I enjoyed reading the article on the role of women in the Ottoman Empire’s Seraglio

History Imagined

Sometimes research for a novel takes a fiction writer in unexpected directions. When a complicated plot combinghair1800beypoint led me to place a character in the Ottoman Seraglio as a teacher I had to wonder just how far fetched that idea might be.

“Seraglio” I discovered refers to the Sultan’s household, his home, the private quarters. “Harem” is the name for the women in his household, of which there were many: wives, concubines, sisters, daughters, and, most importantly, his mother. The Seraglio of the Topkapi palace was a massive complex of apartments, baths, and courtyards, a maze of over 300 ornate rooms and tiled passageways. Home to hundreds of women, it required a complex administrative structure.

The most powerful figure in the Seraglio (after the Sultan) was the Valide Sultan, usually the Sultan’s mother. If his mother was deceased or otherwise not available, another senior female family member filled the position. She…

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