BĪGĀR, BĪGĀRĪ, a term of taxation in Iran and central Asia, generally meaning “corvée,” the duty of supplying workers without pay for the construction and repair of irrigation systems, roads, fortresses, palaces, and other public buildings, as well as sometimes for agricultural work on the estates of rulers and landlords. The etymology has not been firmly established; Petrushevskiĭ (1960, p. 394) surmises that it may have been borrowed by Middle Persian from Greek aggaria (on the latter term in Byzantium, with the same meaning “corvée, compulsory work,” see Dölger, p. 62). The Pahlavi term apparently existed already under the Sasanians, since its use is attested in Persarmenia in 641 a.d., in the form bekar. The term bīgār, apparently in the same general meaning “compulsory work,” is found in two documents of the time of the Ḵᵛārazmšāhs (in both together with šāhkār, cf. below; see Horst, p. 83), and it is mentioned in various literary works of the first centuries of Islam (see quotations from Ferdowsī, Nāṣer(-e) Ḵosrow, Bayhaqī, and Afżal-al-Dīn Kermānī in Dehḵodā, s.v. bīgār), but the real meaning of this duty has been studied only for later periods, beginning with the Mongols.
The duty of bīgār was imposed on all taxpayers (raʿīyats), both rural and urban, holding land, unless they were exempt from it by a special decree. Most commonly, one worker was required either from each household (especially in the cities) or from each unit of arable land (usually one joft-e gāv, but it could be also 510 tanābs or some other square measure; sometimes two or three workers had to be supplied from a joft-e gāv). In some cases, when bīgār consisted of irrigation works, the workers were supplied by those who had the right to a share of the water for irrigation, in proportion to the number of their shares. The number of days per year for bīgār varied and was probably determined by local tradition; it could be as low as one to three days a year (e.g. under the Āq Qoyunlū Uzun Ḥasan; see Hinz, p. 182) or up to twelve days a year (mostly in central Asia in the 13th/19th century; see Abduraimov, I, p. 292; Gulyamov, p. 263). There could probably be longer periods for urban artisans, whose skills were needed for construction works. The beginning of a bīgār was announced by the central government or by provincial authorities, depending on the location and importance of the work to be done, and it was conducted under the supervision of specially appointed officials.
The term bīgār was very often used together with the term ḥašar (from Ar. ḥašara “to gather, bring together”) as synonyms (cf., for instance, Bayhaqī, pp. 499-500: ḥašar and mard-e bīgārī on the construction of a palace). However, the term ḥašar also had different meanings: 1. auxiliary troops, usually peasant levy, mostly used for siege work, or as sappers, and sometimes as a reserve (in central Asia in the Uzbek period a Turko-Mongol term qara čerik was used for such auxiliary troops rather than ḥašar); 2. communal help provided by relatives and the members of a village or neighborhood community to one another on various occasions (agricultural works, building of a house, family festivals, etc.). In the Khanate of Bukhara in the 10th-14th/16th-20th centuries, the term bīgār was mostly replaced by the term mardekār (lit. “time-worker”; cf. mard-ebīgārī above; see Akhmedov, p. 144; Abduraimov, I, p. 292), which meant both the duty and a single worker performing it (as a synonym for such worker the term ḥašaṛčī was also used; see Troitskaya, Materialy, p. 33). Some documents, however, mention all three terms side by side: ḥašar, bīgār, and mardekār, and it is not clear what distinction, if any, was made among them (cf. Chekhovich, pp. 98-99: a decree of the early 18th century). In the Khanate of Ḵīva, the term bīgār was used for the corvée organized by the government, of which the most important was qāzū (apparently from Turk. qazmaq “to dig”; see Gulyamov, p. 261), construction and repair of main irrigational canals, dams, etc.; qāzū done on sub-canals, which was organized not by the government, but by local communities, was not considered a part of bīgār. For 13th/19th and early 14th/20th-century central Asia in general, some researchers distinguish between bīgār (also bīgārī), or mardekār, mainly work on construction of public buildings, roads, etc., and ḥašar, i.e., mainly forced labor in agriculture on behalf of owners of large estates and local governors (see Kislyakov, pp. 114-15). Such distinction is attested for the eastern, mountainous part of the Khanate of Bukhara, but it is not clear whether it existed elsewhere. A colorful description of ḥašar in Bukhara (from personal recollections) is found in Yāddāšthā-ye ʿAynī (Tehran, 1362 Š./1983, pp. 62-69; S. Aĭni, Vospominaniya, Moscow, 1960, pp. 77-86).
Various forms of corvée known as bīgārī still existed in most regions of Iran as late as the 1320s Š./1940s. According to Lambton (p. 331), it consisted “of so many days of free labour by a peasant or the provision of an ass for free labour on so many days of the year. In the latter case the asses are used, for example, for the transport of the landowner’s produce from the village to the town, or for the transport of building materials, etc.” At that time, as before, bīgārī included labor on the construction of buildings, canals, and roads, but also work in the fields which the landowner cultivated himself. It appears from the data gathered by Lambton that, as a rule, bīgārī was now levied by the landowner, not by the government, and the rate of it varied from one to seven days per year (in Kurdistan the seven days’ free labor were known as haft nafar, and four days’ free labor of an ass were called čahār olāḡ). Only in Sīstān, where most of the land was crown land (ḵāleṣa), as well as in Baluchistan, labor service was levied by the government and consisted mainly of construction, cleaning, and repair of irrigation canals, as well as the building of roads; these works were called ḥašar (ibid., pp. 331-33). Thus, in 14th/20th-century Iran the terms bīgār (bīgārī) and ḥašar mean just the reverse of what they probably meant in central Asia.
Other terms used in Iran as synonyms of bīgār were qalūn (a local term, registered only in Kermān; cf. qalūnī, “futile,” in local Shirazi), and, more generally, soḵra and šīkār, or šīgār. Persian dictionaries derive the latter from šāh kār (see above, under the Ḵᵛārazmšāhs), cf. šākār in Šāh-nāma, and see Dehḵodā for further references; cf. Petrushevskiĭ, 1949, pp. 289-90. The explanation of šīgār given by Minorsky (p. 950; Camb. Hist. Iran VI, p. 553), who read šekār and interpreted the term as “some particular obligation with regard to the princely hunting, e.g. participation in battues,” is most probably wrong.
On the use of bīgār (bekar) and other terms for corvée in Transcaucasia see Petrushevskiĭ, 1949, pp. 285-89; Bournoutian; Bogdanova, II, p. 55. On corvées in modern Afghanistan see A. Hottinger.
M. A. Abduraimov, Ocherki agrarnykh otnosheniĭ v Bukharskom khanstve v XVI-pervoĭ polovine XIX veka, Tashkent, 1966-70, I, pp. 290-98; II, pp. 190-95.
B. A. Akhmedov, Istoriya Balkha (XVI-pervaya polovina XVIII v.), Tashkent, 1982.
N. G. Bogdanova, K voprosu o feodal’noĭ èksploatatsii kochevnikov v Zakavkazskom krae v pervoĭ treti XIX v. II, Moscow and Leningrad, 1939, p. 55.
G. A. Bournoutian, Eastern Armenia in the Last Decades of Persian Rule 1807-1828, Malibu, 1982.
O. D. Chekhovich, Dokumenty k istorii agrarnykh otnosheniĭ v Bukharskom khanstve, Tashkent, 1954, pp. 98-99.
F. Dölger, Beiträge zur Geschichte der byzantinischen Finanzverwaltung, besonders des 10. und 11. Jahrhunderts, Hildesheim, 1960.
Ya. G. Gulyamov, Istoriya orosheniya Khorezma s drevneĭshikh vremën do nashikh dneĭ, Tashkent, 1957, pp. 261-64.
W. Hinz, “Das Steuerwesen Ostanatoliens im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert,” ZDMG 100, 1950, pp. 177-201.
H. Horst, Die Staatsverwaltung der Grosselğūqen und Ḫōrazmšāhs (1038-1231), Wiesbaden, 1964.
A. Hottinger, Middle East Forum, December, 1959, pp. 9-10.
P. P. Ivanov, Khozyaĭstvo dzhuĭbarskikh sheĭkhov. K istorii feodal’nogo zemlevladeniya v Sredneĭ Azii v XVI-XVII vv., Moscow and Leningrad, 1954, pp. 39, 72.
N. A. Kislyakov, Patriarkhal’no-feodal’nye otnosheniya sredi osedlogo sel’skogo naseleniya Bukharskogo khanstva v kontse XIX-nachale XX v., Moscow and Leningrad, 1962, pp. 114-15.
A. K. S. Lambton, Landlord and Peasant in Persia. A Study of Land Tenure and Land Revenue Administration, Oxford, 1953, pp. 330-33.
V. Minorsky, “A Soyūrghāl of Qāsim b. Jahāngīr Aq-qoyunlu (903/1498),” BSOS 9/4, 1938, p. 950.
H. D. Papazyan, Agrarnye otnosheniya v vostochnoĭ Armenii v XVI-XVIII vekakh, Erevan, 1972.
I. P. Petrushevskiĭ, Ocherki po istorii feodal’nykh otnosheniĭ v Azerbaĭdzhane i Armenii v XVI-nachale XIX vv., Leningrad, 1949, pp. 284-90.
Idem, Zemledelie i agrarnye otnosheniya v Irane XIII-XIV vekov, Moscow and Leningrad, 1960, pp. 394-96.
A. L. Troitskaya, Katalog arkhiva kokandskikh khanov XIX veka, Moscow, 1968, pp. 13, 77, 96-97, 348-49.
Idem, Materialy po istorii Kokandskogo khanstva XIX v., Moscow, 1969, pp. 32-37.
Originally Published: December 15, 1989
Last Updated: December 15, 1989
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Vol. IV, Fasc. 3, pp. 249-251