the Neo-Assyrian Royal Harem
S.Parpola’s article summarizes the evidence available on the Neo-Assyrian royal harem, which has never been fully studied in order to clarify the function, organization and ideological basis of the institution. Although it has been claimed that the term “harem” should be avoided in this connection as semantically loaded and hence anachronistic and misleading with reference to Assyria, the term will be kept here, as it is easy to demonstrate that the Neo-Assyrian royal harem in every essential respect resembled later oriental (Sasanian, Abbasid and Ottoman) royal harems.
The royal court housed not only queens but also a large numbers of other kinds of women; noble ladies of Assyrian and foreign origin lodged at the court as honoured guests or hostages, and entire harems of conquered foreign kings, which not only included the wives, daughters and concubines of the defeated kings but also their female servants and entertainers. All these women were lodged in private quarters of royal palaces referred to as bēt isāte, “the house of women” or “women’s apartments”, a term implying that these quarters were primarily reserved for women (Parpola 2012: 613, 614).
The life of Assyrian palace women in all essential aspects closely resembled the life of women at Abbasid or Ottoman harems, and there is thus every reason to regard the Assyrian “house of women” as a harem in the traditional sense of word. Many of the harem edicts refer to eunuchs (ša rēši). Eunuchs were surely employed at the harem because of their inability to reproduce, but they were, of course, as able to dally with harem women as their later colleagues (Parpola 2012: 616).