Hürrem Sultan or Roxelana, Empress of the East

Episode 340

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In this episode, we explore the life and times of Roxelana, also known as Hürrem Sultan, a slave girl who became chief consort and then legal wife of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I (r. 1520-1566). We trace Roxelana's probable beginnings and the possible paths that took her to Istanbul, asking how she rose above her peers in the Old Palace to become a favored concubine and then the wife of the Sultan. We explore her relationship to other women at the Ottoman court, the politics of her motherhood and philanthropy, and her role in Ottoman diplomacy. In the end, Roxelana's work, her relationship with Suleiman, and the unusual nuclear family they created despite the otherwise polygynous patterns of reproduction at the Ottoman court would transform the rules of Ottoman succession, the role of Ottoman royal women, and the future of the Empire as a whole. The life story of this one remarkable woman sheds light on many facets of the history of the Ottoman Empire, showing how a single individual's story can serve as a lynchpin for grasping the complexities of an age.

This episode is part of a series entitled "Women, Gender and Sex in the Ottoman World."

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Contributor Bios

Leslie Peirce has been interested in Turkish and Ottoman history ever since she joined the Peace Corps in Turkey. She has taught at Cornell, UC Berkeley, and New York University.
Susanna Ferguson is a Ph.D. Candidate in Middle Eastern History at Columbia University. She is currently working on a dissertation entitled "Tracing Tarbiya: Women, Gender and Childrearing in Egypt and Lebanon, 1865-1939."
Seçil Yilmaz received her PhD degree in History from the Graduate Center, CUNY with her dissertation entitled "Love in the Time of Syphilis: Medicine and Sex in the Ottoman Empire, 1860-1922." She is currently a Mellon postdoctoral fellow at the Society for the Humanities and Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University.

Further Listening
Didem Havlioğlu 357
Love Poems of an Ottoman Woman: Mihrî Hatun
Akram Khater 229
Gender, Politics, and Passion in the Christian Middle East
Jane Hathaway 369
The Sultan's Eunuch
Hadi Hosainy 184
Yeni Çağ Osmanlı Hukuk Sistemi'nde Kadın Mülkiyet Hakları
Ebru Aykut 164
Kocalarını Zehirleyen Osmanlı Kadınları
Elyse Semerdjian 266
Gendered Politics of Conversion in Early Modern Aleppo
Marilyn Booth & Nova Robinson 335
Arab Feminism in Periods of Transition


Episode No. 340
Release Date: 12 December 2017
Recording Location: New York University
Audio editing by Chris Gratien
Music: Harmandali - Recep Efendi, Cemal Efendi; Katibim (Uskudar'a Gider iken) - Safiye Ayla
Special thanks to Kara Günes for permission to use the composition "Istanbul" and toMuhtelif for the use of "Ta Paidia & Lamma Bada"
bibliography courtesy of Leslie Peirce


Depiction of Roxelana from Vitae et icones sultanorum Turcicorum, principum Persarum aliorumq[ue] illustrium heroum heroinarumq[ue] ab Osmane usq[ue] ad Mahometem II (1596)

Select Bibliography

Empress of the East
by Leslie Peirce
Basic Books, 2017
Von Hammer-Purgstall, Joseph. Histoire de l'empire Ottoman. Paris: Belizard, Barthès, Dufour et Lowell, 1836. Vols. 5-6

Necipoğlu, Gülru. The Age of Sinan: Architectural Culture in the Ottoman Empire. Princeton and London, 2005.

Peirce, Leslie. The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1993.

Alberi, Eugenio, ed. Le Relazioni degli Ambasciatori Veneti al Senato. Florence, 1840-1855, Serie III. Vols. I, III.

Bassano, Luigi da Zara. Costumi et I modi particolari della vita de' Turchi. Edited by Franz Babinger. Munich, 1963.

Busbecq, Ogier Ghiselin de. The Turkish Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq. Translated by E. S. Forster. Baton Rouge, 2005. [Abridged reprint of the edition published by Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1927, 2 vols.]


Enkidu said…
Şehzade Mustafa neden ve nasıl öldürüldü?

Prince Mustafa was convicted for treason against the state and planning a coup. He expressed this by corresponding and conspiring with the Shah of Iran to get his backing. Süleyman hat a good security network, so he was well informed about all correspondence and movements of Mustafa!

Having the support of the army he intended to grab the power similar to his grandfather Yavuz Selim against his father Beyazit II. .

So without being ready to abdicate and risk the division of the army and a civil war between his sons, Süleyman had no other choice to execute Mustafa.

It is assumed that if his officers and soldiers were around, the result would have been to Mustafas benefit, but obviously the assault was well planned and implemented.

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