Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

HÜRREM SULTAN
(Roxelana)
(fl. 1520s-1558)

Turkey
Political Adviser, Diplomat, and Imperial
Benefactress

In 1453, the Conqueror Mehmed II (ruled 1444-1446, 1451-1481) achieved a great triumph for the Turkish House of Osman when he captured Constantinople, the capital city of the decaying Byzantine Empire. Renaming the city Istanbul, the Ottoman Sultans, over the years, constructed a number of impressive architectural buildings, adding to the city's unparalleled collection of monuments. Famous for capturing numerous territories, the Sunni Islamic Ottoman Turks soon ruled over an enormous empire.

The reign of the Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (ruled 1520- 1566) represents a high point in Ottoman fortunes, with Süleyman being viewed as having played an instrumental role in elevating the Ottoman Empire to its status as one of the sixteenth century's greatest powers.

Süleyman similarly elevated a favorite slave girl to a position of unprecedented influence and power. Her remarkable career would last for the majority of Süleyman's reign, from the birth of her first child ( 1521) to the time of her death ( 1558).

While her origins remain obscure, a Polish tale reports that she was born in a village located on the Dniester River, an unstable region located on the borders of Poland, Hungary, and Moldavia. Traditional accounts relate how "Aleksandra Lisowska," the daughter of a poor Ruthenian priest, was carried off during one of the region's frequent raids and then sold into slavery.

" Aleksandra Lisowska" would eventually become known to Western Europeans as "Roxelana," a term loosely translated as the "Russianborn woman" and more specifically translated as the "Ruthenian

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