Date of Publication

5-17-2013

Degree Type

Honors Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Carl Davila

Abstract

The thesis compares the imperial harems of the Abbasid and Ottoman empires with respect to the political, social, and economic environments and their influence the lives of the caliph’s and sultan’s wives, concubines, relatives, sons, daughters, and slaves. Important roles in the caliph’s harem during the Abbasid dynasty of 720-1258 included the social role of the queen-mother and the administrative role of the qahramâna. Within the economic, political, and social spheres of the Abbasid harem, these roles developed as the most prominent in the harem’s two branches, social and administrative.

The Ottoman Empire’s imperial harem during the seventeenth and eighteenth century also developed similar roles to the Abbasids. The role of the queen-mother and qahramâna combined to form the role of the valide sultan in the Ottoman harem. The valide sultan, or mother of the sultan acted as guardian of the royal family and chief administrator of the harem. Within these defining points of her position, the valide sultan created the sultan’s harem, controlled who came and went in the harem, and groomed her son to become the next sultan. This position developed out of the complex political and economic environments that existed within the overarching social hierarchy of the harem.

Although the Abbasid and Ottoman harems occurred over different centuries and under different ethnic groups, both demonstrated several similarities that reflected Middle Eastern and Islamic customs. The roles of the queen-mother and valide sultan encompassed the Middle Eastern custom of the importance of motherhood which acted as the key to advancing women’s social, political, and economic status within their respective harems. These similarities remained the same over time, ethnicity, and distance to set a basis for how the imperial harems functioned and influenced the lives of the women living within.

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