Why is history important?
To know who we are and where we are going, we must know where we came from.
History supports the evolution of communities and helps us learn how to avoid the mistakes of the past. Knowing our past creates a better future.
The Old Alburnus Major
Referred to as Alburnus Maior on a wax tablet discovered in a Roman era gallery from the Roman period of gold exploitation, Roşia Montană is one of the oldest settlements in Romania, having been certified on February 6, 131 AD.
Until the 1500’s, the old Alburnus Maior appears under different names inspired by the reddish water that runs in the valley through the township: The Red Valley, Verespatak or The Red of the Mountain. In 1592, Roşia Montană was certified with its current name.
Its geographical position, mineral and forest resources and hydro-graphic system gave Roşia Montană a leading economic role throughout much of its history.
The history of gold at Roşia Montană
The Gold that has been mined for at least 2000 years in Rosia Montana by nations seeking wealth, generated, in time, many conflicts and misdeeds. Large amounts of gold mined from the mountains surrounding Rosia Montana took the road to Rome, Budapest, Vienna and Moscow.
There is also indirect evidence that gold has been mined for over three millenia in Roşia Montană.
Roşia Montană in the past
Rosia Montana was one of the richest places on the continent and, at the same time, the cause of the fall of kingdoms, bloody revolutions and internal conflicts leaving the people and the spiritual integrity of the place to suffer the consequences.
1. The gold of Roşia Montană in prehistory
The gold from Roşia Montană has been mined since prehistory and was even exported to the Balkan-Aegean area to the warrior elites of the Bronze Age.
According to Herodotus, the first ones to extract the gold from Roşia Montană were the agatârşi, a tribe of the Scythians who dwelt in Transylvania during the VII-VI centuries BC.
During the prehistoric period, gold was not only extracted from riverbeds but also extracted using the fire and water method. The rock was heated by fire then rapidly cooled with a mixture of water and vinegar cracking the rock. At Roşia Montană, two areas where such works were discovered are the Cetate and Cârnic Massives.
2. The gold of the Dacians
The extraction and processing of gold was taken over from the agatârşi by the Dacians who continued until the Roman conquest of Dacia in 106AD.
The abundance of gold in the Dacian Kingdom is considered one of the main reasons for the Roman conquest of Dacia. The possibility that underground mining existed during the Dacian period is controversial; however, the sheer size of the amount of gold taken by the Romans from Dacia strongly suggests that gold mining was practiced intensely in the last centuries of the Dacian Kingdom existence.
A French team that researched the galleries in Cârnic Massif dated several beams before the Roman occupation. If this result is clear, it means either that the Dacians skillfully applied the technique of gold mining in galleries or, more likely, that they brought Roman engineers to do this. What we surely know is that the Dacian kings brought craftsmen from Greco-Roman world to build cities and the water adduction system in the Orăştie Mountains.
Because of insufficient research, it cannot be conclusively stated whether or not the Dacians had settlements in the Rosia Montana area; however, in Bucium (a village near Roşia Montană ) a hoard of coins dating from the Dacian Period was found.
3. The Roman Period of gold exploitation
The gold of the Dacians was a major reason for the conquest and occupation of Dacia by the Romans between 106-275 AD. Emperor Trajan took back to Rome an immense quantity of gold and silver, expropriated the land for the benefit of his soldiers settling here and passing ownership of the gold and salt mines to the state.
After the occupation of Dacia, Emperor Trajan returned to Rome covered with glory and an immense war chest: 165,000 kilograms of gold, 331,000 kilograms of silver and 50,000 prisoners of war. He was received with great fanfare, the celebrations and parties lasting for months.
With the war spoils were constructed Trajan’s Column, Trajan’s Forum and Ulpia Basilica. In addition, the Nile-Red Sea canal was rebuilt.
Roşia Montană owes its fame in the international scientific world for the 50 wax tablets discovered in the Roman galleries, from which only 25 have survived.
These tablets include contracts of sale, of loans and of the protocols for some colleges. They are considered one of the basic sources of Roman law, which is one of the most important legacies left by Rome to the modern world.
The most intense application of underground gold mining in Roşia Montană was under the Roman occupation. The Romans left a network of underground galleries throughout the mountains surrounding Rosia Montana. These galleries are arranged on several levels within the mountains and their perfect trapezoidal shape were made with chisel and the hammer.
4. The Middle Ages
No one knows anything about Rosia Montana in the early centuries that followed the abandonment of Dacia by the Romans. During the middle ages, Hungarian kings colonized the lands in the Apuseni and continued to mine the gold. From the end of the Crusades in the thirteenth century until the discovery of America, in 1492, the main source of gold in Europe was the Apuseni Mountains.
Rosia Montana medieval galleries, neglected so far, have therefore a special place in the history of Europe, even if they are not investigated.
5. The Modern Ages
In 1676, within the borders of Roşia Montană, over 100 stamping mills (mechanical presses used to crush rock) were recorded and in Bucium Valley, 26.
Starting with the eighteenth century, the gold from Roşia Montană was mined under the administration of the Habsburg Empire. In 1764 Transylvania became the most important province of the Habsburg Empire in respect to its mineral resources.
Under the Habsburgs were introduced the latest operating techniques and the legal framework for gold exploitation, In addition, miners from all over the empire were brought in.
During this period was born a cosmopolitan society, tolerant and with a strong European spirit. The material evidence of this period is represented today by the influences upon the secular architecture and especially by the churches belonging to five different religions: Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, Unitarian and Calvin.
6. Closer to our days
After 1918, the Romanian State regulated the gold mining through the Mining Law from 1924, becoming thus the owner of the subsoil. The gold extracted from the leased mines had to be sold to the state, which would buy it at global prices.
In 1934 the production of gold extracted from Roşia Montană reached 225 kg / year.
During the interwar period, large mining companies developed but the small associations did not disappear so that in the 1940’s in Roşia Montană there were about 960 such associations.
The tragedy of the miners and the mutilation of the community during the communist period
Miner owners from the Apuseni Mountains experienced hardship beginning in 1948 when all the mining properties become state-owned during the communist takeover.
State security forces arrested and tortured former mine owners in order to reveal their hidden gold stores. Many of them were sent to prison and died while constructing the Danube-Black Sea Canal.
In Roşia Montană, a state mining company was established that employed miners from among the common working-class, irreversibly transforming the spiritual geography of the settlement.
The architecture of the place suffered visible mutilations. In the middle of the village were built working-class apartments altering the Central Square architecture. Several buildings from this era remain
In 1970, a new page from the history of gold mining in Roşia Montana was written with the beginning of the open-pit mine on Cetate Massif. Unfortunately, Roman vestiges and a large fortress were destroyed, even though they were on a list of protected historical monuments. The efforts of some young archaeologists and of the locals found no support from the intellectuals with high positions who didn’t want to jeopardize their career.
Roşia Montană today
Today, Rosia Montana is in one of its darkest periods. This time it is not about a war, revolution or dictatorial regime; for sixteen years, the history of Rosia Montana has been erased piece-by-piece by a foreign mining company focused on the gold within its soil. The community of nearly 2000 years is at risk of disappearing forever due to the ignorance of those who see Roşia Montană only as a piece of land that is not going to affect them in any way and of those who are ready to sell an inheritance that is not theirs and who, unfortunately, were appointed as leaders and defenders of this nation.
Roşia Montană is now in a situation similar to the days of communism. During the communist period, open-pit mining destroyed a priceless historical treasure. Now, open-pit mining threatens, again, a heritage that belongs to all of Europe – even the world. While many Romanian archaeologists and officials of the Ministry of Culture adopt an attitude of disinterest, the architectural, archaeological, natural and spiritual heritage of Roşia Montană enters an apocalyptic scenario.
Will we learn from the past? Or shall history once again repeat itself leaving the world worse off than before?
It’s our choice.