Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter X: Of the Checks to Population in the Turkish Dominions and Persia. - An Essay on the Principle of Population, vol. 1 [1826, 6th ed.]
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Chapter X: Of the Checks to Population in the Turkish Dominions and Persia. - Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, vol. 1 [1826, 6th ed.] 
An Essay on the Principle of Population, or a View of its Past and Present Effects on Human Happiness; with an Inquiry into our Prospects respecting the Future Removal or Mitigation of the Evils which it Occasions (London: John Murray 1826). 6th ed.
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Book I, Chapter X
Of the Checks to Population in the Turkish Dominions and Persia.
In the Asiatic parts of the Turkish dominions it will not be difficult, from the accounts of travellers, to trace the checks to population and the causes of its present decay; and as there is little difference in the manners of the Turks, whether they inhabit Europe or Asia, it will not be worth while to make them the subject of distinct consideration.
The fundamental cause of the low state of population in Turkey, compared with its extent of territory, is undoubtedly the nature of the government. Its tyranny, its feebleness, its bad laws and worse administration of them, together with the consequent insecurity of property, throw such obstacles in the way of agriculture that the means of subsistence are necessarily decreasing yearly, and with them, of course, the number of people. The miri, or general land-tax paid to the sultan; is in itself moderate;32 but by abuses inherent in the Turkish government, the pachas and their agents have found out the means of rendering it ruinous. Though they cannot absolutely alter the impost which has been established by the sultan, they have introduced a multitude of changes which, without the name, produce all the effects of an augmentation.33 In Syria, according to Volney, having the greatest part of the land at their disposal, they clog their concessions with burdensome conditions, and exact the half, and sometimes even two-thirds, of the crop. When the harvest is over, they cavil about losses, and as they have the power in their hands, they carry off what they think proper. If the season fail, they still exact the same sum, and expose every thing that the poor peasant possesses to sale. To these constant oppressions are added a thousand accidental extortions. Sometimes a whole village is laid under contribution for some real or imaginary offence. Arbitrary presents are exacted on the accession of each governor; grass, barley and straw are demanded for his horses; and commissions are multiplied, that the soldiers who carry the orders may live upon the starving peasants, whom they treat with the most brutal insolence and injustice.34
The consequence of these depredations is that the poorer class of inhabitants, ruined, and unable any longer to pay the miri, become a burden to the village, or fly into the cities; but the miri is unalterable, and the sum to be levied must be found somewhere. The portion of those who are thus driven from their homes falls on the remaining inhabitants, whose burden, though at first light, now becomes insupportable. If they should be visited by two years of drought and famine the whole village is ruined and abandoned; and the tax which it should have paid, is levied on the neighbouring lands.35
The same mode of proceeding takes place with regard to the tax on the Christians, which has been raised by these means from three, five, and eleven piastres, at which it was at first fixed, to thirty-five and forty, which absolutely impoverishes those on whom it is levied, and obliges them to leave the country. It has been remarked that these exactions have made a rapid progress during the last forty years; from which time are dated the decline of agriculture, the depopulation of the country and the diminution in the quantity of specie carried into Constantinople.36
The food of the peasants is almost every where reduced to a little flat cake of barley or doura, onions, lentils and water. Not to lose any part of their corn, they leave in it all sorts of wild grain, which often produce bad consequences. In the mountains of Lebanon and Nablous, in time of dearth, they gather the acorns from the oaks, which they eat after boiling or roasting them in ashes.37
By a natural consequence of this misery, the art of cultivation is in the most deplorable state. The husbandman is almost without instruments, and those he has are very bad. His plough is frequently no more than the branch of a tree cut below a fork, and used without wheels. The ground is tilled by asses and cows, rarely by oxen, which would bespeak too much riches. In the districts exposed to the Arabs, as in Palestine, the countryman must sow with his musket in his hand; and scarcely does the corn turn yellow before it is reaped, and concealed in subterraneous caverns. As little as possible is employed for seed-corn, because the peasants sow no more than is barely necessary for their subsistence. Their whole industry is limited to a supply of their immediate wants; and to procure a little bread, a few onions, a blue shirt, and a bit of woollen, much labour is not necessary. "The peasant lives therefore in distress; but at least he does not enrich his tyrants, and the avarice of despotism is its own punishment."38
This picture, which is drawn by Volney, in describing the state of the peasants in Syria, seems to be confirmed by all other travellers in these countries; and, according to Eton, it represents very nearly the condition of the peasants in the greatest part of the Turkish dominions.39 Universally, the offices of every denomination are set up to public sale; and in the intrigues of the seraglio, by which the disposal of all places is regulated, every thing is done by means of bribes. The pachas, in consequence, who are sent into the provinces, exert to the utmost their power of extortion; but are always outdone by the officers immediately below them, who, in their turn, leave room for their subordinate agents.40
The pacha must raise money to pay the tribute, and also to indemnify himself for the purchase of his office, support his dignity, and make a provision in case of accidents; and as all power, both military and civil, centres in his person from his representing the sultan, the means are at his discretion, and the quickest are invariably considered as the best.41 Uncertain of tomorrow, he treats his province as a mere transient possession, and endeavours to reap, if possible, in one day the fruit of many years, without the smallest regard to his successor, or the injury that he may do to the permanent revenue.42
The cultivator is necessarily more exposed to these extortions than the inhabitant of the towns. From the nature of his employment, he is fixed to one spot, and the productions of agriculture do not admit of being easily concealed. The tenure of the land and the rights of succession are besides uncertain. When a father dies, the inheritance reverts to the sultan, and the children can only redeem the succession by a considerable sum of money. These considerations naturally occasion an indifference to landed estates. The country is deserted; and each person is desirous of flying to the towns, where he will not only in general meet with better treatment, but may hope to acquire a species of wealth which he can more easily conceal from the eyes of his rapacious masters.43
To complete the ruin of agriculture, a maximum is in many cases established, and the peasants are obliged to furnish the towns with corn at a fixed price. It is a maxim of Turkish policy, originating in the feebleness of the government and the fear of popular tumults, to keep the price of corn low in all the considerable towns. In the case of a failure in the harvest, every person who possesses any corn is obliged to sell it at the price fixed, under pain of death; and if there be none in the neighbourhood, other districts are ransacked for it.44 When Constantinople is in want of provisions, ten provinces are perhaps famished for a supply.45 At Damascus, during the scarcity in 1784, the people paid only one penny farthing a pound for their bread, while the peasants in the villages were absolutely dying with hunger.46
The effect of such a system of government on agriculture need not be insisted upon. The causes of the decreasing means of subsistence are but too obvious; and the checks, which keep the population down to the level of these decreasing resources, may be traced with nearly equal certainty, and will appear to include almost every species of vice and misery that is known.
It is observed in general that the Christian families consist of a greater number of children than the Mahometan families in which polygamy prevails.47 This is an extraordinary fact; because though polygamy, from the unequal distribution of women which it occasions, be naturally unfavourable to the population of a whole country; yet the individuals who are able to support a plurality of wives, ought certainly, in the natural course of things, to have a greater number of children than those who are confined to one. The way in which Volney principally accounts for this fact is that, from the practice of polygamy, and very early marriages, the Turks are enervated while young, and impotence at thirty is very common.48 Eton notices an unnatural vice as prevailing in no inconsiderable degree among the common people, and considers it as one of the checks to the population;49 but the five principal causes of depopulation which he enumerates, are,
He afterwards gives a more particular account of the devastations of the plague in different parts of the empire, and concludes by observing, that if the number of the Mahometans have decreased, this cause alone is adequate to the effect;51 and that, things going on in their present train, the Turkish population will be extinct in another century.52 But this inference, and the calculations which relate to it, are without doubt erroneous. The increase of population in the intervals of these periods of mortality is probably greater than he is aware of. At the same time it must be remarked that in a country where the industry of the husbandman is confined to the supply of his necessary wants, where he sows only to prevent himself from starving, and is unable to accumulate any surplus produce, a great loss of people is not easily recovered; as the natural effects arising from the diminished numbers cannot be felt in the same degree as in countries where industry prevails, and property is secure.
According to the Persian legislator Zoroaster, to plant a tree, to cultivate a field, to beget children, are meritorious acts; but it appears from the accounts of travellers, that many among the lower classes of people cannot easily attain the latter species of merit; and in this instance, as in numberless others, the private interest of the individual corrects the errors of the legislator. Sir John Chardin says, that matrimony in Persia is very expensive, and that only men of estates will venture upon it, lest it prove their ruin.53 The Russian travellers seem to confirm this account, and observe that the lower classes of people are obliged to defer marriage till late; and that it is only among the rich that this union takes place early.54
The dreadful convulsions to which Persia has been continually subject for many hundred years must have been fatal to her agriculture. The periods of repose from external wars and internal commotions have been short and few; and even during the times of profound peace, the frontier provinces have been constantly subject to the ravages of the Tartars.
The effect of this state of things is such as might be expected. The proportion of uncultivated to cultivated land in Persia, Sir John Chardin states to be ten to one;55 I and the mode in which the officers of the Shah and private owners let out their lands to husbandmen is not that which is best calculated to reanimate industry. The grain in Persia is also very subject to be destroyed by hail, drought, locusts, and other insects,56 which probably tends rather to discourage the employment of capital in the cultivation of the soil.
The plague does not extend to Persia; but the small-pox is mentioned by the Russian travellers as making very fatal ravages.57
It will not be worth while to enter more minutely on the checks to population in Persia, as they seem to be nearly similar to those which have been just described in the Turkish dominions. The superior destruction of the plague, in Turkey, is perhaps nearly balanced by the greater frequency of internal commotions in Persia.
[32.]Voy. de Volney, tom. ii. c. xxxvii. p. 373. 8vo. 1787.
[33.]Voy. de Volney, tom. ii. c. xxxvii. p. 373.
[34.]Id. p. 374.
[35.]Voy. de Volney, tom. ii. c. xxxvii. p. 375.
[36.]Id. p. 376.
[37.]Id. p. 377.
[38.]Voy. de Volney, tom. ii. c. xxxvii. p. 379.
[39.]Eton's Turkish Emp. c. viii. 2d edit. 1799.
[40.]Eton's Turkish Emp. c. ii. p. 55.
[41.]Voy. de Volney, tom. ii. c. xxxiii. p. 347.
[42.]Id. p. 350.
[43.]Voy. de Volney, tom. ii. c. xxxvi. p. 369.
[44.]Id. c. xxxviii. p. 38.
[45.]Id. c. xxxiii. p. 345.
[46.]Id. c. xxxviii. p. 381.
[47.]Eton's Turkish Emp. c. vii. p. 275.
[48.]Voy. de Volney, tom. ii. c. xl. p. 445.
[49.]Eton's Turkish Emp. c. vii, p. 275.
[50.]Eton's Turkish Emp. c. vii. p. 264.
[51.]Id. p. 291.
[52.]Id. p. 280.
[53.]Sir John Chardin's Travels, Harris's Collect. b. iii. c. ii. p. 870.
[54.]Découv. Russ. tom. ii. p. 293.
[55.]Chardin's Travels, Harris's Collect. b. iii. c. ii. p. 902.
[57.]Découv. Russ, tom. ii. p. 377.