Gelou (Romanian: Gelu; Hungarian: Gyalu) is the name of a Transylvanian Romanian ("Blacus" in the original Latin) duke mentioned in 13th century Gesta Hungarorum ("The Deeds of the Hungarians") according to which he was defeated by Töhötöm ("Tuhutum" in the original Latin), one of the "seven Hungarian dukes", during the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin in the turn of the 9th and 10th centuries. It is debated whether Gelou was a real historical person or a fictitious one created by Anonymus, the chronicler.
The historian Neagu Djuvara argues that the name Gelou is of Romanian origin and has roots from antiquity (one settlement in ancient Thrace was named Geloupara), while according to the historian Gyula Kristó his name may have been of Turkic or Hungarian origin.
Gelou in the Gesta Ungarorum
According to the Gesta, on reaching the Carpathian Mountains, the Magyars found there three voivodeships: that of Menumorut in Crişana, of Glad in the Banat, and of Gelou in central Transylvania. Duke Gelou is described as being a “certain Romanian”.
And while they tarried there some while, Tuhutum father of Horca, as he was a shrewd man, when he learned from the inhabitants of the goodness of the land of Transylvania, where Gelou, a certain Vlach, held sway, strove through the grace of Duke Árpád, his lord, to acquire the land of Transylvania for himself and his posterity. (…)—Chapter 24 of The Deeds of the Hungarians - Of the land of Transylvania
It is evident from the Gesta, that Tuhutum’s attack was clearly targeted toward the salt mine district in Transylvania. According to the anonymous author of the Gesta, Transylvania was inhabited by Vlachs and Slavs at that time.
The aforesaid Tuhutum, a most skilful man, sent a certain shrewd man, father of Opaforcos Ogmand, to spy out for him the quality and fertility of the land of Transylvania and what its inhabitants were like, so that he might, if he could, go to war with them, for Tuhutum wished thereby to acquire a name and land for himself. (…) When the father of Ogmand, Tuhutum’s scout, circling like a wolf, viewed, as much as the human gaze may, the goodness and fertility of the land and its inhabitants, he loved it more than can be said and most swiftly returned to his lord. When he arrived, he spoke much to his lord of the goodness of that land: that that land was washed by the best rivers, whose names and advantages he listed, that in their sands they gathered gold and that the gold of that land was the best, and that they mined there salt, and the inhabitants of that land were the basest of the whole world, because they were Vlachs and Slavs, because they had nothing else for arms than bows and arrows and their duke, Geleou was inconstant and did not have around him good warriors who would dare stand against the courage of the Hungarians, because they suffered many injuries from the Cumans and Pechenegs.—Chapter 25 of The Deeds of the Hungarians - Of the skillfulness of Tuhutum
Then Tuhutum, having heard of the goodness of that land, sent his envoys to Duke Árpád to ask his permission to go beyond the woods to fight Duke Gelou. Duke Árpád, having taken counsel, commended Tuhutum’s wish and he gave him permission to go beyond the woods to fight Duke Gelou. When Tuhutum heard this from an envoy, he readied himself with his warriors and, having left his companions there, went forth eastwards beyond the woods against Gelou, duke of the Vlachs. Gelou, duke of Transylvania, hearing of his arrival, gathered his army and rode speedily towards him in order to stop him at the Meseş Gate, but Tuhutum, crossing the wood in one day, arrived at the Almaş river. Then both armies came upon each other, with the river lying between them. Duke Gelou planned to stop them there with his archers.—Chapter 26 of The Deeds of the Hungarians - How they went against Gelu /sic/
Next morning, before daybreak, Tuhutum divided his army in two and he sent one part a little way upstream so that, having crossed the river, they might enter into battle while Gelou’s warriors were yet unawares. And because they had an easy crossing, both forces arrived at the battle at the same time and they fought fiercely, but the warriors of Duke Gelou were defeated and many of them slain and more captured. When Gelou, their duke, saw this, he fled for his life along with a few men. As he was in flight, hastening to his castle beside the Someş River, Tuhutum’s warriors, boldly pursuing Duke Gelou, slew him beside the Căpuş River. Then the inhabitants of the land, seeing the death of their lord, giving the right hand of their own free will chose to themselves as lord Tuhutum, father of Horca, and in that place which is called Esculeu, they confirmed their troth with an oath and from that day the place is called Esculeu, because they swore there. (…)—Chapter 27 of The Deeds of the Hungarians - Of the death of Gelu
Controversy around his story
It is debated whether Gelou was a real historical person or a fictitious one. Hungarian authors claim that Gelou was not a real person and that it was created by Anonymous from a toponym by etymology. Romanian historiography claims that he was an actual person, and the toponym Gilău is the one that keeps the name of the duke.
According to Romanian Scholars
According to some scholars, the elaborate studies of the last decades on the text Gesta Ungarorum have revealed that most of the reports are not inventions, but they have a real support, even if here and there some anachronisms occurred.
Conforming to this view, the anonymous notary of the Hungarian king Béla III (1172–1196) wrote in the Gesta Ungarorum, based on ancient chronicles and oral tradition, that the Hungarians, when they settled on the plains of the Tisza and Danube rivers, found there “Slavs, Bulgarians and Vlachs, and the shepherds of the Romans”. Although the Gesta Ungarorum is in sharp contrast with the chronicle of Simon of Kéza and of other 14th century chronicles, it is a mistake to treat Gelou as a purely fictional character whose name derived from that of the Transylvanian town Gilău (Gyalu in Hungarian). Moreover, it would make no sense for the author of the Gesta to invent entire populations or to lie about the situation.
Romanian archaeologists made every possible effort to prove that the Gesta was a reliable source for the medieval history of Transylvania and to turn Dăbâca into a Transylvanian Troy. Their archaeological research has located his voivodate, unearthing more than 40 settlements there. The excavations at Dăbâca evidence habitation from the 9th century, but the excavators were overwhelmed by the complexity of the site and embarrassed that no substantial evidence was found to prove the "Gesta" right. There are four enclosures at Dăbâca, each one associated with earthwork fortifications; the excavators dated the third enclosure to the 9th or 10th century, while also claiming that it post-dated the second enclosure - the only defense work to have produced clearly datable artifacts, namely a silver penny of King Peter (1038–1041 and 1044–1046).
According to Hungarian Scholars
According to other scholars, the author of the Gesta related, around the year 1200, in a novelistic form what he thought had happened at the time of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin around 895. He seems to have no idea about the real state of affairs in the Carpathian Basin at the time of the Hungarian Conquest: instead of Simeon I of Bulgaria, Arnulf and Svatopluk, of whom he had no knowledge, he invented imaginary figures as enemies of the Hungarians. In the construction of his stories, he sometimes drew on legendary elements, but more frequently he worked with toponyms.
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- Duchy of Gelu (map)
- "The Map of the Road of the Magyar Conquest - According to the Anonymous Notary"
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- (French) Köpeczi, Béla - Barta, Gábor; Bóna, Istán; Makkai, László; Miskolczy, Ambrus; Mócsy, András; Péter, Katalin; Szász, Zoltán; Tóth, Endre; Trócsányi, Zsolt; Várkonyi R., Ágnes; Vékony, Gábor: “Histoire de la Transylvanie”
- (German) Köpeczi, Béla - Barta, Gábor; Bóna, Istán; Makkai, László; Miskolczy, Ambrus; Mócsy, András; Péter, Katalin; Szász, Zoltán; Tóth, Endre; Trócsányi, Zsolt; Várkonyi R., Ágnes; Vékony, Gábor: “Kurze Geschichte Siebenbürgens”