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Statue of Decebalus (completed 2004, carved stone)

Statue of Decebalus (completed 2004, carved stone)

It’s possible that I made a few economic missteps over the years (although, judging by the news, I am not the only one) and, as a consequence, I won’t be spending this August traveling the world. However, even if I am literally trapped in angry sweltering New York, my mind is free to roam the rugged Carpathians and take in the robust forested splendor of Romania. This land was long known as Transylvania (the “crossing forest”) and the modern world has not changed the wooded character of the land. I started to do some research online and in my virtual travels I was stunned to come upon this colossal stone head carved in the living rock of Dacia. This is a carving of Decebalus a king who ruled from 87 AD – 106 AD. Decebalus was a client king of Rome, one of the many annoying and interesting minor sovereigns whom the empire propped up around its borders to act as buffers. Much of Roman history concerns their perennial struggles with these vexatious vassals and the history of Decebalus is no different. Indeed he ended up being the last king of Dacia. His cleverness and pride went too far and Rome crushed him like a bug and absorbed Dacia.

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This statue however is presumably meant to evoke Decebalus’ pride and independence (not his defeat and suicide). The head is 40 meters tall (120 feet)—it may be the largest monumental head in Europe. It was crafted by a team of 12 sculptors over 10 years at the behest of an eccentric Romanian businessman, Constantin Drăgan (1917-2008). The statue was completed in 2004 and stares balefully out over the Danube. I love Decebalus’ stony features—which seem little different from an actual rock. I am also predictably impressed at the way the natural rock looks like a crown. Dragan had some curious nationalistic misconceptions about Dacia’s place in history, and it seems this great head was meant to explain/popularize some of the millionaire’s ideas.  As often happens with art, the actual work is more ambiguous and interesting…hinting at both greatness and ruin.

The-Statue-of-Decebalus-Romania

The Royal Steel Crown of Romania

The Steel Crown of Romania was made from a cannon captured from the Ottoman Empire during the Romanian war for Independence.  During this conflict, which lasted from 1877 to 1878, the Russian czar allied with the Romanians in order to exploit Turkish weakness.  The czar gained control of Bessarabia whereas the Romanians obtained independence from the Ottomans.  The Romanian Kingdom was a constitutional monarchy welded together out of two former vassal provinces, Moldavia and Wallachia.  Ruled by various monarchs from the house of Hohenzollern, the kingdom lasted  between 13 March 1881 and 30 December 1947 (when rule over Romania passed to the communist party).

The Coat of Arms of The Kingdom of Romania

The Turkish gun melted down to provide steel for the Steel Crown was seized at Plevna (Pleven) in Bulgaria after the end of a 5 month siege which cost the combined Russian/Romanian army 38,000 casualties.  The actual steel molding work was completed at the Romanian army arsenal in Bucharest. Carol I, the first king of the new Romanian state chose to use steel in order to commemorate the bravery of the Romanian soldiers (and because he needed gold for other things).

King Carol I of Romania

The steel crown is a striking historical object which signifies rulership of Romania.  Today it is a curiosity kept at the National History Museum at the former Postal Services Palace in Bucharest.  For all of its historical importance, the crown is made of steel and has the practical and material value of a paperweight.  

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