KADḴODĀ, principal meaning “headman,” from Middle Persian kadag-xwadāy, lit. “head of a household, master of the house” (MacKenzie, p. 48; see also Vullers, II, p. 805a-b). During the medieval period, at least in post-Saljuq times, the term mainly referred to the headman of primary communal groups that were characterized by face to face relations in several social contexts—villages (dehāt), guilds of craftsmen (aṣnāf), and urban quarters (maḥallāt); during the Pahlavi period, it also referred to the headman of a basic tribal sub-unit (ṭāyefa, or tira).

The term kadḵodā is also recorded during the Ghaznavid and Saljuqid periods to denote an administrative position of a high-ranking dabir or other official who was the ruler’s confidant and steward (piškār; e.g., mā kadḵodāyān piškār-e moḥtašamān bāšim, bar mā fariżeh ast ṣalāḥ negāh dāštan [Bayhaqi, ed. Fayyāż, p. 445]), as well as an alert, wise, and shrewd administrator (e.g., kadḵodāʾi be šebh-e vazir, Bayhaqi, ed. Fayyāż, p. 275; idem, pp. 344, 403, 432; Jorfāḏeqāni, p. 337). Such a person was often appointed as the military administrator (kadḵodā-ye laškar) or provincial administrator of a commander on campaign or dispatched as governor of an important outlying province (Bayhaqi, ed. Fayyāż, pp. 555; Anvari, p. 259). In these cases, the kadḵodā was often appointed by the ruler (sultan) or the vizier as a liaison officer between them and the official whom he accompanied, but he also functioned as a mentor and counselor to the latter (Bayhaqi, ed. Fayyāż, pp. 156, 172, 344, 374, 376, 884; Jorfāḏeqāni, p. 337).

The term kadḵodā was also used, albeit rarely, to characterize an amir who was assigned to the governorship of a province and who was expected to combine the qualifications of both governor and vizier (e.g., va mā rā be Rey sālāri bāyad saḵt hošyār o bidār o kadḵodāʾi, kodām kas āyad in do šoḡl rā? [Bayhaqi, ed. Fayyāż, p. 344]).


The kadḵodā as the headman of a primary group functioned until the 19th century as the trustee and representative of the community in his charge and the agent of the higher authorities who had appointed him; he served as the mediator between the community and the higher authorities. During the Safavid period, the kalāntar of Isfahan appointed the kadḵodās of the city wards, guilds, and surrounding villages, with the consent of the community. Although ideally one of the eldest and most experienced people of the community was chosen, in practice this function was often hereditary. The kadḵodā’s functions included collecting taxes and dues, assigning corvées (bigāri), and managing the local administration. Finally, as their trustee and representative, the kadḵodā was expected to protect the members of the community from excessive taxation or unfair treatment by government agents or administrators (see below).

During the late Qajar period the kadḵodā had a special form of address as ālišaʾn, along with ordinary merchants (for the form of address see “Tašḵiṣ va tarqim-e alqāb,” p. 61; for examples of form of address in appointment letters, see Eḥtešāmi, pp. 101-2, 192, 196).

Kadḵodās of urban quarters. Each town was divided into quarters over which a kadḵodā was appointed. As the representative of a maḥalla, a kadḵodā during the Mongol period filed complaints against the excessive collection of taxes and dues (šeltāq) by governors and other government agents, and he was commissioned by the rulers along with other officials to investigate cases of misconduct and report them to the higher authorities (Naḵjavāni, I, pp. 154, 158, 322). In the larger cities such as Shiraz, where the urban quarters divided into factions of Ḥaydari and Neʿmati, the kadḵodās of either group served under a kadḵodā-bāši (see Fasāʾi, II, p. 22). The kadḵodā was the lowest agent in the urban executive hierarchy and subordinate to the kalāntar or beglerbegi —or, on their behalf, the deputy (naqib) or dāruḡa—who were in charge of the town’s security. Until the mid-19th century the kadḵodās of the city quarters were selected by the inhabitants of each ward and formally appointed by the kalāntar.

The kadḵodās were responsible for maintaining public order and managing the activities of the quarter. Their role in maintaining public safety and in providing a public registry is clear from the decree issued by Ṭahmāspqoli Khan (the future Nāder Shah, r. 1736-47) in 1731, which stated that the kadḵodās (heads of city quarters) had to keep an accurate journal of what happened in their quarters, such as fights, drunkenness, prostitution, cases of perjury, marriages, births, and deaths. A copy of these journals had to be regularly sent to the shah, and there are records that the latter appointed informers to monitor the implementation of the decree (The Hague, Nationaal Archief, VOC 2255, dated 28 January 1731, fols. 2289-91). The kadḵodās were also held personally responsible if their constituents did not pay or misbehaved, or if something untoward happened under their jurisdiction (see CITIES iii).

The kadḵodās of Isfahan during the Safavid and Qajar periods were under the authority of the dāruḡa, who had some forty or fifty men under him. In the daytime he would sit in the Qayṣariya (the bazaar of such valuable goods as jewelry and textiles), inflicting the bastinado on those who violated the criminal law. At night his watchmen (gazmas) patrolled the streets and roads (goḏars). The dāruḡa was accountable for any theft crimes and would in turn require payments from the kadḵodās and the chiefs of the watchmen. The watchmen reported such crimes to the kadḵodās, who then reported them to the dāruḡa. The dāruḡa would then present a written report to the governor-general through the Department of Justice (Divān-e ʿadliya; Taḥwildār, p. 125). In Shiraz by the second half of the 19th-century, the office of the dāruḡa had all but become obsolete, and thereafter all of the duties regarding security and order in the urban quarters fell to the kadḵodās.

The kadḵodās of the urban quarters of Tehran were incorporated into a modern police force in 1878, when the Department of Police and Municipality (Edāra-ye jalila-ye polis-e dār al-ḵelāfa va eḥtesābiya) was established in the capital (Seyfi Fami Tafreši, pp. 53-75). According to the 1899 census of Tehran, each kadḵodā supervised a number of deputies (nāyebs), each in charge of a neighborhood, called pātoq, the latter divided into a number of sub-units of roads (goḏars). The Dawlat quarter, for instance, was divided into 10 pātoqs and 34 goḏars. Some of the officers who supervised the guardsmen of a goḏar were now referred to as the polis, e.g., “Goḏar-e ʿAli Police” (Saʿdvandiān and Etteḥadiah, pp. 358).

Kadḵodās of guilds of craftsmen. More substantial information on guilds becomes available during the Safavid period, when each trade or craft formed a guild headed by a headman. The guild chiefs, known as kadḵodā, bozorg, or kadḵodā-bāši, were nominated by the masters of a particular guild, and the candidate was subject to approval by the kalāntar. In Isfahan during the Safavid period, kadḵodās of guilds were elected by at least a two-thirds majority of a guild’s masters (ostāds; Mirzā Rafiʿā, p. 121). According to Taḏkerat al-moluk, “each guild (ṣinf) appoint among themselves the person whom they consider sure and trustworthy; they draw up a testimonial for him and fix a salary for him (dar vajh-i ū). Having had [the document] legalized by the Naqib’s seal they bring it to the kalantar and obtain (bāzyāft) from him a certificate (taʿliqa) and an honorary robe for [their nominee], who thereafter begins to administer (ratq-u-fatq) their affairs” (Minorsky, 1943, p. 81).

The kadḵodā managed the guild’s affairs both internally and externally; his most important tasks were the collection of taxes and dues, as well as assignment of corvées (bigāri). His other functions included conflict resolution and oversight. Designating the price of goods was an important function of the kadḵodā and elders of the guilds of craftsmen and shopkeepers, a function that has remained to the present date. The office of Moḥtaseb-al-Mamālek, entrusted during the Safavid period with supervising the proper conduct of the people and, more specifically, the merchants, craftsmen, and shopkeepers in the bazaars throughout the empire, “obtain[ed] from the elders of each guild an undertaking (iltizām) concerning the prices of the goods [in which they deal].” Following the approval of related authorities and their registration in the financial books, the designated prices were enforced by the office of the Moḥtaseb-al-Mamālek in Isfahan and his deputies in provincial towns (Minorsky, p. 83). The guild chief often resided in the main manufactory of the guild or at the čahār-suq (intersection of two main streets, or rāsta) of his guild (see AṢNĀF; BĀZĀR). The kadḵodās of those guilds that were subject to corvées were especially powerful, as they decided who had to contribute to the corvées and to what extent. Opposition to the headman and his council (rīš-safīdhā o sar jūqahā) could be punished with corvées.

A qualified person who wished to open his own shop presented himself to the guild kadḵodā, stated his name and address, and was registered. If there were no objections to the candidate, he was allowed to open a shop after the payment of a small sum. The only limitation on his business appears to have been the requirement that he keep a certain distance between his shop and others of the same guild, except when located in an area designated for a specific category of work (Chardin, IV, p. 94).

In the Qajar period, however, the powers of the kadḵodās of the guilds of craftsmen were curtailed. The authority of the headman depended on the success of his mediator’s role between the government and the guild. Many guilds in the 19th century were in a weak position, and their “organization resembled rather a police regulation than a privilege” (Bleibtreu, p. 125). Yet, a guild’s kadḵodā was seldom dismissed except on the grounds of objections against him from his electors; even then, they had to prove his negligence or his engagement in criminal practices (Floor, 1971a, p. 33).

Kadḵodās of villages. Administration of village communities, as the basic administrative and fiscal unit in rural areas, was in the hand of the kadḵodās. The kadḵodās appear to have been responsible for receiving guests, distributing land among the villagers, allotting taxes and collecting and remitting them to the next highest official or landowner. He may also have been required to collect levies for labor service (bigāri) or conscripts (sarbāz-e boniča) from rural areas. Moreover, together with the village elders (Pers. riš-sefidān; Turk. āq-saqal, lit. “white bearded”), the kadḵodā participated in the management of the village, including the allotment of space to newcomers, agricultural management, distribution of water, settlement of disputes, and punishment of transgressions; he was assisted in this by a pākār (Lambton, pp. 272, 334, 122-44; Floor, 2003).

Because the kadḵodā played a dual role in the village as both the government’s representative and a conduit for the villagers’ complaints to the government, there were times when the kadḵodā could either file a complaint with the higher authorities or even refuse to turn over the excessive taxes (šeltāq) to the collectors (Naḵjavāni, II, pp. 176, 264, 274, 75, 283-85, 297, 300-302, 323; Aubin, 1959, p. 73; Tate, pp. 327, 329; Greenfield, pp. 147, 157; Morier, p. 236).

It appears that, during the pre-Mongol period, villages “formed relatively stable and to some extent self-governing communities under their own kadḵodās, who acted as middlemen between the village communities and the government, or the muqtaʿ” (Lambton, p. 175). In later periods, kadḵodās appear to have been chosen from among the leading men of the village by the consent of the villagers, but the candidate had to be approved by the benefice holders or kalāntar or, in the case of privately owned land, by the landowner. Following the development of private landownership during the post-Constitutional period, and more specifically after the enactment of the law of 10 December 1935 (Qānun-e kadḵodāʾi), selection of kadḵodās was entrusted to the landowners, and their formal appointment was made by the provincial governor. In the case of multiple ownership of the village lands, two kadḵodās were selected by the main owners and appointed by the governor; in the case of small-holding villages, the governor was entrusted to select and appoint the kadḵodā with the consent of smallholders from among the leading villagers (see below).

Kadḵodās of tribal sub-units. It appears that the term “kadḵodā” replaced the original local designations of the headman of tribal sub-units (such as key) after the enactment of the law of 10 December 1935, when the provincial governors began to practice the appointment of the kadḵodās in rural and tribal areas (see Ṣafinežād, Lorhā-ye Irān, Tehran, 2002, pp. 158-59). Kadḵodās of a political tribal sub-unit (tira or ṭāyefa) were selected among the influential members of the tribal community by the consent of the elders of the constituent units and appointed by the tribal Khan, but the office tended to be hereditary.

Until the mid-20th century, political authority was in the hands of tribal chiefs (Khan or Il-Khan), and then distributed on a hierarchical basis among the kalāntars of tribal clans (ṭāʾefas), kadḵodās of tiras, and riš-sefidān (elders) of the tāš or awlād. This hierarchical order prevailed among Qašqāʾis and Baḵtiāris (see BAḴTIĀRI TRIBE i), but among some, such as the Boir Aḥmadis, the main tribal subgroups were tiras under kalāntars and then ṭāʾefas under kadḵodās (see Ṣafinežād, pp. 129-45; see also ʿAŠĀYER). But after the land reform and nationalization of pastures in the 1960s, when Khans lost their power in tribal areas, kalāntars and kadḵodās expanded their authority and filled the power vacuum in their related areas.

The kadḵodās of tribal areas, similar to those of rural areas, maintained order, administered justice, and acted as intermediaries between the tribal community and the outside world. But the most significant function of the tribal kadḵodās, in cooperation with the khans and kalāntars, was coordinating and supervising migrations and the settlement of disputes regarding the overuse of pasturelands and watering places. The kadḵodās of various tribal areas, at least until the mid-20th century, imposed “levies on the tribes of clarified butter and meat for their own expenses . . . . Kadkhoda also collects for the Khan, Kalantar and himself what is nominally considered as gifts on specific occasions such as Nowruz. To what extent compulsion would be exercised were these gifts not brought is open to conjecture. The kadḵodās in some tribal areas are responsible for the collection of government dues in which case they retain part of what they collected by way of commission” (Lambton, 1953, p. 290). But many of these levies have disappeared since the 1970s.


At the beginning of the Constitutional Revolution, the Law of the Organization of Provinces and Sub Provinces and the directive of governance for the governors (Qānun-e taškil-e eyālāt va velāyāt va dastur al-ʿamal-e ḥokkām) was enacted in February 1908. Articles 287, 291, 300, 302, 303, 328 of the law entitled the governors to appoint and dismiss the chiefs of city quarters (kadḵodāhā-ye maḥallāt). The urban kadḵodā was made the police chief of his quarter (Article 287). This law made the village a legal entity over which a kadḵodā with clearly defined responsibilities, once selected by the approval of a landowner “with the consent of the majority of the villagers,” was formally appointed by the deputy governor (nāyeb al-ḥokuma); in fact, he became a government official (Articles 378-86). The law of 10 December 1935 (Qānun-e kadḵodāʾi) established the kadḵodā as an instrument of the landowner, regardless of the legal nature of the property, whether private, state-owned, or waqf; it listed his qualifications and tasks, which were to ensure good agricultural management and execution of all government programs and instructions. Despite the formal change, in reality things did not change much with regard to rural power relations. The same holds true for the implementation of the Land Reform Act of 1963, when the kadḵodā formally became responsible to the new village council; however, in actuality his responsibility was to the government. His judicial function was taken over by the ḵāna-ye enṣāf (chamber of justice; see judicial and legal systems v). After the Islamic Revolution of 1979 all functions of the kadḵodā were transferred to the Islamic village council (Smith et al., p. 263; Metz, pp. 106-7).

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(Willem Floor and EIr.)

Originally Published: September 15, 2009

Last Updated: April 19, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XV, Fasc. 3, pp. 328-331