The Chief Eunuch of the Ottoman Imperial Harem


ACLS Fellowship Program




During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Chief Harem Eunuch was one of the most influential figures in the Ottoman Empire. After tracing the office's development from its inception in the sixteenth century through its monopolization by eastern African men at the end of that century, the study focuses on two Chief Eunuchs, Yusuf Agha (served 1671-87) and el-Hajj Beshir Agha (served 1717-46), whose careers epitomize the Chief Eunuch's ties to the sultan's mother, symbiotic links to Egypt, and influence as superintendent of the imperial pious endowments for Mecca and Medina. I will examine Ottoman narrative and archival sources pertaining to the period when Yusuf and Beshir Aghas were active.