Critics and Reviews


Amra Šačić Beća
Darko Periša


Tomislav BILIĆ, Coins of the Roman Republic in the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb, Musei Archaeologici Zagrabiensis Catalogi et Monographiae XIII, Zagreb 2015, 540 pages.

The collection of Roman Republican coins curated in the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb have been published in this new, extensive and lavishly outfitted book on numismatic by Tomislav Bilić, whose position is curator of the numismatic collection in the same museum.
The largest part of the book is used to publish coins catalogue parallel with its photo images (pp. 25-532) on the opposite page. Due to the variety of the Republican coins in the museum collection, the catalogue provides more excitement than previously published informatologicaly formed catalogue on the coin hoard from Bukova near Virovitica of 15th and 16th century. Both books were published separately within the same museum serial regardless their methodological similarity. The shorter introduction of the book (pp. 7-15) is the only section where we can see scientific ambitions of the author. Even though, the images of three diagrams, three photos and one map have significantly decreased the text. The bibliography (pp. 16-17) is following, the tabular list of the single finds and hoard content (pp. 18-22) presented in the form of table, as well as the catalogue usage instruction (p. 23).
The author tries to describe process of acquiring Republican coins through the review of the history of the numismatic collection of the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb presented in the introduction. Explicitly stating there have been data about donations of ancient coins, including Republican, years before the National Museum had been founded. Interestingly enough the author marks out its foundation in 1836/1846. Obviously, he is not competent enough to define the institution of the museum within one decade, although the author writes about this museum and works there. Furthermore, he states that donations for the future National Museum in Zagreb, have been stored in Royal Law Academy in Zagreb (since 1828), National library (since 1838) and Croatian-Slavonian Economic Society (since 1841). The oldest known numismatic donation came from Baltazar Adam Krčelić from 1778, the author claims quoting Ivan Mirnik. Nevertheless, the author himself hadn’t reported whether there were any Republican coins in that specific donation. Particularly strange, moreover unclear thing here is the donation which had been directed to the National Museum in Zagreb, which however was founded almost 70 years later. The only logical explanation is that the author obviously follows the idea noted at Mirnik’s work, which is the tendency to make National Museum, i.e., Archaeological Museum in Zagreb older than it really is. He appoints its foundation long before its official establishing in 1846.1 Motivation could only be the fact that there have been already established Archaeological Museum in Split in 1820 and the National Museum in Zadar in 1832, then again, Zagreb being seriously behind them. And for the capital of Croatia, such a thing is not commendable.
The chronology of acquiring Republican coins to the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb and individuals who published it, was delivered by the author, as well as the illustrations of the museum documentation. He openly brings to light that all samples of Republican coins have been gathered into the museum up until 1938. Furthermore, it shows, the museum’s priority hadn’t evidently been to direct funds to purchase Republican coins, as well as there hadn’t been no will nor interest any longer from the side of random finders or collectors to hand some specimen down to the museum. Furthermore, it also illustrates the eagerness and devotion of generations of curators from this numismatic department who, obviously, haven’t been capable to acquire not a single specimen not even low-cost one. According to the author’s opinion the importance of published collection has been displayed through at least two categories: exceptional importance to researching Republican coins circulation at the area of south Pannonia in particular, and also the importance for numismatic-wise study of Republican coins, emphasizing that both categories have been sublimed into golden coin (aureus) of Quintus Cornuficius from Sisak (which have been unique specimen for long period of time). Coloured photographs of this aureus have been published enlarged.
Therefore, it’s shameful to a great degree that the author avoided to say, yet it was his obligation, to emphasize the fact that not only the most attractive coin in the collection had been saved by Viktor Hoffiller, director of the Archaeological Department of the National Museum in Zagreb at that time, but also had been purchased with his own money plus his wife’s Mihaela savings because giving of the fact the museum was lacking in funds at that time. What’s more, it was exactly Hoffiller’s merit to issue the first scientific article of that golden coin,2 which also “surprisingly” the author fails to bring to notice. Evidently, the article of Zdenka Dukat and I. Mirnik where the same coin had been published, was more significant to the author. The title of the article had been submitted to, obviously “well-intentioned and intelligent” intervention of typesetter in the printing office and, as a result, name Kornuficie (Cornuficius) had been altered into Konfucie (Confucius).3 Therefore, the author decided to assort this anecdote into the history of research of this collection. It seems to me, this book by Bilić could easily be incorporated into similar anecdotes. Even though there’s barely anything to read literary-wise Idi Vidi (cro. idi vidi! – eng. go see!) had been engaged for proofreading (it is translation agency not a person). Bilić in his introduction published drawing of renaissance medal as curiosity (fig. 2) that has been modelled after Republican coin having inscription of the famous Caesar’s sentence Veni, vidi, vici.
The largest number of Republican coins curated in the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb originate from several hoards. Some of them had been analysed and published (Mazin near Gračac and Lički Ribnik near Gospić) long time ago. Therefore, they need re-evaluation and republishing, for the most part due to latest cognitions regarding dating newest types and sets of Republican coins. That has already been done for some hoards, namely Cesarica near Karlobag,4 so that the author brings nothing new for this hoard. On the other hand, single finds from specific sites have never been published as unity. The most important contribution of the author, in this context, is publication of 81 single sample of Republican coins from Sisak, (pre-roman Segestika, roman Siscia). The author has determined all samples according to the anthological opus Roman Republic Coinage by Michael H. Crawford.
The evidence that Bilić in his book arguably uses museology and informatically formed organization rather than scholarly numismatic or archaeological criteria is detected in the fact that coin’s samples have been published by actual age instead by content of hoards or sites of single finds. However, the author himself tabulated according to the sites as a substitute. Also, the hoards containing, both Republican and early Roman Imperial coins, have artificially been divided in this book.
More than ten hoards have been discovered in the basin of the rivers Zrmanja, Una and Unac so far. They contained massive cast bronze coins – Carthaginian, Numidian, Ptolomaic Egyptian, Hispanic, and Italic i.e., Roman (aes signatum and aes grave). Occasionally they were found in abundance together with pieces of raw bronze (aes rude) as well as broken bronze items. The hoards had been dug into the ground in the end of 2nd and the beginning of 1st century BC and mainly originate from outskirts of southeast Iapodic area. They don’t appear in other regions. The first hoard of this kind had been found in Mazin, consequently all other hoards were named after that one.
In his short scholarly step forward in this book, the author brings up the following on the Mazin type hoards: “The relatively large number of individual finds of coins which usually appear in hoards of the Mazin type, more so in north Dalmatia and the coastal region at the foot of the Velebit mountain than in Iapodic territories, suggests that this coinage circulated over a relatively large territory, possibly marking the very beginnings of monetary circulation in the mountainous areas of north Dalmatia (the Roman province, that is). The context of the penetration of this type of coinage into the interior is in fact quite unexplainable and has to this day not been interpreted in a satisfactory and credible manner. It is somewhat perplexing why bronze coinage, mostly from Rome and northern Africa, produced from the 5th century BC onward, came to this relatively restricted geographical area and why it was kept in its original form such a long time, considering the fact that hoards of the Mazin type can roughly be dated to the timeframe between the end of the 2nd century and 75 BC. It is almost impossible to determine whether it arrived to this area through Dyrrachium (less likely) or through Liburnian ports (more likely); did it arrive into this area through trade (amber?) or as a result of Roman military campaigns, perhaps together with Roman traders and/or soldiers; and whether hoards were concealed due to the insecurities created by the Roman military threat or for some other less dramatic reasons, often unrecorded in historical sources. According to one theory, coins from Carthage and Numidia arrived to the Iapodic and Liburnian areas via an over-sea trade. Peoples from the western Balkans traded bronze coinage for timber, the raw material for building Mediterranean ships, (supposing it was the other way around? – remark by D. P.) either because of its worth as raw materials or by preserving its monetary function. Based on more recent data, it could be claimed that the Velebit area really did export high-quality construction timber precisely for shipbuilding, but the theory is not easy to prove and needs to be supported with firmer evidence.
Literary sources which could help clarify the situation are scarce: according to Livy, Iapodic envoys received 2000 asses from the Romans in 170 BC (Liv. XLIII. 5.3, 8), and this is the only precise information on any kind of influx of Roman bronze coinage into this region. At this point, it is not possible to determine with any certainty the kind of role the coinage found un hoards of the Mazin type played in the Roman-Iapodic political and economic relations during the 2nd and 1st centuries BC (possibly also in the 3rd century BC), but M. Bonačić-Mandinić’s hypothesis about a gradual transformation from collecting bronze as a raw material to using bronze coinage in trading transactions seems plausible, at least when discussing the interior, while such a process was probably not necessary along the coast.” (p. 15).
While publicizing Mazin hoard Josip Brunšmid came to conclusion that foreign merchants from Africa – Carthaginians at first place, who have been well-known merchants and seamen, same as their ancestors Phoenicians – have kept upcoming to Eastern Adriatic shores to trade, mainly to purchase amber. It has been arriving along the land road from Baltic Sea. Whatsoever, despite everything, J. Brunšmid knowledgeably assumed that, in Iapodic territories, the value of money had been determined based on its weight. Therefore, the worth of the coinage equalled to copper raw material. This conclusion Brunšmid confirmed with partially melted coin specimens.5
Brunšmid’s conclusion hadn’t been accepted by Carl Patsch who, however, considered that massive casted bronze coins, from large hoards in Iapodic territory, hadn’t been used as mean of payment but only as raw material for casting purposes.6
Once I. Mirnik had analysed the content of the Mazin type hoards and had made the list of single finds of African and Italic coins in the Western Balkans, he came upon the conclusion those coins have been spread over significantly wider territory than the area where these hoards had been found. In addition, he assumed the coins from those hoards represented metal raw material, thus it could have easily been transformed into some other item. At the same time, Mirnik considered they presented the very beginning of monetary flow at wider area. He was motivated to conclude it was about circulated coinage, by the significant number of single finds of African and Italic coins. Even though the way and time of coins arrival to Iapod territory remained secret, Brunšmid’s idea to relate those coinage to amber trade, seemed understandable to Mirnik since amber items in Iapod graves exist in abundance.7
Petar Popović became engaged in the hoards of the Mazin type at the same time as Mirnik, whereas he tended to follow Patsch’s thesis in that aspect. Popović presumed the presence of African and Italic coins already more than a century old, existing at relatively limited area and period cannot prove Iapod utilised those coins as mean of payment. It is hardly plausible for Iapods, even if they had a need to use coins, to take over coins originated from distant North Africa or Italy furthermore having in mind it hadn’t been into circulation for longer period. Even less plausible permission is that some strong trade relations had existed between North Africa and Iapodic territory. Since Numidian coinage existed in all hoards it is more likely to presume that both Carthaginian and Egyptian coins came from the same place i.e., it has already been in Numidia and arrived to Iapodic territory from there. Roman soldiers and merchants have been intermediaries since Numida had been crowded with Italic merchants and dealers at the second half of 2nd century B.C. They had been selling to Iapods, as raw material, African coins together with Italic coins that had been out of circulation, and crude pieces of bronze and copper. Then Iapods have been producing bronze jewellery.8 Despite the fact Bilić, in his book, has quoted notably significant Popovic’s work, the section where Popović plausibly explain the hoards of the Mazin type Bilić obviously hasn’t even read. If he had read it in that case, it would have been necessary to explain why he does or doesn’t acknowledge his opinion. In that case he would have known that Maja Bonačić-Mandinić thesis hadn’t only been “plausible” but also it neither hadn’t been scientifically original. (By the way, not so long ago, Tomislav Bilić has naively included the hoard from Lički Ribnik in the Mazin type hoards9, nonetheless he is mentor of Anja Bertol Stipetić’s doctoral dissertation entitled The Mazin type hoards.)
The Iapodic envoys received 2000 asses from the Romans in 170 B.C., which is the news from Livy’s account which, consequently, goes in favour to Popović’s thesis whatsoever, interesting curiosity here is that the amount received was coper not silver coins. If this is Roman present (as a matter of fact it was compensation for self-willed Gaius Cassius Longinus campaign against them) had been significant amount for Iapods’s opinion, then the owners of those hoards containing heavy casted coins would have surely been wealthy people (given the fact those coins had been used as a mean of payment rather than raw material). Livy’s account indeed goes in favour of the conclusion the huge arrival of casted coins to Iapodic area had just appeared in second half of 2nd century BC. Romans had already destroyed Carthage and soon enough conquered Numidia, therefore coins of those two states had no worth as mean of payment.
Giving no explanation the author attributes five republican denarii to Roman coin hoard from Tribić near Livno. Those five specimens had been registered into inventory catalogue of Numismatic collection of the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb together as one ensemble noting they had been a gift from 1937 (curiously enough the name of person who gifted those denarii hadn’t been noted which is unprecedented) and that they originate from surroundings of Livno. For this reason, only it was the author’s obligation to note exact record and only than his conclusion i.e., the specimen belongs to the Tribić hoard. That, anyhow, is not plausible speculation. Furthermore, the Tribić hoard was found in 1930 containing 112 samples of Roman coins, of which largest part belonged to Republican denarii while only fewer portions were Augustinian coins. Eight denarii as well eight specimens of bronze and copper coins (sestertii, dupondii, asses). Immediately after the hoard had been found two specimens were lost, while the complete hoard had been purchased by Aleksandar Poljanić, director of the National bank in Sarajevo who had been extremely passionate numismatic collector. It was him, on the other hand, who permitted Dimitrije Sergejevski expertly analyse this hoard while Sergejevski published thorough paper on it in the same year.10 The Tribić hoard destiny had been unknown to professional community after World War II. It was certainly arbitrarily conclusion of I. Mirnik that the hoard had been scattered around, as a result five samples from it arrived in the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb.11 Obviously Bilić has adopted that conclusion. However, A. Poljanić was sentenced to prison during communist Yugoslavia and consequently, largest part of his property and assets had been deprived, including his numismatic collection. The large number of Roman silver coins had been listed inside the collections. Numismatic collection, all packed up had been allocated to the Land (National) Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo,12 but however, had never been registered to inventory catalogues of classical antique and medieval coins pertaining the collection hasn’t even been unpacked. For all those reasons one should keep hoping the Tribić hoard is awaiting to be scholarly reanalyse following modern numismatic catalogues. However, if Mirnik and Bilić had taken into consideration, the fact that the complete hoard from Tribić had been purchased by Poljanić except for two samples, if only they double checked that five samples which have been curated in the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb are not existing in the coins catalogue in Sergejevski’s article, it is possibility they would have understood those five samples have not been part of that hoard. Eventually, they would understand the samples which we’re talking about are part of another coin hoard of Republican and Augustian denarii from Livno field – the one from Bastasi founded by chance in 1930 as well. Smaller portion of that hoard had also been published by Sergejevski.13 In my separate article I have reconstructed the content of the hoard from Bastasi, where I have explained that the largest portion of that hoard was purchased by Franciscan Fr. Lujo Marun, as a matter of fact it was him who donated five denarii to the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb.14
Even though there are no reliable information, the author as interpreting I. Mirnik and interprets five Republican denarii as part of the hoard which have been found in Kukuruzovića Pećina (cro. pećina – eng. cave) near Gornji Vaganac in Ličko Petrovo Selo area (cro. selo – eng. village). In addition, the author overlooked the fact that Mirnik have already published precise description of the same coins in another paper, while he has dated hiding of the hoard in the second half of 1st century B. C.15 However, early Imperial coins – as of Claudius and denarius of Antoninus Pius – have also been founded in this cave, while unlike Mirnik, Bilić includes those samples as being part of this highly questionable hoard and offers late dating for hiding!? Three Republican denarii bear traces of high temperature activities, suggesting to secondar metallurgy, or else melting of metals items at the very site.
In the end his catalogue, the author shares almost discretely the information (p.p. 539-541) that the largest number of Republican coins are not in the numismatic collection of the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb anymore. It refers to the coin hoards from Mazin, Lički Ribnik and Salona. It is far from clear when and which circumstances made those samples disappear from the Museum, also it remains unnoticed have there been any kind of investigation. Being curator of that collection clearly make him responsible, at least to try to explain to the community. It goes without saying someone needs to take responsibility at least with its honour. Having ten samples from the Mazin hoard disappeared present an extreme inconvenience for the Museum particularly having in mind J. Brunšmid endeavours to have this hoard content integral.16 During World War I Austro-Hungarian Monarchy formed Commission for Finding and Excluding Archival and Museum Materials after they had occupied Serbia. Brunšmid sent official letter to Croatian ban (governor) Ivan Skerlecz, where he stated that, almost certainly, several samples of Old Italic coins from the Mazin hoard got to the National Museum in Belgrade. Furthermore, he demanded in his letter, they should be returned to the Archaeological department of the National Museum in Zagreb.17 Those samples are still being curated in the National Museum in Belgrade.18 Unalike Brunšmid who obviously had no scruple to even use a warfare time to make the hoard complete his successors in the Numismatic collection of the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb succeeded to lose already acquired segment of the same hoard.
62 Republican denarii are missing from the Lički Ribnik hoard while early Imperial or Augustus denarii haven’t been published by Bilić in his book, it is utterly unknown to us whether they’re still numbered in the Numismatic collection eider. Even though the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb got larger portion of that hoard right after the chance find, Josip Klemenc made an effort to acquire or, at least, to make the list of samples who ended up in the private collections. After he made the hoard complete (besides coins it contained Iapodic silver and amber jewellery) he published an exceptional and exemplary scientific article.19 The fact that numerous Republican coins’ samples have disappeared from that hoard clearly shows incompetence of someone among Hoffiller’s and Klemenc’s successors in the Archaeological Musum in Zagreb to curate the collection. However numismatic finds get lost easily from the museum collections, but it is the trickiest thing to bring them back into the same collections.
There are namely two European leading numismatists authorities linked to the reviewed book - directly Peter Kos as the recension writer prior to book publication and indirectly M. Crawford whose book has been maximally exploited by Bilić to make his own book. Whereas P. Kos has been able to see the character of Bilić’s book prior to publication but apparently agreed to be recension writer for some reason, Crawford could have seen it only after its publishing. The latter knows the best whether it flatters to him, the fact that, someone based on his book, completely made his own.
From the professional point of view, Bilić’s book can be a useful work for experts who want to have an insight into the (impoverished) collection of Republican coins in the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb and serve as a good catalogue for beginners and lovers of numismatics who can’t easily get to Crawford’s work.
Darko Periša


How to Cite
Šačić Beća, A., & Periša, D. (2022). Critics and Reviews. Godišnjak Centra Za balkanološka Ispitivanja, (50), 229–236.