The town, as "Novioduni xli", on the Roman map Tabula Peutingeriana
The land where the town is now has been inhabited since prehistoric times: the remains of a neolithic settlement, belonging to the Boian-Giulești culture were found in the northwestern part of the town, in a place known as "Suhat".Integratio: Dobrogea de Nord: Isaccea: History, a project of the Centro Universitario Europeo per i Beni Culturali, accessed December 2006.Constantin Haită. "Studiu sedimentologic preliminar pe situl neolitic Isaccea-Suhat. Campania 1998", Peuce , 2003, 14, p.447-452.
The neolithic culture was succeeded by the Getae culture with Hellenistic influences. The Celts expanded their territory from Central Europe, reaching Isaccea in the 3rd century BC (see Gallic invasion of the Balkans) and giving the ancient name of town, "Noviodunum", as well as of other names in this region, such as Aliobrix, on the other side of the Danube and Durostorum further south in Dobruja.D.M. Pippidi et al., (1976) Dicționar de istorie veche a României, Editura Științifică și Enciclopedică , p 149; entry: CelțiAlexandru Barnea, "Noviodunum, azi Isaccea (I)", Ziarul Financiar, August 17, 2007
In 514 BC, Darius I of Persia fought here a decisive battle against the Scythians. A trade post was also built in this town by the Greeks. Greek authors such as Ptolemy and Hierocles name it a "polis".
The town was taken by the Romans in 46 AD and became part of the Moesia province.Archeological research on Noviodunum It was fortified and became the most important military and commercial city in the area, becoming a municipium.Bărbulescu et al., p. 73 Its ruins are located 2 km to the east of modern Isaccea on a hill known as Eski-Kale (Turkish for "Old Fortress").
In Noviodunum was the main base of the lower Danube Roman fleet named Classis Flavia Moesica, then temporarily the headquarters of the Roman Legio V Macedonica (106-167), Legio I Italica (167-) and Legio I Iovia.J. J. Wilkes, "The Roman Danube: An Archaeological Survey", The Journal of Roman Studies,, Vol. 95, 2005, p.217
Around 170 AD, the Roman settlements in Dobruja were attacked by the Dacian tribe of the Costoboci, who lived in what is now Moldavia, their attack being visible in the archeological remains of Noviodunum.Bărbulescu et al., p. 57 Further attacks continued in the 3rd century, this time by the combined forces of the Dacian tribe of the Carpi and of the Goths, the decisive battle being probably in 247.
The violent invasions of the Carpi, who plundered the cities and enslaved their inhabitants, left behind many archaeological traces, including buried coin hoards and signs of destruction.Bărbulescu et al., p. 60 The fortress of Noviodunum was probably destroyed during the raids of the Goths and Heruli, during the rule of Gallienus (267), buried hoards being found near it, including a larger treasure containing 1071 Roman coins.D.M. Pippidi et al., (1976) Dicționar de istorie veche a României, Editura Științifică și Enciclopedică , p 431-432; entry: Noviodunum The raids left Noviodunum, like other urban centres in the area, depopulated, only returning to its original state toward the end of the 3rd century.
During the rule of Constantine I (306-337), the Noviodunum fortress was rebuilt as part of a bigger project of restoring the Empire's borders along the Lower Danube.D.M. Pippidi et al., (1976) Dicționar de istorie veche a României, Editura Științifică și Enciclopedică , p 185; entry: Constantinus
By the 4th century, the town also became a Christian centre. The tomb of four Roman Christian martyrs, discovered in September 1971 in nearby Niculiţel, bears the names Zotikos, Attalos, Kamasis and Philippos. They were probably killed in Noviodunum during campaigns of persecutions of early Christians by Diocletian (303-304) and Licinius (319-324),Mircea Păcurariu, "Sfinți daco-romani și români", Editura Mitropoliei Moldovei și Bucovinei, Iași, 1994,, p.25 being taken out of the city and buried as martyrs by the local Christians.
In 369 an important battle was fought between the Romans, led by emperor Flavius Valens and the Thervingi led by Athanaric. Valens' army crossed the river at Noviodunum (Isaccea) using a boat bridge and met the Gothic army in Bessarabia. Although Valens obtained a victory for the Romans, they retreated (possibly because of the lateness of the season)Michael Kulikowski, Rome's Gothic Wars, Cambridge University Press, . p.116 and the Goths asked for a peace treaty, which was signed in the middle of the Danube, the Goths taking an oath to never set foot on Roman soil.Ammianus Marcellinus, The Later Roman Empire, AD 354-378, translated by Walter Hamilton (Penguin ), book 15
After the division of the Roman Empire, it became part of the Byzantine Empire and it was the most important Byzantine naval base on the Danube. Valips, a chieftain of Germanic Rugians (who were allies of the Huns), took Noviodunum sometimes between 434 and 441 and it was included in the Hunnish Empire,E. A. Thompson, The Huns, Blackwell Publishing, 1999,, p.269-270 the area becoming a fiefdom of the Hunnish leader Hernac after Attila's death.Bărbulescu et al., p. 103
The Slavs began to settle in early 6th century and possibly the earliest reference to their settlement in the town is Jordanes' book (written in 551) The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, which mentioned Noviodunum as an extremity of the region were the "Sclaveni" lived.Jordanes, The Origins and Deeds of the Goths, translated by Charles C. Mierow, V. 35 The town continued to be under Byzantine rule, but it suffered the raids from other nomadic peoples, such as the Kutrigurs (559) and Avars (561-562). In the mid-6th century, Justinian I built new fortifications and made it an episcopal see.
During the rule of Phocas (602-610), a massive number of Avars and Slavs crossed the Byzantine border and although their presence protected the empire from other nomads, their control became just formal, until in 681, the Byzantines recognised the First Bulgarian Empire and gave up their claims for the Scythia Minor province. For more than 300 years, Isaccea faded from history and there is no historical or archaeological evidence that the place was even inhabited.Kiel, p. 288
Seal of Isaac II Angelos, found in Isaccea
Around 950, Constantine Porphyrogenitus talks of six desert cities in the area, one being named Saka-katai, which could be the earliest mentioning of the town after it was lost to the migrating people during the Dark Age.
In 971, Isaccea was once again included in the Byzantine Empire and the walls of kastron were reinforced. In 1036, the Pechenegs being driven southward by the Cumans, settled in Scythia Minor, including in this city, fact backed by archeological evidence, such as leaf-shaped pendants, characteristic to them. The Pechenegs traded with the Byzantines, which led to a growth in the economic life of the region, as shown by the number of coins found in Isaccea, reaching 700 coins for the period of 1025-1055. However, the Pechenegs were eventually assimilated and faded from history.
The Byzantines regained control of Isaccea toward the end of the 10th century: a seal of Leo Nicerites, the governor of Paristrion, was found at Isaccea. Around 1100, a double-curtain wall was built in Isaccea.
In the mid-12th century, Isaccea was devastated by Cuman attacks and it was completely rebuilt. In the second half of the 12th century it became the most important Byzantine military base in the region, suggested by the number of imperial seals found there: a seal of Isaac II Angelos and one of John Vatatzes, the head of the Imperial Guard under Manuel I Komnenos (1143–1180).
According to Arab chronicles, the Nogai Tatars settled in the town in the late 13th century. Between 1280-1299, the town was Nogai Khan's base of operation in his campaigns against the Bulgarian city of Tarnovo. At the time, the city was a local Muslim centre and the residence of the famous Turkish dervish Sarı Saltuk, who has been associated with Nogai Khan's conversion to Islam.
Arab geographer Abulfeda mentioned the town, placing it in the territory of the "Al-Ualak" (Wallachs), having a population mostly Turkic and being ruled by the Byzantines. A Byzantine despotate existed in Northern Dobruja with Isaccea as its centre, which sometimes between 1332 and 1337 became a vassal of the Golden Horde of Nogais under the name "Saqčï".
The Tatars held an important mint in Isaccea, which minted coins marked with Greek and Arabic letters between the years 1286 and 1351. Various types of silver and copper coins were minted, including coins bearing the mark of the Golden Horde with the names of the khans as well as the names of Nogai Khan and his son Čeke (minted between 1296–1301).
In the late 14th century it was ruled by Mircea cel Bătrân of Wallachia, being held until one year before his death. In 1417, the town was conquered, together with other fortresses on the Danube, by the Ottomans, who built a fort defended by a garrison as part of the Danubian frontier established by Mehmet I.
The town was regained by Vlad Țepeș in 1462 during his campaigns against the Ottoman Empire, massacring the local Muslim Bulgarian and Turkish population (who were expected to side with the Turks), killing 1350 people in Isaccea and Novoselo, out of more than 23,000 people in all Bulgaria. In a letter to Matthias Corvinus, dated February 11, 1462, he stated:
I have killed men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza [old name of Isaccea] and Novoselo, where the Danube flows into the sea, up to Rahova, which is located near Chilia, from the lower Danube up to such places as Samovit and Ghighen. We killed 23,884 Turks and Bulgars without counting those whom we burned in homes or whose heads were not cut by our soldiers....Thus your highness must know that I have broken the peace with him [the sultan].
In 1484, it was taken again by the Ottomans, being included in the Silistra (Özi) Province, which comprised Dobruja, much of present-day Bulgaria, and later also Budjak and Yedisan.
Țepeș's massacre and destruction completely changed the ethnic composition and the appearance of Isaccea, which remaining throughout the 16th century a small, largely Christian, village. Bayazid II's conquest of Kilia and Akkerman removed the danger from the north, as did Mehmet II's victories against Wallachia remove the threat from the west, and as such, the Sultan saw no reason to rebuild the fortress of Isaccea, nor the settlement of a garrison.
In 1574, Voivode Ioan Vodă cel Cumplit of Moldavia sent Pârcălab Ieremia Golia with an army to Oblucița (Isaccea) to prevent the Ottoman army from fording the river. However, Golia betrayed Ioan for a sum of 30 gold bags, thus leading to the defeat of the Moldavian army and the execution of Ioan.
By the beginning of the 16th century, a new danger arose for the Ottoman border on the Lower Danube: the Cossacks from Ukraine, who, in 1603, reached Oblucița and set the town on fire. Sultan Osman II began a series of campaigns against the Cossacks and, as part of his fortification of the border, in 1620, a new fort was built in Isaccea, but in a different place.
On 6 October 1598, Mihai Viteazul defeated the Ottoman army at Oblucița, recapturing the town. The following year, in March 1599, the Ottomans' army took back the town and went into incursions into Wallachia, Mihai's response being to go beyond the Danube and attack the town of Oblucița. After Mihai's death in 1601, the town was regained by the Ottomans.
In December 1673, at the Ottoman army camp in Isaccea, Dumitrașcu Cantacuzino was chosen Prince of Moldavia.
Isaccea in a lithograph by Hector de Béarn, 1828
During the wars between the Russians and the Turks of the 18th and 19th centuries, it occupied by each side for several times, being several times set on fire and almost completely destroyed.
During the Prut Campaign the Russians tried to block the Ottomans crossing of the Danube at Isaccea, but failing to do so, the two armies clashed at Stănileşti, on the Prut River.John, P. LeDonne, The Grand Strategy of the Russian Empire, 1650-1831 Oxford University Press, 2005,, p. 40
Isaccea was besieged three times in the 1770s: in 1770, 1771 and 1779: in 1771, it was conquered by the Russians in the wake of the Battle of Kagul, the Russians destroying the fortifications and the mosques. Unlike many other settlements in the region, it was not razed, but after ten years of devastating war, only 150 houses were still standing.
Near Isaccea, the Russian flotilla commanded by José de Ribas clashed with and captured the Turkish flotilla during the Russo-Turkish War (1787–1792). The Ottoman defenders of Isaccea fled, destroying the fortifications left behind. After a while, the Turkish regained it, being recaptured by Lieutenant-General Galitzine in March 1791.
During the Russo-Turkish War (1828–1829), the Russian Army crossed the Danube at Isaccea, but the Ottoman garrison of the Isaccea fortress surrendered without resistance. A local legend explains the existence of a mound near the old bridge this way: during the Russo-Turkish wars a Turkish general accused of treason was buried alive (horse included), each of his soldiers being forced to bring a fez full of dirt and throw it over the general.
In 1853, during the Crimean War, it was besieged again by the Russians, before the war theatre moved to Crimea. In December of that year, The Times of London noted that "Isaktchi" had a fortified castle and a garrison of 1500 men, but that it was simply a "port of observation" on the river."The Seat of War on the Danube," The Times, December 29, page 8
After the war, a European Danube Commission was established, which decided to clear the silt at the mouths of the Danube, between Isaccea and the Black Sea; however, the increased trade on the Danube affected Isaccea but little.
At the beginning of the Russo-Turkish War, 1877–1878, the Russians were able to take advantage of Romania's railways and mass a great number of troops in Galați. 4000 Russian troops crossed the Danube 14 km south of Măcin and were victorious on June 22, 1877 against the Ottoman garrison. The Russian victories intimidated the commander of the Isaccea garrison and the Ottoman troops withdrew from the town, leaving the whole northern part of Dobruja to the Russian armies. Many of the Muslims in the towns of this area fled from the early days of the conflict.James J. Reid, Crisis of the Ottoman Empire: Prelude to Collapse 1839-1878, Franz Steiner Verlag, 2000, p. 317 The city was captured without battle on June 26, 1877 by the 14th Army under the leadership of Major-General Yanov. Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary (Энциклопедический словарь Брокгауза и Ефрона), I.A. Efron, 1906, vol. 13, Page 364; Isakcha(Исакча)
Following the Russian-Romanian victory in the war against the Ottoman Empire, Russia took back from Romania the Southern Bessarabia region and as compensation, the newly independent state of Romania received the region of Dobruja, including the town of Isaccea.Keith Hitchins, Rumania : 1866-1947 (Oxford History of Modern Europe). 1994. Oxford University Press., p. 47-48
In 1915, Nicolae Iorga described Isaccea as "a gathering of small and humble houses spread over a hill slope".
During World War I, Dobruja was in the areas of operation of a force formed by the Russian and Romanian armies. The first Russian unit crossed the Danube at Isaccea on the day when war was declared (August 27, 1916) and began their deployment toward Bulgaria, an ally of the Central Powers.Glenn Torrey, "Indifference and Mistrust: Russian-Romanian Collaboration in the Campaign of 1916", The Journal of Military History, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Apr., 1993), pp. 284, 288
Following the failure of the Flămânda Offensive, the Russians began retreating, soon as north as Isaccea. The town was defended by the Romanian and Russian troops against the German offensive, but it was lost on December 24, 1916."Russians still retire in Dobrudja", New York Times, December 25, 1916, pg. 3 Following its defeat, Romania signed the Treaty of Bucharest, by the term of which, Romania ceded the southern part of Dobruja to Bulgaria, while the rest (including Isaccea), was ceded to the Central Powers.Treaty of Bucharest, 7 May 1918, article X The Treaty was voided by the terms of the Armistice of November 11, 1918 and Isaccea was thus returned to Romania. Convention d’armistice du 11 novembre 1918 (wikisource)