The miracle at Görösgál, 1555

Szigetvár castle in the 16th century

The “Miracle at Görösgál” is a heroic song that was praising the military deed of the Ottomans. Let us read the research of our historian, Szerecz Miklós about it. (Note, I’m using the Eastern name order for Hungarian names.) The epic event is connected to the campaign of Pasha Tojgun of Buda castle and it took place in 1555 in Somogy County, in Hungary. They tried to take Szigetvár castle but they have failed to do so. Note, due to the failure of the Pasha of Buda, the Sultan later replaced him with Pasha Khádim Ali. 

We have some sources about the palisade castle of Görösgál that the Turks built opposite to Szigetvár. We know that its garrison consisted of 167 men in the mid-16th century. They were Ulufedjis (cavalrymen), Azabs (infantry archers and guards), and Marauders (irregulars). The commander of the Ulufedjis was Agha Szkender, his officers (serodas = leading ten men) were Musztafa Divane, Iszak Mohamed, Ferhad Musztafa bin Ali. The Azabs were led by Veli Divane, his “serodas” were Ali bin Iljan, and Juszuf Abdullah. The irregular Marauders were of south-Slavic origin, only their officer was a Turk, Agha Hüszrev. 

An Azab warrior

Our event took place when Pasha Tojgun quit the siege of Szigetvár in 1555 and the Hungarian defender of Szigetvár, Captain Kerecsényi László, and his warriors rode out from the castle after him. They rushed to the palisade castle of Görösgál which stood about ten miles west of Szigetvár.

Captain Kerecsényi László

The Ottoman palisade was defended by 114 Muslim warriors. At first, the Hungarians demanded them to cede the palisade and go away in peace. The Turks were without advice for a time being, then they refused it. The local Khadi warns the Ottomans that it was a “holy day” and a „kurban bayrami” when they should pray. Having completed their obligatory Friday prayers, the Ottoman soldiers sallied out from the fortification. A fierce fight was taking shape. They attacked the besiegers in two units, one of them was led by Deli Hüszrev while the other was led by his friend, Deli Mehmed. According to the Ottoman chronicles, both of them were fearless warriors and faithful followers of Islam. They threw themselves at the Hungarians like wild lions, and they were advancing among their lines “as if they were drunk” („girerler alaya gûyȃ ki sarhoş”). In the meantime, the Ottomans were reinforced by a group of soldiers, though only 15 riders arrived. However, the Hungarians thought that more reinforcement had come so they began to flee. 

At this point, Deli Mehmed fell in a heroic fight. According to the fashion of the Borderland, practiced by both Turks and Hungarians, the winner Hungarian Hussars beheaded Deli Mehmed and took his head away. Seeing this, his friend, Deli Hüszrev cried up: “Why are you lying here? That man has taken your head and rode away!” Here, the story took a miraculous turn: the headless body of Deli Mehmed rose and ran after the Hungarian soldier. He pulled him down from his horse and beat him dead. Then, he took his head back and fell to the ground. In the confusion of the meleé, only the Khadi (judge) of Görösgál noticed this miracle and froze in his fright. 

After the victory, the triumphant Ottomans had 19 dead while the Hungarians lost 64 men. They buried their “martyrs”, and Deli Mehmed was also buried holding his head under his armpit. Then, the Khad saw a wonderful light coming from the sky above the tomb of the fallen hero. The poem is finished with Deli hüszrev’s prayer who was asking Allah to allow him to fall also in a heroic fight like this and to win the heavenly crown of the martyrs. He added that this miracle should encourage everybody:  „ilȃhî qîl tebeddül eyle hȃle, hemȃn terġîb içün yazdum maqȃle.”

Hussars, taking heads

It was the contemporary historian, the famous Dzselálzáde Musztafa who recorded the poem. Relying on his writing, later Ibrahim Pecsevi told the event as well, adding that the Khadi (judge) of Görösgál had written an epic poem in which he shared his experiences with us, and his text was about listing the miraculous deeds of the Warriors of the Faith. Now, we have only fragments of it. Szerecz Miklós quotes:

“Içinde baş kâfir begine
Qaraçin d?rler idi ol la ine”

“The cursed one, the Bey of the infidels,
Who was their leader, was called Kerecsényi”

An Ottoman Akindji warrior with his trophy of war

 Even Evlia Cselebi, the great traveler and historian mentions in his 7th book that he had paid a visit to Görösgál in 1664 (Seyâhatnâme VII. Istanbul, 1928, pp. 48-49). He says that there was a cemetery half-mile away from Görösgál where Deli Mehmed was buried, the one who had several legends about his person. He writes the legend as follows:

“…the cemetery of the Garazsgál castle, that formerly was known as the pilgrimage site of Deli Mehmed. There are several stories about this Deli Mehmed but I am going to write down just one of them. The infidels besieged the castle. Deli Mehmed had the gate opened and attacked the enemy. Other Muslim warriors ran out and they were formidably destroying the foe. In the meanwhile, Deli Mehmed died the martyrs’ death, and an infidel beheaded him. When one of his friends, Deli Hüszrem saw that Mehmed was lying without his head, he said: –Hey, you valiant warrior! You have fallen victim on such a day like this, for the glory of God! It is not an honorable thing to lie around here while the enemy is carrying away your head!– When he said so, the beheaded torso of Deli Mehmed, for God’s command rose and began to chase the infidel who had cut his head off. He raised his right hand and delivered such a blow at him that the head of the infidel split into shatters. Then, Deli Mehmed rushed among the infidels and killed everyone who tried to oppose him. Seeing this, the foe was running headlong away but nobody could flee him. In the battle, Deli Hüszrem also died. Deli Mehmed went to him, he took him on his lap and they remained so. They are still resting together like that, may Allah give them eternal mercy. As the event has taken place just recently, the old men who witnessed it are still alive. I’ve recorded it as I heard it from them.”

Evlia Cselebi

Szerecz Miklós notes that he has a friend who is also a historian and reenactor like him, the leader of the Szigetvár Castle Museum, Lebedy János. He has many times examined the area of the assumed site of Görösgál castle. It was published in 2008 “Nemeske és Görösgal várai” by Lebedy János. According to Lebedy, the memory of Görösgál’s heroes is still traceable in Turkish books, like in the work of the famous realist writer, Ömer Seyfeddin who wrote a short story in the first part of the 20th century. Its title is: “A heroic dead who hasn’t let his head go”. This writing was re-published in 1977 in Hungary by the “Szigetvári Várbaráti Kör” (Circle of Friends of Szigetvár Castle). Seyfeddin’s story is told from the viewpoint of the Khadi, the eye-witness of the battle of 1555. 

The so-called „cehalophoria” aka head-taking is a well-known motif of Christian legends that occurs in the legend of Saint Dénes (Denis) as well. The question is arising: how did this get adopted by the Muslim tradition?

Saint Denis

There is no doubt, that this short epic poem (“desztán”) is one of the most precious pieces of Ottoman folklore that survived in Hungary in the 16th century. However, there is no information about how much it might have been known among the Ottomans in Hungary. As Ibrahim Pecsevi has heard about it, it must have been quite known, though. Yet, it is exciting to peep into the list of mercenaries of the contemporary Ottoman garrisons of the area. You can read about the ethnic situation here:

Sipahi riders

We can see that in the smaller palisades, just like in Görösgál, there served many Marauders and irregular soldiers. We can see the same in Pécs castle, too. As it was close to Szigetvár Castle, there were more than 800 soldiers there in 1547. Many of them were south-Slavic Marauders, their names are known from a list from 1555: like Szeroda Bogdan Radics, Vuk Acsanko, Sztoján Vuk, Vukman Radoszláv, Nikola Milos, etc. On the other hand, the officers of the elite units (Janissaries and Sipahies) had Turkish names as we can see from another list of Timarian landowners of Pécs from the 1570s: Hasszán bin Ferhad, Hüsszein Ali, Yuszuf Abdullah, Iszkander Ahmed, Kurd Mehemed, Musztafa Turszun, etc.


Source: Szerecz Miklós:

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