This article uses gift-giving practices in early nineteenth-century Iran as a window onto statecraft, governance, and center-periphery relations in the early Qajar state (1785–1925). It first demonstrates that gifts have a long history in the administrative and political history of Iran, the Persianate world, and broader Eurasia, before highlighting specific features found in Iran. The article argues that the pīshkish, a tributary gift-giving ceremony, constituted a central role in the political culture and economy of Qajar Iran, and was part of the process of presenting Qajar rule as a continuation of previous Iranian royal dynasties. Nevertheless, pīshkish ceremonies also illustrated the challenges Qajar rulers faced in exerting power in the provinces and winning the loyalty of provincial elites. Qajar statesmen viewed gifts and bribes, at least at a discursive level, in different terms, with the former clearly understood as an acceptable practice. Gifts and honors, like the khil‘at, presented to society were part of Qajar rulers' strategy of presenting themselves as just and legitimate. Finally, the article considers the use of gifts to influence diplomacy and ease relations between Iranians and foreign envoys, as well as the ways in which an inadequate gift could cause offense.
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