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A Sick Sultana in the Ottoman Imperial Palace: Male Doctors, Female Healers and Female Patients in the Early Modern Period 1

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Abstract Being a human endeavor, medical ethics and clinical practices are affected by a set of social and cultural norms in conjunction with factors pertaining to the patients’ social and financial status. In this paper, I consider how gender and money shaped medical realities in the early modern Ottoman Empire. People of means certainly had more medical options available to them, although that did not necessarily lead to better results. Gender too was naturally an important factor, molding medical options and the relationship between patient and healer. The specific case of the imperial harem will reveal how high socio-economic status has actually curbed women’s medical options, as their access to male doctors was limited. Based on Ottoman archival and legal sources and European travel literature, the paper examines how and why they were limited, and how they went about circumventing such restrictions. The picture that emerges reveals that being a member of the Ottoman elite had its price.

Affiliations: 1: Middle Eastern & African History Tel Aviv University, Email:, URL:; 2: Middle Eastern & African History Tel Aviv University


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