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Detail of an illustration from the Hubanname (The Book of the Handsome Ones), an 18th century homoerotic work by the Turkish poet Fazyl bin Tahir Enderuni.

Traditionally, tellak, masseurs in the Turkish hammams - the public baths in the Ottoman empire, now relegated to a more recreational role - were young boys who soaped and scrubbed the clients. They were recruited from among the ranks of the non-Muslim subject nations of the Turkish empire, such as Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Albanians, Bulgarians, Roma and others.

Their roles were not just as washers, but also as adolescent sex workers. Ottoman texts (such as the Dellakname-i-Dilküşa, an 18th century work by Dervish Ismail Agha at Ottoman Archives, Süleymaniye, Istanbul), record their names, physical features and national origin, how many times they could bring their customers to orgasm, and the details of their fees and services.

At times the relationship between a tellak and his client became intensely personal. It is recorded that in the mid-18th century, a janissary - a type of fighting man in the Ottoman army - had a tellak for a lover. The latter was kidnapped by the men of another regiment and given over to the use of their commander. A days-long battle between the two janissary regiments ensued, which was brought to an end only by the intervention of the Sultan, who had the tellak hanged.

The tellak role lost its sexual aspect in the early years of the twentieth century, as a result of the increasing westernization of the Turkish Republic, and now is filled by adult attendants who specialize in more prosaic forms of scrubbing and massage but the term hamam oğlanı (bath boy) in Turkish still indicates a homosexual.

See also