CUSTOMS DUTIES (bāj-e rāh, rāh-dārī), a tax levied on the movement of trade.
Pre-Islamic Persia. There are no data available on customs duties in the Achaemenid empire. Although subjects of the empire engaged in foreign trade (see commerce ii), there is no information on how it was taxed. Under the Parthians foreign trade routes were controlled, and customs houses were located in the frontier cities through which they passed (see commerce iii). On the Roman side, for example, customs duties were collected at Callinicum and on the Persian side at Nisibis in northern Mesopotamia and Artaxata in Armenia (Garsoïan, p. 571). The situation did not change fundamentally under the Sasanians, who were concerned to prevent smuggling and exercised strict control over their borders and thus over customs duties. The latter, possibly identified by the generic term bāz “tax,” had to be paid at the border and upon entering cities, either as a fixed duty per animal load or at a certain rate on the value, depending on the merchandise. The clay bullae with seal impressions that were used to seal bags containing trade goods and coins may also have been used to verify payment of customs duties (Bosworth, p. 603; Lukonin, pp. 741-44).
Islamic Persia before the Mongol invasion. Customs duties were levied at city gates, on roads and bridges, at river fords (maʿāṣer), and in ports. In theory such levies were applicable only at the borders of Dār al-Eslām (see dār al-ḥarb), but in fact, from the beginning of the Omayyad period (41-132/661-750), duties were imposed autonomously by the government of each major region, including those in the Persian cultural area. The technical terms used in the various sources often do not distinguish among customs duties, which were, strictly speaking, border duties; internal tolls; and tolls paid at city gates (see ʿawāreż). In addition to bāz, or bāj, the terms for customs during the early Muslim period included maks (pl. mokūs) and żarība (pl. żarāʾeb), both generally denoting a noncanonical tax, that is, a tax not sanctioned by religious law (Forand; Ḵᵛārazmī, p. 59). When possible, distinctions among these three categories of imposts will he noted here. There are references in the 10th-century Ḥodūd al-ʿālam to a bāzgāh (tollhouse), a borough on the banks of the Aras river, where tolls were levied (ed. Minorsky, pp. 144, 398), as well as to a town in Transoxania where bāz was collected (p. 120). The 11th-century traveler Nāṣer-e-Ḵosrow also mentioned the collection of bāj and the existence of the bājgāh, including one at the port of Mahrūbān in Fārs (p. 136); his use of the term even for tollhouses outside Persia is an indication that it had a very precise meaning (pp. 13, 17, 87). In the early dictionaries bāz was defined as money (zar) taken from merchants and other travelers on the roads to pay for maintenance of security; it was thus also called bāj-e masālek “road tolls” (Qāʾemmaqāmī, pp. 28-29; Horst, p. 78). Duties charged at city gates were also known as ṭayyārāt; according to Joveynī (cf. Lambton, Landlord and Peasant, pp. 73 n. 6, 441), in Shiraz, together with other duties collected from the bāzār, they yielded 1,600 dinars (cf. Waṣṣāf, p. 162). Port duties in the Persian Gulf area were generally treated as a separate category, marāsem-e ḵāṣṣa-ye beḥār (special maritime duties; Horst, p. 80); according to Ḥodūd al-ʿālam (p. 162), the well-being and the wealth of the king of the Khazars were principally dependent upon the maritime customs from the Caspian (bāz-e daryā).
The tax rates varied according to area, period, type of merchandise, and pack animal. For example, under the Samanids in Turkestan in the early 10th century a duty (żarība) of 2 dirhams per camel load, as opposed to 1 dirham for goods carried by a mounted man, was collected at the Amu Darya crossing. At the destination an additional sum of 0.5-1.0 dirham was collected (Moqaddasī, p. 340). In Yahūdīya (Isfahan) the fee was 30 dirhams per camel load, and a similar amount was levied at Kermān (Moqaddasī, p. 400). Although customs duties were contrary to religious law, tollhouses (marāṣed) were found throughout the Islamic empire in the Omayyad and ʿAbbasid (132-656/749-1258) periods. To get around the religious interdiction, these levies were classified by the state as canonical zakāt or ʿošr taxes. To maintain the fiction, a merchant paid his customs duties once a year, in exchange for which he received a license (jawāz) that allowed toll-free passage of his goods (Mez, pp. 111-12; cf. Moqaddasī, p. 429, who reported that a jawāz was necessary for anyone wishing to leave Shiraz).
The revenues from these duties were considerable. Muslims paid 2.5 percent, ḏemmīs (q.v.) 5 percent, and foreigners 10 percent. Despite the importance of these revenues, rulers were sometimes impelled by religious scruples to abolish customs duties temporarily, though they were usually reimposed within a short time. In 479/1086-87, for example, the Saljuq sultan Malekšāh (465-85/1072-92) abolished the levying of mokūs on traders in Iraq and Khorasan, as-well as all tolls and escort fees (ḵafarāt) levied on travelers throughout his empire. In 501/1108 in Baghdad Moḥammad b. Malekšāh abolished the mokūs, żarāʾeb, and transit dues collected in his domain, but on his departure for Isfahan the mokūs were resumed, only to be abolished again when he returned to Baghdad (Ebn al-Jawzī, Montaẓam IX, p. 39; Lambton, Camb. Hist. Iran, p. 250).
The collectors of the customs and transit duties not only had a fiscal responsibility, but they were also in charge of security. They had to provide safe passage for commerce on the roads, for which they received users’ fees. They were also expected to provide intelligence to the central authorities and to exert control over the movement of trade and people. In 10th-century Central Asia, for example, all silver had to be brought to Bukhara (Barthold, Turkestan3, p. 239). Border guards checked departing travelers and their goods for sensitive information that was not allowed to leave the country (Mez, p. 112). In about 391/1000 the toll gatherers, who also served as road guards, were called rāhdārs, bājdārs, bājḵᵛāh, marāṣed, and raṣadbān (Keykāvūs b. Eskandar, p. 170).
Under the Mongols, Il-khanids, and Timurids. After the Mongol invasion customs and related duties were officially imposed under the general heading tamḡā (tax), replacing the zakāt, which had been levied at 2.5 percent. According to Rašīd-al-Dīn, the tamḡā amounted to 10 percent (Petrushevsky, pp. 506-07, 532) and was levied not only on the roads but also in the ports. When Hūlāgū (Hülegü; 654-63/1256-65) crossed the Oxus he relinquished the collection of bāj levied on ships and other travelers (Jovaynī, ed. Qazvīnī, III, pp. 99-100; Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ, Baku, p. 26). Ḡāzān Khan (694-703/1295-1304), as part of his reforms, reduced the tamḡā by 50 percent in some towns and completely abolished it in others (Petrushevsky, p. 494). The (bāj-e) tamḡā, or simply bāj, continued to be exacted by the Il-khanids and Timurids at varying rates. In about 709/1309 in Tabrīz (under Ūljāytū [Öljeitü], 703-17/1304-17) the tamḡā amounted to 5.5 percent, but for foreign merchants it was only 3.5 percent (Hinz, 1950, p. 191). The tamḡā or rasm al-solṭān was levied at the same rate in Herat in about 844/1440 (Hinz, 1950, p. 191). It was paid either by the seller of merchandise (e.g., in Tabrīz in 736/1335) or one-third by the buyer and two-thirds by the seller (in the second half of the 14th century). In 766/1364 there were two tamḡā offices in Tabrīz, one for silk, satin, and spices from China and the other for goods from Europe, Egypt, and within the empire. The rate for transit tolls (bāj) was generally 23 percent (Hinz, 1950, pp. 191-93, 196). To accommodate religious scruples, the customs duties were often referred to as zakāt. In Kermān the tamḡā was collected at the city gate during the Timurid period (Aubin, p. 23), but those having passes were exempt (ʿAbd-Allāh Morvārīd, pp. 103-04, 181; Hinz, 1950, pp. 191-93). After major disasters rulers sometimes suspended the collection of the tamḡā (Aubin, pp. 50-51).
Under the early Il-khanids the roads were quite dangerous, and the system of road guards, which was already in existence under Arḡūn Khan (683-90/1284-91), was therefore strengthened by Ḡāzān Khan. He stationed guards, called rāhdār and toḡtāvol/totqāvol (Doerfer, Elemente I, pp. 251-53), at dangerous points along the roads. They received fixed payments from the government, in addition to a small fee of a half-āqča per four horses, four donkeys, or two camels from the bāj on merchants and other travelers. The bāj was not levied on unladen animals or animals carrying foodstuffs. As a result of these measures, security on the roads remained high under Ḡāzān Khan and his successors (Rašīd-al-Dīn, Tārīḵ-eḡāzānī, pp. 279-80; idem, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ, Baku, p. 489). Under the Jalayerids (736-835/1336-1432) the chief of the rāhdārs and totḡāvol was appointed by the sultan, and the country was divided into zones, in each of which a unit of rāhdārs was stationed. These guards accompanied caravans over the parts of the road for which they were responsible, collecting from the travelers bāj, which they then handed over to the dīvān. For this reason they were also known as bājdār. To ensure that excessive dues were not collected, the official rate was written on a plaque that hung in each rāhdār station, which was a continuation of previous practice. The Jalayerid sultans also appointed a so-called kārvān-sālār for each caravan; it was his task to defend the caravan against robbers. He was paid from a fixed impost on members of the caravan (Naḵjavānī, II, pp. 170-71, 173-74). In the Timurid period the toll gatherers and road guards were known as mostaḥfeẓān-e šawāreʿ, mostaḥfeẓān-e masālek wa marāḥel, and mostaḵberān-e aqṭār o amṣār “intelligence agents” (ʿAbd-Allāh Morvārīd, pp. 101-03) and also as rāhdār, bājḵᵛāh, and zakātsetān (Asfezārī, p. 519). The same terminology persisted in Āq Qoyunlū domains, and, in addition, customs collectors in ports were known as kaštībānān (Modarresī Ṭabāṭabāʾī, pp. 89-90).
Under the Safavids. In the Safavid period customs duties were still known as tamḡā or bāj, but the more common terms were ḵorūj and ʿošr (Eskandar Beg, II, p. 673; Taḏkerat al-molūk, ed. Minorsky, p. 109; Du Mans, p. 186; Chick, I, p. 205). The customs master (šāh-bandar) in the Persian Gulf ports was called żābeṭ-e ʿošūr wa ḵorūj (collector of the customs duties) as late as the 1750s (Mīrzā Moḥammad-Ḵalīl Maṛʿašī, p. 42). The customs duties were the most important indirect tax in the period, and, according to Jean Chardin (V, p. 413), they amounted to about 60,000 tomans a year. If his estimate of annual state revenues of 700,000 tomans (cf. Taḏkerat al-molūk, ed. Minorsky, pp. 179-82) is correct, the customs duties would have amounted to almost 10 percent of official revenues. Engelbert Kaempfer reported that customs revenues at the Caspian ports and at the ports of Rīg and Kong on the Persian Gulf were insignificant (p. 92). In the 17th century the annual customs duties of Bandar-e ʿAbbās varied between 8,000 and 16,000 tomans (R. Ferrier, pp. 488-89). The English East India Company was supposed to receive 50 percent of these revenues as a reward for its assistance in the reconquest of Hormoz in 1032/1622, but it actually never received anywhere near that amount. Every year the English had to beg for their share, which usually amounted to a few hundred tomans (J. P. Ferrier, p. 136). Both the East India Company and the Dutch Vereinigte Oostindische Compagnie (V.O.C.) were exempt from payment of tolls. The Portuguese in Bandar-e Kong were also supposed to receive 50 percent of the revenues, but, like the East India Company, they received less, only 1,100 tomans a year, when they were paid at all (Chardin, IX, pp. 136-37).
Only in the Persian Gulf were customs duties levied ad valorem or at a rate usually said to be 10 percent (Chardin, IX, pp. 136-37), but the rates varied on an average of 7 to 14 percent, according to type of merchandise (see, e.g., V.O.C. 1274, fol. 741; Lockyer, pp. 219-20; Tavernier, p. 334). A letter from Shah Solṭān-Ḥosayn (1105-35/1694-1722) set the customs duties at only 5 percent, but that figure may have applied only to Persian trade with the Ottoman empire (Navāʾī, pp. 163, 173). Those merchants who were not exempt from the tolls often tried to have their goods shipped by European companies for fees of about 2 percent (Lockyer, pp. 219-20) or 0.5 percent (Fryer, II, p. 164). Because merchants had a choice of many ports at which to sell their goods, the šāh-bandars even had representatives in Indian ports who sought to attract merchants to Persia by offering competing rates (Chardin, V, p. 413). In 1085/1674 the collection of the customs revenues of all ports on the Persian Gulf was farmed out to one person (Qāʾemmaqāmī, p. 93; Chardin, V, p. 404). In other areas duties seem to have been levied by the load, every eleventh load being free (Chardin, V, p. 400). It was only toward the end of the 18th century that the term gomrok came to denote “customs” in Persia (Francklin, p. 148).
In general travel in Persia was safe in this period. The road guards were still called rāhdārs (also tamḡāčī until the end of the 16th century; Eskandar Beg, I, p. 123), though on roads to the ports they were also known as kaštībān (Hinz, 1952, pp. 219-20); road fees were most often designated as rāh-dārī. Probably beginning in the reign of Shah Solaymān (1077-1105/1666-94), the rāhdār system was farmed out to individuals (rāhdār-bāšī), who took responsibility for the security of particular stretches of road in return for the right to the rāh-dārī. This system persisted under the Afsharids and Zands (Emerson and Floor).
In 970/1563 Shah Ṭahmāsb I (930-84/1524-76) abolished the collection of road taxes (tamḡā-ye šawāreʿ) for religious reasons; an exception was made for Qandahār (Eskandar Beg, I, p. 123; cf. Röhrborn, p. 58 n. 356). Despite claims that no road taxes were collected during his reign, non-Muslims continued to pay them, and after his death they were reinstated generally (Hinz, 1950, p. 192 n. 3). After a short period of relative instability under Sultan Moḥammad Ḵodābanda (985-96/1578-88) security was reestablished on the roads under Shah ʿAbbās I (996-1038/1588-1629). After the 1660s, however, the security system on the roads gradually began to break down, and during the Afghan occupation of Persia (1135-45/1722-32) the situation was chaotic.
Under the Qajars. The customs administration was reorganized during the Qajar period. Before 1244/1828 the rates for both Persian and foreign merchants ranged between 5 and 10 percent at the border, depending on the quality of the merchandise, and between 1 and 2.5 percent upon entry into cities in the interior (Floor, 1976, pp. 283-84). Depending on the destination, goods could thus be taxed as much as 15 percent or more. In the Treaty of Torkamāṇčāy (1243/1828) an ad valorem duty of 5 percent was fixed on all Russian imports and export, a major change in the Persian tariff system. The same rate was applied to trading partners with “most favored nation” (dowal-e kāmelat al-wadād) status. In practice all European merchants thenceforth were treated differently from Persian merchants (Entner, pp. 6-16). Duty on Turkish goods was, however, only 4 percent.
Beside the border duties, for payment of which a jawāz was granted, Persian merchants also had to pay customs duties when entering cities in the interior. There were also a number of other, mainly local duties related to the movement of trade, for example, ʿasqala, sar rīgī, meydānī, qapāndārī, salāmatī, hawāʾī, kotvalī, sar sang, and ḵānbānī (for explanations of these terms, see Floor, 1976). European merchants protested against such illegal levies, for they were supposedly subject only to the border duties, but the customs farmers in the individual regions maintained their right to collect dues. Nevertheless, political pressure ensured European merchants of an edge over the customs farmers (see concessions). As a result, Persian merchants developed the habit of importing their goods in the names of European merchants; the latter took similar advantage of situations in which Persian merchants were subject to lower export duties, sometimes as low as 2.5 percent. Furthermore, because tax farmers offered competing rates in order to attract commercial traffic to their customs areas, leading Persian merchants made deals with them for lower rates on an annual basis. The entire system thus favored those with wealth and influence; the small merchant had to pay full rates. One result was a great deal of smuggling at all borders (Floor, 1976, pp. 285-93).
Attempts by Qajar reformers, supported by European merchants, to introduce a single uniform customs rate for all traders, domestic or foreign, were opposed by the wealthier merchants, who profited from the existing system. Another drawback was the absence in Persia of the right of entrepôt. If a merchant, having imported goods to Būšehr, for example, found no market for them, he would reexport them to Baṣra without having to pay import or export duties beyond a small fee (Floor, 1987). In 1292/1882 Persia was divided into two customs areas, under the control of two customs farmers (Neẓām-al-Salṭana, I, pp. 266-67). In 1316 Š./1898 Belgian customs officials were retained to raise the revenue guarantee necessary to obtain a Russian loan (see belgian-iranian relations). At first they were in charge only of the customs of Azerbaijan and Kermānšāh, but in 1317/1899 they were put in charge of the entire Persian customs administration. As a result, the farming of customs was abolished (Destrée, pp. 44, 51, 62). Indirect taxes in general, and customs duties in particular, had gradually become the most important source of revenue for the central government. In the 1880s indirect taxes represented about 40 percent of total revenues for the central government. Their importance was further enhanced by the fact that customs duties were paid in cash (silver), whereas direct taxes were mostly paid in kind (Floor, 1976). In 1321/1903 new treaties were concluded with Russia and Great Britain, in which the 5 percent ad valorem rate was replaced by three schedules for different categories of goods. Although the new tariff had some advantages for Persia, on balance it favored Russian merchants (Entner, pp. 55ff.). The new terms remained in effect until new treaties were concluded, the Anglo-Persian Tariff Convention of 1299 Š./1920 and a parallel agreement with Russia in 1306 Š./1927 (Yaganegi, pp. 53-55).
Under the Qajars the road guards were known as rāhdārs and tofanġčī (cf. dozd-begīr “thief catcher”; Yate, p. 451; Taḥwīldār, pp. 122-23). They levied rāh-dārī on merchants and travelers, the rate varying according to the pack animal. In 1290/1873 a body of several hundred regular road guards, qarasūrs (watch soldiers), was formed. They operated primarily in Khorasan, Azerbaijan, Qazvīn, the area of Hamadān and Kurdistan, and Tehran (Qāʾemmaqāmī, pp. 63-72). As in earlier periods, rāhdārs were not under the supervision of customs administrators (i.e., customs farmers) but were instead subject to the provincial governors, who were responsible for security within their jurisdictions. Despite the fact that in 1320/1902 collection of rāh-dārī had been declared illegal, it and other illegal fees (ʿalaf-dārī, tofang-dārī) continued to be levied by various legal and illegal bodies of road guards. Owing to the inability of the central government to control the area outside Tehran, provincial security also declined throughout Persia (Floor, 1976, p. 306). Under pressure from foreign lenders Persia also formed a gendarmerie (amnīya “security force”), charged with restoring security in the provinces. An initial attempt by General F. Maletta in 1327-28 Š./1909-10 was followed by the successful venture under the guidance of Swedish officers in 1329/1911 (Qāʾemmaqāmī, pp. 123ff.). In addition, a small tax-enforcement service continued to function in some areas after the departure of the American Morgan Shuster (Floor, forthcoming, chap. 10).
Under the Pahlavis. A new law ensuring Persian autonomy in establishing tariffs (ḥoqūq-e gomrokī) was enacted on 11 Ordībehešt 1307 Š./1 May 1928; it provided for an ad valorem tariff on most goods, with special rates for certain luxuries like gold, silver, and tobacco (Šafā, I, pp. 65-66). Although the rates were higher than those of the Anglo-Persian Tariff Convention of 1299 Š./1920, they were intended mainly to provide revenues and were rarely set high enough to protect native industries (Yeganegi, pp. 56-59). In addition to general tariffs, there were various special tariffs, including commercial taxes (sūd-e bāzargānī) and monopoly duties (ḥaqq-e enḥeṣār), first introduced on sugar, tea, and cotton in the 1930s. From the late 1950s monopoly duties were levied as a commercial tax on all imported manufactured goods, in order to provide protection for domestic industrial establishments. Customs revenues also included income from other fees, for example, charges for loading, unloading, and storage and stamp fees (Bharier, pp. 70-73). By the 1960s there were about fifteen types of fee levied on all goods not exempt from customs and on some that were exempt as well. In 1352 Š./1973 Persia adopted the Brussels nomenclature as a basis for the customs tariffs (Yaktāʾī, p. 129).
Customs revenues from regular tariffs, special tariffs, and other fees in the first nine decades of the 20th century are given in Table 30, with the percentages of the value of dutiable imports that the figures represent. After sluggish growth until 1299 Š./1920 both total revenues and percentages rose in the period ending in 1319 Š./1940. As the actual customs rates did not change during much of this period, the growth partly reflected improvements in administrative efficiency and overall security of the country. The ratio of customs revenues to the value of dutiable imports thus increased from about 8 percent in 1299 Š./1920 to about 37 percent in 1309 Š./1930 and to 85 percent in 1319 Š./1940. Another factor accounting for the growth was surcharges reflecting differences between the respective values of silver and gold. After 1315 Š./1936 the tariff rate was increased, which was also reflected in overall revenues. In 1324 Š./1945 the customs revenues declined to 294 million rials and the ratio to dutiable imports to 9 percent, owing to the impact of World War II and the occupation of Persia by Allied forces. In the later 1940s revenues again began to increase, reaching 9,552 million rials in 1329 Š./1950, a ratio of 48 percent. Despite the additional use of the commercial tax in the latter half of the 1950s, the ratio remained stable at 25-30 percent between 1336 Š./1957 and 1349 Š./1970.
Customs revenues have constituted the largest portion of nonoil government revenues, as high as 30 percent of total revenues (including those from oil) in 1308-12 Š./1929-33, about 16 percent in 1318-22 Š./1939-43, slightly more in the immediate postwar period, returning to about 16 percent in the 1960s. The proportion declined to less than 10 percent in the later 1970s and 1980s, reflecting a sharp increase in the proportion of oil revenues (Bharier, p. 70; Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Annual Review, 1369, pp. 42-44).
The customs administration had been under the control of Belgian officials for thirty-six years when, on 23 Ordībehešt 1313 Š./13 May 1934 ʿAlī-Akbar Dāvar, the minister of finance, appointed Moḥammad Sajjādī as the first Persian customs administrator (Wezārat-e gomrokāt, p. 17). On 16 Tīr 1336 Š./7 July 1957 the Majles established a new ministry of customs and monopolies (Wezārat-e gomrokāt wa enḥeṣārāt), into which the department of customs (Edāra-ye koll-e gomrok) was incorporated under the direction of ʿAlī-Akbar Żarḡām. On 19 Ordībehešt 1340 Š./9 May 1961 Prime Minister ʿAlī-Amīnī dissolved the ministry and incorporated the customs department into the Ministry of commerce (Wezarāt-e bāzargānī). On 12 Tīr 1345 Š./3 July 1966 the Majles (parliament) transferred it to the Ministry of finance (later called Ministry of the economy and finance, Wezarāt-e eqteṣād wa dārāʾī); its director was promoted to the rank of deputy minister of finance (Šafā, IV, pp. 1577-78).
Although the local road guards of former days had disappeared as the security of the roads was ensured by national forces (Yaktāʾī, pp. 95ff.), in 1326 Š./1947 an armed customs guard (Gārd-e mosallaḥ-e gomrok) was established within the department as part of a new campaign against smuggling; in that year the guards confiscated 15.7 million rials worth of smuggled goods. The unit was subsequently incorporated into the Ministry of war (Wezarāt-e jang), in 1332 Š./1953, then transferred to the Ministry of customs and monopolies in 1336 Š./1957. In 1337 Š./1958 the customs guards confiscated a total of 93.6 million rials worth of smuggled goods (Wezarāt-e gomrokāt, pp. 72-73).
Under the Islamic Republic. In the period since 1358 S./1979 the basic policies of the Pahlavis have been maintained. Article 44 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic (q.v.) provides for nationalization of foreign trade. As exports were already a government monopoly, it applied mainly to imports, but it has proved difficult to translate into practice. The private sector continues to conduct a large proportion of the import trade, though under stringent controls. All imports must be licensed by government procurement and distribution centers before the Central bank (Bānk-e markazī) can issue letters of credit. The organization of the customs administration has remained fundamentally unchanged since 1358 Š./1979.
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Table 30. Customs Revenues 1280-1369 Š./1901-90 (in millions of rials)
Originally Published: December 15, 1993
Last Updated: December 15, 1993
This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 5, pp. 470-475