Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History

Explore the extraordinary past of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through the pages of the book 'Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History.' Uncover political events, economic development, and cultural heritage of these Banat towns through richly documented stories. Follow the evolution from the earliest days to the present, delving into the intricate threads of political intrigues, economic transformations, and cultural ascensions. Experience the past through the eyes of the author as the pages of the book unfold before you, providing a unique perspective on the life and legacy of these significant locales.

Origin and Name Origins of Bečej

It is not precisely known when and how Novi Bečej got its name or who founded it. One thing is certain - Bečej, with its fortress, held a significant place among those influencing state politics in the course of historical events, sometimes across a broader territory.

After the decline of the settlement that existed in the Roman era at the site of today's Novi Bečej, little is heard about it for a considerable time, similar to other settlements in Banat. However, during the reign of Stephen I (997—1038), Bečej appears as an inhabited place and is soon mentioned as a village.

Around that time, or a bit later during the introduction of Christianity among the Hungarians, two families from the French tribes of Beche and Gregor settled in these regions. They played a significant role in the region's religious affairs and gave their names to inhabited places. The name Beče (Becse) supposedly resulted from the Hungarians misreading the name Beche. Consequently, the first owners and lords of Bečej, from whom it likely derived its name, were Beche and Gregor, later succeeded by their descendants.

It is unlikely that Bečej, as some sources suggest, was named after the nobleman Bečeji Imre, who, during the reign of King Charles Robert (whose capital was in Timișoara), acquired the middle part of the Torontal County and settled in a place that supposedly got its name Beče after him. Bečeji Imre, according to the Hungarian Great Encyclopedia (A. Pallos), is a descendant of the Beche and Gregor families.

Historian Rudolf Šmit, in his study "City of Bečej," states that the name Bečej was derived from the Beče-Gergelj family, who lived during the reign of Saint Stephen (997-1038). This could be considered the first historical mention of Bečej.

In his book "Memoirs from the First Century of Hungarian Christianity" (Chapter XXII), Karolj Sabo writes about the biography of Saint Gerard. He mentions the wife of the lord from Beča, baptized by Saint Gerard, who had a severe fever. When she kissed the cloak at Saint Gerard's grave in the church in Čanad, she quickly recovered. Sabo suggests, at the end of page 86, that the name of the mentioned lord may be related to the fortress of Bečej and the name of the town. Karolj Sabo's book is a collection of translations of Latin legends from the 11th century, created around 1083 when Saint Gerard was canonized.

After Saint Gerard's murder, his body was initially buried in Pest, later transferred to Maros, and then to Čanad around 1049. The cloak was placed on his grave in the church of the Virgin Mary in Čanad. The assumption is that the visit to the grave by the lord's wife from Bečej could have taken place between 1050-1060, making these years a potential first appearance of Bečej in history.

A possible year for the first mention of Bečej in history under that name could be found in György Đerfi's book "Historical Geography of Hungary from the Arpadian Era," 2nd edition by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest 1987. In the chapter on the Bacská county on page 214, Đerfi describes Becse(j) and mentions:

"An important crossing over the Tisza in 1091, when the Cuman military leader Kapolč, with plundering troops coming from the direction of Tokaj, crossed it (presumably near Bečej) with the intention to leave the country (referring to Hungary) near the Lower Danube."

The author provides a footnote explaining that this concerns Bečej in Bacská, which is a somewhat unreliable claim. It is clear from the book's text that the Cumans crossed the Tisza near Tokaj and then headed for further plundering between the Tisza and the Danube. After that, in 1091, they crossed from the right to the left bank of the Tisza near Bečej, but in our opinion, this refers to Bečej in Banat.

Đerfi probably copied this mistake from the book "Scriptores Rerum Hunaricarum Dacum Regumque Stirpis Arpadianae Gestarum," published in 1937 in Budapest, where Bečej is mentioned on page 412. The author's footnote explains that this refers to "Vicus Obecse" (Old Bečej) in Bacská.

When assessing which Bečej is meant, it is essential to consider the living conditions and appearance of these small settlements at the end of the 11th century (1091). People lived in huts, dugouts, or at best, semi-dugouts. The primary occupation was mostly livestock farming, which made it easier to move from one place to another where the pasture was better. At that time, landmarks could have been not small settlements of ten or twenty huts but hills, mountains, rivers and their tributaries, or river confluences, and, of course, fortresses. Everything else was uncertain, as it was subject to change and disappearance.

Supporting this claim is a detail from Dušan Popović's book "Serbs in Bacská Until the End of the 18th Century," Belgrade 1952, where on page 77, it is stated: "Bečej is not mentioned during the Ottoman rule, although many villages around Bečej are mentioned, such as Bela, Botra, Perlek, Kutež, Ketvila, and others."

Perhaps, during the Cumans' crossing of the Tisza in 1091, Bečej in Banat belonged to the administration and command of the fortress in Bač, and as such, it could have been considered part of the Bacská county. Still, this is not particularly relevant to proving which Bečej is being referred to because the fortress was always on the left bank of the Tisza, and Bečej in Banat was in its immediate vicinity. Bečej in Bacská is almost ten kilometers away from the fortress if you follow the flow of the Tisza, and it is three to four kilometers away in a straight line.

It should be emphasized that the fortress existed, in the place where its remains are still found today, since the Roman era. It was later renovated or a new one was built in the same place, but one thing is certain: there has always been a accompanying settlement next to the fortress, in this case, what is now Novi Bečej.

Therefore, based on everything mentioned in the Chronicle of Hungary about Bečej, it seems to refer only to Bečej near the fortress, where the army was and where life unfolded. For all these reasons, I believe that the year 1091 can be considered the first written evidence in the history of Novi Bečej.

As a historical proof of Bečej's existence in the 11th century, we may also consider a well-preserved sword found in the ruins of the Bečej fortress. The sword was discovered by Šandor Bizonji from Novi Bečej, a enthusiast of the town's history, and his widow donated the sword to the National Museum in Zrenjanin (1946) through the then curator Šandor Nađ. The sword is well-preserved and decorated, dating back to the 11th or early 12th century.

Šandor Nađ stated this at a meeting of the Local Club on September 13, 1986, in Novi Bečej, and he provided me with more detailed explanations over the phone on September 22, 1986, when I alerted him that the curator of the Zrenjanin museum (also on September 22, 1986) claimed they did not have that sword.

Rudolf Šmit, in the study "City of Bečej," mentions: "Documentarily, Bečej is mentioned only in 1238 when King Bela I re-gifts the village of Bečej (villa Weche) to the crusader convent in Stoni Beograd. This reaffirms that Bečej existed earlier.

Sentklarai categorically asserts that Bečej has always been in its current location. He explains claims that it was once on an island by saying that the Tisza changed its course due to sedimentation of mud and sand. There is ample evidence in the marshes and ravines, even suggesting that the Tisza delimited the Bečej settlement from the east, placing it on an island for a certain period.

Until the mid-12th century, during the rule of Geza, Bečej, along with all its suburban municipalities, developed very well, flourishing, as Sentklarai says. This development was only slightly hindered by internal unrest and devastation caused by Borić, the Bosnian ban who participated in Hungarian battles against Stephen III. Around 1190, during the rule of Bela III, all places in this area lived in considerable prosperity, and Bečej, thanks to its favorable geographical position, maintained a lively traffic and trade connection indirectly and directly with southern kings, especially with Byzantium. This ensured wealth and conditions for rapid development.

Over time, this prosperity was threatened, and Bečej survived severe shocks in 1241 when the Tatars, led by Batu Khan, penetrated these regions.

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