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The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire (Studies in Middle Eastern History)

4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195086775
ISBN-10: 0195086775
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"The harem described in Leslie P. Peirce's fascinating book is not the lascivious sexual playground conceived by the Western imagination but the locus of power in the Ottoman empire...The general thesis of this outstanding book--that the power wielded by the women of the imperial harem was real, and that it stood in an organic relation to broader Ottoman political traditions and practice--will be widely accepted."--American Historical Review


"Peirce's work effectively reinforces recent work on the post-Süleymanic period, while at the same time revising scholarship about the imperial harem and the dynastic family. In doing so, her book is a significant contribution to the field."--The Historian


"The Imperial Harem is the definitive book on its subject. While it is excellent reading for students of women's studies, it is an important contribution to Ottoman history as well."--MESA Bulletin


"A tour de force. Peirce has brought her detailed knowledge of Ottoman harem politics to revise a fundamental question of Ottoman historiography: how did the dynasty adjust to the transformation of imperial ideology necessary in light of the regime's change from aggressive expansion to stasis."--Carl F. Petry, Northwestern University


"This is an excellent book, and a new departure in women's history within the Islamic field. Peirce discusses women not as a class apart, not as part of dynastic politics in the Ottoman Empire, thus shedding new light on political processes, and showing women to be an integral part of the dynasty."--Beatrice Manz, Tufts University


About the Author


Leslie P. Peirce is Professor of History and Near Eastern Studies, University of California, Berkeley
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Product Details

  • Series: Studies in Middle Eastern History
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (September 2, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195086775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195086775
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.8 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #522,108 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First off the book explains WHY female harems existed in the first place. The simple answer is this. If the sovereign gets married to a Princess of another power that power could lay claim to the throne. BUT if he has offspring with a bunch of slaves, women who are not of the Muslim faith and are not linked to powerful families, than outsiders could not lay claim to the throne by right of blood.
Yet don't think these concubines were powerless. In fact, through their sons and daughters, through networks based on retainers, son-in-laws and slaves, they gained great influence and wealth. Mothers of princes, wives and royal mothers to the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, they were a big part of the inner workings and political events within the palace.
They were eyes and ears of the Sultan when he was away, they were symbols of benevolence and powerful diplomats for the Empire, they were tutors and guardians for their sons.
The book has a helpful glossary, a two page genealogical chart, two maps and is VERY detailed. I would suggest this book ONLY to people interested in the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East or women in history. It is also VERY dry.
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Format: Paperback
This book might be a disappointment to someone looking for gossip about life in the harem as envisioned by writers of fiction. But for anyone really interested in understanding the role of women and the domestic household in the royal court of a great Muslim Empire, this is the real thing, brilliantly researched and thoughtfully presented.
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Format: Paperback
Even a non-expert like myself can appreciate the superb scholarship and eloquent style of a book about the Ottoman Imperial harem. A topic, about which too little is written and what little there is, tends to be fiction. I hope to see more books about Ottoman history and culture.
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Format: Paperback
This is an excellent book. It is about the Harem, but not about fantasies or orientalist vision, its about power. It is an excellent investigation that worries about the structure and the vision of power in the Ottoman dinasty. Th sexual reproduction and the administration of the royal household was not only a matter of the palace but a matter of the imperial structure itself. Working from inside the harem, sultanas, concubines and princes determinated the reproduction of power in the Ottoman imperial family, and also in the Empire as a whole.

Bravo Aleik!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Within The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire, Leslie Peirce posits that during the sixteenth to seventeen centuries the Ottoman Empire shifted from a conquest driven polity to bureaucracy anchored by the Imperial family and the senior female members. She holds that “the growing importance of the imperial palace as a center of government gave women both greater physical proximity to the sultan and expanded opportunities for building networks of influence.” (p. x) As succession moved to a seniority system, the royal mothers, known as valide sultans, were charged with maintaining the dynastic lineage.

In the book’s first part, “The Politics of Reproduction,” Peirce outlines the surrounding historiography of the harem. Beginning her analysis with the fourteenth century and finishing in the seventeenth, she establishes the valide sultans as the closest confidantes to the sultans as well as the “custodians of sovereign power… responsible for ensuring that the dynasty reproduced itself.” (p. 17) The valide sultan attempted to limit her son’s sexual activity to approved females within the harem in order to control the lineage of the dynasty. However, her advising role within the government was publically obscure as she was centralized in the harem, isolated from public view. The secretive nature of the harem led outsiders, including European ambassadors and scorned court officials, to conclude the harem was a place of “seductive and corrupting features” in their official correspondence and advice literature. (p. 115) Peirce maintains that “the role of women in the construction and maintenance of the household system has been ignored” by modern historians who have based their conclusions on these surviving documents. (p.
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