Roxelana (c. 1510 - April 18, 1558) was the only legal wife of Süleyman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire.


Sixteenth-century sources are silent as to her maiden name, but much later traditions, for example Ukrainian folk traditions first recorded in the nineteenth century, give it as "Anastasia" (diminutive: "Nastia"), and Polish traditions give it as "Aleksandra Lisowska". She was known mainly as Hürrem Sultan or Hürrem "balsaq" Sultan; in European languages as Roxolena, transliterated as Roxolana, Roxelane, Rossa, Ruziac; in Turkish as Hürrem (from PerB|خرم - "Khurram", "the cheerful one"); and in Arabic as "Karima" ( _ar. كريمة, "the noble one"). "Roxelana" might be not a proper name but a nickname, referring to her Ukrainian heritage (cf. the common contemporary name "Ruslana"); "Roxolany" or "Roxelany" was one of the names of East Slavs, inhabitants of the present Ukraine, up to the fifteenth century. Thus her name would literally mean "the Ruthenian one" or "the Ukrainian one".

Early life

According to late-sixteenth-century and early-seventeenth-century sources, such as the Polish poet Samuel Twardowski, who researched the subject in Turkey, Hürrem was born to a father who was a Ukrainian ("Ruthenian" in the terminology of the day) Orthodox priest. She was born in the town of Rohatyn, 68 km southeast of Lviv, a major city of Galicia which was then part of the Kingdom of Poland, today in western Ukraine. She was captured by Crimean Tatars during one of their frequent raids into this region and taken as a slave, probably first to the Crimean city of Kaffa, a major centre of the slave trade, then to Istanbul, and was selected for Süleyman's harem.

Life with the sultan

She quickly came to the attention of her master, and attracted the jealousy of her rivals. One day Süleyman's favorite, the concubine Mahidevran (also called "Gul Bahar", the Flower of Spring), got into a fight with Hürrem and beat her badly. Upset by this, Süleyman banished Mahidevran to the provincial capital of Manisa, together with her son, the heir apparent, Prince Mustafa. Thereafter, Hürrem became Süleyman's unrivalled favorite or "haseki". Many years later, probably at the instigation of Hürrem, the Sultan ordered Mustafa to be strangled.

Hürrem's influence over the Sultan soon became legendary; she was to bear Süleyman five children and, in an astonishing break with tradition, eventually was freed and became his legal wife. This strengthened her position in the palace and eventually led to one of her sons, Selim, inheriting the empire. Hürrem also may have acted as Süleyman's adviser on matters of state, and seems to have had an influence upon foreign affairs and international politics. Two of her letters to the Polish King Sigismund II Augustus have been preserved, and during her lifetime, the Ottoman Empire generally had peaceful relations with the Polish state. Some historians also believe that she may have intervened with her husband to control Crimean Tatar slave-raiding in her native land.


Aside from her political concerns, Hürrem engaged in several major works of public buildings, from Mecca to Jerusalem, perhaps modeling her charitable foundations in part after the caliph Harun al-Rashid's consort Zubaida. Among her first foundations were a mosque, two koranic schools ("madrassa"), a fountain, and a women's hospital near the women's slave market ("Avret Pazary") in Istanbul. She also commissioned a bath, the Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamamı, to serve the community of worshipers in the nearby Hagia Sophia. As well, some of her embroidery, or at least that done under her supervision, has survived, examples being given in 1547 to Tahmasp I, the Shah of Iran, and in 1549 to King Sigismund Augustus of Poland.


Hürrem died on April 18 1558. She is buried in a domed mausoleum ("türbe") decorated in exquisite Iznik tiles depicting the garden of paradise, perhaps in homage to her smiling and joyful nature. Her mausoleum is adjacent to Süleyman's, a separate and more somber domed structure, at the Süleymaniye Mosque.


Hürrem, or Roxelana, as she is better known in Europe, is well-known both in modern Turkey and in the West, and is the subject of many artistic works. She has inspired paintings, musical works (including Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 63), an opera by Denys Sichynsky, a ballet, plays, and several novels written mainly in Ukrainian, but also in English, French, and German.

In 2007, Muslims in Mariupol, a port city in Ukraine, opened a mosque to honor Roxelana. [ [;18370/ Religious Information Service of Ukraine] ]


Further reading

*Thomas M. Prymak, "Roxolana: Wife of Suleiman the Magnificent," "Nashe zhyttia/Our Life", LII, 10 (New York, 1995), 15-20. A nicely illustrated popular-style article in English with a bibliography.
*Zygmunt Abrahamowicz, "Roksolana," "Polski Slownik Biograficzny", vo. XXXI (Wroclaw-etc., 1988-89), 543-5. A well-informed article in Polish by a distinguished Polish Turkologist.
*Galina Yermolenko, "Roxolana: The Greatest Empresse of the East," "The Muslim World", 95, 2 (2005), 231-48. Makes good use of European, especially Italian, sources and is familiar with the literature in Ukrainian and Polish.
*There are many historical novels in English about Roxelana: Alum Bati's "Harem Secrets" (2008); Colin Falconer, Aileen Crawley (1981-83), and Louis Gardel (2003); "Pawn in Frankincense", the fourth book of the "Lymond Chronicles" by Dorothy Dunnett; and pulp fiction author Robert E. Howard in "The Shadow of the Vulture" imagined Roxelana to be sister to its fiery-tempered female protagonist, Red Sonya.
*For Ukrainian language novels, see Osyp Nazaruk (1930), Mykola Lazorsky (1965), Serhii Plachynda (1968), and Pavlo Zahrebelnyi (1980). (All reprinted recently.)
*There have been novels written in other languages: in French, a fictionalized biography by Willy Sperco (1972); in German, a novel by Johannes Tralow (1944, reprinted many times); a very detailed novel in Serbian by Radovan Samardzic (1987); one in Turkish by Ulku Cahit (2001).

External links

* [ University of Calgary | Roxelana]
* [ Roxelana's tomb]

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