!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: A Traveler in Persia

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Traveler in Persia

I'm reading an account of seventeenth-century Persia (Iran) written by John Chardin, a French merchant of that era.1 The book is full of interesting material. Below I reproduce a passage that illustrates the type of negotiation that European and Middle Eastern parties engaged in during the period in question.

Early 17th-Century Persian Belt Buckle
(leather, gold, silver, gems, glass)

Chardin came to Persia with a collection of custom-made jewels ordered by the current king's late father. In the passage below, Chardin describes a point in the negotiation over which jewels will actually be sold, and at what prices, that occurred following an initial agreement on terms.
I Answer'd [the Nazir, the king's righthand man], with abundance of thanks, for exposing himself to the King's Anger for a Foreign Merchant. [The Nazir was claiming that the king was irate over the already-agreed prices for the jewels.] That his Affection was a fresh Motive for me to deal plainly with him but that I did Protest to him, I had told the Truth [about the cost of the jewels], and that I look'd upon the King to be a Prince of too much Equity, to desire that the Dangers, the Pains, and the Expences of a Seven Years Journey [seven years have gone by since the deceased king placed his order], should afford me nothing but Losses. That in a Word I could not part with my Jewels for less than what he had been pleas'd to promise. That after all, he would give me leave to tell him, that the King would without doubt, have taken them, if he had let him know that they were Cheap, and a Pennyworth, as they were in Effect.

How, reply'd he, raising his Voice, could I do less? Must I tell the King Lyes to oblige you? And shall I eat his Bread like a Profidious Servant? Moreover, have I not a Head to lose? And if I don't acquaint the King with the dearness of Things, can he fail of knowing it? And when inform'd thereof, will he not send to have [my head] taken off of my Shoulders?

I was two Hours before this Minister arguing the Matter, but without any Success, and I could not but wonder that so great a Minister, who had such Business upon his Hands, and of so much Importance, could spare so much Time in playing a Part, so little suitable to his Dignity; But all is Gesture and Fiction, thorough Artifice and Cunning in those Oriental Courts, as I have frequently observ'd. [pp. 51-52]
Chardin and the Nazir eventually came to terms well below those initially agreed to.

1 Sir John Chardin. Travels in Persia, 1673-1677. Dover, 1988.