Odalisques blog

The Female Slave Market in Constantinople (1 Mar)
From the slave market to the sultan's bedchamber (17 Feb)
Buying a new slave for your harem (4 Feb)
Odalisquian books list now on Odalisques.com (29 Jan)
Edward Lane's descriptions and drawings of female clothing (27 Jan)
more posts...


"The Arab Scribe" by J.F. Lewis, 1852
"The Bath" by J.L. Gerome, in the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
"Odalisque" by Max Nonnenbruch
"By order of the sultan" by Antonio Fabres
"Idle Moments" by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, 1875
more pictures...


more books...

© Tanos

Constantinople and the Scenery of Seven Churches of Asia, 1838

Illustrated by Thomas Allom with text by Dr Robert Walsh, the chaplain to the British embassy in Constantinople.

"The Aurut Bazaar, or Slave Market

The Aurut Bazaar, or Female Slave Market, stands in the quarter of the city near the burnt column. It consists of a quadrangular edifice, including a square area of about two hundred feet, surrounded with apartments. In the front are platforms raised four or five feet from the ground, and ascended by steps, forming a kind of colonade, and in the rear are latticed windows. In the one, blacks and slaves of an inferior kind are kept and disposed of; in the other those of a choicer quality, who are guarded with a more jealous vigilance, and secluded from the public eye.

All parts of the old world furnish materials for this market, but principally the shores of the Mediterranean and the eastern end of the Euxine sea. The human face is here seen in every diversity of colour, from the ebony of Nubia and Abyssinia, to the snowy whiteness of the mountains of Georgia and Mingrelia. Formerly, Franks were freely admitted into the bazaar, but they were excluded by a firman, because it was supposed they purchased slaves only for the purpose of giving them freedom; and the Turks allow no manumission unless the captives embrace Islamism, and then they become free as of right, and can be no more sold. The strictness of the exclusion, however, is now relaxed, and Franks are admitted to see, but not to purchase.

The first impression made upon a stranger is the cheerfulness and hilarity of the inmates of this prison. He enters with his mind full of the horrors of slavery: he expects to see tender females dragged from their families, the ties of nature torn asunder, and the helpless victims overwhelmed with grief - sad, and weeping, and sunk in despondency. He sees no such thing: they are singularly cheerful and gay, use every means to attract his attention, and in their various dialects, invite him to purchase them. (To this the Greek girls form an exception. Refined by education, strongly attached to their families, and abhorrent to slavery, their natural vivacity is overcome by their state, and they appear sad and dejected amid the levity that surrounds them.) The circumstances of their early life, and the state into which they are about to enter, account for this. The condition of slavery in Turkey is generally to them an amelioration. A regular traffic is carried on, and parents in Circassia and Georgia educate their most comely daughters, not less that they should profit by the sale, than that the children should profit by being sold. They impress upon thier minds the splendid fortune that awaits them at Stamboul; and when the annual traders arrive at Anaka, or other ports of the Euxine, for white slaves, the girl leaves without regret the home where she is taught to feel no ties of family affection, and embarks with a light heart and joyous anticipations of the happy prospect before her. Nor are her bright hopes disappointed: the state of slavery in which she is found, and the traffic by which she is bought, do not degrade her in the eye of the Turk who purchases her; she is transferred to the harem of some vizir or pasha, where she may become its mistress, invested with all the consequence and dignity of his favourite wife; the splendid destiny of those that are periodically purchased for the imperial Seraglio is quite dazzling - any one of them may become the arbitress of empires, and the mother of sultans. Yet this bright prospect is clouded by dismal forebodings. When the reigning monarch dies, his whole female establishment purchased here, is removed to the eski serai, or old palace, where five hundred of the most youthful and lovely females in the universe are condemned to a state of perpetual celibacy and seclusion. A still more terrible fate sometimes attends them. On vain pretexts they are sacrificed to the caprice or suspicion of the successor to the throne; and hundreds at once, in the prime of life and splendour of beauty, are consigned to a watery grave.

The merchants who purchase slaves are usually Jews. When a female of great beauty is not accomplished in the arts of pleasing, the Jew undertakes her instruction. She is taught, by competent masters, music, dancing, and other personal attractions - the cultivation of the mind is never thought of. When her value is this enhanced by her acquirements, the most extravagant price is exacted and given. The usual purchase of a young white slave is 6000 piastres, or about £100: for a black, merely intended for the domestic drudgery which a Turkish woman will not submit to, 1200 piastres, or £16.

Black and white illustration of aslave market

The illustration represents the act of sale. On one side are females purchasing black servants. A slight examination as to health and strength is all that is used. The girl starts up, draws her scanty coarse garments about her, and with a merry laugh and cheerful countenance, trips away after her mistress. The severe decorum of a Turk at once changes her half-nakedness for a more suitable dress: her head and feet are no longer bare - her dark visage is dignified with a snow-white veil - and she feels pride and gratification in her new and altered state. On the other side are white slaves, who are examined not by females, but by a master, of whose happiness they are hereafter to constitute a part. He is attended by his black eunuch, and the slave-merchant is pointing out all the personal charms of his purchase, and eulogising those which escape his observation. In the gallery above, are slave-merchants settling their various accounts, with the aid of coffee and tobacco.

Interior of a Harem

The country now called Circassia was part of the undefined region formerly denominated Colchis, between the Euxine, the Palus Maeotis, the Caspian sea, and the Caucasus. It was this region whence the Greeks brought their first golden freight, of which a woman formed the most valuable part. From that time to the present day there has been constant importations of females. These countrywomen of Medea retain that beauty of person and ferocity of character of their eminent predecessor, as also, it is said, her knowledge of noxious herbs, which about to this day, as formerly, in their country, and which they apply not to prolong but to abridge the term of human life, whenever their interests or their passions demand the sacrifice of their rivals.

Circassia was formerly governed by its own wild but independent sovereigns; it is now almost all absorbed in the vast territories of Russia; the people have but little advanced in civilization since Jason first visited their shores; their habits are, as they have always been, predatory and unsettled; they are a nation of robbers and man-stealers, who trade in slaves, and add their own children, whom they bring up to sell. Like all barbarous people, they are divided into tribes; the eldest each becomes the leader, but he is not allowed to possess any property except his horses and arms, and such tribute as he can exact from his neighbours. Their element is war, during which only they have authority. When it is at an end, they merge into obscurity, their dress, food, and habitations being no way distinguished frm those of the common people.

Next to these are the Usdens, who are the landholders and lawgivers of the community, and who alone display what little of civilization exists among them. They govern by no written law, but certain hereditary usages, which are varied as the caprice or will of the Usden determines; the great body of the people are vassals or slaves. Their manifactures are rude and scanty, and their tillage insufficient to supply their own wants. They have no written language, and no circulating medium of coin; all their knowledged, then, is confined to traditionary fables, and all their commerce to exchange and barter. The only commodities in which they can trade are two - horses, and human beings. The former are well trained in all the discipline and instruction necessary for their state, and a Circassian horse is a well educated and accomplished animal; the latter are totally neglected, and, however attractive by personal comeliness, are altogether ignorant, and seem to have capability beyond the instinct of nature.

When females are not sold, but remain at home, and are married, they reside in huts distinct from their husbands, and bring up a brood of children in no respects superior to themselves. Their whole energies are exerted to stimulate the predatory habits of their husbands, and their greatest gratification is in the plunder they are able to bring home. They seem to have no ties of kindred, no domestic affections, no family attachments; the daughter, if she is found to have any personal attractions, is educated solely on the speculation of selling her to advantage, and she frequently demands it from her parents as a right to which she is entitled. From this cause it is that all kindly feelings are obliterated, all love for other extinguished, and all passion is centred in self. Christian missionaries early penetrated into this region, and converted the people to their faith, and subsequently the followers of Mahomet entered it, and divided them between the Koran and Gospel; but they now seem to have little knowledge of either. A nominal Moslem parent brings up her daughter in the seeming profression of that faith, that is may recommend her to her future master at Constantinople; a nominal Christian educates her child in no religion at all, that there may be no impediment to her conforming to any other; this her natural passions are freed from all the restraints that religion would impose on them. From these causes it is, that there is a certain ferocity and irreclaimable wildness observable in a Circassian beauty. She gratifies the sensuality, but never secures the esteem, of him to whom she is afterwards consigned. She is an object of desire, but never of regard, and always excites more fear than love.

When a vessel arrives on the coast, it is always for the purpose of traffic in slaves; and all the girls, who have been waiting its approach with longing eyes, prepare themselves to be sold to the best advantage, and their hearts bound with the bright prospect which they are taught to believe lies before them. The splendour of the harem is contrasted with their own miserable huts; the rich stuffs in which they are clothed, with their homely coarse, and squalid garments; the generous viands on which they are to be fed, with the meagre of their scanty diet. They have no ties to attach them to their native land, or dim the bright prospect that awaits them in another. They look upon their sale to a foreign merchant to be the foundation of their future fortune, and their entrance into a foreign ship their first step to a life of pleasure and enjoyment; nor are they disappointed even in the outset.

These Oriental slaves are conveyed, not in the coarse and brutal manner in which European traders carry on their traffic in human flesh. The vessels sent to bring them to their capital are well appointed in every respect for their accomodation. As the price is to depend on the state of health and beauty in which they arrive, every precaution is taken to preserve then. Instead of being crammed into noisome and suffocating holds, the greatest attention is paid to their comforts; their appetites are consulted, their pleasures are complied with, so that neither privation nor anxiety may impair their looks; and the slave dicates to her owner, in whatever she wants or wishes. "