This is a very small country. It's smaller than
Connecticut, 30 miles across at its widest. For most of
human history it has been a "district," not a "country."
You wouldn't think it could cause so much trouble. But,
historically, it has.
Part of Lebanon's perennial instability is due to its
geography. The country is split down the middle by the
Lebanon mountains. These are real mountains, difficult to
traverse. They used to be heavily forested. West of the
mountains is a skimpy coastal plain with a lot of nice
little harbor sites. An enormous amount of business has
been conducted out of those harbors over the past 5000
years. This commerce, and the cultures that grew from it,
had not a great deal of political effect on the various
people of the mountains, who have been renowned for their
independent attitudes. East of the mountains lies the Bekaa
valley, famous since time immemorial as a wild home to wild
people. The Bekaa is difficult to reach from the coast, and
is somewhat more open to Syria. The complicated geography
makes for complications in governance.
Then too, there are sizeable ethnic minority
populations of sufficient stature that government in Lebanon
must be by coalition if it is to exist at all. Even so,
there are strong historical tendencies for the three
geographic zones; the coast, the mountains, and the Bekaa
valley, to go their separate ways.
History began very early in Lebanon. Both Neanderthal
and Cro-Magnon people were making flint tools there 50,000
years ago. All of the classic stages of human technological
development: paleolithic, neolithic, bronze, and iron
working, were operative at early dates in Lebanon.
For historical purposes the mountains and the Bekaa
valley have traditionally been ignored. Conquering heroes
could easily invade the coast, where the money was, from
either the north, the south or by sea from the west without
having to bother with the nasty terrain and the tough
denizens of the hinterland. A policy of buying the
allegiance of the mountain and Bekaa people, rather than
conquering and occupying them, has been universally employed
by the foreign overlords who have, throughout history,
controlled the financial factory that has been the coast.
The eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea have been a
focal point of commerce since before the invention of boats.
Northern neighbor to that millennial focus of the world's
attention, the Holy Land, the cities of Lebanon can make a
fair claim to be the originators of our modern accounting
economy, with its time/money relationships, written
contracts, legal recourses, etc. The whole ball of wax that
we call "free enterprise" may have originated here.
And then, of course, there's the alphabet, so we don't
have to write pictures like the Egyptians or the Chinese.
Our Roman alphabet comes directly from the one devised by
the inhabitants of Lebanon, about 2500 years ago.
The general picture is one of thriving commerce in the
midst of permanent political instability. The shaky
situation persists to this day, and a result of this fact
impacts our hobby. Lebanon is not in control of its
borders. The flow of antiquities, including numismatic
items, out of the country is basically unchecked.
Typically, site data is nonexistent, but Lebanon contributes
a quantity of genuine ancient material to our market every
year. This confuses people like me, who tend to doubt the
authenticity of every antiquity they see.
If in political terms Lebanon has always been a pawn,
in economic terms it has always been a contending player.
2500 years ago a string of seaports flourished and the 100
miles or so of Lebanese coastline supported a dense
population of cultured cosmopolitans. We call these people
Phoenicians. They tended to congregate in cites, the most
famous from south to north being Sur (Tyre), Saida (Sidon),
Beirut, Jubail (Byblos), and Trablus (Tripoli). Farther
north, in what is now Syria, lay Marathus, Karne, and and
The culture of the Phoenicians is well known to us
through the descriptions of the Bible. They turned out all
kinds of manufactured products in wood, metal, stone, glass,
textiles, you name it. And they had the best ships in the
world, and went everywhere. To balance out the picture,
they were fond of religions whose gods demanded child
sacrifice and ritual prostitution, and their politics was
typically of the local despot type, with constant dynastic
intrigue, assassination, etc. to keep everyone on their
toes. There was never a "king of Phoenicia," only a bunch
of city-states jostling each other for room at the trough.
That is why Lebanon was gobbled by every empire that
grew and died in that region. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon,
Persia, Greece, Rome, etc. have obtained overlordship of the
coast, though sometimes with difficulty. Alexander the
Great besieged Tyre for seven months before it capitulated.
As mentioned above, these conquerors made deals with the
inhabitants of the interior.
Economically, the Phoenicians knew what they were doing
long before the invention of coinage. Marked weights of
some antiquity are known, though they do not appear in our
market with any sort of frequency.
There has been much speculation that the Phoenicians
used some kind of standard-weight metal item as a currency
in the pre-coin period, and even that they utilized some
sort of token system to service their far-flung trading
posts. Buckminster Fuller, in his last book, Critical Path,
mentioned crescent shaped ingots of cast iron, but in 15
years I have not come up with another reference to such
things, or anything similar.
The Phoenician city states actually got around to
making their own coins fairly late. Tyre and Sidon began
minting around 450 BCE, during the period of Persian
overlordship, at a time when the Athenian tetradrachm was
ubiquitous. Arados and Byblos began shortly after. The
earliest coins, all silver, have a very antique look to
them, combining Egyptian and Semitic motifs. They range in
size from decent sized dishekels (and large tetrashekels at
Sidon) to tiny twelfths. The big coins are typically rare
and expensive, though several hoards of low grade Aradian
staters, mostly mid-4th century BCE types, have filtered
through the market at reasonable prices. Tiny, 4th century
eighths, mostly of Sidon, have been fairly common over the
past decade. The best specimens have readable royal
initials and regnal years, and are perhaps the cheapest and
earliest of dated coins.
Alexander the Great types were struck at Tyre, Sidon,
and Arados in the years following the death of the
conqueror. Many of them have dates in Phoenician numerals.
Examples can be found. Alexander types were superceded at
Tyre and Sidon by standard Ptolemaic coins with appropriate
mint marks, and at Arados by Seleukid types. The Ptolemys
lost control of southern Phoenicia to the Seleukids in the
mid-3rd century BCE, and the styles of the Tyrian and
Sidonian output were altered appropriately. Copper coinage
began to be struck in this period. Seleukid copper in
general is fairly common, and the coinage of the Phoenician
cities fits in with that picture.
About the middle of the 2nd century BCE Seleukid power
began to wane, and the cities acquired varying degrees of
independence. The three big towns: Arados, Sidon, and Tyre,
issued large quantities of silver and copper into the Roman
period. Among these coins are the biblically notorious
"shekels of Tyre," which are common coins but expensive, on
account of their great popularity among collectors. Copper
coins of the autonomous period, especially of Arados, are
common and reasonably priced. Silver coins are also fairly
easy to come by.
A number of smaller cities started up more ephemeral
coinages in the century before the Roman conquest. Among
these are: Byblos, Berytos (Beirut), Karne, Dora and
Ptolemais-Ake (both south of Tyre), Orthosia and Tripoli
(between Arados and Berytos), and Marathos (on the mainland
across from Arados island, and destroyed by the latter in
the mid-2nd century BCE). The output of these towns was
mostly bronze. Silver issues of Marathos and Tripoli are
rare. Copper examples of all of the minor Phoenician towns
can be found.
Most Phoenician coins are dated, and these later
ancients are reckoned according to a bunch of municipal
eras. Head, in his seminal Historia Numorum, presented this
Aradus 259 BCE
Karne 259 BCE
Marathus 259 BCE
Berytus 197 BCE
Dora 64 BCE
Botrys 50 BCE
Byblos 20 or 6 BCE
Caesareia ad Libanum 312 BCE
Orthosia 312 BCE
Sidon 312 BCE
Sidon - 2 111 BCE
Tripolis 312 BCE
Tripolis - 2 64 BCE
Tyre 312 BCE
Tyre - 2 275 BCE
Tyre - 3 126 BCE
The autonomous coinages ease into the Roman imperial
period without major disruptions. Phoenicia was
incorporated administratively into the province of Syria.
Autonomous civic issues continued in production side by side
(in broad historical terms) with imperial coins at all of
these cities. With the exception of the voluminous output
of Tyrian tetradrachms ("shekels") virtually all the coinage
was copper. And, well, sad to say, but the region became a
little shabby under the Romans. The business was elsewhere,
and the coinage suffered. Imperial coinage persisted in
Berytos, Arados, Tyre, etc. as well as at inland towns such
as Heliopolis (Baalbek), to the mid-3rd century CE, but the
later they are the scarcer, and in comparison with the
plentiful autonomous coins of the 1st century BCE all
imperial Phoenician coins are scarce.
In the fiscal reforms of Diocletian at the end of the
3rd century CE all the local coin types were suppressed, and
thereafter Phoenicia had no representation in numismatics
for four centuries.
Syria, with its district of Lebanon, was taken in the
first wave of Islamic expansion. A mint was established at
Damascus by the 630s CE, striking Byzantine style coppers.
Lebanese mints reopened as part of the coinage reform of
caliph Abd al Malik around 700 CE, with early 8th century
copper coins recorded from Tripoli, Baalbek, Tartus (Arados)
Saida (Sidon), and Tyre. The region passed thereafter
through the hands of a number of dynasties. Among these,
the Fatimids (909-1171 CE) are known to have struck gold
coins at Tyre and Tripoli, and both of these are rare mints.
The Fatimids lost Palestine, Lebanon, and eventually
everything to Turkish invaders. When this particular group
of Turks, the Seljuks, got to Palestine they found an
interesting situation. The numerous shrines of the Holy
Land had become major tourist attractions. Over 100 major
pilgrimage expeditions were made to the Holy Land from
Europe in the 11th century. One of the tours included over
For all the Seljuks were vicious, masterful horse
barbarians in battle they were an orderly, bureaucratic
people in peace. To the Turks these pilgrims appeared as
rude barbarians. They put money into the economy, but they
were bumptious, and they came armed. There were more of
them every year. The Seljuks attempted to regulate the
pilgrim business, and of course they raised the fees.
The European bumpkins had been getting very feisty in
the 11th century. They were itching to take something on.
They chose to attempt to liberate their shrines in
When the soldiers of the First Crusade poured down into
the Holy Land in 1096 it was a campaign conducted as in a
dream. There was nothing that we would consider
organization; no supply, no strategy, no cooperation among
the leaders. It was a rampage of faith. Their victories
the Holy Land were so improbable as to constitute a good
case for a miracle, and the fact that they stuck it out in
the east for a century and a half is a testimony to blind
faith. The other side, of course, saw it as unprovoked
aggression by crazy infidels. That's how it's taught in
Lebanese schools today.
The crusaders took the Lebanese coast as part of their
demesne. They liked to make coins, and two series were
struck by them in Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and Tripoli. Only
Tripolitan coins are seen with any regularity. There were
two series. First were small, rare copper coins of the late
12th century. After 50 years or so some nicely made silver
grosses and and halves were struck. Specimens of these can
It's interesting to note that these European style
coins had virtually no circulation outside of the crusader
territories. For trade with their neighbors, the Ayyubids,
the Christian invaders struck imitations of Ayyubid coins.
This took place in the early 13th century, well after the
Ayyubid sultan Saladin had retaken Jerusalem for Islam.
Some people think the imitations were struck at Acre, while
another opinion suggests Tripoli. Imitations were made in
gold and silver, and the latter have been common within the
Mitchiner, in Oriental Coins and their Values, mentions
an Ayyubid copper from Baalbek without describing anything
about it, and such a coin is not noted in Balog's Coinage of
The Ayyubids were succeeded by the Mamluks in 1250.
For some reason they favored Tripoli as a mint town, and a
number of Mamluk sultans struck coins there during the 14th
and first half of the 15th centuries. Most of the Mamluk
coins are copper fulus, many with the heraldic blazons of
which the Mamluks were fond. Examples are not hard to find.
The few silver coins are all rare.
The Mamluks were annihilated by the Ottoman Turks in
1516-17. Mitchiner mentions, again without description, an
Ottoman coin struck in Tyre, but I couldn't find it in Nuri
Pere. Probably I didn't look hard enough. No matter.
as an Ottoman mint must be RRRRR. As far as local coinage
is concerned, Lebanon was asleep through the 17-19th
A large part of the population of Lebanon is Christian.
In the early 19th century Christian chieftains began to
invite missionaries from Europe to come over and teach.
Over time a large foreign contingent, predominantly French,
grew in association with the Christian community in Lebanon.
The British, at that time, were intent on countering
any French moves anywhere. They armed the mountain Druze to
oppose the Christians. Bear in mind that this proxy-war was
being conducted on supposedly sovereign Ottoman soil, and
throw in the growing urge for national self-determination
that was beginning to sweep the world and you have the
flavor of Lebanon in the mid-19th century.
The pot boiled over in 1860 with a large massacre of
Christians. At that point the stirrers of that pot
"intervened" with the sultan in Constantinople. The
solution they imposed gave part of Lebanon a Christian
governor on the imperial level, and international
"protection" for that enclave.
The protectors set up a European style government and
created a Statutory Constitution as the basis of the law.
The administration practiced a program of strong
westernization, with education a priority. Beirut became a
literary and publishing center of the Arab world.
With the onset of World War I nationalist sentiments
that had been simmering for decades began to break out into
action. A split between the aspirations of the Muslims and
the Christians then became manifest. The Christians looked
forward to an independent, westernized country in close
association with France, while the Muslims wanted to
incorporate into the pan-Arab state promoted by Hussein ibn
Ali of Mecca.
The Christians won that contest in 1916, when an
Anglo-French agreement gave Lebanon and Syria to France.
With the close of the war, the Ottoman government collapsed.
Local nationalists attempted to sieze Beirut, they were
prevented by British troops, who proceeded to hand the city
back to the French.
French troops formally occupied the country while a
mandate was prepared, and in 1923 the plan for the new
arrangement was approved by the League of Nations. It
provided for the incorporation of the mountains and the
Bekaa valley into an expanded "Greater Lebanon." This was
supposed to make the country more viable, but it created
political problems, because a lot of the inhabitants of the
outlying territories were not Christian and did not like the
The Lebanese currency is essentially a continuation of
the Ottoman system. Beginning in 1924 coins were struck at
the Paris mint in the name of "State of Greater Lebanon."
In 1925 a constitution was drawn up. Put into effect the
following year, this document formally made Lebanon into a
republic, and a few years later coins were issued in the
name of this "Republic." The old-style "State" coins
continued to be made right along with the new style pieces
until the emergency of the '40s. It didn't matter what the
government called itself. Everyone knew the bosses were in
The pre-war series comprises ten types. I believe I
remember seeing all of them in grades approaching
uncirculated. There are some essaies, all rare.
Through the '30s the French behaved rather stupidly in
regards to Lebanon, so that on the outbreak of war morale
was low. The fascist Vichy government was ousted from
Lebanon as early as 1941. Mementos of its brief tenure are
a couple of zinc minors. These are not difficult in
circulated condition, but like most zinc coins they are
extremely rare in BU.
The victorious British and French troops who had
liberated Lebanon proclaimed an independent republic, but
the government was a puppet of the French troops who
remained in occupation. Nationalist resentment culminated
in the formation of a provisional government in 1943.
French troops moved against the insurgents, and a war of
national liberation seemed imminent until pressure from
France's allies forced it to back down. Thus was the modern
Numismatic relics of this confused time are the undated
"Liban" coins. These are possibly the first coins to be
made in Lebanon in half a millennium or so. An increasing
number of varieties have come to light over the years. In
my experience the two common types occur in nice condition
more often than heavily circulated.
Lebanese politics since independence has continued to
be unsettled. Commerce, as usual has continued as
conditions have permitted. The coinage has been rather
quiet. Collector interest in this series has always been
low, so that while none of the coins can be called rare,
there are roughly no wholesale deposits in dealer
inventories, and many dates were no exported at all. Thus,
while a "complete" set can be assembled fairly cheaply, it
will probably take a while. You'll probably spend a couple
of years searching for some of the 20¢ coins.
No serious coinage has been produced since 1981. The
1986 dated 1 livre coin is a no-see-um. Do you have? I'll
I present for your delectation and amusement the Elie
Chidiac token. This item is somewhat famous among token
collectors, as it is a readily available piece from one more
country. I believe it's from the '50s. There are other,
scarcer tokens of the French period.