caucasian cream of the crop

In selecting a concubine, a Sultan held a regular weekly levee at which the virgins of the harem were brought in for his inspection; he dropped a hankerchief at the feet of the one who pleased him most, indicating she was “gozde” and might hope for a summons to the royal bedchamber. When this came she was dressed in silk and jewels, and perfumed with ambergris, with kohl on her eyes and henna on her fingernails, and conducted to the Sultan by the Chief Black Eunuch, all in strict secrecy so that the other women wouldn’t be waiting to scratch her eyes out the moment she got back.

---Georges Jules Victor Clairin (French painter ,1843-1919) - The Sultans Favorites---Meanwhile intrigue was ripe in the hareniy and the fight for the envied position of First Kadin had begun. It was won by a beautiful Venetian woman of the noble house of Baffo. She had been captured by a Turkish corsair in her early youth, and by her beauty and cleverness soon won the heart of Murad to the exclusion of all other women. But his mother, the Sultan Vahde Nur Banu, got alarmed and gave orders for the cream of the slave markets to be sent to the SeragUo. So successful was she that, so far from keeping true to his one love, Murad plunged into a continuous orgy of licentious indulgence. The price of women went up, and slave-dealers and even powerful members of the harem joined in the procuring of fresh virgins to quench the Royal flame of sensuahty.---Read More:

The Sultan’s bed had wrought silver bedposts topped with crystal lions holding in their teeth a gold cloth canopy. He liked the idea of owning a bed, like European rulers,but he slept, as his ancestors did in their tents, on a mattress spread on the floor. Two old Moorish women stood at his head with burning torches so that he might have light to say his beads at the last and the first hours of prayer, as the Koran frowns upon praying in the dark.

A concubine arriving to spend the night was required to enter the bed from the foot, inching her way up from under the covers until she lay level with the Sultan. This performance was also expected of husbands of the Sultan’s daughters. These princesses, who wore a silver dagger at their belts to remind their consorts of whom outranked whom, were in no demand at all as brides, for their husbands not only took orders from them, but could claim no special familiarity with their father-in-law. Children of such unions were not allowed at court at all, and the princesses’ dowries could not be inherited by husband or children but reverted to the sultanate, as, indeed, did all the wealth of even the greatest pashas in this slave state.

---Paul Alexandre Alfred Leroy (French, 1860-1942) – Martyr d’amour---Demetrius Cantemir^ gives a terrible description of Ibrahim's life in the harem : how when nature was exhausted he fortified himself with aphrodisiacs and covered his room with mirrors to stimulate the passions. Every Friday a fresh virgin was presented to him (usually by his mother!), and anyone who suggested some new form of orgy was certain of a personal triumph. One of his Httle games was to strip all his women naked and make them pretend to be mares, while in a similar condition he would run among them acting the part of stalhon as long as his strength lasted. The extravagances of the women were nearly as bad as his own, and he allowed them to take anything they liked from the shops and bazaars without payment. One of these women happened to say she preferred to shop at night, and so the shopkeepers were made to stay open and provide sufficient torchlight for their wares to be clearly seen. Another woman told Ibrahim that he would look nice with jewels in his beard! No sooner said than done, and he actually appeared like this in public ! The superstitious Turks regarded it as a very bad omen, because the only other King who had acted in this way was Pharaoh of the Red Sea incident. ---Read More: image:

Eventually, the strange life of the Seraglio began to languish after the destruction of the janissaries and the at least partial exposure to Western culture that the Sultan’s could no longer avoid. After 1851, the old Seraglio was used only to house the harems of Sultans who had died. One of the last official events there took place in 1909, after Abdul Hamid II had been deposed and forcibly retired to Adrianople together with fifteen hundred concubines, a guard of eunuchs and his favorite cat. A public notice appeared in the newspapers, stating that anyone having a relative who was a member of the Imperial Harem might, by calling at the Seraglio, reclaim her.

On an appointed day, the entire harem, all twelve hundred, were assembled without veils while hundreds of Caucasian mountaineers and other Christian people from outposts in the Turkish Empire filed through seeking to recognize in these elegant ladies their daughters and sisters. Not all were claimed or wanted to be. Some had been spoken for by rich pashas who were anxious for beautiful and delicately bred wives; some nobody came for; some quailed at the prospect of a peasant’s life and chose to spend the rest of their days in reduced but genteel circumstances there in the old Seraglio, which thus ended as an old ladies’ home.

---Antonio Maria Fabres y Costa (Spanish, 1855-1938) – The Gift for the Favorite---No better example of the power and influence a member of the harem might acquire could be given than that of Khurrem, the Russian slave girl, better known in Western Europe as Roxelana. In this case, however, so great was her influence over Suleiman that the question of her becoming Sultan Valide never arose. Bit by bit Roxelana removed all obstacles in her path. About 1541 she had persuaded the Sultan to let her live with him in the Seragho instead of remaining in the Old Palace, although at this time she was only Second Kadin. After the death of Suleiman's mother only two rivals remained — the First Kadin, Bosfor Sultan, and Ibrahim, the Grand Vizir, who according to some accounts had been the original owner of Roxelana. Plots and counter-plots were laid : Bosfor Sultan was displaced and practically exiled, her son was murdered in a manner that leaves little doubt as to Roxelana's comphcity in the business, and Suleiman had the Grand Vizir executed for no apparent reason at all. Read More: image:

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