The Secret State inside the Ottoman Palaces

The Mysterious Shenanigans

of the Aghas of the Palace

The Ottomans failed significantly in social policy, and the establishment of classes supporting posts in the state and members of the army; as they relied on the children among prisoners of war out of whom they made soldiers; that owed allegiance to them, but these children grew up and later became known as Janissary soldiers, and instead of owing allegiance to the Ottoman sultans, The Ottoman sultans became under their control, moving them as they wanted. 

The same happened with “Aghas” whom the Ottoman Sultans brought from far away countries, and trusted them with the palaces and its secrets, they thought that by some measures such as castration they could be put under control; but as usual they were disappointed, as the Aghas became a parallel state inside the Ottoman palaces, and they even became a key party in the conspiracies hatched, and the mean closest to the sultans’ wives to carry out conspiracies and crimes.

Before going into the role of the Aghas and how they created their parallel state, we first point out that the word “Agha” has multiple meanings, and considering the Ottoman Turkish dictionaries, we find it means the master, the head of the family, and the butler in the palaces of the aristocracy.

Some might think that the Aghas in the army were the greatest in this regime; that, if only the Ottoman sultans were concerned with war and the security of their country in the first place. The fact that historical sources indicate is that the greatest of the Aghas and the most dangerous in terms of the roles they played, were Aghas in the palace; i.e., those who worked inside Ottoman palaces.

The Aghas are originally from the class of slaves, for whom the Ottoman sultans established an entire institution to be the first institution of slavery known to human history, working through specific laws and rules that are prohibited to be violated. 

As for the Aghas in the palace, they are the most important link in that institution, as they are brought from everywhere. The white-skinned slaves were brought from Hungary and Germany and were called “Aq Agha,” i.e., the white eunuch, and the black-skinned slaves were called the Tawashi servants “eunuchs.” And they were brought from the slave markets in Egypt and Africa; for whom, barracks were established in the Ottoman palaces called “Harem Aghassi” for black slaves, and “Kapi Agha” for white slaves.

The Ottomans established the first complete institution of slavery ever known in the human history, which is the Aghas institution.

In order for the Ottoman sultans to rest assured that their concubines and women would not betray them with these slaves who would work inside the palaces of the Ottoman family, they committed the most heinous crime known in history and forbidden by Islam with explicit and clear texts, which is the crime of castration, so all the slaves working in the Ottoman palaces who serve women, undergo castration, which makes them lose their sexual ability. 

The book “An Overview of Egypt”, written by the French doctor “A.B. Clout”, head of the health department in Egypt during the rule of Muhammad Ali (1805-1849), indicates that Egypt was the largest resource, from which the Ottoman sultans imported eunuchs for work, and the two Egyptian cities of Asyut and Girga were famous for that operation in which a group of Christians was assigned to select victims from among the young slaves whose ages varied from six to nine years, and they were brought by caravans from Sudan.

As the author of the book “An Overview of Egypt” elucidates that the Christian groups that were part of that crime for material gain were despised by the Locals, and that the number of eunuchs who were sent annually from Egypt to the palaces of the Ottoman family were only 300.

After this heinous castration operation, the Aghas arrive at the palaces of the Ottoman sultans and to be recorded in a book called “Awjaq al-Ubaid.”, then he kisses the hand of his master, and begins to receive the instructions imposed on him. Such instructions covered everything, started from how to move, how to bow before the sultan or sultana and the level of his gaze, along with prohibiting him from serving questions or talk to an individual.

The Agha system includes ten posts ranking from the lowest to the highest, which created an intense competition between the eunuchs in order to get a promotion that enable them to procure more money or influence, due to such system, many of the Aghas participated in the crimes plotted by the sultan’s harem and the ones who control the promotion process of the Aghas with the female authority they posses over the Ottoman sultans.

The Post of “Kizlar Agha” is the beginning of the eunuch’s gradation, and this post was created during the reign of Murad III in the year (1574-1595), as one of the eunuchs was chosen to be the supervisor and responsible for the eunuch slaves in the Harem if he was of black-skinned, as for the white skinned slaves, their mission is to educate the princes of the sultans and take care of them until they reach adulthood.

In addition to the post of “Kizlar Agha”, another post exists, which is the “Andron”, which means the Aghas whose task is to educate the children of the Dusharma Squad the Ottoman directives, such squad consists of children who undergo compulsory training to make soldiers out of them in order to protect the royal throne thereafter.

As for the highest post that the Aghas of the palace reach, it is the post of Agha Felicity, which is divided into two sections: Agha of the Gate of Felicity, who is the supervisor of the white Aghas, and Agha of the House of Felicity, who is the supervisor of the black Aghas inside the Harem, i.e., women’s residence in the Ottoman palaces.

The roles of the Aghas were various within the palaces of the Ottoman family, as such roles were not limited to service only; among these, the Ottoman sultans chose their spies, and recruited Aghas to monitor all workers in the palaces of rule, they were also assigned to monitor women and track their movements and conditions. Although it was forbidden for the Aghas of the palace to leave, those who among them, got high promotions, were allowed to go out to perform tasks assigned by the Ottoman sultans. 

Historical sources indicate that Mehmed Al-Fatih (1446-1481) was the first to use the Aghas as his spies in the palaces of the rule, especially in the internal struggles between the Ottoman family for the throne. As the wife of Sultan Murad V did, when she sought the aid of Bahram Agha to meet her lover.

The Ottoman sultans used them as spies and they played dangerous roles for the concubines.

Gradually, these roles increased, ranging between espionage, surveillance and plotting, until the Aghas of the palace became the ones who dominated everything inside the palaces of the Ottoman family, and they knew what was going on and upon them depended on the Ottoman sultans in what became like a parallel state, especially since the Aghas were not entirely loyal, as some of them conspired against the Ottoman family, and some of them even loved the sultan’s mistress, as Nadim Agha did when he fell in love with Zbarjad; a concubine and lover of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. 

The role of the Aghas has increased since the era of Muhammad al-Fateh, who relied on them in carrying out plots.

Like any secret state, the state of Aghas of the palace within the palaces of the Ottoman rule witnessed intense competition between Agha of the House of Felicity, who was responsible for the black slaves inside the harem and Agha of the Gate of Felicity, who was responsible for white slaves. This conflict continued until it reached its peak in the late sixteenth century AD, when Muhammad Agha arrived Al-Habashi to the post of Agha of the House of Felicity and settled the conflict in his favor. 

He contributed to resolving this conflict as he brought the Agha of the House of Felicity closer to the harem of the Sultan, so they supported him. For some, such conflict may be irrelevant to the conditions of people in the Ottoman Empire, but this is not true. The Aghas of the House of Felicity, after they resolved the conflict in their favor, became responsible for various matters in the Ottoman Empire, including managing the endowments of the Two Holy Mosques, and managing some endowments of the sultans, which increased their influence. Also, there are some Aghas who were able to collect huge sums of money illegally due to their influence.

The Aghas dominated the management of the endowments of the Two Holy Mosques and all appointments within the Ottoman Empire.

Moreover, the Aghas of the Gate of Felicity did not lose their influence entirely. Agha of the Gate of Felicity was the one who suggested all appointments and promotions within the governmental apparatus of the Ottoman state to the Sultan, which means they hold the reins, or rather, the Ottoman sultans became under the control of the Aghas; white or black, resulting in the fact that the Aghas of the House of Felicity become more important than the ministers in Ottoman protocol at parties and official meetings. 

1. Akmeleddin Ihsanoglu: The Ottoman Empire, History and Civilization, Vol.1, Istanbul, 1999. 

2. Khalil Enalcik: History of the Ottoman Empire, translated by: Muhammad Al-Arnaout, Beirut, 2002.

3. Hussein Mujib Al-Masry: Lexicon of the Ottoman Empire, Cairo, undated.

4. Ahmet Aq Kondiz and another, The Unknown Ottoman Empire, (Istanbul: The Ottoman Research Endowment, 2008)

5. Elber Ortali, Rediscovering the Ottomans, translated by: Bassam Shiha (Beirut: Arab Scientific Publishers, Inc. 2012).

6. Magda Salah Makhlouf, Al-Harem in the Ottoman Era, (Cairo: Dar Al Afaq, 1998).

7. Abdel Rahim Benhada, The Ottomans, Institutions, Economy and Culture, (Casablanca: Sebou Telecom, 2008).

The Aghas of The Haramlek

Eunuchs in the service of the women of the sultans

The Ottoman sultans did their best to satisfy their sordid desires and endless lusts. They were not satisfied with that, but they harnessed all the capabilities of the Ottoman Empire for the sake of having fun and enjoying women, at a time when Muslims were suffering from hunger and poverty. 

Among the enslavement systems of the Ottoman Empire was the Aghas of The Haramlek system. The Ottoman sultans created this system for their women and concubines. The aghas of the Haramlek are the slaves who are brought specifically to serve in the Haramlek of the Ottoman palaces where there are women and concubines. 

In order to ensure that no betrayal occurred between their women and those slaves who were brought from all over the world, the Ottoman sultans committed the most heinous human crime in history. This crime, which the Islamic religion forbids through clear texts, is the crime of castration. The slaves qualified to work in the Haramlek were eunuched before puberty. This made them lose their sexual ability completely towards women.

The Ottoman sultans eunuched the aghas of the Haramlek in one of the most heinous human crimes forbidden by Islam.

The crime of castration was not the last crime to which these slaves, whose misfortune led them to work in the palaces of the Haramlek, were subjected. As soon as they enter this mysterious part of the palaces of Ottoman rule, they are subject to all instructions that can only be described as enslavement. They were forbidden to leave the palace, not to look in the eyes of any woman inside the Haramlek, and they were forbidden to ask any questions to any concubine. Khair Al-Din Agha, the chief of the aghas in the era of Abdul Hamid II, described in his memoirs these instructions as turning the agha into something like a “dog” that could never leave his mistress.

The historical sources show that the first person who started using the aghas for service in the Haramlek was Sultan Murad II 1420-1451 AD. This system developed during the reign of his son Sultan Muhammad Al-Fatih 1451-1481, who expanded the purchase of slaves and women from all over the world.

Although Allah did not distinguish between people except with work and piety, but the Ottoman family, who used to violate religion, divided these aghas according to the color of their skin. The white slaves brought from Hungary and Germany were called “AK Aga”, meaning white eunuchs. As for the black-skinned slaves, they were called “Al-Tawashi” and were brought from Egypt and Africa. The Ottoman sultans relied on Al-Tawashi in the service of the Haramlek.

Sultan Murad II was the first to establish the Aghas of the Haramlek system, and his son Muhammad Al-Fatih developed and expanded it.

During the reign of Sultan Murad III in 1547 AD, a new position was created within the Haramlek, which is “Kizlar Agha”. The task of the person who holds this position is to supervise the eunuch slaves responsible for the Haramlek part inside the Ottoman palace, and he had a high salary, a spacious house and influence within the Ottoman palace.

The role of the aghas of The Haramlek in the Ottoman Empire was not limited to serving women only, as the Ottoman sultans tried to promote, but it was so varied that what the aghas of The Haramlek did became the most important in the history of the Ottoman Empire.

At first, the Ottoman sultans used them as spies against their women and concubines. These women, whose number exceeded thousands, as confirmed by historical accounts, were brought from all over the world, including those who belonged to countries and empires hostile to the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, the Ottoman sultans were in a state of insecurity inside the Haramlek and feared that they would be assassinated by a woman, so they recruited the aghas of the Haramlek to follow all the movements and behavior of those women.

The tables were turned against them and the plan backfired. This is what can be said after relations arose between the aghas and some of concubines and women of the Haramlek. Although the aghas lost their sexual ability but they didn’t lose their adoring hearts. This is what the Ottoman family did not realize, who thought that they could possess humans.

The Ottoman family used them as spies against their women, hence the matter turned against them, and the aghas participated in the conspiracies of the women.

This was the beginning of the conspiracies that the aghas of the Haramlek participated in with some of the women and concubines of the Ottoman sultans. Perhaps the most prominent of these conspiracies was what “Porto Sultan”, the wife of Sultan Murad V, did, who used Bahram Agha to meet her lover. The matter developed into a major conspiracy that almost toppled the Ottoman Sultan Murad V from his throne, and Bahram Agha was in charge of all matters.

What increased the influence of the aghas of the Haramlek was that their promotions were the prerogative of the women of the Haramlek. This is what prompted these slaves to approach the Sultan’s favorite concubines, and to carry out the crimes they wanted. The result was always great after women dominated the minds of the Ottoman sultans and controlled everything.

The agha of the House of Felicity is the highest position attained by the aghas of the Haramlek. Whoever holds this position becomes the official and the controller of all the aghas working in the Haramlek, and also becomes close to the Sultan and has great influence within the empire. Some of the aghas of the House of Felicity were able to collect huge sums of money in unjust ways from the people thanks to their influence. 

The influence of the Aghas of the Haramlek grew to the point that they took control of the Ottoman Empire.

In his book “The Ottoman Empire”, the Ottoman historian Colin Inber describes the central role played by the aghas of the Haramlek in shaping the sultan’s political decision. He says: “The Sultan was in close contact with the aghas of the private chamber, the agha of the gate and the aghas of the Haramlek, much more than he was in contact with his greatest vizier or the Agha of the House of Felicity, who was receiving petitions from ministers and the grand vizier in order to fulfill a matter or business in the state or request something personal from the Sultan. Some sultans were inclined to take advice from the aghas of the Haramlek more than from viziers or grand vizier”.

The saying of the Ottoman historian “Inber” reflects the position reached by the aghas of the Haramlek who were brought by the Ottoman sultans in order to serve the women. They became a major partner in ruling the state and the Ottoman family became a hostage they control.

1. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu: The Ottoman Empire, a History and Civilization: Research Center for Islamic History and Culture, Istanbul, 1999 AD), Volume I 159, 161-162.

2. Colin Inber, The Ottoman Empire: 1300-1650: The Structure of Power, 2nd edition, 2009, New York.

3. Ilber Ortayli, Rediscovering the Ottomans, translated by: Bassam Shiha (Beirut: Arab Scientific Publishers, 2012).

4. Secrets of the Haramlek, Memoirs of Khair Al-Din Agha, the chief of the aghas in the era of Abdul Hamid II.

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He rebelled against the laws
and he was loved by the Sultan’s favorite concubine

Nadim Agha,

a lover who shook the throne of Abdul Hamid II

How can you convince men who, never experienced any human feelings in their entire lives, with love; rather how to convince murderers who have committed indecency and spread immorality and depravity, that a person is not just lust, but is a heart that feels, a mind that thinks, and a will that revolts against all laws. 

Unquestionably, no one was able to convince the Ottoman sultans of anything. Ever since they came to power, they enacted the laws of enslavement, so they took for themselves thousands of concubines and locked them up in certain places in the sultan’s palaces, called the “Harem.” As for those who serve these women, men who have been specially eunuched for this purpose, in what was known as the most heinous crime known to mankind and forbidden by Islam.

The Ottoman sultans believed that with such iniquitous laws and heinous crimes, they could own the people, but because Man is not just lust, and no oppressor, no matter how tyranny he might be, can own hearts. A lot of love stories occurred between the “Aghas of Harem”, which was a title for the men who were eunuched to serve in the “Harem” and concubines of the Ottoman sultans; some of these stories were untold, others were revealed and their details were known, as happened in the story of “Nadim Agha” and his beloved “Zbarjad”.

The story goes back to a young child among millions of children born during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, who found nothing but hunger and oppression, citizens had no education or a decent life. Soon enough, his misfortune got him into the hands of the brokers of the Ottoman sultans looking for children fit to serve in the “Harem”, and undoubtedly, they are to be eunuched before that.

The child Nadim Agha joined the Ottoman palaces at the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1876-1909 AD), and due to Nadim Agha’s loyalty and his dedication to serve his master, Sultan Abdul Hamid II brought him close to him and took good care of him, which made Nadim Agha such a significant figure within the Ottoman palaces.

Nadim Agha attained a great position according to the laws of the Ottoman palaces, as he became responsible for inviting the concubine who was chosen by the Ottoman Sultan to spend the night with. Nadim Agha used to perform that task perfectly, without caring about the concubine’s flirtatiousness and dalliance as he was eunuched, so he was harmless.

On the other hand, there was a beautiful black girl called “Zbarjad” brought by the slave trader Othman Bey Al-Kurdi, and she was sold out for 100 gold pieces, concubines at that time, were not worth that much; but Zbarjad had a nice look and her eyes were glamouring, which made her worth such big amount. when Sultan Abdul Hamid II saw her, he was fascinated and ordered the Aghas of the “Harem” to give her a special place.

Abdul Hamid II fell in love with Zbarjad the concubine, and granted her a special place among the women of Harem.

Historical narratives elucidate that the first meeting in that love story that shook the palace of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II was on one of the winter nights in 1897, While Nadim Agha was carrying out his daily work of bringing concubines to the Ottoman Sultan, he found that concubine with whom he shares the dark-skin. Soon enough, he was mesmerized by her beauty and the privilege she received in the “Harem”, and the first feeling Nadim Agha had for that black girl, was pride, as she surpassed the white and blonde women of the Sultan. 

Due to such pride, Nadim Agha hastened to serve her, but what happened was unexpected, without digging into the mind of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II. It is true that he eunuched Nadim Agha and deprived him from his manhood, but he did not take his heart and his human feelings away, so he loved Zbarjad and the girl loved him back; love does not recognize masters and slaves, or weak and strong.

At that time, Zbarjad told Nadim Agha how criminal slavers raided her village in Zanzibar and took her to be sold in the slave markets, which the Ottoman sultans greatly promoted, as part of the policy of enslaving the people. 

The relationship between the two lovers evolved and was strengthened by this oppression and hunger that the two lovers experienced in their childhood; Zbarjad also saw him as a companion who shared her misery and infelicity.

Poverty, hunger and aversion to enslavement to the Ottoman sultans were what brought Zbarjad and Nadim Agha together.

Nothing disturbs the peace of people except injustice, especially if the Ottoman sultans were the source of such injustice, who mastered it and created multiple forms of it. On a sad day, the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II asked Nadim Agha to bring him Zbarjad to spend a night with her and ordered him to make her go through the sultan’s rituals by washing and wearing specific garments chosen by the Ottoman Sultan. 

Suddenly, the lover found himself forced to deliver his beloved as a gift to a beast who cares for nothing but women’s bodies, and he could not refuse or else their relationship would be exposed and both would be put to death according to the Ottoman laws that do not give human life any value, or accept that and live with a shameful feeling that devours him every single day as he imagines his beloved in the bed of Abdul Hamid II.

In that state, as he was hallucinating, he met his beloved, served the sultan’s word and dropped in her lap heavily crying, and Zbarjad realized that she might destroy her beloved, so she pulled herself together in a rare situation and she tried to calm him down and remind him that this is her duty in the “Harem” and they do not have the power to refuse, but Nadim Agha’s manhood, that has nothing to do with castration as the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II thinks, rose up and he refused to deliver his beloved in such servile way, saying: “You will not go to him, he can imprison me, flog me, or throw me into the water, to the whales of the Bosporus, to die, but I shall never imagine you in the arms of another man messing with your body.

Such rampage that took Nadim Agha over but it did not control Zbarjad, who tried to make him change his mind because the fate will be death, and during the discussion and violent argument their voice rose and the rest of the concubines and one of the Aghas of the Harem, a colleague of Nadim Agha in his work, arrived; and their love story was revealed, so Nadim Agha’s colleague rushed to tell the Sultan everything.

But Zbarjad caught Nadim Agha’s colleague moving, so she ran to him to prevent him from going out and telling the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II. At that moment, Nadim Agha thought that Zbarjad was trying to escape from him, so he took a pistol and fired a bullet that settled in the body of his colleague “Agha”, and he fell dead and shouts and screams were heard from far and wide.

Sultan Abdul Hamid II waited for Zbarjad for a long time. As per usual, he wore a white dress and sat in his bed listening to his spies as they tell him about everything that happened in the palace, while inhaling some stimulants, from time to time, in the middle of it all, he was shocked when he saw Nadim Agha bursting into his bedroom and standing before his bed holding a pistol, shouting: “Order them to kill me, my lord.”

Abdul Hamid II was shuddered when he saw Nadim Agha sneaking into his room and fled to secret doors made for escape.

At that moment, Abdul Hamid II was taken over by fear of this man holding a pistol and standing on the edge of his bed, so he pressed a button behind his bed, and a secret door opened, and he quickly exited, trembling; fleeing from Nadim Agha.
As the story of the two lovers started with misery and oppression, yet the end was more miserable and oppressive, as Nadim Agha was killed and hanged in one of the public squares, while Zbarjad was found hanging herself and following her beloved to the after-life, fleeing from an Ottoman sultan who does not realize that humans have hearts and a life, and no one has the right to own it except the Creator.

Abdul Hamid II ordered that Nadim Agha to be hung in a public square, then Zbarjad committed suicide to follow her beloved.

1. Habib Jamati “Within the Walls of Palaces”, National Printing and Publishing House, Publication Date 1963 AD, Cairo 

2. Habib Jamati, “The Mysterious Shenanigans of Palaces: A History neglected by Histroy,” Nour Houran Publishing House 2009 AD.