The History of Romania in One Object: The Dacian Gold Bracelets
Updated: Jul 27, 2020
In the winter of 2007, our national patrimony and, implicitly, that of The National History Museum of Romania, became richer with the most spectacular Dacian vestiges known to date: the royal gold bracelets from Sarmizegetusa Regia, the capital of Dacia, the ancient kingdom situated in the geographic area of nowadays Romania.
Photos 1, 2 & 3 - Dacian Gold Bracelets, National History Museum of Romania (NHMR) collection
The Dacian bracelets were created during a period of great flourishing of the Dacian culture, known in history as the "classical Dacian era" (1st century BC - 1st century AD), in which significant transformations took place at all levels: political, economic, religious and cultural. This fortunate context was greatly influenced by the fact that in the 1st century BC, for a short period of time, King Burebista united under his reign most of the regions inhabited by the Getae and the Dacians into a "great dominion" with borders reaching as far as the geographical area of today’s Slovakia.
The last great king of Dacia was Decebalus, during whose reign the kingdom became a political, economic and military power again. Located on the border of the Roman Empire, which it had successfully faced in the past, Dacia had become too much of a threat to Rome. Thus, Emperor Trajan decided to eliminate this danger and, following the wars of 101-102 and 105-106, Dacia was conquered and transformed into a Roman province. This is how the "classical Dacian era" ended.
Photo 4 - Statues of Dacians on the Arch of Constantine in Rome
Photo 5 & 6 - Representations of Dacians on Trajan's Column. The nobles, the military chieftains, are the ones with their head covered. They were known as tarabostes or pileati. The others, commoners, without head covers, were known as comati. The images are engravings from Pietro Bartoldi’s 17th Century album.
The political and religious center of Dacia was the great fortress Sarmizegetusa Regia, on Grădiștea Muncelului (almost in the center of today’s Romania), with numerous houses, workshops, warehouses, but also with water supply systems. Near this fortress were several shrines and altars, which formed an impressive Sacred Zone, with walls, stairs, paved roads, canals and other stone arrangements, as we find in the Greek world. In Dacia there were many other cities (called dava), which permanently housed a large population, and which were important centers of craftsmanship and trade, but at the same time central places of political and religious life.
Photos 7 & 8 - The ancient Dacian capital Sarmizegetusa Regia
The Gold bracelets come precisely from the area of the former capital of Dacia. Apparently, they were deposited as valuable offerings, often accompanied by large quantities of Dacian and Greek gold and silver coins, during important religious ceremonies. In addition to this sacred destination, there is no doubt that the gold polyspiral bracelets also had a secular function, being a symbol of authority.
It is also likely that those who ordered and wore them were top figures in the socio-political and religious hierarchy, most likely people of royal rank. Most of the bracelets were intended to be worn by mature men, but there are also some that were intended to be worn by women or teenagers. The Dacian gold bracelets are equally masterpieces of the art of precious metals in the ancient world, and a proof of the talent and creativity of the Dacian goldsmiths from the 1st century BC. These pieces are not only testimonies of exceptional intrinsic value (a total of 12,663 kg of gold - the lightest piece weighing 680.30 grams, and the heaviest 1196.03 grams of between 177.2 cm and 288 cm), but also an essential historical document, which further of the Dacian civilization as a whole.
Photos 9 & 10 - Dacian Gold Bracelets, details, NHMR collection
The royal polyspiral gold bracelets are the most original creations of the Dacian artisans that survived through ages. They were made of Transylvanian gold, beaten in cold and then punched and engraved. The utensils used were wooden and metal hammers, covered with leather, wooden anvils, as well as sets of iron chisels and bronze punches.
Between 1996 and 2001, the entire Sarmizegetusa Regia area, the last capital of the Dacian Kingdom (inscribed on the list of monuments of humanity in 1999) was targeted by the activities of organized crime groups, which practiced archaeological poaching on a large scale. An exceptionally large number of gold and silver objects were exported illegally. Among them 24 royal Dacian gold bracelets. Through the combined effort of the Romanian and foreign authorities 13 of these 24 were recovered between 2007 and 2011 from Germany, France and the United States. We can only hope that the others will follow.
THE HISTORY OF ROMANIA IN ONE OBJECT, our new online program that evokes decisive epochs in the Romanian past starting from objects with powerful symbolic and representative value, is developed in partnership with The National History Museum of Romania. Video and text by numismatist, archaeologist and historian Ernest Oberländer Târnoveanu, General Director of The National History Museum of Romania.