Money in Montenegro through History

The oldest money found in Montenegro dates back to the period of Greek colonisation of the Adriatic region. It was a stater coin, dating from the 4th century BCE, showing the image of the god Zeus. 

Illyrian coins are the most common money pertaining to the classical antiquity period. The 3rd century BCE marked the ascent of the Illyrian state, with the ancient city of Risan later emerging as its centre. The first coins found in this city showed the inscription “RIZO…O…TAN”. Sir Arthur John Evans, who unearthed these coins, believed that they dated back to the period when the city functioned as a republic. The other type of coins belonged to those minted under the Illyrian King Ballaios. The obverse showed the king’s image and reverse depicted the goddess Arthemis. The inscription “BASILEVS” indicated the ruler’s royal title and the ascent of the Illyrian state. The third type of coins bore the inscription “MYN”, the image of the goddess Arthemis was again shown on the reverse, while the obverse depicted images of Roman iconography. Evans thought that the third described type of coins belonged to King Ballaios’s successors.

Later, in their military expansion, Romans spread across the Balkan Peninsula, not only occupying land, but also assimilating the cultures they encountered. The process of Romanisation included the introduction of their monetary system. Numerous mints were put into operation, as a guarantee that Rome would also be economically fortified in this area. The most important Roman coin was the denarius, containing ten parts - assēs. In the 4th century, in an effort to save the Roman State and in order to facilitate the governance over the vast territory, a new centre was established in the east, later to be known as Constantinople. The border of the two parts of the Roman Empire created in this manner, among others, ran through the territory of present-day Montenegro. Shielded from the Barbarian Invasions, the eastern part of the Roman Empire – Byzantium continued its existence for a thousand years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476). Money existed in the form of a gold coin, a solidus, as well as a copper coin called follis. The minting of solidus commenced in the 4th century under the rule of Emperor Constantine, and its purity in gold was unchanged for the subsequent six centuries. The obverse showed the image of the Emperor, the Emperor and the Empress or of the Emperor and the successor to the throne, while the reverse usually showed the image of Jesus Christ. 

As of the 4th century, Slavic peoples started settling in the Balkan Peninsula and creating their own states. Those states were under the influence of Byzantium and its monetary system. This continued during the existence of Duklja, the first Montenegrin state, which was proclaimed a kingdom under the rule of Mihailo Vojislavljević in the 11th century. The rise of the Kingdom of Duklja ended at the end of the 12th century when it came under the rule of Serbia. Serbia was at its peak under the Nemanjić dynasty (12th – 14th century), and during the reign of the dynasty’s Stefan Uroš it started minting silver coins. In that period, on the territory of present-day Montenegro, there was an operating mine in Brskovo (near today’s Mojkovac), where, Germanic Saxon miners mined the silver for Serbian kings. The silver was used to mint the Brskovo grosso. The first mentions of Brskovo trace back to 1254, and its Latin name was Brescoa. This city was also the site of the court of the Serbian king. The rich mine attracted foreign traders from Kotor and Dubrovnik. The obverse of the coins minted in Brskovo showed the image of a ruler accepting a flag from Saint Stephen as a symbol of power, while the reverse often depicted Jesus Christ with an inscription in Greek. The master craftsmen who made the coins were Venetian, and they modelled the coins on the Venetian currency. 

After the death of Emperor Dušan (1355), a local feudal family called Balšić rose to power in the south of the already weakened Serbian Empire, on the territory of the former Kingdom of Duklja. The Balšić family founded their own state called Zeta, which remained under their reign for over six decades. They ruled Skadar, Donja Zeta, Konavle, Dračevica, Prizren, and, at one point also Valona, Berat, and Drač. At first, the money minted by the Balšići was impressed with the Nemanjić dynasty coat of arms, while later it indicated the full independence of the rulers of Zeta by showing the Balšić family coat of arms with an image of a wolf on a shield. In the museum we show examples of Balšić money presented by Šime Ljubić in his book “Description of Yugoslav Money”. He described two types of money minted under Đurađ II Stracimirović (1385 -1403) and one type minted under Balša III (1403 – 1421). The money minted during the rule of Đurađ showed a saint in a standing position, with a censer in one hand and a Gospel in the other, on one side, while the other side depicted the bust of a wolf, a shield and a helmet. Both types of Đurađ II coins showed the coat of arms depicting a wolf and an inscription on the other side. The inscription is given in Cyrillic or Latin letters, depending on the type of coin. Some authors point out that the coins bearing the Cyrillic inscription pertain to the period of Đurađ I Balšić (1362-1378). In the aforementioned book, the author claims that Balša III minted only one type of money, modelled on the pattern of his predecessor Đurađ II. It is of great importance to note that the first mention of the Balšić money dating from 1393 is found in the archives of Dubrovnik. They include information about the division of the property of a Mr Lampra Crijević, in addition to Ragusa (Dubrovnik) grosso coins, it mentions Kotor grossi, as well as Balša grossi. The reign of Đurađ II Stracimirović Balšić was distinctive for the trade with and benefits given to Venetian and Dubrovnik traders. As confirmed by the above, the development of business and trade, especially in coastal towns, imposed the need to mint money. The location of all the Balšić family mints is hard to determine with certainty. It is known that a mint in Skadar made Balšić money in addition to Venetian coinage. Ulcinj and Bar are also mentioned as possible locations for the minting of this money.

On the other hand, in the 5th century, a community was on the rise in the Apennine Peninsula; one that will later turn into the most important military and maritime power of Europe. It was the Republic of San Marco or the Venetian Republic. In the 15th century, it occupied cities on today’s Montenegrin coastline - Bar, Ulcinj, Budva, and Kotor. The most significant coins minted by the Venetian Republic were made in Kotor. Those were the follaro coins bearing the images of saints, the patrons of Kotor and Venice, and later the initials of the Governor of Kotor on the obverse side. 

Kotor, a city that had its own mint as early as in the 11th century was initially put under the protection of the Byzantine emperors. The follaro coins were copper, depicting Saint Tryphon, the city’s patron, on the reverse and the inscription “Civitas Catari” on the other side. After falling under the rule of the Nemanjić dynasty in the 12th century, the city started minting copper and silver coinage. Coins showed the image of city’s patron saint on one side and the image of current Serbian ruler on the other. In the 14th century, the Hungarian king Ljudevit took over the city and the coins were minted with his image. Later, Kotor fell under the rule of Tvrtko I of the House of Kotromanić, the ruler of Bosnia, who continued the city’s minting tradition. A more permanent control over the city was established by the Venetians, who ruled the city from 1420 to 1797, until the fall of the Republic of San Marco. Between 1420 and 1640, only copper coins were minted, and after that period, silver coins were minted as well. One side depicted Saint Tryphon, while the other contained the image of the lion of Venice and the inscriptions “S. Marcus” and “Civitas Catari”. In addition, small grosso pieces – grossetti with the image of the patron saint on the obverse and letters S-T on the side were produced. The reverse showed the lion of Venice and, beneath it, the coat of arms and the initials of the “Rettore – Provveditore” who governed Kotor and the inscription “S. Marcus Venetus”. In 1813, a mintage significant for Montenegro occurred when the Montenegrin army was besieging the French in Kotor, hoping to unite their territory with the Bay of Boka. During the siege, the French used the mint in Kotor to mint franc coins with the image of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Emperor of France. 

Under the reign of the Serbian kings a mint operated in Bar, and it minted two types of bronze coins. One type had the image of Saint George, Patron Saint of Bar on one side, while the other depicted Saint Michael. Both saints were shown to be slaying the dragon with the inscription “d’Antibar”. The other type of coin had the image of Saint George wearing armour and slaying the dragon and the inscription “Antibar”. During their rule of Bar, the Venetians also minted coins in the city.

During the rule of the Serbian Nemanjići, a mint that made bronze coins was located in Ulcinj. Coins had the image of the Mother Mary with the infant Jesus on one side and the inscriptions “Agnus dei” and “moneta de Dulcino” on the other. During the reign of King Uroš Nemanjić (1243-1276), the money minted in Ulcinj bore the king’s image.

Another mint was located in Svač, today a city that is in ruins that can only hint at its rich past. Bronze coins were made there. The coins showed John the Baptist on one side and the two-floor tower with curtain walls on the other. 

After the Balšić dynasty, the feudal family Crnojević took control over the Montenegrin state. There is no data suggesting that money was minted during their reign, and, at the end of the 15th century, the state came under Turkish rule. Đurađ Crnojević, the last ruler, died in Turkey. Their lands, from that period more often referred to as Montenegro, were a community consisting of tribes in conflict and therefore susceptible to Turkish influence. As of that point, the monetary system included akche (akçe) or asper in circulation, and soon after, along with Venetian sequins, there were thalers and roubles from Austria and Russia, respectively. We shall mention instances of the use of these currencies. Falling under Turkish rule, Montenegro was a part of the Sanjak of Skadar until 1514. During the rule of Sanjak-beg Crnojević, Montenegrins paid taxes in the amount of one ducat per house or 55 aspers. There are mentions of asper in defters and in some Montenegrin documents in the 16th and 17th centuries. At that time, the Turks were trying to replace corporal punishment with fines and, therefore resolved disputes by means of payments executed in this currency.

In the 16th century, two types of money were mainly in use – gold coins including sequin, madžaria, and sultania, as well as small pieces of silver aspers. However, silver mining in numerous mines in America became a cheap source of silver for Europe, resulting in the gradual replacement of gold with silver coinage. Thanks to this silver, after 1630, the Spanish real, and the Austrian and Italian thaler were common in the Balkan Peninsula. In this region, the popular name for these coins was grossi. The Venetian sequins were the money most commonly found in possession of Montenegrins. They received certain amounts of this currency for their service to the Venetian Republic. Venetian currency was exchanged at a higher rate in Montenegro than in Venice, generating profits for the latter.

In addition to the introduction of gold coins called madžaria at the end of the 16th century, the sequin was the most valued currency in Montenegro as well as in other Balkan countries. This currency remained the main means of Montenegro’s monetary trade with the coastal region, indicating that our country was fully incorporated into the monetary system established in this region. 

The Metropolitanate of Cetinje also used silver coins, and the bequest of Bishop Visarion Borilović contained reals, sequins, ducats and liras. The Venetian silver ducat was called grosso, divided into 40 denarettigrossetti of 4 soldi each. Sequin was worth 6.5 or 7 grossi. The end of the 18th century, specifically 1797, brought about major political shifts, culminating with the French conquest of the Venetian Republic. The Austrian currency the florin soon suppressed the Venetian sequin, and was valued and used for a long time. 

From the late 17th century, Montenegro finally became a free country, one that would soon build its own state institutions. The independent Montenegrin state would be led by rulers from the Petrović-Njegoš dynasty, whose reign would last until 1918.

The first attempts to mint Montenegro’s own currency date back to the reign of Petar II Petrović Njegoš. During one of his visits to Italy, in the company of the travel writer Mr Ljubomir Nenadović, Njegoš visited the banker Carl Rothschild in Naples. The banker was enchanted with the beauty and history of Montenegro presented by the Bishop in their conversation. Rothschild suggested that Montenegro should start minting its own money. The idea was to put the Cyrillic inscription “ZLATNI PERUN” on the obverse, naming the currency after the Slavic god Perun. The obverse would also show the value of the coin, which was two thalers. The reverse was to be inscribed with the wording “Crna Gora 1851”, the year when minting was supposed to start. The inscription was encircled by an “ouroboros”, a mythological representation of a snake symbolising eternity. Petar II Petrović Njegoš died in 1851, failing to achieve the idea of minting the first Montenegrin money. However, an imprint of the printing plate was preserved in wax, and used to mint jubilee coins commemorating 150 years of printing of his poem “The Mountain Wreath”. Under the reign of Petar II Petrović Njegoš, guldens, florins, sequins and thalers were in general circulation. 

Montenegro gained its long-awaited official international recognition at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, and the country’s commitment to internal affairs, including that of the economy, ensued. 

Montenegro did not have its own currency until 1906. Austrian thalers and florins prevailed in the market in the second half of the 19th century. The Florin remained the means of payment in the principality until May 1901 when the Austrian krone was introduced. This had an adverse effect on Montenegro’s economy, therefore, the Government sought to mint its own money and thus gain monetary independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. On that occasion, they contacted Vienna with their intention to mint gold, silver and copper coinage that would be pegged to the Austrian currency and therefore accepted throughout the Habsburg Monarchy. In 1895, Montenegro’s Minister of Finance, Mr Niko Matanović visited Vienna to further discuss the matter. He returned with good news of the acceptance of Montenegro’s proposition to mint its own money, which would be equal in value to the Austrian krone. However, the reality turned out to be different. The Austrian representative in Cetinje, Mr Kućinski, said that Matanović’s report was inaccurate and that Austria would not accept Montenegro’s money under any circumstances. A motion for readdressing the issue was put forward in July 1902 by Mr Jan Vaclik, former Montenegrin agent in Skadar, and thus the first Montenegrin money was minted in 1906. The Prince Nikola’s Decree of 11 April 1906 authorised the Ministry of Finance to mint the nickel and bronze coins in the amount of 200,000 perpers. The money was minted in Vienna and it was put in circulation on 28 August 1906. After two years, a new series of nickel and copper coinage were minted, however the amount was not enough to replace the Austrian coins in Montenegro, which led to a decision to mint silver coins. At that point, France was selected as the minting location, mainly due to the Austrian annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina occurring in the same year. A contract was signed with the company Bertrand&Berenger and pieces of 1 and 5 perpers were minted. These coins were in circulation by June 1909. The Montenegrin Government did not stop at this, but it decided to mint gold coins as well. The draft for the coin design was made by the artist, Mr Ilija Šobajić, while Vienna professor Stefan Schwartz produced the printing plate. In 1910, 300 pieces of 100 perpers, 30,000 pieces of 20 perpers, and 40,000 pieces of 10 perpers were minted in the Vienna mint. Satisfied with the coinage, the Government decided to repeat the minting of gold coins in celebration of the proclamation of the Kingdom of Montenegro. The difference contained in the draft was that the obverse showed the image of Nikola I crowned with a laurel wreath, and the coins included the inscription indicating that Montenegro was a kingdom. The obverse was engraved by Mr Stefan Schwartz, while Mr Rudolf Neuberger was the engraver of the reverse. These were the last gold coins minted for Montenegro. The minting of small and silver coins continued between 1912 and 1195. The most valuable among this coinage are the pieces of para minted in wartime 1915 bearing the imprint “ESSAI” meaning test specimen.

The long period of peace (1878 – 1912) was interrupted by Montenegro’s conflict with the Ottoman Empire. In alliance with other countries of Southern Europe, Montenegro sought to free the Christian countries from the influence of Turkish authorities. During the Balkan War, in 1912, a paper perper banknote was printed as a result of the need to finance the army. This was a loan from the people to the state. The first specimens of these banknotes were printed in the Unie printing house in Prague in denominations of 1, 2, 3, 10, 50, and 100 perpers. The denominations differed in size and colour and contained Cyrillic inscriptions with the coat of arms of Montenegro in the middle. The obverse and reverse were identical. In 1912, coins were minted as well, specifically in denominations of 1 and 5 perpers. The amount of coins which circulated in Montenegro in that period was insufficient, and in 1914, nickel and copper coins were minted in denominations of 1, 2, 10, and 20 paras, as well as silver coins of 1 and 5 perpers.

After a very brief period of peace, as a member of the Entante, Montenegro took part in World War I against the Central Powers, Austria-Hungary and Germany. Exhausted by the Balkan Wars and financially weakened, the Government once again resorted to printing banknotes. New banknotes were printed in the State Printing House in Cetinje, in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 perpers. Banknotes from 1912 re-dated with 1914 were used for denominations of 1 and 2 perpers. Thicker paper was used to print the banknotes and the dimensions were the same for all the notes. The continuation of the war lead to a new internal loan and the printing of yet another series of banknotes. This time, they were printed in Paris, in denominations from 1 to 100. In January 1916, Montenegro faced the capitulation of its army with banknotes in circulation and in a grave financial state. During the World War I occupation, Austria-Hungary made great efforts to diminish the value of the perper, particularly the paper banknotes. These activities were deemed to have been aimed at taking as many coins as possible, with the emphasis on gold coins, from the people. To determine the amount of the Montenegrin banknotes in the country, as well as to prevent the potential import of new ones, on 10 June 1916, the occupation authorities made a decision to stamp the perper banknotes. The location of the stamping was inscribed along the bottom line of the stamp. Both issues of 1914 banknotes were stamped. The stamping was performed in the following cities: Cetinje, Peć, Kolašin, Nikšić, Pljevlja, Podgorica and Stari Bar. The following year, 1917, the Austro-Hungarian authorities ordered the exchange of stamped perpers for new banknotes. These banknotes were known as Albanian perpers. The obverse of these notes had inscriptions in German, while the wording on the reverse was inscribed in Montenegrin and Albanian. The aim of the issue was to continue the extraction of money, in particular silver and gold, from Montenegrins by means of conversion. It is believed that a little over 4.5 million krone in gold was taken out of Montenegro.

World War I ended with the defeat of the Central Powers and the signing of a peace treaty in October 1918. Although Montenegro was a member of the winning alliance and had withstood occupation for two years, the country lost its independence. Despite all efforts made by King Nikola and the Government-in-exile, and against their will, Montenegro became a part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in December. Since the Austro-Hungarian krone was the most common currency on the territory of the new kingdom, it was accepted as a temporary currency. Paper krone would be used in trade, but only the notes bearing the stamp of the new state. The first denominations of dinar, the new currency of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, were issued by the Ministry of Finance in November 1919. Perpers were exchanged for dinars at the rate of 2 for 1 for any amount exceeding 5,000 perpers, and 1 for 1 for any lower amount. This resulted in the further poverty of the already destitute people of Montenegro. Montenegro’s copper coins of 1 and 2 paras were never officially recognised, while nickel coins of 10 and 20 paras were withdrawn in 1932.

The country changed its name to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in September 1929. However, this was an unstable state, and as such, the first creation of the South Slavs was dissolved in World War II, specifically in 1941. The Government fled to London, and the territory was divided between Germany and its allies. Montenegro was at first occupied by Italy, and in that period Yugoslav money with Italian stamps circulated in the country. The Italian lira was introduced later, and it was exchanged for dinars at the rate of 10 for 1. In the parts of Montenegro annexed by the Great Albania and populated by Albanian people, the Albanian money the lek or franga was used, while in the Bay of Boka, the kuna of the Independent State of Croatia was also in circulation. Money from German occupied Serbia was in use in the north of the country. One of these notes depicted Petar II Petrović Njegoš. The Allies invaded Sicily in 1943 and Italy capitulated soon after. Montenegro was then reoccupied by Germany, which meant that the German reichsmark was used in Montenegro until the end of the war. 

In 1943, the government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in exile printed its own money – the dinar bearing the image of the King Petar II Karađorđević, seeking the attention of the Allies and hoping that the monarchy would be restored after the war. However, the Allies supported the Partisan movement instead and the monarchy was never restored. 

After 1945, the communist Yugoslavia was created. The first legal tender in the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia was the dinar printed in Moscow in 1944. At this point, an important event in the monetary history of Montenegro took place. To wit, a shipment of the currency from Moscow was delayed, and the social dinar of the Republic of Montenegro within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was used in the country. The issue of this dinar was signed by Dr Niko Miljanić and Mr Savo Čelebić. The currency was withdrawn in 1945, when the money from Russia arrived in Yugoslavia. The new banknotes showed the image of Milovan Rodić, a wounded partisan painted by Đorđe Andrejević Kun on the isle of Vis. Latter issues of banknotes depicted socialist motifs of labour and progress, as well as the images of Arif Heralić and Alija Sirotanović, a smelter and miner from Bosnia, who were in this manner rewarded for their hard work. The first intellectual shown on the banknotes was Nikola Tesla. The banknotes issued in 1978 bear the image of Josip Broz Tito. These banknotes were never in circulation, which makes them very valuable. The 5,000 dinar banknote from 1985 also bears Tito’s image. 

The period after Tito’s death was characterised by rising inflation. Banknotes with a large number of zeroes were put in circulation, marking the beginning of a difficult financial situation in the country. Numerous attempts to preserve the system failed, leading to the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, followed by some of its constituents gaining independence, and subsequently, a civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In April 1992, Serbia and Montenegro created the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Due to its impact on the abovementioned war, this state endured sanctions imposed by the international community for years. Closed borders produced one of the highest known hyper-inflation episodes in monetary history. An enormous amount of banknotes with a huge number of zeroes were in circulation. The multiplication of the billions on the banknotes corresponded to the increasing poverty of the people. The period is often referred to as “the time of the world’s poorest billionaires”. An attempt to get Yugoslav finances in order was made in 1994, by the Governor of the National Bank of Yugoslavia, Mr Dragoslav Avramović. He and his associates tried to recover the economy by pegging the rate of the dinar to the Deutsche mark at the ratio of 1 for 1. The improvement of the economy was soon felt throughout the country, however the sanctions and the war did not allow this project to fully develop. 

At the end of the 20th century, with a view to protecting the economic interests of Montenegro, the country’s Government decided that Montenegro should abandon the dinar and assume full control regarding the pursuit of monetary policy. Along these lines, on 2 November 1999, it was decided to introduce the dual currency system in which both the Dinar and the Deutsche Mark would be used. Upon estimating that a sufficient amount of Deutsche Marks were in circulation, the country decided to take this currency as the sole legal tender as of 1 January 2001.

As of March 2002, the Euro is the sole legal tender in Montenegro.