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.
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, http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/harem-i
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