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The intrigues of the harem
(12 Messages in 2 pages - View all)
[1] 2
1.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 15 Jan 2008 Tue 03:50 pm

I think the West has a crude understanding of harem culture. It wasn't always all about sex slaves. We have underestimated the influence of its women.They were at the heart of government and had the ear of the sultan. Their role has been largely neglected. Many of us know, for example, about Suleiman the Magnificent, whose empire included Egypt and the Middle East, the Balkans and swathes of Eastern Europe, and whose army reached Vienna in 1529; but almost nobody remembers his extraordinary wife, Hurrem. From her quarters in the imperial harem at Topkapi, she plotted and murdered her way to power, ensuring her son became the next sultan. During her lifetime princes disappeared and pregnant concubines who might bear rivals to the throne were stuffed into sacks and thrown into the Bosphorus. She was Ivan the Terrible in drag.
Jealousy among the kadins and concubines led to intrigue, attempted poisoning and downright assasinations. Small wonder that a food-taster was a necessary part of the harem. The vast majority of the women in the harem were called odalesques. Depending on their beauty and skills, they were concubines, entertainers, or general servants. Some odalesques were given by the Sultan as wives to territorial governors, a mark of favor on his part and an honor to the odalesque.
Artists have always delighted in nudes. This painting reminds us of a time when beautiful hair and skin were more important than thinness. The title 'The White Slave' suggests that the artist was inspired by the theme of erotic possession; a theme that was dealt with often in harem scenes by artists and writers of the day.
Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte de Nouy was originally part of the Neo-Greek movement and studied first under Gleyre and later Gerome. He traveled extensively in the Middle East and besides his paintings was known for his archeological and descriptive drawings such as the one below.

Life in harems were full of elaborate affairs and rituals. Status was extremely important to the women and they often competed with each other in clothing and possessions. Male artists were not allowed into harems but western women were and they provided the descriptions of the activities that went on inside.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was the wife of the British ambassador to Turkey. She spent two years in Istanbul from 1716 to 1718 and her amazing accounts of life within the harems were widely read. Later other European women such as Sophia Poole were able to explore these secret worlds and write of their experiences as well.
Although polygamy was and still is practiced in the Middle East and Africa; harems were unusual. Harems had existed for thousands of years and were maintained by the aristocracy as symbols of wealth and power.

Fatima Mernissi
Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2099-1418159,00.html

http://courses.wcupa.edu/wanko/LIT400/Turkey/women.htm

http://www.humanitiesweb.org/human.php?s=g&p=c&a=p&ID=138

2.       KeithL
1455 posts
 15 Jan 2008 Tue 05:22 pm

Judged by the amount of dudu threads, it appears to me harem culture is alive and well in Turkiye...

3.       KeithL
1455 posts
 15 Jan 2008 Tue 05:25 pm

Quoting Roswitha:

she plotted and murdered her way to power, ensuring her son became the next sultan. During her lifetime princes disappeared and pregnant concubines who might bear rivals to the throne were stuffed into sacks and thrown into the Bosphorus.



it was bad business to be the brother of a sultan. Look at all the small caskets in royal cemetaries. many young siblings strangled in the night...

4.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 15 Jan 2008 Tue 06:13 pm

Keith, view my pic. I am standing infront of the caskets

5.       Elisabeth
5732 posts
 15 Jan 2008 Tue 06:16 pm

EKKKKK! It is hard to imagine being put in a position where you had to act like an animal to survive. I have been in competative situations but I can't imagine having to kill someone so that my place closest to a man (a sultan)is assured! I wonder how many untold tragedies unfolded that we will never know. I remember touring Dolmabache Palace and going into the Harem house. There were definate "favorite" wives and definate "servants" within the harem. Can you imagine the jealousy that arose out of a woman just having a nicer room?

6.       KeithL
1455 posts
 15 Jan 2008 Tue 06:19 pm

dolmabahce or topkapi? mostly it wasnt the women doing the killing. It was the sultan himself when he came to power. To suppress any threat to his authority...

And lots of concubines at the bottom of the boğas...

7.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 15 Jan 2008 Tue 06:23 pm

I recommend reading this book for insights: THE LORDS OF THE GOLDEN HORN, by Noel Barber. From Suleiman the Magnificent to Kamal Ataturk (Macmillan)

Dolmabahce is mentioned too (the madman)

8.       Elisabeth
5732 posts
 15 Jan 2008 Tue 06:30 pm

Quoting KeithL:

dolmabahce or topkapi? mostly it wasnt the women doing the killing. It was the sultan himself when he came to power. To suppress any threat to his authority...

And lots of concubines at the bottom of the boğas...



Dolmabahce was the one I was refering to. I forgot the one in Topkapi. It's been a long time since I went there. Maybe I need to make another visit on my next trip.

9.       KeithL
1455 posts
 15 Jan 2008 Tue 06:31 pm

topkapi is so much more interesting. I learn many things new everytime i go there.

10.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 15 Jan 2008 Tue 09:42 pm



At Dolmabahce, kitsch is the word that most readily comes to mind, from the statues in the garden of lionesses tending their cubs, to the orientalist-heavy imagery of paintings expressing eastern ‘mystique’ which the Sultan commissioned Italian and other European artists to paint.



In contrast, Topkapi is a transcendent piece of architecture, with its beautiful proportions and simple elegance. It was interesting to see what the palace’s massive haramlik was really like. The popular idea of the ‘harem’ being the Sultan’s pleasure palace, a massive hall jam-packed with reclining beauties says as much about western fantasies as it does about reality.



Although the Sultan had several wives and concubines, it was not a free-for-all orgy, as some western art would suggest, and there was a strict hierarchy and structure, with each wife occupying her own apartments. The haramlik, as it is more properly known, were really just the living quarters of the Sultan. However, the fact that future sultans were raised here, and wives enjoyed intimate access to the Sultan’s ear, the haramlik was a powerful instrument in state affairs.



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