THE ORIGIN OF THE SYMBOL OF A MARTEN ON CROATIAN MONEY
Starting with Truhelka, experts linked the appearance of the marten with the economic importance of this animal in Croatia and the medieval marten tax (marturina), which they considered to have originated in the time of Croatian rulers and had originally been paid in marten skins.
From the Middle Ages onward the name of Slavonia covered different areas; sometimes it designated Pannonian Slavonia, or the region of all Slavonia, i.e. of Croatia as it was at the time of Croatian rulers.
Although there are not as many sources indicating that marten skins were used as currency in Croatia as there are for Poland and Kiev Russia, nor are these sources as explicit, they are nevertheless sufficiently convincing. A tax paid in marten skins supposes it was collected in an organised way and the skins returned to the market, otherwise the marten population would have been eradicated. However, proof of the economic importance of the marten is not proof that this was why the marten was shown on coins.
King Coloman probably introduced payment in silver coins, which is why sources mention him as the founder of the marten tax. Paying tax in silver was customary by the time of Bela III. When Andrija II was Duke (herceg), he minted separate coins for Croatia. Although it is necessary to revise Rengjeo's attributions of what is known as the Croatian friesach, there is no doubt that some of them were special coins minted for Croatia in a different system of measurement than the one used in Hungary. These coins, which were closer to the use of the marten as currency, do not show the figure of a marten, but they do show dynastic propaganda and a distinct symbol of the country for which they were minted, the crescent and star.
This symbol later came to represent Croatian lands, and it appeared on half-denars instead of a marten. In more recent Croatian heraldry it was used on the arms of the 19lh-century Illyrian Movement to represent the integrality of Croatian lands. The seal of Croatian Dukes at the time of Bela IV already shows the marten, which indicates that it had a special meaning unconnected with the economy. Andrija H's second large seal suggests that the origin of this symbol is even older. The Slavonian arms show a marten, but Croatian heraldry also has arms showing three greyhounds. It is logical to assume that the crescent and star, marten and three hounds, which were used interchangeably, have some kind of symbolical connection.
Moon and hounds are the attributes of the goddess Artemis. A hound hunting a hare is important in the symbolism of Isis, and represents the constellation of Canis and the star Sirius. In later Antiquity the cult of Isis was absorbed by those of other goddesses and spread throughout the Roman Empire. The scene of a hound hunting a hare has a soteriological meaning on graves. Early Christians took over and reinterpreted much of the cult of Isis, especially in the feast of Epiphany. In Byzantium hunting hares was part of the Dionysian cult, which was linked with that of Isis during late Antiquity. The month of January was represented by a scene showing hares hunted by animals from the marten family specially trained for this purpose.
Aristotle calls this domestic animal an ICTIS. The name probably had a decisive meaning in later symbolism, when it could be interpreted as the monogram ICHTHYS - Jusus Christ, Son of God, the Saviour. We find confirmation for this on a chancel screen in Osenovo near Varna in Bulgaria, which shows a marten-like animal hunting a hare. Martens are also shown by Jesus' feet on a Crucifixion scene on a coffer in Verdun, which confirms that these animals also had a symbolical meaning in western Christianity. The soteriological meaning of the marten hunting the hare was retained in Christian cabbala and 17th century alchemy.
Croatian medieval symbolism includes ideas about the soteriological and astrological symbolism of hare hunting scenes. Some were linked with the marten.
Animals belonging to this family appear in mythological representations of prehistoric European and ancient civilisations. The spreading of the cult of the Great Mother, together with the spreading of agriculture in the Neolithic, may explain their widespread presence. The theomorphic nature of their name shows traces of their importance in cults.
Fragments of poems, in which the peacock, otter and marten play a role, describe a temple in the identical way as described by Masudi for the Slavs. This confirms that martens belong to Early-Slav mythology. When they converted to Christianity, the Croats showed a special preference for symbolism and allegories kindred with their pagan preconceptions. There is a scene showing hare hunting in St Michael's Church on Kolocep, built by Queen Jelena, wife of King Zvonimir. After Zvonimir's death her supporters offered her brothers of the Arpad family the Croatian crown.
Before the introduction of the marten, Bela IV minted Croatian friesachs with the figures of St Michael, a dragon, and a griffon. These motifs are connected with the motifs in St Michael's Church. The marten rounds off this symbolism - if it represents hare hunting. It may be assumed that on his coins King Bela IV promoted the legitimacy of his dynasty.
THE ORIGIN OF THE SYMBOL OF A MARTEN ON CROATIAN MONEY (II)
The symbolism on Christian monuments fits into that myth, which was adapted to the new Christian context and as such taken over and re-designed by European Christian alchemists. The basic common elements of the myth contain the message of the king-heir and his line. The king inherits divine blessing and passes it down to his descendents. His blessing is essential for the well-being of his people, and also for the annual renewal of nature.
The king is under the protection of the female principle of Nature, symbolised by the marten or the hound. However, this principle is not reserved for women only. It is an integral part of every person and the wise man must recognise it in him and merge with it. The myth also contains the message that somewhere in the farthest north, or in some hidden part of the world, there is a mountain and on it a city ruled by the immortal king who got divine blessing first. He acquired this blessing through some kind of self-sacrifice. The elements of the myth indicate the importance of the royal line for sustaining the world, but they also open possibilities for an individual initiated in the secret mysteries to acquire perfection and immortality by following that path.
The myth speaks about the end of the world and the role of perfect individuals in the final struggle of the forces of good and light against the forces of evil and darkness. In this struggle the leader of the celestial armies will play an important role - represented by the figures of Mithras, Horus or St Michael. The myth emphasises the dual origin of the heir to the royal line, who has the right to the kingdoms of both his father and his mother. It is in him that both paths leading to perfection arc united. This unification also seems to have an important role in the myth. The element of the unification of two lands through one line might have had political importance for the new dynasty on the Croatian throne, the Arpads.
We are faced, of course, with the question of how widespread this myth was among the Croats. Could it have had any weight in political decisions. A difficulty also lies in the fact that we know very little about our own mythology. The reason for this is partly that if we do not know the structure it is difficult to single out the few fragments, and even more difficult to fit them into the whole.
Recognising this myth enables us to recognise another element of Croatian national mythological tradition: the folk tale about King Tomislav's coronation on Duvno Field. The best-preserved part of the pre-Christian tradition in all Christian Slav lands is that about the legitimacy of the ruling line. It is obvious that many revisions will have to be made in the accepted theses, and that much more additional research will be necessary.
The ancestors of the Croats, regardless of how the Croatian people came to be, were not left out of the exchange of ideas that kept taking place. In the arguments I presented I consider I have shown that this research will not be fruitless. It will be necessary to take care not to interpret all data in the same way. Because there was not only one myth, nor were people interested only in succession to the throne and the Last Judgement. I consider that this article points to the need to change the angle from which we regard our history.