Sultana of the Ottoman Empire
Hijri 916–966 (AH); Common Era 1510–1558 (CE)
Born in Ukraine, Roxelana was taken as a by the Crimean Tartars and subsequently was shuttled to Istanbul where she was selected to become a member of Suleyman the Magnificent’s harem. Renamed Hurrem, she soon ascended to become a favorite of Suleyman’s but also became victim to the jealousies of the other concubines, including the mother of the Crown Prince. Both were exiled and the Crown Prince was later strangled to death, some say at the instigation of Roxelana. Roxelana’s influence on Suleyman became legendary and their affection was the prolific subject of Western artwork. She bore Suleyman five children and, in an unprecedented move, was elevated from slave to free wife. There is also evidence that Roxelana provided Suleyman with astute political advice. For example, she was a correspondent of King Sigismund II August of Poland, like her daughter Mihrimah would later be. During her lifetime, the Ottoman Empire experienced peaceful relations with Poland, no doubt partially due to Roxelana’s soothing hand on affairs. Some historians also believed that she may have intervened with Suleyman to control Crimean Tartar slave-trading in her native land—something, she doubtlessly, felt a deep tie with. In addition to politics, Roxelana was a notable philanthropist who was perhaps the first woman to participate in notable building projects. She founded a number of mosques, dervish lodges, madrasas, a woman’s hospital near the slave market, and public bathhouses to serve worshippers close to the Aya Sofya. In 1552, she established a soup kitchen for the impoverished in Jerusalem. Her son, Selim, became Sultan after the death of Suleyman the Magnificent and her daughter Mihrimah continued her role as a powerful woman of the harem whose word held considerable political clout. The influence Roxelana continues on to the present day. A number of novels have been written about her. In 2007, Muslims in the Ukrainian town of Mariupol, opened a mosque in her honor.