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

Sushil Chaudhury
Kéram Kévonian

III. Les Arméniens dans le commerce régional et inter-régional / Armenians in Regional and Inter-Regional Trade

7. Armenians in Asian Trade 16th and 17th Centuries

Shireen Moosvi

Texte intégral

1The Armenians were already important in the 14th century as middle-men in the trade between Europe and Central Asia/Mongolia, and subsequently in the Ottoman Empire (Mauro, 1990, 170-271). Though the Armenian presence in Indian commerce seems to have been noticed rather late, their commerce in India was certainly antecedent to Shah Abbas I’s establishment of New Julfa (Nor Jougha) as a settlement of leading Armenian families near Isfahan, after his campaigns in 1603-1605. In the 1580’s Linschoten found Armenians present at Diu, an important Gujarat port, strategically placed for trade with Persia (Burnell, Tiele, 1885, I, 58); and there is an Armenian tomb-stone of 1579 at the port of Surat (Seth, 1937, 225).

  • 1 Of Portuguese loss of Hormuz and its consequences, the classical study is by Niels Stennsgaard’s. (...)

2The transfer to New Julfa would itself probably not have given the impetus to Armenian trade that it did, but for certain other circumstances. One was the weakening of Portuguese control over the Arabian Sea trade, reaching its nadir with the fall of Hormuz—“the key to Estado da India”—in 1622.1 The possibilities of a practical state of “free trade” in the Gulf-India sector were now open. At the same time, on the continental mass an enormous political consolidation had taken place, with the Mughal Emperor Akbar placing the Indian frontier beyond Kabul (1585) and Qandahar (1592), and Abbas I establishing Safavid control up to the Mughal frontier (ultimately recovering Qandahar, 1622). Such unification of control on the Iranian and the Indian sides, and especially the laissez-faire policies of the Mughal government in respect of trade, created enlarged scope for overland trade for the functioning of inland marts in India. The Armenian “elite” settled at New Julfa appear to have made a remarkable effort, despite their formal position as exiles under siege, to gather together the requisite amount of capital in order to exploit these opportunities.


  • 2 The sum seems father a small amount for the Armenians to have refused to advance; but it may be re (...)
  • 3 It is of some interest that Hovhannes appears to spell Indian names as he would have read them in (...)
  • 4 “Hovhannes’s journal provides a penetrating close-up of the work of a pedlar”: Steensgaard, 1974, (...)

3Georges Roques, writing in 1678, thought that the leading families at New Julfa had derived their initial resources from the income of lands granted for their maintenance by Shah Abbas I (Husain, 1995, 939). They must have also benefited from the favoured position given to them in Safavid Iran’s silk trade (Ferrier, 1986, 454-455). They tended to put their entire resources so gathered in investment in external trade. Chardin, writing in 1673, tells us how, when in 1667 the Armenians were asked by the new ruler Sulaiman I’s commander-in-chief, Ali Quli Khan, to lend him 200 tumans—about Rs.5,000—they excused themselves by saying that “all their Money was either in the Indies or in Europe, in the hands of their Factors, and before their return they knew not how to raise such a Sum” (Chardin, 1686, 93).2 Roques says that there were really “five or six powerful houses [at New Julfa], from where they disperse agents all over the world.” Each house had 80 or 100 factors sent out on its behalf, all expected to come back and render accounts annually, and, in fact, usually doubling the sum given into their charge (Husain, ibid., 939-940. Crooke, 1909-1915, II, 258-259 [Fryer]). Such a factor (though he himself could not return to Julfa) was Hovhannes Jughayetsi. His employment began on 19 December 1682, when he signed a contract with his new masters (sahibs), the khoja (= khwaja) brothers Zakar and Embroumagha of New Julfa, the sons of Khoja Gerak: he was given 217 tumans worth of English broadcloth and some cash (in all a capital of 250 tumans, i.e. no more than Rs 6,250 or so) with which to trade in India on his principals’ behalf, a fourth of the profits being allowed to him as his recompense. From his arrival at Surat in 1683, Hovhannes travelled widely in India and Tibet, taking assistance not only of the other factors of his principals, like Nazareth, but also of other Armenians. We can follow his activities and itinerary through his inestimable ledger, until 1693, when he was at Calcutta (Khachikian, 1966, 153-186).3 Although in time he collected his own capital and had private dealings, his subordination to his principals at New Julfa remained unimpaired, as Khachikian carefully notes (ibid., 158). Part of this may be because the firm had a member of the family, a nephew of the two khoja brothers at Agra. This representative of the home firm was Avetik, son of Petros of Shiraz, who is always respectfully referred to by Hovhannes as “Mr. [Baron, trslParon] Avetik”: he was the main person with whom Hovhannes continuously dealt, while in India (ibid., 157, n., and passim). When he left for Tibet on a fresh commercial enterprise, with a capital of Rs.9,370, half provided by Hovhan of Shiraz, it was Avetik who signed on behalf of the absentee partner (ibid., 158). Clearly, Hovhannes was not a “pedlar” working on his own, as one may gather from the rather summary account of his activities by Steensgaard,4 but a cog in a very large commercial wheel operated by the family firm at New Julfa (and, perhaps, also Shiraz).

  • 5 The report is about what happened in 1641.

4There is, however, no doubt that initially the Armenians started with small amounts of capital. But by the 1620’s they were already a source of irritation for that characteristically large firm, the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch and the English were trying their best to establish a monopoly over Bayana indigo grown near Agra and, then, regarded as the best in the world. In 1626, in his Remonstrantie, Francisco Pelsaert, the Dutch factor at Agra, complained of the Armenians “running and racing about like hungry folk” in the indigo areas, “making as if they would buy up the whole stock, raising prices, losing a little themselves and causing great injury to us and other buyers, who have to purchase large quantities” (Geyl, Moreland, 1925, 16). In 1630 Armenians were competing with the Dutch and the English for the Sarkhej (Gujarat) indigo as well (Foster, 1906-1927, IV [1910], 125). When in 1635 the Mughal Emperor abolished a brief and abortive monopoly over indigo trade, the Armenians were in the field well ahead of the Dutch and the English, transporting the indigo overland to Persia and securing “a very great price” for the product there (ibid., V [1911], 138). The Armenians were thus setting up a fairly competitive overland trade. In 1639 they were reported to be conveying to “Spahan [Isfahan] and other parts thereabouts, by the way of Candahar” large quantities of cloth and sugar grown between Agra and Lahore (ibid., VI [1912], 135); they brought in return, overland, “very great quantities of broadcloth and sold it at such low rates” as to ruin the Lahore and Agra markets for their European competitors (ibid., VII [1913], 18).5 One reason for the Armenian success apparently was their efficient intelligence, low operational costs and mutual cooperation, which Roques emphasizes:

“These people are shrewder than the Indian sarrafs, because they do not work alone, when it comes to evaluating their merchandise and money. More enterprising amongst them deal with all that is there [to trade in], and do not ignore the price of any merchandise, either from Europe or Asia, or any other place because they correspond with all others and receive rapid information on current prices wherever they are. Thus they do not get cheated in their purchases, and are very economical, and work unbelievably hard to trade so as not to overpay on the merchandise. They spend very little towards their living. They are by nature accustomed to living frugally [...]” (Husain, 1995, 939).

5As a result, the Armenians could tap commodities and markets which the Dutch and the English tended to ignore. The Armenians bought not only the Bayana indigo, but also the cheaper Koria and other varieties of indigo from the same region, whose “price is commonly broken by Mogulls and Armenians,” since the English and Dutch ignored these varieties (Foster, 1906-1927, VII [1913], 303). In 1663 Bernier noted that the Armenian competition at Jalalpur and Lucknow, inland marts for cotton cloth, had forced the Dutch to withdraw from there, since presumably the Armenians took their purchases overland cheaper than the Dutch could, given “the great distance between Agra and Sourate” (Constable, 1891, 20). At Sironj (Central India) too the Armenians had an established presence in 1678, while the French and English trade was “not regularly fixed.” The Armenians, we are told, “purchase 2000 corges [costing Rs.40,000-60,000] in a year and make a great profit in taking Jaffarconi chittes [Ja’farkhani chintz, or printed cloth] to Persia, Bantam and Manila” (Husain, 1996, 394).

  • 6 The caravan was plundered within the Iranian dominions in April 1672: hence the need for computati (...)

6This last report is interesting in indicating that, apart from the land-route to Persia, the Armenians were now getting involved in the sea-traffic to South East Asia. At least in the latter half of the 17th century, this interest in oversea markets complemented, but did not yet replace, the Armenian participation in the Indo-Iranian overland trade. In 1673 Chardin still noted how great a caravan “composed of Armenians and Indians” annually went to India, carrying goods and cash claimed to be worth 300,000 tumans (“£ 1.4 million”), or about Rs.7.5 million, though Chardin believed the real capital involved to be half this sum (Chardin, 1686, 363-364).6


7By this time (c. 1670), Armenian participation in sea-trade was already well established. In 1630 the Surat factors of the English East India Company were reporting to their Company that “the Persians and Armenians who take yearely passage on your shipps [from Gombroon to Surat and back] do invest great sums of money in India.” The goods they took back from India and sold in Gombroon were then dispersed all over the Ottoman Empire (Foster, 1906-1927, IV [1910], 124-125). Hovhannes Jughayetsi also came to India by ship to Surat in 1683, as we have seen (Khachikian, 1966, 156). It was thus only a question of time before Armenians too would begin to invest in the Gulf-India carrying trade and become ship-owners themselves. In 1667, Tavernier noted that “formerly the English and Dutch monopolised this navigation [Gulf-Surat trade]; but for some years past the Armenians, Musalmans of India and Banians [have] had their own vessels also” (Ball, Crooke, 1925, I, 5).

  • 7 The goods bought by Kirakos (including a large quantity of cloth from Holland) were sent along wit (...)

8Among the Armenian sea-traders and ship-owners, the name of Khoja Minas of Surat now begins to occur: he was certainly the most prominent Armenian merchant in India involved in seventeenth-century sea trade to the Gulf, Red Sea and South East Asia; and the information available about him well deserves our attention. Minas obviously belonged to one of the leading (khoja) families of New Julfa, since his brother Khoja Karikose [= Kirakos] is reported to have gone to Europe, in 1668, carrying a letter from the King of Persia, Shah Sulaiman I (1666-1694), asking the English, French and Dutch for their assistance in his endeavour to buy some goods and procure certain rarities for him. Kirakos gave hopes to the English that through him they would be able to get concessions for their trade in Persia from the Safavid King (Foster, 1906-1927, XIII [1927], 17, 29. Cf. Seth, 1937, 245-248).7 Khoja Minas was obviously in partnership with Kirakos in 1676, when both had their interests linked to the ship St. Francisco that had sought shelter owing to “its leaky condition” at Bombay; at their instance, the Surat Council asked the Bombay authorities to exempt the ship from anchorage charges and provide it with warehouse facilities (Ch. Fawcett, 1936-1955, I, 159). Minas was also, by marriage, related to another important Armenian merchant, Khoja Phanoos [= Panos] Kalantar, who in 1688 concluded an agreement on behalf of Armenians, with the English East India Company, which granted the Armenians many trading and other privileges in the Company’s territories (Report, III, 283. Seth, 1937, 233-248).

  • 8 It was a copy of a Mediterranean model and had been mistaken for a Genoese vessel. It had an Engli (...)

9Already in 1663, Khoja Minas was considered by the English “an able and well reputed Armenian merchant” (Foster, 1906-1927, XI [1923], 207), and in 1665 was referred to as “President of the Armenians” (ibid., XII [1925], 61). In 1672, according to Abbé Carré, he “had four large ships, which by their yearly trade with all the oriental kingdoms brought him more revenue than he would have got from the best estate in Bruce” (M. Fawcett, Ch. Fawcett and Burn, 1990, 92). These four ships were St. Michael (Foster, ibid., XI [1923], 189), Selimony [= Sulaimani] (Ch. Fawcett, 1936-1955, III [1954], 276-277), Queddah Merchant (Foster, ibid., XII [1925], 8 and n.) and Hopewell (Bruce, 1810, III, 271).8 These are often mentioned in the English East India Company’s records. In fact, Minas bought Hopewell from Oxenden, a well-known official of the English East India Company, in 1665 for Rs. 1,400; but Thévenot gives the price as Rs 1,600 (Foster, ibid., XII [1925], 8, n.). It was a 150-ton ship built at Surat for the English Company in 1662 (ibid., XI [1923], 118). In 1665-1666 it had an Italian captain, Bernardo (Sen, 1949, xviii); but in 1672, when Abbé Carré sighted it going towards the Island of Kharg, it had an English aquaintance of him as captain, Thomas Quin (M. Fawcett, Ch. Fawcett and Burn, 1990, 92-93).

10These ships undertook voyages from Surat not only to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, but also to South East Asia as far as the Philippines. In 1663 St. Michael went to Mocha, on the Red Sea, with two English factors on board as passengers (Foster, 1906-1927, XI [1923], 189). In November 1665 Hopewell left the Gulf port of Basra, for Surat which she reached in January 1666, after calling at Diu, Bassein and Daman. Thévenot was a passenger on this voyage and paid 40 abbasis (60 “shillings”) as fare, an amount that, according to him, was three times as high as any “Moor” ship would have charged (Sen, ibid). In 1669 a ship of Minas left Gombroon for Surat that carried the wife and family of an English factor and a letter for the Surat Council; in the face of fear of attack by the Arabs, the ship was given permission to display the English colours (Foster, ibid., XIII [1927], 212). Even in 1673, in spite of the English war with the Dutch, Khoja Minas continued to send his ships to the Persian ports, as well as to Siam, Kedah and Achin along with those of Mirza Muazzam and Abdul Goffur, the other important Surat merchants (Ch. Fawcett, 1936-1955, I, 225-226). In 1668-1669 Minas for the first time sent his ship Hopewell to the Philippines “with a cargo of 15,000 larins in calicoes, etc.” Of this venture the English factors at Surat reported:

“There is soe great hopes on this voyage that Cojah Meenas and the persons concerned have taken up money at avog (or battomarie) thereon at 45, 50 and 60 per cent, and truly, were it not for the Dutch obstructing them at Malacca, most men here doe conclude it will turne well to accompt. Cojah Carricoos [Kirakos] brother, who was with you in England... is gon supercargo on the ship, and hath neer one-third of the stock on his owne accompt” (Foster, 1906-1927, XIII [1927], 195).

11The voyage was successful, since Minas at least for three consecutive years went on sending the ship to the Philippines; this was reported by the English in 1672 (Ch. Fawcett, 1936-1955, I, 226). Minas was also trying to send his ships from Surat to Macau in China as well as Mombassa in East Africa, but the permission for his was refused by the Portuguese crown in 1670 (Boxer, 1976, 92). His ships were also otherwise troubled by the Portuguese on occasion.

12Minas’s vessel Selimony was generally used for voyages to Persia. In 1677 she took off for Persia, accompanied by Return of the English East India Company. The English put an English commander and some other officer aboard her to force the re covery of some amount from Minas that they claimed he owed them. But two Armenian nakhudas— captains—planted on board by Minas were able to defeat the attempt (Ch. Fawcett, 1936-1955, I, 276-277). In 1680 Selimony was hired out to the French who took it to Gombroon, and the English, in the absence of any other vessel going to Persia, were compelled to send their sugar aboard it (ibid., III [1954], 256).

13Khoja Minas’s relations with the English appear to have remained quite amicable untill 1670. The Surat Council sold him broadcloth in 1663 giving him preference over others, including the famous Surat merchant Virji Vohra (Foster, 1906-1927, XI [1923], 207); and in 1664, in the face of Shivaji’s sack of Surat, on Minas’s request kept the stock on his behalf at the English factory (ibid, 296). The English in 1665 invited him to shift to Bombay along with other Armenian merchants of Surat, promising many privileges (ibid., XII [1925], 63). In spite of the fact that he neither concealed the invitation from the Mughal authorities (ibid., 61-62), nor shifted to Bombay, his good relations with the English continued. In 1669 the Surat Council decided to sell all the ordinary broadcloth expected by the next fleet to Minas at 4.75 rupees per yard in advance (ibid., XII [1925], 183-184).

14This was, however, the beginning of his troubles with them. The prices of broadcloth fell in the market, and in 1671 he declined to lift 2,000 pieces from the Company’s warehouse. The Company’s factors, however, forced him to do so, threatening “to seize all his shipping and estate wherever we could find it.” After forcing him to this bargain, they claimed that he owed them Rs.75,000 (Ch. Fawcett, 1936-1955, I, 209). In 1673 the Company put pressure upon him by keeping peons at his door day and night, but succeeded in obtaining only “less than half the amount and bonds for the payment of the rest in instalments.” Minas’s difficulties continued, and in 1674 he is reported to have sold off one of his ships and to have failed to keep his promise of repaying the balance of his debt to the English. They sought the intervention of the Mughal “Customer” Sayyid Mahmud, at whose instance Minas paid Rs.2,000 in cash while his broker gave a bill for Rs.6,000 (ibid., 239).

  • 9 Earlier too, Minas had two unfortunate brushes with the Mughal authorities. Thévenot reports that (...)

15The English kept on pressing Minas for satisfaction of their claims; and in 1676 the Mughal authorities had to protect him against their demands (Ch. Fawcett, 1936-1955, I, 269). As mentioned previously, when unable to realise money from him in Surat they tried to extort it by taking over his ship Selimony while on its voyage to Persia in 1677; but this proved abortive and the high-handedness shown by the English was not lost on the Mughal authorities (ibid., I, 277). But soon afterwards, Minas earned the wrath of a Mughal official, Ghiyasuddin, and was imprisoned. In 1677, owing to circumstances that are not clear, Minas became insolvent: an evaluation of his estate was to be made and the Qazi was to assist the English Council in realizing its claims, when Muhammad Amina Khan, a higher Mughal official referred the settlement of his debts to arbitration (ibid., I, 284).9 What happened later is unclear; but the decline in Minas’s fortunes was unabated. In 1680, the English factors reported that “the large outstanding debt” of Khoja Minas to the English was reduced by the recovery of about Rs.5,000 after his return from Ahmadabad, though he had become an “absolute bankrupt” and had little left but some shares in a few junks and houses (ibid., III [1954], 257-258).

  • 10 Cf. João Teles e Cunha, infra, chap. 12.

16These events seem to have made his continued stay within Mughal territories very difficult for Khoja Minas. In 1684 he shifted to Diu and, strangely enough, had capital enough to take up the contract for the Diu customs house in that very year. It was at his instance that again in the same year the Viceroy and his Council at Goa gave permission for a mint for gold and silver to be established at Diu to the Governor, in whose running Khoja Minas also probably had a hand (Boxer, 1976, 84). He was now of status enough to address a letter to the King of Portugal.10 He died at Diu in 1687, much to the relief, it was reported of the local merchants, whom he had much oppressed by his conduct (Boxer, ibid., 92).

17Such was the end of this leading Armenian merchant of Surat. His rise and fall might be linked to the vulnerability of Armenian, and Indian, merchants trying to build commerce with South East Asia in the face of Dutch and English power. Their ability to compete on a free or fair trade basis was not acceptable to the Dutch, who, as we have seen, were not happy with Minas’s attempt to establish trade with the Philippines. And the English were ready to use force on the high seas to bring him to his knees.

  • 11 A rather unsatisfactory account of the entire conflict is given in Sarkar, 1974 [1912-1924], V, 27 (...)

18It is, therefore, easy to understand why the Armenian merchants had to accept a subordinate position to the European companies. Such collaboration with European companies had, however, its own dangers. When the Mughal authorities in 1703 acted against the Dutch and the English accusing them of capturing Mughal ships and imprisoning hajj pilgrims, and their factories and goods were seized, the action covered the Armenians as well. When imperial orders to lift the restrictions were issued in 1706, it was distinctly specified that the officials “were to return the goods of the Europeans and Armenians, and not to interfere with their trade” (Nawab Ali, Sarkar, 1927-1928,I, 350, 353-354, 373).11


  • 12 Hovhannes borrowed Rs.50 from Trikam, a “middle-man”. Khachikian, 1966, 175.

19A very interesting aspect of Armenian mercantile activities in seventeenth-century India was their use of the Indian commercial and financial network and practices. As Levon Khachikian’s study of the ledger of Hovhannes Jughayetsi in India so well brings out, there was always a special degree of trust and cooperation among individual Armenians in India. While depositing Rs. 1,800 with a fellow Armenian, Baba, at Ahmadnagar, for a bill drawn upon Agra in 1684, Hovhannes trusts him enough to receive the paper itself at Aurangabad (probably being drawn actually by Baba’s correspondent there). Or in 1692 Hovhannes repays a debt of Rs.200 to another Armenian, Manvel, without insisting on the surrender of the original receipt, which had been lost (Khachikian, 1966, 175; 1967, 262). At the same time, it is quite remarkable how the Armenians could with confidence utilise the Indian commercial and credit network. Brokerage was an important institution in Indian commerce, the profession being practically monopolised by the Banias. In 1674, as we have seen, the notable Armenian merchant Khoja Minas, when pressed by the Customer of Surat on account of his not honouring his bills held by the English East India Company, was helped out by his broker who paid Rs.6,000, while the khoja managed to pay only Rs.2,000. Hovhannes’s ledger too has references to brokers, who appear as Bania “middle-men” in Khachikian’s study (1966, 157).12 Moreover, small as his trading activities were (offering a model for Steensgaard’s “pedlar”!), Hovhannes could not have operated without the Indian system of credit and remittance, based on the hundi, the Indian bill of exchange.

  • 13 “When a sarraf loses his capital, and nothing remains in his cash-box, he lights up a candle [...] (...)

20Hovhannes calls the Indian bill hendvi, obviously a transcription of hindwi, the spelling normally employed for hundi in Persian writing at the time; and his remittances through this means were usually through the Indian “shroffs” (sarrafs), who specialized in this branch. Thus he transferred to Surat the substantial sum of Rs.3,250 through a shroff, Birju (i.e.Birjiu = Virji), paying a rather high charge of 8%. Birju then drew a bill in favour of Hovhannes’s Armenian fellow-factor, Nazareth, who was to encash it at Surat at the “kota” (kothi) of “Valapdas” (Vallabhdas). The Indian firms often had branches and correspondents in different parts of the country, and this naturally (as the English and Dutch also found) induced foreign merchants to use their services. Hovhannes, while transferring money to Patna, mentions “the Benares office of the establishment that had effected the transaction” (Khachikian, 1966, 173-175). Hovhannes had apparently no occasion to complain of any default on shroffs’bills. But another Armenian merchant at Agra “Coja Safar” (Khoja Safar), according to Manucci (Irvine, 1990 [1907-1908], II, 84), who claims to have been a friend of his, had an unpleasant experience. Khoja Safar in c.1663 remitted Rs.25,000 from Agra to Patna through a bill by a sarraf, only to find that the latter had declared himself bankrupt. Safar, thereupon, “dissimulated”, and obtained cloth of Rs.30,000 on credit from local merchants. When the time of payment came, he “lighted two candles in the morning”, the Indian sign of bankruptcy.13 The Indian judge ruled that his creditors must accept the bill payable by the bankrupt sarraf in payment for goods from Safar, who, “thus absolved, made his way to Surat”.

  • 14 Of course, when Hovhannes borrowed Rs. 1,000 on avak‘, it must be assumed that for his principals, (...)

21An Indian practice, which was described as akin to bottomry was that of awog or avag. It meant investment in a ship’s cargo, repayable at high rates, at the port of destination, the instruments being negotiable. So far as we know, the practice under this name was confined to voyages taking off from the great port of Surat (Foster, 1906-1927, V [1911], 231-232 and n.; VI [1912], 272; IX [1915], 211-212; X [1921], 235, n.; XII [1925], 202; XIII [1927], 184). The Armenians are found using this device to raise capital for a voyage, as well as to transmit money at advantage. In 1668, when Khoja Minas decided to send his ship Hopewell to the Philippines, “there is soe great hopes on this voyage that Cojah Meenas and the persons concerned have taken up money at avog (or bottomarie) thereon at 45, 50 and 60 per cent” (cf. supra). At a much more modest level, and mainly to remit money to Iran, Hovhannes Jughayetsi also made use of this practice, which he spells avak‘ (= avag). In one case he invested Rs.50, with 27% interest, with a fellow Armenian (Shambetsi Gaspar), sending the paper-instrument through another (Topchents Markos) to his “masters”, for them to recover Rs.63.50 from Shambetsi Gaspar (Khachikian, 1966, 175; 1967, 263). On other occasions too (including one, in which in respect of a ship voyaging from Surat to Bandar Abbas, he himself raised Rs. 1,000 for avak‘, for his masters to pay Rs. 1,260 thereon at Isfahan) his dealings were confined to Armenians (ibid.).14 Here, therefore, we have a specifically Indian, or rather Gujarati, sea-trade practice being employed by the Armenians without involving any Indian parties. It would be interesting to see whether there was any corresponding “insurance” device of a similar nature in Armenian overland trade. Hovhannes, at least, appears to offer no such example.

22The Armenian merchants in India are not only important for the history of Armenian people, one of the most talented peoples of the world. They also illustrate how merchants, who neither had force behind them nor represented large-scale firms, could carry on successful commerce in India. There seems, therefore, little substance in arguments that the English East India Company and other European Companies found themselves obstructed by Mughal arbitrariness, and thus were compelled to use force. The Companies in fact, used force—Europe’s “major invisible export” in Steensgaard’s words—in order to establish monopolies; and of this the Armenians were victims equally with the Indians.



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1 Of Portuguese loss of Hormuz and its consequences, the classical study is by Niels Stennsgaard’s. See Steensgaard, 1974, 155-411, esp. 343.

2 The sum seems father a small amount for the Armenians to have refused to advance; but it may be remembered that “the Armenians of Julfa” (Aramina-i Jolah) annually paid by only 50 tumans to the government, according to an entry in the Tadhkirat-al-Mulûk: London, British Library, Or. 9496, fol. 88b. Cf. Minorsky, 1943, text, 88; transl., 88.

3 It is of some interest that Hovhannes appears to spell Indian names as he would have read them in Persian writings. See also Khachikian, 1967, 231-278.

4 “Hovhannes’s journal provides a penetrating close-up of the work of a pedlar”: Steensgaard, 1974, 23 (and for a summary account of his activities: 23-28).

5 The report is about what happened in 1641.

6 The caravan was plundered within the Iranian dominions in April 1672: hence the need for computation of the capita) involved.

7 The goods bought by Kirakos (including a large quantity of cloth from Holland) were sent along with his brother (probably Minas) to Surat on board the English Company’s Constantinople Merchant, on condition that the consignment would be despatched to Persia and not sold at Surat. Kirakos himself was to go overland to Persia, and the English were to get his whereabouts from his brother at Surat for using his good offices to seek concessions from the Persian king.

8 It was a copy of a Mediterranean model and had been mistaken for a Genoese vessel. It had an English captain and a French gunner, Leroy.

9 Earlier too, Minas had two unfortunate brushes with the Mughal authorities. Thévenot reports that when he was robbed of 2,400 Chequins (sequins) by two slaves of his, the Mughal kotwal, a head of the city security, instead of booking the culprits, tried to harass Minas himself; and Minas found it prudent to withdraw the complaint (Sen, 1949, 28). In 1672 when he tried to lodge complaints against local Mughal officials to the Emperor, his complaints were intercepted and the “Surat Governor” insulted and thereatened him, seizing two of his ships, which he could only get back “after some time by large gifts” (M. Fawcett, Ch. Fawcett and Burn, 1990, 147-148).

10 Cf. João Teles e Cunha, infra, chap. 12.

11 A rather unsatisfactory account of the entire conflict is given in Sarkar, 1974 [1912-1924], V, 270-271, based mainly on Manucci.

12 Hovhannes borrowed Rs.50 from Trikam, a “middle-man”. Khachikian, 1966, 175.

13 “When a sarraf loses his capital, and nothing remains in his cash-box, he lights up a candle [...] and such a person in India is known as diwaliya (bankrupt)”: Cf. Babar-I ‘Ajam, 1916 [1740], s.v. chiragh.

14 Of course, when Hovhannes borrowed Rs. 1,000 on avak‘, it must be assumed that for his principals, who were to pay the full amount plus premium of Rs.260, only if the cargo reached safely aboard the ship, the Sulaimani (the same, perhaps, as previously owned by Khoja Minas).


Aligarh Muslim University, Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh. (Inde)

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