North of the Sava and Danube rivers, there is a vast plain sandwiched between branches of the Carpathian and Alpine mountain ranges. In prehistory, it was a great inland sea; today, it is an area of fertile land, peppered history and vibrant folkloric heritage. This is the Pannonian Zone.
The Pannonian ethnocultural zone spans from the east, in Romanian Banat, crossing through Serbian Vojvodina – Banat, Bačka (west of the Tisa river), Srem (between Sava and Danube) – then Baranja, (wedged between Danube and Drava rivers), much of Hungary’s great southern plain or Del Alfold, and finally Slavonija, Posavina, Moslavina in modern-day Croatia. Ethnographically, the Pannonian zone is probably the most diverse zone. It crosses national boundaries, has wildly intermixed ethnic minorities, and its cities and towns bear the distinctly neat and orderly stamp of an Austro-Hungarian past.
Many factors led to this: a failed uprising by Kosovo Serbs, siding with the Austrian army against the Turks, led to the Great Migration of 1690, where 40,000 Serbian families and clans, led by Patriarch Arsenije Čarnojević, reached as far as Szentendre north of Budapest; the granting of privileges of land use, regardless of ownership, to these settled Serbs on the condition that they inhabit a Military Border Zone and defend the Austro-Hungarian empire from the Ottoman Turks; the Austrian settlement of German farmers and granting of land to German-speaking landowners (the Donauschwaben, Volksdeutsch) in this extremely productive stretch of land; and Empress Maria Theresa’s at best disdainful relations with her Slavic subjects.
A fervent Catholic, she opposed any concepts of religious tolerance, despised Jews and Protestants, and encouraged the spreading of the Unia or “Greek Catholicism” wherever Orthodox christians lived. Having come to power only after a long war of succession, she fretted over about her ability to keep the throne, and feared popular insurrections. To that end, she instigated large scale population exchanges: Serbs ended up in Ukraine and Russia, Ukrainians in Serbia and Bosnia, Czechs and Slovaks throughout northern Serbia and eastern Croatia, Croatians in Austrian Burgenland (Gradišće, Gradiščanski Hrvati), Hungarians, well, everywhere… a crazy quilt of cultures carefully contrived to disrupt any one majority other than German speaking, anywhere.
You still find traces of this. Travel through Vojvodina, and you’ll pass through a village where the street signs are in Serbian Cyrillic and in Hungarian, another where they are in the Latinic script used by Šokci and ethnic Slovaks, the distinctly archaic Rusyn cyrillic and latin-based Romanian… a visible history of each settlement. Add to this more recent upheavals: the post-WWI and -WWII resettlement of Dinaric Serbs throughout the region, as Germans either fled or were expelled, having sided with invading armies.
Well, lucky for you this isn’t a history blog – this is as deep in as I am going to get on this issue, and trust me, given how complex it is, this is the shortest possible version. What I find amazing about the Panonnian Ethnocultural Zone is unity of its costumes. Regardless of ethnicity, residents of Pannonia wore costumes that all conformed to a generally similar pattern, and which were made using similar methods and materials.
The basic components of Pannonian Zone costumes are outlined in the lists below, but also available in my interactive at ThingLink. The material is generally linen, derived from flax and hemp; cotton also entered into use in the late 18th – early 19th century. Wool is relied on for weaving of rugs, women’s aprons, and bags of all uses and types. The woolen cloth sukno or čoja was used for heavier garments, generally for winter costume. Notably, it is rich in leather work, with vests, coats and capes crafted from this material widely.
The typical costume parts are:
- Rubina, Rubača, Košulja – a long shirt, shift or dress
- Oplećak – a blouse, usually with wide sleeves gathered at the cuff
- Skuti, Krila – one or more skirts
- Pregača, Zapreg, Zastor, Zaslon – aprons in a variety of forms an styles
- Jelek, Prsluk – cloth vests, ranging from simple to very elaborate in decoration; in Croatia, also called lajbec or lajbek.
- Kožuh – leather vests of varying lengths, ornamented with colourful applique
- Marame – kerchiefs, linen cotton silk or velvet
- Kapa, Džega, Zlatara – various caps, their form dictated by region and marital status: in Croatia’s Sava River Valley (Posavina and Moslavina areas) also called Poculica
- Rubača, Rubina, Košulja – long linen shirts, plain or embroidered
- Gaće – everyday linen drawstring trousers
- Čakšire, erdelije – trousers made from woolen cloth, decorated with applique and braid
- Prsluk, Jelek – vests made from wool, velvet or satin cloth; like the female costume, the vest is known in Pannonian Croatia as Lajbek.
- Gunjac – overcoats of woolen cloth
- Kožuh – overcoats made from leather
- Kabanica, Opaklija – capes, leather or woolen, often with a hood
- Šubara, Šešir – the traditional lambskin or goatskin hat, or western style brimmed hat
Pannonian embroidery is created in several methods. The use of cross stitch (krstići), satin stitch (puni vez) and cutwork (beli vez) is typical throughout the zone. Cotton, silk or metallic threads are used. These costly materials reflect the material wealth of the region. Gold embroidery (zlatovez) reaches its greatest heights in the zone. Men’s festive shirts, vests and coats; women’s vests, aprons and kerchiefs all abound with it. The most masterful examples, I believe, are found in the Croatian costumes of Slavonija, especially around Đakovo and Osijek. Serbian costumes employ the technique in a more restrained manner, except for when the džega or zlatara caps are concerned. These are a riot of intricate patterns.
Lace making, locally called šlingovanje, is a Pannonian craft, but only the crochet form and not the needle lace type. Applique techniques use many materials creatively: sequins, glass beads, small mirrors, leather cut-outs, and fur all are employed. Other than cloth making, weaving appears in the aprons of Bačka, Baranja, Srem and among the Serb and Šokac populations of Slavonija.
Jewelry in Pannonian costume consisted mainly of đerdan necklaces, but unlike other regions where silver thaler coins were used, these were invariably strung full of dukati – ducats, another status symbol and a remnant of ancient dowry-wearing customs. Men’s vests were adorned with toke, silver and gilded medallions connected by bands of elaborate filigree work.
The Pannonian zone (alongside the Adriatic zone, it could be argued) saw the first permanent incursions of Westernized clothing elements into both folk and town costume. The wearing of brimmed hats by men, or heeled shoes by women, endured alongside other Slavic folk elements. The use of costly jacquard, damask or industrially printed cloths became a way of showing wealth and status. In particular, this is true of the Bunjevci, the Roman Catholics of Northern Bačka region, whose female costume bears the hallmarks and elements of a Slavic Pannonian costume, but sewn entirely in opulent textiles. Speaking to a Bunjevka once many years ago on a salaš farm outside of Sombor, she fondly remembered her father ordering silk from Lyons, France, so that she and her sisters could have festive clothing. The town museum of Sombor has a wonderful example of Bunjevac costume, with silver satin-stitched embroidery on a wine coloured velvet skirt, apron, vest and džega cap.
My personal collection has very few Pannonian costume pieces, but what I do have is very dear to me. Several vests, aprons embroidered in zlatovez and in cotton thread, gleaming white blouses and skirts adorned with cutwork, embroidered rugs with distinctive zoomorphic designs of roosters and hens. Of all of these, I’m very fortunate to have two pieces in particular, one Serbian and the other Croatian: a skirt, part of the ethnic Serbian costume in Romania, vicinity of Arad, and an apron embroidered entirely in satin stitch from the vicinity of Sisak in Croatia. Both are textbook examples of the beauty of Pannonian zone traditional clothing.
All costume pieces shown are from my own collection, and the museum photos are my own.