THE BANAT REGION – PAST AND PRESENT
Historically, the Banat is a region naturally bounded by the Danube, Tisa and Mures rivers. The only conventional boundary is the eastern one, the one that divides the Banat region from Transylvania and Oltenia.
Over time, the Banat has experienced an evolution similar to the other lands north of the Danube, but with some particular issues. Located in a region wherein there were intersected geostrategic interests of great powers, Banat entered the composition of some state structures in perpetual change from antiquity until the early twentieth century. The region was the gateway to Central Europe for the big powers which had reached the Balkans and the path to the Mediterranean Sea for the countries in the center of the old continent.
By Banat, north of the Danube, the armies of Roman Emperor Trajan entered Dacia in both wars (101-102) and (105-106). Here was held the first military confrontation between the Dacian defenders and Roman legions. After the conquest of Dacia, Banat was part of the Roman province of Dacia for more than a century and a half, knowing demographic, economic, political and cultural changes which allowed its deep and irreversible Romanization. The Roman seal is visible from the ruins of the bridge at Drobeta up to the Iron Gates of Transylvania.
After the withdrawal of Aurelian (271-275), the Banat region was confronted with the migration of Germanic and Asian tribes. The Visigoths, Huns, Gepids, Avars, Bulgars occupied the region and its immediate vicinity. Nicolae Iorga supported the possibility that the name of region itself came from the Avar language. On the other hand, the Hungarian origin of the name ‘Banat’ is widely supported today by modern historians. Hungarians came in this area, most likely at the beginning of the tenth century. Some historical sources recounts the struggles conducted by Hungarian armies for subjecting small political formations in Banat. The Hungarian conquest meant the beginning of the expansion of Catholic confession in an area so far under the influence of the Orthodox Byzantium. In this regard, in 1247, the Joanites knights were colonized in Banat. Their mission was to strengthen the southern border of the Hungarian kingdom on the Danube and to cut off the schismatics (the Orthodox) in the region.
The decline of Hungarian Empire under the constant pressure of the Ottoman Empire during the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, greatly influenced the fate of the Banat region. In 1552, most of it was converted into a pashalic, the Pashalic of Timisoara. Thus, the very heterogeneous ethnic structure (Romanians, Serbs, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Greeks, and Bosnians) of the Banat region was completed with Muslim Turks.
The rise of Austria as a great power in the region since the second half of the seventeenth century meant for the inhabitants of Banat the beginning of a period of permanent military confrontation, raids, territorial changes, significant material damage and human losses. In 1718, as a result of the Peace of Passarowitz, the Ottoman Empire surrendered the Banat region to Austria. The Habsburgs colonized the region, depopulated of wars, with peoples from other areas of the empire, especially Germans, but also Italians, Czechs, Croats, even French and Spanish. The favourable conditions offered by the Austrian State (house, land, tools, cattle, and tax exemptions) led to the population growth documented by Austrian census. Austro-Hungarian domination lasted until the end of the First World War (1918).
At the Peace Conference of Paris-Versailles (1919 – 1920), the historical Banat was the object of dispute between the Serbo-Croat-Slovene Kingdom and Romania. Before the exaggerated claims of Belgrade, the Romanian delegation led by I.I.C. Bratianu refused to participate to the works of the Territorial Committee; the territorial division of Banat was done without the agreement of the delegation from Bucharest. Of the 28 526 sq.km, almost 19 000 have returned to Romania. The Romanian Banat represents only 67% of the historical Banat. The rest of the area, 33%, is part of Serbia and 1% belongs to Hungary.
The Romanian Banat, as well as the whole region, bears the imprint of the past, which gives this region a unique identity. The Banat region, along with Dobrogea, is the most important multiethnic region of Romania. Romanians, Germans, Serbs, Croats, Turks, Bulgarians, Hungarians, are still living here together in the spirit of respect, tolerance and dialogue.