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Geography of the Region

The Batschka [German] (Backa [Serbo-Croatian], Bácska [Hungarian]) is now divided between Hungary and Yugoslavia (the western part of Vojvodina in Serbia) with boundaries as follows:

The geography is mostly lowland plains between 0 and 200 meters above sea level. Average annual rainfall is between 500 and 750 millimeters per year. Historically, the southern half of the Batschka was more wooded than the north. Today, much of the land is given over to vineyards and to cereal crops.

A Hungarian site offers this 1910 color on-line map (779K).

Find out more by visiting the web page of Bács-Kiskun County.

History of the Region

People have inhabited the region we know now as the Batschka for over 4,000 years, since Neolithic times, as proven by archaelogical finds made at Baja, Bátmonostor, Dávod, Apatin, Monostorszeg and Bogojevo. The earliest historical inhabitants were probably Illyrian tribes speaking a language related to that now spoken in Albania. Surviving place names from this time include the Vajos/Vajas River, Smamos, and Maros.

In the 4th or 3rd centuries BC, Celtic tribes began arriving in the area and in the 2nd and 1st centuries, Dacians. The Dacians remained for only a little time before being driven out by the Indo-European Scythians who in turn were vanquished by the Sarmatian Jazyges [Latin Iazyges]. Because of their conflicts with the Romans, the Jazyges were great builders of hill strongholds, the remnants of which may still be seen in towns like Vaskut, Apatin, Ridjica, Staniscs, Madaras, Bajmok and others. Few names remain from most of these tented nomads who generally remained mobile and did not settle long enough to bother with names. The name Donau is considered to be either Celtic or derived from Indo-European speakers who preceded them, the similarity in the river names Donau, Dniester, Dnieper, Donets and Don having been duly noted. The Theiß River gets its name from the Romans.

As the Roman Empire expanded during this period, it established its frontier (in 176 AD) in the area as the Danube River, so while the Batschka was never a Roman region, it was due to the Romans that its southern and western boundaries were formed. With forts lining the river, there were always soldiers about and probably plenty of trade and contact between Romans and those outside the Empire. Roman coins and bricks have been found, including a coin of Emperor Diocletian (284-305) in Vaskut. But there must also have been a stark contrast between the civilized lands of the empire and the rough conditions outside of it.

The 5th century saw the beginning of a period of great migrations, especially out of the steppe lands of Asia. Many barbarian tribes were attracted by the prizes and accouterments of civilization and sought entry into the Western Roman Empire by any means available. They would generally enter Europe just north of the Black Sea and then move southwest, avoiding crossing the Danube on their left and the Carpathian Mountains and Transylvanian Alps on their right. Or, they would travel west until they found the gap in the Carpathians, turn south and cross the Hungarian Plain. In either case, their path to the Empire, protected behind the north-south Danube corridor, invariably led straight through the Batschka.

These accidents of geography ensured that the Batschka almost became the "outer lobby" for a procession of nomadic tribes who would make their way into the Empire. At the end of the 4th century, it was the Huns although they departed after Attila's death in 452, lasting only a decade. They were followed by the Gepids, who also ruled the region, this time for about a century. Following them were the Langobards, who left for Italy in 568, to be replaced by the Avars in the same year. These Avars were defeated by Charlemagne in 791 as he tried to reconstitute a new vision of Empire. But even he remained on his side of the Danube and once again, the Batschka remained "without".

This left the region open to migration by Bulgars and Slavs, many of whom remained, despite domination by Magyars (Hungarians) about 895, who set up a state which largely replaced that of the Avars in size and scope. The newcomers, who spoke a Finno-Ugrian language, had previously dwelled in the Black Sea area until they came under attack by an inner Asian Turkic tribe known as the Petchenegs, who had once lived west of China. Thus the Magyars went west, breached the Carpathian Passes, and under their leader Prince Arpad were quickly able to fill the vaccuum left by the defeat of the Avars. Csanád, Baja, Bács and Bodrog are some of the few town names which pre-date the Magyar influence. Bulgaro-Slavic contributions to the names of the region include Szeremle, Tavankut, Tupolca, Bereg, Nádudvar, Toti, Totfalu, Totcsereg, Tóthaza, Szánto and Gara.

Following the conversion of the Hungarian King Stephen (and his receipt of a crown from the Pope) circa 1000, towns began to be named after holy men, e.g. Adorán (Adrian), Csávoly (Saul) and Sükösd (Sixtus), and after church patron saints such as Szent-Tomás, Szent-György, Szent-Iván (John) and Szent-Fülop. Other Magyar names include Borota, Zside, Kalocsa, Dorozsma, Martonos, Zenta, Mohol and Bodiszlo.

Hungary was divided into counties [Hungarian megye] to be ruled by counts appointed by the crown even in Stephen's day. As time went on, these counts managed to consolidate power and make their bailiwicks hereditary. The southern portion of the Batschka region was at this time a county known as Bácska with its seat at Batsch and the northern portion called Bodrog with its seat at the town of the same name.

Hardly had the Magyars settled however, when, once again, the Petchenegs arrived. In 934 they had joined the Magyars in an invasion of the Byzantine Empire and continued to attack either alone or with other groups until finally defeated in battle by the combined forces of Byzantine Empire and the Kumans in 1090-1. The Magyars accepted survivors for settlement in the Batschka area and also in the Banat. The Banat village name Besenyo reflects the Petcheneg legacy.

The Kumans, also known as the Kipchaks, were another Turkic group that had originated near China and joined with the Karaktai confederation. When the confederation was destroyed by the Mongols in 1237, they fled across the Carpathians and were also settled in the Batschka after 1239. Their name, Kuman, later changed to "Kun" (sometimes "Quon") is preserved in the name of the Batschka village Kunbaja. Other relics of the Kuman and Petcheneg presence can be seen in the town names Örszállás, Ladoméri, Borsód, Katymár and Zabotka.

However, in 1241-2, the Mongols (or Tatars) broke through into Eastern Europe themselves, conquering nearly everything in sight. In hindsight, it appears that the only thing that could stop them was themselves and indeed in 1242 their leader, Batu, was recalled to the Mongolian homeland. The Mongols passed through the Batschka in their flight and destroyed much of the area. The following year they set up the bordering state of the Golden Horde along the Volga river. The village name Tatárrév, near Neusatz, is a legacy of these invaders.

Already in this period, small numbers of German "guests" had begun to arrive in the area, especially at Szeremle, Madaras and Szabadka, including nobility who sometimes founded new towns such as Herczegszántó from the family Herczeg and Rem from that of Raimund.

Not only Germans, but also Poles, Czechs, Russians and others arrived. Lengyel (today Ólegyen-puszta near Ridjica) was a Polish settlement; Praga was Czech and Orosz near Sükösd was Russian (since died out).

Churches and monasteries were large landholders and consequently needed settlers to make them profitable. Csávoly and Filipovo are examples, as is Apatin (once Abbatis de Batay in 1211), a Benedictine Abbey founded in 1093.

In the middle of the 15th century, the most important new development in south central Eastern Europe began to be the emergence of the Ottoman Turks. Having conquered Constantinople in 1453, and portions of the Balkans even earlier than this, their rich and powerful Moslem empire seemed poised as a threat to Europe. To counter this threat, Pope Leo X had granted a Crusade specifically against them. However, by the early 16th century, the Turkish long advance had already caused considerable unrest. The many demands of this new crusade plus fears that this crusade would put them in even more danger, caused some 40,000 farmers from all over Hungary to join in the Peasant's Rebellion of 1514. They overthrew Pest, burning, murdering and plundering and could not be stopped. Even ecclesiastical bans had no effect as the rebels no longer even obeyed their own leaders.

Eventually, the king's forces managed to capture some of the ringleaders, however, which seemed to take the wind out of the sails of the rest. Some however fled to the Batschka for safety and continued the struggle there, burning the churches of the nobility. Finally the last embers of the rebellion were put out in the Batschka with the help of Serbian forces.

All of this conflict left the country in a dangerously weak state, divided and ill-organized. The Ottomans were all too happy to take advantage. Their Sultan Suleiman I (the Magnificent) was to bring his empire to its greatest historical extent. In 1526, Hungary's army was defeated at Mohacs, the Hungarian king being lost in the battle. After this, Buda fell quickly and the Ottomans divided Hungary in three. In the south, including the Batschka, they ruled directly. In the east, they set up a vassal state of Transylvania while Hungarians remained in a narrow northwest strip known as Royal Hungary with the elected new king, the Holy Roman Emperor and tribute paid to the Ottomans for many years. Royal Hungary, also Alt-Ungarn [G], became the haven for many who fled the newly-conquered regions.

The Ottomans took firm control of the Batschka in 1543 -- this was to last until 1687. The Batschka during this period was joined to that of the region of Szeged and the entire area divided into six regions with centers at Batsch, Baja, Szabadka, Szeged, Titel and Zombor. The majority of those left in the Batschka were Serbs, mainly now engaging either in farming or military service. Under Ottoman policy, many Serbs were newly-settled in the northern places of the Batschka.

Just as the Ottomans had taken advantage of Hungarian weakness, in 1683 the Habsburg Empire began to take territory from a much-weakened Ottoman Empire. Since the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire had seen its formerly lucrative east-west trade dry up with the advent of Spanish and Portuguese expeditions across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. At the same time, scores of years of harmful farming practices had only worsened productivity in the conquered regions. (Turkish overseers were only given land on a temporary basis and thus had little incentive to do anything but maximize immediate profit.) With the help of a Holy League composed of the Papal States, Poland, Venice and Muscovy, Habsburg leaders such as Duke Charles of Lorraine, Margrave Ludwig of Baden and most famously, Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736) began to roll back the Ottoman gains.

The Sava River south of the Batschka was reached in 1688 and peace signed in 1699. It was at this time that the entire region first began to be called the Batschka, including Baja, Jánoshalma, Bácsalmás, Csonoplya, Palánka, Apatin and Kolut. A narrow Bodrog to the north was established a few years later. However, Ottoman counter-attack in 1716 brought more hostilities, their army not being annihilated by Savoy and a more lasting peace agreement signed until 1718.

However, the establishment of Habsburg rule in these regions for the first time was to prove almost as lengthy as the conquest. The long years of war had drained the treasury so significantly that the soldiers could not be paid. Nevertheless, the various troops doubled the amount that they were legally due and when payment was not forthcoming, took for themselves property from local farmers. Add on top of this the fact that these too-exploited lands suffered under ruinous war taxes which had been passed without the consultation of the various local assmblies. One group immune from these taxes were the Serbs, who had been granted this in return for their help in the defeat of the Ottomans. They thus became in the eyes of the remaining inhabitants, objects of envy and spite.

Finally it erupted in tumult, particularly in the Transylvanian areas, including Sathmar County. The efforts of the rich noble Alexander Károlyi and others managed to throw down the revolt, but when his report to Vienna was viewed with suspicion and ingratitude, he himself joined the mutineers and through his influence and example became one of its main supports of the last Transylvanian prince, Ferenc II Rákóczi (r. 1704-11).

The revolt was to last from 1703 - 1711, the Serbs fighting on the side of the Imperials. These battles were in some cases fiercer than had been those with the Turks, especially in the North Batschka, where there were reports of atrocities on both sides, whose authenticity is difficult to clearly ascertain. They were real enough to Rákóczi however, and to punish the Serbs, in 1704 he ordered attacks on the Serbian monastery in Bátmonostor and murdered all the monks in the night. This shameful act was the signal for general flight of the Serbs to Syrmia, the rebels putting the castle at Batsch to the torch (where its ruins remain today). To prevent their use by Serbian forces, many other villages of the Batschka were put to the torch as well, including the old Csatalja, which disappeared nearly without a trace.

As the rebels returned to Szeged, the Serbs returned to take revenge on the Hungarians. Rákóczi sent Bottyán the One-Eyed, his very best cavalry general to the Batschka. The surprised Serbs looked for refuge in the thicknesses of the reeds, but these had already been put to the torch earlier and many of the Serb forces were destroyed. The same routine of rebel departure, Serb return and rebel return and victory repeated itself in the following year. And twice more in 1707. In 1708, the Serbs were attacked in Nagykörös. In this year, the Black Plague also visited the Batschka and so many had died that it was difficult to bury all of the corpses. In these conditions, peace finally obtained on May 1, 1711.

The German settlement of the Batschka following the Ottoman expulsion is a story similar to that of all the Donauschwaben regions, a history already well described. In the Batschka, the migration may be considered in the following stages:

  1. Entrepreneurs and Craftsmen who arrived with German troops, 1702 - 1723
  2. The Caroline Colonization, 1723 - 1740
  3. The Maria Theresian Colonization, 1740 - 1780
    1. The Early Theresian Colonization, 1748 - 1762
    2. The Second Theresian Settlement Period, 1763 - 1772
  4. The Josephine Colonization, 1780 - 1790
  5. The post-Josephine Colonization, 1790 - 1900
The settlement dates of the various colonies should be indicated in Colonies List below.

In 1802, a unified Bács-Bodrog was first established, the new county using the old crest from the town of Batsch. Its significant elements were the Apostle Paul, a double-edged sword in his right hand and a book in his left. The seat, however, had moved to Zombor.

Following the First World War, about five-sixths of Bács-Bodrog went to Yugoslavia in the Treaty of Trianon (named after the palace in Paris where the treaty was signed). About 150,000 Germans and 200,000 Hungarians found themselves living in the Yugoslavian regime.

In April of 1941, Hungarian troops recaptured the region and it was again entirely in the control of Hungary. This proved short-lived however as the end of World War II returned it to the post-Trianon borders. Today, the Batschka remains divided between a smaller portion in the north forming part of Bács-Kiskun county in Hungary and the larger portion in the south forming the western part of Vojvodina, Yugoslavia.

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Associations and Societies

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Colonies List

The Donauschwaben colonies in the Batschka were founded during the years 1702 - 1819. For more information, consult the Batschka Village List

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References specific to the entire Batschka region:

Since today the Batschka is split between Hungary and the states of the former Yugoslavia, consult Batschka Ortsfamilienbücher for books describing the history and genealogy of individual towns in the region.


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Other Internet Resources

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Last update: 19-Oct-2002 (gj)
David Dreyer, Monika (Kleer) Ferrier, Helmut Flacker, and Ronald Gretz have contributed to this web page.
Created by: Rick Heli
Please forward any comments and additions to this WWW-page (include the name of this web page) to Rick Heli, email: or to: WebMaster