The Ottoman Empire was an empire in the modern Turkey that ruled from the 13th century to 1923 and under Muslim governance. A Muslim named Osman found the empire and named it after himself. He established an era which reigned over the empire throughout its history. The empire was extremely powerful and rose to be a world empire (Quataert, 2000).
The empire had an imperial Harem comprised of the queen mother, the sultan’s favorites, the other concubines and the daughters of the sultan who were the sultanas. Harem means forbidden due to its importance or for being sacred, and hence it was a secluded area for the women of the empire, their female relatives and their young ones. The harem was a system developed to protect the women mostly when the warriors were not around (Peirce, 1993).
In the empire, the women lived restricted lives, and that is why there were the women quarters named Harem in the Muslim households. These women brought about influence politically in governing the empire. In the Harem, the women had to play a part in exercising power on behalf of their children who were the young sultans and also in entertaining the sultan.
The purpose of the harem in the empire was to up bring the royal future wives of the royal and noble men.
The Harem in the Ottoman Empire rose as a result of need for concubine slaves for sexual reproduction along side legal marriage. This was to emphasize power whose hereditary was through sons only, known as the patriarchal power (Zilfi, 1997).
The young girls were captured in relation to their intelligence and beauty during the wars. They were recruited to the empire, and that is how they became part of the empire by becoming concubines. They were mostly the Christian Europeans from the Balkans. Others were given out by their parents so as to be at a position of enjoying the royal wealth and living exemplary lives. There were others given as gifts from the governors and were usually trained.
The concubines were more preferred than the legal wives because they had no lineage. It was feared that the legal wives would not be loyal to their husbands and would betray them by vesting their interest in individual family affairs, since the women in the Harem mostly exercised their roles within their families.
The concubines were not allowed to have any sexual relations with anybody else apart from their masters. They mostly married on contracts or without the contracts and got freed after getting a child and later were allowed to leave and live a free life. The Islam law allowed for only four wives, and these are the only ones who were contracted. In case the sultan wanted another, the wife would not be under the contract.
The women rose in power and acquired titles according to the favors they got from the sultan, giving them the legitimacy within the royal family. The head was the queen mother who happened to be the sultan’s mother. Below her there were the wives of the sultan who were known as the Kadins and were required to be four in number. Below the Kadins were the sultan’s favorites known as the Ikbals, and the lucky concubines were the last in the hierarchy, who were known as the Gozdes. These Harems were raised in the palace in a disciplinary way according to the standards of the palace.
The involvement of the Harem, who was in the higher rank in the empire, brought down the position and the power of the sultan who was the governmental head. All the women in the Harem had roles to play in the empire from the queen mother to the daughters of the sultan. The queen mother who was the valide sultan maintained peace and order in the Harem and ruled over its members being the eldest female, and also advised the sultan in decision making. She also taught and guided the sultan about the politics of the empire. The valide sultan also regulated how the wives and children related to the sultan. She also influenced the removal and appointment of the favorites and the empire ministers through dictating of policies (Finkel, 1992).
The concubines who were not recognized by the sultan were mainly to entertain the sultan in the bed chamber. The women in the Harem were not allowed to see the sultan and hence got involved in the daily functioning of the Harem servants. There are also slaves who only benefited from their daily labor in the empire and were not allowed to get involved in sexual relations. They were not used or involved as concubines. Their work was to look after the children, cleaning and cooking. This was their daily jobs in their master’s house. Some were married to their fellow slaves because they were not lawful to their masters (Aks%u0327it, 2000).
The Kadins who were then legal wives of the sultan were given their own slaves, apartments and eunuchs to serve them. The favors they received were dependent on the affection the sultan had for them.
The women of the court who were known as the Odalisques were the lowest in the chain and served as servants of the Harem. Those who had better qualifications than others in potentiality were trained to become the sultan/s concubines. Others who had not yet become the sultan’s concubines were given to the male guest of the sultan as a bestowed honor (Goodwin, 1999).
Most of the Odalisques served as one night stand for the sultan and after that they would not see the sultan again unless if one became pregnant and bore a male child. In this case, the concubine would become the sultan’s favorite. Others who did not attract the sultan were married to the civil servants. Most women who bore sons concentrated on raising the child to esteemed standards in the hope that he would be the next sultan of the empire.
Most of the concubines were taught many things like reciting poetry, dance and play musical instruments and also learn sexual techniques for the later service to the sultan. They were always enclosed and were not allowed to go out. This enabled them to involve in embroidery as their leisure. This helped to improve the economy of the empire. Most of them were also illiterate and could not read.
The Harem also comprised of the eunuchs, who were the castrated males. They were castrated so as to keep the harems sanctity and not to be tempted by the women. Their role was to guard the women. There were also the slave servant girls who were to serve the women in the hierarchy (Hathaway, 2005).
The women also gained recognition through arts and textile production. They also involved in building of monuments, in decoration and entertainment in the royal ceremonies. They also participated in the organization of the community and in making coffee (Roberts, 2007).
In conclusion, the slave women in the empire were viewed in three categories. The first was the common slaves who worked for their masters, then the concubines whose roles were mostly recognized to be sexually based and later the one who would be in the top rank as a wife and later the queen mother.