Odalisques blog

The Female Slave Market in Constantinople (1 Mar)
From the slave market to the sultan's bedchamber (17 Feb)
Buying a new slave for your harem (4 Feb)
Odalisquian books list now on Odalisques.com (29 Jan)
Edward Lane's descriptions and drawings of female clothing (27 Jan)
more posts...


"The Arab Scribe" by J.F. Lewis, 1852
"The Bath" by J.L. Gerome, in the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
"Odalisque" by Max Nonnenbruch
"By order of the sultan" by Antonio Fabres
"Idle Moments" by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, 1875
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"Slave dealer" by Eduard Ansen Hofmann

"Slave dealer" by Eduard Ansen Hofmann

A rather frightened slavegirl is made to display her naked body to a prospective buyer. Charles White described a similar scene, although without the nakedness, in "Three Years in Constantinople" from 1844, Volume II, Chapter VII, p.288. Expensive European-looking slaves were trained for months or years and then sold privately, rather than in the open-air slave market. To visit one of these houses, White had to pretend to be a doctor helping a Turk make his choice. My comments are in brackets:

Although it is extremely difficult for Franks (Western Europeans), or even Rayas (Christian subjects of the empire), to obtain access to the houses where Circassian (southeast of modern day Russia) women are educated for sale, accident enabled me, during the spring of 1842, to accompany a Turkish officer, under the character of a physician, to one of these establishments, contiguous to the "Burned Column." On arriving, we were received by a black man-slave and Turkish porter, the former of whom conducted us into a large apartment, where the usual pipes and coffee were offered by the proprietor, a man of respectable appearance and agreeable manners. In due time, my Turkish companion, affecting a desire to purchase, expressed his wish to examine the dealer's stock. The latter rose, passed through a side door, and after a short absence returned. Presently, the door curtain was held back, and in glided a string of eleven girls, who placed themselves in line before us.

Of these, three only were remarkable for personal attractions. They had all large feet, red and bony hands, strong features, and coarse complexions; but their eyes were full-orbed and expressive, their teeth white and regular, their hair luxuriant, and their figures well developed and proportioned, though thick-waisted. They were clothed in the Circassian fashion, but with the usual Turkish materials ; that is, shalwars (harem pants) and short entary (gowns) of printed cotton; waist-girdles of imitation shawl; chemises of birunjik, and the common yellow papoosh (leather slippers) without stockings. They wore a small flat fez, encircled by a bright-coloured handkerchief on their heads, and a veil of coarse muslin was thrown over these, the ends hanging down below the waist, whilst they held the side across their faces with their left hands. Their hair was braided in several plaits, and hung down their backs. Three or four ringlets adorned each temple, but the front was cut short and square, causing their foreheads to look low and unprepossessing.

They appeared neither bashful nor disturbed at our close inspection, and yet there was nothing forward or immodest in their manner. Their exposure was a matter of course. Daughters of Circassian serfs, reared in servitude and taught from their cradles to consider themselves as marketable articles, there was nothing to them novel or degrading in slavery or the preparatory exhibition. So far from it, they appeared to watch the countenance of the pretended purchaser with anxiety, and their faces flushed with hope rather than shame when prices were mentioned. They readily thrust out their tongues, extended their wrists, and submitted to other scrutiny. In short, their whole expression of feature and manner denoted an earnest desire to be purchased forthwith.

There is nothing extraordinary in this, as regard these girls. They are aware that many of their countrywomen have become mothers, and pro forma wives of sultans; that many also have been and are married legitimately to influential and wealthy men.

Last modified 16 Oct 12, 12:57 PM by Tanos