Suleiman ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1520 to 1566 at the height of its glory and is still revered as Kanuni, or Lawgiver. This has led to the series attracting a wave of protests from irate viewers and even government officials. Critics said it was disrespectful to the sultan because it showed him drinking alcohol – banned in Islam – and womanising with concubines in the harem.
Erm, hang on here. Complaining about an Ottoman Sultan (and Caliph, for those interested in the difference) shagging about in the harem is really a little odd.
The method this Turkic ruling family used of perpetuating the House was slave concubinage. Girls would offer themselves up (yes, volunteer, although there were also slaves captured in raids and battles) to join the harem. If they caught the Sultan\’s eye (or other appendage) then they got shagged and delivered children and remained in the harem. If they didn\’t, if they didn\’t get shagged, then after some years (7-10, depending on who you believe) they were released, set up with a dowry and were regarded as highly desirable wives for the Nobs of the Empire.
Joining the harem was a fought over career path for good looking but poor girls. It was also rather, in genetic terms, a winner takes all competition. Each concubine was usually limited to one son. The mother of the next Sultan got to be granny to all those products of the next harem. The sons of all the others got strangled on the accession of the new Sultan to the throne*. And the children of all the daughters were usually killed at birth.
What actually outraged the Constantinople of the day was not that Suleiman was carrying on the old traditions, but that he was not. He seems to have been faithful to Hurrem**, one particular concubine.
That these arrangements look to us strange is one thing: but to be complaining, as seems to be the case, about the one Sultan who didn\’t shag his way through the harem, shagging his way through the harem (one of his successors is said to have brought epilepsy upon himself by following the Muslim practice of bathing after sex: two and three times each night as he went through the potential offerings) is, umm, odd.
* These various practices waxed and waned over the generations but some 80 such Princes are thought to have been so executed.
** So far as we know, born Alexandra Lisowska, daughter of a Ukrainian priest. We don\’t know (or at least I don\’t) the origins of all of the mothers of the Sultans but by half way through the dynasty\’s reign it\’s most unlikely that they could be considered Turkic at all. Circassian, Ukrainian, Greek, perhaps some Arabic, but not Turkic)