Repository logo

Nafia for the Tigris: The Privy Purse and the infrastructure of development in late Ottoman Iraq, 1882-1914.

Published version

Change log


Cole, Camille Lyans  ORCID logo


Between 1893 and 1908, at least six private consortia and the municipality of Baghdad were denied permission to operate steamships on the Tigris and Euphrates on the grounds that a navigation concession had already been granted to the Privy Purse (hazine-i hassa). The Privy Purse justified its insistence on monopoly with reference to the emerging ideology of development (nafia), though its ideas about the role of steam technology in nafia stood in contrast to those of private investors and other Ottoman bureaucrats. Working from the hazine-i hassa's planning memos and contracts, I show that the private treasury envisioned a primarily agrarian future for Iraq, with steamships serving agricultural aims. As such, it focused on envisioning future steamships rather than managing its existing fleet, while still acquiring dominance over land and transport in the region. However, private companies and officials contested this vision, emphasizing the materiality of existing steamships, their roles in trade, and the potential for commercial competition as a means of resisting British imperial encroachment. After the Committee of Union and Progress came to power in 1908, the Privy Purse was disestablished and its properties reverted to the Finance Ministry, opening a brief window during which steamship companies were encouraged to proliferate. Quickly, however, new comprehensive schemes were proposed, though with railways replacing steamships as the corollary to Iraq's imagined riches. Engaging questions about the futurity of both infrastructure and capital, as well as those posed by the technology-in-use paradigm, this article suggests that the hazine-i hassa is a rich starting point for analysis because the scalar and ontological tensions it embodied highlight how different kinds of futures interact in development planning to affect the present.



Iraq, Ottoman Empire, development, infrastructure, steamship

Journal Title

Hist Sci

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


SAGE Publications