In ancient Egypt, ancient China, the Ottoman Empire and some Arab countries there were centers designed to satisfy the sexual needs and entertainment of great leaders. The women who participated in these activities were the concubines and the place destined for this practice is known as the harem.
The word harem comes from the Arabic word harim, which literally means the forbidden. This concept is used in a double sense, as it refers to the women responsible for entertaining the leaders, as well as the physical space where they resided.
The organization of the harem during the Ottoman Empire
The harem or harenlik was the dependence intended for the official wives of the sultan and for odalisques or concubines. Who supervised the functioning of this palace was the mother of the sultan.
On the other hand, eunuchs were generally black slaves who were castrated so as not to maintain intimate relations with the odalisques, their function being to watch over the harem.
Contrary to popular belief, the odalisques were young women who acted as servants and dancers and not as mere prostitutes in the sultan’s service . However, an odalisque could catch the sultan’s attention and satisfy his sexual desires, or else become one of official wives.
From the point of view of western culture
In the 19th century, some Western travelers felt a strong impact by the atmosphere of harems in the Ottoman Empire. From then onwards, a literary image of the harem began to be disseminated and, thus, many novels described a world of sensuality and eroticism that aroused the interest of the reader. With these stories, the figure of the odalisque became a new erotic myth.
At times, stories about harems had a moralizing intent, as they were described as centers of perversion and lust. In this sense, the conservative Western mentality labeled the harem as a center dedicated to the sin and moral degradation of women.
in ancient egypt
The pharaohs had harems and in them lived hundreds of young women who were recruited from the lower classes of society or who were slaves who had been captured after the war. In the harem’s precincts there were farms for animals and an intense activity, especially aimed at the manufacture of fabrics.
In addition to their productive activities, the concubines were dedicated to softening the pharaoh’s court with dancing and other distractions. The harem was generally run by Pharaoh’s trusted men.