From the advent of coinage more than 2,600 years ago, numismatics - the study of metal currency - has been a fascinating and rewarding endeavor. By studying the images represented, language of inscriptions, artistic expression, metal composition and more, we can often fine valuable evidence not only for a particular monetary economy, but also about distant times and societies, and the dynamics of their development. We hope that the material presented will illustrate the power of numismatic research, but even more so the rich historical experience of the times it covers.
Medieval Serbian Coinage
Despite serious research that has been continuously performed on the subject since mid-19th century, Serbian medieval numismatics remains both rather obscure and inconclusive on many issues. There is no concensus, say, on the attributions (to rulers), mint dates or interpretations of various symbols ("mint-marks") for a great many of the coin types, which adds a dose of mystery to the subject.
Although it existed for only about 200 years, medieval Serbian coinage shows a remarkable variety, with an estimated 600 types and variants - many of them borrowing from designs existing in other coinages, but also including some original ones. While many millions were minted overall, an estimated 50-60 thousand are in existence today (mostly in museums and a few bigger private collections), a large part of them discovered during the last 150 years.
It is believed that the first Serbian (Rascian) coins were issues of St. Sava's elder nephew, king Stefan Radoslav (1227-1234), struck at the capital town of Ras. Few remain today of these coins that closely modeled some earlier Byzantine types (including Greek inscriptions), perhaps reflecting Radoslav's Greek (Dukas family) heritage and aspirations, stemming from his mother's side. However, after his deposition and the destruction of Ras (1233), coins were not struck for several decades.
Regular issuance of Serbian coins is considered to have started with king Stefan Uros I (1243-1276), probably late in his reign. The silver dinars closely modeled the Venetian grosso - although with the appropriate title and ruler - which eventually led to the monetary embargo imposed by Venice on Serbian coins in 1282. It is not clear today whether this was in response to apparent debasement (lowered silver content) of these coins or for more sinister reasons, but the whole event was noted in Dante's Divine Comedy (with a probable reference to King Milutin):
"And Portugal should be held in blame,
with Norway and the Rascian
who laid his eyes on Venetian coins
and forged his own ill-fame."
(Dante Alighieri, Paradise, Canto XIX, Eagle speaking).
The earliest mints in Serbia were around the newly discovered silver mines - the first and largest being Brskovo (Montenegro, since ca. 1270), then Rudnik (Sumadija, since the 1290's), Novo Brdo (Metohija, since 1326), and later several others (Srebrenica, Trepca, Prizren, Ohrid, Plana, Skoplje, Rudiste, etc.).
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