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The Role of the Imperial and Royal Military Frontier
in the Danube Swabian Settlement History

By Dr. Valentin Oberkersch

[Die Rolle der k. k. Militärgrenze in der donauschwäbischen Ansiedlungsgeschichte, 1976 Donau-Schwaben Kalender, pg 38-40]

This article is a part of the DVHH Donau-Schwaben Kalender Transcription Project
Translated by George Fuderer, 1 Oct 2015
Edited by Rose Vetter, 20 May 2016
Published by Jody McKim Pharr, 11 Dec 2016

The Imperial and Royal Military Frontier, which at the time of its greatest extent stretched from the Northern Adriatic to Galicia, did not play a paramount role in Danube Swabian settlement history, however, its indirect and direct influence on the development of some Danube Swabian settlements remains, especially in the Banat and Slavonian Generalate[1], despite an existing small work by Andreas Lutz[2], a question for Danube Swabian historical research.


Since the Military Frontier at a higher level was, for the most part, conducted and administered by German officers, and while German was its official language up to its dissolution, the Magyar and Slavic historians--almost always unobjective concerning the former Danube Monarchy--were quick off the mark with the categorization of this arrangement as “black-yellow Germanization Institute.” Viewed with a calm and objective consideration of the events and circumstances, this judgement is untenable, and a number of German historians--and not only German--have pointed out many related facts, but interestingly enough, to our knowledge, nobody has noted that the Military Frontier authorities were undoubtedly quite cautious concerning the founding of German settlements; there were surely reasons for this--and some of them will be examined--but they would have been shoved aside by one of the Military authorities bent on Germanization.


Initially, only the Military Communities (cities) and Local Headquarters had a noteworthy German population share in the two mentioned Generalates, and this to a large part before 1747--of the establishment of the three Frontier Regiments of the Slavonian Generalate, respectively 1765, of the establishment of the three regiments of the Banat Generalate--which settled in these cities. The set-up of military command posts and all the concomitant military and administrative requirements made a further settlement of artisans in the individual cities and local headquarters necessary, less in one location and more in another. At that time, as a rule, artisans were German, and so one can also justifiably maintain that national grounds--if at all--played a highly secondary role in the granting of settlement authorization. If these German artisans in the individual cities often formed a not to be overlooked number of inhabitants and had the greatest say in the municipalities, the German city in the Military Frontier did not exist. Conversely, still at the time of the Military Frontier, at least in the Slavonic Generalate, a robust Croatianization process in these city settlements began and continued so quickly and vigorously after the dissolution of the Military Frontier between 1871 and 1873, that German Culture in almost all the cities of the former Military Frontier would have soon disappeared if not for the surrounding farming settlements and the constant influx from them.


A verifiably existing plan based on population composition paraphrasing is not evident in the designation of the 12th Frontier Regiment as the “German-Banater Regiment.” The four companies of 200 men each who were dispatched from the Invalid-Homes in Vienna, Pest, Prague and Pettau[3] to Startschowa, Brestowatz[4], Homolitz[5], Neudorf bei Pantschowa[6] and Kubin[7] were far from making up a German regiment. The single, always paramount plan of the Military Frontier Command Posts was to promote the defensive capability of the Frontier regiments as much as possible and as quickly as possible. This, of course, resulted in some cases where German colonists were added to a comparatively small extent in these and other settlements in the Banater Generalate, 1765 in Oppowa[8], 1774 in Glogon[9], 1786 in Brestowatz and 1821 in Mramorak[10]. It must be noted that in some of these settlements, in addition to the German families, other ethnic groups, mainly Serbs, came into play. Also, Germans never reached the majority in the German-Banater Frontier Regiment. The designation was supposedly chosen because a clear distinction between Wallachian-Illyrian Frontier Regiment (later Serbian-Banater and Romanian-Banater Regiment) had to be found.


In contrast to the two previous immigration movements “to Hungary”, it is well known that during the reign of Joseph II[11], Protestants were also allowed to settle in Hungarian counties; it is also known that this measure of the “People’s Kaiser” was received unwillingly by many influential Hungarian authorities[12]. The Kaiser was hardly dead when the Protestant settlers, above all those still on the way, experienced the greatest difficulties. But not only they, but also the Viennese Court authorities,  now had to find a way out in order to resolve the often desperate situation of the emigrants, but also to pacify the Magyar bishops and magnates. The Military Frontier, as a region subordinate to both the Kaiser and the Imperial War Council, was the way out. From this quandary the three most important German-Protestant farming settlements in the Slavonian, or more specifically, Banater Generalate arose: 1790 Franzfeld[13], Neu-Pasua and 1891 Neudorf near Vinkovci. In these cases, as well, one can by no means speak of completed plans, rather the thought arises that it was a makeshift solution, above all with Neu-Pasua. Only in the case of Neudorf it could not have been the most important reason for the settlement. Franztal, which was settled as part of the 1816 Semliner Community mainly by settlers from Lazarfeld, is a special case.


The later German settlements and integrated settlements[14] in the Brod, Peterwardein and German-Banat Regiment, be it the integrated settlement in Lower Syrmia or also the settlement of Rudolfsgnad (1865/66) by settlers from Etschka and Siegmundsfeld, already took place in a time when the days of the Military Frontier were numbered and under conditions that had absolutely nothing more in common with the previous basic conditions in the military frontier. Yet the corresponding conditions after the dissolution of the Military Frontier were more favorable. One can say that in a certain sense the floodgates for an unhindered settlement of Germans was first opened after the dissolution of the Military Frontier.


            If it is true that the Imperial Military Frontier at least did not encourage the settlement of the Germans, then the question arises about the reasons for this attitude. This question had never been definitively answered by the competent authorities of the Military Frontier, and so one must rely on the assumption that the basic task of the military border be a perpetual peasant-military area for the protection of the Monarchy. The German colonists were given fundamentally different tasks; they were expected to make the vast, derelict land arable again, a task that demanded the full work force, leaving hardly any time for military duties in general. This becomes even clearer if one remembers that the organization of the Military Frontier fully absorbed the Slavic community of the Zadruga[15] and regulated it as an integral part of the border-Basic Law. The Imperial-Royal Military Frontier, as it was, stood and fell with the Zadruga. The Zadruga, and not the individual, was in a feudal relationship to the Kaiser. The German nuclear family, usually consisting only of parents and unmarried children, fit poorly into this system. No wonder that the Military Frontier authorities at least wanted to know that the fundamental application of the coexistence laws laid down in the Zadrugas were also applied by German colonists in Neu-Pasua and Neudorf. No wonder, as well, that the Military Frontier after the abolition of the feudal system, which had become untenable in the Provincial Region after the abolition of the Basic Law, and after being hollowed out internally by the legal dissolution of Zadrugas, was also ripe for dissolution.


In addition to these reasons coming from the structure of the Military Frontier stood the basic

concept of Military Frontier authorities that the population of the border region as a rule should be

nationally consistent, since national and confessional differences were seen a possible, if not probable

source of frictions and disputes which could weaken the defensive power of the institution and,

therefore, they probably settled Germans only when it was unavoidable.   


[1] A district under the control or supervision of a general.

[2] Andreas Lutz, 1876-1950, birthplace Hercegszentmarton Hungary (now Romania); Banater Schwabe, philosopher, folklorist. Could not find any reference/title of his small work. 

[3] Ptuj German: Pettau; Latin: Poetovium) is a town in northeastern Slovenia. Traditionally the area was part of the Styria region.

[4] Brusturi in 1924-1925; German: Brestowatz; Hungarian: Aga, Bresztovác prior to 1892 is a commune in Timiș County, Banat, Romania.

[5] Located in the Pančevo municipality North Ban District of Vojvodina.

[6] Located in Pančevo, South Banat District Vojvodina.

[7] Kovin is a town and municipality in South Banat District of Vojvodina, Serbia.

[8] German name Koenigsdorf; largest city in the Opovo Municipality north of Belgrade.

[9] Glogonj, a village in Serbia. Situated in the Pančevo municipality, in the South Banat District, Vojvodina.

[10]Mramorak, a village in Serbia, situated in the Kovin municipality, South Banat District, Vojvodina.

[11]Joseph II (13 March 1741–20 February 1790) Holy Roman Emperor 1765-1790 and ruler of the Habsburg lands 1780 -1790

[12] Emperor Joseph II enacted the Patent of Toleration on October 13, 1781, followed on September 21, 1782 by the „Settlement-Patent“ which assured complete and comprehensive freedom of conscience and religion. This allowed Protestant settlement in the Catholic areas of the state.

[13] Franzfeld, a town in northern Serbia, in the municipality of Pančevo, South Banat, Vojvodina. Franzfeld originated as a Danube Swabian community with the arrival of settlers from Baden Württemberg, Alsace-Lorraine and Switzerland on June 24, 1792.

[14] When single families or smaller groups of Germans were integrated into existing Slavic villages, it was called an Einsiedlung.

[15] A Zadruga refers to a type of rural community historically common among South Slavs. Originally, generally formed of one extended family or a clan of related families, the Zadruga held its property, herds and money in common, with usually the oldest (patriarch) member ruling and making decisions for the family, though at times he would delegate this right at an old age to one of his sons. Because the Zadruga was based on a patrilocal system, when a girl married, she left her parents’ Zadruga and joined that of her husband. Within the Zadruga, all of the family members worked to ensure that the needs of every other member were met. The Zadruga eventually went into decline beginning in the late 19th century, as the largest started to become unmanageable and broke into smaller Zadrugas or formed villages.  


Last Updated: 04 Feb 2020

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