A Serbian grossus of the Venetian type and the problem of the chronology of the earliest coinage of medieval Serbia

A document dated December 26th, 1214, refers to the yperperi Sclavonie (meaning “the yperperi of Serbia”). This is the earliest piece of evidence concerning the coinage of medieval Serbia. It is probable that the yperperi in question were minted by the magnus iupanus Stephanus (1196 – 1217), the future king (1217 – 1228), but no Serbian coin attributable to that period was published so far. A grossus from the Collection of late Svetozar St. Dusanic seems to support the testimony of the document of 1214. Its obverse legend, STEFAN – S STEFAN/DVX, shows that it was produced in Serbia, while the dynast’s title, dux (to be understood as an international equivalent to the Serbian title of magnus iupanus?), dates the issue before Stephen’s coronation in 1217. The matapan type of the grossus well accords with the intensity of the Serbo – Venetian relations after c. 1202. Its rarity will have indicated a commemorative issue, perhaps to be connected with Stephen’s marriage ( in the first decade of the thirteenth century?) with Anna Dandolo, the granddaughter of Enrico Dandolo, great doge of Venice. The present whereabouts of the piece being unknown.


The iconography of Dusan’s imperial coins

Dusan’s imperial coinage bearing the image of the enthroned ruler was influenced by the coin types of his predecessors who produced coins with this image (the so called Robertin type). Parallel to the appearance of the new iconography – a crown in the closed Byzantine style, the stemma, the imperial divitision, the imperial title, the ruler’s throne with a high back – which was reflecting the prevailing imperial ideology, the need arose to introduce an iconographic method in studying it.
On the basis of specimens from the Belgrade National Museum’s collection of medieval coins, in the basic image one perceives three iconographic types:
- the first with the ruler seated on a throne without a back holding a sword across his knees,
- the second holding a sceptre in his right hand,
- the third, a completely new type depicting the emperor seated on a throne with a high back.
All the images of the emperor enthroned were a symbolic representation of imperial power by divine right is confirmed in the image of Christ on the reverse of the coin. The symbol of rule by divine right is also seen in the proud title “Emperor and Absolute Ruler of Serbia and Romania” inscribed on the coin, and the cult of imperial majesty is seen to have reached its peak in the image of the enthroned emperor on Dusan’s imperial coinage.


The role and importance of letter and other marks on Serbian medieval coins

The majority of authors who wrote about this extremely important and controversial topic on Serbian medieval coinage, interpreted these marks as the initials of some person working in a mint, but R. Maric considered them to be abbreviations at the names of places where the mints operated. However, the very existence oaf a large number of entirely different letter marks on certain types of dinars leads us to believe that such assumptions are unconvincing. For example, on Dusan’s coronation type we have found more than 30 different letter marks, at the some time it was established that no more than 4-5 master die-cutters were responsible for the production of this type of Dusan’s coinage.
Letter marks were analyzed on the dinars of certain die-cutters in some of Dusan’s imperial types, above all on the type with an image of the emperor being crowned by angels. The first thing which was observed, with one exception, was that there were no coincidental letter marks on the dinars of 4 die-cutters who we established as being the producers of this type of dinar. This means that the die-cutters engraved different letters but they chose those letters which were not used by other die-cutters. A number of facts and an analysis of the numerous specimens of Dusan’s dinars support the following conclusions:
that the letter marks are not the initials of the die-cutters
that the letter marks are not the initials of some person in the mint
that the letter marks are not mint marks

As far as the alteration of the letter marks on the part of certain master die-cutters is concerned, considering that some die-cutters, when engraving certain types of coins used up to some 20 different marks, the conclusion arises that the die-cutters did this for the sake of keeping their own records of the number of dies cut, on which undoubtedly, the level of their wages depended. To be more precise, they marked a specific number of moulds with a particular letter mark and some, again a specific number, they left without letter markings. The facts which are in favor of this assumption were summarized and illustrated by two examples.
One more problem was considered: in how many mints was the type depicting the emperor being crowned by angels minted, and the standpoint was upheld that it was struck in one mint.
All these conclusions were then checked by the analysis of Dusan’s type with the emperor and the empress standing and holding a large crucifix between them.
Finally, the role and importance of various larger non-letter marks were considered (various flowers, tree trunks, crucifix, half moon and circles). It can be established for those large marks that they were inseparably connected to certain die-cutters, although a small number of die-cutters engraved such marks. It seemed that they served various purposes: for ornamentation or marking a group of dies. As far as the small circle marks are concerned, recent analysis do not sad us in any particular way to any of the large number of possible assumptions.


How many mints were there in Serbia in the late thirteenth century

In the late thirteenth century, Brskovo and Rudnik dominated the scene. Later, new mining areas were opened up, and it would be surprising if the number of mints increased. A limited pilot study, concentrating on the coronation and horseman types of Stefan Dusan, shows that the proportions of different sigla vary sharply from one hoard to another. The hoards also show that the sigla can be grouped to some extent, and they also show some marks are very plentiful while others are uncommon or rare. This could reflect major mints and smaller mints. If we could interpret only the most common half-dozen marks as mint-marks, this would already account for over 90% of the coins.
The half-dozen relevant hoards about which details are avaible can be placed more or less in chronological order, well enough that it then becomes difficult to explain the differences in the proportions of certain sigla in them by any other hypothesis than that they are secret-marks.
What would in principle be a clinching argument, if a larger assemblage of hoards were available, is that the varying proportions occur on a regional basis. This already seems to be the case – coins without sigla are most plentifulin the south-west, at Belovo and Kicevo. Coins with N-O are heavily predominant in the regions nearest the prolific silver mine of Novo Brdo. This gives some encouragement to think that the letters could stand for the mint name, although it does not follow that they must do so in every case. No large northerm hoard, from anywhere near Rudnik, is available, and coins marked R-V are distinctly less common in the southern hoards than they are in Ljubic`s catalogue.
Stylistic analysis would in all probability help to confirm and extend the conclusions to which the hoards are beginning to point. The coronation coins are quite varied in style, and a good classification of them in terms of their die-cutting could be made. It could then be correlated with the sigla. What this will tell us, there is no way of guessing in advance. There may have been more mints than die-cutting centres, but if some at least of the sigla refer openly to mint-places grouing them regionally by means of the hoards and the stylistic analysis should open the way for some well-founded hypotheses. Mints, as opposed to die-cutting centres, might be distinguished by correlating other physical aspects of the coins, e.g. weight-dispersions or trace elements.
If we can eventually attribute most of the coins to their mints, this will be of some interest for Serbian history, because it should permit an assessment of monetary circulation within Serbia – again through a topographical analysis of the hoards.


About Serbian dinars with the Nemanjic coat of arms

In the 14th century rulers from the Nemanjić dynasty mint ed silver dinars with their family coat of arms, which was in a form of small pillow having three balls on each corner and the head decoration (“čelenka”) which resembled the peacock feather. From the period of their Kingdom there exist six types of dinars with that coat of arms. After the Crusader’s occupation of Constantinople in 1204, Empires of Nikea and Trapezunt had been founded and the emperors of Trapezunt had taken for their coat of arms a golden double-headed eagle . When Byzantines reca ptured Constantinople, Emperor Michael VIII had introdu ced the heraldic Byzantine shield with four letters “B” between the arms of the cross . Stefan Nemanjić, the first crowned Serbian king, was crowned with the Byzantine crown, which he got from the emperor of Nikea. The appearance of that oldest Serbian crown is preserved at the portal of the Žiča monastery, as is the appearance of crown of Radoslav, heir of the throne. Crowns of kings Dragutin and Milutin, of the same form presented to him by emperor Andronicus, while in the Studenica monastery we can see the new Milutin’s crown. At that time king Mlutin had adopted his royal title “Stefan Uroš by the Grace of God King and the sole ruler of all the Serbian and Littoral Lands.” After his marriage with Byzantine princes Simonida, king Milutin started to use the double-headed eagle as the decorative element, and after the visit of his brother-in-law Dimitry in 1313, king Milutin had taken the new crown and in troduced the new family coat of arms, depicting double-headed eagle. As the Byzantines used the same coat of arms since 1282, king Milutin had placed silver (white) eagle on the red (purple) base. From that time until now, red and white have been used as the Serbian heraldic colors. The oldest preserved Serbian coat of arms (from 1314) comes from the Žiča monastery and it is kept today in the National Museum in Belgrade.


Coinage in Serbia in 1804 - 1904 - 2004

At the time of the First Serbian Uprising in 1804 in Serbia not only Turkish coins but also coins from some European countries, mostly Austria, have freely circulated. There was a speculation
that the leader of the Serbian revolution Karageorge (1768-1817) had minted in Topola, his capital, some forgeries of Turkish silver coins, particularly a 2½ Piastre of Sultan Selim III . That theory however had not been confirmed. Later, in the Principality of Serbia,
some 43 kinds of foreign coins circulated, mostly Turkish and Austrian denominations, but also Russian, Italian, Ragusan, Spanish, Papal, Dutch and others. It was Prince Michael Obrenovich III who started to issue indigenous modern Serbian coinage in 1868. Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the I Serbian Uprising in 1904, a commemorative 5 Dinars silver coin had been issued. It depicted busts of Karageorge and his grandson Peter I who was King of Serbia at that time. On the occasion of the 200th Anniversary of that Uprising, which is also treated as the renewal of the Serbian statehood, National Bank of Serbia has issued two golden coins in denominations of 5,000 and 10,000 Dinars, while regular coinage dated 2004 had not been issued at all. At the same time a peculiar golden Serbian Dinar has been struck commemorating the 120th Anniversary of the National Bank of Serbia (1884-2004).