Monetary system in medieval Serbia - part two

Article 168 of Dusan’s Code started the statutory regulation of monetary relations by stipulating that dinars could be minted only in imperial towns. This first ever Serbian coinage law allowed the goldsmith working in imperial towns to mint imperial money, while the composition and weight were set in accordance with conventional rules. At that time, around the middle of the XIV century, it was still inappropriate to determine by law the permissible departure from the prescribed weight of coins. The primitive coinage methods applied made it possible for coins of the same kind to differ significantly in weight. The Mine Law enacted in 1412 by Despot Stefan Lazarevic (1389-1427) prohibited the sorting of coins and the checking of their weight. Coins turned out by a mint were sorted and weighed so that the lighter coins could be put in circulation and the heavier coins are re-minted or hoarded. The prohibition against sorting and checking the weight of the newly minted coins indirectly sanctioned the ruler’s right to mint coins whose weight is different from the prescribed weight. That was the beginning of the legalized debasement of coins and reduction of their material to a functional value.
The minting of coins in the late Middle Ages was an important source of royal revenue. Royal rights, stemmed from the ruler’s supreme ownership of the country. Supreme ownership of the country allowed the ruler to exercise his royal rights also in parts of the state territory directly owned by representatives of the privileged classes and thereby limit the right of direct owners to use their lend. Coin minting was seen partly as major and partly minor royal rights. As a prerogative of sovereignty over the whole state, it was included in minor royal rights. In the late middle Ages, the exercise of monetary rights meant that the ruler either organized the minting of money or leased the mints.
Before Dusan’s Code and after his sudden death, royal monetary rights were exercised in medieval Serbia by leasing out mints. However, Article 168 of Dusan’s Code solely legalized organization of minting by the ruler. In this way, Dusan and his supervisors could control the mints. The earlier leasing system meant that the mint lessee answered to the ruler for the weight and quality of coins with his reputation only. Such system provided greater opportunities for abuse than when the ruler organized the minting, because neither the minters nor the supervisors were appointed by the ruler. Dusan organized the minting of money himself in order to complete the unification of money he had started by re-minting the old regal and early imperial coins.


Monetary system in medieval Serbia - part one

Silver coins were minted in medieval Serbia using the locally produced silver, which was made possible by restoring of the mines originally exploited in the Roman period. Silver mining was restored according to established plans. Like in Bohemia and Hungary, the mining and smelting were done by Saxon, miners from the Rhineland, who were invited in mid XIII century by Serbian rulers. They were granted a number of privileges: they were allowed to settle down near the sites on which they prospected for or mined the ore, clear forests, establish autonomous colonies lead by their own chiefs, and establish partnerships whose members owned shares in the mines, which they could bequeath, sell or mortgage. The organization of mining was thus left to free enterprise.
There were no state mints in Nemanjic Serbia, and coins were made by goldsmith whose workshops were in the imperial towns. Another reason why money was minted at several places is certainly the fact that the Nemanjic state never had a permanent capital. The capital was wherever the current ruler established his court and it had that status for as long as the court was there. From the marks on the Serbian medieval coins, it has been established that the use of money developed most during the reigns of King Milutin and Emperor Dusan. The only mint before Milutin’s reign was in Brskovo and it is quite certain that the mints in Rudnik and Novo Brdo were started up during his reign. During Dusan’s reign mints were working in Rudnik, Novo Brdo, Plana, Prizren, Trepca, Skoplje and Ohrid.
By analyzing the weight of preserved Serbian dinars, numismatists have established that the Venetian grosso, weighing 2,178 grams and of 965/1000 silver fineness, served as the model. Although minor deviations from the prescribed weight occurred from the very beginning of regular money minting in medieval Serbia, the ratio did not change until almost the end of the reign of King Stefan Decanski (1321-1331). The Serbian dinar lost a quarter of its value in the first half of Dusan’s reign. This was no longer due to uncertainly value about the Venetian mint ratio. It was a deliberate reduction of the weight of coins, most probably caused by military spending and Serbia’s rapid expansion at the expense of Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire.
Around 1348, Emperor Dusan conducted a currency reform aimed at stabilizing the national currency by mass re-minting of all dinars minted during the preceding part of his reign. These old coins, whose weight varied from 2,12 to 0,98 grams, were re-minted into imperial coins weighing 1,50 grams on average. Following the mass re-minting of the regal and early imperial period coins, the weight of imperial Serbian dinars remained stable.
In medieval Serbia, the right to coin money belonged to whoever exercised de facto power in a given territory. There were times when that right was being shared by the rulers ruling concurrently in different parts of Serbia, ceded by the ruler to deserving lords or usurped. The causes of this phenomenon should be sought in a patrimonial attitude towards territory which was at that time prevalent throughout Europe. This attitude made it possible for a single state to be divided by agreement between members of the ruler’s family, resulting also in de facto division of power. The Nemanjic state was ruled from 1282 to 1316, concurrently by two kings, Milutin and Dragutin, and both minted money.