Dacian Gold’s Heavy Price

Dacian Bracelet from Sarmizecetusa Dacian bracelet from Sarmizegetusa
Photo: Wikipedia
Historians agree that some of the Roman military campaigns were motivated by the need to find and control ore reserves required for coinage. Monetary payments were made for a while using un-coined bronze called aes rude and cast bronze ingots called aes signatum.
Rome eventually built its own mint and coined silver denarii and smaller coins of bronze.During Emperor Augustus’ reign, a gold coin called aureus was minted, which could be exchanged into silver denarii. Because the Greeks kept their silver drahms as a basis for their monetary system, money exchangers of various currencies were found in large cities. Constantine introduced the gold solidus as a counter measure to the diminished weight and metal content of coins of the third century A.D.
A treasure trove of Roman coins, imperial aurei and denarii, was found in India, proof of the trade in spices and pearls, but also evidence that Indian merchants were collectors who may have prized the Roman gold and silver coins enough to horde them. According to Strabo, 120 ships “sailed every year to India from the Red Sea” and each cargo was extremely valuable.
Coins were not just a medium of exchange and store of value, but important means to advertise legendary figures, military campaigns and victories, buildings, roads, construction projects, and the image of the emperor. Julius Caesar was the first emperor to use his own visage on coins instead of the portraits of previous rulers as it was the custom.
It was thus of great importance for Rome to find new gold and silver reserves in order to feed the need for precious ore to mint coins for the Roman Empire.
Emperor Trajan, during his 19-year rule, managed to defeat in 105 A.D. the Dacians, a thriving civilization, the ancestors of the Romanians of today. Located north of the Danube River, the Dacians were a constant irritation, attacking and raiding the outskirts of the Roman Empire.
Following two years of Dacians Wars after Trajan’s 101 A.D. invasion of Dacia and a negotiated peace which the Dacians immediately broke, the Romans attacked again in 105 A.D., crushed them with tens of thousands of troops, and returned victorious to Rome, bringing back a half million pounds of Dacian gold and one million pounds of Dacian silver, including a very fertile new province with massive fields of grain necessary to feed an imperial army.
In May 2000, treasure hunters with metal detectors and exploratory knowledge found Dacian reddish solid gold bracelets and thousands of silver and gold coins buried at Sarmizegetusa, the former capital of the Dacian civilization. The stolen coins and 13 hammered bracelets weighing 27.5 pounds have been since recovered but Lot 26 is still missing. Individual coins have appeared for sale at various auction houses and online, ranging in price from $300 to $10,000.
The exploration for gold and silver took place after the fall of the communist regime in 1989 when digging permits and necessary materials became easy to obtain and the freedom to roam about undisturbed was returned to the population. For generations, the locals told stories about the buried Dacian gold, some of which was found in a rock chamber inside a 75 degree incline. The locals were unable to dig or explore around the area due to the stringent control of the communist regime over all natural resources, land, water, and any kind of human activity or movement. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/03/150320-romanian-dacian-sarmizegetusa-gold-looted-recovered/
Learning from the recovered coins interesting aspects of the Dacians’ life and religion, archeologists also determined that the coins were crude copies of Greek coins and were never in circulation. Likewise, the bracelets were never worn; they were made from local gold and buried into the ground for safekeeping.
Cassius Dio wrote that Decebalus diverted a river in order to hide silver and gold in the riverbed from the Romans. Dacian prisoners told their captors about the location of the treasure. However, Dr. Barbara Deppert-Lippitz argued that the burial of crudely made gold and silver coins and bracelets was not hoarding, they were sacrificial offers to the gods in caves and riverbeds because they believed caves and water were portals to the other world. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.178024582360956.1073741832.167633503400064&type=3
It is perhaps because of Trajan’s conquest and the subsequent colonization of Dacia by the Roman Empire that Romanians, surrounded by Slavic-rooted countries, speak a beautiful and complicated language that is closest to Latin of all six Romance languages and their numerous dialects: Italian, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, and Romansch (spoken in one of Switzerland’s cantons).
When Sarmizegetusa, the capital of Dacia, fell and it was looted and burned to the ground by the Romans, its ruler, Decebalus, did not wait for the Romans to humiliate him into surrender; he committed suicide under an oak tree, as depicted by the top freeze of Trajan’s Column.
Andrew Curry describes for National Geographic how archeological digs in the area of Sarmizegetusa revealed the devastation left behind, the iron ore furnaces, tons of iron chunks ready for smelting, evidence of the fortress’ role in metal production of weapons and tools which were then exchanged for gold and grain. (Trajan’s Amazing Column, Andrew Curry, National Geographic, April 2015)
Curry said that “gold coins with Roman images and bracelets weighing up to two pounds each were looted from the ruins of Sarmizegetusa,” including jewelry and art, such as a gold and silver drinking vessel, “a wealth of ‘barbarian’ art.” They were not so barbarian after all, as the archeological finds reveal a sophisticated and thriving civilization wiped from “the face of Europe” by Trajan who “crossed the Danube River on two of the largest bridges the ancient world had ever seen, defeated a mighty barbarian empire on its mountainous home turf twice.”
Romanians analyze today the 126 feet stone column in Rome, topped with a bronze statue of the emperor who destroyed a thriving civilization. Like a boa constricting its prey, base-reliefs spiral to the heavens around Trajan’s Column, carved for eternity, telling the story of “Romans and Dacians who march, build, fight, sail, sneak, negotiate, plead, and perish in 155 scenes.”
The column is valuable historical evidence that has survived the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 A.D. It offers clues about uniforms, weapons, equipment, and tactical warfare, portraying Trajan as the victor and Decebalus as a worthy opponent but a vanquished leader.
Andrew Curry explained that the column was revered by tourists, writers, painters, sculptors, and archeologists. Goethe, the famous German poet, “climbed the 185 internal steps in 1787 to ‘enjoy that incomparable view.”’
If you ever visit Italy, the number one pastime of tourists is to climb stairs of towers, churches, and edifices left from generations of builders who always tried to outdo each other’s life work in height and majesty. The fact that Trajan’s column and many other buildings have survived the numerous earthquakes of time, fires, and plundering is a miracle in itself.
Filippo Coarelli, archeologist and art historian, described the dramatic scenes such as “The Dacian women torturing Roman soldiers” with flaming torches and “The weeping Dacians poisoning themselves to avoid capture” or perhaps drinking water. He compared the carving with a scroll (volumen) built on 17 drums of “the finest Carrara marble.”
Ernest Oberlaender-Tarnoveanu, director of the National History Museum of Romania, disagrees on the interpretation of the women’s freeze. He said, “They’re definitely Dacian prisoners being tortured by the angry widows of slain Roman soldiers.”
The victorious emperor is carved 58 times, his legionaries are depicted building forts, bridges, clearing roads, harvesting crops, and African cavalrymen are shown with dreadlocks, “Iberians slinging stones, Levantine archers wearing pointy helmets, and bare-chested Germans in pants.” (National Geographic, April 2015)
Tacitus called the Dacians “a people which never can be trusted.” They accepted protection money from Rome while sending their fighters to raid Roman frontier towns. Roberto Meneghini, as quoted by Andrew Curry, said, “Look at the Romans fighting with cutoff heads in their mouths. War is war. The Roman legions were known to be quite violent and fierce.”
The defeated Dacian fighters became a favorite subject for sculptors, said Curry. “Trajan’s Forum had dozens of statues of handsome, bearded Dacian warriors, a proud marble army in the very heart of Rome.”
The column was not built for Dacians, it became a monument to display the power of the imperial war machine, “capable of conquering such a noble and fierce people,” said Meneghini. The Dacians who had survived were captured and sold into slavery.
Given their tumultuous history and numerous occupations, including centuries of bloody battles, tribute to and plunder by the Ottoman Empire, and modern-day political corruption, it is easy to understand why Romanians today are so circumspect of any investors who are considering exploring and mining the gold reserves left in Roșia Montană and the potentially damaging environmental effects.
Mineral resources and gold have been extracted from the Apuseni Mountains in western Transylvania since Roman times. Concerns over cyanide pollution like the 2000 cyanide spill in the Someș River at Baia Mare (the worst environmental disaster in Eastern Europe since the Chernobyl disaster) by the mining company Aurul (Gold), and worries over the preservation of the remains of the Roman mining site, added to the controversy surrounding the opening of new mining operations under Gabriel Resources of Canada. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000_Baia_Mare_cyanide_spill
Ileana Johnson 2015

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