aḥbār), knights, and army commanders (Ṭabarī, I, p. 3249, II, 1237; Naršaḵī, pp. 9-13, 54, 84-85; Mojmal, p. 328; cf. Balāḏorī, ed. Monajjed, p. 505).

The Arabs often consulted dehqāns on political and social affairs, and in some instances the latter were able to intervene on behalf of one of the parties to a conflict (e.g., Ṭabarī, II, pp. 1420, 1569). In the first half of the 9th century Sahl b. Sonbāṭ, who first sheltered Bābak Ḵorramdīn (q.v.) in his castle but later betrayed him to Afšīn (q.v.), was a dehqān. Another dehqān, Ebn Šarvīn Ṭabarī, was appointed to bring Bābak’s brother ʿAbd-Allāh to Baghdad as a captive; on the way ʿAbd-Allāh asked to be treated in the manner of the dehqāns, and Ebn Šarvīn gave him wine (Mojmal, ed. Bahār, p. 357; Ṭabarī, III, p. 1231). Dehqāns enjoyed great respect and prestige at the court of the Samanids (204-395/819-1005). The poet Rūdakī, in an ode (qaṣīda) describing a banquet at the court of Naṣr b. Aḥmad (301-31/913-43), mentioned a dehqān called Pīr Ṣāleḥ, who sat with the nobles (ḥorrān) facing the ranks of the amirs and the grand vizier, Moḥammad Balʿamī (Tārīḵ-e Sīstān, p. 319). In the early Islamic centuries many important political figures of eastern Persia were dehqāns (e.g., the Samanid amir Aḥmad b. Sahl b. Hāšem, q.v.) or descendants of dehqān families (e.g., the Saljuq grand vizier Neẓām-al-Molk, q.v.; Gardīzī, p. 151; Ebn Fondoq, pp. 73, 78).

In the first centuries of Islam many dehqāns, as the heirs of Sasanian gentry, led comfortable, even luxurious lives similar to those of their forebears. Jāḥeẓ (Boḵalāʾ, p. 71; tr. p. 98) mentioned the table etiquette observed by the dehqāns. According to Balāḏorī (ed. Monajjed, p. 524; cf. Ṭabarī, II, pp. 1417-18), Saʿīd b. ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz, governor of Khorasan under the Omayyad caliph Yazīd II (101-05/720-24), was called ḵoḏīna (lady, wife of a dehqān; cf. Sogdian γwt(ʾy)ynk) because of his elegant garments and his flowing hair style. Dehqānsused to offer presents to the caliphs and local rulers at the Nowrūz and Mehragān festivals, just as their ancestors had done in Sasanian times. Ṭabarī (II, pp. 1635-38) described in detail those offered to Asad b. ʿAbd-Allāh Qasrī, governor of Khorasan, at the Mehragān feast at Balḵ in 120/738. Hārūn al-Rašīd (170-93/786-809), on his way from Baghdad to Ṭūs, fell ill in a village in Bayhaq and had to stay there four months as the guest of a dehqān, who served him with magnificence and offered him precious gifts when he departed (Ebn Fondoq, pp. 47-48).

Aside from their political and social significance, the dehqāns played an important cultural role. Many participated in the courts of caliphs or governors, and after the establishment of the Persian dynasties in the east they served kings, princes, and amirsas learned men who were well informed on the history and culture of ancient Iran. Bayhaqī (p. 299) reported that Zīād b. Abīhi (d. 56/675), while still governor of Baṣra, had in his service three dehqāns, who told him stories of Sasanian grandeur and pomp, causing him to think Arab rule much inferior. In the Tārīḵ-e Sīstān (p. 106) a number of wise sayings, similar to the Pahlavi andarz (q.v.), are attributed to a certain Zoroastrian dehqān named Rostam b. Hormazd, who reportedly uttered them at the request of ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz b. ʿAbd-Allāh, an Omayyad governor of Sīstān (cf. Šāh-nāma, ed. Moscow, IX, p. 211 vv. 3380-83). The 9th-century author Jāḥeẓ (1385/1965, I, p. 115, II, p. 125) also quoted some pieces of folklore from dehqāns. In both Arabic and Persian sources the names of many learned persons and men of letters, including theologians, who were dehqāns or decendants of dehqān families are mentioned (Ebn Fondoq, pp. 116, 149). Some were patrons of Islamic religious scholars; for example, Ebn Fondoq (p. 185) mentioned a wealthy dehqān from Sabzavār who, in 418/1027, founded a religious school for a Koran commentator named Ebn Ṭayyeb. The majority of dehqāns favored Persian culture, however, and some were patrons of renowned Persian poets. Rūdakī (p. 458) related that the dehqāns gave him money and riding animals. Farroḵī in his youth served a dehqān in Sīstān and received an annual pension from him. According to one tradition, Ferdowsī himself was a dehqān (Čahār Maqāla, ed. Qazvīnī, text, pp. 58, 75).

Most of the credit for preservation of the stories in the national epic, the Šāh-nāma; pre-Islamic historical traditions; and the romances of ancient Iran belongs to the dehqāns. Abū Manṣūr Maʿmarī (q.v.), who compiled the prose Šāh-nāma-ye abū-manṣūrī (346/957), now lost, wrote in his preface, which does survive, that in gathering his material he summoned a number of dehqāns from various cities of Khorasan (pp. 34-35). Ferdowsī often cited dehqāns as sources, apparently oral ones, for his narratives (e.g., Šāh-nāma, ed. Moscow, I, p. 28 v. 1, II, p. 170 v. 15, III, pp. 6-7 vv. 8, 19, IV, p. 302 vv. 19-20, VI, p. 167 v. 25). Other poets, too, referred to traditions from the dehqāns (e.g., Asadī, p. 21 v. 1; Īrānšāh, p. 17; Neẓāmī, pp. 436, 508). The term dehqān thus also came to be defined as “historian, versed in history” (Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, ed. Moʿīn, II, p. 905). The profound attachment of the dehqāns to the culture of ancient Iran also lent to the word dehqān the sense of “Persian,” especially “Persian of noble blood,” in contrast to Arabs, Turks, and Romans in particular (e.g., Šāh-nāma, ed. Moscow, I, p. 21 v. 128, IX, pp. 307 v. 7, 319 vv. 105-06; Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow, pp. 83, 156, 288; Farroḵī, pp. 274, 282, 314; Abū Ḥanīfa Eskāfī apud Bayhaqī, ed. Fayyāż, p. 856; ʿOnṣorī, pp. 137, 239). According to Ṭabarī (I, p. 1040), Marvazān, governor of Yemen in the time of Ḵosrow I, had two sons, one Ḵorrah-Ḵosrow, who liked to recite Arabic poetry, and another, unnamed, a knight (aswār) who spoke Persian and lived in the manner of the dehqāns. Sometimes the word dehqān meant a Zoroastrian (Šāh-nāma, ed. Moscow, IX, pp. 97 v. 1483, 134 v. 2106; Farroḵī, p. 294; Neẓāmī, p. 238; Ḵāqānī, p. 411; Moʿezzī, pp. 604, 612; Qaṭrān, p. 254).

With the development of the eqṭāʿ (q.v.) system of land grants from the 11th century and the decline of the landowning class, the dehqāns gradually lost their importance, and the word came to mean simply a farmer (e.g., Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow, p. 118; Ebn Fondoq, pp. 28, 266), though even in the 12th and 13th centuries it was still occasionally used in its original sense (e.g., Jovaynī, pp. 53, 55; Najm-al-Dīn Rāzī, p. 514).



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(Aḥmad Tafażżolī)

Originally Published: December 15, 1994

Last Updated: November 21, 2011

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