Harem: The Power Within

In Muslim societies the social interaction between unrelated men and women is restricted. Traditional house design often allowed the women the inner part of the house which would be off-limits to outsiders. This is the concept of Harem, which literally means a sacred or restricted place. However, in Arabic and Turkish the word Harem is also used as a general
name for all the women living in an household. According to Alev L. Croutier the most largest Harem of all times was the Harem of the Ottoman Sultans. He claims that in 16th century there were 600 women in the Ottoman Harem. The origin of the girls brought to the Imperial Harem was very diverse. Because the territories of the Empire was expanded into three continent they were girls from European Countries, Iran, Russia, and North Africa. Most of the girls were brought when they were child. The real source for slaves and concubines brought to the Imperial Palace were the continuos wars. These girls were mostly Christian. Because most wars were made with the Christian countries. Later in 14th century when the Mediterranean piracy started the source for girls and slaves became the north Africa and Caucasian. Besides the girls who were brought as a war prisoner, there were also girls sent to Sultan by the ministers and princes of other countries and states of the Ottoman Empire.
Imperial Harem was above all schools. Before being presented to the Sultan, all girls had to learn Arabic, Turkish, literacy, court manners, music and religion. For talented girls Harem also had private teachers coming from other countries. All girls were made Muslim the day they entered the Imperial Palace. A new Arabic or Persian name were giving to them. After that, older women of the Harem were giving these girls the necessary education in case they could see the Sultan one day. If a concubine who saw the Sultan for one time could have the chance to see him again, she became a favorite. Favorites of the Sultan had more chance to marry him. If a girl marries the Sultan and gives birth to a child, then she could guaranty her luxury until the death of her husband. However, the most powerful woman of the Harem and the Empire was the mother of the Sultan. She was also called Valide Sultan which means Mother Sultan. She had a higher income than the Grand Vizier, the vice president, and often acted as the guardian of the interests of the Sultan and the dynasty. Therefore, the dream of all mothers of princes in the Harem was to be a Mother Sultan (Croutier).
“However, the character of an Oriental Harem has often been set forth incorrectly. While it may contain hundreds of women, a very few of these are the actual consorts of the monarch”(D’Ohsson). A large number are personal servants and entertainers of himself, his mother his consorts, his daughters or his infant sons. Another section consists of those being educated for some personal service. A fourth group, probably the greatest majority, are mere house-servants, who attend to all the domestic labors of the Harem and are seldom promoted to more honorable positions. There is finally, a group of older women who preserve order and peace, teach, and keep accounts.
The average age in the Harem was 17. Most female children were married off at five to much older men who couldn\'t see them alone, until they were 13 and had reached puberty. They were usually married off to leading servants of the Sultan, who were thereby more intimately connected with the imperial household (Altindal 46).
In Harem, it was forbidden for the girls to talk or even to see other men than the Sultan. There was only one Sultan -- the rest got turned into eunuchs or killed! Eunuchs were the guardians of the Harem. Although the Sacred Law strongly disapproved the employment of eunuchs, that unfortunate class was thought too useful to be dispensed with entirely. Some were white, brought mainly from the Caucasus region; but the great majority were black brought from Africa. The class deserves mention because several of the important offices of state among the "men of the pen" were held by eunuchs, and