Summary and Info
This book is the first major account of the life and times of a merchant in nineteenth-century Iran or in the Middle East. Haj Muhammad Amin al-Zarb (1834–1898) rose from humble beginnings to become one of Iran’s wealthiest and most prominent merchants. He built up his wealth as a money changer, a trader in textiles, precious stones, opium, carpets, agricultural products, and staple foodstuffs amongst other goods, and judicious transactions in land. Adept at cultivating powerful connections, he became the principal supplier of luxury goods to the Shah, his court, and members of the ruling elite; served as private banker to the Shah, his prime minister, and influential bureaucrats; and became Master of the Mint. He had agents in all the main towns of Persia and Europe with correspondents in Asia and America.Amin al-Zarb was also an entrepreneur, industrialist, and innovator. Determined to bring to Iran the advances he had witnessed in Europe, he invested in mining, established factories with imported machinery (such as glass, china, and silk reeling), built a railway line, and urged the Shah to establish a national bank. He also became an advocate of reform and curbs on arbitrary rule. He befriended the famous Islamic reformer, Jamal al-Din Afghani. An innovator in business, Amin al-Zarb led a very traditional life at home. Gifted at making money, he was nevertheless a pious man who contributed generously to religious and charitable causes. Shireen Mahdavi draws on hitherto unpublished family archives to write not only a biography of a fascinating nineteenth-century merchant but also a social history of the period. Her portrait of Amin al-Zarb also provides important insights into the economic, social, and political role played by merchants in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East in the nineteenth century.