The Getae princely Gold helmet from Coțofenești

4th century BC
Gold 750 ‰; silver 225‰; copper 10‰.
Hammering, repoussage, soldering
H = 25,50 cm; D = 20,00 cm; W = 726,08 g
    The Getae princely Gold helmet from Coțofenești

    Text: Ernest Oberlander-Târnoveanu, Alexandru Arbunescu; photo: Marius Amarie.
    Together with the majestic treasure from Pietroasele, the helmet from Coțofenești is probably the most popular ancient gold piece in Romania. It owes its fame to the fact that it has been illustrated in all the prestigious works that approach not only the history of art and precious metal processing, but also the political and social history of the ancient populations that lived on the current territory of Romania. At the same time, the helmet from Coțofenești is presented in all the history schoolbooks for the primary, secondary and high-school, as well as in the great treatises of history published in our country after 1960.
    Since 1972, the helmet from Coțofenești has been exhibited in the Historical Treasure of the National History Museum of Romania and can be admired by millions of visitors from our country and from abroad. Together with the most valuable Romanian archaeological discoveries, the gold helmet from Coțofenești has held a place of honor in great exhibitions organized abroad: Paris, Oxford, Stockholm, Frankfurt am Main, Rotterdam, Florence and Lisbon, which has enhanced its fame.  
    As a great star, during the past few decades, this masterpiece of the art of gold processing, not only in Romania, but also in ancient Europe, the helmet has featured in many documentaries, on the covers of some publications, on posters, postcards, stamps and even on a gold coin emission launched by the National Bank of Romania.
    Few ancient archaeological discoveries create such an overwhelming impression and such a deep fascination on the viewers – be they experts or laymen – as the gold helmet from Coțofenești.
    The history of the discovery 
    It can be assumed that the discovery of the helmet from Coțofenești was made before 1927, when the piece was bought by Ion Marinescu-Moreanu from Alexandru Simion. Alexandru Simion and Ion Marinescu-Moreanu had met during World War I, when they were together in the same military unit. The piece entered the public circuit two years later when, in April 1929, it was donated to the Ministry of Public Education and Cults, for the collection of the National Museum of Antiquities, by Ion Marinescu-Moreanu, a great merchant from Ploiești, who played a major part in saving the helmet and passing it to the National Museum of Antiquities in Bucharest. 
    As it can be inferred, without any doubt, from the top quality photos published by Alexandru Păunescu and Ioan Andrieșescu (who made the check survey), the place indicated by the villagers to Marinescu-Moreanu and to the archaeologist from Bucharest as the place where the helmet from Coțofenești was discovered was situated on the territory of the village with the same name, more precisely on the South-Western edge of the Măgura hill, next to some ravines and the tree line of a thinning forest, very far from any watercourse. The name of this place is Budui, on the Vârful/Coama Fundăturii. The archaeological research carried out on the spot led only to the sampling of some small ceramic fragments, without identifying a certain archaeological context – necropolis or village. The helmet was found by a group of children who were herding cattle on the Vârful Fundăturii, in the slope of the ravine, after the rain. Only three of these children’s names are known: Traian Simion, Vasile Simion and Ilie Vrăbioru, the first two of them being the sons of Alexandru Simion. One of the photos published by Ioan Andrieșescu presents Traian Simion in the middle of a group of villagers who took part in the check digging made by the archaeologist from Bucharest in 1929. He was a beautiful child, with sparkling and intelligent eyes, aged 12 or 13. Unfortunately, he died on the battlefield during World War II. His younger brother, Vasile, as well as Ilie Vrăbioru outlived him (however, in 2005, when Georgeta, Vasile Simion’s daughter, and Jeana Vrăbioru, Ilie’s widow, were interviewed, neither of them was still alive). According to the tradition that has been perpetuated up to now among the villagers in Coțofenești, though not confirmed by the study of the remains preserved on the helmet, during the game that started after the discovery of the helmet, the children broke one of its parts (the cap) and the two parts or even more remained in the possession of the group members. The biggest part was taken by Traian Simion, being sold by his father to Ion Marinescu-Moreanu in 1927, whereas the rest remained in the possession of the families of one or more unknown children from Coțofenești (maybe at Ilie Vrăbioru’s family). Closely examining the helmet from Coțofenești, we noticed that the cracks that the piece currently displays are in the area where its component plates were attached (for example, where the forehead plate, the cheek guards and the back head cover were joined to the cap). These cracks appeared as a consequence of intense mechanical stresses that the helmet underwent after its discovery, but it is hard to believe that they are the result of pulling the helmet with bare hands by the children who discovered it. The research of the area of the crack on the cap, more precisely the edges of the part that has been preserved, points to a “recent” mechanical breakage, caused by a powerful force applied from the inside of the piece, probably with a wooden object. The breakage that resulted may have been later enlarged by pulling the gold plate with some nail tongs, until the top of the helmet was removed.   
    Description, similarities, dating, belonging 
    The famous princely Getae gold helmet from Coţofeneşti is one of the most spectacular artifacts in the “Historical Treasure” exhibition at the National History Museum of Romania and it has an exceptional archaeological, historical and artistic value. This masterpiece of Thracian-Dacian toreutics was accidentally discovered in 1927 or earlier in the proximity of a locality dated back to the second Iron Age, situated on the hill near the village of Coţofeneşti, the commune of Vărbilău, Prahova County. The archaeological research carried out later on that spot led to the conclusion that the piece had been buried in isolation and is a unique discovery.  
    Made of gold leaf, the helmet had a conical cap with a rounded point, adorned with conical rosettes displayed in horizontal rows. The upper part of the cap is missing. The frontal rectangular plate, typically Getae, is decorated with a pair of prominent apotropaic eyes, with eyebrows twisted upwards. Either fixed, rectangular cheek guard, also specific for Getae helmets, depicts a sacrificial scene, in which a warrior is stabbing a ram, and has a basal orifice. The straight back head cover is adorned with two overlapping friezes, separated by a row of volutes and decorated with fantastic animals. The reliefs that embellish the helmet were made by repoussage, the gold leaf being modeled by hammering out from the reverse side. The helmet, made of 760‰ gold, is 25.50 cm. high, with a basal diameter of 20.00 cm. and a weight of 726.08 g.
    The artifact is similar to the Getae gold helmet dating back to the 5th century BC, discovered at Cucuteni-Băiceni, Iaşi County, to the partially gilded silver helmets from the inventory of the Getae princely tombs at Agighiol, Tulcea County and Peretu, Teleorman County, exhibited at the National History Museum of Romania, or to the silver helmet discovered at Porţile de Fier, Mehedinţi County, currently on display at Detroit Institute of Fine Arts Museum. All the three of them date back to the end of the 4th century BC. The piece discovered at Coţofeneşti bears Greek and Scythian stylistic influences of Persian origin, such as the décor of friezes with fantastic animals on the back head cover, as well as Getae elements, such as the local motifs – rosettes, hatched bands, spirals, triangles. The craftsman’s clumsiness is obvious in rendering the perspective or the specific way to represent the eyes on the front plate. It is supposed that, in the Thracian-Getae belief, the apotropaic eyes on the front plate had a magic function, to confer the helmet’s wearer enhanced powers during fights or hunting.
    The original stylistic features, the craftsmanship, which is less refined than the Greek one and different from the Scythian one, combine elements of various origins in the Getae art of gold processing. Taking into account the analogies of style and the technique of execution, the gold helmet from Coţofeneşti is considered a product of the Thracian-Getae goldsmiths’ art, in which the Greek influences interfered with the Scythian ones, and is dated to the 4th century BC. 
    It seems that the piece belonged to the local chief of a Getae community with well-defined social layers. His wealth can be explained by the existence of rich salt reserves in the area, which brought significant incomes throughout most of the historical epochs. The ceremonial piece discovered at Coțofenești might have been laid as an offering, although it is not certain. This hypothesis is supported by the choice of the area to lay it, on a hill that dominates the entire area through its height, as well as the fact that the artifact was hardly ever worn, the edges of the orifices on the cheek guards, through which the attaching straps were passed, showing few traces of wear and tear. 
    Dumitru Berciu, Arta traco-getică, Editura Academiei R.S.R., Bucureşti, 1969, p. 77-82.
    Radu Florescu, Ion Miclea, Strămoşii românilor. Vestigii milenare de cultură şi artă. Geto-dacii, Editura Meridiane, Bucureşti, 1980 p. 27-28.
    Goldhelm, Schwert und Silberschätze. Reichtümer aus 6000 Jahren rumänischer Vergangenheit. Museum für Vor-und Frühgeschichte – Archeologisches Museum, Frankfurt am Main, 1994, p. 148-149, cat. 45.
    C. Borangic, Al. Bădescu, Civilizaţia geto-dacică (I). Arme şi echipamente din patrimoniul Muzeului Naţional de Istorie a României, 2014, p. 16-17.
    Ernest Oberländer-Târnoveanu, Coiful de aur de la Coțofenești (Com. Vărbilău, Jud. Prahova) – Avatarurile Unei Capodopere a Artei Aurului din Antichitate în „Comorile Dacilor II Capodopere ale Artei Aurului din România din Epoca Bronzului Până în Epoca Geto – Dacică (Sec. XVII a.Chr. – sec. IV a. Chr.)”, Ploiești, 2010, p. 27-38.
    George Trohani, Coiful de la Coțofenești, în „Comorile Dacilor II Capodopere ale Artei Aurului din România din Epoca Bronzului Până în Epoca Geto – Dacică (Sec. XVII a.Chr. – sec. IV a. Chr.)”, Ploiești, 2010, p. 25-26.