History of Dobrogea

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Getic, Greek and Roman towns in Dobrogea

C19 ethnic map
Roman rule and Byzantium
Ottoman rule

Summary history

Greek trading ports

The lower Danube areas were already populated by Getic tribes when the Greeks expanded their trading ports along the coast of the Black Sea. Greeks from Miletus founded the town of Istros (Histria) in 657 BC, and later the towns of Tomis (Constanta) and Callatis (Mangalia).

The lands south of Dobrogea were part of the Thracian kingdom of Odrisa. In 480 BC the Thracians extended their rule over Dobrogea and in 339 BC Alexander brought Dobrogea under Macedonian rule, however after his death Macedonian control weakened. Lysimach, the Macedonian King of Thrace attacked Dobrogea in two campaigns in 300 BC and 292 BC but was successfully driven back by Dromichaites, the King of the Getae.

In the 3rd to 2nd centuries BC Scythian tribes settled north and west of the Black Sea area, due to this Dobrogea later became known as Scythia Minor. 

The Roman and Byzantine Empires

In 27 BC Dobrogea came under the control of Roman Emperor Augustus as a client kingdom of the Odris Thracians. In 46 AD Thrace was taken by the Romans  and Dobrogea was annexed into Moesia, and later became part of Moesia Inferior. In 284 AD Dobrogea became the independent Roman province of Scythia due to its strategic importance following the Roman withdrawal of Dacia.

Bulgarian Empire

The Bulgars moved east in 660AD and founded Bulgaria in 680AD with the capital at Pliska. The first Bulgarian Empire continued until defeat by the Byzantium in 1081.

Pechenegs led by Kegenes settled in Dobrogea in an arrangement with the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX in 1045. They were given land and three forts to defend the border against other Pecheneg tribes led by Tyrach. Autonomous political states were  formed  around the main towns in Dobrogea and parts of north eastern Bulgaria between 1086 to 1091; these  states were headed by Tatos in Silistra,  Sartzas in Vicina, and another led by Sestlav.

The second Bulgarian Empire dates from 1186 until Ottoman rule in 1396. The first record of an independent political region of Dobrogea is dated 1320. In 1346 the Dobrogean leader was Balica. Dobrotici took over after Balica's disappearance during a military campaign in 1348. Dobrotici's fleet supported the Byzantine emperor against the Genoese at Constantinople in 1379 He was replaced by his son Ivanco from 1386 who ruled until 1388.

Wallachia and the Turkish rule

The Turkish invasion of Dobrogea and Silistra was defeated by Micea cel Batrin of Wallachia in 1388  and the regions of Dobrogea and Silistra were united with Wallachia. In 1393 the Turks succeed in taking these regions, but in 1404 Micea cel Batrin re-conquered the greatest part of Dobrogea and Silistra. However, the Turks took Dobrogea and Giurgui in 1417 and Wallachia was forced to pay tribute to the Ottoman Turks.

Many Turkish and Tartars moved into Dobrogea and north east Bulgaria during the the long period of Ottoman rule. Most late 19th century ethnographic maps show a mainly Turkish population in the area of modern day Bulgarian Dobrogea.  In the southern part of Romanian Dobrogea the population was a mix of Tartars and Turks with some Bulgarians  and Romanians dominated the north of Dobrogea.  This ethnic distribution and mix may explain the traditional dance and music to be found in Romanian and Bulgarian Dobrogea.

Independence of Romania and Bulgaria

The 1878 Russian-Turkish peace treaty of San Stefano gave independence to Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria. Russia held Dobrogea but later exchanged it for the southern Moldavia districts of Bugeac. At this time Romanians only formed 28% of the population of Dobrogea.

Following the first Balkan war of 1912 and the break-up of the Ottoman empire, Romania expected to gain Silistra, but Bulgaria only offered small boundary changes. Romania threatened war against Bulgaria over control of the Dobrogea region which led to the Protocol of St. Petersburg in 1913 which awarded Silistra to Romania. In June 1913, whilst Bulgarian army was overstretched in the second Balkan war, Romania declared war on Bulgaria and invaded southern Dobrogea which was undefended. This area was formally gained by Romania in the 1913 Peace Treaty of Bucharest.

In 1916 Romania joined the first world war on the side of Britain, France, Russia and Italy. Within months Romania had to evacuate Silistra, and in 1918 the peace treaty of Bucharest handed Dobrogea to Bulgaria, with this area only being regained by Romania following the peace treaty in Neuilly in 1919.

In 1940 a Romanian-Bulgarian frontier treaty in Craiova divided Dobrogea between Bulgaria and Romania. The indigenous Romanian and Bulgarian populations were exchanged.


© Eliznik2005, First issue 2002, Last updated Jan-08