Did Sultan Moulay Ismail of Morocco Father 1000 Children?

children in shadow main

Many kings over the centuries had a LOT of children, even in the hundreds, including the “Bull of Swazi” in the 20th Century. Sultan Moulay Ismail of Morocco (1645-1727) might have fathered over 1100. It is the world’s record of verifiable fatherhood. Ismail’s reign is also notable. His fifty-year-plus reign was a Moroccan Golden Age. He ruthlessly built a powerful army, allied with France, and gained fantastic wealth. 

Kings Who Had Lots of Children 

The King and I is a popular musical based on historical events. The King of Siam had eighty-two children. He hired a British governess to educate them. It took place in the mid-19th Century.  

King Sobhuza was a king of Swaziland in the 20th Century. He officially had seventy wives and over two hundred children. The “bull of Swazi” unofficially had many more wives and children.  

King Solomon, of biblical times, reportedly had 700 wives and 300 concubines. We do our best to take these numbers with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, he might have had lots of children. 

How about someone fathering a thousand children? Is this even possible?  

Sultan Moulay Ismail of Morocco

We have talked about the economy of modern-day Morocco. 

Let us go back in time another three hundred years. Moulay Ismail Ibn Sharif (1645-1727) reigned as sultan (leader) of Morocco for over fifty years. His fifty-five-year reign is the longest in Moroccan history. Ismail’s reign was a mixture of greatness and cruelty.  

Ismail built up an army of over one hundred and fifty thousand men. The army arose from families of slaves, organized as a personal army. His army had European weapons and skillfully learned the most modern military tactics. It was a fearful fighting force.

Moroccan pirates (corsairs) sailed in the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. They brought back Europeans as slaves, weapons, and booty. Ismail, a Muslim, believed Christians were infidels. Nonetheless, he allied with France and benefited from trade with European powers. 

A successful reign also required an iron will. He might have taken things to extremes. Ismail gained a reputation for arbitrariness and cruelty. He was given the nickname “the Bloodthirsty” for all the people he had killed, reportedly over thirty thousand. 

At one point, he amputated an arm and leg of his favorite son, who allegedly was rebellious. He died. This punishment would send a message to everyone else to not dare disobey. 

Wives and Concubines 

Islamic law allows a man to have up to four wives if he can care for them. Ismail had four wives. He also had five hundred concubines. A concubine is a woman who has a steady relationship with a man without being legally married. It was a familiar practice at that time.  

The sultan was very protective of his wives and concubines. Other men were not allowed to even look at them. It was a capital offense. Each concubine received an eunuch and a personal female attendant. The special treatment came with a price. Betrayal could mean death. 

Legend says that the sultan had sex at least once a day. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, he fathered 888 children — the highest verifiable number of offspring for anyone throughout history. The number might be 1,171!

Is That Possible?!

Some researchers were doubtful about the scope of Ismail’s fatherhood. Women are fertile only part of the time. Sex statistically rarely results in children. Infertility is often a problem in developing countries, which might drive the numbers down. The numbers might be exaggerated.

We do not have conclusive evidence of how many children he had. We do have good evidence of kings having hundreds of children. Can we determine if 1000 children is possible? 

Scientists today also can run computer simulations to determine if it is possible. Scientists used a variety of criteria, including the different menstrual cycles of the women and the quality of Ismail’s sperm. The results show that he can have that many children. He could have done it with fewer than one hundred concubines. 

Genetic testing has even suggested that Ismail might not be the most prodigious father in history. Genghis Khan might have had between one thousand and three thousand children.  

The Limits of Fatherhood

Ismail demanded the most beautiful girl from each tribe he conquered. So, his concubines were a sign of his power and wealth. They had special privileges and prestige.

Harems had complex social rules. They were not simply some sort of male fantasy. There were rules to follow, including for the sultan himself. 

The scientists who determined he might have had over a thousand children made some notable findings. For instance, the sultan’s monopoly resulted in fewer children being born. Money spread around can result in more capital. The principle applies to motherhood.  

Ismail probably would not have found this problematic. He was concerned about his power. He built an army by developing soldiers loyal to him instead of their tribes. 

We would see things differently today. The sort of sexual monopoly he had provided was a dictatorial monopoly that we would find patently unjust and dangerous.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.