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A cariye or imperial concubine.

Cariye was the name given to enslaved women concubines in the Islamic world of the Middle East.[1] They were especially known from the Ottoman Empire, where this title existed until the mid-19th century.

General idea[change | change source]

In general, a carie was a woman enslaved during warfare. In Islamic law, the enslavement of a woman was the only case where concubinage was permitted.

Such a woman had to obey her male owner, as she would have to obey her husband.[2] The children, the caryie had with her master were born legally free. Because she was the mother of his children, her master could no longer sell her and she would be freed after his death.[3]

Ottoman Empire[change | change source]

The cariye system existed in the Ottoman Empire far into the 19th century and is most famous within the Ottoman Imperial Harem of the Ottoman court. It has often been translated to mean "lady-in-waiting".

The Ottoman system formally followed the original Islamic law, but varied from it in practice. After the Ottoman Empire had conquered most of the Middle East, and after the borders to Christian Europe had come to a standstill, there was in practice few opportunities to capture women through warfare.[2]

Because of the general ban for enslavement of Muslims, the non-Muslim cariye was instead provided to the Ottoman slave market from Christian Europe through the Crimean slave trade and the Barbary slave trade.[2] Being from non-Muslim countries, with whom the Ottoman Empire could be regarded to be in passive warfare, this was regarded equivalent to enslaved prisoners of war, and thus was perceived to be in accordance with Islamic law.

When the Crimean slave trade was closed after the Russian conquest of the Crimea in 1783 (and the Barbary slave trade in the early 19th-century), the cariye slave trade underwent yet another transformation. From this point on, a majority of the cariye were Circassians from Caucasus, with a minor part coming from the white slave trade. While the Circassians were normally Muslim, the ban against the enslavement of Muslims was overlooked in their case, and their original Muslim status was an "open secret".[2]

The cariye was always regarded as sexually available for the master of the house, and if she bore a child by him, she could no longer be sold.[4] It was common for a cariye to be freed (manumitted). However, a manumission did not mean that a cariye was free to simply leave the household. In a Muslim society based on gender segregation, were women lived in seclusion, it was not a possibility for a manumitted woman to simply leave the house and walk about in the street, as a free unmarried woman without family would have no way to support herself.[4] Instead, the manumission of a woman normally meant that a marriage was arranged for her; often, a male who freed a woman married her himself, or arranged for her to be married to another man.[4]

There was a difference between women bought to be domestic servants of Muslim women, and women bought by men; the slave women who were formally the property of a Muslim woman, although legally available for the master of the house, could also be sold by her female owner.[4]

In the first half of the 19th century, slavery had come to be regarded as morally wrong in the Western world. The liberal Sultan Abdulmejid I, who was affected by these views, included anti-slavery laws among his Westernized reforms, and formally banned the cariye slavery system. This was, however, a formal ban, and in reality, the cariye continued informally until the end of the 19th century.[1]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Junius P. Rodriguez: Slavery in the Modern World: A History of Political, Social, and Economic
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Madeline Zilfi: Women and Slavery in the Late Ottoman Empire: The Design of Difference
  3. "Umm al-Walad". Oxford Reference. Retrieved 2021-10-21.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Fanny Davis, Sema Gurun, Mary E. Esch, Bruce Van Leer: The Ottoman Lady: A Social History from 1718 to 1918