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The following is the one of the sections of the seventh chapter of Dr. Parker Rossman's Sexual Experience between Men and Boys (New York, 1976), entitled "The Uses of History", and introduced here

Pederasty à la Mode

Sultan Mehmed II of Turkey, the conqueror of Constantinople in 1453, a patron of learning and, as such, a father of the Renaissance, undertook a new “Greek experiment” to put pederasty to work serving the Ottoman Empire, by renewing past efforts to restore Roman order, the purity of Muslim faith, and the philosophy and science of the Greeks. His ideal of a pedagogical pederasty was frustrated, as in ancient Greece, by the general sexual culture’s corruption by the slave system - although Turkish society did develop a type of slavery in which boys were educated, loved and often adopted as sons. As his armies conquered half of Europe, the Sultan brought the most handsome and talented captive boys to his court. He dreamed of a new elite corps, bound by ties of pederast love, who would be equipped to rule the world by the best education ever offered in history.[1] He sent representatives to the Christian villages to draft boys aged 10 to 14 into his armies, and these rigorously disciplined boys were never allowed to marry, so that their loyalty to each other and to the Sultan would never be diminished by family ties.

Registration of boys for the devşirme (boy levy): an official takes a tax to pay for the boys' red clothes and transport, while his assistant registers their details. The boys destined for the Sultan's palace were an elite selection from the levy. Ottoman miniature painting from the Süleymanname, 1558

The “sport of kings” tradition was too powerful, however, for Greek philosophy to dominate even the passions of the Sultan himself. He inspired his troops to more conquests by promising them beautiful boys,[2] and in each captured city he gave the sons of middle-class parents to his troops, leaving lower-class children to do the work, and kept the sons and daughters of the aristocracy for his own pleasure and purposes. He has been described as a “pederast heroique” who celebrated his conquests in bed, and who spent most of his time in the company of boys under seventeen - except for his nights fathering children in the harem. As gifts to Muslim rulers in Africa and Asia, he would often send as many as fifty young European boys at a time. His followers and successors took up pederasty so enthusiastically that it may well have been a basic cause of the decline in the Turkish Empire, as its army and leaders devoted most of their time to passionate play with European children. This is well illustrated, for example, by E. J. W. Gibb,[3] in his seven-volume analysis of Turkish poetry, including the so-called “city thrillers,” which were on the charms of boys of different nationalities, debating which cities had the most erotic youngsters. The adventuring Turkish armies brought home from Europe nearly a million youngsters, with parasitical slave dealers siphoning off many attractive children for sale as far away as central Asia. European visitors wrote detailed reports of the pederasty of Turkish armies in North Africa, for example, reporting that “sexual amusements with young boys” were “the vice à la mode.” Apprentice boys who worked in barber shops and as masseurs offered themselves to customers, and it was difficult to find a boy in the city of Algiers who had not been caught up in sex play with a man. Nearly every Turkish soldier or sailor had a boy who cooked for him and slept with him, many of them captured in piratical raids on Italy, Spain, and even Ireland in the sixteenth century. Rich men of Algiers, said Haedo,[4] kept young boys for their sexual amusement and paraded them on the streets to show off for their friends; and the sons of the rich also became addicted to pederasty by the time they were fourteen or so, with “lewd boy entertainers.”

On the surface - since any handsome boy was considered fair game by Turkish soldiers - it would seem that the old days of Roman orgies had returned, for Turkish pederasty was openly carnal. A scholar pederast, however, privately suggests a counter-interpretation: “While it is true that Turkish men and their boys greatly enjoyed their pleasures, the accusations of orgies may well be smoke screens thrown up by their enemies. There is evidence that Turkish affection for boys at times came close to worship. Their catamite boys were so loyal that a businessman or soldier could trust his boy to die for him. According to Greek sources, Turkish officials like Ali of Ioannina treated boys at court in monstrous and evil ways, yet Greek parents vied for the privilege of sending their sons to his court, as fathers in Bukhara proudly wore gold medals to proclaim that their young sons at court had been to bed with the Sultan. What now looks like exploitation has to be seen in the context of the sexual customs of the age.” Mary McCarthy has suggested that pederasty is characteristic of all virile cultures.[5] It may be more correct to say that pederasty thrives wherever people have leisure and wealth to enjoy themselves. Powerful men, who accept the world’s pleasures as their reward, often follow the example of Sultan Mehmed II, in assuming they are entitled to enjoy all the various types of sex play.


[1] Rossman has made an extremely valuable point here, one sadly but unsurprisingly glossed over by most modern historians, who ignore the clear positive implications of what was reported by our main source for Mehmed’s pederasty, the Histories of Laonikos Chalkokondyles (Christian, Greek and unflattering as his account was).  It is therefore a great shame that Rossman did not elaborate from this primary source. Readers of it will learn, for example, that the Sultan’s mostly successful strategy in subjugating Wallachia depended heavily on the enduring loyalty of its prince, Radu the Beautiful, with whom he had had a love affair when Radu was a boy hostage at the Ottoman court and they were aged about thirteen and nineteen respectively. Chalkokondyles also describes how many of Mehmed’s great officers of state on whom he was able to depend, had started out as boys taken into his household for their beauty and educated there. The Sultan’s partiality for boys was thus both a useful instrument of Ottoman policy and a tremendous opportunity for boys who were talented as well as good-looking. Had Mehmed been the sort of sensuous pederast Rossman describes as in the “sport of kings” tradition, he would surely have found satisfaction with trained catamites. It seems rather that purposes of policy lay behind his efforts to take to his bed an initially reluctant Wallachian prince and (ending unluckily in tragedy) the son of an important Byzantine noble, as well bonding sexually with genuinely promising boys in his seraglio.

[2] See historical records of Mehmed’s secretary, Kritovoulos, History of Mehmed the Conqueror (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1954); William Miller, Essays on the Latin Orient (London: Cambridge Press, 1921), p. 348; and Johannes Tralow, Irene von Trapezunt (Wiesentheid: Doremiersche Verlags, 1947) [Author’s footnote]. Kritovoulos was not forthright about Mehmed’s pederasty. The reader will get a more complete picture from another primary source, albeit one more hostile to the Sultan, the Histories of Laonikos Chalkokondyles.

[3] E. J. W. Gibb, History of Ottoman Poetry. London: Luzac, 1900. [Author’s footnote]

[4] B. Durant, “L’amour Turc à Alger,” Arcadie, Nov. 1968, and following issues [Author’s footnote]. The “Haedo” quoted was Diego de Haedo, once believed to have been the author of Topografia, a topography and history of Algiers published in 1612.

[5] Mary McCarthy, The Stones of Florence. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1959. [Author’s footnote]




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