Social hierarchy in Iran, as in other modernizing nations, has undergone major changes in the twentieth century. Nevertheless, contemporary patterns of social hierarchy are rooted in the traditions of inequality that prevailed during the Qajar era. In provincial Iran, these traditions of hierarchy and inequality were structured in part by the form of political authority. In the nineteenth century, many provincial regions were ruled by local notables who maintained varying degrees of independence from the royal court. Along with leading landowning families, merchants, and clergy, they formed the elite of provincial society. The culture of social hierarchy was also shaped by traditional Islamic and Persian views of society and by the meaning attributed to the distribution of wealth, power, and prestige in Iran.