a woman with power at the Ottoman Empire
Although the leadership of the Ottoman Empire was dominated
by men, at least one woman in the early period of the
Empire succeeded in making her way into the sultan's
inner circle, and successfully influenced the future
of the sultanate. This woman was Roxelana.
Suleyman's wife was known as Roxelana in Europe and
Rossa in Istanbul. She was a Ukranian slave who was
likely captured in the Caucasus and taken to the slave
market in Istanbul, where she was purchased for the
sultan's harem. Suleyman's harem, like that of most
Ottoman rulers already featured four chief concubines
- one which would bear the sultan's heir - and about
300 other concubines. Like Roxelana most women in a
sultan's harem were slaves that were given, purchased,
or captured in war by the Ottomans. Additionally, almost
all of them were Christians.
Her name, said to have been derived from the word "Rus",
applied to both Ukrainians and Russians (Muscovites)
of the 16th century. Slavic historians locate her original
home at the town of Rohatyn in what is now western Ukraine,
part of Poland in the 16th century. Ukrainians were
in those days known as "Ruthenians", also
derived from the same root "Rus".
Roxelana joined the lower ranks of the harem,
but she quickly elevated her status. She gained the nickname
Khourrem meaning "Laughing One" for her high spirits and storytelling
abilities. She soon became one of Suleyman's favourites and
accompanied him on several public occasions. This special
treatment drew the ire of Suleyman's senior consort Gulfem,
whose son Mustafa was considered to be the heir to the Ottoman
Roxelana used her influence over the
sultan to have Gulfem and Mustafa banished to a far
province of the Empire in 1534. Roxelana bore Suleyman
a son shortly after that who she hoped would replace
Mustafa as Suleyman's heir. Next, Roxelana convinced
Suleyman that his Grand Vizier Ibrahim was a traitor
who was scheming to usurp the sultan's power. Ibrahim
who had openly opposed Suleyman's liaison with Roxelana
and who did in fact wield an unusual amount of control
was assassinated in 1536. With her main obstacles removed,
Roxelana soon climbed to the position of chief consort
in the harem as well as chief minister to the sultan.
She then managed to do what no Ottoman concubine
before her had done - she convinced the sultan to marry her.
Islamic law permitted a sultan to take up to four wives, plus
as many concubines as he could afford to keep. Until Suleyman
however, no Ottoman sultan had married even once. The marriage
caused a stir throughout both Europe and the Islamic world.
Once married, Roxelana's sons became heirs to the Ottoman
throne. Her son Selim, succeeded Suleyman as sultan in 1566
after a struggle with his brother Bayazid which ended in Bayazid's
death in 1561. Roxelana herself died in 1558 eight years before
her husband, ending the story of the slave girl who climbed
the ranks to the position of sultana.
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