Family Background and History of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire

Harem scene as imagined by Giovanni Antonio Guardi, c. 1743

The Yorck Project/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Ottoman Empire ruled over what is now Turkey and a large portion of the eastern Mediterranean world from 1299 until 1923. The rulers, or sultans, of the Ottoman Empire had their paternal roots in Oghuz Turks of Central Asia, also known as the Turkmen. 

Who Were Concubines?

During the Ottoman Empire, a concubine was a woman who lived with, sometimes by force, and had a sexual relationship or sexual relations with, a man to whom she was not married. The concubines had a lower social status than wives and married people, and historically became part of the concubine class through imprisonment or enslavement.

Most of the sultans' mothers were concubines from the royal harem—and most of the concubines were from non-Turkic, usually non-Muslim parts of the empire. Much like the boys in the Janissary corps, most concubines in the Ottoman Empire were technically members of the enslaved class. The Quran forbids the enslavement of fellow Muslims, so the concubines were from Christian or Jewish families in Greece or the Caucasus, or were prisoners of war from further afield. Some residents of the harem were official wives as well, who might be noblewomen from Christian nations, married to the sultan as part of diplomatic negotiations.

Although many of the mothers were enslaved, they could amass incredible political power if one of their sons became the sultan. As valide sultan, or Mother Sultan, a concubine often served as de facto ruler in the name of her young or incompetent son.

Ottoman Royal Genealogy

The Ottoman royal genealogy begins with Osman I (r. 1299 - 1326), both of whose parents were Turks. The next sultan likewise had Turkic parents, but beginning with the third sultan, Murad I, the sultans' mothers (or valide sultan) were not of Central Asian origins. Murad I (r. 1362 - 1389) had one Turkish parent. Bayezid I's mother was Greek, so he was partially Turkish.

The fifth sultan's mother was Oghuz, so he was partially Turkish. Continuing in the fashion, Suleiman the Magnificent, the 10th sultan, was also only partially Turkish.

By the time we get to the 36th and final sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed VI (r. 1918 - 1922), the Oghuz, or Turkic, blood was quite diluted. All of those generations of mothers from Greece, Poland, Venice, Russia, France, and beyond really altered the sultans' genetic roots on the steppes of Central Asia.

List of Ottoman Sultans and their Mothers' Ethnicities

  1. Osman I, Turkish
  2. Orhan, Turkish
  3. Murad I, Greek
  4. Bayezid I, Greek
  5. Mehmed I, Turkish
  6. Murad II, Turkish
  7. Mehmed II, Turkish
  8. Bayezid II, Turkish
  9. Selim I, Greek
  10. Suleiman I, Greek
  11. Selim II, Polish
  12. Murad III, Italian (Venetian)
  13. Mehmed III, Italian (Venetian)
  14. Ahmed I, Greek
  15. Mustafa I, Abkhazian
  16. Osman II, Greek or Serbian (?)
  17. Murad IV, Greek
  18. Ibrahim, Greek
  19. Mehmed IV, Ukrainian
  20. Suleiman II, Serbian
  21. Ahmed II, Polish
  22. Mustafa II, Greek
  23. Ahmed III, Greek
  24. Mahmud I, Greek
  25. Osman III, Serbian
  26. Mustafa III, French
  27. Abdulhamid I, Hungarian
  28. Selim III, Georgian
  29. Mustafa IV, Bulgarian
  30. Mahmud II, Georgian
  31. Abdulmecid I, Georgian or Russian (?)
  32. Abdulaziz I, Romanian
  33. Murad V, Georgian
  34. Abdulhamid II, Armenian or Russian (?)
  35. Mehmed V, Albanian
  36. Mehmed VI, Georgian
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Szczepanski, Kallie. "Family Background and History of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire." ThoughtCo, Sep. 15, 2020, Szczepanski, Kallie. (2020, September 15). Family Background and History of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire. Retrieved from Szczepanski, Kallie. "Family Background and History of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).