The history of monetary circulation
in Belarus encompasses many long centuries, during which the Belarusian endured
many wars, epidemics, and famines. However, it is these negative events
themselves that allow us to look back and see the past reflected in the actual
coins of those periods. When we take an old coin into our hands, we see a small
piece of metal which speaks so much about how the people of the time lived,
regardless of their name: both Belarusian-Kryves and Belarusian-Litvans, as
well as anonymous inhabitants of occupied land. Coins, comparatively
inexpensive and affordable relics of the past, have come to us because of those
bad times, which allowed extremely valuable hoards to survive. These hoards
then allow us to recall our historical memories and give us the unforgettable
feeling of communication with the past.
Coins have been circulating in Belarus since ancient times, originating from both East and West, until Belarusians started
to produce their own monetary form in the 12th century – izroj (grivna)
of Viciebsk. With the formation and centralization of the ancient Belarusian
state, namely the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL), in the late 14th century, the
first coins with legends in the Belarusian language finally appear.
Simultaneously, a second type of silver grivna appears - the Litvan rouble.
Before Grand Prince Vitaǔt achieved
strong and centralized rule of the country in the late 1390’s, the numismatics
of GDL were the sum of separate duchy’s emissions. It is now certain that
besides the Grand Duke Jahajła in Vilnia, coins were also minted by Uładzimir
and Skirhajła of Kiev, Dźmitry of Noŭharad-Severian,
and Todar of
Podolia, and other princes. Due to currently insufficient archeological
efforts, it is also probable that coins of some specific duchies of this period
are not yet known.
In about 1392, as Vitaǔt assumed
power, he began the mass production of deniers. The coins were minted until
1399-1401 when they were replaced with a new type. There was also established
the very first in Europe decimal monetary system: 1 rouble = 100 Prague Groats
= 1000 deniers.
Westernization of the coinage of the
Grand Duchy began in the late 15th century, as coins became similar to west
European issues and had Latin legends only. Nevertheless, the special Grand
Litvan monetary system remained in place and was only finally changed during
the reign of Stephan Batory, when full unification of the monetary systems of
GDL and Poland was realized. Coins of GDL continued to be struck, with some
interruptions, up to the early 18th century, when the last one – a six groats
of August Wettin – was delivered from the mint.
These periods of Belarusian monetary
circulation are the matter of the book that you, dear reader, hold in your
hands. Quality pictures of all basic coin types that circulated are published
here for the first time in Belarus. Guiding prices in the Belarusian collector’s
market are also specified. The greatest attention is given to the period of
occurrence of the first local money – izrojs, roubles, and small coins.
Interest in these coins is
unreasonably low among Belarusian coin collectors. This can be explained not
only by their high prices, but mostly by the almost full absence of domestic
works on early GDL numismatics. Therefore, the authors provided more detailed
information in sections devoted to these events, using both the newest foreign
numismatic literature as well as the results of the scientific research of
Belarusian numismatist A. Hramyka. Some coins are published there for the first
newest data for the research were gathered by A. Hramyka and Dz. Hulecki.
Information about all domestic and
also foreign coins that circulated in Belarus is given for all periods before
1707. Coins of the Grand Duchy are numbered inside chapters to simplify
reference usage of the book. Approximate prices (in USD) for coins in the grade
of VF are specified. Although prices on the collector’s market tend to
fluctuate frequently, the authors have made their best efforts to find the
value that guarantees that a buyer will at least not overpay.
Also useful to collectors is the
inclusion of thematic articles at the end of the book, never before published
in Belarus. A coin grading scale is proposed, based on the most modern foreign
systems and new trends in the collector’s market. Basic recommendations for
cleaning coins and identifying fakes are also provided.
The authors also briefly describe
the minting technologies of ancient coins, to stimulate an interest in
collectors for further research in numismatics, and to increase the level of
knowledge of these subjects. Finally, information about places of collector’s
meetings in Belarus and neighboring countries is collected and published.