KALĀNTAR, comparative of kalān (big, great), the term used to denote a chief or leader; synonyms are pišvā and moqaddam.

As of the late 14th century, the word kalāntar was used to denote the chief of a tribal, military, geographical, or professional unit. From the late 15th century onwards, the term was particularly utilized for designating the local official (mayor) in charge of the administration of a town, and in this meaning it replaced the older term raʾis for this official (Roemer, p. 90; Tauer, p. 7; Lambton, 1963, pp. 208-9; Aubin, 1956b, pp. 123-47). The Jāmeʿ al-tawāriḵ-e Ḥasani (written in 1453) refers to kalāntarān (plur. of kalāntar) as chiefs of military and geographical units (sāyer-e kalāntarān-e boluk-e aqṭāʿ; see Yazdi, p. 110; Aubin, 1956a, pp. 65, 66, 71). In late Timurid times, kalāntarān-e mawāżeʿ (chiefs of localities) are mentioned. These were classed on the same footing as tribal chiefs, who were also often referred to as kalāntar. There is an early use of the term for a village chief appointed by Timur, and kalāntars of Isfahan are mentioned in the Āq Qoyunlu and early Safavid periods. The term was not used to denote the chief of a guild, although the chief of the court musicians and singers (kalāntar-e nowbatiān), or of the royal library, was sometimes referred to as kalāntar in Timurid and early Safavid times (Roemer, pp. 90, 100; Navāʾi, p. 322; Qāʾem-Maqāmi, p. 44; Aubin, 1967, p. 212; Naṭanzi, p. 238; Naḵčevāni, pp. 246-47; Qazvini and Bouvat, pp. 146-61).

Already in the 15th century, if not earlier, the kalāntars were appointed by the ruler. In all cases, the kalāntar was the representative of his community towards the ruler, and towards his community he acted as the government’s agent, thus playing the role of the middleman. The office of the kalāntar was an important one; its holders were always chosen from among the notables (aʿyān), and care was taken that the person to be appointed would have support among the local population. In Safavid Persia, the candidate was formally expected to have the support of 75 percent of the community. Nevertheless, the function tended to be hereditary. If the population was not satisfied with the kalāntar’s activities, this could result in investigation and dismissal. Being a royal appointee, the kalāntar also received a payment for his services, variously known as kalāntari and rosumāt (Qāʾem-Maqāmi, pp. 54-56 and 61, documents 24 and 26; Nāder Mirzā, pp. 291-92; Mirzā Rafiʿa, pp. 93-94, 121; Ḏābeḥi and Sotuda, VI, p. 33, document 20; Qomi, II, p. 1083; Floor, 2000, p. 46; Lambton, pp. 215-16).

The kalāntar’s main task was “constantly to strive to improve the condition of the subjects in order to secure their prayers for the sacred person [of the king]” (Minorsky, p. 82). The kalāntar was also called wakil al-raʿāyā (the spokesman of the subjects), because “it is his business to defend the People against the Tyrannies of Governours, and to take up their little differences. He has considerable incomes; for they who have any business to do, make him great presents, that he may stand friend with the Chan; the King alone places the Kelontar in all Towns” (Thevenot, II, p. 103; Chardin, VI, p. 78; Hotz, p. 53; Floor, 1998, pp. 209-10, 278 [šahryār or kalāntar of Mināb]; Boxer, pp. 199, 257; Perry, pp. 203-15). Representing the interests of the local population also meant that the kalāntar had a role in fixing the monthly price-list of food supplies and had to see that goods were abundant and cheap. Failure to do so could lead to his execution, as happened in 1861 in Tehran (Floor, 1971, p. 263). The kalāntar was supposed to play his role of the tribune of the people in particular when taxes were increased or when a tax reduction was asked for after a natural calamity, because his first task was to ensure the collection of government taxes. He also had a say in urban expenditures, and the vizier and the mostowfi (comptroller) of the town could not write a payment order (towjiḥ) without the kalāntar’s approval. The importance of his fiscal and administrative function is clear from the fact that the kalāntar appointed the kadḵodās (the heads of city quarters, the elders of the guilds) and the naqib (head of the sayyeds, or descendants of the Prophet). In Safavid Persia, the vizier of Isfahan and the kalāntar had the right to appoint the chiefs of the rural districts around the city, who were required to have the support of 75 percent of their respective populations (Kämpfer, pp. 131-32; de Bruyn, I, p. 206; Richard, II, p. 27; Mirzā Rafiʿa, p. 94; Qāʾem-Maqāmi, pp. 54-56, document 24; Afšār, p. 398; Floor, 2000, p. 46; Lambton, pp. 211-15).

Because the kalāntar was in charge of a community (e.g., town, rural district, tribe) he was responsible for public order. In the 17th century, the Dutch therefore translated the term as sheriff (schout), and in the 19th century other Europeans called him “police magistrate” or “chief of police.” His executive arm included the kadḵodā, the dāruḡa-ye bāzār (overseer of the bazaar), the moḥtaseb (market inspector), and their staff. The kalāntar also had to keep a kind of population register to be used for fiscal purposes, quartering of troops, and public health measures (Floor, 1971, pp. 258-60; idem, 2000, pp. 46-47; Lambton, pp. 214-15).

Every town had a kalāntar, sometimes two (each one in charge of a nima-kalāntari, that is, half of the city) or more. In Herat in the 1530s, sometimes several kalāntars were responsible for the entire town and the surrounding districts at the same time (kalāntar-e Herāt wa bolukāt; Qomi, p. 138), while in other times there was a single kalāntar only (Qomi, p. 257). In Shiraz in the 1880s, a kalāntar presided over the suburbs (kalāntar-e ḥowma-ye šahr). Similarly, in Isfahan, one kalāntar was the head of the Armenian community of Julfa, and another one was responsible for the ʿAbbāsābād quarter. In southern Persia, heads of market towns were also known as kalāntar or šahryār. In some cases, kalāntars of provincial capitals were seemingly kalāntars of the entire province as well; there were kalāntars of Gilān-e Bia-pas, Māzandarān, Fārs, and Āḏarbāyjān, but this was just an honorific title. In Seystān and Kič-Makrān, the hereditary governor was called kalāntar. In Qajar Persia, kalāntars of important cities (Shiraz, Tabriz, Mašhad) often had the personal title beglerbegi (Qomi, I, pp. 138, 257; Mollā Jalāl, pp. 118, 191, 219, 375; Puturidze, 1961, pp. 48, 68, documents 21 and 27; Puturidze, 1965, p. 48, document 20; Floor, 1971, p. 256; idem, 1998, p. 89).

There also existed rural district kalāntars. Outside Fārs and Kermān, they were most frequently called boluk-ḵodā or boluk-bāši (Floor, 1971, p. 267). They were in charge of appointing the kadḵodās in their district and were responsible for collecting taxes, supplying troops, workers, and food, and they represented their district in all matters. Tribal kalāntars had similar duties.

By the end of the 19th century, the role of the kalāntar was being superseded by other officials representing new administrative structures (Floor, 1973, p. 307). The Municipality Law of 20 June 1907 (Qānun-e baladiya, article 93) stated that the title of the head of the municipal council (raʾis-e anjoman) was kalāntar, but this was later changed to šahrdār. The same happened with the title of the district kalāntar, which became baḵšdār during the Pahlavi period. The term lives on in the designation of the urban police office as kalāntari as of the 1920s until early 21st century. It is also still employed among the Baḵtiāri and Qašqāʾi tribes to denote chiefs of tribal sub-units.



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March 20, 2009

(Willem Floor)

Originally Published: December 15, 2012

Last Updated: April 19, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XV, Fasc. 4, pp. 366-367