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

Sushil Chaudhury
Kéram Kévonian

V. Les Arméniens et la finance / Armenians and Finances

15. The Bill of Exchange in the Milieu of New Julfan Armenian Merchants1

Shushanik Khachikian

Texte intégral

  • 1 For a more detailed discussion of the bill of exchange and other types of credit and financial doc (...)

1From ancient times various forms of credit were of great importance for tradesmen involved in foreign trade. The expansion of the European international commerce in the late Middle Ages called into being new forms of loan and other financial operations. These new phenomena were by no means ignored by Armenian merchants who, being largely involved in international trade, were considerably influenced by these changes. One of the forms of credit current among Armenian merchants—the exchange contract—will be taken up for discussion here.

2By examining the documents concerning the activity of New Julfan merchants, we can come to the conclusion that the Armenian trade capital of the 17th-18th centuries, though having not completely rejected the usurious principles inherited from earlier times, had developed a new system of crediting and money transfer, which was based on the bill of exchange, known as avak‘ [trslavak‘, awak‘] in New Julfan documents, as barat‘ in the Lawbook of the Armenians of Astrakhan (Poghossian, 1967, 172-186) and as hndvi or hundi [trslhǝndvi, howndi] among the merchants trading in India. By the way, the latter was used in India for credit operations as early as the 16th century or even before that (Ashrafian, 1977,128).

3The bill of exchange was drawn up according to a fixed pattern. The document began with the name of the borrower (pokharu [trslp‘oxaŕow], lit.: “loan-taker”), the place where the bill was drawn up and the type of the contract. The majority of the documents preserved are from New Julfa; bills of exchange from Basra, Calcutta, Surat, Shamakhi, Astrakhan, Moscow and other places are also known. Next in the bill stood the name or names of the drawer or drawers (pokhatu [trslp‘oxatow], lit.: “loan-giver”). They were most often economically associated with the merchants or members of the same trading company. The next item mentioned was the sum given on credit. As a rule, the whole sum and its half were stated in order to avoid any misunderstanding or falsification. The next clause of the bill of exchange fixed the place and the date of payment.

  • 2 Most of the documents referred to in this chapter are from manuscripts 1047 and 1048 of Landsdowne (...)

4In almost all the documents drawn up in Isfahan, which were to be repaid at different places of Bengal, the payment period of five months was fixed.2 In the bills of exchange between Dhaka and Calcutta it was as long as fifteen days and between Basra and Isfahan 61 days. The same period was stated in a bill between Basra and Madras. It amounted to seven months in a bill from Amsterdam to Basra via Venice and to 105 days between Moscow and Amsterdam (Khachikian, 1994, 41). Obviously, when fixing the payment period, the distance, the state of the roads and the means of transportation were taken into account. A number of bills established a payment period of 11, 21 or 31 days after the loan was presented to the drawee (pokhavchar [trslp‘oxavčar], lit.: “loan-payer”) or after the arrival of a certain ship at a certain seaport. In another type of bills of exchange, however, called bi vada ([trslbi vaday], lit.: “without fixed term”), the period of repayment, however, was not specified.

5Next in the bill stood the name or names of the drawee or drawees. In the following clause the sum to be repaid was mentioned. It was usually stated in the currency of the country where the repayment was to be made. In a number of documents the sum to be repaid was given in currencies of different countries, which provides valuable data for studying the exchange rate of the monetary units mentioned in the documents. Next to this clause the names of the remittee (pokhapahanj [trslp‘oxapahanǰ], lit.: “loan-demander”), and of the person to receive the loan in case of the latter’s absence were mentioned.

6In a number of bills it was stipulated what to do if the drawee refused to make the repayment. In such cases the procedure of claiming back the loan was the following: the remittee sent the creditor a document about the drawee’s refusal to repay the debt, testified by witnesses (Armenian merchants, as a rule). According to this document, the borrower or his family, by the order of the self-administrative bodies of New Julfa, had to repay the drawer the claimed sum. A few acknowledgment letters of this kind are preserved. From a letter written in 1744 in Saidabad by a certain Hovhannes, son of Emniaz, we learn that he had presented a bill of 220 rupees to Paron (= Baron [trslParon]) Petros who was to repay the loan, but the latter failed to honour the bill. The letter was testified by three merchants from the Armenian jumiat [trslǰowmiat‘] (community of merchants) of Saidabad.

  • 3 Erevan, Matenadaran, Archives Department, folder 101, file 123, doc. 1, p. 105-106 et al.

7Next in the bill stood the rate of interest to be paid. It ranged between 0.5 per cent per month i.e. 6% per annum and 1 per cent or more per month i.e. 12 or more per cent per annum. In all probability, the rate was the lowest if all the parties of the contract belonged to or were economically associated with the same trading firm. This conjecture is confirmed by some expressions found in the otherwise stereotyped documents. Thus, in a number of bills of exchange it is stipulated that the loan should be paid “out of the money belonging to our company”. The New Julfans often used the pronoun “our” when referring to persons, who belonged or were closely related to their trading companies. In Haroutiun Lazarian’s account-book, certain Avet and Margar are often mentioned as having sent goods or money from Amsterdam. When speaking about these merchants, Haroutiun often uses the expression “our Margar” or “our Paron Avet,” thus stressing their close ties with the Lazarians’ company.3

8There were frequent cases when New Julfan women borrowed money to meet their household expenses, transmitting the responsibility for the loan to their husbands or other male members of the family, absent from their homes. The rate of interest in such cases was usually as high as 0.75% per month i.e. 9% per annum. Thus, during the year of 1747, Anam, the mother of Shahamir Shahamirian, a prominent figure of the Armenian national liberation movement of the 18th century, had borrowed Rs. 85,521 from different merchants for a period of five months. The loan was to be repaid by her husband Sultanum in Bengal or wherever he happened to be.

9A higher rate of fine (one per cent or more per month) was usually demanded for loans given:

  1. to members of the New Julfan community, not associated, however, with the same trading firm, as the creditor;
  2. to Armenian merchants from other countries;
  3. to non-Armenians.

10In the bi vada documents, with no fixed period of repayment, interest was to be paid from the moment when the bill was drawn up or when it was presented to the drawee. For example, in 1746 a lady called Mariam had borrowed money from different creditors in New Julfa on the condition that her son Stepan would pay in Madras interest of 0.75% per month, as soon as the bill reached him. Thus, the bi vada documents are comparable with simple promissory notes. The only difference was that in these documents the responsibility to repay the debt was transmitted to a third party.

11In the following clause of the bill, it was noted that the document was drawn up in two copies, one of which was kept with the creditor, whereas the other was to be passed to the remittee. After the record about receiving the loan was made on one of the copies, the second copy lost validity.

12Next stood the date when the bill of exchange was drawn up. Among the Armenians of New Julfa Azaria’s calendar was current, though the Armenian calendar, as well as the Christian chronology were also in use.

13Another type of bills of exchange, widely used among the Julfan Armenians was the socalled juk‘ami [trslǰowk‘ami] avak‘, that is the “secured bill”. The loan in the case of jukami avak’ was secured against the property of the borrower, the security (juk‘am [ǰowk‘am], or potikat) being, as a rule, jewelry or silk. In the documents of this kind the persons who appeared in the role of borrowers were often merchants who had obtained precious goods to be transferred to their partners or agents for further trade. As it might take them a long time to regain the sum they had spent on the purchase, they used this type of the bill of exchange in order to gain time and receive money before the end of the whole operation. Thus, according to a document of this kind drawn up in 1745 in Isfahan, Tzatur’s son Margar had borrowed Rs. 2,520 from the members of the prominent Khoja Minassian family firm, Set’s son Grigor and Minas’s son Emniaz, giving them as potikat a bagful of pearls. The drawee Khachik Agha was to repay the loan in Calcutta within 15 days after having received the pearls.

14The bill of exchange could be transferred to a third party by a special warrant. The transfer operation was considerably simplified in the 16th-17th centuries by a new, more flexible type of a bill of exchange (endorsement). A note on the bill of exchange about transmitting the right to receive the loan to another person, made by the remittee sufficed, and no special document was needed any longer. Some documents are preserved proving that the practice of endorsing bills was not alien to the Armenian merchants, either. Thus, according to a record made on a bill of exchange in Calcutta in 1679 by a certain remittee, named Moskov, the sum of the bill (sanati or sanadi maplagh [trslsanati/sanadi maplal]) was to be received by Paron Hovhannes. Although not too many instances of such endorsements are avalaible, the clarity and precision of the endorsing record mentioned above seem to prove that endorsement was widely used in the Armenian milieu.

15Thus after examining various types of promissory notes, in particular, bills of exchange current among the Armenian merchants of New Julfa, we can have a fair idea of the broad outline of the main forms and principles of drawing up these documents, of different types of credit and money transfer, as well as of the charge for money transfer and the rate of the fine imposed for delaying the payment. There can be little doubt that this broadens our knowledge about the financial operations practiced in Iran and the neighbouring countries in the 17th-18th centuries.



Ashrafian, K. Z., 1977. Aшрaфян, K. Э., фeoϑaлuзм в Инϑauu: ocoбeннoсmu u зmanы paзвumuя (Feudalism in India: Peculiarities and Stages of Development), Moscow, Nauka.

Khachikian, Sh., 1988. Image Image XVII-XVIII Image (The Armenian Trade of New Julfa and its Commercial and economic Relations with Russia in the XVII-XVIIIth Centuries), Erevan, Academy of Sciences.

Khachikian, Sh., 1994. Image (The Account-book of Shahveli’s Son Sarhad), Erevan, Academy of Sciences.

Poghossian, F., 1967. Image (Lawbook ofthe Armenians of Astrakhan), Erevan, Academy of Sciences.



Bill drawn up by Shahamir (or Shamir) Shahamirian, son of Sultanum (alias Sultan David): Isfahan, 1747. London, British Library, Landsdowne Collection, ms. 1047, p. 177 (cf. Khachikian, 1988, 173, n. 50). Fig 15.


Fig. 15. Bill. By courtesy of the British Library and Matenadaran (Erevan)


Image (circle)

Image (circle)

Image (seal)

Image (seal)

Image (seal)

Image (seal)

Image (seal)


In the name of God4

In Isfahan, I, Sultanum’s son Shamir, took from the late Margar’s son Paron [= Baron] Avet on zmei bill one thousand rupees, half of which is 500 rupees. I gave this bill [according to] which, God willing, [after the expiry of the payment period of] five months from the date [written] below, in Madras, the sons of late Davuthkhan Paron Ohanjan and Mkrtoum will repay the sum of 1,000 Arcot rupees to the above-mentioned Paron Avet or his agent. Whether they pay before or after [the expiry of] the payment period, interest will be calculated at three quarters per 100 rupees. I wrote 2 identical copies of this bill. When they pay on one, the other will become null. We counted (?) the sum of the bill from the year of 1746, it concerns the outgoings of drawing up (?) the decree/letter. Written on 15th Adam, 132, Little Calendar (= 4th May, 1747).

I, Nazaref s son Aghazar, am a witness (circle)

I, Dilanji’s son Stepan, am a witness (circle)

This copy conforms to the original. Sarfraz’s son Aghamal (seal)

This copy corresponded to the original. Gaspar’s son Ohannes (seal)

The original conforms to this sealed copy. Nazaret’s son Aghazar (seal)

I saw that the original corresponds to this copy. Khojamal’s son Safar (seal)

I saw that the original corresponds to this copy. Melik the son of Margar5 Khachaturents (seal)


1 For a more detailed discussion of the bill of exchange and other types of credit and financial documents see the author’s monograph: Khachikian, 1988,150-188.

2 Most of the documents referred to in this chapter are from manuscripts 1047 and 1048 of Landsdowne collection of the British Library.

3 Erevan, Matenadaran, Archives Department, folder 101, file 123, doc. 1, p. 105-106 et al.

4 Literally “[He who] is”.

5 Melik di Margar.


Institut Machtots des manuscrits anciens «Maténadaran», Érévan. (Arménie)

© Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2007

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