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hah Abbas I of Persia and his page boy interacting and sharing wine, circa 1627. Public Domain.

Life of a Male Concubine in the Ottoman Empire (Video)

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Male concubines in the Ottoman Empire were symbols of wealth, power, and masculinity. These young men, chosen for their looks and talents, served the sultan and his court in various roles. The Ottomans had a unique approach to relationships, distinguishing between passive lovers and active partners, which allowed individuals to be with whomever they chose. However, marriages between the same gender were not recognized as valid, indicating subtle discrimination. In the 18th century, as the empire modernized, homosexuality became more discreet. Elite individuals continued these relationships, creating mechanisms for secrecy, allowing them to enjoy same-sex relationships without societal scrutiny.

The system even attracted volunteers who were excused from taxes in exchange for accompanying elites, receiving education and instruction. This era of tolerance did not last. In 1858, penal code revisions marked a shift towards discrimination and hostility. Violence against homosexuals became encouraged, reflecting a significant change in perspective. Western influences and their modern notions of sexuality played a role in reshaping societal attitudes. This new perspective was detrimental to the once-accepted relationships. By the late 19 th century, the number of homosexual relationships, and the use of young male concubines had dropped sharply, with young Istanbul girls taking their place.

Top image: hah Abbas I of Persia and his page boy interacting and sharing wine, circa 1627. Public Domain.

By Robbie Mitchell

Robbie Mitchell's picture


I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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