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Ottoman Harems

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Book topics: Harems, Eunuchs & Slaves, Aimee de Rivery, Fiction, Movie, Ottoman Empire, Josephine Bonaparte

Ottoman Women and Harems

The Harem: Inside the Grand Seraglio of the Turkish Sultans by Norman Mosely Penzer. An account of the institution as it existed in the palace of the Turkish sultans, with a history of the Grand Seraglio from its foundation to modern times. First published in the 1930s.

The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire by Leslie P. Peirce. From the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent until the mid-seventeenth century, women of the Ottoman dynasty enjoyed great political power.

The Concubine, the Princess, and the Teacher: Voices From the Ottoman Harem translated and edited by Douglas Scott Brookes. The memoirs of three women reveal the rigid protocol that governed the lives of the imperial family and concubines, slave women and eunuchs.

The Empress Nurbanu and Ottoman Politics in the Sixteenth Century: Building the Atik Valide by Pinar Kayaalp. Nurbanu was the wife of Selim II and mother of Murad III. This book concentrates on her role in the creation of the Atik Valide mosque complex.

The Women Who Built the Ottoman World: Female Patronage and the Architectural Legacy of Gulnus Sultan by Muzaffer Ozgules. Sultans' wives, mothers, and harem heads left a great array of buildings, including opulent palaces and mausoleums, and bridges and waterworks.

The Private World of Ottoman Women by Godfrey Goodwin. Examines the laws which governed women's lives, discussing courtship, marriage, divorce, and motherhood.

Women in the Ottoman Empire edited by Madeline C. Zilfi. A collection of 14 scholarly articles that reconstruct Ottoman women's experience between the mid-17th and early-19th century.

Harems of the Mind: Passages of Western Art and Literature by Ruth Bernard Yeazell. Depictions of Muslim harems in Western writing, painting, and opera from the late 17th century to the early 20th century.

Slavery, Eunuchs, and Harems

Slavery and Abolition in the Ottoman Middle East by Ehud R. Toledano. Includes chapters on harems.

Life After the Harem: Female Palace Slaves, Patronage and the Imperial Ottoman Court by Betül Ipsirli Argit. The manumission of slaves did not end their ties with the imperial court.

The Black Eunuchs of the Ottoman Empire: Networks of Power in the Court of the Sultan by George Junne. Unlike white eunuchs, African eunuchs had access to sultan's harem. The Chief Black Eunuch had the ear of the sultan and power over a network of spies.

Books About Aimee De Rivery

The Wilder Shores of Love by Lesley Blanch. Tells the true stories of four 19th century European women who found love in the east, including Aimee Dubucq De Rivery, a cousin of French empress Josephine Bonaparte. Abducted by pirates at age 13, Aimee is said to have ended up in the harem of Ottoman sultan Abdulhamid I, where she was called Nakshedil and became the powerful mother of Sultan Mahmud II.


Sultana by Prince Michael of Greece. A novel about Aimee Dubucq de Rivery.

Two Empresses by Brandy Purdy. The story of two beautiful cousins from the island paradise of Martinique. One becomes empress of France, and the other finds herself in the sultan of Turkey's harem.

Sofia by Ann Chamberlin. Fiction about a real-life Venetian noblewoman who was kidnapped by Turkish pirates, ended up in the harem of Murad III, and became the mother of Mehmed III. Followed by two sequels.

The Palace of Tears by Alev Lytle Croutier. Aimee de Rivery, the Empress Eugenie, and Sultan Abdulaziz figure in this story about a man who falls in love with a woman's portrait and sets out to find her.

The Kadin by Bertrice Small. Well-known romance novel about a 16th century Scottish woman who is abducted and ends up in an Ottoman harem. Seems to be completely fictional.


These movies and documentaries are formatted for North American audiences.

Intimate Power. This movie stars Amber O'Shea as Aimee De Rivery and F. Murray Abraham as Sultan Abulhamid I.

Harem. This miniseries, made for French TV in 1986, stars Nancy Travis as a (fictional) American woman who is kidnapped and sent to a Turkish harem in the early 20th century. The sultan is played by Omar Sharif. The cast also includes Ava Gardner as the sultan's jealous wife. Sometimes available at Amazon.

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