1. Human geography
Sulina is located in the central of the three mouths of the Danube, on the river’s delta. It has a northern and eastern shore on the Black Sea; in its south lies vast marshland and in its west flows the Danube. During the 19th century, the city was connected to the Romanian mainland only trough the river, meaning that when the Danube froze over it became inaccessible.1 Even nowadays, the town is only accessible via the river.
The origin of the name “Sulina” has not yet been established with certainty. According to the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, it is a corrupted pronunciation of the ancient Greek “solen” (σωλήν), while others attribute its origins to the Turkish word “su” meaning water.2
The settlement dates back to the mid-Byzantine period, though detailed information is available form the middle of the 19th century onwards. Sulina at the time was a small village mainly inhabited by Greeks hailing from the Ionian Islands, Russians (Cossacks) and a few Maltese. Thanks to the growth of the port after the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1856), the population increased significantly. In 1880 the number of permanent residents ascended to 1,800, most of whom were Greeks (1,065), followed by “Ottomans” (312) and Russians (72). During periods of heavy traffic for the port, the inhabitants rose to 6,000, ¾ of whom were Greek sailors and longshoremen.
It is worth mentioning that after the city’s annexation to Romania in 1878, the number of Romanian citizens rose considerably, thanks to the location of many civil servants; at the same time, Orthodox residents belonging to other ethnic groups were often pushed to become Romanian nationals. The Greeks, however, continued to constitute the city’s most notable ethnic group (around 60% of the total population). Consequently, in 1889 out if the 3,986 permanent residents, 2,399 were Greek, while people from many other ethnic and religious groups, such as Austrians, Englishmen, Italians, Russians, Russian raskolniki (old believers) and Muslims also inhabited the town.3
Most Greeks originated from Kephalonia and Ithaca, fewer from Mykonos, while several came from areas of the Ottoman Empire (mainly eastern Thrace). Greek was also the dominant language, spoken even by Romanians and Western Europeans, while the city was generally characterised by a strong Greek presence in all its aspects.4
During the Interwar period, Sulina was hit with demographical immobility, as a consequence of the financial crisis caused by the recession in the traffic of the port. A great part of the inhabitants relocated elsewhere in Romania, or – when Greeks were concerned – moved to Greece. Consequently, in the beginning of the 1930 the Greeks numbered only 1,000 residents out of a total of 5,000 people. The same situation prevailed during the Postwar period as well, resulting in the reduction of the once compact Greek population of Sulina to only a few families.5
Just a small cove during the mid-Byzantine period and later on, during the 14th century, a Genoese port inhabited by a handful of sailors, pirates and fishermen, Sulina rose in significance from the 18th century onwards; at the time the Ottomans built a lighthouse there in order to accommodate communication between Constantinople (Istanbul) and the Danubian Principalities, the main breadbaskets for the Ottoman capital.6
Thanks to the signing of the Treaty of Adrianoupolis (Edirne, September 2nd, 1829)7 that unfettered the Danube grain trade, Sulina, by then under Russian control, became important. Great sailing boats could not sail fully loaded to Brăila and Galaţi, which were the main export centres of Wallachia and Moldavia, because of the shallow waters of the river; therefore, they had to tranship at least part of their cargoes to smaller riverboats (shleps). The owners and crew of these sleps were almost always Greek.8
Even greater development, however, would occur after the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1856), which ended the Crimean War. One of the treaty’s terms determined the establishment of a certain committee, the Danube European Committee (C.E.D.), which would conduct infrastructure works on the mouth of the river in order to make it floatable for larger ships as well. Naturally, the Commission provided many locals with work, while thanks to the amelioration of the portal infrastructure, the shipping and commercial traffic in Sulina escalated. The technical works, on the other hand, allowed entrance to the Danube for a great number of “foreign”, i.e. non-Greek ships, leading to a higher level of competition. River faring, however, largely remained in Greek hands. Moreover, the declaration by the Ottoman administration of Sulina as a free port in 1870 also boosted its development.9
The Russo-Ottoman war of 1877-1878 led to many changes as well. The city was initially put under Russian control and after the signing of the Berlin Treaty was annexed to Romania, as was the whole Dobrudja area. It was conquered by Bulgarians in 1916, while during World War II air raids caused great damage.10
3.1. Agricultural production – fishery
The ground around Sulina, marshy and filled with small lakes and brooks, was unsuitable for both agriculture and husbandry. Consequently, only fishery was practiced by a great part of the locals, mainly Russians and Ottomans. Part of the fish and caviar was exported.11
3.2. Domestic system – industry
In 1886 the C.E.D. founded a dockyard in order to repair its riverboats and tugs. By the late 19th century some other small industries had been established, such as a forge and a water purification factory; the city, however, never became a significant industrial centre.12
3.3. Commerce – shipping
The local agricultural production was, as stated above, negligible and could not even cover the inhabitants’ needs. As a consequence, all necessary comestibles, as well as provisions indispensable for river faring (oil, coal), had to be imported. Greeks handled importing trade, which was rather unremarkable because of the limited population; additionally, communication with the mainland was hard, even impossible when the river froze over.
The great significance of Sulina was due exclusively to the transport with riverboats of grain, corn, rye and barley from the other Romanian provinces and to their loading on steamboats and sailers anchored in port. For many ships of great tonnage, Sulina was the only Danubian port that they could moor to, because of the relatively bigger depth of the water there, thanks to the works carried out by the C.E.D.
In port the shleps, iron river boats, dominated as was the case in the whole of lower Danube. They were built in Hungary, Austria or England and often sailed under the Greek flag. Even in 1911, meaning a few years after the Romanian government had pressured the Greek owners to change the flag of their ships, the Greek fleet was the second in port, while many of the river boats sailing under Ottoman or Romanian flag were Greek-owned.
However, it must be noted that despite the increasing importance of Sulina as a grain export port, very few Greek grand merchants and ship-owners used it as headquarters of their businesses, since they found it more convenient to reside in Braila or Galaţi in order to be closer to the grain-producing Romanian areas. They did keep maritime and commercial offices in the city though.
A classic case of shipping agent and ship owner in the city was that of Nikolaos Kyriakidis (1869-1935). He was born in Prokonnisos in the Sea of Marmara and represented many British insurance agencies.13
4. Society, institutions, administration
During the Ottoman period, Sulina was the seat of the kaymakamlık of the same name that came under the Tulcea mutasarrıflık. Consequently, it served as headquarters for the corresponding officials and an Ottoman harbour master, usually of Greek origin. After the annexation of Dobrudja to Romania in 1878, Sulina became the capital of the province of the same name (plaşa), part of the Tulcea prefecture (județ).14
Greeks had formed their community there as early as 1866, which was the year they started constructing a separate Greek-Orthodox church. Since no communal statute has been found to this day, either printed or hand-written, details about the way the community was managed are unknown. From other documents, however, it is deduced that for all communal affairs, both those related to the church and the schools, a five-strong communal committee (ephoreia) was responsible.
4.2. Social stratification
Most inhabitants, especially the Greeks, were sailors and quayside workers loading grain in boats arriving in Sulina or worked on board the various river boats. Also Greek were the river pilots that sailed the Danube and resided in Sulina. It was not until the second decade of the 20th century that the number of Romanian pilots rose. Finally, many Greeks were merchants, ship-owners, maritime agents, but also doctors, pharmacists and clerks. Merchants, ship-owners and doctors usually were the Greek community commissaries.
Furthermore, Russians and Muslims involved themselves mainly with fishery, while the Romanians served as administrative clerks. Finally, many Englishmen, Austrians, Frenchmen and Italians worked for the European Commission of the Danube either as managerial staff or technicians, since they were subjects of the countries that mainly influenced the Commission.
From the beginning or the middle of the 19th century a small Greek-Orthodox church was located in Sulina, where both Greeks and Cossacks of the area attended service. Incidents among the two communities were not scarce, however, which is the reason why the bishop of Drystra intervened and imposed the separation of the land on which the church was built, in order for two separate churches to be constructed.
On May 15th 1866 the Sultan issued a firman, which permitted the construction of a Greek-Orthodox church on the location of the old one. The church was dedicated to St Nicholas and was completed in 1867. The wealthiest among the Greek merchants and ship-owners of the city contributed for its completion, such as the ship-owner Ioannis Theofilatos from Ithaca and Spyridon V. Vlassopoulos.15
Two more orthodox churches were located in Sulina, which as the Greek one are dedicated to St Nicholas. One of the two, the town’s cathedral, was built in 1910. There was also a Catholic church, while the small Anglican church and the mosque were demolished during the Post-war years.16
5. Education – Associations
As early as the Ottoman period, an effort to establish Greek schools was made in the city. In 1875 the local “Greek Educational Society”, assisted by the Greek consulate, had founded an all-boys school, also intending to found one for girls as well.17
During the Russo-Ottoman war of 1877 schools faced many problems and by 1881 they were in disarray. Nevertheless, the community managed to restore their operation; by the middle of the 1880s a 5-class all-boys school and a 6-class all-girls school were housed in newly constructed buildings, while a nursery school was also in operation. 88 boys and 106 girls were registered there for the 1891-1892 school year.18
It must be noted, however, that the committee of the Greek community struggled to adjust to the new circumstances created after the annexation of Dobrudja to the Romanian nation-state. Indicatively, the community’s all-boys school was closed down for a short period of time in 1882 because of the committee’s decision to abolish instruction on the Romanian language, a decision that caused an immediate response from the Romanian Ministry of Education.19
The normal operation of communal schools, whose level corresponded to that of primary Greek schools and the first classes of secondary school, was terminated in 1905. That year both communal schools closed down because of the pressure on Greeks located in Romania by the local government and the cessation of diplomatic relations between the two countries due to the Macedonian Issue.20 After the re-establishment of diplomatic relations in 1911 the schools re-opened.
However, the decline of the community and the sink of the Greek population in town, combined with the fire that burned down the school building, caused many problems and prohibited the smooth function of the two Greek schools. In 1936 the committee of the Greek community had to ask for financial aid from the Greek government, a demand that was met at the time but was not instituted on a regular basis.21
Moreover, the network of Romanian public schools was organised with some tardiness in Sulina, resulting in the foundation of many private schools for both girls and boys, mainly by Roman Catholic circles. During the Interwar period, however, a public Romanian high-school was established.22
Besides the Greek Educational Society, stated above, other associations were founded in Sulina, such as the Greek Club, renowned all over Romania, which owned its own building, and the Philanthropic Association of Greek Ladies that provided for the poorer members of the community.23
We have only very sparse evidence on the operation of printing houses in Sulina before the city was annexed to Romania. From indirect sources, however, it is deduced that the first Dobrudja newspaper, Stravopodis (Crookshanks), was published there around the middle of the 1870s; judging from its title, it probably was a satirical one. After 1878 a second Greek newspaper entitled Dounavis (Danube) was issued in Sulina for a short period of time. Moreover, the printing house – bookstore of Gerasimos Avgerinos was also established in Sulina.24 From the early 20th century Romanian newspapers were periodically published in town, usually short-lived.
1. For a description of the natural environment around Sulina see Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Diplomatic and Historical Archives, fold. 58/1, 1890, Υποπρόξενος Σουλινά, Ν.Ε. Καμμένος, προς Υπουργείον Εξωτερικών, No. 35, 26/03/1889.
2. Κουρελάρου, Β., Οι Εκκλησίες των Ελληνικών Κοινοτήτων της Ρουμανίας τον ΙΘ΄ αιώνα (ανέκδοτη διδακτορική διατριβή Αριστοτέλειο Πανεπιστήμιο Θεσσαλονίκης 2004), p. 36; Μαρκοπούλου, Μ., Οι Κεφαλλήνες και οι Ιθακήσιοι στη ναυτιλία του Δουνάβεως (Athens 1967), p. 22.
3. Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Diplomatic and Historical Archives, fold. 58/1, 1880, Υποπρόξενος Σουλινά Νικολάου, προς Γενικό Πρόξενο Βουκουρεστίου Κλέωνα Ραγκαβή, No. 4, 4/16-01-1880, fold. 58/1, 1890, Υποπρόξενος Σουλινά, Ν.Ε. Καμμένος, προς Υπουργείον Εξωτερικών, No. 35, 26/03/1889. Also see Covaceff, P., Cimitirul viu de la Sulina (Constanţa 2003), pp. 201-202. In 1899, according to data provided by a census performed at the same year, the number of Greeks had dropped to 2,313 in a total of 6,145 inhabitants. The census, however, was based on nationality, hence it is safe to suppose that several Greek nationals were registered as Ottoman subjects, see Colescu, L., Recensământul general al Populațiunei României. Rezulatate definitive (Bucureşti 1905), p. 90.
4. Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Diplomatic and Historical Archives, fold. 58/1, 1890, Υποπρόξενος Σουλινά, Ν.Ε. Καμμένος, προς Υπουργείον Εξωτερικών, No. 35, 26/03/1889. A literary depiction both of the city’s multi-ethnic and predominantly Greek character can be found in the E. Bart novel Europolis (Bucureşti 1933).
5. Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Diplomatic and Historical Archives, fold. 29/5, 1936, Ελληνική Κοινότης Σουλινά Ρουμανίας, προς Υπουργόν των Εξωτερικών, No. 241, 28/07/1936. In 1973 only 4,374 people inhabited Sulina, see Cucu, V., Romania. Cartea de vizită a oraşelor (Bucureşti 1973), pp. 389-390.
6. Κουρελάρου, Β. π., Οι Εκκλησίες των Ελληνικών Κοινοτήτων της Ρουμανίας τον ΙΘ΄ αιώνα (ανέκδοτη διδακτορική διατριβή Αριστοτέλειο Πανεπιστήμιο Θεσσαλονίκης 2004), p. 36.
7. The Treaty of Adrianoupolis (Edirne) terminated the victorious for the Russians war against the Ottoman Empire (1828-1829). According to the terms of the Treaty, the areas of Bessarabia, Dobrudja and Caucasus were annexed to the Russian Empire, while the independency of the Danubian Principalities, namely Wallachia and Moldavia, is also proclaimed resulting in the deregulation of local trade.
8. Φωκάς, Σ., Οι Έλληνες εις την ποταμοπλοΐαν του Κάτω Δουνάβεως (Thessaloniki 1975), pp. 83-87; Χαρλαύτη, Τζ., Ιστορία της ελληνόκτητης ναυτιλίας 19ος -20ός αιώνας (Αθήνα 2001), pp. 175-176. this whole procedure was called “limbo” or “limbarisma”.
9. Καρδάσης, Β., Από του ιστίου εις τον ατμόν. Ελληνική εμπορική ναυτιλία 1858-1914 (Athens 1993), pp. 119-123.
10. Καρδάσης, Β., Από του ιστίου εις τον ατμόν. Ελληνική εμπορική ναυτιλία 1858-1914 (Athens 1993), pp. 122-123.
11. Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Diplomatic and Historical Archives, fold. 58/1, 1880, Υποπρόξενος Σουλινά Νικολάου, προς Γενικό Πρόξενο Βουκουρεστίου Κλέωνα Ραγκαβή, No. 4, 4/16-01-1880, φάκ. 58/1, 1890, Υποπρόξενος Σουλινά, Ν.Ε. Καμμένος, προς Υπουργείον Εξωτερικών, No. 35, 26/03/1889.
12. Ancheta Industrială din 1901-1902, Industria Mare (Bucureşti 1902), p. 51.
13. Χαρλαύτη, Τζ., Ιστορία της ελληνόκτητης ναυτιλίας 19ος-20ός αιώνας (Athens 2001), pp. 176-178; Χαρλαύτη, Τζ. – Χαριτάτος, Μ. – Μπενέκη, Ε., Πλωτώ. Έλληνες καραβοκύρηδες και εφοπλιστές από τα τέλη του 18ου αιώνα έως τον Β΄ Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο (Athens 2002), p. 319.
14. Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Diplomatic and Historical Archives, fold. 58/1, 1880, Υποπρόξενος Σουλινά Νικολάου, προς Γενικό Πρόξενο Βουκουρεστίου Κλέωνα Ραγκαβή, No. 4, 4/16-01-1880, fold. 58/1, 1890, Υποπρόξενος Σουλινά, Ν.Ε. Καμμένος, προς Υπουργείον Εξωτερικών, No. 35, 26/03/1889.
15. Κουρελάρου, Β. π., Οι Εκκλησίες των Ελληνικών Κοινοτήτων της Ρουμανίας τον ΙΘ΄ αιώνα (ανέκδοτη διδακτορική διατριβή Αριστοτέλειο Πανεπιστήμιο Θεσσαλονίκης 2004), pp. 38-39.
16. Covaceff, P., Cimitirul viu de la Sulina (Constanţa 2003), pp. 38-42, 44-46.
17. Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Diplomatic and Historical Archives, fold. 77/2, 1875, Ελληνική Φιλεκπαιδευτική Αδελφότης Σουλινά, προς Υπουργείο Εξωτερικών, No. 4, 23 Ιανουαρίου 1875; Bélia, H.D., “L’instruction aux communautés grecques de Roumanie (1869-1878)”, Balkan Studies 16 (1975), p. 11. According to a Romanian study, the Greek all-girls school was founded in 1865, see Râşcanu, G., Istoricul invăț ământului particular în România dintimpurile cele mai vechi până în zilele noastre (Bucureşti 1906), p. 197.
18. Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Diplomatic and Historical Archives, fold. 58/1, 1890, Υποπρόξενος Σουλινά, Ν.Ε. Καμμένος, προς Υπουργείον Εξωτερικών, No. 35, 26/03/1889; Râşcanu, G., Istoricul invăț ământului particular în România din timpurile cele mai vechi până în zilele noastre (Bucureşti 1906), p. 197.
19. Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Diplomatic and Historical Archives, fold. 29/3, 1882, Ελληνική Πρεσβεία Βουκουρεστίου, Στ. Α. Αντωνόπουλος, προς Υπουργείον Εξωτερικών, No. 35/7, 19 Ιανουαρίου 1882.
20. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diplomatic Documents presented to the Parliament by the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Athens 1906), pp. 38-39; Σφέτας, Σ., «Το ιστορικό πλαίσιο των ελληνο-ρουμανικών πολιτικών σχέσεων (1866-1913)», Μακεδονικά 33 (2001-2002), pp. 42-43.
21. Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Diplomatic and Historical Archives, fold. 29/5, 1936, Ελληνική Κοινότης Σουλινά Ρουμανίας, προς Υπουργόν των Εξωτερικών, No. 241, 28/07/1936.
22. Râşcanu, G., Istoricul invăț ământului particular în România din timpurile cele mai vechi până în zilele noastre (Bucureşti 1906), pp. 197, 238; Rădulescu, A. – Bitoleanu, I., Istoria Dobrogei (Constanţa 1998), p. 443.
23. Μαρκοπούλου, Μ., Οι Κεφαλλήνες και οι Ιθακήσιοι στη ναυτιλία του Δουνάβεως (Athens 1967), p. 25.
24. Zamfir, C.D. – Georgescu, O., Presa dobrogeană. Bibliografie comentată şi adnotată (1879-1980) (Constanța 1985), pp. 140, 293-294. Also see Μαρκοπούλου, Μ., Οι Κεφαλλήνες και οι Ιθακήσιοι στη ναυτιλία του Δουνάβεως (Αθήνα 1967), p. 25. Until our time (2008), however, no Greek book appears to have been printed in 19th century Sulina, see Πολέμη, Π., Ελληνική Βιβλιογραφία 1864-1900, Εισαγωγή, συντομογραφίες, ευρετήρια (Athens 2006).