BĪSTGĀNĪ, Persian term for pay and rations of troops used in classical texts, corresponding to Arabic ʿešrīnīya. According to the 4th/10th-century encyclopedist Ḵᵛārazmī (Mafātīḥ al-ʿolūm, p. 65; Pers. tr., p. 66), in Khorasan ešrīnīya was paid four times a year. Qodāma b. Jaʿfar (d. 337/948-49) calls the troops’ pay tesʿīnīya and describes it as due four times a year on every ninetieth day (pp. LXIV, 16). Gardīzī (ed. Ḥabībī, p. 143) and Ebn Ḵallekān (Wafayāt V, p. 464), using the now lost Ketāb al-taʾrīḵ fī-aḵbār wolāt Ḵorāsān of Abū ʿAlī Sallāmī (d. 300/912-13), state that in the reign of the Saffarid ʿAmr b. Layṯ the troops were reviewed and paid in cash every three months. Ebn Ḵallekān refers to the precedence of this practice under Anōšīravān which, according to Barthold, was not just coincidental (Turkestan 2, p. 221; Pers. tr. K. Kešāvarz, Torkestān-nāma, Tehran, 1352 Š./1973, I, pp. 478-79; see also Zarrīnkūb, pp. 653-54).
According to Ebn Ḥawqal nowhere in the east in his time (4th/10th cent.) was there a government which paid the ʿešrīnīya of its troops so regularly as the Samanids did; the amir Abū Ṣāleḥ Manṣūr b. Nūḥ never failed to disburse each man’s pay punctually at the end of every ninety days (pp. 468-69; tr. J. Šeʿār, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966, p. 198). ʿOtbī (d. 427/1035-36), the historian of the early Ghaznavids, uses the plural ʿešrīnīyāt in reference to payments made to the troops of Manṣūr b. Nūḥ’s accession, which probably points to the use of bīstgānī in the Samanid period (cf. the use of bīstgānī in Tafsīr-e Ṭabarī, p. 1381, and ʿOtbī, tr., p. 187). The Saljuq vizier Ḵᵛāja Neẓām-al-Molk (Sīāsat-nāma, p. 135) defines bīstgānī as the payments made to the ḡolāms (slave-soldiers) and the army every three months from the treasury, which dated back to the time of the ancient kings’ custom and was still practiced by the late Ghaznavids.
In Bayhaqī’s account of the reign of the Ghaznavid Sultan Masʿūd (ed. Fayyāż, pp. 65, 336, 348, 507, 555, 581, 600, 660, 679) two terms ejrī (= jīra, i.e., rations) and bīstgānī are used together but clearly distinguished (pp. 709, 726, 886, 926), bīstgānī being soldiers’ wages paid in cash (p. 709), or sometimes by drafts (barāt, p. 600) called tasbīb (p. 336), and handed over in advance (p. 726; cf. Tārīḵ-eSīstān, p. 293, Tūyserkānī, p. 115), Bosworth (Ghaznavids, pp. 123-24) notes that payment of the bīstgānī often took place on the occasion of a troop review and was made in advance so that the troops might equip themselves for a forthcoming campaign; while the officials and pensioners of the Ghaznavids received monthly stipends (mošāhara), it was no doubt preferable to pay the troops at longer intervals because they were often away at distant outposts or war-fronts.
According to Ebn Ḥawqal, the Samanids paid all their civil and military staff on the same preannounced day, first the ḡolāms and the high officials and generals, then the rest (pp. 468-69, Pers. tr., p. 198; cf. Bosworth, op. cit., p. 124). From some passages in the Tārīḵ-eBayhaqī, too (pp. 199, 581), it appears that the term bīstgānī was applied to the pay of servants and ḡolāms.
The question why bīstgānī, a derivative of bīst “twenty,” was used in this sense has been much discussed. One surmise is that the troops were paid every twenty days (Kazimirski, s.v. ʿešrīnīya; Farhang-e tārīḵī, s.v. bīstgānī ; ʿA. Eqbāl, p. 123 n. 1; M. Dabīrsīāqī, p. 177). This is not convincing, since there was no reason to make payments at twenty-day intervals when a twelve-month calendar was in use. Manīnī’s explanation (I, p. 89) that a soldier’s pay was twenty dinars is untenable because twenty dinars was too large a sum for a soldier’s pay (Bayhaqī, ed. Nafīsī, II, comm., p. 1068). Twenty dirhams per month is more plausible. Barthold suggested tentatively that the total payment made to army under the Samanids was 20 million dirhams, hence the term bīstgānī (Turkestan, p. 230 n. 11). Still another suggestion is that bīstgānī referred to the number of men (bīst) paid at a time (Anwarī, pp. 79-82). In later periods, however, the term bīstgānī in the sense of twenty dirhams per month seems to have acquired a wider meaning in military-bureaucratic parlance and remained in use despite changes in pay rates and pay dates (Gardīzī, ed. Ḥabībī, pp. 86 n. 12, 269 n. 4, 311). Nafīsī, however, noted in his detailed commentary that the suffix -gānī was used by early writers with reference to the meṯqāl (measure of weight = 4.68 grams), e.g., kamar-e zar-e hazārgānī (sword belt [adorned] with 1,000 meṯqāls of gold), sāḵt-e hazārgānī and ostām-e zar-e hazār-meṯqāl (harness and trappings with 1,000 meṯqāls of gold), and kamar-e haftṣadgānī (sword belt with 700 meṯqāls) (Bayhaqī, pp. 190, 347, 351, 352, 430, 477; cf. Sanāʾī, p. 758, and Ḵāqānī Šervānī, p. 566, where hazārgānī means “very valuable”). From these and other examples, Nafīsī (II, pp. 1065, 1068) inferred that bīstgānī denoted a twenty-meṯqāl coin circulating and customarily used for paying troops in the early period and that it later came to mean remuneration in general. This was thought probable by Fayyāż, (Tārīḵ-eBayhaqī, Tehran, 1324 Š./1945, p. 59 n. 1) and was also endorsed by Reżāzāda Šafaq (p. 73). An alternative meaning, suggested by Nafīsī in view of the use of dah-dahī (ten-tenths) and panj-dahī (five-tenths) with reference to gold, might be that a bīstgānī was a coin containing 20 percent of pure gold; but Nafīsī preferred the first interpretation (II, pp. 1066, 1068). The coin weight hypothesis certainly sounds plausible. Nafīsī’s doubts (II, p. 1068) concerning the willingness of soldiers to wait three months for their pay are unfounded, because the troops were usually paid in advance and the custom of paying the bīstgānī four times annually is mentioned in independent sources.
It is not improbable, however, that changes in the timing of payments to troops were gradually introduced, as evidenced in a passage in the Sīāsat-nāma (p. 154) where Alptegīn asks a Turkish ḡolām whether he was not receiving bīstgānī and mošāhara every month. This may also explain why some lexicographers define bīstgānī as a monthly wage (e.g. Farhang-e Jahāngīrī, p. 22-26; Farhang-e rašīdī; Farhang-e Ānand Rāj; Vullers, I, p. 299; Wolf, Glossar; Eqbāl, p. 123 n. 1). Moreover the word later came to include servants’ wages, officials’ salaries, and any payment of money to civil and military staff on a fixed date (Farhang-e jahāngīrī, loc. cit.; Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, ed. Moʿīn; Hedāyat, s.v.; Eqbāl, p. 123 n. 1).
The compound bīstgānḵᵛār (receiver of bīstgānī) is also used by Gardīzī (pp. 269, 272) and Bayhaqī (pp. 199, 581).
Sources: Farroḵī Sīstānī, Dīvān, ed. M. Dabīrsīāqī, Tehran, 1363 Š./1984, pp. 370, 393.
Gardīzī, ed. Ḥabībī, pp. 54, 80, 86, 142.
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Originally Published: December 15, 1989
Last Updated: December 15, 1989
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Vol. IV, Fasc. 3, pp. 306-307