From his early youth, the Ottoman Sultan Ibrahim I "The Mad" (±1616-1648) had been locked up in the "Cage", a large building without windows.
When he was finally proclaimed Sultan, he sought compensation for his lost years, indulging in debauchery with an endless supply of fresh virgins.
One day, however, he had his entire harem of 280 women thrown into the Bosporus, tied up in weighted sacks.
He became known as "The Crazy One".
Ibrahim was born on November 5 or 6 in 1615 or 1616, as a younger son of Sultan Ahmed I (1590-1617). As an infant he had been locked up in the "Cage", and ever since he had been living in fear of death. The Sultans Osman II (1604-1622) and Murad IV (1612-1640) had executed all their brothers - except Ibrahim. In 1640, Murad actually ordered Ibrahim's death on his deathbed, because he thought it better for the dynasty to end rather than continue with 'insane seed'. But their mother, Sultana Kösem, intervened. Nevertheless, when a crowd tried to enter the "Cage" to proclaim him Sultan, Ibrahim was so terrified that he barred the door. He was convinced that his cruel brother was playing a trick to torment
Seeking compensation for his lost years, 23-year-old Ibrahim indulged in an urge for debauchery. Sultana Kösem was happy to reign in her son's place, so she took care of an endless supply of virgins and fat women for his pleasure. Ibrahim was frequently impotent so his mother supplied him with aphrodisiacs, too. Ibrahim preferred women he could not have and found it difficult to make love to slave-girls, who were not in a position to refuse him anything. Dimitri Cantemir of Moldavia wrote: "In the palace gardens he frequently assembled all the virgins, made them strip themselves naked, and neighing like a stallion ran amongst them and as it were ravished one or the other, kicking or
In 1641, one of Ibrahim's concubines, Turhan Hadice (1627-1682), gave birth to his first son, Prince Mehmed (1642-1687). Shortly before the birth, Ibrahim (to the right) acquired a slave girl, who accidentally happened to be pregnant. After the birth she was employed as a wet nurse for the little Prince and so she moved into the Royal harem with her own son. The Sultan was so taken with the healthy and robust little boy - a contrast with his own fragile and sickly son - that he spent a lot of time with him. When Turhan Hadice complained, Ibrahim had one of his rages; he tore his son from his mother's arms and threw him into the pool. Luckily, Mehmed survived. Three months after Mehmed's birth another concubine gave birth to Ibrahim's second son, Süleyman (1642-1691). More sons soon followed. In 1645, Ibrahim betrothed his 3-year old daughter Fatima to Kapudan Yusuf Pasha*, but he had him executed within a year.
The shops of jewellers and European merchants were pillaged to satisfy Ibrahim's whims and tastes of the moment. Ibrahim used to drench his beard, clothes and room hangings with perfumes, especially the exotic ambergris. He had a fetish for furs: his clothes, curtains and walls were all decorated with fur. His pillows were stuffed with it and he had a preference for making love on sable skins. Ibrahim collected books expressing the various ways of coition and he was said to have invented some new and previously unknown positions himself. Once, Ibrahim happened to see the private parts of a wild young cow and according to Cantemir, "he sent the shape of them in gold all over the Empire with orders to make enquiries whether a woman made in just that manner could be found for his lust". A woman fitting the description was found in Armenia and she was received into the harem. Her name was Sechir Para ("Sugar Cube") and she weighed around 150 kilograms. Ibrahim became madly infatuated with her.
One day Sechir Para told Ibrahim about a rumour that one of his concubines was "compromised by an outsider", but she didn't know any details, like the girl's name. Ibrahim promptly raged for three days. When his son Mehmed made a joke that Ibrahim didn't like, he took his dagger and thrust it in his little son's face. Mehmed was to carry the resulting scar on his forehead until the end of his life. The chief black eunuch, the most powerful man after the Grand Vezir, tried to find the identity of the concubine by torturing some of the harem girls, but he was not provided with a name
In the provinces the custodians of public property turned into feudal lords. Offices were sold to the highest bidder or given to favourites, taxes were increased and every resource possible was drained to supply the demands of the Sultan's excesses. Ibrahim was indifferent to the chaotic situation in his country and his insane behaviour alienated all political fractions. But the birth of his sons had made Ibrahim replaceable. In 1648, the Janissaries revolted because they were paid poorly or not at all. They cut up the body of the Grand Vezir and sold it in the street. Then the Grand Mufti decided to take revenge for the deflowering of his daughter by sanctioning a coup. When Ibrahim asked him: "Did I not appoint you to this high office?", he replied: "No, God appointed me." Thus Ibrahim was deposed and put back in the "Cage". Confined once again, he became a raving lunatic. Despite the thick walls, his cries could be heard day and night. A week after losing his throne, on August 18, the executioners entered the "Cage". With the Koran in his hand, Ibrahim cried out: "Behold! God's book! By what writ shall you murder me?" and "Is there no one among those who have eaten my bread who will take pity on me and protect me? These cruel men have come to kill me. Mercy! Mercy!" Nevertheless, he was strangled with a bowstring and buried in the Haghia Sophia Mosque beside Mad Mustafa.
Abdülkadir Dedeoglu claims that Ibrahim was by no means out of his mind and that
the rumours about his insanity were spread by his assassins in an attempt to justify their deeds.
Still, Ibrahim was an eccentric and his liability to sudden bouts of intense violence and his boundless
indulgence in debauchery indicate that he suffered from some kind of personality disorder.
He spent his childhood and adolescent life in solitary confinement in the Cage, while his
brothers Osman II, Mehmed, Süleyman and Bayezid met violent deaths. Growing up in fear of
death will surely have marked his personality. In addition, Ibrahim suffered from chronic
headaches all his life.
Copyright © 1997-2000, 2008 by J.N.W. Bos. All rights reserved.