KERMAN ii. Historical Geography



ii. Historical Geography


In the early Achaemenid period, the name of Kerman (for most recent discussion, see Schmitt, 1996; idem, 2003) is first found in a trilingual inscription of Darius I (r. 522-486 BCE; see DARIUS iii)—the “palace foundation charter” represented by inscriptions DSf (Old Persian) and DSz (Elamite; Vallat). The name occurs as Old Persian (ablative) Kṛmānā (DSf 35) and Elamite hkur-ma-na-mar (DSz 32), the name of a region from which sissoo wood (OPers. yakā-) was imported for the construction of the palace at Susa (Steve, p. 69). This Elamite form occurs again, in the same reign, in the Persepolis Fortification tablet PF 15a: “71(?) boys …, (who) carried treasury [sic] from Kerman and went across (to) Susa” (Hallock, 1978, p. 121). Other tablets, recording traffic to and from Kerman (e.g., “they went from Susa to Kerman,” PF 1348; Hallock, 1969, p. 381), have the form hkur-ma-an and variants. The name does not occur again in Iranian sources until the third-century CE Sasanian monumental inscriptions, as Mid. Pers. klmʾn and Parth. krmn, and thereafter in Zoroastrian Pahlavi literature, as kylmʾn or klmʾn (see examples below).

The Arab geographers knew the name either in its present form, Kermān, which appears to have been adopted in popular usage, or in the form Karmān, which was considered preferable and the only one to be used by the cultivated (cf. Yāqut, Moʿjam al-boldān IV, p. 263; tr., p. 482).  Others, such as Ebn al-Aṯir, accepted both forms, while Abu Yaʿqub alone opted for the form Kermān exclusively (all references in Schwarz, III, p. 211, n. 4).  The name for the region was transcribed by Greek authors, from the Seleucid period on, as Karmanía (Strabo, 15.2.14), which corresponds to an Old Persian ethnonym *Kṛmāniya- (Schmitt, 2003), derived from the name of its ancient capital Carmana (Ptolemy, Geographia 6.8; Ammianus Marcellinus, 23.6.48).

As for the people,  Strabo (15.2.14) refers to them once, as Karmanitoi, while Polybius (5.79.3, 7) gives Karmánioi, as did Ctesias earlier (Karmaníōn, in Photius’s summary, Persica 8). Already in the fifth century BCE, Herodotus (1.125.3) was informed of a tribe called Germánioi that was one among the tribes (génea) of the Persians who were cultivators (as opposed to pastoral nomads). This form of the name, with its voiced initial consonant, once stimulated much discussion. Some attempted, on the basis of a common Indo-European origin, to connect it with the name of the Germans (the Germani of the Latin authors) and thus find in it the earliest historical attestation of the existence of a Germanic branch of peoples (Neckel, pp. 30-32; Paul, 1932).  The comparison is phonetically impossible, since the Iranian *k would have to correspond to a fricative in Germanic (Schmitt, personal  communication, 6 July 2005). The simultaneous existence of these two Greek transcriptions of the initial consonant (with /k/ and with /g/) remains an open question. 

According to Rüdiger Schmitt (1996; idem, 2003), the transcription Germanioi, which appears in the manuscripts of Herodotus and in the literary tradition derived from it, is doubtless the result of late contamination by the copyists (the earliest known manuscripts date from the 9th-10th cents. CE), to whom the name of the Germans was quite familiar. Occurrence of the form Karmánioi as a variant in texts of Herodotus is attested by Stephanus of Byzantium’s citation of Herodotus, 1.125 (s.v. Deroúsioi; ed. Meineke, p. 228; Schmitt, 1996, p. 51).  The opposite hypothesis (Paul, 1932, p. 114) of the introduction into Greek of initial k- in place of an original g- as a Macedonianism by authors contemporary with Alexander’s conquest is contradicted by the excellent transcriptions in every Greek text of the period (Schnetz; Eilers, 1982, pp. 20-21; Schmitt, 1996, pp. 49-50).  

The etymology of the name remains unknown (Huyse, II, p. 29, n. 68; Schmitt, personal communication, 2005).  Explanations via Old Persian *garma “hot” (Paul, 1934, pp. 117-18) or a Mongolian kerman “town” are not plausible; derivation from a personal name *karma (Eilers, 1982, pp. 19-20; on the name, see Mayrhofer, p. 178) also seems unlikely; although the name is found in Elamite in the Persepolis tablets  (Hallock, 1969, index, p. 711), parallel survivals of pre-Iranian toponyms in the region based on personal names are lacking. There are, however, unfounded folk etymologies, most notably the association  of the name with kerm, NPers. “worm,” Mid. Pers. “dragon”—the designation of one of the enemies vanquished in the legend of the Sasanian Ardašir I (r. 226-40; see, e.g., Browne, 1929-30, I, pp. 145 ff. with translations; see also HAFTANBOXT, KĀR-NĀMAG Ī ARDAŠĪR Ī PĀBAGĀN [KAP], and below).


The development of a Carmanian identity can be followed through the course of time on the administrative level. Herodotus classifies the Germanioi (see above) among the tribes of the Persians, and it is clear that, at the time of Darius I and his inscriptions, their domain was included in Pārsa and did not constitute a dahyu, that is, satrapy (see, e.g., the region list DB 1.12-17; Schmitt, 2003, p. 47).  However, the Persepolis Fortification (PF) tablets also point to a distinct administrative identity within Pārsa. One or more of the officials named Karkiš (see Hallock, 1969, index, pp. 710-11; Cameron, p. 121, PT 22.28; Briant, pp. 262-63 and 239-40; Henkelman, index, p. 650) worked there, and one held the title of “satrap,” but at Puruš (PF 681)—probably the city that later is called in Greek Pura, which in Alexander’s time was the capital of Gedrosia (Arrian, Anabasis 6.24.1). Achaemenid officials under Darius I who came and went between Kerman and Susa included Bagiya and Mirinzamna (Henkelman, see index; cf. Koch, pp. 16-20).

Before Darius, in the account of Ctesias (Persica 8, 10-11), Cyrus II the Great (d. 530 BCE; see CYRUS), at the end of his reign, assigned the crucial eastern power center of the Bactrian people (see BACTRIA), along with the Chorasmians (text: Choramnians; see CHORASMIA), the Parthians, and the Carmanians, to his younger son, Tanyoxarces (see BARDIYA), as overlord (despótēs). If in this tradition the inclusion of Carmanians together with three known dahyu peoples is an anachronism, it may imply that Carmania had become a satrapy by the time of Ctesias and Artaxerxes II (r. 405-359 BCE;  cf. Stronk, pp. 15 ff., on the problem of  Ctesias’s claim to have used Achaemenid archival sources).

At the time of the death of Darius III (r. 336-330; see DARIUS v) and the conquest of Alexander, Carmania is said (by Quintus Curtius, 9.10.21, 29) to be ruled by a satrap, Aspastes, whom Alexander left in office. But on the return march from India through Carmania in 326, Alexander had the satrap executed on suspicion of rebellion such as was occurring elsewhere in the east. He settled on the general Tlepolemus as the new satrap (Arrian, Anabasis 6.27.1-4), and the latter was confirmed, after Alexander's death in 323, by the regent Perdiccas in 321 (Diodorus, 18.3.3) and by the regent Antipater in 320 (18.39.6); he is mentioned again under year 317-16 BCE, when he and the other eastern satraps and Perdiccas, satrap of Persia, collected troops to support Eumenes against Antipater (19.14.6).   Diodorus also names Carmania in his description of the satrapies (18.6.3).

Thus the consolidation of power over this area that had been something of a backwater was significantly reinforced.  The main contribution of this region to the economy of the Achaemenid empire, aside from monetary tribute, according to the statements of Strabo (15.2.14), was derived from its mines (silver, copper, ochre, orpiment, and salt). Acculturation with the Persian peoples had clearly taken place, and its effective road communications with the rest of Iran appears exemplified by the speed with which men, animals, and supplies were assembled there from north and east to reinforce and re-supply Alexander after the hard march from the Indus across coastal Makran (Arrian, Anabasis 6.27; Quintus Curtius, 9.10.17-24). Kerman was not, however, on the northern route between western Iran and India that was  described by Isidorus of Charax in the Arsacid period (Schoff).  Strabo (15.2.14), quoting Nearchus, writes that the language and way of life of the Carmanians was similar to those of the Medes and the Persians, and that they had adopted agricultural techniques similar to those of the Persians, including viticulture, and their wines were famous; they were warlike in religion and customs.  Arrian (Indica 38.1) similarly notes that the inhabitants of Carmania lived like Persians, who were their neighbors, and were equipped in the same way for war.

A degree of special identity for the country within the Iranian domain persisted over the centuries. The fourth-century historian Ammianus Marcellinus may be drawing on earlier sources reflecting the Parthian period (see ARSACIDS) when he lists Kerman as one of the eighteen major provinces of the “kingdom of the Persians” ruled by bidaxš, kings, or satraps (23.14).  But it was apparently the Sasanians who were responsible for the first systematic attempt to organize under more centralized control this area, which was still probably to some extent in a state of lawlessness (see Spiegel, III, pp. 240-47, and Christensen, pp. 87 ff. on the rise and reign of Ardašir I). According to Tabari, Ardašir I (r. 224-40) overthrew a local king (malek) in Kerman named Balāš—possibly a family member of the Arsacids or of the great families (Ṭabari, I, p. 817; tr., V, p. 10 and note; on the families, see COURTS AND COURTIERS ii). The Pahlavi KAP also has him fight there after overthrowing the last Arsacid ruler, Ardawān; previously, he had already collected troops against Ardawān from Kerman and Makran, as well as his home province of Pars (KAP, ed. Sanjana, 9.2 and 4.12; tr. Grenet,  10.1 and 5.10).

Following his practice for other key provinces (see, e.g., Christensen, p. 102), Ardašir appointed one of his sons, Ardašir, as governor with the title Kirmānšāh; the latter continued to rule under Šāpur I [r. 240-272] (Šāpur Kaʿba-ye Zardošt inscription [ŠKZ], ed. Huyse, secs. 41, 44; Huyse, II, p. 131; Ṭabari, I, p. 817; tr., V, p. 10). Kerman (Mid. Pers. Kirmān) is listed (just before Sistan and the other southeastern lands) as one of the “lands” (šahr) ruled by Šāpur (ŠKZ, sec. 3). Kerman likewise occurs in the expected position (before Sistan) in the province list given by the contemporary Zoroastrian priest Kirdēr (see KARTIR; Sar Mašhad [KSM] 17, Naqš-e Rostam [KNR] 35, in Back, p. 421). Although few administrative seals of the Sasanian period from Kerman are in evidence (Gyselen, pp. 49, 64, 86), they are significant, given the sparseness of cities in that province, and at least one mint assignment can be made, for its capital city, as KL (Göbl, Table 16; SASANIAN COINAGE, Table 2; Gariboldi, nos. 27, 34, 39).

Whatever the actual state of coherence of this provincial entity might have been in ancient times, it is significant that the exact location of its capital is unknown. Ptolemy (6.8) and Ammianus Marcellinus (23.6.48) are the only sources to mention the names of any cities. Ptolemy includes an Alexandria and a Kármana mētrópolis, and Ammianus “Carmana mother of all [the province’s cities]” (23.6.48), but they provide no further specific information in this regard.  The practice of attributing the same name to both a province and its capital has been a common feature in Iran, which makes it likely that a town already bore this name before the Islamic conquest.

The present-day Kerman City (lat 30°17′ N, long 57°04′ E) was founded by Ardašir I (d. 242).  The names Bardsir/Bardašir or Govāšir, by which it was known to the early Muslim geographers (Eṣṭaḵri, p. 161; Ebn al-Ḥawqal, p. 308; Ḥamza Eṣfahāni, I, p. 46; Moqaddasi, pp. 461-62; Ebn al-Balḵi, p. 60; Ḥodud al-ʿālam, p. 129; tr., p. 125, comm., p.  375; Lambton, p. 152), represent the original form Beh-Ardašir, Mid. Pers. Weh-Ardašir: “The city Weh-Ardašīr was built by three lords;  it was finished by Ardašīr son of Pāpak” (Šahrestānīhā ī ērān [ŠĒ] 40, ed. Markwart, p. 18; comm., p. 91). Present-day Bardsir (lat 29°55′ N, long 56°34′ E) is the historical Māšiz, 69 km southwest of Kerman on the road to Sirjan. The foundation Beh-Ardašir is to be distinguished from that of the same name (also represented in a later form, Ar. Bahurasir), which was applied to the city of Seleucia; its founding likewise was attributed to Ardašir I (Ṭabari, I, p. 819; tr., V, p. 15 and note; see also Gyselen, p. 62; cf. discussion in Daryaee, pp. 49-50).

Beh-Ardašir was located in a privileged spot that included a long series of towns established alongside the mountain chains of the Zagros, which occupy the south and southwest of Iran, and along the desert hollows of the Great Kavir and Dašt-e Lut (see DESERT) in the center and northeast of the country.  Its location on the northwest-southeast line that provided successive stations (stopping points) or entrepots on the road to India rendered it a pioneering outpost, a base of power for the nascent dominion of the Sasanian dynasty.  In this already sub-arid environment (the average precipitation in the town is 137 mm per year: see above, i, Table 1), the urban agglomerations avoided the very edge of the desert in favor of seeking out the closest interior basins within the mountainous region, where abundant waters descending from the mountains feed groundwater that can be tapped by underground irrigation canals (qanāt or kārēz; see KĀRIZ).

The Kerman basin, in which Kerman City is situated (Figure 1; English, p. 6, fig. 2), is located at an elevation of about 1,700 m with land sloping very gently from northwest to southeast.  It is entirely surrounded by a series of high massifs: Kuh-e Darmanu to the northeast, more than 3,000 m high; Kuhpāya and Kuh-e Sehkonj to the east, which form a nearly continuous barrier more than 3,500 m high; Kuh-e Jupār to the south, whose peaks are crowned with snow in the winter, reach 3,300 to 4,000 m; and Kuh-e Bādāmān (nearly 3,500 m), and Kuh-e Doḵtar (2,800 m) to the west. They are connected by relatively accessible passes at an elevation of about 2,000 m, the most important of which are those to the west, at Bāḡin district between Kuh-e Bādāmān and Kuh-e Doḵtar, which provide access to the northwest through Yazd and Isfahan.  To the southeast, the pass between Kuh-e Sekonj and Kuh-e Jupār extends toward Bam on the main road to India.  Toward the north, between Kuh-e Bādāmān and Kuh-e Darmanu, a minor road joins the village of Rāvar (150 km north of Kerman) on the edge of Dašt-e Lut desert.  Between these borders the dimensions of the basin are some 45 km north-south and about 35 km east-west.  The break in the slope between the mountain borders and the basin proper is found at about 2,200 m to the north and 2,000 m to the south, resulting in many sites suitable for human habitation.  The center of the basin, however, is occupied by a major mass of dune sand, entirely inhospitable, about 30 km broad from west to east and 20 or so km north to south.

Immediately to the north of this area, some small isolated relief features in the heart of the plain and some just a few kilometers from the edge of the sand desert provide favored sites of habitation, with defensive possibilities that proved to be particularly valuable in the still troubled context of the early days of Sasanian conquest.  These two rocky heights, Qalʿa-ye Ardašir and Qalʿa-ye Doḵtar, which rise some 300 to 350 m above the surrounding plain at present-day Kerman City, accommodate, respectively, two fortresses and the town that developed at their foot to the west and northwest; the water supply is provided by underground canals originating in Kuh-e Darmanu and Kuhpāya (for map of the channels throughout the basin, see English, p. 32, fig. 7).  

The main town of Kerman, even through the ʿAbbasid period, was Sirjan (Sirjān; lat 29°27′ N, long 55°40′ E), some 180 km southwest of Bardsir. The old city lay 8 km away from the present-day site (former Saʿidābād; see Waziri, 1966-67, pp. 151-54). All the main roads connecting Fars and Isfahan with the important city of Bam, Hormuz, and other towns, and with Sistan, converged there (see Lambton, pp. 151, 152; English, p. 25 and n. 42).  Thus Sirjan is probably the “capital of Kerman” (šahrestān ī kirmān) whose Sasanian foundation is attributed to the Kirmānšāh Wahrām (later king, 388-99 CE: see BAHRĀM; ŠĒ 39, following ed. Markwart, p. 90; Ṭabari, I, p. 847; tr., V,  p. 69; cf. Daryaee, p. 49; his Kerman drahm coin, see Gariboldi, no. 27).


After the defeat of the Sasanians in Iraq, according to Ṭabari, three focal areas of Fars, plus the regions of Kerman (Ar. Karmān), Khorasan, Sistan, and Makran each became a  destination for an Arab force under a separate commander, sent by the caliph ʿOmar (r. 13-23/634-44);  the armies  advanced in the year 18/639 (Ṭabari I, p. 2569; tr., XIII, p. 149).  In the year 20/640 the Kerman army apparently reached Jiroft (lat 29°56′ N, long 57°19′ E) in the center south of the province (Ar. Jiraft, Ṭabari, I, p. 2704; tr., XIV, p. 74). One of the accounts known to Ṭabari regarding the last years of the Sasanian king Yazdegard III (r. 632-51) has him spending as much as several years in Kerman before he continued his escape from the victorious Arabs, to Sistan and thence to Khorasan and his death (Ṭabari, I, p. 2876; tr., XV, p. 82). In other accounts, and in that of   Balāḏori (p. 315; tr., I, pp. 490-91), his stay seems briefer, in year 29/649-50, and is said to have ended with a falling out with the governor (marzbān) of the province—similar to Ṭabari’s account (loc. cit.), in which the king disputes with the local magnate (dehqān).  After the Arab mastery of Fars, the conquest of the major towns of Kerman, one by one, likewise is described by Balāḏori; the marzbān died in battle early on, engaging the Arabs on the island of Abarkāvān (pp. 391-92; tr., II, pp. 136-38). “Many of the people of Kerman,” Balāḏori says (p. 392; tr., II, p. 137) fled eastward to Makran and Sistan and were replaced by Arab settlement. The subsequent period of Islamic dominion in the distant, marginal province of Kerman long remained highly troubled—for instance, with the establishment of the Kharejites there. (See further, below, iv.)

Zoroastrian elements seem to have maintained control of many mountain regions between Sirjan and Bardsir for nearly 200 years, until the 9th century—perhaps under late 7th-century peace terms agreed upon with the Arabs, such as those ratified in Kōhestān (Balāḏori, p. 403; tr., II, pp. 159-60; cf. the volatile relations between local ruler and Arabs  in Sistan, pp. 399-402; tr., II, pp. 150-55).  The geographical term applied to southern Khorasan, adjoining the mountain country of northern Kerman and Yazd Provinces, but could easily be applied more widely, within the latter (cf. Kramers).  In any case, there are allusions to a militant presence within Kerman expressed in Manučehr (on whom, see below), Epistle 1.3.11, 2.5.14 (ed. Dhabhar, tr. West; cited by English, p. 24).  Close-knit, intact communities of observant Zoroastrians persisted in the province after the Arab invasion and up to modern times (see, e.g., Boyce, 1977, pp. 1-28). The tenacity of their religious tradition, evidenced in the compiling, copying, and conveying to India of Pahlavi texts that survive to the present, may have been rooted in the hereditary transmission of priestly authority and the close sharing of religious doctrine and practice among the temples of Sasanian Pars and Kirman. From the Sasanian period, we have only one well-represented scriptural commentator of (or from) Kirman, “Kay Ādur-bōzēd of Kirmān” (kirmānīg, in Pahlavi Vendidad 4.10, ed. Anklesaria, 1949, p. 74; Hērbedestān and Nērangestān: see Kotwal and Kreyenbroek, indices; for the priest’s name, cf. ĀDUR-BŌZĒD and Gignoux, p. 134).

From the ninth century there is a more extensive view—of  community life and the conflict of tradition and change. Manučehr son of Juwānjam, who inherited the position of chief priest of Fars and Kerman, composed three Pahlavi Epistles, addressed to Sirjan, his brother, and the general community, respectively;  the last letter is dated to 881 CE (ed. Dhabhar, tr. West), while his brother was priest at Sirjan; the two were adversaries in a controversy regarding the barašnom ritual. Manučehr’s views on a range of questions survive in the compilation Dādestān ī dēnīg [DD] (Religious judgements; tr. West). The collection of doctrine written by his brother is preserved as the Selections [wizidagīhā] of  Zādspram (ed. and tr. Anklesaria, 1964).  Also from this same extended family (ham-dūdag) was Farrbay son of Ašwahišt, the last-named compiler of the Bundahišn (Bd. 35A; ed. and tr. Anklesaria, 1956, pp. 304-5). He emphasizes the continuity of the “family of the mobads” and traces their geneology back to the famous fourth-century priest Ādurbād ī Mahrspandān;  for further family connections, see Anklesaria, 1964, pp. xviii ff.).

The tradition of the Indian Parsis, set down in summary fashion in the 17th-century Qeṣṣa-ye Sanjan (tr. Hodivala, p. 100; Williams, ll. 101, 104, comm., pp. 168-69), attributes to their forebears a period of residence in Kōhestān. They are said to have migrated to Hormuz and ultimately to have sailed to India from there, possibly in the 9th century.  (See Williams for discussion of the Qeṣṣa-ye Sanjan and of the  problem of  Parsi chronology; see also IRĀNŠĀH.) The traveler Ebn Baṭṭuṭa, recording his 1347 visit to (Old) Hormuz, noted the city’s byname as Mugestān, which associates it with Zoroastrians [for mug, Mid. Pers. moγ, see MAGI] (tr. Defrémery and  Sanguinetti, II, pp. 95-96; other references in HORMUZ). The term  continued to be used, at least in the Persian Gulf region (see, e.g., example of Portuguese usage, Couto, p. 56).  

During the turbulence of the early Islamic period, Bardsir grew in size and importance (LeStrange, 1966, pp. 302-4; English, p. 25).  But within the basin, its prominent position was matched by that of Māhān (lat 30°03′ N, long 57°17′ E), located to its southeast between Kuh-e Jupār and Kuh-e Sehkonj.  Māhān is said (Waziri, 1961, p. 23) to have been founded by a Sasanian governor Āḏar Māhān. (The well-attested name is the patronymic of Mid. Pers. Ādurmǎh [Gignoux, 1986, p. 66; Justi, p. 51] and is known, e.g., as the name of a general in Ḵosrow I’s Byzantine wars [see Shahid, s.v. Adarmahan] and of a ninth-century Zoroastrian of Fars or Kerman [DD, introd.; West, p. 3].) The city lies at a strategic position at the edge of the mountains that assured it an abundant water supply, while commanding of one of the passes out of the basin (Waziri, 1961, p. 23; 2nd ed., I, p. 270; idem, 1966-67, p. 82).  Bardsir’s strategic significance rose in the 10th century, when the Samanid governor of the province, Abu ʿAli b. Elyās, asserted his independence and moved his capital to the town, which was less exposed than Sirjan to the attacks of the Buyids of Fars (Le Strange, 1901, pp. 283-84; idem, 1966, pp. 302-4; tr., pp. 325-26; Schwarz, III, p. 220, n. 5; English, p. 25 and n. 43; Waziri, 1961, pp. 59-62; 2nd ed., I, pp. 319-21). 

This was the starting point for the real rise of the city, described in some details by Muslim geographers (quoted with references in Schwarz, III, pp. 220-22), especially Moqaddasi (pp. 461-62; see also Ḥodud al-ʿālam, comm., p. 375). Its early expansion was in the Mahani quarter (which in early modern times was to be one of the poorest sections; English, p. 41) west of the Qālʿa-ye Ardašir. Moqaddasi (fl. mid-4th/10th cent.) refers to Bardsir (p. 461) as a city “not big, but fortified,” confirmed by a note in Ebn Ḥawqal (p. 307; tr., II, p. 303), where it is described as a “small town,” although quite prosperous, marked by its rich culture and sizeable population. The town was protected by a fortress built on the rocky heights (see above), which dominate the town and its environs, and a second citadel was built on the other side of Mahani, within the town itself, close to the site where the Great Mosque would be erected (cf. LeStrange, pp. 303-6; Figure  2).

The decisive growth of Bardsir began in 1041 with the establishment in the town of the dynasty of the Saljuqids of Kerman, who remained there until 1187 in a state of quasi-independence from the Great Saljuqids of Isfahan. This autonomy once again served to emphasize the perpetually marginal character of the province with respect to any central authority established in Iran.  The influence of the Saljuqids of Kerman extended broadly through the surrounding area.  In the first half of the 12th century, under the reign of Moḥyi-al-Din Arslanšāh b. Qāvord (r. 495-536/1100-41), their domain seems even to have included Yazd and Ṭabas (Afżal-al-Din Kermāni, p. 76).  Their power was clearly a decisive element in developing their capital city. Yāqut (d. 626/1229), at the beginning of the 13th century, states (Moʿjam al-boldān I, p. 555; tr., p. 90) that it is “the largest town in Kerman.” In the 1270s, when Marco Polo passed through it, coming from Yazd, he remarked on the fine weaponry and needlecraft produced there (Yule, I, p. 90).  The city’s regional supremacy would never again be challenged.  It remained the principal gateway to power and Iranian culture in the southeast of the country, an area widely traversed by poorly controlled nomadic tribes. 

It was in this period that the name of the province was gradually applied to its main town.  The name Bardsir does not appear to have remained in use for the town after the 16th century, but it was still applied to a district that did not include the town of Kerman itself, and the main town of the district, Mashiz, came to be called Bardsir (Lambton, p. 150). The name Govāšir, which the inhabitants of the city preferred (Yāqut, Moʿjam al-boldān I, p. 555; tr., p. 495; Schwarz, III, p. 220), was still used in the 19th century for the district including the town and its surroundings by Aḥmad-ʿAli Khan Waziri (1966-67, pp. 175 ff.).  This was, however, a scholarly archaism; the town was no longer known, especially in the usage of all Western travelers, by any name but Kerman.


The primary function of Kerman City throughout its history has always been to serve as the administrative and military center of the province, which could never be challenged by the stronghold of Bam, regardless of how fortified it was. The consequences were often negative, with destructive sieges, the most harrowing of which was the siege of 1794, by Āḡā Moḥammad Khan Qājār, who seized the town, which had been the last refuge of Loṭf-ʿAli Khan Zand.  Twenty thousand people were thrown into slavery, and an equal number were blinded (Waziri, 1961, pp. 366-67; 2nd ed., II, pp. 746-47 and n. 53; Mirḵᵛānd [Tehran], IX, pp. 254-58; Sykes, 1921, II, p. 288).

On the other hand, this political function had very favorable impact on the economic development of the town.  Early on, it was a major stop on the road to India, and its importance grew under the Safavids, when the establishment of a major port at Bandar ʿAbbās in 1625 opened a new south-north commercial route toward Khorasan and Central Asia.  Kerman, located at the intersection of this road and the east-west road to India, became a crossroad center actively involved in doing business in all directions.  It also created the condition for the rise of Kerman as a major crafts center, mainly the textile industry, based on the fine wool of the local sheep and goats.  Beginning in the 17th century, the town exported its wool product (“Carmania Wool”) to India and to the other parts of Iran (Fryer, I, p.  219 and n. 5). The British and Dutch East India Companies set up agencies for the import of raw wool and of the output of local crafts workers. 

The textile industry of Kerman went through a sequence of well-defined phases.  First came the vast production of shawls made of fine wool, which saw great success in Europe and especially England.  These shawls could be as much as twelve feet long (Browne, 1950, pp. 482-83).  The industry suffered greatly from the depredations of the 18th century, but it regained its importance at the beginning of the 19th century (Pottinger, pp. 226-27); Nicolai Khanikoff (1866, p. 196), at the end of the 1850s, counted 200 workshops.  Nonetheless, it began to decline toward the end of the 19th century in the face of competition from Kashmir, where under British influence workshops that worked the fine goat wool of the region multiplied,  and Kerman devoted itself to exporting its own raw materials to India (English, p. 28, citing Sykes, 1902, p. 202). In 1871, Evan Smith did not count more than 120 workshops. 

A shift to the carpet industry developed on the initiative of merchants from Tabriz, who were engaged in the export trade to Europe and would make good profits from the trade of products made of wool of such excellent quality.  Commercial carpetweaving, which early Muslim geographers do not mention in connection with Kerman, and which seems to have been unknown in the region, appears with certainty in the Safavid period, particularly in the reign of Shah ʿAbbās I (English, p. 26 and n. 51).  But it was still quite modest in 1877, when only six weavers’ establishments and fewer than thirty workplaces are mentioned (Smith, pp. 187-88; English, p. 28).  Eleven years later, however, several hundred establishments are reported in Kerman and its surroundings, the largest one employing thirty weavers (Stack, I, pp. 209-11).  At the end of the century, Percy Sykes (1902, pp. 199-200) found more than one thousand workplaces in the town alone, not including the surroundings, each one employing four or five people.  In 1911, according to the British Foreign Office Kerman Consulate Diaries (cited in Stöber, p. 225), 12,000 people were employed in this line of work.  Early on, European firms established purchasing agencies in the town, and the peak of activity was achieved in the 1920s, with some 5,000 workplaces in the city alone.  The city also centralized the carpet business of all the villages of the region, for which this was the only major activity (English, p. 29).  In 1929, there were 1,500 workplaces in the town, employing 20 percent of the population (Stöber, p. 227).  Then the decline set in, as it faced competition from other Iranian centers that were better located for commerce, and especially as a result of the worldwide rise of machine-made carpets.  The quality seems to have fallen off markedly (English, pp. 109-10).  In the middle of the 20th century, according to the 1956 census, there were no more than 1,600 carpet workers in the town, and 1,200 in the surrounding countryside working under the direction of the city.  Another source reports that 4,000 people were employed in the town by 46 businesses in 1959, and, in 1970, 5,345 people were working in all the textile industries (Stöber, p. 227, citing Bémont, p. 241). 

Economic development was certainly followed by a healthy increase in population in the Safavid period, which seems by far to have been when the town flourished most.  The earliest phases of the town cannot be analyzed with precision.  According to Jean Baptiste Tavernier’s description at the end of the 17th century (I, pp. 106-9, 401), Kerman was a bustling town with a population of several tens of thousands that included a Zoroastrian community of about 10,000 souls.  Kerman recovered only very slowly from the catastrophic attack of Āḡā Moḥammad Khan in 1794 and his brutal treatment of its citizens (see above), and the city was evidently in disfavor with the central government in the first half of the 19th century.  The community of Zoroastrians almost disappeared; their number in the town shrank from about 12,000 souls in 1794 (according to Khanikoff, 1861, p. 499) to only 825 (178 men, 239 women, 189 boys, 219 girls) in the mid-19th century, according to the survey of the Zoroastrians of Iran made by the Parsi representative Manekji Limji Hataria [1813-1890] (his head counts are listed in Gobineau, II, p. 103); the year of the survey is not specified.  The count 932 for the year 1854 (the year of Hataria’s arrival in Iran) also may derive from Hataria but was published in India only in 1895 (Boyce, 1967, p. 148, citing Murzban, I, p. 108, n. 102).

Growth of the town set in vigorously in the middle of the century, with the rise of manufacture and business.  In 1865, the total population was estimated as between 30,000 and 40,000 souls (Goldsmid, 1874, pp. 581-83). Despite the losses certainly resulting from the great famine of 1870-72, the city was invigorated enough to hold a population of 45,000 to 50,000 at the beginning of the 20th century (Gleadowe-Newcomen, pp. 49-50; Fevret, p. 198). The Zoroastrian minority too increased. In 1879, Albert Houtum-Schindler (1846-1916; 1882, p. 55) counted 1,498 Zoroastrians in the town.

The dimensions of the Zoroastrian quarter at this period (see below) leave the impression that in the reign of Reżā Shah Pahlavi (r. 1925-41) it must have supported several thousand residents (approx. 2,000 souls, according to Kayhān, II, p. 248).  The first half of the 20th century, however, was once again a period of relative stagnation.  Kerman, situated in a marginal location in Iran and not yet served by the railroad, in this period tended to become a center of emigration to the capital of the new dynasty of the Pahlavis. (For the economic drawing power of Tehran on Kerman, see already Houtum-Schindler, 1882, p. 54).  In the 1956 census, the city had slightly over 60,000 inhabitants (see below, iv); 19,756 men over 10 years old were counted. 

Traditional urban morphology.  Analysis of the past overall layout of the town and its detailed plan is possible for as early as the period toward the end of the 19th century with the map prepared in 1898 by Sykes (1902, p. 188; repr. with additional data in English, p. 40, fig. 11,  and Wirth, I, p. 472, inset in fig. 215).  The two main anchors of the urban fabric ca. 1900 comprised the Friday Mosque, built in 1349 by Mozaffarid Amir Mobārez-al-Din Moḥammad (Waziri, 1961, pp. 192-93; 2nd ed., I, pp. 496-97) in the east of the city near the surrounding wall, and in the west the Qajar citadel (see ARG), which is built directly upon the outer ramparts.  Between the two ran the main axis of Bāzār-e Wakil with a length of 600 m, making it the longest straight-line bazaar in Iran.  It is so called after the names of Moḥammad-Esmāʿil Khan Nuri Wakil-al-Molk (governor of Kerman, 1860-67) and his son Mortażāqoli Khan Wakil-al-Molk (governor, 1869-78), both of whom did a great deal to rebuild it, installing various improvements and new structures.  In a central area that had been laid out in part by Ganj-ʿAli Khan (governor, 1596-1625), they created a central, sheltered circle (Čahār Su) at the intersection of the principal axis and a north-northwest-south-southeast cross-street, close to which a rectangular area was cleared, which is surrounded by shops.  Several caravansaries, a textile hall, a mosque, and a bathhouse completed the ensemble, and a broad square was opened to the west at the foot of the citadel (Figure 2). 

This major west-east axis, whose location does not seem to have changed since the 14th century despite the events of 1794, is the basic feature of the unique character of the urban plan of Kerman.  The successive interventions of the governors developed several distinct focal centers, which give the distribution of businesses a layout quite different from the norm—that is, with a single central focus—of the traditional Muslim town.  Upscale businesses and workshops  (e.g., for textiles and jewelry) tended to gravitate toward the modernized areas.  At the end of the 19th century, the two main squares contained different groups of them.  By the middle of the 20th century  a great qualitative difference was visible between the western sector, alongside the citadel, which gathered the businesses and workshops providing high-quality goods, and the eastern sector, toward the Friday Mosque, which was occupied by lower-grade businesses and workshops.  Gold jewelry and copperware were concentrated in the cross-street north of the Čahār Su.

Around the central axis, within the walls, were arranged two Muslim residential areas (one comprised of Qoṭbābād and Šahr to the north, the other, Maydān-e Qalʿa and Šāh ʿĀdel to the south), and the 19th-century Jewish quarter located to the northwest not far from the citadel. Thus was reconciled in a single plan the peripheral type and sub-palatial (intermediate) type of placement of Jewish quarters  (Planhol, pp. 292-96) with the expectation of protection from the authorities in case of popular unrest.  The new Zoroastrian quarter was located to the northeast outside the wall, where it had been established after the invading Afghans ravaged their old quarter in 1747.  Their previous quarter had been built in the northwest during the reign of Shah Solaymān Ṣafawi (r. 1666-94), when the leading Muslim clergy demanded that the local Zoroastrians be moved outside of the city walls (Waziri, 1966-67, p. 28)—an incident that attests to the social marginalization of this community.  Every house in the new Zoroastrian quarter was equipped with a well of its own, thus assuring a supply of water in case of troubles; the same arrangement was also found, to a lesser degree, in the Jewish quarter (English, p. 44). 

These 19th-century quarters of Kerman show the general organization with blind alleys that is characteristic of the traditional Muslim town. Analysis of the urban plan beyond that seems to indicate many traces of rectangular grid planning—over an underlying layout that has not been completely obliterated—that imposes an overall north-northwest to south-southeast or east-northeast to west-southwest grid, especially in the quarters south of the central axis (notably in Šāh ʿĀdel; see Figure 2).  This pattern is clearly the expression of deliberate organization of space during the rebuilding process after the devastation of the 18th century.  In other words, the urban fabric of the old town of Kerman, on the whole, bears the mark of relatively recent reoccupation.

There was little modification in the first half of the 20th century.  The urban redevelopment by Rez̄ā Shah’s administration in the 1930s, which was quite significant in many Iranian towns, was rather inconsequential here, perhaps because the town was so far removed from the centers of power.  It consisted basically (Figure 3) of a great west-east cut north of the Bazār-e Wakil, thus duplicating its great axis but in a parallel orientation, from south of the Jewish quarter to the Friday Mosque.  A major road also was laid down along the eastern walls of the citadel in its north section, but it was not extended to the gate in the southern wall.  There were also other plans, especially for new circles, on the outer side of the walls.  The cutting of the great new central artery north of the bazaar rapidly attracted along this axis a large part of the high-end business and shifted its main center to the east toward the mosque; crafts activities and modern services also  expanded greatly into the new quarters that grew up outside the old wall.

These developments were particularly important on the east and southeast sides, toward the two hills, and to the west and southwest beyond the Qajar citadel, and much less so toward the south in the direction of the sand dunes, but of no consequence to the northwest, where the ruins of the old Zoroastrian quarter constituted an insurmountable obstacle. The wealthiest segment of the population had already left the old town to live in the new, modern quarters.  In parallel, the old quarters of the minorities, abandoned more and more by their populations, who had already begun to migrate massively to Teheran, were progressively infiltrated by the Muslim population. (A good map of the respective locations of Muslims and Zoroastrians in the Zoroastrian quarter in 1961-62 is provided by English, p. 48, fig. 13.)


The population of Kerman City increased rapidly (4.2 percent per year) from 1956 (62,000 inhabitants) to 2006 (515,000; see below, iii); this growth rate was comparable to that of most of the large cities of Iran.  Between 1976 and 1986 the rate of growth was very high (6.2 percent per year) because of the new policy of industrialization of the marginal cities, the start of exploitation of the large copper mine of Sarcheshmeh (Sarcašma; see below), and the migration of population coming from Afghanistan and from the regions affected by the Iran-Iraq War (on which, see IRAQ vii). Supported in the last decades by major local and national policymakers such as the former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjāni, the national policy of industrial and urban development played a key role in the transformation of the city of Kerman. as well as of other, smaller towns, such as Bam, Sirjān, Rafsanjan, and Jiroft, where free zones have been set up.

The construction of a good paved road linking Bandar Abbas to Kerman allows the latter to maintain easy access to, and an active relation with, the Persian Gulf.  However, the railroad that was completed in 1996 directly links Bandar Abbas to Bāfq via Sirjan, effectively bypassing Kerman as a station for transport to Tehran—even though the 3-km road link between the port of Bandar Abbas and the railroad is congested and appears inadequate. The future trunk line from the Persian Gulf north to the Central Asian states will be via Bafq, Tabas, and Mashad (UNESCAP, p. 17). Kerman city has remained the main station on the rail line from Bafq, pending completion of the 545-km extension to Bam-Fahraj-Zahedan (Ministry of Roads and Transportation, pp. 9, 13) and thus to Zahedan’s tenuous link with Pakistan Railways (UNESCAP, p. 17).

Until 1980, the economic life of Kerman was based on traditional activities, and the city had only six factories that employed more then 50 persons (producing bricks, textiles, cement, beverages). However, new transport facilities, including Kerman International Airport and a gas pipeline from the oil refinery of Bandar Abbas since 1990, gave to the city the resources necessary for it to become the regional metropolis of southeast Iran, while Zahedan and Bandar Abbas remained focused on activities related to the border and transit. The mining resources of the province (see below) have made Kerman the Iranian capital city of mining industry and related academic studies. Kerman City also benefits from the automotive production at Bam in partnership with large foreign companies (Volkswagen, Daewoo, Tata). The Kerman Tire and Rubber Company (Barez Industrial Group), a cement factory, and several agro-factories (for processing of oil, fruit, and dried fruits, and packaging) gave the city a new, modern industrial image in its rural traditional environs. In 1398 Š./1999, 90 percent of the 399 large factories of Kerman Sub-province (šahrestān) were located in the city itself, where 12 percent of the population was working in manufacturing industries. Nevertheless, traditional activities remained dominant, with 16 percent of the population working in trade and 21 percent in public administrations (Sazmān-e joqrāfiyāʾi, 2003, pp. 33-50). To prevent excessive demand on the province’s scarce fossil water reserves, a global policy of recycling irrigation water is being implemented.

The national cultural dimension of Kerman was strengthened in the last decades by the opening of  Shahid Bahonar University of Kerman in 1985, founded by a private gift donated in 1972 by Alireza Afzalipour (1909-1993), an engineer and philanthropist born in Kerman. The architecture of the large campus, which is located in the southern limits of the city, was designed in a modern Iranian style by Bonyan and later by Pirraz Consultants (Diba, 1992). Kerman Azad University was later built in the same area, giving the city a new, rapidly recognized scientific identity, even if a number of the teachers come from Tehran. If the local cultural life is limited (6 cinemas in 1371 Š./1992), cultural events, publications, and foundations related to the local heritage (e.g., publications of the Bonyad-e Kermānšenāsi)  are very active in strengthening the identity of the city and the province.

The spatial development of the city was done without any global master plan until 1975. The built-up area was always located around the old city center, in a circle of about 2 km (Plan and Budget Organization, Centre for National Spatial Planning, 1977). Westward  expansion of the built-up area began, with the construction of a new road to the airport, and later the railway station at 8 km from the old city, on the Yazd road; this development brought factories and heterogeneous housing. The principal development occurred between 1975 and 2000 with the construction of a ring boulevard, limiting de facto the city and increasing construction within, especially in the southern part (with the University of Kerman) and along the Mahan road leading out of the city southward. In 1371 Š./1992, the city covered 7,430 ha, including a large traditional sector: 23 percent of the houses were built in adobe (ḵešt), and 11 percent predated 1335 Š./1956 (Markaz-e āmār-irān, 1993). This extensive, old urban fabric was later transformed by new, large avenues and the restoration of the historic center near the bazaar Ganj Ali Khan. Some ḵāns, madrasas, and very famous buildings at the eastern gate were restored for tourism, but at the same time, a large number of old Qajar privates houses were destroyed—sometimes without permit. The rapid urban renewal has provided better access by automobile to the bazaar and the core of the old city, where many shops were bought by people coming from Afghanistan. The native people from Kerman developed at the same time a new modern center on the western side of the old city around the citadel.

In spite of the settlement of an active Afghan population, the ethnic and religious complexion of the city is more uniform at the end of the 20th century than in the past: the census of 1385 Š./2006 reported, for the whole province, 1,171 Zoroastrians, 2,603 Christians, and 75 Jews (Princeton University). In 1966, the Zoroastrian population had amounted to 1,728 souls (Mauroy, p. 186),  but the Zoroastrian quarter in the northeast of the city began to be abandoned from 1980 on. Since then, however, some families who had migrated to Tehran have sponsored the renovation of their old houses in order to save the traditional culture of the city. Migration toward the city of Kerman is limited (73,000 between 1986 and 1996), coming largely from the surrounding sub-provinces (šahrestān) but very few from neighboring Sistan va Baluchestan. This point confirms that Kerman has not yet become the regional metropolis of southeast Iran.


The natural setting.  As far as the edges of the Dašt-e Lut desert, it is the presence of high mountain chains, the southeastern terminus of the Zagros, that explains the presence of life.  It is a result of the precipitation they gather, which can reach or surpass 300 to 400 mm per year on the highest peaks. It nourishes the high pastures that are frequented by nomadic or semi-nomadic shepherds in summer and supplies the piedmont groundwater that provides the aqueous base for agricultural land and urban agglomerations.  After a mountain barrier that is oriented generally north-northwest by south-southeast, separating the Kerman basin from the desert of the Dašt-e Lut, these chains are arranged in several parallel rows generally oriented in northwest-southeast direction.  The first row that directly borders the Kerman basin on the south approaches 4,000 m height at Kuh-e Jupār.  The row that takes over from it at the southwest is much more massive and extends nearly continuously for close to 500 km, reaching the height of 4,350 m at Kuh-e Lālazār and 4,465 m at Kuh-e Hezār, before again approaching 3,000 m at Jebāl-e Bārez in the far southeast.  To the south, beyond the Sirjan-Bāft depression, the regularity of the rows gives way to a more fragmented and confused relief, from which emerges mountain masses (3,845 m at Kuh-e Ḵabir) that dominate high, undulating plains (elevation approx. 2,000 to 2,300 m) before descending toward the southeast river valleys that eventually supply the vast enclosed interior depression of Jāz-muriān.  To the southwest there reappears a whole series of anticlinal chains that again approach 3,000 m but lose height little by little toward the confines of the coastal plains of Bandar Abbas (ʿAbbās) and Mināb.

Between these chains are basins whose floors are most often at an elevation between 1,200 and 1,800 m. These provide, in particular on the piedmonts that are well-watered by kārēz systems, sites favorable for farming and for the building of good-sized villages, which focus their immediate environment and constitute staging points for the influence of the regional capital. However, the dearth of precipitation (annual mean of 164 mm at Bāft, 140 mm at Bam, 129 mm at Sirjan, 142 mm at Jiroft, and 96 at Rafsanjān; cf. above, i, Table 1), as well as its extreme variability, precludes any purely rain-based agriculture.  Moreover, the gradual lowering of the mountains toward the southeast entails, in this direction, a reduction in the precipitation received, and thus the thinning of the groundwater in the basins and the possibility of a living linked to them.  Permanent running water is practically nonexistent.

Population and ways of life: nomadic and semi-nomadic life.  This climatic degradation toward the southeast and south corresponds to a regular weakening of sedentary life and a gradual deficiency of the towns in the control of space.  The recurrent invasion of it, permanent or temporary, by nomadic groups has been a constant feature in the human tableau of the region.  Nomads have had a continuous presence here, but they are scattered in badly organized groups, which makes it very difficult to control.  It is almost the same situation at the present time (See also NOMADISM).

Early Muslim geographers already knew, in the west of Kerman, the formidable Qofṣ, or Qofs (Schwarz, III. pp. 213, 261-66), whose main locus seems to have been in the mountains in the neighborhood of Jiroft and who gave trouble to the Buyids of Fars.  Farther east were Baluchis (also Ar. Boluṣ: see ʿAŠĀYER; BALUCHISTAN i), who were originally from northeastern Iran; pressure from the Turks seems to have pushed them south in the aftermath of the Muslim conquest, and they were the only ones feared by the Qofṣ (Eṣṭaḵri, pp. 164, 167; Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh, p. 49; Ebn al-Ḥawqal, pp. 309-10; tr., p. 303; Moqaddasi, p. 471; Schwarz, III, pp. 260-61). Other, minor groups existed, such as the Aḵwāš (Le Strange, 1966, p. 317; tr., p. 339; Lambton, p. 155).  In the high country, the Jebāl-e Bārez (Schwarz, III, pp. 214, 266-26) seems to have supported for a considerable time a semi-nomadic population with a limited range of activity, who did not over-winter beyond the very near low valleys; they were very marginal with respect to urban society and remained Zoroastrian until ʿAbbasid times.  This first nomadic or semi-nomadic stock of the period immediately after the Arab conquest seems to have largely disappeared over the course of time; they had already been dispersed by the Buyid authorities at the end of the 10th century (Lambton, p. 154), or they had been assimilated into the other groups that arrived later.  A notable exception was the Baluchis, who always remained numerous in the coastal plain and nearby regions.  In the 19th century, however, according to Waziri, there was still among the Mehni—a tribe that arrived in the region during the Safavid period—elements that boasted of Qofṣ origin.  Groups of Bārezi, descendants of the first occupants of the mountain of the same name, are still attested during the same period (Waziri, 1966-67, p. 199; Lambton, p. 155).

The Turkic invasions of the 10th-11th centuries, and then the Turco-Mongolian invasions at the beginning of the 13th century, profoundly altered this initial ethnic tableau.  These Turkic and Mongol tribes, whose growth remains very poorly known (Lambton, p. 155), were more or less organized, beginning in the 15th-16th centuries, into the confederation of the Afšār (Stöber, pp. 16-25), who are known in several other regions of Iran (notably, Azerbaijan, Khuzestan, and Kohgiluya), but who seem to have massively penetrated into Kerman beginning in the 16th century.  They benefited at this period from the favor of the Safavids.  From 930/1524 to 1000/1591, Kerman was administered by governors belonging to their tribe (Waziri, 1961, pp. 266 ff.; 2nd ed., pp. 600 ff.; Lambton, p. 164; se also Röhrborn).  Major groups of them, coming from Khorasan, were settled in the 18th century in the region of Bāft by Nāder Shah Afšār (r. 1736-47), who had broadly concentrated there a large part of the confederation to guard the frontier (Stöber, p. 21). 

This Afšar confederation, however, was never equal in power and stability to the tribes that had developed in the western Zagros (Qāšqāʾi, Baḵtiāri, Lor).  Its dominant role, a significant feature at the beginning of the Safavid era, later was only episodic and threatened.  At the end of the Safavid era, under Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn (r. 1694-1722), the province was subjected to repeated incursions of Baluchis, to the point where the inhabitants of Kerman had to appeal for their safety to the Afghan leader Maḥmud Ḡalzay in 1721 (Lambton, p. 164).  By the 19th century, the number and political role of the Afšār had considerably diminished.  Carl Ritter (p. 401), whose numerical evaluations tend to be exaggerated, counted no more than 6,000 of them in Kerman, and few other 19th- and 20th-century sources find them in the region (see table, Stöber, p. 26).

The nomads of Kerman were never able to organize themselves into a strong, stable unit.  The low productivity of the natural environment and the poor quality of the pastures (a manifestation of its aridity) clearly explains the weakness of tribes that never possessed the immense flocks known in the western Zagros; their overall numbers, linked to that limitation, appeared always insufficient to construct a political establishment capable of effectively organizing their domain.  Fragmentation into countless tribes or groups, often deeply impoverished and reduced to a few families, was a constant feature of the nomadic population of Kerman.  A list of the “peoples” of the province, assembled from the 19th- and 20th-century sources up to 1963 (Stöber, pp. 277-86) counts no fewer than 210 ethnic designations.  This fragmentation only increased over time as pressure from the sedentary authority was felt more strongly. In the early 20th century Percy Sykes, in a very similar list, counted no more than 144 (MRP, 1922, Appendix A; Stöber, p. 177).  They include many elements of recent external origin, whose infiltration into the region was encouraged by the absence of political structures and local stability, such as the Qašqāʾi groups and others that came from Fars in the 19th century (Stöber, pp. 169-71).  

The supposedly dominant tribe of the Afšār numbered no more than 2,000 families, or about 15,000 people in the 1960s, out of an approximate total of some 70,000 nomads or semi-nomads (Stöber, pp. 28, 177-78, 279, 282).  This last figure already represented no more than half the estimate of Sykes (in MRP, 1922, Appendix A).  It has been estimated that, at the end of the 19th century, the nomads constituted some 44 percent of the population of the province, about the same at this period as the totally sedentary peasants, with 12 percent city-dwellers (Stöber, p. 178).  In 1970 the proportion of the latter had increased to 24 percent, that of sedentary peasants to 68 percent, and that of nomads or semi-nomads to only 8 percent (12 percent if recently sedentary nomads who retained awareness of a tribal affiliation are included with them (Stöber, p. 250).

This change manifests a gradual settling that was actively pursued throughout the 20th century, but culminated with the forced settlement of these tribes by Reżā Shah in the 1930s; this resulted in the creation of supposedly permanent new dwellings such as Deh-bakri (45 km west-southwest of Bam), which after 1931 became the principal kernel of the Afšār population (Stöber, pp. 134-60).  This policy of the central power was particularly successful in Kerman because of the weakness of the tribal structure in the region, which made any resistance impossible. This reality was notably manifested in the absence of systematic return to pure nomadic life, which did occur in the western Zagros after the abdication of Reżā Shah in 1941.  Here too most of the nomadic groups resumed their migrations in the 1940s as the central authority weakened.  But nearly everywhere today it is seasonal semi-nomadism that prevails, based in permanent habitations in new villages.  The very detailed, successive maps of Stöber (pp. 69, 70, 79, 123, 136, 161, 162) show that pure nomads living year round in tents are now much less numerous.

Among the semi-nomads, all of the transitional forms of shelter that range between tents and solid houses may be found.  Their seasonal migrations take on a very complex aspect.  Movements from the point of settlement can exceed 200 km; for example, the village of Širinak (Razmārā, Farhang VIII, 1953, p. 270), which experienced development (of the type described below) between 1960 and 1970, is located 85 km south of Kerman, at the heart of the elevation of summer pasture; winter quarters are 125 km east-northeast of Bandar Abbas  (Stöber, pp. 160-65).  At Deh-bakri, also located at the elevation of summer pastures, the moves reached a distance of about 80 km for the major part of the group that wintered in the plain of Jiroft,  much less for others who went to the region of Bam. 

These sectors of permanent habitation established in the cold zones (sarḥadd) for summer quarters are in fact less in the form of concentrated villages than of highly dispersed regions of habitation, but they are still linked by a single name and the awareness of a common origin.  Deh-bakri thus extends for 7 to 8 km in the depth of a trench, at an elevation of some 2,000-2,200 m.  Small holdings dominate very widely in these villages of the highlands.  Sedentary habitations developed in the winter pasture zone, which were the temperate lands of the garmsir (warm zones). They included major fortified, rectangular villages (qālʿa), which were made necessary by the lack of security that is associated with large landholdings (Stöber, pp. 72-74). 

The transitional zone between the levels of sarḥadd and garmsir displays maximum variability both in the nature of the environment and in the organization of seasonal movements (Stöber, pp.  78-81).  This nomadism, of which the number of practitioners seems to be stable today, still presents some very impressive aspects.  Around 1975, they numbered some 2,500 tents wintering in the plain of Jiroft (Stöber, p. 177), where they constituted an essential element of the countryside in this season, and the picture does not seem to have changed markedly today.  These nomads, although a minority section of the population, constitute a significant factor in the economy of the province, where they still possess about one-third of the sheep and goats and provide half of the meat and one-third of the dairy products consumed in the towns, as well as nearly all the raw materials used in the carpet industry.

More than 90 percent of the farm economy remains based on the irrigation culture of cereal grains and fodder; little else is grown except—for export of a marketable surplus—pistachios (in the high country) and dates (in the warm zone; Stöber, pp. 190-214).  The production of natural indigo, formerly a regional specialty that was a major export item, is today only a curiosity.  This countryside, which remains very poor, has been only lightly penetrated by the industrial economy of the main area.  Although the shawl industry, producing a luxury product very difficult to manufacture, remained tightly concentrated in Kerman (Stöber, p. 223), the manufacture of carpets, from the beginning of the 20th century, spilled into the immediate environs of the town, notably in a secondary center that emerged at Rāvar (80 km north of Kerman) on the edge of Dašt-e Lut, which had 1,000 workplaces around 1900 (Stöber, p. 225).  But this movement did not spread far.  No major center currently exists beyond the villages relatively close to the capital, basically in the basin of Kerman.  At the end of the 1950s, there were 466 workplaces at Jupār, 309 at Māhān, and 300 at Rāvar.  Then came Zarand and Gowk (80 km southeast of Kerman), which marked approximately the limit of the spread of  big-city industry (Stöber, p. 227). 

In the more distant centers, manufacturing remained negligible, and the situation does not seem to have changed since the 1950s.  Carpet weaving was maintained among the nomads or semi-nomads for family needs to the extent that an Afšār carpet type, distinguished from the Kerman carpets by its figural motifs, produced by the latter or by peasants, is today marketed in very small quantities.  It might be said that production integrated into the external world remains anchored to the town of Kerman itself and its immediate sphere of influence. 

Since 1995  the Kerman Khodro car factory located in Bam (in the Arg-e Jadid Special Economic Zone; see Arg-e jadid for its automotive “active investors”) has produced a limited number of assembled automobiles. Mining activities complete the picture of modern industry (see also KERMAN i; MINING IN IRAN i, above, i). Products include: coal at Kujidak, an area between Kerman and Rāvar (lat 31°16′ N, long 56°48′ E); chromium (see CHROMITE) ore at Esfandaqa (lat 31°16′ N, long 56°56′ E, west of Jiroft; Razmārā, Farhang VIII, 1953, p. 14; see, e.g., Yaghubpur and  Hassannejad); and especially copper. Mining of the copper deposits of Sarcheshmeh (60 km south of Rafsanjān), which are among the most important in the world, started in 1972, but related activities of the National Iranian Copper Industries Company [NICICo] began only after 1981; 200,000 tons of copper were exported in 2007 (see for recent statistics).

Expansion and retrenchment of the territorial entity.  In this complex geographic framework, which has long been extensively invaded by nomads and where authority is continually disputed, the town Kerman remained for a long time the only real base for the organized state.  But many modifications of the area effectively controlled by the central town have come, over the course of time, to express the instability of this focal function.  This is already clear in the statements of the Muslim geographers (Schwarz, III, pp. 211-12).  In fact, the geographic area that the earliest of them apply to Kerman varies to an extent that might appear unreasonable.  For instance, Ebn al-Faqih, (p. 162) placed its eastern border at Kabul.

The eastern boundaries remained very ill-defined for a long time, thus manifesting the growing inability of the central power to exert its authority in that direction.  In the description of Eṣṭaḵri, Kerman is bounded quite correctly to the west by Fars, to the north by the steppes between Khorasan and Sistan, to the south by the Persian Gulf, and to the east much less precisely by “Makrān and the desert between it and the sea from behind the Baluchis” (Esṭaḵri, pp. 158-59; cf. Ebn al-Ḥawqal, pp. 305-6 with map; tr., II, p. 301 and plate. 13). Demašqi (text, p. 176) mentions Hormoz on the coast as the last place within Kerman.  But already in the time of Yāqut (d. 1229), who includes Sirjan in Fars (Moʿjam al-boldān III, p. 835; tr., p. 410), Kerman seems to have totally disappeared, with the eastern border of Fars extended toward the south at Makrān and Sind.  Edrisi (fl. 6th/12th cent.) locates Makrān “across the southern border of Fars” (p. 404; tr., p. 391). Such errors, examples of which could easily be multiplied, express an important historical-geographic fact.  To the southeast of the Iranian plateau and to the east of Fars, Kerman then constituted, for the political powers established in them, a marginal region, peopled by barely subjugated groups, incompletely and imperfectly integrated into the frameworks of the nation in Iran—in short, a sort of frontier-in-motion of the country of Iran.

Over the centuries, despite the vicissitudes of history, the leading role of Kerman, in this ill-defined area in the southeast, was never seriously challenged.  A new, potentially major structural element meanwhile appeared in the 17th century with the establishment, by Shah ʿAbbās I, of a major port constituting the outlet of all of eastern Iran to the Persian Gulf, at Bandar Abbas.  The operation of this port, however, was long limited to relations with Kerman and beyond, without any directive role of its own.

Despite the century and a half of disorder that extended from the end of Safavid times to the middle of the 19th century, and which was interrupted by the near total destruction of the town by Āḡā Moḥammad Khan Qājār in 1794, Kerman was able to regain, quite quickly and without contest, its function of leadership that extended across the entire territorial surroundings under the authority of the central Iranian government.  Bam, the only possible rival for this role of the vanguard of Qajar power in the east, never had any role except as a fortified military base and a commercial station, but without an effective influence of its own.  The primary position of Kerman was confirmed by the plans for the urban fabric that were carried out under the administrations of Moḥammad-Esmāʿil Khan Nuri Wakil-al-Molk and his son Motrtażāqoli Khan Wakil-al-Molk between 1860 and 1878 (see above), and this vigorous base for Persian culture that Kerman thereafter constituted made it thenceforth a dynamic intellectual center, enjoying active relationships in this area with Teheran (Waziri, 1961, pp. 405-7; 2nd ed., II, pp. 807-13; Lambton, pp. 155, 165).  This broad influence of the town over its region in that period contrasts clearly with the situation prevailing at this period in the eastern Zagros, where the influence of the towns of Isfahan, Kermanshah, and Shiraz virtually came to an end, in a domain totally dominated politically by the great nomadic confederations at the gates of the towns. 

The situation changed greatly during the Pahlavi period (1925-79), leading to shrinkage both of the area of the province and of the influence of the town.  Effective control of the regions of the far southeast by the central government under Reżā Shah (r. 1925-41) led to the gradual emergence of a central urban power at Zahedān; since the administrative redistricting of the 1950s-1960s (see above, i), it has served as the center of the new province of Sistan-Baluchistan, beyond the executive domain of Kerman, to which it had previously belonged (Razmārā, Farhang VIII, 1953, pp. 50, 218-19). To the south, Bandar Abbas also became an independent administrative center as a result of the considerable development of its role as a commercial and military gateway; it became the capital of a new province (Hormozgān) by a territorial revision that detached from Kerman the coast, the islands, and some of the hinterland.

Thus present-day Kerman City has lost its original function as the pioneering vanguard of the state and of Persian culture in the southeast, as a major center of external relations of Iran toward India and by the maritime route of the Persian Gulf, and as a stop on the route connecting the Persian Gulf coast to Khorasan and Central Asia.  Today it functions chiefly as regional center of a province—with sub-provincial units (šahrestān) whose number has increased over time (see above, i); and its influence is largely confined within that sphere.


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A. Yaghubpur, and A. A. Hassannejad, “The Spatial Distribution of Some Chromite Deposits in Iran, Using Fry Analysis,” Journal of Sciences, Islamic Republic of Iran 17/2, 2006, pp. 147-52.

Yāqut, Moʿjam al-boldān, ed. Ferdinand Wüstenfeld, 6 vols., Leipzig, 1866-73; tr. C. Barbier de Meynard, Dictionnaire géographique, historique et littéraire de la Perse et des contrées adjacentes, Paris, 1861.

Henry Yule, The Book of Ser Marco Polo, the Venetian, concerning the kingdoms and marvels of the East, 2nd ed., 2 vols., London, 1875. 

(Xavier de Planhol and Bernard Hourcade)

Originally Published: April 21, 2014

Last Updated: April 21, 2014