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Romans Bring Coinage to Serbia
By Bob Reis, World Coin News
April 12, 2013

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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The current iteration of “Serbia” is a small, landlocked country in what we call “the Balkans.” East of Italy is the Adriatic Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean Sea. East of that are “the Balkans.”

If you start in the northern Italian city of Bologna and travel almost due east about 300 miles you will be in Belgrade, capital of modern Serbia. The more important axis, historically speaking, has been north-south. The geography is favorable to transit through the mountains and there has been a lot of movement of peoples over the years.

There have been at least 10 different political entities called “Serbia” since they started using that word in the eighth century A.D. Many of them issued distinctive coins. Many conquerors passed through, some stayed a while, and some of them issued coins. Before the coins there were humans back to early paleolithic neanderthal times, but because much of the Balkans were under thick ice until about 15,000 years ago there is not much in the way of pre-homo sapiens archeology. Lowland Serbia itself was substantially ice free and was a refugium for humans and other species.

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“Mesolithic” refers to a homo sapiens culture of about 10,000 to 7,000 years ago. Characteristic stone tools were “microliths,” tiny blades typically mounted with resin glue onto wooden handles. There were mesolithic communities in Serbia. They built stone buildings and “megalithic” monuments, and stone sculptures, many with distinctively fish-like motifs.

Neolithic settlements developed from about 6500 B.C. Notable features of neolithic culture were agriculture, domestic animals, and pottery. Metalworking apparently began early in Serbia, where the world’s oldest copper axe has been found, dated to around 5,500 B.C.

Bronze was brought by invaders from the north, considered by many who think about these things to have been “Indo-Europeans.” With the bronze they brought a stratified culture with warriors, slaves, etc. Time frame was around 4000 to 2000 B.C.

Iron was brought to the region by further waves of invaders including Thracians, Illyrians, Greeks, and Celts. With the iron came horses. The iron people were more war loving than the already warlike bronze people. Coinage appeared during the iron age period.

If you get out your copy of David Sear’s Greek Coins and their Values, Vol. I you’ll find that the territory of the current Republic of Serbia is northeast of ancient “Illyria,” now Croatia more or less, north of Macedon, and east of Thrace. There were no city coins from the region during the period of archaic Greek coinage. In the classic period there were imitations of Makedonian and other coins, typically attributed to Celtic tribes, some of them found in Serbia though imitations in various styles are found from the Black Sea to Britain.

Alexander the Great, who was probably related in some way to the tribes up in Serbia, which was part of his kingdom, at least the southern part, did not attempt to conquer northward. His domain faded out to the north. I don’t think there was a Macedonian mint up there, hence the imitations.

Numismatically there was nothing much or at all until the coming of the Romans. Starting in 167 B.C. Roman conquests began in the west of the Balkans and continued until 75 B.C. when they created the province of Moesia Superior. Names and borders of Roman provinces changed a lot over the centuries. Modern Serbia contains land that at various times was part of Pannonia, Praevalitana, Dalmatia, Dacia, and Macedonia. Major Roman cities within the modern borders were Viminacium and Sirmium.

Viminacium was in northeastern Serbia near the modern town of Kostolac. A mint there produced an extensive bronze coinage from the time of Gordian III to the start of the reign of Gallienus. The location is frequently met with in the market. There are several sizes, apparently all with the same reverse design of standing city goddess between a lion and something else, all dated to a local era starting 238 A.D. The Viminacium coinage seems to have ended in 263 A.D. Roman finances became increasingly disordered during the third century A.D. Several reforms were undertaken, culminating in a major reorganization under Diocletian that ended all of the local coinages.

The other Roman mint town in Serbia was Sirmium, now called Sremska Mitrovica, northwest of Belgrade. It was the capital of the province of Lower Pannonia from 103 A.D. (Trajan), then the capital of Pannonia Secunda in 296 A.D. (Diocletian), seat of emperor Galerius in 305 A.D., capital of the Praetorian prefecture of Illyricum in 318 A.D. Four emperors were born there: Probus, Maximianus, Gratian, and Aurelian, others were born nearby. I found a statement that a mint might have been built in the time of Gallienus, but I know of no recorded coins of that reign. Normal Roman coins were struck there from A.D. 320 to 326 (Constantine, who was born in Serbia, and relatives) and A.D. 351 to 364, (Constantius II, Constantius Gallus, Julian II, Jovian, Valentinian I). It is not a particularly scarce mint.

With the division of the empire into eastern and western jurisdictions in 395 A.D., Serbia became part of what we call the Byzantine empire, though they thought of themselves as Romans. Serbia was kind of far from the center, and it slipped away from direct control. Huns overran it, then Goths and Gepids fought over it. Some Gepid coins are known, imitations of late Roman gold and silver. Starting in the sixth century Slavs started showing up in the Balkans and that was the start of the medieval period.

We’ll continue with the story next time.

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