Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Ottoman Harem [ Part 3 ] #ottoman harem

The Organisation of the Harem.

Throughout the Ottoman Empire, the imperial harem was under the control of the Sultan's mother, known as the Valide Sultan. She was the equivalent of the queen in European monarchies. To show her rank, she had the title of "sultan", a privilege bestowed only on the mother, blood sisters, and daughters of the sultan.
The Valide Sultan was an outstanding figure respected and feared not only by the rest of the women in the harem, but also by the chief executives of the state. She presided over and administered the harem, managed her assistants and dealt with only very important matters. The rest of the harem affairs were handled and organized by her ministers.

The Chief Black Eunuch was the senior aide to the Valide Sultan, acting like a prime minister for her, and conveying her wishes to the Sultan. He was also responsible for the women in the Harem. The Chief Black Eunuch also acted as a liaison between the Harem and the outside world, which gave him immense status and respect. In some cases he had the power to appoint various people to important posts in the palace, provided that his choice was approved by the Valide Sultan.

A large staff of attendants and servants, comprising often more than a hundred women of various ages, was under the supervision of the Valide Sultan. They were performing their tasks in a very complex hierarchy. However, the actual running of the Harem was shared by two women; Kahya, "Head Housekeeper" and Haznedar Usta, "Head Treasurer". Haznedar Usta was responsible for the financial matters of the Harem, and she acted like a treasurer, allocating cash allowances and material possessions to harem women in direct proportion to their rank.

After Kahya and Haznedar Usta, came the Kalfas, the senior maids who were responsible for various duties: First Secretary, First seal-bearer, First Mistress of Robes and so forth. They were assisted by lesser servants called Halayiks, These were all positions of high esteem and would be occupied by the women who had gradually advanced in all parts of the Harem's training, but who did not have a chance to become a wife (Kadin) or favorite of the Sultan.

After the Valide Sultan, the most important women were the Kadins or Kadinefendis, the wives of the Sultan. Even though the Kadins were not officially married to the Sultan, they were much respected and reckoned as official wives. They had their own apartments, odalisques, slaves, jewels, dresses, and allowances that were in proportion to their rank

Undoubtedly, such an important place, where hundreds of women lived together wouldn't be left unprotected. Eunuchs were the solution. They were castrated slave men who were either captured in wars, or recruited from all over the empire. Black eunuchs usually came from countries like Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, whereas white eunuchs were acquired mainly from the Balkans and the Caucasus.

The Kizlar Aghasi - The Chief Black Eunuch

The Black Eunuchs were mainly guardians of the harem, but they were also assigned to various services within the harem hierarchy. They belonged to the category of Sandali, which means; their genitals were completely removed so that they wouldn't pose any sexual threat to harem women.
The White Eunuchs were assigned to several duties within the government, usually fulfilling the secretarial and bureaucratic work of government officials. Some of them even succeeded to be in the direct service of the Sultan himself. Their castration procedure, however, differed from that of the black eunuchs, by removing testicles only due to the fact that they were not in contact with the harem women.

All the black eunuchs in the harem were supervised and controlled by the Chief Black Eunuch, the "Kizlar Agasi", (also known and spelled; "kizlar agha", "kislar agassi", "harem agasi"). The high ranking ladies in the harem usually did not see the eunuchs except the chief black eunuch. The chief black eunuch held a very important position not only in the harem, but within the Ottoman administration as well. He was the most important connection, and served as a liaison between the Sultan and his mother, the Valide Sultan. His rank was somewhat equivalent to that of "pasha" (Ottoman general), and he acted as an envoy between the Sultan and the Grand Vizier (the prime minister of the Sultan), carrying messages between them. Moreover, he was involved in almost every palace intrigue and contrivance, enabling him to build up power gradually, and establish dominance over the Grand Vizier, some other important state officials, and even the Sultan himself.

The Chief White Eunuch, "Kapi Agasi" (also spelled Kapi Agha) was the senior executive of the white eunuchs who were in charge of the inner service, the palace administration. He was also the head of the Palace School.

My thanks to Umit Sonmezler of  http://www.travellinkturkey.com/ for the information in this post.


          When Aunt Emily collapses with a fever, she and her two nieces are whisked away by Kerim Pasha into his luxurious mansion, where they experience a lifestyle of oriental splendour.