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Les Arméniens dans le commerce asiatique au début de l'ère moderne

Sushil Chaudhury
Kéram Kévonian

II. Les Arméniens et la Nouvelle-Djoulfa / Armenians and New Julfa

4. The Commercial Law of the New Julfa Armenians

Edmund Herzig

Texte intégral

  • 1 On the contribution of legal anthropology to understanding Ottoman law, see Gerber, 1994, 5 and ff.

1For scholars researching pre-modern legal systems a common difficulty is that surviving sources give relatively rich information regarding legal theory and the codification of law, but that often there is a dearth of evidence when it comes to actual legal practice. This raises questions about how far the surviving sources – codices, lawbooks and works of jurisprudence – are normative or idealized constructions reflecting academic and elite perceptions of the law, and how far they reflect the way the legal system functioned in practice, when subject to a range of social pressures. Did real contracts take the shape suggested in such works? And did law courts, litigants and judges understand and apply the law in the manner prescribed by the academic lawyers?1

  • 2 The principal collections of Julfa Armenian commercial and legal documents are preserved in the All (...)

2The historian of the Julfa Armenians confronts a rather different set of problems. Here we have no works of jurisprudence or legal theory and, until the mid 18th century Astrakhan Lawbook (Poghossian, 1967: see below), no codification of the law. Instead we possess a wealth of documents dating from the late 17th century through the mid 18th century. Archives and libraries in New Julfa, London, Moscow, Venice and Los Angeles contain large numbers of account books, partnership and agency contracts, powers of attorney and diverse financial instruments.2 In addition there are a variety of family documents, such as wills and settlements that, given the central place occupied by the family firm, are relevant for understanding Julfa Armenian commercial law. These are all real functional documents which give insight into the lives and work of the Julfa merchants. When it comes to the judicial dimension of Julfa Armenian law, however, we remain very much in the dark. The challenge, therefore, is to clarify both the intellectual context of Armenian commercial law and its judicial processes.

3The first part of this chapter deals with judicial process, using evidence from Armenian documentary sources, and from European travel literature. The question is placed primarily in the context of the administrative arrangements of New Julfa within the Safavid Empire, but some attention is given also to the process of law and arbitration between Julfa merchants and merchants of other national, religious and ethnic communities, and to the judicial arrangements for Julfa Armenians in the overseas satellite colonies of New Julfa. For all of these questions the evidence is limited, but it has been possible suggest some tentative conclusions.

4The second part discusses the sources of Julfa Armenian commercial law within the context of the long-distance trade of the period. The approach is perhaps unconventional for the theme, in that there is little reference to earlier Armenian legal tradition, or to historical studies of Armenian law. Instead an approach based on the analysis of the Armenian documents and comparison with other contemporary commercial legal traditions has been adopted. The selection of this method has been suggested partly by pragmatism—it generated interesting responses to the questions posed, and was an approach which this researcher was qualified to undertake. The choice of approach was conditioned also by trends in the development of historical study of Julfa Armenian trade and merchants.

  • 3 Whose studies were mainly based on the ledger of the merchant Hovhannes [Ter Davtian] Jughayetsi: L (...)

5In the course of the past fifteen to twenty years, several historians have used Julfa Armenian documents to explore and explain the trading world of the New Julfa merchants. The pioneers of this research were the late professors Levon Khachikian and Hakob Papazian.3 They have been followed by Shushanik Khachikian, whose publications have brought a number of such documents into the public arena, as well as providing analysis of Armenian commerce in this period (Sh. Khachikian, 1981a, 78-91; 1981b, 87-101; 1988; 1994). Most of this work has been published only in Armenian, but the few articles to have come out in French or English have aroused considerable interest among historians of world trade, notably Niels Steensgaard (1974), Fernand Braudel (1982), Philip Curtin (1984), Kirti Chaudhuri and, most recently, Andre Gunder Frank (1998).

6In the works of these historians, the Armenian merchants and their commercial system are often portrayed as representative of the trading world of Asia in general. The Julfans are introduced as an archetypal Asian merchant community, though the qualities attributed to that archetype vary considerably between Steensgaard’s account of the backward Asian peddler and Chaudhuri or Frank’s description of the sophisticated Asian merchant-capitalist. My own doctoral dissertation also used the Armenian commercial documents to describe and analyse aspects of the commercial system of the Julfa Armenians, and on that basis to attempt to draw more general conclusions about the trading world of Asia in the early modern period (Herzig, 1991). What we know about the Julfa Armenians and about other specialized merchant communities of the Middle East and the Indian Ocean does indeed suggest similarities, but little detailed comparative work has yet been done.

7This chapter, fits into this tradition by putting Julfa Armenian commercial law in comparative perspective, and seeking to establish how far Armenian commercial law was peculiar to this individual community, and how far it was an expression of, or variation on, a more general commercial legal system shared by other merchant communities of the same period and region. Here only the first steps along this path can be taken, since the wealth of documentary sources available for the Julfa Armenians is not matched for other contemporary merchant communities, because much of the Julfa material remains unexplored, and because I have not examined the law of other communities in any detail.

The Judicial Context of Julfa Armenian Commercial Law

8From the study of surviving Armenian commercial documents a picture emerges of a complex and coherent system of commercial practice whose rules and norms were expressed in written documents and contracts. The third part of my doctoral dissertation gave a taxonomy of some of the main types of document, and found that the majority of the Julfa commercial documents examined fitted readily into a limited range of standard types. The documents suggest a developed contractual ethos which informed merchants’ obligations towards each other and their expectations of each other. Without the possibility of recourse to a court or tribunal of some kind the mass of surviving documents, contracts, agreements, witnessed statements, bills, powers of attorney and accounts would have been worthless; their mere existence is firm evidence for the existence of some judicial institution, formal or informal, capable of ensuring compliance with the terms of contracts, penalizing defaulters, and arbitrating disputes.

  • 4 All from a commenda contract dated 30 Hamira 95 (in the Azaria calendar, corresponding to 26 Decemb (...)
  • 5 From a commenda contract, London, British Library, Lansdowne Manuscripts [hencerforth BL/LM] 1048, (...)
  • 6 ASV/DAM: Herzig, 1991, 296.

Internal evidence from the documents corroborates this suggestion. The legal validity and force of many of the documents was established and endorsed by a variety of standard symbolic devices. The documents almost invariably begin with the letter Image 100000000000000C0000000FB7577DFA.jpg E [trsl Ē], standing for Image 10000000000000290000000F6B0DEE93.jpg Vor en [trsl Or ēn] “He who is” (i.e. God). They often include other pious phrases and invocations, for example “By the will of the Almighty, the grace of the Holy Son and the truth of the Holy Spirit... whatever profit Lord God bestows... Lord God do not give evil. Good and evil are in God’s hand...”4 All documents feature the signatures, seals and statements of witnesses. In many we find priests fulfilling notarial functions as witnesses and copyists, for example, “I saw the authenticated copy of this document. This copy corresponds to those copies (sic). I, Hakob [trsl Yakob] Vardapet sealed it. The end.”5 Some also record what appear to be symbolic gift exchanges, as well as the pronouncement of oaths or set legal formulae. A document drawn up in Isfahan in 1729 to settle the account between three Hindu bankers and members of the Shehrimanian family, for example, includes the following statement by the Armenian parties to the agreement (it is mirrored by a similar one by the Indians): “We, Hakob and Datos, made the settlement (Image 10000000000000180000000F2F817E23.jpgtrsl sōl = Arabic-Persian Image 100000000000001C0000000FCFCFEDA2.jpg sulh) and settlement gift (Image 10000000000000270000000FCB19CC2D.jpgtrslhabay = Ar.-Pers. Image 10000000000000160000000FB6CBAEA3.jpg haba/ hiba) in We received six thousand dinars cash is such a trivial sum that its can have been since the same document records a payment of two thousand dinars cash from the Armenians to the Indians: EH] and one man-i shah [about 5.8 kilograms: EH] of stone-free wheat (Arm. Image 10000000000000760000000F5B2545B2.jpg [trsl k’arn yistak c’oren]) as a settlement payment from Lachiram, and it came to us, Hakob and Datos. And we pronounced the formula (segba, Image 10000000000000230000000F4B33B7E3.jpg trsl selay = Ar.-Pers. Image 10000000000000240000000FECE0D8DA.jpg sigha).”6

9The mid-18th century Astrakhan Lawbook confirms the existence of an established code of commercial law among the Julfa Armenians. The context in which that law was committed to paper was that of Imperial Russia. The editor of the modern edition of the Lawbook explains that in the early 18th century the Astrakhan Armenians frequently petitioned the Russian government for the right to religious and legal freedom to allow them to run their affairs according to their established laws and customs, since the Russian language and Russian laws and customs were unfamiliar to them (Poghossian, 1967, xiv-xv and ff.). In 1744 the Russian Senate granted judicial autonomy to all the minority communities in Astrakhan, and in 1746 it ordered the construction of a lawcourt/municipal building (Rathaus) for the use of all the communities. The Armenians, however, preferred to build their own Rathaus and were permitted to do so. It began to work in 1747, governing the judicial, financial and other affairs of the community. Initially it functioned without a written code of law, but work on producing a written code began in the late 1740s and was completed in the early 1760s (ibid., xx-xii). That a large part of the Astrakhan Lawbook deals with commercial law is hardly surprising, given the commercial character of the Armenian colony in Astrakhan. The Lawbook defines in some detail the legal status of documents such as merchants’ account books, and gives examples of the correct way to draw up commercial documents of various kinds.

10While the Lawbook was written for the use of the Armenians in Astrakhan in the Russian Empire, its authors state explicitly that the law that they here codified for the first time is the law that was followed by the Persian Armenians (i.e. the Julfans). This assertion is corroborated by the evidence of surviving Julfa Armenian commercial documents, which do indeed correspond closely to the patterns given in the Lawbook. All the above provides firm evidence for the existence of a developed system of commercial law among the Julfa merchants, but sheds little light on how it was administered.

The Administration of New Julfa

  • 7 Sh. Khachikian (1988, chap. I, especially 15-65) deals at length with the question of administrativ (...)
  • 8 All the above state that the k’alant’ar was appointed by the Shah. Only Fryer insists that the Arme (...)
  • 9 Sh. Khachikian (1988, 33-35) discusses the combination of election and selection that went into the (...)

It will be helpful to begin by considering the wider administrative context of New Julfa. Throughout the 17th century, the Armenians of the suburb enjoyed a high degree of administrative autonomy granted by Safavid shahs.7 The central figure of Julfa’s government Image 100000000000003F0000000F0D04BDDC.jpg = Pers. Image 100000000000001F0000000FA7CAA338.jpg kalantar) or mayor (Ghougassian, 1998, 61-62). The office was somewhat ambiguous, since it involved being the community’s representative in all dealings with the Safavid court and authorities as well as being the agent of the Safavid court and government in the community for revenue collection and the maintenance of public order (Lambton, 1963, 206-207; 1992, 611-613). This ambiguity extended into the selection of the k’alant’ar, for while it is often asserted that the Julfans enjoyed administrative autonomy and had the right to select their own k’alant’ar (Baibourtian, 1969, 19. Gregorian, 1974, 665. Falsafi, 1985 [= 1364 H], 1120), the evidence suggests that, while a Julfa notable always filled the office, it was the Shah who actually made or ratified the appointment (Tavernier, 1682 [1676], i, 380. Thévenot, 1689, iii, 390-391. Struys, 1681, 305, 309. Gemelli Careri, 1699-1700, ii, 139).8 Although the Julfans put forward their candidate for the Shah’s approval, there was no question of any right to appoint a candidate of whom the Shah did not approve.9

Gabriel de Chinon relates an interesting case which illustrates the process. In 1636, when kalantar Khoja Nazar died, he was succeeded by his son Sa(r)fraz, who set about ruling the community in the same high-handed manner as his father. The Julfans were reluctant to tolerate this and, emboldened by the fact that Safraz did not have such close royal patronage as Nazar, they put forward a rival candidate. The latter, by bribery, succeeded in having Safraz dismissed and gained office, but only lasted two years before being replaced again by Safraz. The Julfa notables did, however, manage to curb his authority by using the darugha’s (see below) lieutenant as a counterbalance. They also strove to weaken Safraz’s links with the Shah which, as Gabriel remarks, may have restricted the power of their kalantar, but also left the community weaker and with less royal patronage and therefore more vulnerable to interference (Gabriel de Chinon, 1671, 266). The story suggests an autonomy founded not on constitutional rights or permanent prerogatives, but on negotiation and renegotiation within the community and between the community and the court. In that process, personal authority, royal patronage, diplomacy and tactical shrewdness all played a part. This pattern corresponds closely to the selection process of community heads (Image 10000000000000250000000F5DEA7AFF.jpgra’is, kalantar) in both the Seljuq and the Safavid periods:

“The ra’is of a large city usually received a deed of investiture from the sultan, but there is no record on any formal procedure by which the people might designate their choice; probably the most influential and suitable person simply emerged to act on their behalf”, and: “In Isfahan and some major towns the kalantar received a diploma of appointment form the ruler, but the appointment appears to have depended in some measure upon the satisfaction of the local people” (Lambton, 1991, 610-611).

  • 10 Compare Lambton, 1963, 208-209: “The kalantar was frequently chosen from the local inhabitants and (...)
  • 11 The English traveller Robert Stodart calls Khoja Nazar “the Armenian prince”: Ross, 1935, 71.
  • 12 See also Baghdiantz-McCabe, 1998-2000, 321-328.

In the first half of the 17th century, a strong hereditary principle was at work in the selection of the kalantar. The first three were Safar (son of Khachik, the head of the community in Old Julfa), his brother Nazar and Nazar’s son, Safraz—a direct line from father to son to second son to grandson.10 The Julfans themselves do not seem to have used the Persian term kalantar at first, though it gained currency later in the century. A 1595 colophon suggests that the leader of Old Julfa was entitled melik’ (Image 10000000000000220000000FC840F169.jpgAr.-Pers. Image 10000000000000170000000F39D9F527.jpg malik, literally “king”), the usual term for eastern Armenian lords and community leaders in this period (Sh. Khachikian, 1988, 33-35. Hewsen, 1972, 285-329). Early 17th century colophons use a variety of titles Image 100000000000004B0000000F0114D9DB.jpg [trslk’alak’apet] “town leader”, Image 10000000000000890000000F80FAABD5.jpg Image 10000000000000220000000FB52068AA.jpg [trslaraǰnord (marmnawor bani)] “director (for matters temporal)”, Image 100000000000005C0000000FEC486F1B.jpg [trslžolovrdapet] “community leader”, are all encountered, but most frequent is the title ishkhan Image 10000000000000270000000F50B45170.jpg [trslišxan] “prince, noble, leader” (Hakobian, Hovhanissian, 1974-1984, passim).11 The connotations of ishkhan in 17th century Julfa may not have been as regal as in English “prince”, but Khoja Safraz’s epitaph—Hayots t’agavor Image 10000000000000600000000F19E9123B.jpg [trslHayoc’ t’agawor] “King of the Armenians” (Ter Hovhaniants, i, 91)—is unambiguous and indicates the extent of the political claims of the Julfa kalantars in this period.12 There was no fixed term of office, but while Safar, Nazar and Safraz all died in office, later kalantars came and went in fairly rapid succession, suggesting that the office or its incumbents weakened vis-à-vis the community and/or the court over the course of the 17th century (Sh. Kachikian, 1988, 29. Ghougassian, 1998, 294).

  • 13 Sh. Khachikian emphasizes the role of the kalantar and katkhudas as community leaders. Baghdiantz M (...)

From Gabriel de Chinon’s account of the Julfans’resentment of Khoja Safraz’s excessive power, it is clear that the limits of the kalantar’s authority were elastic. One important function was to distribute the tax burden within the community (Tavernier, 1679-1682, i, 380. Gemelli Careri, ii, 139). In this and other matters he was assisted by the kadkhudas Image 10000000000000520000000F03821537.jpg trslk’ ēt’xowta(y), Image 10000000000000280000000F1B536B8D.jpg, or chiefs of wards or quarters (tasneak Image 10000000000000420000000FABF7775D.jpg) (Sh. Khachikian, 1988, 38-40, 42-46. Ghougassian, 1998, 64-65). Both Sh. Khachikian (ibid., 39-41, 49 and ff.) and Baghdiantz McCabe (1999, 94-96) argue that the kalantar and kadkhudas met regularly as a sort of council or assembly to deal with the community’s affairs.13 While there is ample evidence for the importance of the kalantar and kadkhudas, there is very little support for the idea of a municipal council with regular meetings. The only source to mention such a council or assembly is Ter Hovhaniants, a nineteenth-century historian, who, in spite of his unparalleled access to the Julfa archives, cannot be considered a primary source. He mentions an assembly of merchants, vacharakanats zhoghov Image 100000000000007C0000000F7D379E3F.jpg [trslvačaṙakanac’ žolov] but only in the context of the settlement of disputes, not in terms of administration. There is a letter of 1671 addressed to the Russian Tsar by the kalantar and leading men of New Julfa, but it contains no reference to kadkhudas, and given that the matter discussed is commercial rather than administrative, and given the use of the term k’up’anek’ Image 10000000000000460000000F726E8BA4.jpg company, head of firm [?]) it seems that the signatories are the leading merchants of the community rather than the kadkhudas (although there was certainly a considerable overlap between these two categories). The letter is, moreover, an exceptional joint initiative rather than the product of a regular council meeting (Sh. Khachikian, 1988, 27 and ff.). A royal decree (farman Image 10000000000000290000000FB476DD77.jpg) of 1683 is addressed in response to a petition from the kalantar, kadkhudas and ru’aya (Image 100000000000001F0000000F887C7C83.jpg“populace”) of Julfa, but again there is nothing to suggest that the petition was drafted by a council, and the use of these terms is more likely a standard phrase to embrace the whole community rather than reference to any specific body or institution (Busse, 1959, 212).

Other sources also indicate that the Julfa community and its overseas offshoots were able to make decisions and act collectively on rare occasions—for example the Astrakhan Lawbook was authenticated by the signature of 132 members of the community (Poghossian, 1967, xxxix), and on more than one occasion merchants made undertakings on behalf of the community, though not, it would seem, with the community’s prior knowledge or approval (Ferrier, 1970, 427-443. Gulbenkian, 1970, 361-426). The usual term used for the community as a whole is jumiat‘ (Image 100000000000003F0000000F0578A729.jpgtrsl ǰowmiat’, Ar.-Pers. Image 100000000000002B0000000F9724B177.jpg jami‘at). The term occurs quite frequently in the sources, perhaps indicating a consciousness of the community as a distinct entity and focus of loyalty and identity, but not in itself telling us anything about communal institutions. In short, the surviving sources contain no reference to a council, to regular meetings of the kalantar and kadkhudas, to any municipal building or, indeed, any other institutional dimension of the community’s administration. While it is clear that community leaders met from time to time to deal with disputes (see below), and there can be little doubt that other matters, such as tax allocation, required occasional meetings, it is possible or even probable that such meetings were organized on an ad hoc basis, were informal, and involved only those individuals necessary to conduct the business in hand, rather than including all of the kadkhudas as representatives of their constituencies.

The Judicial Institution

  • 14 On the office of darugha in Iran, see Lambton, 1992, 609-610, and Floor, 2001, 115-122. On the New (...)
  • 15 Thévenot also (1689, iii, 391) describes the kalantar as the recourse for the Julfans’disputes, and (...)

Apart from the kalantar and kadkhudas the only important official in Julfa was the darugha Image 100000000000002B0000000F185454AC.jpg.14 Chardin also mentions a vagir Image 10000000000000230000000F5B79BA4C.jpg whom he describes as “receveur” (tax collector). He states that neither the darugha nor the vagir could act independently of the kalantar (Chardin, 1811 [1686-1735], viii, 114). Most other travellers do not mention the vagir at all. Figueroa describes the kalantar as “civil judge” and notes that a Persian (presumably the darugha—EH) had jurisdiction for criminal matters, or matters in which the king might have an interest (Silva y Figueroa, 1667, 286).15 Fryer talks of a “civil magistrate” and a “governor”, the latter only being called on when the community refused to submit to the arbitration of the former (Crooke, 1909-1915, ii, 258).

  • 16 I am indebted to Mr Hirotake Maeda for the information about the references in the Ahsan al-tavarik (...)

The darugha was a Muslim official, but research into the recently discovered third volume of the Persian chronicle, Ahsan al-tavarikh Image 100000000000004E0000000F23659D09.jpg has revealed that several of the darughas of New Julfa were Georgian or Armenian ghulams (Image 100000000000001C0000000F8FE8AE06.jpg royal slaves), perhaps suggesting the deliberate appointment of a Caucasian to deal with the Julfans, or that the julfa official was a subordinate of the darugha of Isfahan, who was invariably a ghulam member of the Georgian royal house.16 According to Gabriel de Chinon (1671, 255) the darugha setded court cases but did not actually reside in Julfa, and everything else was in the hands of the kalantar. De Bruyn (1737, i, 225-226) also describes the interaction of local and central government, though without mentioning the darugha:

“They [the Julfans] have their own kalantaer or burgo-master, and their Betgoedaes (kadkhudas) or chiefs of districts, who are as judges to decide in all common cases, but those of more importance are reserved for the King or the council of state, and afterward put into execution by the burgo-master and chiefs of districts.”

11These European accounts give some valuable insight into the operation of Julfa’s legal institution. They make clear that the kalantar and kadkhudas had a judicial function, indeed some sources refer to these officers exclusively in the judicial context. They acted as judges and arbitrators in most legal cases, but some cases were taken to the darugha. The sources do not agree on how such cases were distinguished. Some suggest a distinction between civil and criminal cases; others a distinction based on the importance, or interest to the Safavid court, of cases; others again that cases which for one reason or another the kalantar could not resolve were referred to the darugha. The authors of the Astrakhan Lawbook state in their introduction that the Julfans had enjoyed full judicial autonomy except for murder cases (Poghossian, 1967, 5-6). This lack of unanimity may indicate that the division of competencies and responsibilities between central and community authority was not very clearly established or changed over time, and perhaps hints also that the powers of enforcement available to the kalantar were limited, and that there were occasions when members of the community refused to submit to his rulings. Willem Floor’s analysis that: “In general, however, the population tried to avoid the official judicial system. Most issues, therefore, were resolved within the family, city quarter, guild, village, or tribal unit” seems fully applicable to New Julfa (Floor, 2000, 10).

The only scholar to have studied documents generated by the judicial process in Julfa is Ter Hovhaniants. Unfortunately, he gives only scanty information, stating that commercial disputes were settled by written decision or verdict vchragrutiun (Image 10000000000000620000000F9FAA2158.jpg[trslvčṙagrowt‘iwn]) of the kalantar and assembly of merchants. He states that many such documents are still preserved in the All Saviour’s Cathedral Archive. Such decisions followed a set formula, at least in their opening phrases, which Ter Hovhaniants (1880-1881, I, 183) records as: “The merchants’ruling is...” Image 10000000000000A50000000FC7DE8279.jpg [trslsovdagari dastowrn ays ë], or: “And so we judge thus concerning this matter...” Image 10000000000000A90000000F4CF25871.jpg Image 100000000000005A0000000FED792FA9.jpg [trslew t’ē mek' vasn aysr gorcoy ayspēs gitemk']. His description, and the opening phrases he cites, suggest rather the decision of an arbitration panel of fellow merchants than the sentence of a court of law. Preliminary researches in the Julfa Cathedral Archive and recourse to Levon Minassian’s summary catalogue of the Archive’s collection (1983) have not turned up surviving examples of the kinds of document cited by Ter Hovhaniants.

  • 17 “Second, those Armenians who inhabit the dominions of the Persians in Great Armenia and in parts of (...)

12To sum up, the sources confirm that for the most part the Julfans were left to run their own legal affairs. There is no suggestion, however, of a distinct judicial institution. There is no mention of professional judges or lawyers, nor of court buildings, formally constituted trials, or prisons or other places of punishment, nor of the sanctions that could be imposed. Whatever judicial institution existed in Julfa functioned without reference to a codified corpus of law. The authors of the Astrakhan Lawbook make it clear that theirs is the first codification, carried out to satisfy the requirements of the 18th century Russian state, and that under Safavid jurisdiction the Persian Armenians had followed Persian tradition and administered the law “by word.”17

  • 18 BL/LM, 1048, fol. 43.

13There is also a small amount of evidence relating to the Julfa Armenian judicial institution in the satellite colonies that sprang up in major trading cities in Asia and Europe. Ter Hovhaniants (1880-1881, i, 165-166) published a document relating to a case referred to the Julfa tribunal by a merchant in Surat, whose partner had reneged on an oral undertaking for the joint purchase of a diamond. This suggests that some cases at least were referred back to Julfa rather than being settled locally, or perhaps that the mother colony acted as a sort of court of appeal if local efforts at judgment and arbitration failed. In another case concerning an unpaid bill of exchange, an appeal for witnesses was addressed to the Armenian community (jumiat’) in Saidabad (in Bengal) so that the bill could be returned to Isfahan for settlement.18

14Until further research into the Julfa Cathedral Archive is carried out it is impossible to be more specific about the nature and operation of the judicial institution in Julfa. One point which remains unclear, is what, if any, was the role of the Church. A Safavid decree of 1708 refers any internal dispute in Julfa to the Bishop and the kalantar, but Ter Hovhaniants makes no mention of clerics serving in the tribunal dealing with commercial matters. With regard to Julfa’s satellite colonies, Sarukhan (1926, 52) suggests, without providing evidence, that a priest fulfilled the role of arbitrator in the Armenian community in Amsterdam, and in 1735 a Madras court (of the English East India Company administration) appointed a team of Armenian merchants and a priest to settle a dispute among Armenian merchants (Arasaratnam, 1986, 289).

  • 19 ASV/DAM, document dated April 1697.

The only primary documentary record so far examined of the operation of a Julfa Armenian judicial institution is preserved in the State Archives in Venice and relates to the Venice community.19 In this case the tribunal consisted of four merchants who describe themselves as arbitration judges (Image 100000000000006C0000000F20A33F2E.jpgtrslǰowdic’i arbit’ri). They record that the parties to the dispute came before them and were required to take the oath, and that witnesses were called on to verify that accounts submitted as evidence were in the handwriting of the father of one of the parties. They describe the particulars of the case and their decision on the amount owed by one party to the other, which they note was also recorded in their daftar Image 10000000000000380000000F085FED7B.jpg Pers. Image 10000000000000200000000FC5775268.jpg suggesting the existence of a register of cases and rulings. The arbitrators also note that their decision was recorded in three copies, one each for the two plaintiffs (in whose favour they found) and one which they deposited for safekeeping in the Surb Khach (Santa Croce) Armenian church in Venice. The document is unexceptional in format, and opens with one of the standard phrases of Julfa commercial documents: Image 100000000000009F0000000FC9500E1E.jpg [trslpatčar groys ays ē or] “the reason for this document is this, that.” There is no sign of special judicial protocol, or of formats or phrases peculiar to legal rulings.

15On the basis of the above, we may safely conclude that the Julfa community and its satellites did provide a judicial institution capable of administering commercial law, and of arbitrating and settling cases between Armenian merchants. Both in New Julfa and in its satellites, the judicial process seems to have been characterized by informality. Its function appears to have been more a matter of arbitration and negotiation, than of pronouncing verdicts. All this would seem to fit with what we know about the political and administrative status of New Julfa, which on the one hand enjoyed virtually complete administrative autonomy in its day-to-day affairs, yet remained dependent on the acquiescence of the Safavid shahs for the continuation of its freedoms. This was hardly an environment conducive to the establishment of durable formal institutions.

Julfa Armenian Commercial Law: Exceptional or Universal?

So far we have been concerned only with the application of commercial law within the Julfa Armenian community, or its satellite colonies. Commercial dealings which involved contractual obligations between Armenians and non-Armenians were more complex. In Safavid Iran there was a dual legal and judicial system. In the shar’i Image 10000000000000310000000FD1DEB049.jpg courts qualified judges (qazis Image 10000000000000270000000FC9E21011.jpg) appointed by the sadr Image 10000000000000280000000F3E4C4756.jpg administered Islamic law. In the customary (‘utfi Image 100000000000001F0000000FA293A6DF.jpg) courts local officials and governors, the divanbaygi (Image 10000000000000370000000FE5AFC6EA.jpg the supreme Safavid judicial officer) or the Shah himself, administered justice according to a combination of custom and royal decree, taking advice from the sadr as appropriate (Lambton, 1991, 609, 614. Floor, 2000, 9-60). European travel accounts without exception condemn the Safavid judicial system in the later 17th century. As far as Christians were concerned the shar’i courts were inherently discriminator)’since the testimony of non-Muslim witnesses carried only half the weight of that of Muslims. Shar’i courts were in any case cumbersome even for Muslim merchants, as they recognised the validity of written contracts only if drawn up in the presence of a shar’i judge (Chardin, 1811, vi, 71-74). The ’urfi or divanbaygi courts were not much better, having a reputation for venality, though this was not necessarily a disadvantage for the wealthy, and according to Chardin these courts were preferred by merchants (Chardin, ibid. Sanson, 1694, 194-196. Matthee, 1991, 137. Floor, 2000, 32-33).

  • 20 Venice, Archivio di Stato, Documenti turchi [ASV/DT], xix, 87.1. BL/LM, 1048, fol. 298.

For a Julfan, any dealing involving an Iranian or converted Armenian Muslim might result in a case in a shar’i or ‘urfi court. We have no evidence of intra-Armenian cases being heard outside the community (except those involving converts to Islam), but we do find in some documents a statement that they were written, or that the legal formula (Ar.-Pers. sigha) was pronounced, in Arabic, Persian and Armenian.20 In all probability, this represents an attempt to validate the agreement in a manner recognised in all the judicial fora that might hear a subsequent dispute. Thus Zakaria Aguletsi (a native of Agulis, a city close to Old Julfa) explains that when he divided the patrimonial estate with his nephews, he brought in a shar’i judge (Image 10000000000000280000000F0BF9353E.jpg ghazi), an Armenian archimandrite (Image 10000000000000460000000FD581E2FE.jpg vardapet) and a state official (Image 10000000000000510000000F0B504FE8.jpg trsldōlat’awork' [= dawlat’awork’]) to witness and validate proceedings (Diary, 1938, 117-118).

16Outside the Safavid empire, disputes between Armenians and merchants from other communities would, presumably, have gone before the local courts, unless the merchants could establish some ad hoc mechanism for inter-communal arbitration. There is some evidence for this kind of co-operation. The account book of Hovhannes Jughayetsi provides contrasting examples from Tibet in the late 17th century. It seems that Armenian and Muslim Kashmiri merchants in Lhasa were quite close to one another, and even sometimes combined forces to arbitrate disputes (L. Khachikian, 1966, 176). Another instance from the same account book shows, however, that the Julfa merchants sometimes had no choice but to resort to systems that operated on principles very different from the notions of testimony and evidence common to both Muslim and Christian justice: Hovhannes himself lost a dispute with a local merchant on the throw of a dice (ibid., 177. L. Khachikian, Papazian, 1984, 49-50).

17Discussion of disputes and arbitration between merchants from New Julfa and those from other communities leads readily into consideration of the second question posed in the introduction: how far was Armenian commercial law unique, and how far was it an expression of a more general commercial legal system shared by other merchant communities?

  • 21 On Tavernier’s Armenian connections, see Gulbenkian, 1970, passim.

18We know that Armenians had close economic ties with merchants of other nationalities. In 1731, for instance, an Armenian merchant, Manuk Agha Aghazarian (= Lazarian), entered into a commenda partnership with a Muslim named Hajji Ibrahim. Manuk Agha was the active partner and contributed 300 tumans while Hajji Ibrahim invested 900 tumans, making this a very substantial contract (Sh. Khachikian, 1988, 128). The Dutch East India Company agent Visnich was accused by colleagues of having business connections with several Julfa Armenians active in the Aleppo trade, and there is plenty of evidence that private commercial deals between Armenians and English and Dutch East India Company factors were widespread (Dunlop, 1930, 297. Ferrier, 1970, 436). Both Tavernier and Chardin had commercial links with Julfa Armenians, though we know little about the precise details.21 Chardin seems to have been particularly close to the Ghalandarian family and was involved in their proposed co-operation with the English East India Company. In 1691 he wrote a bill for £50,000 on Agha-Piri Ghalandarian in Surat (Ferrier, ibid., 436).

19In Marseilles in 1629 a Catholic Armenian, formerly resident in Venice, entered a partnership with one of the principal local silk importers, and together they secured a royal letter patent from Louis XIII (confirmed by Louis XIV in 1645) to act as sole brokers for Armenian and Persian merchants in Marseilles (Tékéian, 1929, 22-24). There is also a record of a commercial agreement between some Armenian silk merchants and a Dutch Levant firm, while the first Armenian merchants in Amsterdam used the services of a Jewish broker and translator (Sarukhan, 1926, 49, 50-51). It is more surprising to find an Englishman, Thomas Brain, appointed as the Julfa Armenians’ broker in Moscow following their 1667 agreement with the Tsar (Parsamian et al., 1953, 58-62). Armenian merchants in Madras frequently traded in partnership with Coromandel Muslims and Hindus (Arasaratram, 1986, 158).

  • 22 An example is given in Herzig, 1991, 349, Document 18 (BL/LM, 1047, fol. 93).
  • 23 See supra, n. 6.

Financial dealings between the Julfa Armenians and other merchant or banking communities were common. The documentary sources provide numerous examples of loans and bills involving both Armenians and non-Armenians. While the Julfans were themselves no strangers to currency dealing, credit transactions and complex accounting, they also made extensive use of Hindu (Multani or banya) bankers who enjoyed an international reputation for financial expertise. Hovhannes Jughayetsi opened accounts with local Hindu sarrafs Image 100000000000002A0000000F0E5DDB16.jpg in all the major Northwest Indian centres he visited, depositing his funds with them, arranging cash transfers through them, and using them as a kind of current account on which to draw money when required, while collecting interest at the same time. When he moved on to a new centre he settled the account and arranged for his funds to be transferred to his next destination. The British Library Lansdowne Manuscripts contain a number of bills of exchange (hundis Image 10000000000000170000000FC4A1A565.jpg) for transfers between towns in Bengal arranged by Indian sarrafs for Armenian merchants.22 The use of Indian sarrafs was not restricted to Armenians in India: in Isfahan too julfa families might keep an account with one of the many resident Indian banking firms.23 Armenians also borrowed from the Multanis: Zakaria Aguletsi became heavily indebted because of liabilities arising from his brother’s death and was forced to borrow 300 tumans from Multanis in Tabriz, mortgaging his land as security (Diary, 1938, 100).

  • 24 Paris, Archives nationales, Séries colonies, F2b, fol. 10.

20The Julfans themselves often lent money to non-Armenians. This seems to have been considered a branch of normal commercial activity rather than a specialised profession. They were described by Pietro Delia Valle as bankers to Shah Abbas I, and they lent considerable sums to the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie in Iran, also borrowing from it on occasion (Meilink-Roelofsz, 1977, 31. Matthee, 1999, 87). In the later 18th century two Armenian merchants of Bengal loaned money to the French Compagnie des Indes in Basra.24 Hovhannes Jughayetsi lent to Europeans in India, and a number of surviving bills record financial transactions with Europeans.

21As the Indians were used by the Julfans for their expertise in finance, so the Europeans were relied on for shipping. This was true in the Mediterranean, where the Dutch Levant vessels frequently transported Armenian merchants and their goods to Leghorn and Amsterdam, in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf, and on the last leg of the Russian route, from Archangel or the Baltic ports to Amsterdam (Masson, 1896, 127. Sarukhan, 1926, passim. Martineau, 1931-1934, ii, 189. Ferrier, 1973, 45).

22From the above it is clear that, even though a seventeenth-century Armenian merchants’ handbook recommends merchants as far as possible to rely on family members and fellow Armenians as agents and partners, the demands of international trade required them to develop extensive commercial and financial relations with members of other communities. This is, in itself, strong evidence for the compatibility of the commercial law of the Armenians with that of other communities. Contracts must have been comprehensible and acceptable to parties coming from all the communities mentioned above, and all must have had a reasonable degree of confidence that the terms of such contracts would be upheld under the jurisdiction of a variety of local and central governments.

23The language and form of the contracts, bills of exchange and account books of the Julfa merchants supports this supposition. Much of the terminology appears to be derived from Persian or Arabic prototypes. The Julfa Armenian dialect was in any case full of Persian vocabulary, a fact which is reflected in the Julfa documents, but it is the similarity in specific legal terms, and in the format and phraseology of contracts that strongly suggests direct borrowing from Persian models.

  • 25 Persian document in the Venice ASV/DAM collection.
  • 26 ASV/DT, XIX, 87, 1. Busse, 1959, 212.
  • 27 For the very similar Ottoman practice and terminology: Jennings, 1975, 150-152.

A few examples will serve to illustrate this point. Many Julfa documents begin with a standard opening phrase: Image 100000000000009C0000000F566C12D8.jpg [trslpatčaṙ groys ays ë or] “the reason for this document is this, that”, which mirrors the Persian Image 10000000000000AC0000000F726D6B48.jpg gharaz az taqdir-i in kalamat in ast kih.25 The same word is used for attestation in Armenian and Persian documents: Image 10000000000000850000000FCF3AF445.jpg ket’khuday tasdeghov [trslk’et’xowday t’astelov], “on the attestation of the kadkhuda’” and Image 100000000000006E0000000FA51AE18C.jpg muvafiq-i tasdiq-i vazir-i aramana, “on the attestation of the vazir of the Armenians.26 The Julfa documents use Image 10000000000000540000001525554DAA.jpg mazbun [trsl mazbown] derived from the Arabic-Persian Image 100000000000002F0000000F4D497012.jpg mazmun to refer to the contents or purport of a document, often in the phrase: Image 10000000000000B20000000F73798BF9.jpg girs erku gretsav min masbun, “the document was written in two copies with the same contents.” The terms used to describe agents and representatives in the Julfa documents are also derived from Persian. Image 100000000000002F0000000FC7F2FF18.jpg [trslvak’il] (Ar.-Pers. Image 10000000000000220000000F23CABC07.jpg) is the generic term for an agent or representative, and is often qualified by the terms Image 10000000000000370000000FF0485A84.jpg mut’lagh [trslmowt’lal] (Ar.-Pers. Image 100000000000001E0000000F0EE8C02A.jpg mutlaq) and Image 10000000000000390000000FFF8EF24E.jpg hamaybab (Pers. Image 10000000000000390000000F5896CD85.jpg hama-bab) designating a general or plenipotentiary representative.27 Dozens if not hundreds of similar examples could readily be adduced.

Other characteristics of the Julfa documents also parallel Islamic legal practice. Shari’ law requires the testimony of witnesses to support any written evidence, and many of the Julfa Armenian commercial documents were authenticated by witnesses, who made a brief statement, signed and affixed their seal. In view of the number of seals found on some documents it is easy to believe Chardin’s statement that the legal force of a document increased incrementally with the number of seals (Chardin, 1811, ii, 230-233, 291-295; vi, 96). The abbreviation Image 100000000000000E0000000F14871FBA.jpg E [trsl Ē] for Image 10000000000000250000000F54E551B4.jpg Vor en [trsl Or ēn], “He who is” (i.e. God), which is found at the top of Julfa documents parallels the Muslim Image 100000000000002E0000000F97634823.jpg b’ismillab, “in the name of God.” Like Persian documents, the Julfa Armenian documents generally contain no punctuation or paragraphs, and capitals are rarely used. The word Image 100000000000003A0000000F896CA72A.jpg dardzeal, “again, moreover, further”, is used in exactly the same way as the Persian word of the same meaning (Image 100000000000001C0000000FF0635436.jpg digar) to indicate a major change of subject within a document.

24The clearest proof that Julfa Armenian commercial law was adapted from Persian commercial law is found in the Astrakhan Lawbook, whose authors give explicit confirmation:

“And the rule of trade which we have written in this book is found particularly among the Armenians who dwell in the kingdom of the Persians, and not the Armenians who are under the rule of the Turks. And the reason for this is that the Armenians living in each province of the Persians and the Turks follow their civil laws, customs and conditions. Now, everyone knows that the Turkish merchants are extremely artless and have no rule or laws in trade, but the Persian merchants have very prudent and excellent commercial rules and laws. And our people follow their customs and conditions, so those living in Turkey are artless and without rules and laws, but those living in Persia have rules and laws of trade, which we also follow” (Poghossian, 1967, 7).

25The scarcity of Persian commercial documents from the same period precludes a detailed comparison, but there seems little room to doubt that Armenian and Persian merchants were working to the same set of rules.

26In the notarial function of clerics, Armenian practice again offers a close parallel to Islamic tradition (Udovitch, 1970). All important documents were witnessed by priests as well as merchants and in not a few cases the signatures and seals of the Archbishop of Julfa and the Catholic Bishop of Isfahan appear on documents. Priests feature as the copyists of a very large number of documents, and we not infrequently find documents written by priests on behalf of illiterates (in most cases women). As among the Muslim community of the Safavid Empire, clerics and merchants seem to have been closely connected socially, sharing a level of education and being interdependent: the merchants for spiritual and notarial services, the priests on pious donations (Aubin, 1987, 89-90). According to Chardin (1811, viii, 105) the Julfa clergy was made up of members of merchants’ families who lacked the resources to enter trade. Such family ties are amply attested by the large numbers of merchants with clerical fathers or brothers; nor was it unusual for priests themselves to invest in trade (Crooke, 1909-1915, ii, 271).

27If the close similarity between Armenian and Persian commercial practice is readily apparent, even in the absence of any significant body of comparable Persian documentary material, further investigation reveals that the commercial law of the Julfa Armenians had much in common with that other merchant communities also. This can best be illustrated by considering a number of specific types of contract.

  • 28 Robert S. Lopez and Irving W. Raymond (1955, 174-184) give examples of typical European commenda co (...)

One of the commonest types of partnership contract employed by the Julfa Armenians was the commenda or “sleeping” partnership. In her study of Julfa Armenian trade, Sh. Khachikian (1988, 121-122) draws attention to the close resemblance of the Armenian commenda to the medieval Italian version, and suggests that the form may have been adopted by the Armenians in the Middle Ages through their trading contacts with the Italians in Cilician Armenia. The similarities between Mediterranean and Armenian commendas are certainly strong,28 but the European version was not the only one from which the Armenian could have developed, and was itself probably based on earlier Byzantine and Islamic models (Lopez, Raymond, 1955, 174). In fact Islamic contracts from Fatimid Egypt and from Ottoman Aleppo bear a closer resemblance to the Armenian commenda than do European contracts (Goitein, 1967-1988, i, 169-172. Udovitch, 1970, 170-173, 194-195. Masters, 1988, 50-53). The Islamic commenda, generally termed Image 10000000000000340000000FD5239172.jpg mudharaba, is similar in most essentials to the European, but while the latter was essentially an instrument of maritime trade, and limited in most cases to a single voyage (in the case of the equivalent form for overland trade—the societas terrae—to a fixed period of one, two or three years) (Lopez, Raymond, 1955, 174-175, 185-186, 188-189), the Islamic commenda, like the Armenian, was generally open-ended, and might last for many years (Udovitch, 1970, 199, 246-248). Linguistic evidence also suggests a link between the Islamic and Armenian forms, since the Arabic-Persian term occurs occasionally in the julfa documents as Image 10000000000000480000000F86F1218A.jpg muzarba [trslmowzarbay] or Image 10000000000000540000000FF6F3C874.jpg muzarabat’. It seems more likely, therefore, that the Julfa Armenian commenda was adopted from the commercial practice of the Persian merchants rather than from Europeans.

  • 29 Examples of bills various kinds are given in Herzig, 1991, 336-360.
  • 30 ASV/DAM: document dated 25 shbat’ 111 (in Azaria calendar = 1726).

If the commenda partnership reveals close similarities between Armenian partnership contracts and those of Italy, the Muslim Middle East and of Byzantium, Armenian financial instruments suggest common ground with merchant communities from the Indian Ocean also. The Astrakhan Lawbook uses the word Image 10000000000000360000000FF16557CA.jpg barat’ (Ar.-Pers. Image 10000000000000210000000F70203F1D.jpg barat) in its section devoted to bills of exchange. In very few surviving bills of exchange, however, do we find the word barat.29 By far the commonest term for bill of exchange in the actual documents is Image 10000000000000280000000F6E2486C7.jpg avak [trslavak’] (also Image 100000000000002B0000000F827D28D2.jpg [trslawak’] Image 10000000000000190000000F025DE92E.jpg), derived from the Hindi avak, which in the Indian context is usually described as a bottomry or respondentia contract (Wilson, 1940, 62. Raychaudhuri, Habib, 1982, 347). The Julfans used avak’ in the latter sense (see below), but often also to refer to ordinary bills of exchange, when it usually appears with one or both of the descriptives Image 10000000000000220000000FE0553388.jpg zmei (derivation and meaning obscure), and Image 100000000000004C0000000FA89ED84A.jpg bijuk’am [trslbiǰowk’am], “unsecured” (literally Persian or Hindi bi “without”, and Hindi jokhim or jokham Image 10000000000000230000000F38D076C9.jpg “security” or “insurance”). Other terms are also encountered: bills circulating between Indian cities, usually drawn through the service of local Hindu merchants, sarrafs or dallais Image 100000000000001E0000000FDEF9F61B.jpg are called Image 10000000000000240000000FBF13E0D5.jpg hendvi trslhndvi (or Image 10000000000000240000000F71DC37E3.jpg trslhndwi) from the Hindi term hundi, meaning bill of exchange. The hundis in the British Library Lansdowne collection all come from Bengal in the 1740s, but the account book of Hovhannes Jughayetsi contains frequent references to his use of hundis in northwest India in the 1680s. One bill of exchange drawn in Isfahan on Venice or Leghorn describes itself as a Image 100000000000005B0000000FABDDA14A.jpg bijuk‘am kampi (from Italian [lettera di] cambio).30 There is, however, no significant difference between these variously named bills; all correspond closely to types listed as barat in the Astrakhan Lawbook, and contain most of the same clauses in roughly the same order. Apart from the differences in nomenclature these are all more or less similar types of bill of exchange.

  • 31 For examples, see Herzig, 1991, 361-377.
  • 32 For the European respondentia contract see, Lopez, Raymond, 1955, 168-173; De Roover, 1948, 50.

The Julfa Armenians also employed the type of exchange contract usually termed sea or maritime exchange, or respondentia in the European context. In the Julfans’ Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean trade these, like the bill of exchange, were called avak’, but were distinguished as Image 10000000000000310000000F2EDF76F1.jpg juk’ami “secured”, Image 10000000000000340000000F53843A44.jpg yek‘ gushi [trslek' gowši] “one way, outward” – the derivation of gushi is obscure, though the sense of the term is clear from context – and Image 10000000000000160000000FEE3E221B.jpgImage 10000000000000290000000F5ACBF7EB.jpg do gushi [trsldō gowši] “two way, return.”31 Sh. Khachikian (1988, 165-167) has discovered examples of similar contracts for the Caspian trade, where they were known as Image 10000000000000630000000FD78AB217.jpg yolborji [trsleōlborǰi, eōlporči] (from Turkish yol borj Image 100000000000002A0000000FAF0439B4.jpg “way loan”). The principal difference between such contracts and the ordinary bill of exchange was that while the latter was repayable regardless of circumstances (Ar.-Pers. Image 100000000000002A0000000FBDAB31DC.jpg bi ozr, “without excuse”), in the respondentia contract the loan was secured against a specified item in the cargo of a ship (referred to in the Armenian documents as the juk‘am “security”, or Image 10000000000000420000000F6FDAEBEA.jpg putikat, a term whose derivation remains obscure), and was repayable at a specified period after that item was unloaded at its destination. If the ship was wrecked, or the security lost through piracy or other cause, the bill did not have to be repaid, and the loss was borne by the creditor.32 Respondentia contracts operated as a form of insurance, and allowed merchants to take out a commercial loan without bearing the full risk if the venture failed through circumstances beyond their control. That contracts of this type were used in both the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean trades in the 17th and 18th centuries is well-known (Rambert, 1949-1966, iv [1954], 588; v [1957: R. Paris], 125. Raychaudhuri, Habib, 1982, 347. Arasaratnam, 1986, 278-281).

28The facility with which the Julfa merchants adopted the local name for such contracts, while keeping the form and clauses of the agreement essentially the same, offers strong evidence that the several varieties of respondentia contract encountered between the Mediterranean and the Bay of Bengal all fitted into a more or less consistent system of commercial contract law.


29The first part of this chapter argued that there was ample evidence for the existence of a developed system of commercial law among the Julfa Armenians, and that it was autonomously administered. In this it corroborated previous work on the subject. It took issue, however, with the suggestion found in some other studies that New Julfa possessed a distinct and established judicial (or administrative) institution. The image of a tribunal of community leaders arbitrating disputes and declaring decisions on the basis of a common understanding of an unwritten system of customary law seems to fit the limited evidence about judicial process in New Julfa better than that of a law court with judges pronouncing verdicts. If we accept the notion of a sliding scale between positivist law and law as a process of negotiation, New Julfa is positioned towards the latter end of the scale. That is what one might predict, given the constraints on political and institutional development of the community (Gerber, 1994, 5-7). It would be interesting to apply an anthropological approach consistently to the study of the history of the Julfa community, and indeed to the study of Safavid social institutions more generally, but that falls outside the scope of this chapter.

30The second part of the chapter concluded that the main source for Julfa Armenian commercial law seems to be the commercial law of other merchant communities, or at least that Armenian law had much in common and shared an extensive commercial-legal vocabulary with the law of other communities. The Muslim Persian community of the Safavid Empire was most important in this respect, but communities from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean played a significant part also. Further research into a greater number of examples of contracts of different types is required to clarify how much there was in common between the Julfans’ commercial law and practice and those of these other communities.

31I have deliberately avoided trying to trace the original source from which forms such as the commenda or the bill of exchange entered Armenian commercial practice. The absence of evidence for earlier periods would render the attempt futile, and the exercise would almost inevitably become embroiled in spurious nationalist claims for primacy in the invention of techniques and practices. It is, however, interesting to consider other implications of the conclusion of the second part.

32First, it indicates a high degree of cultural exchange among geographically remote and culturally distinct merchant communities in developing ways of mobilizing human and financial resources for commerce in the social, economic and cultural context of the medieval and early modern world. Such cultural exchange among merchants from disparate communities is of interest in its own right. How do we explain the phenomenon of Christian Armenians borrowing directly from Islamic law, without any evidence of qualms that this posed a threat to their values or identity, when we know that in most respects the Armenians maintained a marked and often hostile distance from Islam and Islamic intellectual culture?

  • 33 On cultural transmission, see Michael G. Morony, 1984, 5-9.

33Theories of cultural transmission might help to explain this phenomenon with reference to concepts such as selectivity, channels of communication, receptivity, and reinforcement.33 In the given instance, Armenians could adopt the external forms of commercial law without adopting the value system and beliefs of the alien culture; thus we could say that selectivity favoured transmission. Channels of communication evidently exist among long-distance merchant communities (who are brought into contact through the exchange of goods and services), and we may suppose that the Julfa merchants were receptive towards innovations which facilitated trade and increased competitive advantage; so in these respects also, the conditions for transmission were favourable. Reinforcement also favoured transmission on the basis of the shared occupational interests and practices among merchants from different communities. This suggests another rewarding avenue for a wider-ranging investigation into the cultural world of the New Julfa Armenians.

34Second, if, as suggested, merchants in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean substantially shared rules and practices, this casts doubt on the dichotomy between “European” and “Asian” in the context of commercial history. Those categories have occupied an important place in historical studies of world trade in the early modern period. Such studies have traditionally been interested in understanding the “Rise of Europe” and the “Period of (European) Commercial Capitalism” and have often posited differences between European and Asian merchants, commercial institutions and practices as helping to explain these phenomena. The evidence presented in this paper suggests that at least in respect of those aspects of commercial law and practice examined here, European and Asian merchants (more precisely merchants from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean) were similar, that the categories are due for reconsideration, and that the field is ripe for revision.



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1 On the contribution of legal anthropology to understanding Ottoman law, see Gerber, 1994, 5 and ff.

2 The principal collections of Julfa Armenian commercial and legal documents are preserved in the All Saviour’s Cathedral Archive in Newjulfa (see Minassian, 1983), the British Library (Lansdowne Manuscripts, 1047 and 1048), the Moscow Lazarian Archive, the Venice Archivio di Stato (Documenti armeni mercantili), and the University of California at Los Angeles Research Library (Minassian Collection).

3 Whose studies were mainly based on the ledger of the merchant Hovhannes [Ter Davtian] Jughayetsi: L. Khachikian, 1966, 153-186; id., 1967a; id. 1967b, 231-278; L. Khachikian and Papazian, 1984. Historical study of the Julfa merchants, though not primarily on the basis of commercial documents, dates back to the 19th century works—in particular Ter Hovhaniants, 1880-1881, and Alishan, 1896—and was continued, intermittently, by Soviet Armenian scholars, important contributions being: Leo (= Arakel Babakhaniants), 1934; and Baibourtian, 1969.

4 All from a commenda contract dated 30 Hamira 95 (in the Azaria calendar, corresponding to 26 December 1710), Venice, Archivio di Stato di Venezia, Documenti armeni mercantili [henceforth ASV/DAM]: Herzig, 1991, 301.

5 From a commenda contract, London, British Library, Lansdowne Manuscripts [hencerforth BL/LM] 1048, fol. 283: Herzig, 1991,307.

6 ASV/DAM: Herzig, 1991, 296.

7 Sh. Khachikian (1988, chap. I, especially 15-65) deals at length with the question of administrative autonomy. Ina Baghdiantz McCabe (1999, chap. 3, 93-101) adopts the 17th French traveller Gabriel de Chinon’s use of the term “Republic” in her discussion of the administration of New Julfa, though that perhaps gives a misleading impression of the character of the Armenians’ autonomy. See also Herzig (1991, chapter 1, 41-109), and Ghougassian (1998, chap. 4, 55-82).

8 All the above state that the k’alant’ar was appointed by the Shah. Only Fryer insists that the Armenian elected their own leader (Crooke, 1909-1915, ii, 258).

9 Sh. Khachikian (1988, 33-35) discusses the combination of election and selection that went into the appointment of the leaders of other Armenian communities in the Safavid Empire (such as Agulis and Kanaker). She notes that the title kalantar was given by the Safavid authorities, and that it was used in addition to the tide melik’ designating the community’s chosen leader. She refers to one instance when the community in Agulis was unable to agree on a single leader, so there were two melik’s one for the upper and one for the lower part of the city.

10 Compare Lambton, 1963, 208-209: “The kalantar was frequently chosen from the local inhabitants and there was a strong hereditary tendency in the office”.

11 The English traveller Robert Stodart calls Khoja Nazar “the Armenian prince”: Ross, 1935, 71.

12 See also Baghdiantz-McCabe, 1998-2000, 321-328.

13 Sh. Khachikian emphasizes the role of the kalantar and katkhudas as community leaders. Baghdiantz McCabe speaks of an assembly of merchants, which she sees at the heart of oligarchy of the Julfa republic.

14 On the office of darugha in Iran, see Lambton, 1992, 609-610, and Floor, 2001, 115-122. On the New Julfa darugha, see Ghougassian, 1998, 62-64, and Baghdiantz McCabe, 1999, 97 and n. 72.

15 Thévenot also (1689, iii, 391) describes the kalantar as the recourse for the Julfans’disputes, and the darugha as the king’s officer responsible for criminal cases.

16 I am indebted to Mr Hirotake Maeda for the information about the references in the Ahsan al-tavarikh (Christ’s College Cambridge, Manuscript Dd 56, forthcoming in a CD ROM edition to be published in the Gibb Memorial Series). On the Isfahan darugha, see Floor, 2001, 116. This evidence corroborates the argument for a close link between the Julfa merchants and the Caucasian ghulams advanced by Baghdiantz McCabe (1999, chap. 5).

17 “Second, those Armenians who inhabit the dominions of the Persians in Great Armenia and in parts of Persia, particularly the inhabitants of the Royal city of Susa, that is Isfahan, have the liberty to manage their own affairs according to Armenian laws in every instance, except in murder cases. However, they do not use a lawbook. The reason is that, as is well known, throughout the land of the Persians, in civil courts, there is no lawbook, and the governors and princes implement justice on the basis of their judgment, solely by word, and not in writing”: Poghossian, 1967, 5-6.

18 BL/LM, 1048, fol. 43.

19 ASV/DAM, document dated April 1697.

20 Venice, Archivio di Stato, Documenti turchi [ASV/DT], xix, 87.1. BL/LM, 1048, fol. 298.

21 On Tavernier’s Armenian connections, see Gulbenkian, 1970, passim.

22 An example is given in Herzig, 1991, 349, Document 18 (BL/LM, 1047, fol. 93).

23 See supra, n. 6.

24 Paris, Archives nationales, Séries colonies, F2b, fol. 10.

25 Persian document in the Venice ASV/DAM collection.

26 ASV/DT, XIX, 87, 1. Busse, 1959, 212.

27 For the very similar Ottoman practice and terminology: Jennings, 1975, 150-152.

28 Robert S. Lopez and Irving W. Raymond (1955, 174-184) give examples of typical European commenda contracts.

29 Examples of bills various kinds are given in Herzig, 1991, 336-360.

30 ASV/DAM: document dated 25 shbat’ 111 (in Azaria calendar = 1726).

31 For examples, see Herzig, 1991, 361-377.

32 For the European respondentia contract see, Lopez, Raymond, 1955, 168-173; De Roover, 1948, 50.

33 On cultural transmission, see Michael G. Morony, 1984, 5-9.


University of Oxford, Oriental Institute, Masoumeh and Fereydoon Soudavar Chair of Persian Studies, Oxford. (Grande Bretagne)

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