Harem refers to the sphere of women in what is usually a polygynous household and their enclosed quarters which are forbidden to men. It originated in the Near East and came to the Western world via the Ottoman Empire.
The word harem is strictly applicable to Muslim households only, but the system was common, more or less, to most Oriental[clarification needed] communities, especially where polygyny was permitted.
The Imperial Harem of the Ottoman sultan, which was also called seraglio in the West, typically housed several dozen women, including wives. It also housed the Sultan's mother, daughters and other female relatives, as well as eunuchs and slave servant girls to serve the aforementioned women. During the later periods, the sons of the Sultan also lived in the Harem until they were 16 years old, when it was considered appropriate for them to appear in the public and administrative areas of the palace. The Topkapı Harem was, in some senses, merely the private living quarters of the Sultan and his family, within the palace complex. Some women of Ottoman harem, especially wives, mothers and sisters of sultans played very important political roles in Ottoman history, and in times it was said that the empire was ruled from harem. Hürrem Sultan (wife of Süleyman The Magnificent, mother of Selim II) and Kösem Sultan (mother of Murad IV) were the two most powerful women in Ottoman history.
It is claimed that harems existed in Persia under the Ancient Achaemenids and later Iranian dynasties (the Sassanid Chosroes II reportedly had a harem of 3000 wives, as well as 12,000 other women) and lasted well into the Qajar Dynasty. The women of the Persian royal harem played important though under-reported roles in Iranian history, especially during the Iranian Constitutional Revolution. However, this claim is disputed by some Persian historians.
Moulay Ismail the Bloodthirsty, Alaouite sultan of Morocco from 1672 to 1727, is said to have fathered a total of 525 sons and 342 daughters by 1703 and achieved a 700th son in 1721. He had over 500 concubines.