Persian famine of 1870–1872

The Great Persian famine of 1870–1872 was a period of mass starvation and disease in Iran (Persia) between 1870 and 1872 under the rule of Qajar dynasty.

Persian famine of 1870–1872
CountryIran (Persia)
Total deaths0.2-3 million
ObservationsGovernment inefficiency, drought, cholera[1]
Succeeded by1917–1919 famine

The best documented famine in the Iranian history, it affected almost the whole country, however some cities managed to avoid the catastrophe, including Shahrud, Kerman and Birjand.[2]

Causes and contributing factorsEdit

Xavier de Planhol comments that the famine was a result of "combined climatic catastrophes made worse by poor administration and the human factors".[2]

Shoko Okazaki maintains that the two consecutive years of severe drought was the principal factor and rejects that the increase in production of opium and cotton contributed to the famine. He also blames "senior bureaucrats, landlords, grain dealers and high-ranking religious officials who engaged in hoarding and market manipulation".[3] Cormac Ó Gráda endorses the latter reason.[4]

Death tollEdit

There is no agreement among scholars as to the total number of deaths during the famine, although it is believed that it resulted a considerable decline in Iran's population.[5]

Among contemporary observers, Frederic John Goldsmid gave the figure of 0.2–0.3 million deaths, while Oliver St. John put the total loss at 0.5 million. James Bassett suggested that 3 million lives were lost and J. Belleu who was travelling in Iran during the period, cited 1.5 million. Badaye-negar, a Persian scholar of the time, estimated 2.5 million deaths.[5]

Fereydun Adamiyat calculates the death toll around 2 million deaths. Another calculation attributes a decline in the estimated population from 10 million in 1850 to 6 million in 1873, to the catastrophe.[5] Gad G. Gilbar's estimation of 1.5 million deaths, which could be between 15% to 20–25% of the population, is acknowledged by Shoko Okazaki and Charles P. Melville.[1][3]




  • Seyf, Ahmad (2010), "Iran and the Great Famine, 1870–72", Middle East Studies, Taylor & Francis, 46 (2): 289–306, doi:10.1080/00263201003616584CS1 maint: ref duplicates default (link)
  • Melville, Charles (December 1988), "Persian Famine of 1870–1872: Prices and Politics", Disasters, Overseas Development Institute, 12 (4): 309–325, doi:10.1111/j.1467-7717.1988.tb00685.xCS1 maint: ref duplicates default (link)
  • Okazaki, Shoko (February 1986), "The great Persian famine of 1870–71", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 49 (1): 183–192, doi:10.1017/S0041977X00042609CS1 maint: ref duplicates default (link)
  • Ó Gráda, Cormac (November 2007), Famines and Markets (PDF) (Working Paper Series), UCD Centre for Economic
  • de Planhol, Xavier (24 January 2012) [15 December 1999]. "Famines". In Yarshater, Ehsan (ed.). Encyclopædia Iranica. Fasc. 2. IX (Online ed.). New York City: Bibliotheca Persica Press. pp. 203–206.

Further readingEdit