March 14, 1994 Vreme News Digest Agency No 129

Treasure Hunt

by Dejan Anastasijevic

"Enter the mill and you'll find a horse's head. You'll see seven words on it. Read them. Go back and look for a tablet with three crosses under a stone. Open it in seven minutes and enter a warehouse with 12 rooms all built of brick".

In early August 1993, Jovica Brankovic from the village of Miljkovac near Nis, was in Belgrade when he heard that something was being "dug up" on his estate (75 ares). On returning to Miljkovac he found a team of speleologists led by Sicilian Salvatore Fiangiaco (20). The young man had a long beard, hair tied up in a pony tail, a heavy stick and large gold crucifix. Fiangiaco, a clairvoyant, temporarily employed in Switzerland, told Brankovic that there was a stone deep in the ground, and that Stefan Nemanjic's (13th century) treasure was hidden under it. The treasure consisted of four gold crowns with diamonds and the gold scepter of the Serb Tsars. A deal was made. Brankovic joined the team, but he also got a permit from the police, stating that he could dig on his land, and that "no one had the right to disturb him".

This is the beginning of a story which culminated last week when daily papers brought headlines saying that the team of diggers were close to finding the entrance to the treasury. "It remains to be seen when the centuries of dust will be lifted from the Nemanjic crown," wrote the Belgrade daily "Vecernje Novosti", adding that this discovery would help the country's depleted foreign currency reserves. The Belgrade daily "Politika" carried a hand-drawn map with instructions, showing a room of irregular shape (allegedly a warehouse for storing wine and wool) with two rooms hidden behind a secret door. One room containing gold, the other silver. The wine jars sealed with wax have allegedly been taken out and drunk. Other articles said that the village of Miljkovac lives in fear of armed rival treasure hunting gangs. "Politika" and "Novosti" wrote that Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan's men, veterans of the Slavonian battlefields had been seen in the vicinity, also in search of the gold. A dragon guarding the treasure has been mentioned, not in Nis, but on the hill of Hisar near Prokuplje.

The authorities realized it was time to do something. At the request of the Nis Institute for the Protection of Monuments, the local court banned further excavations, and charges were brought against the five initial diggers, for "damaging cultural goods protected by the state". Salvatore and the team did not give up. They claimed that Brankovic's land was not a cultural monument, but "an ordinary piece of living rock", and showed the permit issued by the police. The heavy equipment (drilling machines, detectors and dynamite) were removed, just in case someone decided to confiscate them. The case against the five men will start in about ten days' time. Salvatore and Brankovic are not among the accused - just the workers and the speleologists. It seems very likely that the case will drag on. The law says that whoever discovers treasure must hand it over to the state, and the award which is not fixed, is given only if the discovery was made by chance.

From the beginning experts tried to explain, in vain, that the chances of finding Stefan Nemanjic's treasure in Miljkovac were nil. There are ancient buildings in the vicinity but they date to the Byzantine period (5th century). Stefan Nemanjic was crowned in 1217, and ruled over Serbia, Dalmatia and Dubrovnik. The only material remains left over from Stefan Nemanja, the progenitor of the Nemanjic dynasty, are his earthly remains, a gold ring and cassock, and they are kept in the Monastery of Studenica. There are many who seem to have thought that there might be something in Miljkovac. The authorities first tolerated the excavation, the use of dynamite and heavy machinery (the costs of digging through living stone have allegedly added up to several hundred thousand German marks so far). They then rather clumsily banned further digging and announced the arrival of "qualified researchers". Statements made by Serbian Orthodox Church representatives are also symptomatic. Metropolitan Jovan told "Politika": "The Church knows what is missing, but it doesn't know how this happened." Assistant director of the Serbian Patriarchate Museum says that: "There is a possibility of the treasure being found, since the area was part of Nemanjic territory".

Academician and archeologist Dragoslav Srejovic was asked comment the story of the treasure. He said that when he first heard about it, he remembered the story about Nero, who, after he had emptied Rome's coffers, fell for a story told by a man who said he knew where the fabulous treasure of Carthage was hidden. Nero then squeezed out the last bits of gold from the people in order to finance the expedition. The treasure wasn't found, and Nero lost his life and crown. Before that, he ordered that the man who had tricked him be beheaded.