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The Pietroasele Treasure: late 4th century hoard of Gothic gold artifacts discovered in an ancient grave in Romania

David Goran

The Pietroasele Treasure (or the Petrossa Treasure), nicknamed “The hatching hen and the golden chicken”, is the name given to a hoard of gold artifacts discovered in 1837 in an ancient grave in Pietroasele, Buzău County, Romania.

The treasure was discovered by two peasants from the village of Pietroasele, Ion Lemnaru and his father-in-law Stan Avram while cutting limestone in a quarry for the building of a bridge.

It was the greatest treaure of gold until the discovery of Tutankhamon. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

It was the greatest treasure of gold until the discovery of Tutankhamon. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

The two men discovered a hoard of 22 gold artifacts including one large eagle-headed fibula (a brooch or pin used to fasten garments), a patera (a shallow bowl with carved figures of what appear to be Gothic gods, used for libations), a large tray, a pitcher, a neck ring with a Runic inscription (known as the Ring of Pietroasele) and two other necklaces.

The gold patera. Photo Credit

The gold patera. Photo Credit

 

Eagle-shaped middle fibulae, worn in pairs by gothic women. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

Eagle-shaped middle fibulae, worn in pairs by gothic women. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

It has been reported that the two peasants kept the gold objects and then sold them to an Albanian businessman named Verussi. Verussi smashed the items into smaller pieces to make them more compact and easier to hide in order to sell them, avoiding any detection by the authorities during transport.

There were 22 pieces in total, but only 12 have survived. Photo Credit

There were 22 pieces in total, but only 12 have survived. Photo Credit

However, one year later, the information about this treasure reached the authorities of the Inland Affairs Department and the objects were seized.

In 1917, the treasure was shipped to Russia to be hidden, as German armies advanced through Romania in World War I, and returned to Romania in the 1950s.

Among the most famous examples of the polychrome style of Migration Period art. Photo Credit

Among the most famous examples of the polychrome style of Migration Period art. Photo Credit

 

An eagle-shaped fibula. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

An eagle-shaped fibula. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

It is assumed that the gold objects belonged to the Visigoths (migratory nomadic tribes of Germanic peoples which arrived in the region of the Black Sea by the 3rd century A.D.), dated between the late 4th century AD and early 5th century AD, then buried around the middle of the latter century.

The ring of Pietroassa (drawing by Henri Trenk, 1875). Photo Credit

The ring of Pietroassa (drawing by Henri Trenk, 1875). Photo Credit

Apart from artistic representations of deities, Gothic religious beliefs can also be seen in other aspects of the treasure. For example, the runic inscriptions of the Ring of Pietroasele (known also as the Buzău torc) shed some light on the pre-Christian religious belief of the Goths.

The ring itself is generally assumed to be of Roman-Mediterranean origin and the symbols have been identified as belonging to the Elder Futhark alphabet.

Rendition of the runic inscription from the ring of Pietroassa. Photo Credit

A rendition of the runic inscription from the ring of Pietroassa. Photo Credit

Because the inscription sustained irreparable damage shortly after its discovery, scholars aren’t able to read it with certainty and it has been subjected to various attempts at reconstruction and interpretation. It has been suggested that they were meant to provide some sort of magical protection to its wearer.

Now the greatest part of treasure is seen at The National Museum in Bucharest. Photo Credit

Now the greatest part of treasure is seen at The National Museum in Bucharest. Photo Credit

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Of the twenty-two pieces (weighing 27 kg), only twelve (18,795 kg) have survived, and they are conserved at the National Museum of Romanian History, in Bucharest.