Women in Harem




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Odalisques were at the bottom of the harem hierarchy. They were considered to be general servants in the harem. They were not usually seen to be beautiful enough to become presented to the Sultan. Odalisques that were seen as potential candidates for concubinage were trained to become talented entertainers. The greatest honour a Sultan could bestow upon a male guest was to present him with an odalisque from his court who had not yet become his concubine. These women were greatly coveted as they were beautiful and talented, and what is more important, had links into the harem hierarchy.

Concubines could be considered an equivalent to the modern version of a "one night stand". They were odalisques that were presented to the Sultan and after that one night, they might never see the Sultan again unless the girl became pregnant with a male child. If she was successful in birthing a male child, then she would become an ikbal (favourite) to the Sultan. The female hierarchy followed the pattern of odalisques (virgins), concubines ("one night stands"), ikbals (favourites), and kadins (favourites "wives").
harem women formed only half of the harem hierarchy. Eunuchs were the integral other half of the harem. Eunuchs were considered to be less than men and thus unable to be "tempted" by the harem women and would remain solely loyal to the Sultan. Eunuchs were castrated men and hence possessed no threat to the sanctity of the harem.

According to Muslim tradition, no man could lay his eyes on another man's harem, thus someone less than a man was required for the role of watchful guardianship over the harem women. Eunuchs tended to be male prisoners of war or slaves, castrated before puberty and condemned to a life of servitude.
White eunuchs were first provided from the conquered Christian areas of Circassia, Georgia, and Armenia. They were also culled from Hungarian, Slavonian, and German prisoners of war. These white eunuchs were captured during the conflicts that arouse between the Ottoman Empire and the Balkan countries. Black eunuchs were captured from Egypt, Abyssinia and the Sudan. Black slaves were captured from the upper Nile and transported to markets on the Mediterranean Sea - Mecca, Medina, Beirut, Izmir and Istanbul. All eunuchs were castrated enroute to the markets by Egyptian Christians or Jews, as Islam prohibited the practice of castration but not the usage of castrated slaves.

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