chapter  1
26 Pages

Between Scylla and Charybdis: Policy-making under conditions of constraint in early Qajar Persia


It is hard to imagine a more appropriate metaphor for the dilemma of the early Qajars in their struggle with Russia and England, than the story of Odysseus’ encounter with the twin monsters Scylla and Charybdis.1 Russia and England were both preying on Persia for their own ends: Russia to expand her empire south to complete her “manifest destiny;” England to defend hers against advances by others toward India. To be sure, Persia was not a helpless victim in this struggle, and, much like Odysseus, its rulers used a variety of means at their disposal to play one side against the other in the hopes of achieving their own ends. In doing so, however, Persia, like Odysseus, was not free to act as she pleased: her resources were limited, her options few, and there were many pressures on her, from without and within. In the end, for the Qajars, as for Odysseus, the result was survival, but at a cost.