BĀJ, a term denoting tribute to be paid by vassals to their overlord, in which sense it is also used as a generic term “tax,” or as referring to road tolls. Its original meaning may have been “portion, share” (from the root bag “to apportion,” AirWb., col. 921). The term bāji is first encountered in an Old Persian inscription by Darius at Persepolis (ca. 500 B.C.): “. . . those are the countries that fear me and bring me tribute (bājim)” (DPe 1.9; Kent, Old Persian, p. 136). In Old Persian the tax collector was *bājikāra (Frye, p. 139). In Middle Iranian times we find Parthian bāž (bʾz) in the inscription of Šāpūr I on the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt at Naqš-e Rostam in which Šāpūr, after enumerating the parts of his empire, says, “all these lands (šahr) and kings (šahrdār) stood (or: were placed) in tribute and servitude (pad bāž ud bandagīf) to Us;” and about the vanquished Caesar Philippus the Arab he states that Philippus paid ransom money and “stood in tribute to Us” (ŠKZ 11.3-4; Gk. version 1.9 eis phorous). Early New Persian has the forms bāz (Ḥodūd al-ʿālam), bāž (Šāh-nāma and the Ghaznavid poet Bahrāmī Saraḵsī), and bāj (Šāh-nāma and Dawlatšāh Samarqandī [p. 49] when he records that Maḥmūd of Ḡazna demanded tribute bāj o ḵarāj, from the ruler of Daylam). The word is often found in compounds such as bāžbān, bāžḵᵛāh, bāždār “tax collector,” and bāžgāh “tax collection office” (Wolff, Glossar).
The earliest mention of bāj in Islamic times is found in the Ḥodūd al-ʿālam (tr. Minorsky, p. 120), according to which in the town of Dār-e Torbat “there live Muslims who levy the toll (bāz) and keep watch on the road.” Ferdowsī used the word to mean “tribute,” as is clear from the phrase bāž o sāv “tribute and tax” and from the term bāž-e Rūm, the tribute paid by the Romans to the victorious Sasanians.
Since Samanid times bāj most probably also designated road tolls, as evidenced from the Ḥodūd al-ʿālam. This is also true of the Saljuq era. Under Sanjar, bāj(-e masālek), or road tax, was levied to ensure safety on the roads (Horst, p. 78). This usage is also borne out by Nāṣer(-e) Ḵosrow, who calls Aleppo a bājgāh “customs house.” This use of the term is also borne out by a number of lexicographers. In the Logāt-e fors (ed. Dabīrsīāqī) the word is defined as ḵarāj (p. 55), while ʿAbd-al-Qāder (ed. Salemann) explains it as customs duties, tithe, and tax. Borhān-e qāṭeʿ defines bāj as money taken from travelers on the road.
In Mongol times bāj was used as a synonym for rāhdārī (road tax). Rašīd-al-Dīn speaks about bāj taken from travelers at fixed stations on the road, at a specific rate (ed. Jahn, pp. 289ff.). Under the Jalayerids and the Timurids the word was used as meaning both road tax and tax. Naḵjavānī (pp. 167-69) uses the terms bājgāh and bājdār “road guards” and bājdārī “road tax,” and indicates that bāj was levied at a specific rate, namely, one cow: nine dinars; one donkey: eight dinars; one pack animal: seven dinars; one mule: six dinars; one camel: five dinars. Šaraf al-Dīn Yazdī (p. 378) uses it in a generic sense of “tax, impost,” as do contemporary texts (Aubin, p. 94; Asfezārī, p. 393). Ḵᵛāndamīr (p. 463) also uses it in a generic sense along with tamḡā, taken from merchants, zakāt, and ḵarāj. In Āq Qoyunlū and Qara Qoyunlū times bāj was used both for road and merchandise tax, as well as being a generic term. In a decree issued by Yaʿqūb Qara Qoyunlū the word is used synonymously with tamḡačīān wa bājdārān wa mostaḥfeẓīn-e ṭoroq-e dīvānī (Modarres Ṭabāṭabāʾī, pp. 89-90). In the Ottoman fiscal qānūns for eastern Anatolia (formerly subject to the Āq Qoyunlū), which are slightly changed Āq Qoyunlū laws, the word bāj is used both for tax and road tax. The term bāj-e tamḡā refers to a tax levied on all kinds of goods bought and sold in the city, while bāj-e bozorg was the customs duties levied on goods in transit or imported into the country (Barkan). According to Efendiev (p. 46) the levying of bāj under the Āq Qoyunlūs was heavy and one of the causes of the ruinous state of Iran. Under the Safavids the term is encountered less than in the preceding periods. Ḥasan Rūmlū (p. 337) uses it to denote tribute which neighboring tribes had paid for a long time to Herat. The unknown author of the ʿĀlamārā-ye ṣafawī (pp. 137, 309, 343, 473, 478, 539, 542, 596) writing around 1675 uses the phrase bāj o ḵarāj in the sense of tribute that was paid every year by vassals (bājgoḏār) to their suzerain. Eskandar Beg (ed. Afšār, 2nd ed., I, pp. 35, 492, 519) uses bāj o ḵarāj in the general sense of tax.
In the eighteenth century Maḥmūd Ḥosaynī Monšī (fols. 305a, 360b, 660a) uses the phrase bāj o ḵarāj several times to designate tax in general. Moḥammad-Hāšem Rostam-al-Ḥokamāʾ (p. 180) refers to Nāder Shah as bājgīr-e kešvarsetān “the tax-levying conqueror.”
In Qajar times bāj is more frequently used, mainly with reference to merchandise or road tax. In Mašhad the city gate toll around 1840 was referred to as bāj (Ferrier, p. 117), while terms like bāj-e rāh (road tax), bāj-e namak (salt tax), bāj o ḵarāj-e ḵoškbār (dried fruit tax), baj-e fīlī (elephant tax), and bāj-e Šemrān (Šemrān tax) are also found (Majalla-ye mālīa wa eqteṣād 1/2, Tehran, 1303 Š./1924, p. 4; Qānūn-e elḡā-ye mālīāt-e ṣaṇʿatī wa mālīāt-e šomārī, 30 Āḏar 1305 Š./1926; Taḥwīldār, p. 123; Qānūn-e 19 Bahman 1304 Š./1926; Qānūn-e 3 Rabīʿ I 1328/1909; Kasrawī, Mašrūṭa, p. 39; Baladīya-ye Ṭehrān, Dovvomīn sāl-nāma-ye eḥṣāʾī-e šahr-e Ṭehrān, Tehran, 1310 Š./1929, p. 193). However, the term is also used in the meaning of tribute; e.g., when the Qarabāḡ ruler Ebrāhīm Ḵalīl Khan Javānšīr was defeated by the Qajars, he offered to pay bāj o ḵarāj and to give hostages (Fasāʾī, Fārs-nāma, p. 240). It is also used in the general sense of tax, as in the firman by Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah granting the bakers and butchers of Iran exemption from taxes in 1896 (Afżal-al-Molk, p. 20). The word is still used today, albeit with a rather negative connotation.
Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Afżal-al-Molk, Afżal-al-tawārīḵ, ed. M. Etteḥādīya, Tehran, 1361 Š./1982.
Moʿīn-al-Dīn Moḥammad Zamčī Asfezārī, Rawżat al-jannāt fī awṣāf madīnat Herāt, ed. Moḥammad-Kāẓem Emām, Tehran, 1338 Š./1959.
ʿAbd-al-Qāder Baḡdādī, ed. Salemann, Abdulqadiri Bagdadensis lexicon Shahnamaianum, St. Petersburg, 1895. ʿĀlamārā-ye ṣafawī, ed. Yad-Allāh Šokrī, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971.
J. Aubin, Deux sayyids de Bam au XVe siècle, Wiesbaden, 1956.
Ömer Lûtfi Barkan, “Osmanlı devrinde Akkoyunlu hükümdarı Uzun Hasan Bey’e ait kanunlar,” Tarihî vesikalar dergisi 1/2, 1943, pp. 91-106, 1/3, 1943, pp. 184-97.
Dawlatšāh Samarqandī, Taḏkeratal-šoʿarāʾ, Tehran, n.d. O. A. Efendiev, Obrazovanie azerbaĭdzhanskogo gosudarstva Sefevidov v nachale XVI veka, Baku, 1961.
J. P. Ferrier, Caravan Journeys in Persia . . . , London, 1857.
R. N. Frye, The Heritage of Persia, Chicago, 1966.
H. Horst, Die Staatsverwaltung der Grosselğūgen und die Ḫōrazmšāhs, Wiesbaden, 1964.
Ḵᵛāndamīr, Dastūr al-wozarāʾ, ed. Saʿīd Nafīsī, Tehran, 1317 Š./1938.
Maḥmūd Ḥosaynī Monšī, Tārīḵ-eaḥmadšāhī, Moscow, 1974.
Naḵjavānī, Dastūr al-kāteb II, Moscow, 1971.
Nāṣer(-e) Ḵosrow, Safar-nāma, ed. M. Ḡanīzāda, Tehran, n.d. Rašīd-al-Dīn, Tārīḵ-emobārak-e Ḡāzānī, ed. K. Jahn, London, 1940.
Moḥammad-Hāšem Rostam-al-Ḥokamāʾ, Rostam al-tawārīḵ, ed. Moḥammad Mošīrī, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969.
Ḥasan Rūmlū, Aḥsan al-tawārīḵ, ed. C. N. Seddon, Baroda, 1931, vol. 1.
Šāpūr I, inscription on the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt, ed. M. Back, Die Sassanidischen Staatsinschriften, Acta Iranica 18, Tehran and Liège, 1978, pp. 284-371.
Modarres Ṭabāṭabāʾī, ed., Farmānhā-ye torkmān-e Qara Qoyunlū wa Āq Qoyunlū, Qom, 1352 Š./1973.
Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Khan Taḥwīldār, Joḡrāfīā-ye Eṣfahān, Tehran, 1342 Š./1963.
Šaraf-al-Dīn Yazdī, Ẓafar-nāma, Calcutta, 1888, vol. 2.
Originally Published: December 15, 1988
Last Updated: August 24, 2011
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Vol. III, Fasc. 5, pp. 531-532