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.