4.3 Roxelana: A Slave to the Ottomans

Roxelana: A Slave to the Ottomans

If there ever was a real life Cinderella, Roxelana might have been it. Born it what is now Ukraine, she was taken in a slave raid while still a child. The Sultan Suleiman the Great chose her not just for a temporary concubine or even for a permanent concubine. Against all tradition, he actually freed her and married her. She ruled as queen of the Ottoman Empire from 1533 until her death in 1558.

This episode is part of the series “A Slave, but Now I’m Free.”

Selected Sources and Images

My major source for this episode was Empress of the East: How a Slave Girl Became Queen of the Ottoman Empire by Leslie Pierce.

One of Roxelana’s surviving letters. This one is not of the over-the-top love professions to Suleiman because it is to Sigismund, offering congratulations on ascending to the Polish throne.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Haseki complex in Istanbul, built by Roxelana.

By Dosseman – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

This painting is by Titian, and although it was done during her lifetime, it is highly unlikely that Titian ever saw her. All he had to go on was reports from ambassadors and travelers from the Empire.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

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