Achilles' Heel At The Mouths Of The Danube

If ever there was an Achilles' heel in both ancient and recent European history, then that was the Danubian delta. The inferior course of the Danube has often been both a defensive and an offensive line for all the great empires establishing their political borders here. The region called Scythia Minor of the Roman and Byzantine world took the shape of a spur reaching into a territory which was difficult to map and supervise. It was the first to be affected by invasions, and also a starting point of military campaigns across the Danube. On the other side, the economic course of the Danube, flowing across the continent all the way deep into its center, was perhaps the most disputed local market, at one point of greater importance than the Rhine, which was the economic "engine" of western Europe in the 16th century. 
A place of hyperborean legends, of old Pelasgians, the Peuce island area of strange and bizarre creatures, the Delta is gradually discovered and colonized by the Greek and subsequently Roman merchants. 
On the inferior course of the Danube, the delta represented the most vulnerable and difficult point to control; it's no wonder that numerous fortresses and citadels were built around it, starting from the period of the Roman Empire and continuing during the Byzantium.
The Delta was a surprise refuge for many of the oppressed and unhappy, ranging from (but not only) religious minorities chased away from the neighboring empires to political refugees. For a while, the Delta was home for Petru Rareş, whose humble occupation as a fish merchant helped him stay away from the aspirers to the throne of Moldavia until the quarrel for power eliminated his opponents from history. Sometimes the fight over the Delta was harsh, and it was no accident when Genovese built fortresses right on the arms of the Delta. That's how commercial fortresses such as Sf. Gheorghe, Vicina (meaning "nearby" in Italian), or Chilia appeared. These fortresses were the link between commercial Europe and other economic areas. Gheorghe Brătianu gave a magnificent description of this secular dispute over the economic area around the Black Sea and the Danube Delta – the key point of political and economic freedom of the Romanian provinces. That's why the medieval province of Moldavia fought hard to save and maintain its position at the mouths of the Danube, even after the disastrous year 1484, when the Islam occupied territories in today's Buceag region, thus consolidating its position there. Four hundred years later, the confrontation started again with Russia's obsession for the mouths of the Danube, knowing that this is the main point of commercial interest in Europe. Following Europe's victory in the Crimean War, the biggest territorial and geopolitical area at stake was the Delta and its surroundings, recovered from Russia in 1856. The same Russia would ensure its coming back to the mouths of the Danube by political and military force, occupying the Buceag in 1877. The peace treaty negotiated between the temporarily defeated Romania and the Central Powers, at the beginning of 1918, meant the total loss of Dobrudja, and the new Bulgarian borderline passed through the Delta, following the Sf. Gheorghe arm, to leave the entire Delta to the German occupation area. 
The same dispute went on between 1945-1950, when, despite the borders established by the peace treaty of 1947, Romania lost a couple of islands on the Chilia arm, then the north-eastern corner of the Delta, including the Musura bay and the famous Snake Island (Insula Serpilor). The Soviet Union wanted as much as possible of this strategic point. The territories from the Chilia arm conceded at that point in history made it possible for the recent interventions on the Bystroye canal. 
Europe wanted a neutral force to administer this part of the continent; since one of the great European powers might have caused unwanted political and economic de-synchronizations, the appearance of the modern state of Romania in the 19th century was the best political result that could neutralize the millenary Achilles' heel at the mouths of the Danube.

by Adrian Majuru (b. 1968)