The Pietroasa Treasure famous for its golden torc with an early Runic inscription

The Gothic Pietroasa Treasure from the Fifth Century

The famous gold hoard from Pietroasa in Romania was found in 1838. Although only 12 of the 22 original pieces still exist, it remains one of the most impressive witnesses to the Goths in the migration period.

Pietroasa Ring from the original publication 1875
Pietroasa Ring from the original publication. Drawing by Henri Trenk, 1875. Source: Wikipedia

When two peasants discovered the treasure in 1837, it had probably been wrapped in skin or leather and hidden under two massive stones. It weighed c. 19–20 kilos and consisted of 22 pieces. Unfortunately, the treasure was later stolen, and only twelve remain in the collection of The National Museum in Romania. Lost were three neck rings or torqs, a long and slender pitcher, a simple and undecorated plate, a small fibula, and two bracelets set with stones. Preserved were a very large plate, a smaller plate with a goddess statue, a pitcher, two polygonal vessels, an elaborate collar, a smaller golden neck ring and the fragments of a third – the one with the Runic inscription – plus four fibulae designed as eagles.

Recent studies of the treasure have dated the find to the beginning of the 5th century. Apparently part of a Barbarian royal treasure, it shows the culturally mixed ensemble of Roman as well as Barbarian artefacts. Thus, the fibulae represent one of the first instances where the symbolism of eagles is flaunted. Adopted from the Sassanians or Persians, eagles came to be part of the Gothic self-presentation. On the other hand, the golden tableware and the drinking vessels indicate the ambition to imitate Roman representative rituals.

The Ring with the Runic Inscription

Of particular significance is the Runic inscription on the partly preserved neck ring. Unfortunately, the 19th-century thief split the ring into pieces, and one of the Runes (nr. 7) became especially difficult to read. Should we read it as an o/oþal or a j/ jēra or a ŋ/ingwaz?

The following readings have been suggested as the most plausible:

  • gutaniowihailag, read as Gutani o[þal] w[e]i[h] hailag (hallow the wealth of the Goths)
  • gutanijwihailag, read as Gutani j[ēra] w[e]i[h] hailag (hallow the year of the Goths)
  • gutani[i]ngwihailag, read as either gutani (i)ngwi hailag or gutani ingwin hailag – (hallow the [god] of the Goths, Yngvi.)

With Yngvi being the ancient name for the god Freyr, the ancestor of the Swedish or East-Danish ancestor, Ingwaz.

Whichever reading is accepted, the text – with a verb in vocative – must be read as a call directed to the ring, to hallow either the land, the year, or the sacred ancestor king associated with virility, prosperity and fair weather. The last reading is not improbable. The Rune, ŋ, is known from another Gothic find from Romania, the silver buckle of Szabadbattyán. Here the inscription reads mariŋs, probably referring to the “märings” also known as the Ostrogoths.

The location of the find near a Roman camp from the 4th century and several Gothic burials from the next century indicate a high-ranking chieftain or Gothic king had the treasure hidden during the war with the Huns. A highly speculative identification of the cache as belonging to Athanaric, † 381, who was one of the leaders of the Thervingian Goths, has been proposed. He was one of the protagonists in the events triggered by the Huns’ approach and the later migration of the Goths into the Roman Empire.


The treasure from Pietroasa as exhibited at the National Museum of Romanian History. Source: Wikipedia


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