History has always become my most fascinating subject. The knowledge that encompasses the sequential narration of human lives simply enthralling. In this entry, I want to share some of the information I gained from my readings. It should be noted that the Ancient Eastern sexual escapades used to mystify the Western scholars and public. They were curious lot upon the stories behind the walls of harem of the Ottoman Empires and Chinese Dynasties.
The beautiful Hagia Sophia. One of the landmark in the Ottoman Empire.
‘Harem’ is a term coined to reflect a sacred place that is restricted only for women in a palace. In the Age of Romanticism, Westerners were very curious about harems inside the Asian monarchies that they started to fabricate illicit oil paintings picturing harems like a brothel by using their imagination. In real life, this is far from true. Usually, the concubines and the servant-girls were placed in quarters or rooms (in accordance to their ranks of privileges) inside the harem compound itself. According to a book I bought in 1997, “Secrets Of The Chinese Palace”, Emperor Xuan Zong of the Tang Dynasty had almost 40,000 concubines!
In the Ottoman Empire, the Queen Mother (mother of the Sultan) was named as “Valide Sultan”. She could be compared to the title of Empress Dowager in Chinese Dynasties. “Valide Sultan” was the head of the harem and everything happened in the harem was to be under her surveillance. During the 17th century which was known as the ‘Sultanate of Women’ (because most Valide Sultans conquered the reigning of the empire due to inefficient Sultans in power), a few Valide Sultans became significant. The most famous Valide Sultan was arguably Hürrem Sultan who was also known as Roxalena in the western world referring to her Ukrainian heritage. She was the legal wife of Suleiman The Magnificent and her story was said to be a non-comparison in the two-centuries harem history of Ottoman Empire. She was set freed from the harem and the Sultan married her; which was a case of non-heard-of before that. Her influence over Suleiman The Magnificent was indisputable and she remained as her most favored consort throughout his life.
Hürrem Sultan or Roxalena.
Hürrem Sultan and Sultan Suleiman The Magnificent
Apart from Roxalena, other well-known “Valide Sultan'” include Nurbanu Sultan (Sultanah Nurbanu; the wife of Sultan Selim II; son of Roxalena), Saffiye Sultan (wife of Sultan Murad III) and the legendary Kösem Sultan, also known as Mehpeyker Sultan (wife of Sultan Ahmed I); who was dubbed as the most powerful woman in Ottoman history.
According to the book I purchased like 12 years ago (1997) entitled “Secrets of The Chinese Palace”, Empress Deng Sui from Han Dynasty was seemingly the most diligent and transparent during her reign. She was known for her considerate remarks to the Emperor He and tried to foster proper relationship with the existing Empress at that time, Empress Yin by covering up the Empress’s mistakes. When she was elected as the Empress, it was said that there were a lot of disasters and wars happen but she managed to quell them via her shrewd and strategic thinking. She also gave attention to criminal justices and reject the offers by the ministers to promote her family as officers. She also prohibited tributes offerings. She was considered as one of the most diligent empress in the Chinese history.
Other prominent concubines in the history of the Chinese Dynasties are the likes of Xia Ji and Qi Yi. Xia Ji was known for her amorous sexual escapades with numerous men whilst Qi Yi was killed brutally by the order of the Empress Dowager of her time.
The Forbidden Palace.
Above all, history really intrigues me and it is enthralling to know that Westerners were merely using their wildest fantasy to create illusions in their artsy masterpieces because they were not allowed to enter the harem. By using their erotic fantasy by imagining the harem like a brothel, harem mystifies the Western scholars at that time. I guess, imagination always tend to be far-fetched sometimes, don’t you think?