In the Safavid period the ḥājeb, the major domo or master of ceremony, was called the išik-āqāsi-bāši, literally ‘head of the masters of the threshold.’ The name change is explicitly mentioned by Mirzā Beg Jonābādi (p. 730), who for the year 1001/1592-93 claims that Mahdiqoli Khan Šāmlu was elevated to the position of “ḥejābat and ṣāḥeb-divāni, which, according to Turkish usage, they call išik-āqāsi.” It is unclear exactly when and under what circumstances this change in terminology came about, however, nor to what extent the tasks of the ḥājeb devolved on the išik-āqāsi-bāši in Safavid times.

The function of išik-āqāsi-bāši was divided into the išik-āqāsi-bāši-eḥaram and the išik-āqāsi-bāši-edivān-e aʿlā, the former belonging to the ḵāṣṣa realm, and the latter to the divān department. Most of the information we have, especially that provided by foreign travelers, concerns the išik-āqāsi-bāši-e divān.

The headquarters of this official were located in the hall of the main entrance to the ʿĀli Qāpu Palace (q.v.; Chardin, VII, p. 369). He was in charge of all those who served in the royal palace (išik-āqāsis), door-keepers (qāpučiān), the royal guards, those with ceremonial functions, such as the public announcers of the divān (jārčiān), and, most notably, the yasāvolān-e ṣoḥbat, the aides-de-camp who were responsible for keeping order. At the time of Shah Solṭān Ḥosayn (1105-35/1694-1722) the total of all these functionaries is said to have numbered 2,670. The išik-āqāsi-bāši was also in charge of the qoroqčis, the officials, 2000 men strong (reduced to 700 under Shah Solaymān), who organized the royal outings, during which all males had to remain out of sight (Mirzā Rafiʿā, 16/1-2, p. 82; Tadhkirat al-mulūk, tr. Minorsky, p. 47; ʿAli-Naqi Naṣiri, p. 17; Chardin, V, pp. 356-57, 361-62; Richard, ed., II, p. 13; Kaempfer, p. 106).

The importance of the išik-āqāsi-bāši derived above all from the fact that he served as the buffer between the shah and those wishing to see him or be heard by him, for he screened all visitors and petitioners. Not only the petitions of visitors during royal receptions but also all requests from provincial rulers, with the exception of the governors (wāli) of ʿArabestān (Ḵuzestān) and Georgia, who applied to the Grand Vizier (eʿtemād-al-dawla), had to go through him. He would pass these on to the išik-āqāsi-bāši-e ḥaram, who transmitted them to the shah via the senior officer (riš-safid)of the haram. The išik-āqāsi-bāši was also responsible for the orderly proceedings of royal ceremonies and receptions. During audiences he accompanied foreign ambassadors to the shah’s throne and during official meals he oversaw the seating arrangements for guests. He remained standing even when others were seated, but his official seat was always left empty out of respect. His place was right next to the shah, from where he would have his gaze invariably fixed on the ruler in order to be able to move at the latter’s slightest gesture or eye movement, and give orders to the many yasāvolān-e ṣoḥbat who were in attendance as well. He pronounced the takbir (saying the formula Allāho akbar) after official meals (Mirzā Rafiʿā, 16/1-2, p. 82; ʿAli-Naqi Naṣiri, p. 18; Olearius, pp. 671-72; Richard, II, p. 13; Kaempfer, p. 106).

In the foreign sources the išik-āqāsi-bāši is often called the carrier of the golden stick, referring to his symbol of dignity, the five-foot mace, daganak, gold-plated and encrusted with precious stones, that he carried or had carried in front of him (Speelman, p. 158; Chardin, V, p. 357; Sanson, pp. 33-34; Valentyn, pp. 281-83; Kaempfer, p. 106). The appointment of yasāvolān-e ṣoḥbat and išik-āqāsis involved an initiation ritual, whereby he symbolically beat the appointee with his stick in the presence of the king, in a tradition that seems to go back to ancient Qezelbāš ritual (Morton; Mirzā Rafiʿā, 16/4, pp. 436-37; Zayn-al-ʿĀbedin Naṣiri, p. 55; ʿAli-Naqi Naṣiri, p. 18).

The išik-āqāsi-bāši ranked among the senior courtiers (arkān-e arbaʿa-ye dawlat-e qāhera wa moqarrabān-e dargāh; Mirzā Rafiʿā, 16/1-2, p. 82). In late Safavid times, his stature seems to have increased, for under Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn his signature and seal had to be fixed to the statements concerning the salaries of his subordinates (Mirzā Rafiʿā, 16/1-2, p. 82). That he occupied an elevated position at the court is further suggested by the fact that he was a member of the royal privycoun-cil, the jānqi (ʿAli-Naqi Nasiri, p. 16). Statements about his fixed annual income vary from 400 tomans (Mirzā Rafiʿā, 16/3, p. 307) to between 500 and 600 tomans (Richard, II, p. 13). The fief (toyul ) he enjoyed netted at least another 600 tomans (Mirzā Rafiʿā, 16/3, p. 307). In addition he received ten percent of all gifts offered to the shah as well as those given by the ruler, which was divided between him and the registrar of gifts (piškašnevis). Other emoluments came from the branding of camels and the slaughter of sheep for the royal kitchen. The total amount of this income (madāḵel) was about 6,000 tomans (Tadhkirat al-Mulūk, tr. Minorsky, p. 87; ʿAli-Naqi Naṣiri, p. 17; Chardin, III, pp. 197-98, V, pp. 359, 430; Kaempfer, p. 106; Speelman, p. 269; Algemeen Rijks Archief, VOC 1430, fol. 1548b).

Throughout the Safavid period the divān part of the position rested with prominent members of the Qezelbāš, and more specifically qurčis from the Šāmlu tribe, with the sole exception of Manučehr Beg, a ḡolām, who served in the reign of Shah ʿAbbās I (Fażli Eṣfahāni, fol. 81b; Jalāl-al-Din Monajjem, p. 129; ʿAli-Naqi Naṣiri, p. 19). Like so many other government positions, the function was hereditary (Eskandar Beg, p. 440, tr. Savory, p. 614). The government of Ray (present-day Tehran) was typically annexed to the function, at least after the death of Farhād Khan Qarāmānlu in 1596, when the territory was transferred to the Šāmlu tribe (Fażli Eṣfa-hāni, fol. 113; Eskandar Beg, p. 1040, tr. Savory, p. 1261; Eskandar Beg and Moḥammad-Yusof Moʾarreḵ, p. 147; Sanson, pp. 33-34). At some point in later Safavid times this connection was severed (Tadhkirat al-Mulūk, tr. Minorsky, p. 87).

An overview of the incumbents shows the hold over the position by members of the Šāmlu. Durmiš Beg Khan Šāmlu received the post in 928/1521-22 (Haneda, p. 91). Ḥosaynqoli Khan Šāmlu became išik-āqāsi-bāši at the time of Shah Esmāʿil II’s accession in 984/1576 (Eskandar Beg, p. 206, tr. Savory, p. 306). He was quickly succeeded, in 988/1580, by Qur Ḵoms Khan Šāmlu (Wāleh Eṣfahāni, 1993, pp. 613, 614). Reżāqoli Beg is on record as the incumbent in 993/1585 (Afuštaʾi Naṭanzi, p. 272). Mahdiqoli Khan served several times between about 1000/1591-92 and 1011/1602 (Jonābādi, pp. 729-30; Eskandar Beg, pp. 440, 620, tr. Savory, pp. 614, 810). Manučehr Beg, the only ḡolām to hold the position, also served in this period, taking over from Mahdiqoli Khan in 1002/1594 (Jalāl-al-Din Monajjem, p. 129). Esfandiār Beg Evči-bāši ʿArabgirlu briefly served in 1033/1623-24, the year of his death (Eskandar Beg, p. 1022, tr. Savory, p. 1244). His successor, ʿAliqoli Khan, also died soon after taking office, in 1034/1624-25, and after a brief vacancy, Zaynal Beg Begdilu became the incumbent in 1036/1627 (Eskandar Beg, pp. 1040, 1059-60, tr. Savory, pp. 1261, 1283; Jalāl-al-Din Monajjem, p. 390). He was succeeded by Oḡurlu Khan, a son of Mahdiqoli Khan, who only served until 1634, when he was executed, to be succeeded by Emāmqoli Beg Ināllu. When the latter was killed in the same year, Jāni Khan, who had first served as yasāvol-e ṣoḥbat, took his place (Eskandar Beg and Moḥammad-Yusof Moʾarreḵ, pp. 147, 199; Wāleh Eṣfahāni, 1380, pp. 201-4; Dunlop, p. 525). When Jāni Beg was appointed qurči-bāši a year and a half later in 1637, Mortażāqoli Beg Bijārlu succeeded him as išik-āqāsi-bāši (Wāleh Eṣfahāni, 1380, p. 250; Olearius, p. 672). Upon Mortażāqoli Beg’s appointment as qurči-bāši in 1645, Mahdiqoli Khan, a son of Oḡurlu Beg, became išik-āqāsi-bāši, serving until his death in 1663, when his son, another Oḡurlu Khan, succeeded him (Waliqoli Šāmlu, p. 288; Waḥid Qazvini, pp. 68, 328; Mollā Kamāl, p. 101; Naṣrābādi, p. 549). Shah Solaymān, intent on saving money, kept the function vacant during an undetermined period of time, so that in 1684 the divānbegi, Mohammad-ʿAli Beg, was in charge of his responsibilities (Kaempfer, pp. 106-7; Algemeen Rijks Archief, VOC 1373, fol. 883v). The vacancy may have lasted until 1103/1691-92, when Biji Beg Bijārlu, a son of Mortażāqoli Beg, was called to serve (Taḏkera-ye Ṣafawiya-ye Kermān, p. 627). In 1694, at the time of Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn’s accession, the position went to Moḥammad Moʾmen Khan Šāmlu (Zayn-al-ʿĀbedin Naṣiri, p. 19; Aubin, ed., p. 56). In the remaining years of Solṭān-Ḥosayn’s reign the following officials held the post, mostly in rapid succession: ʿAli Mardān Khan, 1110/1698-1701 (Zayn-al-ʿĀbedin Naṣiri, p. 273; Valentyn, p. 283); Ṣafiqoli Beg, 1702-06 (Ḵātunābādi, p. 549; Algemeen Rijks Archief, VOC 1679, fols. 103-4; idem, VOC 1732, fol. 539); Moḥammad-Zamān Khan Šāmlu, 1706-07; Maḥmud Āqā, 1707-08; Mortażāqoli Khan, 1708-09 (Algemeen Rijks Archief, VOC 1763, fols. 252; idem, VOC 1779, fol. 255); Moḥammad-Salim Khan, 1121-125/1709-13 (Ḵātunābādi, p. 558; Algemeen Rijks Archief, VOC 1779, fol. 299; idem, VOC 1843, fol. 19); Moḥammadqoli Khan 1713; Najafqoli Beg, the latter’s nephew, 1713-14 (Algemeen Rijks Archief, VOC 1856, fols. 587, 613, 627, 1011); Reżāqoli Khan, 1133/1721 (Moḥsen Mostawfi, p. 128).

We know much less about the haram counterpart, which is mostly due to the fact that he presided over the inner part of the palace, that he did not take part in the more visible and spectacular court ceremonial, and that his position may have been subordinated to that of his divān counterpart (Tadhkirat al-Mulūk, tr. Minorsky, pp. 118, 133). According to Jean Chardin (V, p. 356), he was the second most important official in the ḵāṣṣa department, yielding only to the nāẓer, under whose authority he served. He and his subordinates, the qāpu-čis and išik-āqāsis, stood guard at the gate of the ha-ram, and he was supposed to be present at the kešik-ḵāna day and night, with the exception of Friday nights. Whenever the shah traveled the išik-āqāsi-bāši-e ḥaram also took part in the enforcement of qoroq. In 1055/1645 his salary was fixed at 300 tomans (Wāleh Eṣfahāni, 1380, p. 420; Tadhkirat al-Mulūk, tr. Minorsky, p. 87). A Persian chronicle asserts that the post of išik-āqāsi-bāši-e ḵāṣṣa-ye ḥaram rested with the family of Mahdiqoli Khan Afšār, who held the position in about 999 (Fażli Eṣfahāni, fol. 81b). Mirzā Rafiʿā (16/3, p. 307), on the other hand, claims that the position was always with the Čula clan. This is mostly true but not fully borne out by the record. Thus in 978/1570-71 the position was given to Solṭān-Ebrāhim Mirzā, a nephew of Shah Ṭah-māsb (Haneda, pp. 140-41). Later on, the position often went to one of the ḡolāms. Thus in 999 Allāh-verdi Solṭān was appointed (Fażli Eṣfahāni, fol. 47). Abu’l-Qāsem Beg Evoḡli (Ivāḡli) served in the last years of Shah ʿAbbās I’s reign and into that of Shah Ṣafi (Eskandar Beg, p. 929, 1078, tr. Savory, pp. 1147, 1302; Eskandar Beg and Moḥammad-Yusof Moʾarriḵ, p. 7). He was succeeded by Čalabi Beg, his brother. Ḥaydar Beg Evoḡli, son of Abu’l-Qāsem Beg, served following his uncle’s death in 1637, and held the position until 1642, when he was succeeded by ʿAliqoli Beg (Waḥid Qazvini, pp. 55-56; Wāleh Eṣfahāni, 1380, p. 329; Mollā Kamāl, p. 99). In 1643 ʿAli Qobād Beg Čula was appointed (Wāleh Eṣfahāni, 1380, pp. 402-3). His direct successor may have been Moḥammadqoli Khan Čaḡatāy, who served until his death in 1662, and was succeeded by Abdāl Beg Čula (Waliqoli Šāmlu, ms, fol. 143v; Waḥid Qazvini, p. 311). In 1103/1691-92, Ṭahmāsb Beg Darjazini was appointed, succeeding Āqā Morād. In 1692 the shah called Kamāli Ṭahmāsb Beg to serve (Taḏkera-ye Ṣafawiya-ye Kermān, p. 626). In 1694, the incumbent was ʿAliqoli Beg Čula (Zayn-al-ʿĀbedin Naṣiri, pp. 28, 272).

Nāder Shah Afšār is said to have abolished the position of išik-āqāsi-bāši-e divān in 1736 (Marvi, p. 457). This was only a temporary measure, however, for under the Zands the position appears again, though it no longer seems to have been held by the Šāmlu. Henceforth officials from varying background occupied the position. During the reign of Karim Khan Zand we thus hear of Moḥammad-Zamān Khan Zand as the incumbent (Ḡaf-fāri Kāšāni, pp. 485, 586). The French envoy Amédée Jaubert in 1806 was introduced to Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah by Jaʿfarqoli Khan in 1806 (Jaubert, pp. 229-30). In 1236/1820-21, Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Khan Zangana became išik-āqāsi-bāši. In 1249-50/1834, Sāhqoli Mirzā, a son of Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah, was appointed (Lesān-al-Molk Sepehr, pp. 328, 602).

In the early Qajar period the išik-āqāsi-bāši-e divān is still described as the functionary who almost never left the shah’s side and who, equipped with his stick, announced the names of foreign envoys and escorted them to the shah during audiences. He was also said to be in charge of relaying the shah’s orders to the divān offi-cials and to be the head of the farrāš-bāšis (Malcolm, II, p. 556; Morier, p. 212; Drouville, II, p. 28).

Under Nāṣer-al-Din Shah, the function lost much of its importance: the incumbent’s tasks became limited and he only served on ceremonial occasions, such as wel-coming receptions and audiences with foreign envoys (Mostawfi, Šarḥ-e zendagāni I, pp. 409-10; Brugsch, pp. 262-63). Meanwhile, a change in terminology also occurred; as early as 1806, Jaubert (pp. 229-30) used the term tašrifātči-bāši for the royal master of ceremonies. In the later Qajar period the išik-āqāsi-bāši was commonly called raʾis-e tašrifāt or wazir-e tašrifāt (Bām-dād, Rejāl II, pp. 367-68; Mostawfi, Šarḥ-e zendagāni I, pp. 409-10; Dust-ʿAli Khan Moʿayyer-al-Mamālek, 1361, pp. 109-10; idem, 1372, p. 55). Between 1283/1866-67 and 1294/1877, the position was filled by Moḥammad-Nāṣer Khan Qājār Davalu (Ẓahir-al-Dawla; Bāmdād, Rejāl IV, pp. 14-15). His son, ʿAli Khan Davalu Qājār Ẓahir-al-Dawla, who was married to a daughter of the shah, took up the post in 1304/1886-87, and held it for thirty years (Dust-ʿAli Khan, 1361, p. 109; Bāmdād, Rejāl II, pp. 367-68; Ẓahir-al-Dawla, introd. by Afšar). See also COURT.



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(Rudi Matthee)

Originally Published: December 15, 2002

Last Updated: March 1, 2012

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