5 Things To Know About Harems Before You Get One

The Terrace of the Seraglio by Jean-Leon Gerome (1898)

You've heard about them. You've fantasized about them. You've dreamed about one day owning your own. But are you really mature enough to have your own harem yet? After all, who's going to cook for your harem? Who's going to feed 'em? And a harem doesn't just walk itself, you know. With great harem comes great responsibility. You might want to read the following five facts before you decide to invest in one.

1. The Primer: Just a Couple of Harems to Know

Under Islamic law, a man can have as many wives as he can support, with the traditional number topping out at around four. However, concubines are unlimited and many harems grew into the thousands. Following are some of history's largest recorded harems. At the top of the list is the 6th century BCE's King Tamba of Banaras, whose harem numbered some 16,000 women. Not to be outdone, the 15-century Sultan Ghiyas-ud-Din Kilji's harem numbered 15,000 and required him to build a separate walled city to house them. Next, during the 1800s, King Mongkut of Siam housed his 9,000 women in a totally contained city with its own government, recreational facilities, and a theater. Kublai Khan, the Mongol leader in the 13th century, had four empresses and around 7,000 concubines. Every two years he would get rid of a couple hundred concubines and replace them with a fresh supply. Finally, Emperor Jahangir of India maintained a harem of over 6,300 women during the early years of the 17th century. However, Jahangir also kept close to a thousand young man-in-waiting for those times when his appetite tended toward the other gender.

2. Getting Some Order in Your Harem

Contrary to the Hollywood view of scantily dressed beautiful women lounging around pools waiting for their romantic interlude with the sultans, harems were actually very elaborate and complex communities with rigid administrative and disciplinary system. A harem was under the leadership of the Valide Sultan, or the sultan's mother. Directly responsible to the mother were the superintendent of the harem and a number of other female officials. Each of these officials had a number of younger harem members under their training for this and other future administrative assignments. Next in the pecking order after the sultan's mother was the mother of the sultan's heir apparent. After this came the mothers of the sultan's other children, who were ranked by the favor they held with the sultan. These female relatives and other officials were responsible for recruiting new harem members and annually presenting them to the sultan, usually on the 15th day of Ramadan.

3. So You Want to Be a Eunuch?

Sounds like an exciting life being left to live among hundreds, if not thousands, of the most beautiful women in the empire. Let's look at some of the requirements. The first priority is castration. Most likely you'll want to have this procedure done during your childhood. Next, expect to be a part of a dowry offered by your master when his daughter is given in marriage. Okay, you've passed the entrance exam, now expect to spend years working your way up with the ranks of eunuchs. Finally, you gain favor with the sultan and he makes you the chief eunuch. Your sole reason for being is meeting your master's needs. You need to know the master's mood and select his appropriate bedmate for the evening. You must also instruct the young lady on the master's whim and fantasies and have the appropriate aphrodisiacs ready. As the chief black eunuch you have become the sultan's most trusted servant and the third highest ranking official in his empire. You can enter the harem apartments, command the imperial army, and meet with the sultan. If you are the chief white eunuch, you get to run the bureaucracy and control all petitions, messages, and state documents sent to the sultan, but you cannot enter the harem. Why? Because unlike the black eunuch, who lost everything (anatomically), you still have bits and pieces left and pose a threat.

4. How to Furnish Your Harem

The Arabic word harem means "the place of the women." The most important part of the harem was the zenana, or the inner sanctum where the sultan's fantasies were played out. The zenana was designed to replicate paradise. Each woman was given her own ornately decorated apartment with its own garden, waterfalls, and running streams. Because the ladies of the harem came from many different cultures, the apartments were furnished to make them feel comfortable and satisfied with their position in life. After all, one must be ready and willing for an unexpected visit from the master. Similarly, the attire was erotic and arousing. The goal was to remain naked while being dressed by wearing translucent muslin and silk garments. The material was so light that many outfits weighed about an ounce. In keeping with the opulence, the garments were adorned with diamonds, gold, rubies, and pearls. Shoes were also covered with precious stones. Finally, the outfit was topped off with an ostrich feather headdress with ruby-covered plumes. Many a sultan spent most of the empire's treasury keeping the ladies-in-waiting happy.

5. Keeping Your Harem Under Control

During the late 1500s, Mehmed III ascended to the throne of the Ottoman Empire. His mother, Safiye, as the Valide Sultan or leader of the harem, became one of his most important advisers. While not allowed to be directly involved in state politics, Safiye was able to influence the sultan's decisions, sometimes openly and directly. On one occasion, Safiye sat behind a curtain as Mehmed held a heated discussion with a leading mufti (religious cleric) and openly defended her son. As Safiye's influence increased so did the ire it raised among the vizier, the mufti, the chief black eunuch, and the sultan's favorite wives and concubines, who saw Safiye's excessive influence as overstepping her role of Valide Sultan. Mehmed found himself having to restrain his mother and, on at least one occasion, had her removed to another palace. Safiye's excessive greed, coupled with the ever increasing costs of the harem under her control helped bring about riots in Istanbul in 1600 over the devaluation of the empire's currency.

From mental_floss' book Condensed Knowledge: A deliciously Irreverent Guide to Feeling Smart Again, published in Neatorama with permission.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' extremely entertaining website and blog!

Harem is an arabic term, but the harem concept has existed everywhere. You'd be fooling yourself if you think it doesn't exist today, only we'd call it a professional brothel service. There are types of these services that cater specifically to politicians and the president himself (if needed). One needs to realize that being in a harem, wasn't necessarily the worst thing as those in the harem were often represented as having greater power or more socioeconomic status then the commoners outside the palace.
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Also, it is not "tradition" to top your wives at four, it is Islamic law. Powerful kings and war mongers had slaves, not wives. And 'harem' means 'women', not the place to house women. Very misleading.
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"Under Islamic law, a man can have as many wives as he can support, with the traditional number topping out at around four."

The is the very first sentecnce and the begining of false statements. In Islamic laws, a man can not have more than 4 wives at one time. Also when he is ready to mary second/third or fourth, he must have permissions from his other existing wives.

"The Arabic word harem means "the place of the women." The most important part of the harem was the zenana, or the inner sanctum where the sultan’s fantasies were played out...."

This statement is also wrong - zenana is a place where all the female stays and outsider men not allowed, however, this place is occupied by female famiy members and not a place for Sultan's fantasies.

All three comments before this are very true, just to add one line to Tvrss comment - how about Playboy Mansion ?

Very misleading article.
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Oh, only 4 wives at one time.

I guess that makes it okay, then.

I just found the article confusing when it mentioned eunuchs. At first read, it sounded like you had to be a eunuch to own a harem.

The equivalent of a harem today is polygamy, still being practised in some places, including the USA, but generally frowned upon as demeaning to women and abnormal.

As for Kublai Khan waging war against Islamic nations - even if he were Muslim, I doubt that would have stopped him. Muslims fight each other all the time.
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The way you written, sounds like all the emperors cited in the 1st motive were muslims.

I really liked the article!!

I have one wife and sometimes I wish I have none!!! Imagine more with than one then...
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Upto Four wives are allowed in Islam. This has a historical reason as during the early period of the ascendance of Islam, when too many males died in the battles, they left behind widows and orphans. At this situation would have lead to destitution and prostitution, Muslim men of the time were allowed to marry 2, 3 or 4 women with the condition that they would support them fully and maintain equality between wives. This Quranic injunction is not a license to indulge in wanton pursuit of the pleasures of the fleah but rather a step towards bringing about social justice and save the hapless women from penury and life of disgrace. You would agree that living as second or third wife is better than indulging in adultery, prostitution or living as a Devdasi. It is very stnrage that the modern educated elite scoff at polygany but have no qualms at indulging in pre-marital and extra-marital sexual affairs. If any Muslim kings or emperors trangressed this limit, that is their problem. In any case, emperors are not the representatives of their faiths. It would be naive to presume otherwise. This names of kings provided in the article also illustrates that they belonged to different regions, faiths and eras. Why give the whole issue an anti-muslim twiest then?
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While the author doesn't state that Kublai Khan was a Muslim, the passage is confusing because the list of notable harems is preceded by the reference to Islamic law and the number of wives and concubines allowed. I think that we should give the author some credit for doing his or her research, as well as the benefit of the doubt in this case. At any rate, neither King Tamba of Banaras (1100-1200 years before Islam) nor King Mongkut of Siam were Muslim either. As some readers have pointed out, Kublai Khan was not a Muslim either.
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No, you wouldn't. Believe me, I know. Try polyamory for a good period of time and see how you like it. Check out "The Ethical Slut" (on Amazon). Poly can be very difficult and painful, even if both partners have equal rights.
You may want to look into BDSM, particularly the D/s aspect, as well..for a potentially healthier way to pursue your fantasies. See if there's a "munch" in your area. That's how I met my Dom. CollarMe.com and FetLife.com are also good resources to find like-minded people.
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absolutely right
and probably to your surprise
i would quite like to have been a eunuch in those times!
thenks for brilliant discussion
kofi adu
ps when they retired they often took several wives, widows usually, and are reported (Burton) to have had brilliant sex..
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I would love to be in a harem, serving the sultan. i like being overpowered and dominated
OR i would like to be a princess with 10 sexy meditteranian looking men taking care of me.
lavish pillows, curtains and lamps everywhere
how romantic ...
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I have nothing but envy for those Sultans of old and their unending sexual appetites. Please for the love of all that is sacred, bestow upon me 3 dainty lasses that will fulfill my every whim and desire in unison!
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