Closing a Bank Account in Early 18th-Century Isfahan

The Armenians of New Julfa, Isfahan were a spectacularly successful early modern merchant community. They left thousands of documents in the New Julfa Armenian dialect relating to their commercial, financial, family and communal affairs. The largest archive of these is in the Cathedral of New Julfa itself, but there are significant collections in libraries and archives in Italy, Russia and the UK as well. In scope and quantity, these documents are far richer than what has so far come to light in Persian or any other language for Safavid and post-Safavid merchants. In addition to the documents themselves, there are several important texts that provide information about the normative framework for commercial law and practice. Most important among these are a late 17th-century merchant’s handbook by Kostand Jughayetsi (recently published in Yerevan) and the mid 18th-century Lawbook of the Astrakhan Armenians (published in the 1970s). The document that will be the focus of this seminar presentation is a settlement agreement to wind up a long-standing banking arrangement between a prominent Julfa Armenian merchant family, and a family of Indian bankers. It is of particular interest to note that the technical and legal terminology of this Armenian document, drawn up to settle affairs between Christian and Hindu business associates, is predominantly Arabo-Persian and Islamic/sharīʿ.


Edmund Herzig is Masoumeh and Fereydoon Soudavar Professor of Persian Studies at the University of Oxford.