Circassian women were regarded as the most beautiful and desirable of merchandise to purchase for the wealthiest harems. (See portrait by 19th century Orientalist painter Jean-Leon Gerome) For centuries they were either offered as tribute to the Ottoman Empire or sold to slave dealers. Some were reported to have regarded life in a harem as more desirable than the direst poverty imaginable. In the Arab world and the Ottoman Empire, slavery was legally allowed into 20th century. Check out the excerpt from the London Post decrying slavery.
Article from the Correspondence of the London Post (1856). There has been lately an unusually large number of Circassians going about the streets of Constantinople. Many of them no doubt belonged to the deputation which came to petition the Porte that their country might be taken under the suzerainty of the Sultan. A considerable portion, however, of the Circassians now in the capital have quite another mission than a political one to fulfill. They are here as slave dealers, charged with the disposal of the numerous parcels of Circassian girls that have been for some time pouring into this market. Perceiving that when the Russians shall have reoccupied the coast of the Caucasus this traffic in white slaves will be over, the Circassian dealers have redoubled their efforts ever since the commencement of the peace conferences to introduce into Turkey the greatest possible number of women while the opportunity of doing so lasted. They have been so successful, notwithstanding the prohibition of the trade by the Porte, and the presence of so many of Her Majesty’s ships in the Black Sea, that never, perhaps, at any former period, was white human flesh so cheap as it is at this moment. There is an absolute glut in the market, and dealers are obliged to throw away their goods, owing to the extent of the supply, which in many instances has been brought by steam under the British flag. In former times a “good middling” Circassian girl was thought very cheap at 100 pounds, but at the present moment the same description of goods may be had for 5 pounds! In fact, the creatures are eating their heads off, and must be disposed of at any sacrifice, however alarming. Independently of all political, humane and Christian objections to this abominable state of things, there are several practical ones which have even forced themselves on the attention of the Turks. With low prices a low-class of purchasers come into the market. Formerly a Circassian slave girl was pretty sure of being bought into a good family, where not only good treatment, but often rank and fortune awaited her; but at present low rates she may be taken by any huxter who never thought of keeping a slave before. Tomorrow, The Harem Guards Rita Bay