It’s a story of a harem girl that rose through the ranks, displaced the favored woman, and one day became queen. Believe it or not, it’s not the story of Esther in Persia from the Bible. But it does take place in what was the Turkish Empire (Persia was included), and it was more than a thousand years after Esther’s rise to fame.
Actually, it’s the the tale of a European woman (Christianized) who was captured by the Turks, sold into slavery, and managed to not just land in, but rise through, the ranks of the royal harem. And she managed to arrive during the very height of the Ottoman Empire.
Now, my memory of ottoman history not being what it should, this was all news to me. When I happened upon the story of this amazing woman, I was intrigued. I had to know more. One thing was certain, the king at this time, Suleyman, was the longest reigning ruler of the Ottomans (1500s) and ironically was also the first Sultan ever to marry one his women. She talked him into it for sure. This gal had it down! But who was she?
Suleyman’s wife was known as Roxelana in Europe and Rossa in Istanbul. She was a Ukranian slave who was most likely captured in what was called the Caucasus and was taken to the slave market in Istanbul. There, she was purchased for the sultan’s harem. Suleyman’s harem, like that of most Ottoman rulers already boasted four “chief” concubines – one of which would bear the sultan’s heir. He also had 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. Ironicallly, almost all of them were what they referred to as “Christians”. (Fascinating as this was a muslim ruled era).
But back to Roxelana. Her name, said to have been derived from the word “Rus”, was what they called Ukrainians and Russians (Muscovites) during the 16th century. Slavic historians say her original home was in the town of Rohatyn, now western Ukraine, but was part of Poland in the 1500s.
Roxelana obviously joined the lower ranks of the harem, but she didn’t stay there long. She somehow earned the nickname Khourrem meaning “Laughing One”. They say it was due to her high spirits and storytelling abilities. But her talents brought her just the attention she needed. She soon became one of Suleyman’s favourites and even was seen with him on several public occasions. This special treatment did not sit well with the mother of the future king, Gulfem (her son Mustafa was considered to be the heir to the Ottoman throne).
As with most famous personalites, she ended her life to mixed reviews. But Roxelana was the woman that won the heart and the ear of the king. Venetian Baylo Andrea Giritti described her as “ …a woman of the utmost goodness, courage and wisdom’ despite the fact that she ‘thwarted some while rewarding others”.
Interesting where our talents can take us. When used to the greater good. Where are your talents and abilities leading you?
To the aid of the greater good? To the betterment of a cause? Only you know.
Prov. 22:29 ¶
Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.