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Royal Harem

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The royal harem is a part of certain aristocratic courts and can serve as both a setting and a plot driver for various stories. The combination of sex, forbidden-ness, and exoticism that fictional harems often represent has led to them showing up in numerous stories over the years.

The real-life harem was simply the designated private quarters for the female relatives of a Muslim household: nominally the wife, concubines, unmarried daughters, sometimes female servants, and occasionally unmarried sisters, cousins, nieces, etc. Men other than the household's patriarch were not allowed in the harem, so when white European explorers started visiting Middle Eastern countries and learning of these forbidden places where only women could go (and the royal harems were sometimes guarded by eunuchs who were allowed inside) — much like with women's prisons, they imagined there had to be a whole lot of sex going on. By the advent of the Industrial Revolution in many Muslim-majority countries, the idea of a female-only living quarters still existed (as in many Arab countries); but was only just that — the premise of royal quarters for servants and slaves ceased to exist by the mid-20th century.

Sometimes, harems exist in fiction simply because authors want to add some sex to the story, and what better way to do that than include a whole place dedicated to sexual gratification? Harems in such stories will generally be full of beautiful young women with insatiable sexual appetites, and will probably serve little plot function but to get the hero laid. Many such harems take place in settings with Eternal Sexual Freedom.

In other works, however, the harem may be explored in a bit more detail, such as by paying attention to the situation and wishes of the people who live in it. In some works, these people will be abused captives who all hate being there, and the plot may well involve escape or rescue. Other works will have them be more content — they may be reconciled to their lack of freedom, or may not be captive at all, instead having something more akin to a special case of Unproblematic Prostitution. What complaints they have will mostly be of the Gilded Cage variety (with sheer boredom not uncommon). Sometimes, life in the harem will be positively luxurious and may be highly sought after.

Harems are off-limits to most, which often puts them into Forbidden Fruit territory (and leads to quite a lot of Disguised in Drag plots). Many harems will be guarded and/or served by eunuchs (who tend to be bad news), a traditional means of lowering the chances of anyone except the harem owner having sex there. There may be some person who has particular authority over the harem (whether a eunuch, a chief wife/concubine, or a relative of the owner). If the court is deadly and decadent, expect a lot of politics in the harem, with its members competing with each other for power and preference. As in many real harems, getting to be the ruler's favourite (and maybe wife) could be worth a lot, especially if you become mother to a much-desired heir to the throne. In many works, rulers who are too thoroughly captured by their harem will end up ruining the realm.

Royal harems are often thought of in connection with "exotic Oriental lands", so they often coincide with tropes relating to Middle Eastern, South Asian, and East Asian cultural imagery (or maybe all of them at once, if the writers aren't fussy). The standard fictional harem girl wears a Bedlah Babe outfit and therefore looks a lot like a standard fictional Sultry Belly Dancer; often, some of the harem girls actually perform a belly dance to entertain their master. Depending on context, the harem may be known by various other names — seraglio, serail, hòugōng, ōoku, and more. In more modern settings, the harem may belong to a dictator or an elected leader, rather than a monarch. Harems in fiction do not necessarily bear much resemblance to forms the real thing tended to take — see the Real Life section.

Contrast Harem Genre and the various tropes related to it (Harem Seeker, Unwanted Harem, etc.) — those are tropes about character relationships and gender ratios, whereas this is a setting and scenario trope. The two may sometimes coincide, but less often than the names might imply — most works in the Harem Genre don't involve literal harems in the traditional sense. Contrast also Paid Harem, where the harem in question is a person-specific, as-long-as-the-money-lasts arrangement rather than an established aristocratic institution. If said harem is capable of fighting as a unit, they easily qualify as Battle Harem. Vampires have their own trope.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • +Anima: The King of Sailand, who happens to be Husky's father, has multiple wives, usually daughters of lords or rich merchants. Said wives are actually very petty towards each other, constantly trying to one-up each other so they can gain the king's favor, which would elevate their and their children's status. It was witnessing this petty and shallow behavior that made Husky such a He-Man Woman Hater.
  • Bastard!! (1988): During his world-conquering days, Dark Schneider formed a harem from every woman in the world which ended up straining his relationship with his lover Arshes. By the time of the story, he is a Nominal Hero but still wants to recreate his harem.
  • Emperor Charles zi Britannia from Code Geass has 108 consorts.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, it's a longstanding tradition that The Emperor of Xing takes a girl from each of the nation's fifty clans to be his concubine. In the present time, two of these harem girls would become the mothers of Prince Ling and Princess May. Both of these characters are motivated by a need to acquire a Philosopher's Stone so the Emperor would name them heir, which elevates their clan's status.
  • In Fushigi Yuugi, Hotohori does have one, but he only visits briefly every now and again to (literally) say hello to the newest girls. Although he is under pressure to choose one of the girls as an Empress and get to work on that heir to the throne, he is saving himself for the Priestess of Suzaku, who he believes is The One based on the stories he's been told. Nuriko is part of the harem, living as a woman, and is also pretty good friends with (and looks just like) another harem membress: a young woman named Houki... the girl Hotohori does eventually end up selecting after he realizes that he's more in love with the idea of the Priestess than Miaka's actual person.
  • Iono the Fanatics has nearly an entire country composed of haremettes for the Queen, and more keep getting added, to the ire of some both inside and outside the country. They all seem to also drive the economy by buying out anything related to their queen, whom they all fanatically adore. (which includes, but is not limited to visual novels, movies, and pillows).
    • After the timeskip, Queen Iono's harem is thousands strong and counting. And it is stated to be ruining the country's economy, forcing all the able concubines to get day jobs.
  • Ōoku: The Inner Chambers is set in an alternate history in which men have become rare and women are in charge. The female shogun has an ōoku (harem) of men (which was very much Truth in Television for the male shoguns; see the Real Life section), and since it's a Decadent Court, the politics can be nasty. When the shogunate ends up with two male shoguns in a row, female harems are reestablished, only for another male harem to be formed for the future female shogun Iesada which doubles as a Praetorian Guard to protect her from her incestuous father.
  • One story arc in Red River (1995) revolves around one, when Nakia floods Kail's harem with prospective suitors (mostly noblewomen and princesses from neighboring or subordinate territories), in an attempt to pressure him into picking a wife who is not the protagonist, Yuri Ishtar. As Yuri is the obvious favorite of Kail, the rest of the women bully her. Kail is aware of this but doesn't intervene, saying that if Yuri is worthy of becoming his wife (as he has confidence that she is), then she should be able to handle this issue on her own. Which she does, eventually, including a glorious moment when she goes Violently Protective Girlfriend over a prank that could have potentially harmed Kail.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: The Spiral King Lordgenome passes the time by having sex with his personal harem made of young girls kidnapped and trained for servitude in Beauty Village and sent by Guame. From these concubines, he has spawned countless children that he raises and later discards on a whim. One of these includes Nia, The Hero's love interest.
  • In To Love Ru Darkness Momo invokes this trope as a justification for her gathering a harem for Rito (and including herself in it, of course): when Rito becomes the king of Deviluke, he will be allowed to have a harem.

    Comic Books 
  • Black Moon Chronicles:
    • Aside from Hellaynnnea, a succubus and his main consort, Wismerhill gains around ten other wives, all of whom bear him a daughter.
    • Haazheel Thorn has his own harem of succubi, who are otherwise unable to hurt him because of his vast magical powers.
  • Very commonplace in Conan the Barbarian/Red Sonja comics with villains like corrupt nobles, kings, and rulers having their personal harems. More than one tried to force Sonja into their harems, which isn't a good idea as she made a habit of cutting her way free and making a hat out anyone who pulls that on her.
  • Black Panther: Downplayed, as according to Wakandan tradition, the Dora Milage serves this role to the monarch as wives-in-training alongside bodyguards. They aren't necessarily segregated nor is T'Challa particularly interested in any of them romantically since he views them as daughter figures. Not that it stopped a few like Nakia from being obsessed with him...
  • The Darkness:
    • Past Darkness-wielders actually had the power to spontaneously create a harem of female Darklings to service them, since they are unable to have sex with normal women that would lead to impregnation and subsequent death of their users, as their powers would be transferred to their offspring at cost of their own lives. This was invoked by the Darkness itself that intended for its users to give birth to a pure dark being through these women, completely devoid of humanity that could destroy mankind.
    • Its archnemesis, the Angelus, also had the similar power to create a harem of female light constructs, who also doubled as her enforcers.
  • Djinn: The comic revolves around Jade, a concubine in the Ottoman Imperial Harem and the Sultan's favorite.
  • Dragon's Lair: In the comic book adaptation, Singe the Dragon kidnapped Princess Daphne to add her to his harem filled with several other damsels dressed in the same way as her.
  • Flash Gordon:
    • Seems like a requirement for every monarch in Mongo to have a collection of wives and concubines with Dale Arden frequently being forced into it. Prince Vultan in "The Monsters of Mongo" adds her to his harem only for his favorite wife Lura to try and kill her.
    • In Flash Gordon: Zeitgeist, Ming the Merciless is introduced attended by his own retinue of completely naked concubines.
  • Gamora: The Brother Royal of the Badoon Brotherhood had his personal harem which is briefly shown during the 2017-2018 miniseries. According to the backstory, he loved one of his concubines so much that when she bore him a daughter, he broke the Badoon rule to execute female children in favor of male ones and sent her away to be a Hidden Backup Princess. Enter Gamora who slaughters the entire royal line in revenge for the genocide of her people and pursues said princess to finish the business once and for all. She ends up sparing her since she has no intention of following her father's footsteps.
  • The Incredible Hulk:
    • The Maestro, an evil future version of the Hulk, established a harem of slaves after taking over the world. They are collected attractive healthy women from his vassals in exchange for crumbs.
    • Lyra, the Savage She-Hulk kept a male version of this trope with shirtless captives chained to her throne when she briefly ruled over a Lady Land.
  • A Love Like Blood: Vampire Monarch Karkossa has a harem of vampire concubines that accompanies him most of the time.
  • Purgatori: A lesbian example in Purgatori's backstory: she was a slave girl that joined Queen Ostraca's all-female harem and lived happily for two years. However, instability in the kingdom led to Ostraca seek an Arranged Marriage with her general Ramses so that he can quell any rebellion on one condition: that her harem is put to the sword. All of Ostraca's concubines are murdered, except for Sakkara who survived, who vowed revenge for their deaths and beginning her Start of Darkness.
  • Requiem Vampire Knight: Dracula has a harem of brides composed of any victims who haven't been fed on by a vampire yet, as his right to claim any blood virgins in his domain. These women are kept in a convent guarded by the Sisters of Blood, an order of vampire nuns and the main protagonist has to sneak into this place in Volume 7 in order to rescue his love interest, who was taken there to become Dracula's bride.
  • Silver Surfer: The Silver Surfer once fought with one Galactic Conqueror known as Mrrungo-Mu the Enslaver that kept a very large one and after conquering his homeworld, he forced the Surfer's love interest Shalla Bal into his harem.
  • Warlord of Mars: Salensus Oll has an harem of at least thirteen concubines and tries to make Dejah, Phaidor and Thuvia as his newest additions. He comes to greatly regret this decision when all three stab him to death. Said harem plays an important role in a following arc when one of the girls warns the main protagonist about a conspiracy to destroy his allies and the other ones being involved in plot.
  • X-Men :
    • One villain named Khan is a Multiversal Conqueror that has a massive harem of concubines who also double as Amazon Brigade, being fine warriors in their own right. When he invades Earth with the intent to conquer it, he falls in love with Storm and decides to make her his queen. His other consorts, however, are less than thrilled with the prospect of one being more favored as queen than all the rest and try to kill her.
    • In the backstory, it's revealed that Cyclops and Havok's parents were kidnapped by the Shi'ar and their mother Katherine Summers was sent to their emperor D'Ken's harem. When her husband Christopher tried to rescue her, D'Ken had her killed just to spite him, though it turns out that Katherine was pregnant with Christopher's child and later had him ripped from her womb and raised as his slave who would later become Vulcan. He kills D'Ken for what he did to his mother.

    Fan Works 
  • Kindred:
    • Aurora's father, King Stefan, has eight mistresses. One of them apparently had a child from him.
    • Jasmine's father had a harem of several women until he killed them all because one of them was cheating on him.
    • Mulan mentions that the emperor of China has several hundred concubines. Much of his harem doesn't get along well. They keep on trying to kill each other's kids (and a few have succeeded).
    • One of the things that draws Jasmine to Aladdin is that, due to having been raised as a commoner, he likely won't consider having a harem.
  • Sultan Jafar has a harem of several women in Somnium.
  • A Diplomatic Visit: Discussed and subverted in chapter 14, when Celestia mentions that there are some of her detractors who would claim she picks her students so she can train them up and then make them a part of the Royal Harem. She then points out that she doesn't actually have a royal harem, and therefore such claims are absurd.
  • I Accidentally Joined a Harem and Now a Princess is Hitting On Me: Princess Cadance has her own, the Crystal Harem (whose members do what they want; it's strictly forbidden, even for Cadance herself, to force a member into anything); when Coco Pommel gets lost on her first trip to the palace for a different reason, she's mistaken for a new member, and ultimately ends up becoming one in truth. Cadance later explains that one of their duties is to help keep the Crystal Heart charged, which the members do by deepening their relationships in whatever way makes sense to them. Even two members just sitting there, talking and getting to know one another better (as she and Coco are doing at the time), helps with this.
  • Maria Campbell of the Astral Clocktower: After Maria adopts a large number of beautiful wards, there are rumors that they are her personal harem. Considering that this is actually the fate she rescued them from, she is not happy. Then when tax season rolls around, she tries to find a way to list them as dependents, since they are dependent on her but too old to be listed as children under her care. She is very depressed when she is told, repeatedly, by multiple experts, that the easiest solution is just to have them listed as her concubines.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Abbott and Costello visit a harem in their 1944 film Lost in a Harem.
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen has the title character recalling visiting Constantinople and much of said flashback is set inside a huge harem. The Sultan is apparently something quite the Chubby Chaser.
  • The film Angélique et le Sultan (an extension of the French Angelique historical fiction novels) features the titular heroine getting sold to the harem of the ruler of Morocco, whom she stabs.
  • In Around the World in 80 Days (2004), Monique is pressed by Prince Hapi to enter his harem and become his seventh wife.
  • Barbarian Queen: The plot is kicked off when Lord Arrakur carries off most of the women in the title's protagonist village, including her sister Taramis, to join his harem.
  • Black Narcissus deals with a group of Anglican nuns trying to set up a convent in the Himalayas. The palace they use was previously for the Indian general's harem, drawing a parallel between the seclusion of the nuns and the harem women.
  • Carry On Up the Khyber. The villainous Khasi hopes to raise the local tribes in insurrection against the English. When told their chiefs have arrived, he decides to let them sample the delights of the harem so they'll be in a good mood to hear his proposal. It's actually our heroes Dressing as the Enemy, and so they all get Caught with Your Pants Down when their cover is blown. Meanwhile Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond is enjoying himself with the Khasi's many wives, who've heard that their husband has run off with Sidney's wife and by tradition are required to compensate him accordingly.
  • Conan the Barbarian (1982). King Osric has a couple of beautiful women seated at the feet of his throne, but in a subversion they're wrapped up in furs and he pays no attention to them—it's just another sign of wealth that's now become meaningless to him, now that his daughter has become a member of Doom's cult. Thulsa Doom on the other hand is shown hosting an orgy in his palace; he doesn't indulge himself at the time but apparently King Osric's daughter is being reserved for his own personal use.
  • Deathstalker: The main villain Munkar keeps an entire collection of Sex Slaves, including a princess that "our heroes" try to rescue.
  • Since the title character of Don Juan DeMarco believes himself to be the Don Juan of Byron's poem, the film includes flashbacks of his time Disguised in Drag in a sultans harem.
  • The King and I depicts a British woman being brought in to teach English to the Siamese king's wives and concubines. She was promised her own house but upon arriving discovers she is to live in the harem among the other wives. She is scandalised at the idea of her son being raised in a harem, suggesting she's only heard of the 'secret den of sexual indecency' stories from white European explorers.
  • In Kull the Conqueror, the tyrannical King Borna has his own personal harem which is inherited by The Hero when he kills said tyrant at the start of the movie. Kull has no real interest in any of the girls, except for one who was a fortune-teller forced to join the harem by Borna or else he'd kill her brother, and she would later become Kull's Love Interest.
  • Played for Laughs in Machete Kills. Machete places a call to the President of the United States. The phone is picked up by a sleepy yet hot female White House intern, who hands it to another female intern in the bed beside her, who hands it to another female intern, who hands the phone to the President.
  • The plot of Mad Max: Fury Road is about how members of Immortan Joe's harem have grown tired of being his slaves and attempt to flee to freedom with the help of Furiosa, with Max getting dragged along for the ride.
  • In Münchhausen the Turkish sultan has a standard harem, complete with topless harem girls cavorting in the pool. Baron von Munchhausen falls in love with an Italian princess who is in the harem and rescues her.
  • The Japanese film Ōoku (sometimes styled Oh! Oku in an English context) is based on the real-life Ejima-Ikushima affair (a scandal triggered when a member of the ōoku was late in returning to it after meeting with a famous actor).
  • The Lord Marshal's consorts in Riddick (2013). Some of them are seen in the background in the previous film, but Riddick inherits them after killing the former Lord Marshal and taking his place. Riddick suspects they're really just there to make him let down his guard and kill him in his sleep and are one of the reasons he steps down from being the Lord Marshal and seeks a way to return to Furya.
  • Prince Valiant (1997) - Princess Ilene is captured by the Viking ruler Thagnar and made part of his harem. The other women say they are each "queens for a day", and that Ilene is Thursday. She gets an Oh, Crap! reaction when she realizes that's today.
  • The Scorpion King: Seems like a requirement for the Big Bad Evil Overlord to own their personal harem. In the first movie, Mathayus crashes into Memnon's while fleeing from his lackeys. They comment that Memnon barely visits them, possibly because he pays more attention to his sorceress Cassandra and intends to make her his queen after his conquest is complete. In a subversion, the harem girls steal the protagonist's weapons while they're touching him up, showing they're still loyal to Memnon. The second movie/prequel Rise of a Warrior briefly features one owned by Sargon, which he "rewards" Mathayus for a night of entertainment for his service as a Black Scorpion.
  • In 300, Xerxes has brought his personal harem with him to Greece, which is composed of a bizarre collection of concubines, some are disfigured while others are amputees.
  • The 1936 The Three Stooges short "Wee Wee Monsieur" had Moe, Larry, and Curly sneaking into an Arabian palace dressed as Santa Claus. Inside, they come across the harem and are forced to disguise themselves again to avoid palace guards and stage a rescue.
  • White Sun of the Desert, a popular Soviet film, features a Russian soldier named Sukhov who is assigned to look after the harem of a Central Asian guerrilla leader, who left the women behind when he went out to campaign. Loyal as Sukhov is to the revolution, he tries to convince the women to throw off their adherence to tradition, but they're not very interested, and as they come to view him as their new protector, they decide that they're his harem now. The guerrilla leader, who had expected the women to dutifully kill themselves, eventually comes back and tries to punish them for their disloyalty, setting up the film's big ending.

  • Harems were something of a staple in Western erotic literature at one time. Among the better-known examples which became popular at the end of the 19th century is A Night in a Moorish Harem, which deals with a Western man unwittingly sneaks into a pasha's harem and spends the night being told erotic stories by each of the women (and also receiving more direct attention). Another is The Lustful Turk, which deals with Western women kidnapped into violent sexual slavery — which they eventually come to like, in contrast with the more publicly acceptable stories in which such women nobly resist their captors and are eventually rescued. (The idea of "frigid" Western women having their sexuality "awoken" by rough Middle Eastern tyrants formed the basis of a whole subgenre of stories, although the focus of that eventually shifted away from harems towards desert nomads à la The Sheik.)
  • Anno Dracula: Even after taking over the British Empire by marrying Queen Victoria and ruling as Prince-Consort, Count Dracula still keeps his collection of vampire brides which include Mina Harker, Mata Hari, Sadie Thompson, Lola Lola and several other women besides Victoria.
  • The Apothecary Diaries is set inside the royal harem of the Chinese emperor, featuring the many consorts of the emperor, their handmaidens, staff, and of course the eunuchs. Main character Maomao is a pharmacist who is kidnapped from the red light district to work in the harem and tries to keep her head down to evade notice until a poisoning of one of the emperor's heirs sets off political intrigues that make her show her hand.
  • Present in The Arabian Nights, unsurprisingly. One of the stories, for example, has a hero Disguised in Drag to rescue someone who was kidnapped into a harem.
  • In Assassin's Creed : Forsaken, Jenny Scott is sold to Turkish slavers and became a concubine in the Topkapı Palace. She spends most of her youth into the mid-life in the harem before becoming just a menial servant but is nonetheless still affected by her experience.
  • The Baroque Cycle: Eliza was originally taken from her home and forced to join a Turkish harem. She tried to escape and was nearly killed by janissaries until Jack (accidentally) saves her. In Quicksilver, she discusses what was like being in one practicing the womanly arts and admits having relations with the other girls since the "master was not always around". Nevertheless, Eliza still considers it a negative experience and regards slavery as a big hot button to the point she harpoons Jack when she discovers he has been dealing slaves himself.
  • King Silas of Maridrina from The Bridge Kingdom Archives has a lot of wives, all chosen because of their beauty. The main point is, however, that due to this fact he also has a lot of children, especially daughters, whom he can use as bargaining chips, marrying them to his nobles or rulers of other countries.
  • Played with in A Brother's Price: While men marry all the sisters in the family, (the other type of harem) the men's quarters are the heavily guarded part of the palace, into which the heroines of adventure novels sneak to rescue their beloved from his abusive wives, or such.
  • Calenture: The main protagonist Count Eldritch Balthazar accidentally gets a harem of his own with seven wives and seven concubines. He doesn't really have an interest in them and view them more like platonic friends. In addition, the women prefer each other company more than his own...
  • Conan the Barbarian had a harem after he became king, but ends up marrying a Beautiful Slave Girl belonging to the King of Nemedia, who has so many girls in his harem he never got around to her. Most rulers kept a "seraglio" filled with wives, concubines, and/or Sex Slaves, and many a Girl of the Week had escaping such a seraglio (or not being forced into one in the first place) as their main goal.
  • The Conquerors Saga, being about the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, has a lot to do with the harem: Mehmed's father and later Mehmed himself have one. Mehmed's mother Huma is a slave concubine, and a point of contention between Mehmed and Lada is that he has his own harem and many concubines; and at least two of them have had his children.
    • The Harem is also where Lada, Radu, and Mehmed escape to after Mehmed's assassination attempt to meet with Huma. Lada at first refuses to go in because whatever woman goes into the harem becomes the sultan's, though Mehmed (somewhat reluctantly) waives the rule.
      • Lada visits the harem once dressed as a concubine. She says it's to show how easily an assassin could get in and kill Mehmed but it's mostly because she doesn't like the time he spends with the concubines.
  • In Daughter of Smoke and Bone Emperor Joram of the Seraphim has a harem of at least hundreds of women and has sired 3000 children on them in his lifetime known as the Misbeggoten, whom he uses as cannon fodder since he can always just father more. He's also implied to not treat them especially well, since a guard who is a viewpoint character for one chapter thinks to himself that when they're escorting the concubine of the night to his chambers every now and then one will throw herself off the bridge rather than sleep with him, and he's later shown to be completely unconcerned when one dies as a result of him flying into a rage.
  • In Eurico the Presbyter, the female lead Hemergada is forced into a villainous emir's harem, who promises that she will be more favored and envied by all his other women while her true beloved, the titular hero Eurico, tries to rescue her from it.
  • The Grace of Kings: The Emperors keep harems of beautiful women in the royal quarters. After Kuni and entourage conquer Pan the former is so distracted that he pleasures himself with the harem for almost a fortnight. His friends call him out for this selfish hedonism.
  • In Even the Wingless the Chatcaava treat their females as chattel, so naturally the Emperor has a considerable harem, which he sometimes allows subordinates to use. Though Alliance ambassador Lisinthir is rather reluctant to have sex with any of them, even the Slave Queen who falls in love with him.
  • In A Fighting Man of Mars, Tul Axtar has a harem of thousand women that he had kidnapped all around Barsoom as part of a breeding program to produce fine warriors and conquer the planet. The book's plot is kicked off when Tan Handron's crush Sanoma Tora is captured by Axtar's men and he embarks on a quest to rescue her.
  • How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom: Polygamy is common among the nobility of the Elfrieden Kingdom, and not just for men: the higher-status partner in a marriage is permitted to take multiple spouses regardless of their sex. The group marriages are further broken down into primary and secondary spouses: primary spouses have to come from high nobility or royalty, while children of secondary spouses (originally considered concubines but changed due to the Insistent Terminology of an earlier king) cannot inherit. In the case of main character Souma Kazuya, he's made the Heir-In-Law of the original King and Queen via betrothing him to their daughter Princess Liscia before they Abdicate the Throne to him (she falls in love with him later). She recognizes that Altar Diplomacy is part of the job, but as Top Wife, claims veto power over subsequent marriage offers and says she'll tolerate no more than eight wives counting herself (because the continent's calendar has an eight-day week). By the time Souma finally marries his current crop of fiancees in a group ceremony in volume 10, he's up to five.
  • In the Jonathan Cap mystery books, an imaginary nation from the Middle East is mentioned as having a Royal Harem. More exactly, there's a whole plot to replace the nation's teenage Crown Prince with a Body Double, which is ruined when said Body Double gets tired of being used as a pawn and reaches for Jonathan and Co. for help. At the end the Prince hires his almost replacement as his official Body Double and gets out partying with Jonathan's kid sidekicks, telling them that he's looking for a local Idol Singer that he has a huge Celeb Crush on... so he can ask her to join his Royal Harem.
  • The classic Chinese novel Jin Ping Mei deals with the small-ish harem of an ethically challenged merchant (who appeared as a more minor character in Water Margin). The merchant's business is in decline, and his concubines are fighting for power and position as it slowly goes under. The novel's explicit focus on the sexual aspects of their persuasion got it classified as pornography, although it did actually have points to make regarding sexual politics and the role of women.
  • In Kushiel's Legacy, the heroine infiltrates the harem of a vicious psychopath who kills his victims when he's done (until the heroine, of course). She is there to rescue an imprisoned prince that is also abused by said master who falls madly in love with the heroine. His seraglio also includes both male and female members of all ages, old and young.
  • Ladylord features two of them:
    • The protagonist's father kept a harem, but she isn't interested in doing anything with it herself once she inherits. By tradition, the women from the disbanded harem can choose between joining their late lord in death or being married off to men of fairly low social rank. A third option is also worked out whereby those who don't want to do either can go to be courtesans, doing much the same thing as they already did but with more control and ability to leave.
    • The main villain also has a harem. His favoured concubine, mother of a child whom he incorrectly believes to be his son, assists the protagonist. The protagonist herself gifts the lord another concubine, but after she is too obvious in advancing the protagonist's interests, the lord gives her to his guards to be raped and left for dead. She survives and exacts a measure of revenge by masterminding the kidnapping of the aforementioned heir.
  • Mostly Played for Laughs in Labyrinths of Echo: when Sir Max is semi-accidentally crowned as king of a remote steppe tribe, his new subjects demand that he marries three young girls (triplets, in fact) from said tribe. However, this "marriage" is never consummated (since Max already has a girlfriend), and the sisters remain his "harem" solely on paper. One of them even leaves to marry one of Max's colleagues.
  • Montesquieu's Lettres Persanes focuses on a Persian nobleman travelling in Europe, and his correspondence with home (it being an Epistolary Novel) often has to do with his harem. The harem becomes "disorderly" in his absence, and it ends up in violence.
  • In Leyla: The Black Tulip, 12-year-old Leyla ends up sold into slavery in 18th century Istanbul, where she is bought by the sultan for his harem. Unlike most media, the book explores how the harem was the home of the concubines' servants and children as well.
  • The Robert E. Howard's short story Lord Of Samarcand features a seraglio owned by Tamerlane, which has women from far and wide, and later adds Despina, the Serbian wife of his rival Bayezid:
    He stared at the beauties of his seraglio, who, according to Tatar custom, tremblingly served their new masters: black-haired Jewesses with slumberous, heavy-lidded eyes; lithe tawny Circassians and golden-haired Russians; dark-eyed Greek girls and Turkish women with figures like Juno—all naked as the day they were born, under the burning eyes of the Tatar lords.
  • My Life As Emperor, a novel by Su Tong (whose book Wives and Concubines was the basis for Raise the Red Lantern), involves a lot of underhanded, vicious harem politics in the Decadent Court of the titular monarch. It turns out that he himself only got the throne because of such trickery — his mother falsified the edict that made him heir.
  • In The Night Angel Trilogy, the Godking of Khalidor keeps a harem.
  • The setting for Fiona McIntosh's Percheron series is strongly inspired by the Ottoman Empire, and the royal harem has a significant role - the first book sees one of the main characters becoming part of one. One of the nastier characters, the new ruler's power-hungry mother, was formerly one of the old ruler's harem girls herself.
  • In Mary Renault's The Persian Boy, the protagonist is a eunuch who becomes a sexual servant to King Darius. He's also a court singer and dancer and occasional page. He is specifically not included or working in the harem, and the little contact he has with it causes him to fervently wish never to have to work there (it's the highly sought after but Gilded Cage/extremely boring type).
  • The Runelords: The first book's villain Raj Ahten has a harem of wives whom no one is allowed to look upon lest they suffer castration or death. One unfortunate bloke did it and Ahten personally ripped his genitals with his bare hands.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Maegor the Cruel tried to have one when he married several women collectively known as the "Black Brides". He did this in hopes of gaining an heir, but every child he conceived ended up miscarried or stillborn, and all of them deformed. At the end, Maegor died childless and the Targaryen dynasty's practice of polygamy was abolished.
    • Many decades afterwards, Aegon IV "The Unworthy", who was infamous for his unfettered lust, followed Maegor's lead when he turned the Red Keep into his own personal harem where the lords of Westeros would offer their daughters to Aegon in exchange for favors. Unlike Maegor, this was an unofficial practice since Aegon IV's legitimate wife was his sister Naerys (which neither of whom enjoyed their union, but he still forced her to practice her "wifely duties" out of spite) and all the women he bedded were mistresses. And also unlike his ancestor, Aegon fathered tons of bastards... Which would plague Westeros for generations to come after he legitimized every single one of them (not unlike the many struggles between heirs in the real-life Ottoman Empire).
    • Traditionally, the Ironborn are allowed to take female captives as concubines that are known as "salt wives" and Ironborn kings in the background as well as many noblemen during the story are mentioned to have many salt wives as sign of virility. This comes back to bite one Lord Dalton Greyjoy, who in all his years as the feared "Red Kraken" took many salt wives, but no rock (married) wife. When one of his salt wives slits his throat, this lack of a rock wife precipitates a bloody Succession Crisis.
  • In Sourcery, the Seriph has a seraglio, and Conina is sent there. Rincewind doesn't know what one is, having mistakenly formed the impression that it's something like an iron maiden. For that matter, it doesn't seem that the Seriph himself has much idea what it's supposed to be for, since what he mostly does there is be told stories and recite bad poetry.
    Rincewind: Telling stories in a harem isn't bloody normal. It'll never catch on...
  • The Steel Seraglio deals with what happens to a sultan's 365 concubines after he is overthrown by a religious fanatic. In this case, they form a matriarchal society in the desert and plot the usurper's downfall.
  • The Tale of Genji, being set in the Japanese imperial court contemporaneous to the story being written (i.e, 11th Century), naturally features the emperor's concubines. This makes the trope Older Than Print.
  • In Tigana, one of the sorceror kings has a harem. The woman who emerges as his favourite has actually been nursing a long-term plan to kill him as revenge for what he did to her homeland but ends up falling in love with him for real.
  • Black Powder War, book 3 of Temeraire, involves a stop in Istanbul, where Temeraire and his crew are supposed to receive dragon eggs, paid for by the British crown. The Sultan has decided instead to throw in his lot with France, however, and the crew decide to simply take the eggs since the Sultan is not going to return the money—but first, they have to find them. Through as much luck as diligence, they discover that they're being kept in the baths of the Sultan's harem, as it's kept hot all day and none but the Sultan, the eunuch guards of the harem, and women (who are not dragon riders for the Ottomans) are allowed to go in. These particular harem girls are bored and lonely, as the Sultan is more interested in his reforms than his favorites, and might not even have minded too much if the more rambunctious members of the crew had managed to catch their eye from their gilded cage, if only for the novelty of talking to someone new.
  • The Wicked Years:
    • Subverted in Wicked: Fiyero is a tribal prince whose wife has offered to make a harem with her sisters. Fiyero declines because he knows it's just an attempt at controlling him more.
    • Princess Nastoya of the Scrow tribe has a harem of concubine-husbands.
  • Often seen in the Yashim Series. Naturally, as the hero's job and his unusual surgery are specifically related to that.
  • If This Goes On—. The Virgins who attend the personal chamber of the First Prophet (religious dictator of a future United States) are this in all but (literally) name. Sister Judith gets into trouble because she really is a devout virgin and freaks out on realising she's expected to have sex with a Dirty Old Man. There's a religious justification for this incidentally; as God commanded Man to be fruitful, it falls on the First Prophet to debase himself by being more fruitful than anyone else. However, when the revolutionary forces are storming the palace and it becomes obvious that the First Prophet has lost, the Virgins get payback by tearing him to pieces.
  • Inversions. Protector UrLeyn has a harem that serves as a plot point. It's the one place he's not guarded, and he's murdered by his chief concubine who was recruited as an assassin by his enemies.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Present in the Hallmark version of Arabian Nights, where the mad Sultan intends to select a girl from the harem to become his new wife and be executed the next day.
  • In an episode of Brødrene Dal og Spektralsteinene, the time-travelling brothers end up in a Middle Eastern harem, where one of them ends up Disguised in Drag. The harem's owner, Caliph Ornia, falls for "her".
  • The Chinese series The Legend of Zhen Huan (后宫·甄嬛传, variously translated) is mainly about the politics and scheming which goes on in the hougong (harem) of a Qing dynasty emperor. The titular character, Zhen Huan, unexpectedly becomes one of the emperor's concubines, and the story deals with her gradual rise to power (and her accompanying loss of naivety, which in turn leads to a certain amount of regret at what she's had to become).
  • The Turkish series Magnificent Century is based on the life of Süleyman the Magnificent and as it's pretty much a soap opera, it has a particular focus on Süleyman's personal life, much of which revolves around his harem, the people in charge of it, and his two wives Alexandra/Roxelana/Hurrem Sultan and Mahidevran Sultan. (The show has actually been retitled "The Sultan's Harem" in certain other countries). There's plenty of competition to be the sultan's favourite, with murder not out of the question.
  • Marco Polo: Kublai Khan has one which is an official state-run organization, and his own wife Empress Chabi selects his concubines.
  • The New Adventures of Robin Hood: In "The Arabian Knight", Robin and his band encounter a harem of beauties owned by the wicked Francisco, a knight of Arabian descent, who is terrorising the local area and extorting money from its inhabitants, and who wants Marion to join his harem.
  • Japanese television has seen a number of period dramas focused on concubines residing in the ōoku, with the Tokugawa period (and the times of shogun Iesada Tokugawa in particular) being particularly popular. More than one series was simply called Ōoku.
  • In the Our Miss Brooks episode "King and Brooks", the king mentions having a harem.
  • One gets mentioned in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Specifically, Curzon Dax broke into said harem. Just another day for him.
  • Shaka Zulu. Lord Bathurst awaits an audience with King George IV about the Zulu problem. A courtier announces pompously: "His Majesty the King has woken, after a pleasant night's rest." Everyone applauds... until a pretty young thing in a nightie flounces out of the King's bedchamber. Bathurst is then called in to see the king who has two more lovelies with him, one playing the harp and another hand-feeding him in bed.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Harems pop up fairly commonly in The Bible:
    • In the Book of Genesis, the Pharaoh presses Sarah into his harem despite her advanced age. However, she is protected by angels before he can have his way with her, and they render his concubines sterile to force him to return her to her husband Abraham.
    • 1 Kings reports that King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, if not more than that...
    • David, Solomon's father and predecessor, throughout the Books of Samuel and I Chronicles, had eight wives: Michal who had no children, Ahinoam, Abigail, Maacah, Haggith, Abital, Eglah, and Bathsheba, mother of Solomon and widow of Uriah the Hittite, who died at the battlefront.
    • In the Book of Esther, the eponymous character is one of the many Jews living in exile in Babylon. Meanwhile, the reigning king Ahasuerus (or Xerxes) throws a lavish six-month party for the nobles in his empire and makes the drunken mistake of ordering his (primary) wife Vashti to make a (possibly naked) appearance in front of the men to show her off. She refused, and his advisors told him to depose and banish her, for fear that other women in the empire would follow her example of rebelling against the men in their lives. So, being the Slave to PR that he was, he did but regretted it within a few days. The advisors come up with the idea of taking beautiful young women from all over the empire, beautifying each one for a year, and presenting her to Ahasuerus, and he would choose a new queen. Esther is one of the many girls taken into the harem, and ends up being the one Ahasuerus picks as his queen.
  • Hindu Mythology: Krishna is described as having had a harem of thousands of women in certain sources; some accounts describe him as using his powers of Self-Duplication to satisfy many of them at once.

  • In Humpty Dumpty, the King is entertained by watching a half-dozen women try to pull Humpty Dumpty down from the wall.

  • Harems pop up in some of Byron's narrative poems:
    • The Corsair, which sees the titular corsair's raid on a pasha's palace fail when he diverts his attention to saving women from the harem (which is on fire thanks to his attack). He gets captured but is freed by the pasha's favourite (though unhappy) odalisque, who falls in love with him. She wants him to kill the sleeping pasha, too, but he won't — so she does it herself, causing him to decide she's not so attractive after all. They escape together but don't end up together.
    • Don Juan, which has the titular character hiding out in a harem while disguised as one of its members. He's put there by the sultan's wife, who has an unrequited attraction to him but can't let the sultan find him. However, his stay in the harem involves sharing a bed with one of the real girls — and when the sultan's wife hears of this, she's sufficiently angry at what she assumes Don Juan to have gotten up to (after refusing it with her) that she orders him killed.

  • The Gamer's Alliance:
    • The court of Vanna in the Sultanate of Karaganda had a harem full of men serving the needs of the reigning Sultanas. When Emir Khalid al-Saif usurped the throne from his aunt Sultana Adela and became the first reigning male ruler, Sultan, since the time of the sultanate's founding, he was asked by his advisors whether he was going to have a harem to carry on the tradition of his predecessors.
    • Another example is the "court" of Pirate King Kuro Tori in Shipwreck Cove. He has several women whom he has hand-picked to be his concubines. They are essentially there to stimulate his body and mind with their beauty and wit, and some of them have risen to respectable positions among the pirates thanks to their cunning.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Discworld Roleplaying Game plays with the trope in the example location of Al-Ybi, an "Arabian Nights" Days sort of city; the place’s palace naturally has a harem — but the hidden truth is that the harem women are a smart, practical, highly pragmatic bunch who are secretly running the city via their influence over the sultan and their contacts in the bazaar. They have plenty of time to do so, because the Sultan is Happily Married to his First Wife, and only keeps the rest of them because it's expected.
  • In the Dungeons & Dragons adventure D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, the Kuo-Toan Priest-Prince Va-Guulgh has a harem of concubines in a seraglio. They are pampered and indolent, and will not fight the PCs (unlike almost every other Kuo-Toan in the city).
  • Eberron: King Kaius III of Karnath has a harem of both male and female concubines. Their main purpose is to provide him with sustenance without having to kill victims, but it's left unclear if he actually uses them in the intended way though he definitely has a wife whom he loves at least.
  • Pathfinder: In keeping with the fact that the Keleshite Empire is patterned after a mashup of the Ottoman and Persian Empires, Padishah Emperor Kalish XXII (the reigning monarch during 1st Edition) has a harem that would make King Solomon green with envy, to the point that the westernmost province of Qadira is required to send hundreds of new concubines a year.
  • Ravenloft: Diamabel, Darklord of Pharazia, is mentioned to have one in the supplementary material, which isn't surprising considering the Arabian Nights theme of this land. He once caught one of his slaves Ishmael abd Rabbo who invaded his harem to seduce his wives and subjected him to a Cruel and Unusual Death as punishment.
  • Talislanta features the matriarchal Danuvians, who have male harems.

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) was part of the contemporary fad of turquerie (ie, faux-Turkish orientalism), and features a harem. The story is about an attempt to rescue the protagonist's betrothed, who was kidnapped by pirates and sold to an Ottoman pasha.
  • Giuseppe Verdi's opera Il Corsaro, is based on Byron's poem. It follows more or less the same plot.

    Video Games 
  • In Al-Qadim: The Genie's Curse, you have to sneak into the Caliph's harem at one point in order to collect a key from one of the women there. She is part of a conspiracy to provide you with proof of the Vizier's treachery — which is fabricated, as the real conspiracy is against the Caliph himself and is opposed by the Vizier).
  • In the expansions for Crusader Kings II Muslim rulers are expected to have multiple wives, while Zoroastrians, Pagans, and followers of the Indian religions can take concubines.
  • Darkstalkers: The undead Pharaoh Anakaris is attended by several mummy girls that are presumably his concubines in life and serve as assist characters in combat.
  • In Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, the dead King of Zofia, Lima IV, had one of these. At least two women are known to having been forced to join it: a beautiful priestess of Mila named Liprica (Celica/Princess Anthiese's mother) and an unnamed Rigelian noblewoman (the mother of his other living child, Prince Conrad).
  • In the backstory of Kult: Heretic Kingdoms, a tyrant put his harem to work breeding a steady supply of special sacrifices victims, with male descendants of a great hero being paired up with his concubines. One such pairing resulted in actual love, with a consequent escape attempt. The mother didn't make it, but the father and their child did.
  • Leather Goddesses of Phobos offers an hour in a harem with one of the sultan's 8379 wives (or sultaness's 8379 husbands as appropriate), as a reward for solving a riddle. One of them is secretly an agent for the rebels - but which one?
  • Mace: The Dark Age has Namira, a lost princess that was forced against her will into a harem in her backstory.
  • MediEvil 2, Princess Kiyante belonged to one in her backstory, since she was chosen to be the Pharaoh's newest wife in his collection of 200 wives. Though he died before they could consummate their marriage, she was forced to accompany him in the afterlife and became a mummy as result.
  • Mother 3 features a not-so-veiled (no pun intended) version of this with Porky's "Fan Room", which is depicted like a typical Oriental chamber with women and girls draped over the corner waiting for their master.
  • Overlord II: The titular Villain Protagonist gets to keep one unlike his father/predecessor (who could only choose one mistress), while he can claim up to three Hot Consorts: his childhood friend, an haughty noblewoman and Queen Fay, one of his own enemies who becomes a Fallen Heroine. They can be seen draped over him while slouching on his throne room and it's possible to have a foursome with them later in the game. He also has his own seraglio in his fortress with minor concubines and slave girls, but they can't be interacted with, unlike his mistresses.
  • In Princess Maker 2, the Dirty Old Man King has a harem but only the Head Concubine appears in-game since she is one of the characters the daughter can befriend. If the girl has enough stats for it, she can get an ending where she joins the royal harem as requested from the King.
  • Quest for Glory II takes place in Shapeir and it's possible to visit the harem chamber in the emir's palace filled with several women. One of them, Nawar, becomes an Ascended Extra in the following games and an possible love interest for The Hero.
  • Tyranny: While not seen in the game itself, it's mentioned that Kyros the Overlord, the Ambiguous Gendered (but heavily implied to be female) supreme leader of the land, has a royal harem staffed by both men and women.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • The Black Temple raid dungeon has a rather large harem towards the end, filled with dozens of human and blood elf women. Little is explained about it, though the presence of dominatrix-like demons throughout seems to insinuate that it is more likely used for the pleasure of the Temple's demonic denizens than the leadership.
    • A gender-inverted version with the Nighthold raid reveals that Elisande's Secret Quarters houses her harem of male Nightborne (And a gnome) "concubines"

    Visual Novels 
  • War: 13th Day has King Barium's harem. Wildfire can join it in a ploy to distract the king and take down his tyranny. She can also attempt to assassinate him in bed. It doesn't turn out well.
  • In Shall We Date?: My Sweet Prince, King Tamir, father of the six princes, has one with 99 women. He jokingly asks the heroine if she wants to be his 100th addition.

    Web Animation 

  • Gender-inverted in Men Of The Harem. After the mysterious assassination of her father, Latil must marry to secure her sovereignty of Tarium, but instead of choosing one man to become her Royal Consort, she chooses five young men from all walks of life to become her harem.
  • The Princess's Jewels: Princess Ariana assembles a harem of five beautiful men composed of...
  • Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic: With his mother's permission, Glon sets up a harem while still a prince, but he ends up not visiting very often and the gals mostly just hang around bored. He also officially marries several wives to satisfy various political demands.

    Western Animation 
  • In an American Dad! two-parter where the Smiths went to Saudi Arabia Steve sold Roger (disguised as a woman) to a prince. The alcoholic alien was briefly glad to discover that the country's dry laws didn't apply in the harem.
  • In the The Chipmunk Adventure movie, a young human prince falls in love with Brittany and tries to get her to join his family's royal harem, so the three Chipettes have to get out of there. It certainly explains their Bedlah Babe outfits.
  • In Danny Phantom, this was genie-themed villain Desiree's backstory: she was a harem girl whom the sultan liked enough to promise his kingdom to, but the jealous sultana made him kick her out instead. In the afterlife, she's still trying to make people happy but has grown bitter because she still never gets what she wants in return.
  • The Trisolians of Futurama have one of these. When Fry accidentally becomes Emperor he's informed he can choose any woman from the harem to be his concubine. Since the Trisolians are made entirely of water the harem consists of rows of glass bottles that give no indication of what the person inside looks like, so Fry ends up pointing to random bottles while the High Priest comments on his choices.
  • The Framing Device of Scooby-Doo in Arabian Nights has Shaggy disguise himself as a harem girl and relate the main content à la Scheherazade.
  • Referenced briefly during "War and Pieces" from Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. Wile E. sets up a look-through attraction titled "Secrets of a Harem", with the viewing lens replaced by the barrels of a rifle gun. As fate would have it, however, nothing happens while the Road Runner looks through the "lenses", and the moment the Coyote looks through them, he ends up getting blasted once again.

    Real Life 
  • The concept of women-only living spaces is very common in the Middle East, but this does not mean that Royal Harems are a thing anymore. For an example of the average household, many arab homes have a room which is reserved only for women: much like a living room.
  • Royal harems existed in quite a number of places, although the reality of them doesn't necessarily look much like their fictional depiction (i.e. this trope). For one thing, a classical harem in many places was more a general women's quarters where no men were permitted than specifically a place for sex — women of all ages and ranks might be found there, including relatives. There might also be a lot of children about. The Dated History page has an entry on the subject. Expanding upon this point; the Ottoman harem was almost like a finishing school in some respects. Noble families would campaign to get their daughters places - not as concubines, but as recognized positions (like Lady-In-Waiting) in the harem.
  • In many traditional royal harems a woman could make a good career for herself rather than becoming a concubine. For example, a council of female department heads governed the Turkish Seraglio and it was more than possible for a girl who was good at her work and had executive ability to rise to one of these positions. These women were in a position to make nice little fortunes for themselves and were sometimes allowed to marry after the death of the Sultan they worked for. In Ancient Egypt, the royal harem palaces seem to have been industrial centers for the making of 'royal linen' and were inhabited by numerous craftswomen and female overseers and officials connected with that industry.
  • The story of Aimée Dubuc de Rivery, a cousin and contemporary of the Empress Josephine that disappeared at the sea in 1788, who according to persistent legend was captured by Muslim pirates and sent to the Sultan's Seraglio where she became Nakşidil, the favorite wife of Sultan Abdul Hamid I and powerful mother of another has inspired several modern novels. Though many writers have been carefully researched and give a far more complex and nuanced picture of life in the Ottoman Seraglio than the classic picture of beautiful and sex-starved odalisques, there is no concrete evidence proving that Aimée and Nakşidil were the same woman, as Turkish scholars believe the latter hailed from the Caucasus instead of France.
  • Harem practices similar to those stereotypically associated with Islam or at least Islamic culture actually precede it by several centuries. It was especially common in the Middle East, but was seen pretty much anywhere there were kings and (rich/powerful/noble) men were allowed to take multiple wives, which is, er, most settled societies through most of written history (the Greeks and Romans were weirdos in the ancient world for forbidding their high-status men from having more than one wife at a time).
    • The kings of Ancient Egypt had numerous wives and concubines. Ramses II, for one example, is known to have fathered at least a hundred children by his harem. However, while they had a dedicated space (the Eighteenth Dynasty dedicated a whole gigantic palace in the Faiyum called Merwer to the royal harem), they weren't actually secluded in the sense of being required to be apart from the world. The royal ladies were well integrated into the elite social life of the area surrounding the harem palace, regularly entertaining their noble neighbors, apparently without needing the King to be present and supervise. They also participated in the economic life of the area; the royal ladies were particularly known for weaving a particular kind of fine linen cloth that was used to clothe the statues of the gods in most temples across Egypt, but which was also a desired commodity for nobles and the wealthy, who happily paid kingly sums for it both for the quality of the fabric and its royal manufacture. Moreover, senior royal wives tended to have important public roles both in the royal court (held wherever the king was, usually Thebes or Memphis) and in the priesthood (the Great Royal Wife—the Queen—was usually the chief priestess of Amun at the temple at Thebes starting no later than the Eigtheenth Dynasty, and possibly as early as the Twelfth). The harem palace was a retreat for the royal family to escape their public duties, but its inhabitants could and did leave when they liked/needed. (In other words, think Sandringham, not the Seraglio.)
    • The trope is seen played much straighter in ancient Assyria. The king's consorts lived in seclusion and they could only travel together in the company of their husband with a series of edicts kept in place to prevent court intrigue among them. That officially makes this tope Older Than Dirt.
    • The Persian harem starting all the way back with the Achaemenid dynasty served as basis for the following harems: the king kept several wives and had an even larger number of concubines with the queen mother being in charge of the household.
  • Chinese emperors commonly had multiple consorts or concubines. The exact arrangements varied over the millennia, but often a large section of the imperial palace is devoted to the royal harem with imperial eunuchs being the only men allowed entrance besides the emperor. The women may be considered various tiers of wives to the emperor, ranging from the official empresses to servant girls who are little more than kidnapped sex slaves. Reflecting China's large population throughout history, this harem is more famously known from a piece of Tang Dynasty poetry to have 3000 women, with some sources citing up to 40,000. Interestingly, by the time of the late Ming Dynasty in the 16th century CE, there was an official practice whereby certain towns had to periodically present all their unmarried girls within a prescribed age range for evaluation as imperial brides; selected girls would be put through a grueling winnowing process to determine whether they would enter the imperial harem and if so what positions they would take. Not coincidentally, marriage rates among otherwise-eligible girls spiked in the time immediately before the imperial selection...
  • Christianity generally frowns upon polygamy, specially the Catholic and Orthodox churches. While it wasn't uncommon for Christian monarchs to keep concubines or lovers, there were few exceptions to this rule:
    • The Mongol khan Hulagu Khan was a Nestorian Christian (until he converted to Buddhism on his deathbed) and had at least 14 official wives. Granted, it was more of a Mongolian custom and Nestorianism didn't necessarily abide to either church's edicts.
    • Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire was raised in Sicily (a former Islamic colony until it was reconquered in The Crusades) and was referred by some contemporaries as "the Christian Sultan" due to keeping his wives and mistresses secluded in Palermo and guarded by eunuch bodyguards. While it may seem like he converted to Islam, he was said to still being a Roman Catholic that merely adopted cultural customs because of his friendly relationship with the Muslim world (which were viewed as grounds for apostasy and got him into conflict with the Pope) and according to some, he died like a Christian, wearing Cistercian monk robes.
    • Mswati III, the current king of Swaziland and nominally a Christian, has currently 15 wives.
  • As mentioned above, the Ōoku of Japan's Tokugawa shogunate has been classed under these. In reality, however, it counts more as a general women's quarters—consisting not only of the Shogun's wife, mistresses, concubines, and chambermaids, but also the Shogun's elderly female relatives (say his grandmother, mother, and others). Nevertheless, it is also a significantly powerful court-of-influence, and there has been no shortage of politics involved from the cadet brances of the Tokugawa (as well as the daimyo families) trying to parachute their princesses into the Ōoku to win the Shogun's favor/ear.
  • The Buddhist harems in Siam shared some similarities with Islamic harems such as the Ottoman and Mughal harems. The king's Inner Palace is described by chroniclers as a city of women where resided all his female relatives (daughters, sisters, aunts and etc.) and other young ladies from rich families to be guarded until they were of marriageable age. No males over 11 were allowed unless under specific circumstances and they were under watch all the time. The key difference is that, unlike the Turkish seraglio, their harem was guarded by an Amazon Brigade rather than eunuchs.
  • It's said that every member of the Aztec nobility was expected to have as many consorts as he could afford. When Hernán Cortés met the emperor Monctezuma II, he was said to have kept 4,000 concubines.
  • Ismail ibn Shariff was estimated to have kept at least 2,000 concubines (many of them were French in origin captured by Berber pirates and sold as slaves), but he holds the record of fathering more (verified) children than any other man, with a total of 867 children.