August 20, 2016

The splendour of the stolen coins

Scattered heritage


The Macedonian territory is extremely rich with archaeological findings, so it is an El Dorado for all professional and amateur diggers. Between the two World Wars, Serbian archaeologists worked on Macedonian sites and everything they discovered was taken to Serbian museums, where it still is today. After World War II, Macedonian archaeologists were digging there, but there were even more illegal diggers providing for the domestic and, above all, the foreign archaeological market. The items that were smuggled haven't been catalogued anywhere, nor was their existence made public, with the exception of some half-legal collections or some items that were taken a long time ago.

Indeed, many various archaeological items have been carried away, so it’s almost impossible to collect all of the relevant information about them (type, period, archaeological site etc). Nonetheless, research has been done and data on certain types of movable heritage was collected, for instance, about the abovementioned handwritten and archaeological heritage. However, information was also collected (by dr. Eleonora Petrova) about the numismatic material stolen from Macedonia during the last 150 years.

Just as in the 19th and 20th centuries, today there is also a continuous carrying out of numismatic material, without there being any information on the persons doing it or its final destination. Macedonian archaeologists obtain information on the stolen coins from foreign archaeologists, numismaticians, from catalogues and similar, often unofficial, sources. Even whole collections were taken abroad. Macedonia is rich in numismatic material (in the Museum of Macedonia alone there's a collection of around 14,500 items) and it was particularly attractive for domestic and foreign numismaticians.

Caption: The splendour of the gold coins discovered in Macedonia is today reflected in foreign museum cupboards

There have been several larger thefts of Macedonian coins recorded. The most significant and oldest collection carried away was one from Štip, taken out in 1912, but the amount of items in it is still not known. Some of these items can today be found in foreign museums. Most of them are silver coins, octodrachmae, from the Deroni tribal Paionian organisation, which inhabited parts of Macedonia and which coined money at the end of the 5th and the beginning of the 6th century. Another large collection of old coins was taken during World War I, i.e. 1917, from Topolčani near Prilep. Two hundred gold staters or distaters from the time of Philip the Second and Alexander the Third were carried away. Three of them are today in the permanent exhibition of the National Museum in Sofia, and there is no information on the locations of the others.

In the 1960s, another large collection, consisting of around two thousand Paionian coins, was carried away from Macedonia's territory, and there is information about it in some foreign publications, i.e. auction catalogues. It was sold at Sotheby's on April the 16th 1968 and at Parke-Bernett's on December the 9th 1969. It is certainly known today that 13 items of this collection are from the time of the Paionian king Lycaeios (and the Museum of Macedonia has not even one such item, although it does have a single copy that it keeps as a souvenir). In the collection there were 1,700-1,800 tetradrachmae of Patraios, 68 gold staters and distaters, 23 of which Philip's, 37 Alexander's and 8 Philip's, as well as 108 silver tetradrachmae of Philip. All of them went abroad, and the Museum of Macedonia has only a few tetradrachmae, purchased as accidental discoveries, and it has not even one distater. Yet the museum in Sofia has a collection of 208 samples of tetradrachmae of Alexander, Philip, Demetrius, Poliocritus, Lysimachus and Audoleon, although it's incomplete, since some of the pieces are in private collections in Belgrade and Zagreb, and probably other places as well. In the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb there is a part of a collection of a hundred bronze items, discovered in 1932 in Dojran [Macedonia]. Dr. Petrova states that the most significant numismatic material from the South of Macedonia is today in Zagreb and Belgrade, because in the past we were in the same country and the police didn't intervene. Many items have also been carried away during the last two decades of the 20th century, since Macedonia didn't have appropriate purchasing politics.

A wealth of Macedonian coins (particularly from the time of Macedonian kings) is today being kept in Greece. Some of those especially valuable items were discovered before 1900. Although they come from the Republic of Macedonia's territory, Greece today presents them as its own, or denies their existence.

To be continued...

Nove Cvetanoski

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