Rosa Solymanni uxor. (16th century).

Hurrem Sultan, the Cheerful Rose of Suleiman I and a Powerful Woman of the Ottoman Empire

(Read the article on one page)

Hürrem Sultan appeared in Topkapi Palace as a slave, but in a very short time she became one the most influential women of the Ottoman Empire. The name Hürrem was given her by the Sultan Suleiman I, and means “the cheerful one”- but in the eyes of many of her rivals she was the most dangerous weapon in Constantinople’s armory.

Suleiman Meets Hürrem

From 1520-1566, the Ottoman Empire was ruled by Suleiman I, who many claim was the greatest Sultan in history. He was also known as Suleiman the Magnificent or Kanuni – The Lawgiver. During his time in power, he made an impact on the history of many countries in Europe and the Middle East.

Portrait of Suleiman I, the tenth and longest reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. (1530) By Titian.

Portrait of Suleiman I, the tenth and longest reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. (1530) By Titian . ( Public Domain )

Suleiman’s life took a radical change in 1520. In September of that year, his father Selim I passed away accidentally, and with his death, Suleiman’s carefree life in the Manisa province came to an end. He was called to the capital city to rule the empire. At the same time, he met the woman who would forever change his life.

History has remembered her as Roxolena or Roksolana, Roxalene, Roxolane, and Rossa. However, the name she was called for most of her life is Hürrem. She received this name due to her cheerful personality.

Hürrem was born as Alexandra Lisowska in the town of Rohatyń, 68 km (42.3 miles) southeast of Lwów in the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland (today in Western Ukraine). In the 1520s Crimean Tatars captured her during one of their raids in this region. They took her as a slave to a major center of the slave trade in the Crimean city of Kaffa. Then she was transported to Constantinople and selected for the harem.

Hürrem’s influence on Suleiman was almost immediate - it only took a few months from the day that she met Sultan Suleiman to the moment when she became the most important consort in the harem.

Due to her beauty and intelligence she quickly came to the attention of the Sultan. At the same moment she attracted the jealousy of her rivals in the harem, including Mahidevran Sultan, mother of the heir apparent Mustafa. Historians note that these rivalries led to a few attempts to take Hürrem’s life. The most famous is Mahidevran's attack on Hürrem, which was followed by Suleiman banishing his former favorite, and her son, to the provincial capital of Manisa.

Roxelane und der Sultan (Roxolena and the Sultan). (1780) by Anton Hickel.

Roxelane und der Sultan ( Roxolena and the Sultan). (1780) by Anton Hickel. ( Public Domain )

The Ruthenian Witch

The bond between Hürrem and Suleiman was more than unexpected for the society of the time. Their close relationship became the first time in the history of the dynasty when the sultan focused on only one woman. Hürrem’s influence over the Sultan soon became legendary. She gave him six children: Sehzade Mehmed, Mihrimah Sultan, Sehzade Abdullah, Selim II, Sehzade Beyazit and Sehzade Cihangir.

This strengthened her position in the palace so much that she initiated a new order in the harem. Since her arrival to Topkapi Palace, she was sure to take as many lessons as she could. From her studies she learned the Ottoman language, mathematics, astronomy, geography, diplomacy, literature, and history. Apart from this, she was very interested in alchemy. During the excavations in the Edirne Palace some of her tools for preparation of perfumes were discovered.

Due to her excellent education, she also became Suleiman’s adviser on matters of the state. Hürrem had an influence upon foreign affairs and international politics. For example, she took care of maintaining the peaceful relations between the Ottoman Empire and Polish state with a Polish-Ottoman alliance. According to Crimean historians, she also intervened to control Crimean Tatar slave-raiding.

Letter from Hürrem to Sigismond Auguste complimenting him upon his acsending to the Polish throne (1549).

Letter from Hürrem to Sigismond Auguste complimenting him upon his acsending to the Polish throne (1549). ( Public Domain )

In spite of her various positive aspects, for other advisers of Suleiman the position of Hürrem was too high for a woman. They started to believe that she must be a witch who put a spell on the Sultan and began to spread rumors about her. When Suleiman discovered these stories, he punished everyone who repeated the negative tales about his love.


Moonsong's picture

I had never heard of this ruler before – yes I consider her a ruler and an astounding person as she managed to gain such an influential position in a time and place in history where women were not only marginalised, but treated as less than objects. Thanks for writing this article.


- Moonsong
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world ~ Oscar Wilde

Maybe we should stop calling these kinds of rulers and conquerors 'the greatest' and names like that...
In the end they are all just filthy mass murderers! We shouldn't consider them 'heroes'.
The only legitimate kind of rule is democracy.

Whilst I appreciate that these comments are your feelings and interpretation of these people, I feel that you are making a racial comment and is totally unnecessary. This is history, we may not all agree with their cultures and customs and we are entitled to our opinion. I disagree with your insults because that is what they are, insults.

Very radical I agree with you some people don't know history this was the way of the world and by comparison these people were kind and noble

He fell in love with a Polish girl. Been there, done that.


Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Human Origins

Silhouettes (Public Domain) in front of blood cells (Public Domain) and a gene.
Most people who have the Rh blood type are Rh-positive. There are also instances, however, where people are Rh-Negative. Health problems may occur for the unborn child of a mother with Rh-Negative blood when the baby is Rh-Positive.

Ancient Technology

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article