Emily Neumeier hosts a discussion on “The Sultan’s Eunuch,” available via the Ottoman History Podcast

August 8, 2018
Emily Neumeier

Former ACLS Postdoctoral Fellow Emily Neumeier recently sat down with Jane Hathaway and Sanja Kadric to discuss The Sultan’s Eunuch. The conversation has now been made available via the Ottoman History Podcast, as part of their series "The Visual Past."

For more than three centuries, a cadre of African eunuchs were responsible for guarding the Ottoman harem at the imperial palace in Istanbul. The head of this group, the Chief Harem Eunuch, emerged as an extremely influential individual at the court. This was especially true during the crisis years of the long seventeenth century, when the palace became divided along ever-shifting lines of political factions. In this episode, we trace the long trajectory of the office of Chief Harem Eunuch, from its establishment—coinciding with the sultan’s decision to begin residing full-time in the harem—until the ultimate demise of the empire. In particular, we highlight the high degree of mobility for these eunuchs, beginning with their initial journey from Ethiopia to the shores of the Bosphorus, and later on using their position to maintain strong ties to Cairo as well as the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina. A liminal figure in every sense of the word—in terms of gender, race, and his duties at the court—the Chief Harem Eunuch offers unique insights into the nature of political life at the Ottoman palace.