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The Elusive Queen of Sheba: Harems, Incense and Perfume

But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites — from the nations of whom the LORD had said to the children of Israel,”You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David. 1 Kings 11:1-5

No small harem

While King Solomon was on the one hand keenly concerned with international trade (which was favorably advanced by his treaty with Hiram of Tyre and now possibly with the queen of Sheba), his interest in spices also assumed a more personal and immediate focus. Though hard to imagine, his harem had reached an astounding proportion—seven hundred women of first rank (wives and princesses) and three hundred concubines, many of whom were non-Israelite worshipers of pagan gods. It seems that foreign trade brought with it “a toleration of heathen customs and religious views,”[1] which in turn created a constant demand for incense and spices.

Lamentably, Solomon himself gradually adopted a form of idolatrous worship involving the Sidonian goddess, Ashtoreth (a moon-goddess sometimes referred to as Aphrodite by the Greeks and Romans), as well as Milcom.1 Kings 11:8 records that he built high places dedicated to these pagan gods where his wives (and perhaps Solomon himself) could burn incense and sacrifice.

The timeless allure of perfume

On a purely physical level though, if there was a luxury near and dear to the heart of a woman…and her king, it might have been perfume. The origin of perfumery is hard to pinpoint, though the genesis of the word itself (i.e., per through fumus smoke) suggests it was first sensed when burning resins from fragrant woods such a bdellium, balsam, myrrh and frankincense. Records indicate that early perfumes took the form of an oily or solid buttery substance created by combining natural oils like olive, almond, sesame, or animal fats with a saturation of fragrances.[2] While used regularly by priests in their religious functions, higher classes such as the women of Solomon’s harem[3] also enjoyed such extravagances.

Perhaps the most revealing primary source concerning the power of such sensory delights is from the pen of Solomon himself in the “Song of Songs.” Possibly written early in his forty-year-reign, Israel’s king composed an epithalamium or nuptial song—an expression of a bridegroom to his bride. In chapter one, verses twelve through fourteen, the Shulamite bride speaks: “While the king is at his table, my spikenard sends forth its fragrance. A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me, that lies all night between my breasts. My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blooms in the vineyards of En Gedi.”

Esther (public domain)

Esther (public domain)

Another indication of what may have gone on within the confines of Solomon’s royal household is found in the book of Esther. Though hundreds of years later, it seems plausible that the procedures for preparing the initiates to a king’s harem might have been something similar. The Woman’s Study Bible (1995) notes: “During the Persian period and even among some Arabian tribes in this century, women would build a small charcoal fire in a pit in the floor. A fragrant oil, such as that from sandalwood, cloves, myrrh, or rose, would be placed in the cosmetic burner and heated in the fire. The woman would crouch naked over the burner with her robe draped over her head and body to form a tent. As she perspired, her open pores absorbed the fragrance of the oil. By the time the fire burned out, her skin and clothing would be thoroughly perfumed” (p. 786, “Beauty Preparations: Esther’s Make-Over”).

Considering the size and beauty demands of Solomon’s household, it is safe to conclude that the queen of Arabia’s treasure trove of spices would have been enticing, to say the least.

Common Ancient Spices

CinnamonCinnamon bark ( Cinnamon is the dried inner bark of Cinnamomum verum, a small evergreen tree reaching about 15m tall. The spice itself is prepared by growing the tree for two years and then cutting it to ground level. New shoots form from the roots which are eventually stripped of their bark and left to dry naturally. Only the inner bark is used leaving long cinnamon strips which curl into rolls (“quills”) as they dry. Read more at Celtnet: Native to Sri Lanka and southern India.


Clove trees are members of the Myrtaceae (Myrtle) family. The name derives from French clou, a nail, as the dried buds, which forms the spice itself, vaguely resemble small irregular medieval nails in shape. Native to Indonesia. Harvested primarily in the Spice Islands and Madagascar, today this spice is also grown in Zanzibar, India, and Sri Lanka.


A fragrant gum resin from trees of a genus (Boswellia of the family Burseraceae) of Somalia and southern coastal Arabia that has been used in incense for religious rites, perfumery, and embalming. Native to southern Arabia and the Horn of Africa.


Myrrh is the aromatic resin of a number of small, thorny tree species of the genus Commiphora, which is an essential oil termed an oleoresin. Myrrh resin is a natural gum which has been used throughout history as a perfume, incense and medicine. It can also be ingested by mixing it with wine. It was so valuable in ancient times that it was, at times, equal in weight value to gold. (Wikipedia, Myrrh) Indigenous to southern Arabia, Abyssinia, and the land of Punt (understood to be a region in East Africa at the south end of the Red Sea, opposite the modern Arabian port of Aden and extending southward along the Somali coast).
Pepper (black)cracked-black-peppercorns The dried fruit of the flowering vine, Piper nigrum, a member of the Piperaceae (pepper) family. The pepper vine is a native of southwestern India and has been traded from there since prehistory.

[1] Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, 1 Kings 11:1.

[2] Early processing methods included pressing the ingredients (much like the way olives were pressed for oil), plants being placed in a sheet of cloth and twisted until the aromatic materials were drained from the source, and cold and hot steeping.

[3] Much later than the time of Solomon, Classical Greeks saw the beginning of a distillation process which led to Greece becoming the first manufacturers of liquid perfume (not, however, the perfume associated with our modern day.) Some of their commonly used fragrances were rose, saffron, frankincense, myrrh, spikenard, cinnamon and cedar wood. Some of these may have been included in the offerings the queen of Sheba brought to Solomon hundreds of years earlier.

Two Mothers, One Son

In a previous post, we considered the identity of Pharaoh’s daughter and concluded there does not seem to be enough evidence to settle on any one name with confidence. However there is information about daughters of pharaohs in general which could have a bearing on the Moses story.

Who is her mother?

Though we can’t answer the following conclusively, we’ll explore a couple of general questions regarding this elusive princess:  who her mother was, and where she might have lived. If she was a daughter of Pharaoh’s principal wife, it’s probable that she would have lived in the environs of the royal palace. If, however, she was the daughter of a secondary wife, she and her mother could have taken up residence in one of many royal compounds scattered throughout Egypt. In that case, Pharaoh would visit or call for them as he desired.

“‘The pharaohs of the New Kingdom period (c. 1570-1085 B.C.) maintained residences and harim not only in the great capitals of Thebes, Memphis, and Pi-Ramesse (Ra’ amses) but also in other parts of Egypt, especially in pleasure resorts….Papyrus documents indicate that this Harim was no prison of enforced idleness for its inmates in pharaohs [sic] absence; the royal ladies supervised a hive of domestic industry, spinning and weaving done by servants….’”[1]

Women of substance

Some may wonder about the role of women in Egypt.  According to Nahum M. Sarna, in his book, Exploring Exodus (1986),  the social and legal position of an Egyptian woman was considerable. “Descent was strictly matrilineal, so that property descended through the female line. This meant that the woman possessed inheritance rights and could dispose of property at will. As a result, she enjoyed a certain measure of economic independence” (p. 31).  It should not seem strange that Pharaoh’s daughter made several on-the-spot decisions with confidence and without apparent reservation (Ex. 2:1-10), likely based not only on her position generally, as a woman in Egyptian society, but especially on her place within the royal family.

The princess commissions a wet-nurse

Wet-nurses were hired to care for foundlings. Ancient Mesopotamian legal texts provide specifics for proper payment regarding such services. Typically, a wet-nurse suckled and reared a child in her home for a specified period of time, usually two to three years, until it was weaned. Then it was returned to the finder for adoption.[2]

The account in Exodus 1 records an interesting departure from the normal procedure. Royal wet-nurses were generally members of elite families, perhaps wives or mothers of high officials. This connection brought with it a certain prestige, one which could result in possible advancement in rank for their husbands and sons.[3] For Pharaoh’s daughter to listen to a young Hebrew girl and follow her suggestion to enlist the services of an unknown woman, represents, to my mind, evidence of the providence of a much higher Power in this whole episode.

Moses and Jochebed

Moses and Jochebed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The role of Jochebed

Of course, there is no doubt as to Jochebed’s ability to nurse her own baby. Her breasts were probably aching for relief by the time Moses was once more in her arms. However, what she might have done additionally, in the long term, is well worth contemplating.

There are those who speculate that this mother had carefully planned for her baby’s rescue, positioning him deliberately in a place where Pharaoh’s daughter would find him.[4] Why, one might wonder. Had she secretly watched this princess over time, and knew vicariously her disposition for kindness? Did she have a God-given understanding that hers was no ordinary son and that his future would require the best education the world of her day could offer?[5] Did she feel that the safest place for him would be in the care of this royal princess–one whom Jochebed knew to be influential and strong-minded enough to set aside her father’s bloody policy?

Training her child

Others discuss a different matter. Since Jochebed likely had Moses for three years or longer, what did she do during that time? Several feel she carefully laid a foundation for his eventual worshipping of the God of Israel. She was a daughter of Levi (Ex.2:10) and according to one source her name (Hebrew yokebed) apparently means “YHWH is glory.” She is noted as the first person in the Bible to have a name with the divine element yah, a shortened form of YHWH.[6] Does her name indicate that she came from a family of believers who worshipped the true God? Such a notion seems worth considering.

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary offers the following opinion concerning Ex. 2:10: “His [Moses’s] age when removed to the palace is not stated; but he was old enough to be well instructed in the principles of the true religion; and those early impressions, deepened by the power of divine grace, were never forgotten or effaced. He had remained long enough to be thoroughly imbued with the true national feeling of a Hebrew; and though he may have actively engaged in the varied scenes to which his royal station afterward introduced him, he never ceased to cherish a spirit of sympathy with the race from which he had sprung.”[7]

If the ruling pharaoh was indeed Thutmose III, he worshiped a form of the sun god (sometimes depicted as a sphinx), Amun-Re. It would have been important to introduce knowledge of the true God of Israel to Moses early on. Stephen, in Acts 6:20, says “Moses was born and was well-pleasing to God,” indicating that God was already involved in his life, beginning with his brave and faithful mother.

Grooming a royal prince

While Jochebed likely concentrated on the religious upbringing of her young son, his adopted mother provided the means for a formal education. At about the age of four, boys in the royal court began attending school from early morning until noon–a routine lasting for approximately twelve years. Strict discipline was maintained, backed up with corporal punishment. “The school curriculum largely centered on reading, writing, and arithmetic,” with writing being especially important. “The art of penmanship and the cultivation of style were both highly esteemed as the indispensable prerequisites for a sound education. Drill and memorization seem to have been the chief pedagogic techniques.”[8]

As for Moses’s childhood, John Davis writes: “Children were generally carefree, and played much like children do today….Swimming, horseback riding, hunting, playing with household pets would all be part of the experiences of a young boy in Egypt.”[9] 

Mummy Portrait of a Boy

Mummy Portrait of a Boy (Photo credit: Taifighta)

The young prince would have sported the typical haircut for Egyptian boys of his day—a shaved head except for one long lock on the side, which was braided.[10]

Teen to early adulthood

Moses undoubtedly spent much time perfecting his skills at archery and horsemanship—both favorite pastimes of that dynasty. Learning languages and the geography of his land would have been important as well. Slowly and surely he was being equipped with skills that would serve him in the challenging days to come. In Davis’s words, what we know is a “remarkable example of the excellency of the providence of God” (p. 56).

One last piece

Moses spent forty years in Egypt before he went into exile in Midian. We’ve managed to piece together a collage of what life might have been like into his early adulthood. The Jewish historian Josephus records another bit of his story in The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 10. According to his account, when Moses had reached full maturity, he was appointed general of the Egyptian army, went against their enemies, the Ethiopians, conquered them, and returned victorious. The Bible nowhere mentions this activity.

One yet to come

So far we have noted five memorable women whose presences figured prominently in the epic story of Moses: Shiphrah and Puah, Pharaoh’s daughter, Jochebed, and Zipporah —all heroic figures, all courageous in dangerous times.

One woman yet remains—Miriam—the subject of our next post.

[1] Citation in Moses and the Gods of Egypt (1971), John J. Davis, p. 52.

[2] See Exploring Exodus, p. 32.

[3] Women in Ancient Egypt (1993), Gay Robins, p. 89.

[4] See Barnes’ Notes and Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary regarding Ex. 2:4-5.

[5] Josephus seems to think so. See The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 9.3; 9.4.

[6] Women in Scripture (2000), Carol Meyers, Gen. Ed., p. 103.

[7] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1997, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.

[8] Exploring Exodus, p. 33.

[9] Moses and the Gods of Egypt, p. 55.

[10] Ibid. Davis comments that this hairstyle was actually found on a mummy of a young boy.

Michal: Part 2

Last week we looked at the life of Michal, David’s first wife. Although the story is a familiar one, I still have some questions. Unfortunately, three of them have no real answers, but, as always, there are many opinions. One question, however, has a fairly complete explanation, so I will begin with it.

QWhat is a teraphim?

A.  In 1 Samuel 19:13, the text says, “And Michal took an image and laid it in the bed, put a cover of goats’ hair for his head, and covered it with clothes.” The word for “image” in Hebrew is teraphim. All sources consulted agree this was a household god:

  • “…’the teraphim,’ of the figure and size of the human form, used for superstitious purposes by the Israelites in the times of the judges and of Saul (Judg 17:5), until the practice was suppressed by Josiah (2 Kings 23:24). They were considered the givers and guardians of life and property, or consulted as oracles (Zech 10:2; Hos 3:4).”[1]
  • “the teraphim…in all probability an image of the household gods of the size of life, and, judging from what follows, in human form….”[2]
  • “‘Teraphim’… an image, or bust in human form, and as large as life, of a kind of household god, to the worship of which the Israelites, and especially women, were much addicted.”[3]

However, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary poses an alternate explanation: “Since terephim is always plural, and since the idols they denote are presumably always small…the dummy was almost certainly not a single, man-sized idol. Michal’s ruse was probably effected by piling clothing, carpets, or the like on David’s bed and covering it with a garment, allowing only the goats’ hair head to show.”[4] 

Teraphim 4

Teraphim 4 (Photo credit: michaelz1)

Q. Why would such a figure have been in Michal’s room in the first place?

 A.  Expositor’s commentary notes that Michal’s use of household idols “doubtless reflects pagan inclination or ignorance on her part.” Further, it compares Michal’s deception with Rachel’s, when she, too, deceived her father, Laban, with teraphim. Each woman demonstrated more devotion to her husband than to her father.[5]

If it were due to a “pagan inclination,” could this partially explain her reaction when she saw David’s dance as something repugnant? There is no record of Michal exhibiting any particular reverence for David’s God, and Israel itself had a long history of flirting with idolatry. David trusted in God, we know. What we do not know is whether Michal trusted in teraphim. The Bible is silent in this regard.

Q. What was Michal’s fate?

A.  It is difficult to resist the temptation to fill in the blanks where the Bible is silent, especially when studying such a fascinating character as Michal. Following are various attempts to flesh out the scant details we do have.

Some wonder if David put Michal in a sort of confinement as he did in 2 Samuel 20:3: “Now David came to his house at Jerusalem. And the king took the ten women, his concubines whom he left to keep the house, and put them in seclusion and supported them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up to the day of their death, living in widowhood.”

Edith Deen notices a rather conflicting passage in 2 Samuel 21:8 in which five sons of Michal are mentioned: “Scholars seem to be convinced that this is a scribal error, that these were not Michal’s sons but the sons of her sister Merab, and that she reared them as her own after her sister’s death.”[6] She does not express her personal opinion. Others, such as Sue and Larry Richards,[7] seem confident that Michal remained in David’s house as a symbol, that he never touched her again, and she died childless and alone.

At least one other ponders a different facet of her story—the reason behind such a fate. Professor Robert Alter of U.C. Berkeley asks, “Is this a punishment from God, or simply a refusal by David to share her bed, or is the latter to be understood as the agency for the former?”[8]

As you can see, opinions and questions are plentiful, but all the Bible will say on the matter is found in 2 Samuel 6:23: “Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children unto the day of her death.”

Q. Did David love Michal?

A.  I Samuel 18:20 states, “Now Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David.” In fact, this is the only place in the Hebrew Bible where it is stated that a woman loves a man.[9] No place does it say that David loved Michal.

Most authorities address the obvious. Michal was a pawn in her father’s hand. Saul offered her in marriage for one reason—he hoped that her bride price would result in David’s death. It was purely a matter of retaining power.

Michal, however, was looking through a different set of lenses. David was a familiar personality in the royal household. He was young. She was young. It would be logical to assume that she held at least some physical attraction for David. He definitely did for her.

After they were married, Michal defied her father by helping David escape Saul’s murderous intent. No Bible record indicates that David ever tried to contact her afterwards, or come back for her. But there are accounts that he managed to meet with her brother Jonathan on at least two occasions.

Both were thrust into new roles—he as a fugitive; she, by her father’s intervention, as another man’s wife. David took other wives, and then concubines. Years passed, and children were born. When he finally returned years later, David came as a king, replete with a royal entourage and harem.

He called for Michal once more. There is no mention of celebration or jubilation as might be expected after such a long separation. Scholars view this as a shrewd political move to assure David’s bid for the throne of a united monarchy. He just needed Saul’s daughter to help him seal the deal.

So did David love Michal? Perhaps, at least in the beginning, one would hope. However, accounts of true and lasting marital love are scarce in the pages of the Bible, especially among the households of the Royals. Politics, not love, always seem to reign supreme.

The story of Michal continues to be a fascinating one. With each reading I discover new questions and curiosities which keep me coming back for more.

[1] From Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1997, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.

[2] Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament: New Updated Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1996 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

[3] Barnes’ Notes, Electronic Database Copyright © 1997, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.

[4](1992 edition)  Volume 3, page 716.

[5] See Genesis 31:33-35.

[6] All the Women of the Bible (1955), page 100

[7] Every Woman in the Bible (1999),  p 115

[8] The David Story (1999), page 230

[9] Women in Scripture (2000), Carol Meyers, Gen. Ed., page 126

Esther’s Make-over, Fit for a Queen

Each young woman’s turn came to go in to King Ahasuerus after she had completed twelve months’ preparation, according to the regulations for the women, for thus were the days of their preparation apportioned: six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfumes and preparations for beautifying women (Esther 2:12, NKJV).

Before a girl’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics (Esther 2:12, NIV).

Why did the young women go through such a lengthy beauty preparation?

The scripture does not answer the question of why the long beauty process, but it stresses that the procedures were “according to the regulations for the women.” Were the procedures known and practiced by women in general? Did mothers pass on recipes for soothing oils and perfumes to their daughters? It is likely women used oils and scents to some extent and taught their daughters how to make fragrances. But only the women inducted into the king’s harem would have had the luxury of a twelve-month beauty program.

Hegai, the king’s eunuch in charge of the harem, required all the candidates to undergo the twelve-month regimen; one could not opt out of the treatment. The words that form the basis of “beauty treatment” are translated “to scour, polish” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 804). In a dry climate subject to drought and water shortage, people did not bathe frequently. The twelve-month process might be thought of as a cleansing, hygienic exfoliation, followed by a refinement with fragrances.

Candidates for queen came to the king’s palace in Susa from “all the provinces of his kingdom” (Esther 2:2). The Persian Empire extended east toward India and west toward Greece. It encompassed expansive deserts and a sub-tropical area along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The climate in most of the kingdom was hot, dry, desert or semi-desert. Droughts and shortage of rainfall were common. Weather along the two rivers was humid, but regions distant from the Tigris-Euphrates plain suffered blistering heat. Southern winds blowing off the Persian Gulf kicked up sandstorms, and dry winds blew down from the north.

One of Hegai’s objectives was to ameliorate the effects of heat, wind and evaporation.  His plan placed skin care first. Six months of oils addressed troublesome conditions such as cracking, wrinkling, wind damage, sunburn, healing of sores and skin diseases. Several of the oils available in Esther’s time had disinfectant and anti-fungal properties. Because every young woman underwent a thorough oil exfoliation, skin disorders were noted and treated. The king was protected from picking up skin diseases and infections that could have been introduced into the harem.

After six months of basic skin health care, Hegai’s attendants incorporated oils, spices and fragrances to enhance (polish) each girl’s natural beauty.  The scriptures do not say whether the cosmetics of Egypt such as kohl for the eyes, henna for hair color, pomegranate juice for blush and lip stain figured in the finishing process.

What oils were used in the beautifying process?

Although scripture doesn’t reveal much, it is thought that the women had daily massages with olive oil, cassis oil, myrrh oil and honey to moisturize, heal, disinfect and promote uplifting emotions.

Cassis berries

The on-line website Vision Smart Center in an article entitled “Super Cassis Power” states that cassis oil expressed from cassis berries has properties of settling PMS emotional flare-ups, bloating and cramps. It is used to relieve joint and body pain.

Olive oil is touted for its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. It soothes inflammation and heals burns. It softens skin texture and is thought by some to cure dandruff (, “The Healing Powers of Olive Oil”).

As a natural humectant or moisturizer, honey plays a role in natural cosmetics today as well as in Esther’s time. It retains moisture, is mildly antiseptic, and has been found helpful in healing acne caused by hormonal changes (Benefits of Honey, “Favorite Tips on Natural Skin Care With Honey”).

English: Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) Essential O...

English: Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) Essential Oil in clear glass vial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scripture lists myrrh oil first in the list of oils, and it may have been the most important ingredient in the regimen. In a YouTube presentation, Kenneth Gardner states that of the essential Biblical oils, myrrh is “top of the list” or “close to it.” He states that myrrh oil increases spiritual awareness and strengthens memory. It is effective in treating candida, yeast and ringworm (Young Living Essential Oils, “Myrrh Oil”).

Myrrh oil is derived from a resin that bleeds from a wound in the bark of a commiphora tree, native to Arabia and the eastern Mediterranean. The resin has been used for thousands of years as an ingredient in perfume, as incense and as a wound dressing (Wikipedia, “Myrrh”).

Ancient Egyptians “carried cones on their heads that contained myrrh to prevent sunburn and repel insects” (, “Myrrh”). Myrrh is believed to have anti-aging and hormone-like properties. It is reported to stimulate circulation, decrease inflammation, soothe inflamed skin, prevent wrinkles, heal fungal infections, heal mouth sores, alleviate stretch marks, and repel parasites and insects (Women of Valor, “Skin Care in the Bible,” and, “Myrrh oil”).

What is known about fragrant oils?

To make fragrant lubricants, women placed resins of myrrh, or any of a number of aromatic peels, leaves, petals, or spices such as cinnamon and saffron into stone bottles of oil. The bottles sat in the sun for several days. Each morning the aromatic matter was refreshed, until the scent had sufficiently infused the oil (Women of Valor, “Skin Care in the Bible”).

Are the ancient oils used beauty products today?

Many people believe the oils are effective, safe and desirable. The natural oils are free of carcinogens and chemicals that disturb metabolism. A number of the oils and aromatics listed in scripture are incorporated into lotions and creams.♥ Mary Hendren

Highlights of life in a Persian harem during the time of Esther

The harem was a tradition with Iranian [Persian] dynasties and aristocracy as well. Herodotus (1.135), who wrote in the time of Artaxerxes, testifies that each (notable) Persian man had several wives, and a still larger number of concubines.

  • Some royal and aristocratic women received an arduous education.
  • Some learned such skills as horsemanship and archery, and even participated in hunting.
  • They appeared in public, traveled with their husbands, participated at feasts, held vast estates and workshops, employed large numbers of servants and professional laborers, and at times wielded political power.
  • The chief consort, the wife, who as a rule was the daughter of a Persian prince and the mother of the heir to the throne, controlled the household.
  • These ladies were subject only to the king; each had her own living quarter, her own revenue and estates and a large number of servants, which included harem eunuchs and concubines.
  • The royal harem included three more groups of women, living in separate dwellings.
  • First were the “ladies” of the household, legal wives other than the Queen or the mistress of a noble house.
  • The second group consisted of unmarried princesses and the married ones who lived with their own family.
  • The third group of harem women were concubines, beautiful girls bought in slave markets, or received as a gift, or collected from different parts of the empire (Esther 2.2-3;), and even captured from rebellious subjects. While still virgins, they were kept and groomed in the harem’s “first house of women” (Esther 2.9), and trained as musicians, dancers and singers in order that they might entertain their king or the magnate lord at banquets or throughout the night.
  • 557 - Harem women.

    557 – Harem women. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Any child born to such a concubine was regarded as inferior to the “rightful” offspring, and the Greeks came to call them, nothus “illegitimate.”

Excerpted from HAREM i. IN ANCIENT IRAN,

The complete article contains numerous citations.

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