HAREM, AND THE OTTOMAN WOMEN
of the concubines and odalisques of the Imperial harem were reputed
to be among the most beautiful of women in the Ottoman Empire. Young
girls of extraordinary beauty were sent to the sultan's court, often
as gifts from the governors. Numerous harem women were Circassians,
Georgians, and Abkhasians. They were usually bought from slave markets
after being kidnapped or else sold by impoverished parents. Many
Georgian and Circassian families encouraged their daughters to enter
concubinage through slavery, as that promised to be a life of luxury
and comfort. All slaves that entered the harem were termed odalisques
or "women of the court" - general servants in the harem.
Odalisques were not usually presented to the Sultan. Those that
were of extraordinary beauty and talent, were seen as potential
concubines, and trained accordingly. They learned to dance, recite
poetry, play musical instruments, and master the erotic arts. Only
the most gifted odalisques were presented to the Sultan as his personal
gedikli (maids-in-waiting). Generally, odalisques would be assigned
as servants to the oda (or court) of a harem mistress. For example,
the Mistress of the Robes, or the Keeper of Baths, or the Keeper
of Jewels, etc.
was possible for these odalisques to rise through the ranks of the
harem hierarchy and enjoy security through their power and position.
The most powerful women in the harem were the Valide Sultan and
the Kadins. The Valide Sultan was responsible for the maintenance
of order and peace inside the harem. Being a female elder in the
Imperial family, the Valide was expected to serve as a guide and
teacher to her son by educating him about the intricacies of state
politics. Often, she was asked to intervene upon the Sultan's decisions
when the Mufti (head of the Muslim religion), or the Viziers (ministers)
felt that the Sultan may have made an erroneous decision.
Kadin's were the Sultan's favourite women. Tradition allowed only
four principal Kadins but unlimited number of concubines. Kadins
were equivalent in rank to that of a legal wife, and were given
apartments, slaves, and eunuchs. For example, during the reign of
Selim II (the Sot), his favourite, the bas kadin Nurbanu had an
entourage of one hundred and fifty ladies-in-waiting. The amount
of properties, clothing, jewelry, and allowances given, was all-proportional
to the affection the Sultan held for them.