Ancient Transylvanians were flush with gold

Transylvania, the region of Romania today often associated with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was likely an area of untold riches in gold, suggests a new study of a cache of priceless, snake-shaped bracelets.

Demonstrating “no economy of gold at all,” craftsmen shaped each spiral cuff from an entire ingot, study author Bogdan Constantinescu said, according to a report in National Geographic.

“Most of the 2,000-year-old accessories tip the scales at about 2.2 pounds each — a heft that materials scientist Paul Craddock found ‘surprising,'” according to the report.

“Yes,” Craddock concluded, “they did have a lot of gold.”

The people Craddock refers to are the Dacians, described as mysterious contemporaries of the ancient Romans. 

The Dacians left behind no writings but, as the bracelets would seem to indicate, were apparently flush with treasure — as historians have long suspected, given the mineral wealth of the region’s mountains and rivers, according to National Geographic.

A decade ago, looters at the Sarmizegetusa Regia archaeological site in Romania’s Transylvania region unearthed more than 20 of the bracelets — several of which have now been recovered by authorities.

“Perhaps hoping to avoid stiff penalties for archaeological plunder, the men claimed that a now dead comrade had made the bracelets out of melted-down ancient Greek coins — leading many experts to doubt the cuffs’ authenticity,” according to the publication.

“The new study, though, points out that Greek coins are made of purer gold than the Sarmizegetusa hoard,” it added. “Furthermore, the bracelets were found to be at least 2,000 years old.”

The bracelets’ chemical signature matches that of Transylvanian gold, and Constantinescu, a physicist with the Horia Hulubei National Institute of Physics and Nuclear Engineering in Bucharest, suspects the gold for the bracelets likely came from two rivers near Sarmizegetusa Regia.

Sarmizegetusa Regia was the Dacian religious and political capital in the last couple centuries of the culture’s heyday, which lasted from about 500 B.C. to A.D. 106, when Rome conquered Dacia.

The Dacian Wars, fought in A.D. 101-102 and A.D. 105-106, were military campaigns fought between the Roman Empire and Dacia during Emperor Trajan’s rule. The conflict was the result of the Dacian threat along the Danube River and by the struggling Roman Empire’s increasing need for resources.

In the end, Trajan marched into Dacia, besieged the Dacian capital in the Siege of Sarmizegetusa and razed it.

Though occasionally unified as a confederation, the Dacians were usually a loose collection of tribes. Mainly farmers and shepherds, the culture also included international traders, potters, and iron smelters, archaeological finds suggest.

But since the Dacians lacked a written language, it may never be possible to understand the extent of their accomplishments.

Much of what’s known about them, after all, was written by their Roman conquerors — “not necessarily a good source,” said Ernest Latham, who teaches about Romania at the US Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Va., according to National Geographic.

(Above: Leaves and snake heads adorn a Dacian bracelet in the Romanian National History Museum. Photo by Reuters.)

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