Known as Abyssinia until 1931, Ethiopia is a landlocked country in the Horn of Africa region, bordered by Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya. With a population of more than 102 million, it is the most populous landlocked country in the world.
Maria Theresa Thalers were used extensively as coinage until the Ethiopian Birr was introduced as a standard currency in 1893. Initially subdivided into 20 Ghersh, or 40 Bessa a new currency divided into 16 Ghersh or 32 Bessa was issued in 1903. The Birr was decimalized in 1931 and divided into 100 Metonnyas, and this currency was used until the Italian occupation of 1936 and was reintroduced in 1945 after liberation.
Ethiopia’s numismatic history was affected by the multitude of different currency influences that arose in the following years. The Birr had first been tied to the Italian Lire and then to the East African Shilling, during which time the subdivision became known as the Santeem, after the French Centime. These new conventions were formalised in 1976 when a new Birr coinage was released, still used to the present day.
Ethiopian coins carry inscriptions in the Amharic language, using the Amharic alphabet. The Ethiopian numeric system also differs from the decimal system used in most countries, and the calendar also uses a different zero point, eight years earlier than the more common used AD/CE calendar. This can create confusion in the identification and precise dating of Ethiopian coinage. Currently circulating denominations are 10, 25 and 50 Santeem, and a bimetallic 1 Birr. Non-circulating commemorative coins are issued in higher denominations, usually struck in precious metal.
See also: Eritrea
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