To foreign observers the most exotic aspect of the Ottoman Empire was always the harem. Novelists let their imaginations run wild about what the Sultan did in the concealed parts of his palace with his four wives and dozens of concubines. But historical studies have shown us that the harem wasn't the ancient version of the Playboy Mansion. Rather, it was the cadet training school for future wives of Ottoman dignitaries and sultans, where women from across the empire received an elite education. Graduates of the harem who became mothers of the sultan had incredible influence over their sons. Some of these Queen Mothers essentially ran the empire. Learn how the harem wasn't a sensualist Orientalist fantasy, but one of the central nodes of power in the early modern world.

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