Serbian medieval coinage

Serbian state, already organized in the second half of twelfth century, was developing quickly during thirteen and fourteen centuries, so that in 1217 it became a kingdom and in 1346 an empire. Extension of the territories and growth of accompanied by development of trade, and consequently a need for money and its mintage. Due to the numerous silver mines like Brskovo, Rudnik, Novo Brdo, Plana, Srebrenica, Rudište and work of the nearby mints, the minting of Serbian medieval coins continued from the end of twelfth century until 1459, the year when Serbia lost its sovereignty. From that year, when the last Serbian medieval coins were minted, four centuries would past before the first coins of a renewed Serbia appeared again.
A chronology of the Serbian medieval money comprises a great number of issues by the Serbian kings, emperors, feudal lords and despots. Although numerous types of money, with different images and motives on the heads and the image of Christ on the tails reflect a spirit of the Byzantine and West-European monetary tradition, some of these coins are true examples of an original national currency.
Although “Serbian dinars” are first mentioned in the archival documents dating as early as 1214, as far as it is known there is no any numismatic piece to prove that such coins really existed. The data refer to King Radoslav (1228-1234) and his copper and silver coins, belonging to the oldest period of the Serbian coinage. Although these coins were made after the Byzantine coins of that time called “scyphate”, which can be easily seen in their shape, images and inscriptions in Geek, these coins were made in the mint working in the fortified medieval town of Ras, on the territory of Serbian state.
In the middle of thirteen century, other shapes, influenced by the great role that Republic of Venice had in the Mediterranean trade, led to the coinage of a new money. First issues of this currency were connected to King Dragutin (1267-1316) and opening of the mint in Brskovo mine on the Tara mountain. These coins, with an image of ruler and saint shown in the standing position, and a Latin inscription of the ruler’s title, were minted in Serbia for a long time, as the later kings, Milutin (1282-1321) and Stefan Dečanski (1321-1331) continued to mint the same currency. Influenced by the cultural and political spirits arriving from the South Italy and Hungary, the western monetary tradition led to a new monetary type. It belongs to time of King Dragutin, and has an image of the King-warrior, sitting on the throne with a sword across his knees; this coin is a sort of link connecting several generations of rulers who continued to mint these coins until Serbia ceased minting its money. By a new coinage, King Dragutin introduced an important innovation into money minted by the Serbian kings. It was a legend “Stefan rabh Hristou”, the first Cyrillic inscription in Serbian numismatics that frames the image of ruler standing with a scepter in his hand.
Influence of the Western medieval tradition on Serbian coinage, although obvious and very important, was marginal in that great era when Serbia was flourishing under influence of the Byzantine political ideas and culture, which also effected its monetary policy. A wave of Greek ideas, evident in an earlier period during reign of King Milutin, spread in time of Stefan Dušan (1331-1355). After conquering a great part of the Bulgarian and Byzantine territories, and proclaiming himself Emperor in 1346, with a haughty title of the “Emperor of the Serbs, Greeks and Bulgarians” Emperor Dušan, resolute to become a future Byzantine emperor, conveyed all splendor of the Byzantine court to Serbia, and adapted his various images on the coins after the Byzantine fashion. The Latin, namely Cyrillic inscription of the emperor’s title, frames his images on the coins, where he is shown as sitting on the throne, riding a horse, in the coronation scene, or together with his Empress. In all these images, duly propagating the Emperor’s ideology, the first Serbian Emperor is shown in an attire and with insignia that Byzantine Emperors were invested with at coronation and bearing at the formal ceremonies. Knowing that money, as means of trade outside Serbian borders could be used to make its ruler, his victories and power of a new Empire more popular, thirteen monetary types were minted in three mining centers – Brskovo, Rudnik and Novo Brdo. With the biggest money production in the medieval Serbia, Dušan’s dinars and half-dinars, made of high quality silver and using a skillful molding technique, belonged to the higher European money standard of that time.
Even in time of the Empire, it was a known practice of feudal lords – despot Jovan Oliver and King Vukašin – to usurp the exclusive right of the ruler to mint coins, and the same tendency continued in a great measure after the fall. In this period, in the mints of Rudnik and NovoBrdo, numerous money issues were minted by the Serbian lords from King Vukašin’s and Branko Mladenović’s families, župan Gropa, chieftain Smil, the sevastokrators Vlatko, Jakov, Rig, the patriarchs and the towns. Although in most cases these coins, by their iconography, were connected to the earlier monetary types, some new issues appeared. Such were the coins of Prince Lazar (1371-1389) and Vuk Branković (1371-1376); first, showing standing Prince, has a legend of his title in Italian, and the other one, without ruler’s image, for the first time bears inscription “vlkov dinar”, the name of Serbian currency. With fall of Empire and closing down of the emperor’s mints, as well as Turkish occupation of almost all parts of the Nemanjić’s Serbia, the feudal lords ceased to mint their money.
During short period in which the Turkish expansion was held back, and the state began reorganizing after the Kosovo battle Serbia started again to mint its coins. This time is characterized by numerous money issues by the Serbian despots – Stefan Lazarević (1389-1427) and Djuradj Branković (1428-1455). By their aesthetic quality, the quality of mint, and diversity of the motives, these issues occupy a distinguished place in the Serbian numismatics. Best example are the samples with stylized images of lions or amazingly realistic portrait of the ruler on the coins minted by despot Djuradj. With the last issue of these coins, minted in the Novo Brdo, Smederevo and Rudišta mints until despot’s death, and with fall of the Serbian state in 1459, minting of the Serbian medieval coins finally met its end.