Treasures Beneath the Dubrovnik Cathedral

Ivan Mirnik, Numizmatički nalazi ispod dubrovačkog episkopalnog kompleksa građevina. Numismatic finds underneath the Dubrovnik Episcopal Centre. Published by: Društvo prijatelja dubrovačke starine (Friends of the Dubrovnik Antiquities), Dubrovnik, 2020. 215 pp. ISBN 978-953-59502-3-3.
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Update: The book-launch of the monograph dedicated to the numismatic finds from the excavations underneath the actual Baroque Dubrovnik Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, popularly known as Our Great Lady’s Cathedral, announced for Monday March 16, 2020, has been postponed because of the general health situation in the world.


This is the second numismatic book, published by the Friends of the Dubrovnik Antiquities (Društvo prijatelja dubrovačke starine) within half a year – the first one dealt with the coins discovered during the excavations of the Falcon Castle (Sokolgrad), situated near the Dubrovnik airport: Ivan Mirnik and Niko Kapetanić, Nalazi starog novca sa Sokolgrada. Finds of Old Coins from Sokolgrad, Dubrovnik, 2019. Both books were designed by Ljubo Gamulin – he is also the author of most of the photographs.

Archaeological excavations underneath the Dubrovnik Cathedral, which took place in the eighties of the 20th c., resulted not only in the discovery of the remnants of two previous impressive cathedrals – the Byzantine and the Romanesque cathedrals – the latter was destroyed by the disastrous earthquake that hit Dubrovnik on April 6, 1667 – but also in a large quantity of architectural fragments, astonishing parts of sculpture, fragments of stained glass windows and a rich quantity of small finds, which include the numismatic ones. Numismatic finds are only modest accompanying material of these magnificent older cathedrals, baptistry and numerous tombs and graves: most of the 783 (-2) small finds (a hundred-odd more coins and medals plus crosses have been subsequently extracted from the excavated material deposited on the Cathedral attic have not been published yet) were coins or similar objects (crosses, patron saint medals, plaques, lead seals etc.).

Our colleague Josip Stošić (*1935 +2009), the director of these important excavations in Dubrovnik, to whose memory this book is dedicated, invited the Zagreb Archaeological Museum, i.e. its Numismatic Department, to collaborate in the identification of the entire numismatic material as early as 1984. This interesting numismatic material was gradually being studied for several years, in spite of its very bad state of preservation.

The total amount of coins found under the Dubrovnik Cathedral can be subdivided into the following categories: Greek coins – 2.30% ; Roman coins – 11.78%; Byzantine coins – 26.89%; Mediaeval coins – 8.32%; Coins of Dubrovnik – 35.85%; Modern coins – 12.55%; not identified coins – 2.31%. Along with these coins, 64 Roman Catholic patron saint or pilgrimage medals and small crosses, all from various graves or tombs, as well as a lump of 52 coins, have also been found under the Cathedral. Most of the specimens are copper or bronze, rarely silver coins. No gold coins have been found, as expected. All this material was lost and out of circulation, as proved by the worn state of preservation, whereas coins found in graves must have been overlooked in clothes, or even carried down by torrents from higher positions of the former island of Raousa, already inhabited in the Prehistory.

Among the Greek bronze coins there were for instance two issued by the Illyrian ruler Ballaios (260-230? B.C.), two by the Macedonian King Philip V (220-178 B.C.); three coins that were struck at Dyrrhachium and one in Epirus. Of particular interest are Roman provincial coins struck by the emperors during the first half of the 3rd c. A. D. Most numerous among these are the large and solid bronze coins of Viminacium, issued from Gordianus II to Trebonianus Gallus as well as a Nicaean specimen of Severus Alexander. Roman imperial coins were, as expected, the most numerous category of numismatic finds. They begin with Tiberius, continue with Vespasian (struck under his son Titus), Trajan, the Antonine dynasty, Julia Mamaea, Gordianus III, several 3rd c. emperors and those of the First Tetrarchy. As expected, the most numerous are the bronze coins of Constantine I and his dynasty. Late Roman coins end with Theodosius I and the Byzantine ones start only with coins issued under Justinian I, leaving us with a wide gap of approximately 150 years without any recognizable coin supply. Unitentifiable Roman coins can be roughly dated from the 1st to 4th c. A. D. Byzantine coins, unearthed during the archaeological research, 26.89 % of all coins, are very interesting and range from the reign of Emperor Justinian I (527-565) to Andronicus II (1282-1328). There are anonymous folles of the 10th-11th c. with 54 specimens, Alexius I (1081-1118) with 72 specimens (33,64%), Manuel I (1143-1180) with 14 pieces (6,54%), Andronicus I (1183-1185) with two coins (0.93%) etc. Most frequent are the folles of the 10th and 11th c., all entirely worn and corroded, as well as discarded tetartera of the Comnen dynasty, most usually those struck in Thessalonica under Alexius I (1081-1118). All these represented small change in everyday circulation.

The mint of Dubrovnik is well represented by bronze coins, such as follars or mince, as well as other denominations, totalling 35.85 %. Local mints from the same area were also represented, for example Bar/Antivari (two coins) and Kotor/Cattaro (two coins).

The cross pendants described here are evidence to the highly developed taste of the Dubrovnik noblemen and their wives from past centuries. On the basis of both the crosses and patron saint medals we can tell which Italian shrines were the destinations of their pilgrimage and whence would they bring home beautiful devotional objects for themselves and their families.

Last year saw the release of a catalogue of the Coins from the republic of Ragusa – and Ragusa is the old name of Dubrovnik. Find our review for it here.