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.