History 15 Crazy Facts About Ibrahim I, Who Went Nuts Spending Life In A Cage  

Setareh Janda
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Sultan Ibrahim I was one of the most sadistic rulers in Ottoman history. Though he only ruled for a period of roughly eight years, his reign was defined by decadence, nepotism, sensuality, and, according to some, fits of madness. Like many of the most captivating historical figures and celebrities, Ibrahim's life was tragic, fascinating, and curious all at once. 

Born in Istanbul in 1615, he was the 12th son of Sultan Ahmed I. Yet, by the time Ibrahim succeeded to the throne in 1640, he was the last living male heir. His reign quickly became notorious. Lascivious tales of Sultan Ibrahim I's decadence soon began to spread. His subjects whispered about absurd Ibrahim I orgies and other stories of over-the-top decadence. He also displayed moments of cruelty that can be read alongside other shocking acts in history.

A small disclaimer is necessary, however: crazy Ottoman Empire stories about Sultan Ibrahim should be taken with a grain of salt. Some historians believe Ibrahim may well have suffered from mental illness, or that stories of his decadence and peculiar ways were spread at the time of his downfall and death to discredit him and tarnish his memory. After all, his court and those of his predecessors and successors were unstable and divided into various political factions. They knew smear campaigns were a reliable way to oust a leader. And oust Ibrahim they did: he was murdered in 1648, and the throne went to his young son.

Whether or not these stories are 100% true, they nonetheless contribute to the memory of Ibrahim I as an intriguing, tragic historical figure of the wildest proportions.

He Spent Many Years Of His Life In A Palace Cage

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Photo:  Gryffindor/Public Domain

In 1623, when his older brother Murad IV took the throne, 8-year-old Ibrahim was confined to a palace cage. But this wasn't your typical cage. The Ottoman Kafe - literally "cage" - was a form of security for the reigning emperor, who locked away royal rivals or possible successors in a special part of the imperial palace. That way, they could be constantly monitored so as not to organize a coup or get into dangerous mischief.

In previous centuries, the emperor's brothers and half-brothers were often strangled on accession day, so the Kafe was actually a kinder form of succession control. Indeed, Murad actually killed several of his other brothers, but decided to spare Ibrahim's life.

By the time Ibrahim succeeded his brother to the throne in 1640, he had spent the better part of his life locked away in the Kafe. 

When He Was Told He Was The New Sultan, He Thought It Was Entrapment

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Photo: Artist Unknown/CC BY-SA 4.0

Ibrahim lived in constant fear that his life was in danger. Crazy as some people claimed him to be, it was not an altogether irrational thought. After all, he saw his uncle and two brothers bully and kill their way to the throne. So when Ibrahim's older brother, Murad, died in 1640 and Ibrahim was informed he was the new sultan, he was skeptical - he had to see his brother's dead body to believe it, since he was afraid his brother was testing him and would kill him if he appeared too eager. 

His Health Was Often Poor, And Those Around Him Took Full Advantage Of His Weakness

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Photo: Artist Unknown/Public Domain

Perhaps as a result of his years spent locked away in the Kafe, anxious his life was in danger, Ibrahim suffered from poor health throughout his relatively short adult life. He often had headaches, for example. Due to his bouts of illness, his mother and his first Grand Vizier often jockeyed for power. To make matters worse, his so-called spiritual advisor, whom he turned to when he was ill, managed to wield significant power as well. 

His Concubines Wielded Considerable Influence

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Photo: Anton Hickel/Public Domain

After being locked away for years, actually ruling the Ottoman Empire was the last thing on Ibrahim's mind. Instead - and directly encouraged by his mother, who was only glad to have her son distracted, so she could wield power - he devoted much of his energy to his harem. Even there, Ibrahim was manipulated, since some of the harem women held considerable influence over the sultan. He was reputed to sleep with 24 different concubines in a single day. Over the course of about seven years, his concubines bore him a whopping 18 children.

One of his favorites, Sekerpare Hatun, played a part in a coup against Ibrahim's trusted Grand Vizier, Silahdar Mustafa Pasha. He lavished goods and favors on his concubines and dressed them like queens in the finest silks and velvets. He also bestowed the elite title of "royal consort" on no less than eight concubines, and gave those women royal land and wealth he revoked from his sisters and niece. A concubine known as Sugar Cube was appointed Governor General of Damascus