Harem!? I barely know ’em!Posted: April 4, 2011
In keeping with our pledge of one week of diversity – ‘cuz who needs more than a week of it, am I right? – today we’re setting our sites on the 16th century Turkish Ottoman court of Suleyman the Magnificent. The Turks really knew how to do epithets, didn’t they?
This story actually begins a little further north, in Eastern Europe. In an itty bitty town in the place we now call Ukraine, where a little girl was born to an orthodox priest and his wife. (Was that allowed? Whatever, GET SOME priesty.) The girl’s name was…er…this is awkward. She had a lot of names. I’ll give you a few of them. Anastasia, Nastia, Hurrem Sultan, Rosa, and most commonly Roxelana. At least, I’m assuming Roxelana is the most common because “Roxelana” is the title of her Wiki article, although she’s referred to throughout by almost all of the names listed above (which is really confusing if you ask me). We’re going to call her Roxie for short. Because why the hell not? Back to our story. Roxie grew up and by the 1520s, she was lookin’ fine. She was looking so fine, in fact, that when her town was raided by Crimean Tatars she was one of the first bitches they nabbed to take down to the slave markets in the southern part of the Crimean Peninsula. So that sucked for her. But not for long.
Because then my girl was shipped off to Constantinople where someone must have seen her and been like, “DAAAAMN” and then set her up in style at Suleyman the Magnificent’s magnificent harem. And here’s where shit got scandalous!
In no time, Sully was eating our little hottie up (or out? ooooh, was that bad?) And while this was probably good for Roxie, she also attracted a little jealousy and negative attention from some of the other bitches in the Harem. Most famously, Sully’s first concubine, Mahidevran, was like “Fuck that bitch” and then beat the shit out of Roxie. I like to imagine that it was very Real Housewives of Atlanta. Like when that one lady grabbed the other lady’s wig. But I bet it was more intense than that because Mahi got in big trouble. Sully had Mahi and her son Mustafa banished to some castle really far away. Then a bunch of years later, when (spoiler alert) Roxie was the uncontested favorite in court, there was a big fear of rebellion. So, like a boss, Sully decided the easiest way of dealing with that shit would be to have Mustafa strangled. Naturally, it was time for Mahi to GTFO, so that’s what she did.
Meanwhile, Roxie is becoming a force to be reckoned with in this magnificent Ottoman court. She and Sully collectively shat on 200 years of Ottoman tradition when they said “I do” because not for 2 freaking centuries had an Ottoman royal married a concubine. It was big freaking deal, even then. She also stayed with him at court, at the center of power, for the rest of her life, which was also totes unheard of. It used to be that when imperial heirs came of age, they would be sent off to the provinces, along with mommy, to practice being a ruler. But Sully was like, “Fuck that! Roxie’s mine!” They had 6 kids together throughout their lives and Roxie’s first son even ended up inheriting the empire.
Their love for each other caused A LOT of medieval Turkish court gossip, but it was very real, I think. I mean, I wasn’t there, but against pretty major odds and 200 years of history, Roxie stuck by her man’s side for a long time. And she was apparently really influential in Sully’s court, too. The Ottoman empire had great relations with the kingdom in Poland during her time at court and she also may have helped to curb slave-raiding in her Eastern European homeland. Oh, and did I mention she was pretty much a medieval FDR, commissioning a number of public works projects all over the middle east? Here are some highlights – 2 Koranic schools, a mosque, a hospital for women, a baths complex, and, no big deal, a soup kitchen. Talk about a woman who used her feminine wiles for good. She was a regular Liz Taylor!
I want to emphasize that the scandal here is not that there were concubines in the medieval Ottoman court. Duh, of course there were. And duh, it wasn’t scandalous; shit was par for the course back then. What WAS scandalous is that our two perps loved each other so much (or liked doing it so much) that they were willing to break centuries of tradition in order to be together.
And I admire them. Because something like that takes balls. Big, Turkish balls.
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