Engineering the Lower Danube

Technology and International Cooperation in an Imperial Borderland
$95.00 / €80.00 / £68.00
Publication date: 
November, 348 pages, 13 illustrations

The Lower Danube—the stretch of Europe’s second longest river between the Romanian-Serbian border and the confluence to the Black Sea—was effectively transformed during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In describing this lengthy undertaking, Luminita Gatejel proposes that remaking two key stretches—the Iron Gates and the delta—not only physically altered the river but also redefined it in a legal and political sense.

Since the late eighteenth century, military conflicts and peace treaties changed the nature of sovereignty over the area, as the expansionist tendencies of the Habsburg and British Empires encountered rival Ottoman and Russian imperial plans. The inconvenience that the river’s physical shape obstructed free navigation and the growth of commercial traffic, was an increasing concern to all parties. This book shows that alongside imperial aspirations, transnational actors like engineers, commissioners and entrepreneurs were the driving force behind the river regulation. In this highly original, deeply researched, and carefully crafted study, Gatejel explores the formation of international cooperation, the emergence of technical expertise and the emergence of engineering as a profession. This constellation turned the Lower Danube into a laboratory for experimenting with new forms of international cooperation, economic integration, and nature transformation.


1. Exploring the Danube
2. Connecting the Danube with the Sea
3. From Confrontation to Cooperation: the Crimean War and Its Aftermath
4. The Danube Delta: A Success in International Ruling
5. The Iron Gates Torn Between Imperial, International and National Interests

“Gatejel provides a comprehensive and informative account of the transformation of the Lower Danube during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with a focus on imperial politics and the internationalization of the river. The approach is interdisciplinary, combining insights from transnational history, international relations, and the history of science and technology. By placing the Iron Gates and the Lower Danube in a comparative perspective and exploring the links between diplomacy and great power politics, on the one hand, and engineers, on the other, the book offers a novel and refreshing theoretical framework for approaching the history of the Danube river.”
“Engineering the Lower Danube is a highly original, deeply researched, and carefully crafted work. By exploring how a diverse cast of characters—diplomats, engineers, soldiers, and sailors—transformed the Iron Gates and the Danube Delta between the late 1700s and the early 1900s, Gatejel shows how the river was not just physically remade but also redefined in a legal and political sense as an international river with free navigation. In so doing, the book contributes to a growing scholarly literature on rivers and other bodies of water; the Danube has not been studied as closely as other great rivers, which adds to this project’s importance.”
“Merging the insights of transnational history with the study of science and technology, Luminita Gatejel offers a sweeping account of the transformations in a major European waterway at the crossroads of multiple imperial and knowledge regimes. As political contexts shifted from the late 18th century on, British, Habsburg, Ottoman, and Russian interests clashed for the political control and technological management of the Danube River. Particularly noteworthy is Gatejel’s masterful analysis of the role of civil engineers in taming nature, innovating with technology, and contributing to the constant remaking of the international order of the long 19th century.”