Ukrainian Women Who Changed the History: Roksolana

Ukrainian Women Who Changed the History: Roksolana

Hurrem Sultan, also known under the name Roksolana, was the wife of famous Ottoman Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent. She became the first woman in the history of the East who shared the right of ruling the Empire with her husband.

Roksolana, born in Ukraine in the beginning of the XVI century, was captured and conveyed to the harem of Suleiman at the age of 15. Unbelievably beautiful and smart girl quickly won heart of the great Sultan. Roksolana was not just the beloved favorite of the Emperor.
Despite the fact that Roksolana is a legendary personality, the information about her early years is almost unavailable. Most of the versions agree that the girl was born in 1505 or 1506 on the territory of former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (modern Ivano-Frankivsk oblast of Ukraine) in a family of a priest. Roksolana`s original name was Alexandra or Anastacia Lisovska.
Approximately at the age of 15, the girl was captured by Crimean Tatars, and after several re-sales she was presented to Suleiman. At that time, 26-year old Suleiman was hereditary prince, holding a state position in Manisa and already having his own harem. One of the versions tells that Roksolana has been gifted to young Suleiman on the occasion of his ascension to the throne in 1520. When the girl became a member of harem, she received a new name – Hurrem (from Persian word that means “merry”).
painting of laying Roksolana
Roksolana quickly began to get much attention of Sultan, who was impressed by her beauty and charm. This fact deeply insulted Mahidevran Sultan, the chief consort of Suleiman`s harem and the mother of his son Mustafa. Mahidevran felt very jealous, so she expressed aggression to the new concubine of Suleiman. One day Mahidevran attacked Roksolana, scratched her face, pulled her hair and tore her dress. In a while, Hurrem was invited to see Sultan; but the girl refused to go to the Emperor in such state. However, Suleiman insisted, and Roksolana came to his room. He asked her what happened, and Roksolana told him about what Mahidevran had done to her. After that, Sultan invited Mahidevran and asked her if that was true and why had she done such a thing. Mahidevran replied that she was the main woman in Sultan`s harem and other girls had to obey her. That speech made Sultan very angry; after the event, Roksolana became his new favorite concubine.
portrait of Roksolana and her husband
Roksolana had a deep desire for study and education. The historians tell that during her life in Suleiman`s castle Hurrem has learnt Turkish, Arabic and Persian languages, gained knowledge about history and politics, learnt to dance and to recite poems of many authors. According to the rules of her new homeland, she converted to Islam.
The one more thing that Roksolana has learnt was to survive and to play in compliance with the cruel rules of Ottoman Empire. Endless intrigues in the court made her a good psychologist. She observed people and their behavior, and as a result, she always knew what to say and how to act. In a short time, Suleiman the Magnificent realized that his Hurrem could be a great adviser in state issues.
Roksolana achieved something that no one could do before her: she became an official wife of Sultan. Actually, Ottoman Empire had no laws prohibiting Sultan to marry his concubines, but all traditions were against it. Supposedly, the gorgeous wedding ceremony was held in summer 1534. Suleiman even introduced the new official title for his beloved – Haseki – to highlight the special position of Roksolana. This title made her the second in order of importance after Sultan`s mother – Valide Sultan.
painting of resting Roksolana
Suleiman spent most of the time outside his castle, but from Hurrem`s letters he always knew what was going on in the court. Some letters from correspondence of Hurrem and Sultan survived until our days. These letters show deep love between Suleiman and his wife, and contain their interesting discussions on political and cultural issues as well.
The status and education of Roksolana allowed her to meet foreign ambassadors and to answer letters of foreign rulers. This wise woman was busy not just with being a good wife; she always took a chance to learn new things and to communicate with famous noblemen and artists.
woman's portrait

Roksolana has given birth to six children of Suleiman: five sons and one daughter. This also was against traditional values of the Empire. Before Hurrem, favorites of Sultan had a right to give birth to only one Sultan`s son, and after that they were sent to provinces together with kids until their sons grow old enough to take father`s place. But Roksolana had five sons from Sultan and still stayed in his castle, which really annoyed conservative courtiers. The courtiers were unable to explain how Hurrem managed to reach such high position, so they spread rumors that she was a witch that put a spell on Sultan. This can explain why many people thought of Roksolana in a negative way. Some versions insist that she was involved in intrigues that led to death of Sultan`s mother, death sentence of his son Mustafa and Grand Vizier Ibrahim. Supposedly, she could do that to consolidate her position in the court and to help her son Selim to become the next Emperor.
Unlike all other Sultan`s concubines and mothers of Sultan`s sons, who were allowed to construct buildings only in the provinces where they lived, Hurrem had a right to construct religious and charity buildings in Istanbul and other big cities of Ottoman Empire. She created charity fund that contributed to establishment of new district in Istanbul – Aksaray. Roksolana is also known for foundation of mosque, madrasah (religious Muslim school), imaret (free kitchen for the poor), primary school, hospitals and fountain.
Hurrem Sultan died in April 1558 due to disease or poisoning. Her body was buried in a mausoleum, decorated with the pictures of paradise and texts of beautiful poems.
Saint Sofia Church

 The tomb of Roksolana is located close to the mausoleum of Suleiman the Magnificent, who died 8 years later. Both tombs of the loving couple belong to the mosque complex Süleymaniye in Istanbul.

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