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Soldiers, Women, Scientists – How Slavs Influenced The Ottoman Empire

They were priceless and indispensable.

Photo: Polish Hussars vs Ottoman Armies

The history of the Ottoman Empire is full of stories about wars, romances, political issues and charismatic leaders. To create the monumental Empire the sultans from Constantinople (now Istanbul) needed brave soldiers, faithful women and creative minds>. Many of them supported the ideology and advance of the entire country.

It is impossible to describe every single person who had Slavic roots and influenced the history of rulers from Topkapi Palace. The number of man and women who became creators of this large country seems to be impossible to count. Some of them arrived at the court of Sultan searching for fame and wealth, but many didn’t have the choice. The simple analysis is enough to prove that without Slavic people, the growth of the Ottoman Empire would be impossible.

Brave janissaries of Sultan

Photo: Wikimedia

The power of the Ottoman was built on military power. Janissaries, the elite infantry units formed by Murad I was the first standing army in entire Europe. The army was based on enslaving non-Muslim boys, usually from Balkans and Anatolia. The future Janissaries started their training as children. Their entire youth was dedicated to becoming prepared to serve sultan. Albanians, Croatians, Bulgarians, and Bosniacs were the most appreciated. Many of them reached a high position in the Ottoman society.

For example, one of the famous and one of the cruelest pashas of Ottoman Army, Kuyucu Murad Pasha, came to the court of Sultan from Bosnia, but his roots are from Croatia. He was born in 1535 and served for Suleiman The Magnificent, Selim II, Murad III, Mehmed III and Ahmed I. His nickname “Murad Pasha the Well-digger”, was related to the mass graves he had dug to bury the enemies. He was well educated and appreciated not only as a soldier but as a specialist in diplomacy. Finally, he became the Grand Vizier. He spent most of his life on the battlefield and died during the campaign of the Ottoman-Safavid War in 1611.

Slavic mothers of sultans, favorites, and slaves

The Reception, John Frederick Lewis, 1805-1875 / Photo: Wikimedia

The lucky ones who bore children to the ruler or his sons lived in the prosperous world full of material goods. But, the harem of Sultan wasn’t such an oasis of pleasure, as many people believe. It was a house of female slaves and servants of Sultan. Most of them have a chance to become the favorite of Sultan or prince. These women were members of small society closed among the walls of the palace. Ladies who were allowed to enter the alcove of the Sultan weren’t Muslims, but usually Christians. The Muslim woman could make love with a man if only he was her husband, and a sultan as a religious leader had to respect this rule.

In the 16th century in the life of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent appeared a woman who preyed on this rule. Her real name was Aleksandra Lisowska and she came from Rohatyń in Crown of Poland (now Ukraine). She was called Hurrem Sultan or Roxolana. She was born in a Christian family, and her love with Suleiman appears as one of the most beautiful love stories in the history of the Ottoman Empire. She wasn’t satisfied with her position of favorite, her goal was to become the first legal wife of the Sultan. To make this dream come true, she needed a smart plan. Thus, she convinced Suleiman to convert her to Islam and make her free woman, not a slave. According to the resources, when she achieved it, she informed her beloved man that she cannot spend with him gorgeous nights anymore. Although he wasn’t happy with the situation, he decided to get married with Hurrem.

Most of the sultans had mothers who weren’t born in Anatolia. Many of them came from Slavic countries. But, usually, they didn’t appear in the court in Topkapi Palace due to their will. Famous Ottoman Women such as Hurrem or Handan (mother of Mehmed III) arrived at the sultan’s house as slaves.

Incredible power of scientific Slavic minds

Suleymaniye by Myrabella  / Photo: Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

The world of Ottoman Empire expanded in such a fast and unexpected way, that the needs of human resources were huge. Apart from hands to fight and work, they also needed impressive minds to apply innovations, heal in an effective way, to improve the ”Ottoman machine” in every possible way.

The great minds from Slavic countries were teachers to the children of Sultan and other nobles. They were also an appreciated physicists. Suleiman the Magnificent in one of his poems compares his wife to Joseph, the physicist from Poland. Joseph and other Polish doctors in Ottoman Empire were known as high-quality specialists.

Slavic specialists carried on their arms many other responsibilities. The painful lack of resources makes impossible confirmation what was the nationality of famous architect Mimar Sinan. Although the Turkish scholars prefer to describe him as Turkish, it seems that we should search for his roots in Croatia (or Albania/Armenia). Sinan was a janissary and talented visionary builder of hundreds of impressive buildings including famous mosques (including monumental Suleymaniye), but also bridges, schools, tombs, etc.

The fame of Ottoman Empire wouldn’t be so huge without the people hired or taken by violence from Slavic countries. The impact of these people is so huge that instead of one article, a few books should have been written.

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