Kyiv was the first city-state in all of what is Europe today.
Of course you know about the most famous Ruthenian slave, Roxelana, Anastasia Lisovska, daughter of an Orthodox priest in Rohatyn (today in the Ivano-Frankivska oblast/region).
She was the wife of Sultan Suleiman, The Magnificent - The Law Giver, who reigned from 1520-1566. He was the 10th and greatest ruler of the Ottoman Empire.
His father, Selim I, The Grim, ruler from 1512-1520, had conquered Egypt and became the first Ottoman Caliph. Selim killed all his brothers and all his close male relatives, ensuring a smooth succession to the Turkish throne. At the time this practice was legal in the Ottoman Empire.
During Suleiman's long reign, also at the time in which the European nation state structure was firming up, the Ottoman Empire was at its zenith and Suleiman was the preeminent ruler of 16th century Europe. Ottoman Turks controlled all the major Muslim cities, many Balkan provinces (up to today's Austria) and most of North Africa. They had naval dominance in the Mediterranean and Red Seas and the Persian Gulf. Suleiman personally led his armies, conquering Bagdad, Rhodes and most of Hungary. He also besieged Vienna.
Suleiman was known as a fair ruler and an opponent of corruption. His greatest achievement was the reconstruction of the Ottoman legal system. He was also a great patron of artists and philosophers and it is said that his greatest influence was his legal wife, Roxelana. Before Suleiman, sultans did not marry. They kept an average of 300 concubines, four of whom were designated as bearers of anointed children, and one was designated as bearer of the sultan's heir. Roxelana's first child, a son born in the harem, was strangled.
Roxelana (c.1506 – 1558) was known by her Turkish name, Khourrem (Hürrem or Karima), meaning the cheerful - the laughing one. She was very high-spirited and had great storytelling abilities.
She was captured by Crimean Tatars during one of their frequent raids into Ruthenia, what is Ukraine today, and taken as a slave to the Crimean city of Kaffa, a major slave trading center. She was then resold to Istanbul where she was selected for Suleiman’s harem. The harem consisted of mostly Christian girls and Roxelana joined the lower ranks of the harem, but quickly became one of Suleiman's favorites and started accompanying him on public occasions.
This special treatment drew the wrath of Suleiman's senior consort, whose son, Mustafa, was considered heir to the throne. Roxelana used her influence over the Sultan to have Mustafa, accompanied by his mother, sent away as governor of a far province of the empire in 1534. Several years later he was mysteriously strangled.
Next, Roxelana convinced Suleiman that his Grand Vizier, Ibrahim Pasha, second-in-command in all state & military affairs, was a traitor. He was supposedly scheming to usurp the sultan’s power. Ibrahim, who had openly opposed Suleiman’s liaison with Roxelana, and did in fact wield an unusual amount of control and favor, was assassinated in 1536.
With her main obstacles removed, Roxelana quickly climbed to the position of chief consort in the harem, as well as chief minister to the Sultan. Then she managed to do what no Ottoman concubine before her had ever done. She convinced Suleiman to marry her. Islamic law permitted a sultan to take up to four wives, plus as many concubines as he could afford to keep, but up until Suleiman, no Ottoman sultan had ever married. Breaking with 300 years of Ottoman tradition, Suleiman married Roxelana in a formal ceremony. The marriage caused quite a stir throughout both Europe and the Islamic world.
Roxelana bore Suleiman four more children, and one of her sons, Selim, inherited the empire. Suleiman allowed her to remain with him at court for the rest of her life, despite another tradition that when imperial heirs became of age, they would be sent along with the imperial concubine, who bore them, to govern remote provinces of the empire. The concubine was never to return, unless her progeny succeeded to the throne.
As Suleiman’s chief adviser on matters of state, Roxelana had tremendous influence upon foreign affairs and international politics. Two of her letters to the Polish King Sigismund Augustus have been preserved and during her lifetime, the Ottoman Empire generally had peaceful relations with the Polish Kingdom. Some historians also believe that she may have intervened with her husband to control Crimean Tatar slave-raiding in her native land.
Aside from her political concerns, Roxelana engaged in major works of public building, from Mecca to Jerusalem. She had a mosque, two Koranic schools, a fountain, and a women’s hospital (near Woman's Slave Market) built in Istanbul alone.
Some of her embroidery has survived in museums. These were gifts given to the Shah of Iran in 1547 and to King Sigismund Augustus in 1549.
Roxelana died in 1558,eight years before her husband. She was laid in a domed mausoleum in the yard of the Suleiman Mosque. Suleiman was later buried in another tomb, close to his wife's.
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If ever in Istanbul - both tombs have been restored :
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