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Harem love-lust-power and intrigues
(11 Messages in 2 pages - View all)
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1.       thehandsom
7403 posts
 13 Apr 2008 Sun 04:12 am

For centuries in caucasus, mothers sang a lullaby over their daughters cradles, begining 'live along diamonds and splendour as wife of the sultan'. In their eagernes some girls offered themselves for nothing to slave dealers. Their aim was the HAREM in Istanbul!!!

According to wiki : Harem (Turkish from Arab Harām, forbidden) refers to the sphere of women in a usually polygynous household and their quarters enclosed and forbidden to men. It originated in the Near East and came to the Western world via the Ottoman Empire. In more modern usage, it may also denote a number of women followers of a man.

The harem existed in order to channel sultans sexuality and reproduction faculties, in the interest of dynasty.
Lack of a male heir resulted in catasptrophic consequences in spain and in austria in the history. But ottomans, somehow solved this problem with different approach!!
In early days of ottomans, sultans had marriages with princesses from neighbouring christian and muslim dynasties. But they were purely for political alliances, not for producing a male heir..(sultan may never have slept with such wives in order to avoid having children)
But after 1500, ottomans were so powerful, sultans did not need to get married for political reasons.(bayezid II -1481/1512- was the last one made that type of marriage)
Ottoman dynasty reproduced itself through concubines and slaves. The principal reason for that was desire to control ( as it janissaries). Slave concubines would be easily controlled and manipulated than muslim women protected by sheria.

Of course the other reason to have harem was pure 'desire'. when you look at the mistresses of french royal family and the embarresments of the royal family in the uk by the dynastic love affairs, in ottomans, sultan simply consumed his desire/lust on women, purely selected for their health and beauty.
Biology was the third reason fo rthe harem system. concubines sons enlarged the male heir reserve. Sultan was encouraged to move on from one woman to another, in order to breed more stock. Basically, they made sure, there was always a male heir. And the sultan himself, half concious/half embedded to dynastic rules was restricted to slaves between the wals of harem.

Now, lets talk a little bit about Suleyman (Kanuni sultan suleyman) -Suleiman the Magnificent.

He was so lustful that he would often go to 'palace of women' in istanbul (built by mehmed II).
But, somehow, in 1524, something strange happened to Suleyman: He met this beautiful woman called Hurrem (which means 'laughing one') in his harem. She made the sultan fall in love with her.
Hurrem persuaded sultan to marry her, which was unthinkable at the time!!!

The love between hurrem and suleyman is a relationship recorded by their own words:

"Throne of my lonely niche, my wealth, my love, my moonlight.
My most sincere friend, my confidant, my very existence, my Sultan, my one and only love.
The most beautiful among the beautiful…
My springtime, my merry faced love, my daytime, my sweetheart, laughing leaf…
My plants, my sweet, my rose, the one only who does not distress me in this world…
My Istanbul, my Caraman, the earth of my Anatolia
My Badakhshan, my Baghdad and Khorasan
My woman of the beautiful hair, my love of the slanted brow, my love of eyes full of mischief…
I'll sing your praises always
I, lover of the tormented heart, Muhibbi of the eyes full of tears, I am happy."

(Ottoman dynasty had a tradition of poetry btw.)
Hurrem was the first powerful queen of ottomans. Although, she did not have a public coronation like anna boleyn or any offical rank in the court, she was more powerful than any of the queens in europe at the time!!
Of course, by his fidelity to hurrem, people around sultan accused hurrem bewithced her husband. But no one dared to protest. (actually all hurrem did was trying to protect his sons' lives. Before 1607, there was no rule in ottomans which prince would become the sultan. Whoever prince reached Topkapi was the sultan and then the other sons of late sultan would be killed)
Hurrem controlled suleyman most of the time, she got ibrahim pasha -boyhood friend of Suleyman- killed on March 15, 1536 for example. Then, in 1540, she got the first son of suleyman, mustafa got killed by persuading sultan that mustafa was plotting to kill him (if he become the sultan, hurrem's sons would get killed of course)

Hurrem died in 1558 (suleyman, however continued to love her and his sons from her. in 1561 anothe son beyazid and 4 other infant sons got killed by suleyman)

Selim II succeded suleyman and married to Nurbanu (possibly a wealthy greek woman called Kale Kastanos).
When Selim II fell from a wall while inspecting the construction of new bath for the harem and died in 1574, Nurbanu kept his corps in an ice box until her son Murat III reached Istanbul. His 5 half brothers got killed and burried with the late sultan.

Murat III was instiable for sex..He barely left istanbul. He moved his bedroom to harem section and always had his dinners there. His mother Nurbanu always found him new girls and he spent his entire time with women and left running the dynasty to his mother and his vezirs..
When he died, he left 102 children..
During his reign, size of the harem got bigger..there were 300 hundered small rooms. decorated with marble doors, iznik tiles and arabesque ceilings.

Until her death in 1583, Nurbanu controlled harem and (his son)the sultan.
Ottoman government and istanbul accepted her authority.

And most significantly, the concept of 'valide sultan' (queen mother) become the symbol of stability in ottomans with Nurbanu since the sultans become younger than the other generations of sultans.

The number of women in harem were:
167 in 1552, 230 in 1574, 373 in 1600, 642 in 1622, 967 in 1652, 809 in 1870..

The eunuches (The English word eunuch is from the Greek eune ("bed") and ekhein ("to keep"), effectively "bed keeper." source) in the harem were quite important as well. sold or captured in sudan, they would be taken to egypt for casteration (done by non muslims as it is forbidden in islam) then to istanbul slave market. They were given pet names like tulip, saffron or emerald. They were in charge of the harem.
Mutes and dwarfs also were employed in harems as they made excellent servants and jesters.

One of the rules of the harem was, if a woman in the harem was not noticed by the sultan for 9 years, the woman could ask formally to be freed and allowed to marry.

However, neither Hurrem nor Nurbanu was the most powerful of the women in Ottoman history. It was Kosem sultan
Possibly a daughter of a greek priest from island of Tinos, she was a consort of Ahmed I (who built sultan ahmed mosque).

After Ahmed I died in 1617, she was the mother of sultan murat IV. When murat IV wanted to murder his brother Ibrahim, Kosem persuaded sultan that he was too mad to be a thread (he was mad actually..He was called deli ibrahim)

When Murat IV died in 1640, Ibrahim was too scared to come out because he thought he was going to face stranglation. Kosem had to bring Murat IV's corps for him as a proof.
(Ibrahim is known to have had an obsession with obese women, urging his agents to find the fattest woman possible. A candidate was tracked down in Georgia or Armenia and Ibrahim was so pleased with her that he gave her a government pension and (allegedly) a governorship. He was seen feeding coins to fish living in the palace's pool. These feats earned him the nickname Mad.)

Kosem is the one, tried to stabilize the Ottomans at the time. She even melted down gold and silver of the palace to pay the troops/janissaries.
But with his son's madness, she agreed to remove Ibrahim (becasue ibrahim also tried to exile her to Rhodos)..
She presided a meeting with vezirs and aga(head of janissaries) and Kosem presented them 7 years old Mehmed, son of Ibrahim, and said 'here is the new sultan, do whatever you can with him'.
Ibrahim was deposed and later strangled.

Kosem was loved by Istanbulers for her charitable works. She freed her slaves after 2 or 3 years of service.
She was straight forward talking and she sat behind of the sultan hidden by curtains in important meetings. She critisised vezirs on their faces by saying that 'I am the one who made you vezir but not to spend your time in gardens and vineyards. Devote yourself to the affairs of empire'.

In the end, Kosem, possibly, planned to remove the sultan (mehmed) again, but his mother Turhan (whom was selected as a wife by Kosem herself) intervened because one of kosem's slaves informed Turhan . A rumor was started that Kosem wanted to strangle the sultan and enouchs hunted her back to her apartment. She was hiding in the cupboard but a piece of her dress protruding, gave her away..
And she was strangled..

No subsequent Queen Mother was as powerful as Kosem..

Constantinople: City of the World's Desire, 1453-1924 by Philip Mansel

2.       catwoman
8933 posts
 13 Apr 2008 Sun 04:24 am

wow, thank you for this post, VERY interesting! I have visited the harem and Topkapi palace, it's a pretty fascinating place, although... a lot of the stuff that was happening at that time was pretty horrible.

3.       lady in red
6947 posts
 13 Apr 2008 Sun 03:22 pm

Yes,very interesting, welcome back handsom! I've been to the harem at Topkapi too - the history is fascinating.

4.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 13 Apr 2008 Sun 03:34 pm

An excellent topic, handsome!! Now I learned more about
Kösem. Thanks.


5.       Chantal
587 posts
 13 Apr 2008 Sun 05:48 pm

Quoting thehandsom:

(Ibrahim is known to have had an obsession with obese women, urging his agents to find the fattest woman possible. A candidate was tracked down in Georgia or Armenia and Ibrahim was so pleased with her that he gave her a government pension and (allegedly) a governorship. He was seen feeding coins to fish living in the palace's pool. These feats earned him the nickname Mad.)

Hey! Are u mad when you like to have well-fed women?

Thanks for the info I actually ordered the book you mentioned!

6.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 13 Apr 2008 Sun 07:10 pm



Slave Girls sold for the harem,here inspecting teeth:


7.       catwoman
8933 posts
 13 Apr 2008 Sun 07:17 pm

Quoting thehandsom:

(Ibrahim is known to have had an obsession with obese women, urging his agents to find the fattest woman possible. A candidate was tracked down in Georgia or Armenia and Ibrahim was so pleased with her that he gave her a government pension and (allegedly) a governorship.)

How nice that he did find the product he was looking for!!!

Quite a lovely zoo to be honest...

8.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 13 Apr 2008 Sun 07:21 pm




9.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 14 Apr 2008 Mon 05:14 am


The Baş Hasseki was the mother of the eldest son and she more than anyone had to be secluded were the prince to die before her .She was the chief royal lady for so long as she lived and on her son's accession became Valide and ruled the Harem. In theory, his death meant her seclusion and the loss of all her powers. Thus the V alide Mosque of Safiye Sultan could not be completed by her when Mehmet lll died in 1603 and it was left decaying for sixty years. She was welllooked after in the Old Saray but had no access to any funds except her own. There was one Valide whose personality was such that she overruled custom: Kösem.Troubles began when a girl became an ikbal because she could not help but be seen as a rival to those of the same rank and therefore be involved in the factional politics which were the zest of Harem life.

In the sixteenth century and afterwards, when the sultan selected his girl for the night, he usually came to see her or wrote to her in the morning so that she could prepare herself down to the last eyelash and the last drop of balm besides assuming clothes the like of which she could only have dreamed of wearing. The consummation of her mission took place in a special room within the Harem: never in the bedchamber of the selamlık, where pages and old women were on guard with candles all night. There was no question ofthe sultan conquering the ikbals; it was theywho had to conquer the sultan.

Humility at the entrance to the bedchamber was something different, once between the sheets, for a woman of spirit like Hasseki Hürrem when she turned one night into thirty-eight years oflove. It is untrue that girls crawled in at the foot of the bed, as if a slave deserved humiliation: this is merely western gossip. But there was humility and obedience unless teasing pleased the monarch more.



10.       geniuda
1070 posts
 14 Apr 2008 Mon 08:14 pm

Quoting thehandsom:


Good job hansom..very interesting information

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