Cariyelik ( Women slavery) goes back to the era before islam. Baghdad used to be the most important slave market at the time of the Abbasides. After islam this business had to continue due to social and economic factors.
We notice that women slavery in the Ottoman Harem started with Orhan Bey, but from the period of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror the number of women slaves in the Harem increased rapidly. Starting from the middle of the Bayezid II’s period, the tradition of the Sultans’ marrying the neighbouring princelets’ and Principalities’ daughters ended . After that time, it became a new tradition for the Sultans to marry women slaves of the Harem. From that century, the Harem and the Sultanate based upon women slaves. They especially preferred to select Circassian, Georgian and Russian girls in the Harem. Since olden times, the Caucasian girls had been renowned with their beauties in the East. That is why, the Harem received too many Caucasian slaves in the beginning and that number rapidly increased especially in the 17th. Century. The girls taken over as prisoners of war in battlefields used to be taken in the Harem as women slaves earlier but in the decline and regression eras of the Ottomans they lost that source. From then on. The Grand Vizier, governors, pashas. Governors of provinces and the sisters of the Sultans offered them the women slaves they had raised. Another source was the slaves’ having been bought and brought in the Harem by the Customs treasurer. in t.he 19th. Century despite the slavery prohibition in the Empire, Caucasians used to send out their daughters to the Ottoman Harem wishing them to be selected as the wives of the Sultan. And they would even raisc their daughters and prepare them f ör such a life in the Harem by singing them lullabies like ‘Hope you will be a wife of the Sultan and lead a glorious life with diamonds’. The women slaves bought outside the Palace at the age of 5-7 used to be raised until they were mature enough, then offered to the Sultan. As they grew bigger and göt more beautiful they would take various classes such as music, courtesy, sodal relations.
They used to be taught the ways to treat and serve a man. When they were teenagers, introduced to the initials of the Palace and bought if selected. For the first night, they would stay in the home of the person who had bought them, and if she had some wrong behaviours, physical defects ör imperfections noticed that night. then their price would go down and the father be paid less than anticipated. Their parents had to sign a document stating that they sold their daughter and would have no future rights on her. Women slaves accepted in the Harem had to be examined by doctors and midwives. The ones carrying an illness ör having some disabilities would never be accepted in the Harem. Extremely beautiful but very inexperienced women slaves were to be trained at first. They would rise to the rank of the assistant-master and the master if they were successful enough. They used to wear long skirts reaching to their heels, tight robes, and coloured chiffon bonnets on their heads. They wore ostentatious robes edged with fringes . As hair care was important to them they would style their hair spending some considerable time in front of rnirrors. Some of them used to have snch long hair even reaching to their heels.
Women slaves were in a kind of competition in the Harem which was like a grand stage set with the players performing in an extravagant costume drama. In order to be noticed they would make-up, tinge their eyes and wear beautiful perfumes. We should mention the pendants, the necklaces and the ear-rings they used to wear too. Those were enhanced with the most precious jewellery such as pearls and diamonds, of course. They always wore seasonal robes. In the summer for instance, you would see them in their light exquisite silk dresses which were rather tight showing off the silhouette of their bodies. Those fur coated dresses had to have laid open collars to bestow a tempting appearance. They had buttons on the front and a rather tightened belt two inches in width enhanced with the most precious jewellery. The belts had buckles amended with diamonds. A cashmere shawl would cover their shoulders. In winters, they would mostly wear fur coats. Women slaves were very well looked after since the Prophet of the Muslims, Mohammed ordered ‘Furnish the slaves with anything you eat and wear, and never treat them badly’. The best deed in Islam is granting slaves their liberties. The Prophet Mohammed said ‘Whoever grants a Muslim slave his liberty shall not go to hell’. Thai’s why. all the Ottoman Sultans practised this canonical law and gave the unselected women slaves homes prepared their trousseau and let them leave the Harem.
The women slaves completing their training period would compete to become a Master, an Assistant Master, a Gozde (favoured), an Ikbal (Sultan’s favourite), a Kadin Efendi (Sultan’s wife) and finally the Valide Sultana (The Sultana Mother). Women slaves after spending nine years in the Harem had the right to leave. This was called ‘Cirag gikma’. The Sultan would give her the trousseau and help her marry somebody else. That slave would take a document signed by the Sultan stating her freedom. The woman slave having had that document could do whatever she wanted without any obstructions. Contrary to what is known, the Sultans used to keep 10 to 20 women slaves in their private chambers. The most beautiful ones would be of service to them and the ones who were beautiful enough be sent to the princes’ chambers. And finally, the ones who were supposed to become beautiful in the future would be sent to the eunuch treasurer and the assistant masters to be raised.
The young women slaves arriving in the Harem were given different names. Some Persian names such as; Gulnaz. Nesedil. Hosneva etc. would be given to them according to their behaviours, looks, beauties and characters. To remember their names some rosettes bearing their names would be attached to their collars. Assistant-masters used to train the new comers on Behaviourism, Religion, Sociability, Respectability, Morality and Music if they had the capability. The ones having good voice were given Music classes.
Those women slaves who could rise to the rank of wife had to be meticulously trained by all means and tutored how to read and write. Those women slaves converted to Islam would practise the rules of the religion. They could pray all together or separately. Besides, they were taught how to read the Koran. All women slaves had to be trained on the Islamic religion. After rising to the rank of wife they had many mosques built and charities founded. This shows that they devoted themselves to Islam after having been converted. The letters they wrote are the indicators of their unique training. Along with Music, they were taught poetry and literature. Hiirrem Sultana made Sultan Siileyman, the Magnificent fall in love with her by sending him the poems she had written. In one of her poems dedicated to Sultan Suleyman she wrote ‘Let Hiirrem be sacrificed to a single hair of your moustache’ (The meaning of these metaphorical lines is ‘I wouldn’t hesitate to die for you’) .
The number of women slaves in the Harem started to increase considerably from the time of Sultan Mehmed, the Conqueror and this number varied during the period of every single Sultan. In Ahmed I.’s period, they changed the heritage system and gave up appointing the Princes to provinces as governors. Instead, they started to accommodate them in the Harem which caused its population rise rapidly, of course. There used to be 300-500 people in the Harem before Mehmed III., but it is known that the number rose to 700 during his period. Women slaves used to be given some per diem the amount of which varied from Sultan to Sultan. For instance, during the period of Mahmud I that amount rose to 30-50 Akge (Ottoman coins).
Money and presents would also be given to them at weddings, festivals, birthdays. While they were taken good care in the Harem , the Sultan was totally intolerant to those who had committed a crime and they used to be exiled to Bursa and the island of Chios. Today, we have a document dated back to 1764 proving that Mustafa III exiled two women slaves to Bursa and Chios. Apart from those of 10-20 women slaves who were of service to the Sultan directly, the other ones used undertake various posts in the Harem. Inexperienced women slaves would go through a training period at first, with the arrival of the new comers, the existing experienced slaves would promote to the rank of an assistant-master and work in Kadmefendi, Valide Sultan, Prince and Gozde chambers. They were classified as the grand, standard and lower assistant masters and worked under the command of the head assistant master in those chambers. 10-15 assistants under the command of the most experienced assistant master would be on duty at night to provide the security of the Harem. Hiinkar’s (The Sultan) assistant-masters had the most important place in the Harem serving the Sultan in all ways from his bed time arrangement to the preparation of his meals. Those who used to do the Sultan’s private and special work were called Hazinedar (Treasurer) and the person managing them, the treasurer master.
They used to ranked as 1st,., 2nd., 3rd., 4th., and 5th. Hazinedars and remain in the Sultan’s chamber whenever the Sultan himself was in the palace. But, only the Hazinedar master could sit by the Sultan as the others were let in when they were called. The 3rd., 4th., and the 5th. Hazinedars used to stand on duty with their assistants outside the Sultan’s door for 24 hours. Besides, the key to the treasury was with the Head Hazinedar (The Treasurer). Hazinedars who used to carry the Sultan’s seal on a golden pendant around their neck were their confidential friends, too. That is why , the Sultans would always select their own Treasurers and the former ones would either be sent back to the old palace or he let them free by signing of their documentation of freedom. One of the most important duties of the treasurer was to arrange the nights the Kadmefendis would spend with the Sultan. Kethiida Kadm ranking after Kadmefendis was the master of ceremonies which would take place in the Harem. On some important clays such as festivals and weddings they used to organise the ceremonies in the Harem. She Valide Sultan, Prince and Gozde chambers. They were classified as the grand, standard and lower assistant masters and worked under the command of the head assistant master in those chambers. 10-15 assistants under the command of the most experienced assistant master would be on duty at night to provide the security of the Harem. Hiinkar’s (The Sultan) assistant-masters had the most important place in the Harem serving the Sultan in all ways from his bed time arrangement to the preparation of his meals.
Those who used to do the Sultan’s private and special work were called Hazinedar (Treasurer) and the person managing them, the treasurer master. They used to ranked as 1st,., 2nd., 3rd., 4th., and 5th. Hazinedars and remain in the Sultan’s chamber whenever the Sultan himself was in the palace. But, only the Hazinedar master could sit by the Sultan as the others were let in when they were called. The 3rd., 4th., and the 5th. Hazinedars used to stand on duty with their assistants outside the Sultan’s door for 24 hours. Besides, the key to the treasury was with the Head Hazinedar (The Treasurer). Hazinedars who used to carry the Sultan’s seal on a golden pendant around their neck were their confidential friends, too. That is why , the Sultans would always select their own Treasurers and the former ones would either be sent back to the old palace or he let them free by signing of their documentation of freedom. One of the most important duties of the treasurer was to arrange the nights the Kadmefendis would spend with the Sultan. Kethiida Kadm ranking after Kadmefendis was the master of ceremonies which would take place in the Harem. On some important clays such as festivals and weddings they used to organise the ceremonies in the Harem. She would carry a silver rod to express the greatness of her post and used to keep the Sultan’s seal to seal his properties in his chamber. Kethuda Kadin had maids help her in everything she did. Qas.nigir Usta (flavour taster) used to deal with all the meals in the Harem. With the women slaves under their control they had to taste all the food the Sultan would eat to find out if anything was poisoned. Qamajir Usta (Laundry woman) was responsible for the laundry. With the women slaves under their command they always tried to do their best, tbriktar Usta (butler-keeping the ewers) helped the Sultan perform an ablution by pouring water on his hands. Coffee business was Kahveci Llsta’s and cellar was of Kilerci Usta’s duties. Kutucu Usta would wash the Sultans, Kadmefendis and Ikbals in the Hamam (Turkish Bath). Ktilhanci Usta was responsible for the warmth of the Hamams. they had to burn woods to heat the Hamam cabins. A total of 5 Katibe Ustas were in charge of the discipline, regulation and the protocol affairs. The Ustas (masters) examining the sick women slaves used to be called Hastalar Ustasi (The master of patients), midwife, and nurses used to work under the control of Kethiida Harum.
In a list showing the employees of the Harem at the time of Mahmud I, we can see 17 women slaves working in the cellar, 23 under the command of the higher ranked women slaves, 72 for the princes, 15 for Ikbals, and 230 various, making a total 456 women slaves. This list proves that The Sultans were not in relation with all Cariyes (women slaves) in the Harem. Hundreds of women slaves coming to the Harem with the hopes of being the Sultan’s wife used to be accommodated in the Cariyeler Kogusu (The chamber of women slaves) to the west of the Harem. They would eat their meals altogether served on big trays directly from the Harem’s kitchen by sitting on the bank where the Harem’s security guards stood. In the winter time, younger Concubines used to sleep in woolen beds on wooden divans placed on the ground floor of the Concubines chamber which used to be heated by a huge fireplace and have mezzanine floors supported by strong pillars. On top floors, there lived higher-ranked Concubines. Inexperienced Concubines were to be inspected by Concubines and them by assistant masters, and finally assistant masters by their masters. They all had a regular life in the Harem.
The gate opening into the Concubines garden bears some scripts revealing the hopes and the dreams of them ‘My God who can open all the doors, please open us blessed doors, too). This reflects their common wish and hopes of the future. They all had new dreams everyday and waiting for the day the Sultan would select them.
She was extravagantly beautiful, would display the silhouette of her body under her elaborate tight dress . She would spend a lot of time in front of mirrors watching herself for hours while combing her hair reaching to the ground. She had dimples on her smiling face and was sure of herself that she was admired by all. With her rosy cheeks and vigorous breasts she would stand up and walk into her colourful dreams. Weren’t they the same Sultans who had
promoted Hurrem, Safiye, Naksidil Sultanas to the rank of Sultana from slavery? Sometimes this dream would never come true and their hopes would remain to the following days.
After the period of Ahmed I, Ottoman Princes were not appointed to the provinces as governors and they started to stay in the Harem. At times, they had some intercourse with Concubines but since it was prohibited to have children from them they had to comply with the rules. If accidentally one of the Concubines got pregnant she had to lose the baby by mandatory
It is known that if those voluptuous Concubines were unable to make themselves some room in the Princes chambers either, they used to make love to each other. They would make love with Harem Agalari (Eunuchs) too, although they were castrated. It is widely known that Eunuchs had many adventures with women slaves. After they were freed and married other people outside the Palace some would divorce a while later saying to the husband ‘I used to get more pleasure from my previous intercourse with the black men’ is a proof of their adventures with them. We know that Eunuchs would kill each other because of jealousy. Suleyman II reigned between 1687-1691 was sick all the time and had to spend most of his time in Edirne Palace. Making use of his absence, Concubines used to have more relations with Eunuchs. Ahmed II who was living in the Harem as the successor at that time, learnt that from some other Concubines, and after sitting on the throne upon his father’s death, banned Eunuchs enter in the Harem after dusk.
At times, those extravagantly beautiful Concubines fell in love with their Music teachers. Kalfa(Assistant Master) used to stand next to them while being tutored. But, their eyes would reveal their desires before words. No words needed in such a case. Haci Arif Bey, Aziz Efendi, and Sadullah Aga were some of those who fell in love with their students while tutoring. Haci Arif Bey was extremely handsome, and the most famous composer of the period. The Sultan was very fond of his work and he had asked him to tutor the Concubines in the Harem. As the classes started their significant glances became more meaningful. He used to make her memorise new songs and would reply back by singing some purposeful songs. That women slave was deeply in love with Haci Arif Bey, but before she revealed her love to him she had died of tuberculosis. Some other Concubine was clever enough by using the power of the words along with glances and had him love herself. Making love with Concubines was a crime. With the help of some matchmakers, the Sultan allowed his Concubine to marry Haci Arif Bey.
Aziz Efendi was not so handsome as Haci Aiif Bey, but he had an incredibly beautiful voice. He also taught Concubines in the training room of the Palace. He was too sensitive and quite shy . He could not look at the faces of the Concubines he was tutoring. One day some brought him a Cariye belonged to Hanim Sultana and asked him to train her. She was extremely talented. She could sing the songs perfectly the day after she had learnt them. Aziz Efendi was very much impressed by her ability and took a look at the Concubine admiringly. Their eyes met revealing each other what they had in their hearts. That continued repeatedly every single day, with no words being performed by either. They started to pronounce their love by meaningful songs. But, some clay they found out that their classes had been canceled. Thus, they had to bury their platonic love deep in their hearts. Sometimes such a love would end up in front of an executioner. Sadullah Aga was one of those who had fallen in love with his student Mihriban and was able to save his head by some piece of music he composed. We are going to tell you about his story while narrating Selim III.