Tulcea was founded in the 7th century BC under the name of Aegyssus, mentioned in the documents of Diodorus of Sicily (3rd century BC). Ovid referred to it in Ex Ponto, saying that its name would have originated with that of its founder, a Dacian named Carpyus Aegyssus.
After the fights from 12-15 B.C., the Romans conquered the town. They rebuilt it after their plans, their technique and architectural vision, reorganizing it. The existing ruined walls and defending towers serve as a testimony of this. Also an inscription found at the Tulcea Museum of Archaeology mentions the name Aegyssus for the town. The Aegyssus fortified town is mentioned also by other documents until the 10th century: Notitia Episcopatum in political geography "De Thematicus".
It was then ruled by the Byzantine Empire (5th - 7th century), and abandoned by the first half of the 7th century due to the Barbarian invasions. The former settlement's territory fell under the rule Bulgarian Empire (681-c.1000; 1185-14th century). Inhabitation is restored in the second half of the 10th century, as the Byzantines built a fortress here after reconquering the region. The fortress is destroyed in 1064 by an attack of the Uzes, however some inhabitation continued. under the Bulgarian (12th - 13th centuries), Genoese (13th - 14th centuries), Dobrujan (14th century) and Wallachian (late 14th century) rule. A settlement, larger than the one in the 11th century, was is archaeologically attested beginning with the 14th century. The Ottoman rule was imposed around 1420, and would last for the following four centuries.
The town was first documented mention under its modern name in 1506 in the Ottoman customs records. On that occasion it was described as an "important centre for the transit trade".
Around 1848, it was still a small shipyard city, being awarded city status in 1860, when it became a province capital. It became a sanjak centre in Silistre Eyaleti in 1860 and Tuna Vilayeti in 1864.
In 1878 Tulcea was eventually awarded to Romania, together with the Northern Dobruja. Tulcea was occupied by Bulgaria between 1916-1918 during World War I.
Nowadays, Tulcea is the site of the Concursul George Georgescu, a music competition created by teachers at the Tulcea Arts High School and held annually since 1992. Named in honor of conductor George Georgescu (1887-1964), an important figure in the development of Romanian classical music who was born in the surrounding county, it was at first open only to Romanian music school and high school students but began admitting international students in 1995. Organizers include the Romanian Ministry of Education and Youth, the School Inspectorate of Tulcea County, the Tulcea County Council, the Tulcea Mayoralty, and surviving members of Georgescu's family.