The Basseri are traditional pastoral nomads who inhabit the Iranian province of Fārs and migrate along the steppes and mountains near the town of Shīrāz. The Basseri are a clearly delineated group, defined—as are most groups in the area—by political rather than by ethnic or geographical criteria. In the late 1950s there were an estimated 16,000 Basseri living in Iran. More recent estimates of the Basseri population have not been widely published. This article focuses on the traditional Basseri culture, which still existed in the late 1950s. Owing to political circumstances in the region, the current situation is not reliably known.
The Basseri speak a dialect of Farsi. The majority know only the Basseri dialect, but a few also speak Turkish or Arabic. Most of the groups with which the Basseri come in contact speak Farsi, Turkish, or Arabic. Some of these groups claim a common or collateral ancestral link with the Basseri. Many people among the settled populations in southern Iran claim to have Basseri origins. There are also other nomadic groups—namely the Yazd-e-Khast, the Bugard-Basseri, and the Basseri near Semnan east of Tehran—who are believed to be genetically connected with the Basseri of Fārs.
The Basseri were part of the Khamseh confederacy, which formed in the mid-nineteenth century. At the outset, they were not predominant within this organization, and, later, when the Basseri grew in importance within the confederacy, the confederacy lost its importance as a political and social unit.
The habitat of the Basseri derives from the hot and arid climate of the Persian Gulf. The approximately 18,000 to 21,000 square kilometers that they traditionally inhabit spans a large ecological range. In the southern section there are deserts at elevations of 600 to 900 meters, and in the north there are high mountains, preeminent among which is 4,000meter Kuh-i-Bul. Annual precipitation totals about 25 centimeters a year, which falls mainly in the higher regions in the form of snow. Much of this is conserved for the shorter growing season in that area. Mountain precipitation also provides support for considerable vegetation, and even some forests, in the higher elevations. In the southern lowland, however, rapid runoff and summer droughts limit vegetation to hardy desert scrubs and temporary grass cover in the rainy season of winter and early spring.