How Roxelana, the “virgin from Ruthenia”, got from the slave market to the harem of Suleiman the Magnificent

The newest publication of Humanitas Publishing House, “Ottomans: Khans, Caesars and Caliphs”, is a history of the Ottoman Empire retold by Professor Marc David Baer, ​​which is becoming an integral part of European history.

Roxelana, the great love of Soliman the Magnificent. PHOTO: Wikipedia

From the ancient historiographers to the modern ones, the image of the invading and barbarian Ottomans who attacked the fabric of Europe, of which they came to control almost a quarter at the height of their power, prevailed. Historian Marc David Baer surprises us with a new vision: the perspective of the Ottomans themselves. After conquering the Second Rome, the heart of the Byzantine Empire, in 1453, Mohammed II adds the title of Caesar: the Ottomans now consider themselves the descendants of Rome. In their empire, religious tolerance was a reality long before the West learned this lesson. Ignored is also the role they played in the European history of the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment, but also in the Age of Great Discoveries and the Industrial Revolution.

The book can be purchased from bookstores all over the country, but also online.



Suleiman I's two palace loves: Sultana Hürrem and Ibrahim Pasha

Europeans were fascinated by the woman known as Roxelana, “the maiden of Ruthenia,” a region in western Ukraine, then part of the Polish-Lithuanian Union. A bronze statue of the sultana stands in Rohatyn, Ukraine, where she is believed to have been born, all of her family, including her priest father, having been killed by Muslim slave warriors. As a teenager, she was captured by the Crimean Tartars, who held a monopoly in the slave trade after Mohammed II conquered Constantinople. Their raids in Poland, Ukraine and Russia brought millions of slaves, a significant source of income for the Ottomans. Roxelana, like the others, was subjected to physical abuse, walking in chains from her homeland to the Crimean peninsula and being sent by boat to Istanbul, the center of the eastern Mediterranean slave trade. Many of these prisoners converted to Islam during the journey to Istanbul, hoping that it could improve their situation.

Arriving in the capital, Roxelana faced a world segregated by gender. Passing the medical examination and still a virgin, she was bought on the slave market for the harem, perhaps as a “gift” for Suleiman I on his accession in 1520. After converting her to Islam, the Ottomans knew her by her Muslim name, Hürrem . Just as the Ottomans entrusted their administration and military elite to uprooted slave-boys, so too was the royal family ruled by slaves. They trusted those they themselves had raised to be loyal to them and serve the dynasty and its interests.


Haseki sultan (favorite concubines), like Hürrem, had only one role: sexual-political. No matter how many daughters she bore, once a concubine bore a boy to a prince or sultan, she was forbidden to have intimate relations with the child's father. One cauldron, one son. It was her duty to train her son to rule and to do everything in her power to establish him on the throne. For if the son did not become sultan, he was killed, and she no longer had a sex life and no role in politics. The only way to be enthroned as sultan was to defeat all the other princes in battle after the father's death. Once he triumphs, the new sultan will kill all his male relatives.

But Suleiman I kept calling Hürrem to his bed and she continued to give him sons: Mehmed in 1521, Selim in 1524, Baiazid in 1525. Also in 1525, the janissaries rebelled and they destroyed the Jewish Quarter as well as the residence of the Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha, a sign that the Sultan had angered them because he had broken two centuries of tradition. In their opinion, Suleiman I had spent too much time hunting and with Hürrem instead of waging war and acquiring human and material booty…