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 The Harem

 

 

 

  A Harem ( Turkish word from Arabic for forbidden place, also called the seraglio), were the women's quarters in an Moslem household. The Imperial Harem or Seraglio was where the wives,children,mother, concubines (Cariyes), entertainers and Odalisques lived within the Topkapi Palace. the mother of the sultan, the valide sultan, ruled the Harem. The valide sultan often used her position to dictate policy , such as the mother of  Mustafa I and following sultans. According to Moslem law, the sultan could have four wives. These had separate apartments and rarely saw each other .The wife,mother,sister,daughter and favorite concubines of the sultan was known as a sultana.

 

 

 What Really Went on in the Ottoman Harem?

 

 

 

 

The most private precinct of the palace was the Harem. The only entry was through two doors, guarded by the Chief Eunuch and a detacment of troops. Besides the sultan and the eunuchs, the only other men that could enter were male relatives, under close supervision. Most of the concubines were foreign slaves brought in at the age of 10 or 11 who were either kidnapped or sold by their parents. The most beautiful of these were trained to dance, read poetry, play musical instruments, and learn sexual techniques as possible future concubines of the sultan. They were not permitted to leave, few could read and there was little to do exceot gossip and intrigue.Some were gifts from governors and already trained . Many were eventually freed and allowed to marry.

 

 

 Turkish harem music

 

There were hundreds and sometimes thousands of women in the Harem. The Sultan's favorites were called hasekis .Circassian beauties from Northern Caucasus were though to be especially beautiful and highly sought. The Harem was also the private living quarters for the sultan and his family. After Roxelana,  (a girl from modern day Ukraine who was captured by Crimean Tartars, sold to slave traders and ended up the Harem) was raised from being a concubine to the legal wife of Suleiman I the Magnificent, women of the Harem exerted growing control over the sultan. This was known as t the  Kadinlar Sultanati or Sultanate of the women and lasted from Roxelana's time till 1687.

 

 

  The eunuchs were castrated by Egyptian Christians and Jews, since Islamic law forbade the practice . Many of the eunuchs came from Sudan,Egypt, Abyssinia and Christian held lands . Black Eunuchs were used in the Harem since the sexual organs were completely removed.The Chief Eunuch was one of the most powerful men in the empire .

 

 

The Janissary Tree

Jason Goodwin 2006

A crime novel,set in Istanbul in 1836. The first in a series featuring the eunuch detective Yashim,much of which takes place in the Harem

 

 

 

 

 

 

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