We think of Libya today as a wild, hidden land.  We know of its
charismatic dictator, its blocked oil reserves, if we don't know it's pretty
easy to figure out that it's almost all desert.  At 2½ times the size of Texas
that's a lot of sand.
 There are countries that used to be different than they are now.  Heavily
wooded lands have become open, wet lands become dry, isolated regions opened up
by roads.  Not Libya.  Most of It has always been desert, always been wild.  The
ancient Egyptians of the earliest dynasties detested the Libyan Desert and the
nasty, thieving nomads who lived there and came rampaging into the settled
Egyptian countryside.  Military expeditions were sent out regularly on
extermination missions, bringing back baskets of Libyan soldier's body parts and
lots of female and juvenile slaves.
 The Egyptians never managed to make the Libyans stay in their desert.
Pharaos were still sending out expeditions two millennia later.  It shows
something, I guess about Egyptian organizational abilities.  They could build
all those great buildings, but they could never get a handle on their borders.
 What were the Libyans like back then?  And who might they have been?  The
general opinion of the archeological world would relate these people 4000 years
ago with today's Berbers, and would describe them as pastoral nomads, herding
mostly goats, camels, asses, and some cattle.  The horse would have entered the
picture with the Hyksos invasion of Egypt circa 1500 BCE.  You can bet the
Egyptians didn't have their horses for ten minutes before Libyans stole some of
 Egypt was not a colonizing country, and all of the early invaders from
the northeast: Hyksos and Assyrians and Persians, ran out of steam when before
they reached the Libyan Desert.  But in the last millennium BCE there arose two
peoples with wanderlust, who were wont to go exploring in unknown lands on the
chance that something interesting and profitable might turn up.  These were the
Phoenicians and the Greeks, and both of them set up outposts, which grew into
large cities, on the Libyan coast.
 The Phoenician zone was centered around Carthage, west of Libya in what
is now Tunisia.  Carthage had been founded in the 8th century BCE by colonists
from Tyre in southern Lebanon.  Not to be outdone, Sidon sent an expedition some
100 years later.  A town, known to the Greeks as Leptis Magna, on the western
coast, or Syrtica, from which would later be derived the name of the Gulf of
Sidra.  Leptis Magna became the first city of Libya proper.
 Sometime during the same century, Greeks colonized the eastern Libyan
coast.  The Greek colony had a wonderful climate back then, and some of the
richest soil known at the time.  The Greeks made their land into a garden, and
sold food to Carthage.
 The earliest of the Greek cities in Libya was Kyrene.  Founded around 630
BCE, it quickly came to rival Carthage in wealth.  Around 100 years later Kyrene
began issuing coins.  These were lumpy, archaic silvers of various sizes, all
exceptionally rare.  From year to year hardly any are offered by anyone.  The
coins continued in issue through some 250 years of independence.  Virtually all
of them show the badge of the town; the silphium plant, which evidently had a
multitude of uses, was exceptionally lucrative, and somehow managed to go
extinct during Roman times.  For the inhabitants of Kyrenaica it must have been
as if apples or oranges or potatos were to disappear in our world.
 Well, in 30 years of numismania I'd never managed to actually hold a coin
from Kyrene in my hands until Guy Clark showed me one at a local show.
(Patronize your local shows, you never can tell what you'll find!)  It is a very
tough location.
 And there are other cities in Kyrenaica for whose coins you can long in
vain: Barke west of Kyrene, and Eusperides, more westward still and heading into
the Gulf of Sidra.
 As for the Phoenician zone, they didn't use coins in the 6th century BCE.
They were doing just fine with scales and assayers, thankyou.  And actually,
they didn't start going in for coinage at Carthage until their grand invasion of
Sicily, where they found that they needed coins to conveniently buy things from
the Greeks they found there.  So Carthaginian coins didn't get started until the
late 5th century BCE.  And as for wildest Syrtica, they didn't start making
coins there for another 400 years.  We'll return to Syrtica later.
 In the wake of Alexander the Great Kyrenaica became subject to Ptolemy I,
321-283 BCE.  Regular coinage continued.  In the year of his death Ptolemy sent
a step-son, Magas, to be governor.  Magas initiially produced normal looking
Kyrenian coins, but started adding Ptolemaic touches such as royal portraits.
The portraits provided good propaganda devices during Magas' revolt against
half-brother Ptolemy II in 277 BCE.  Eventually, Magas declared himself king of
Kyrenaica.  Ptolemy III ended up marrying Magas' daughter, so the two lands were
united once again, and together they remained until Roman times.  Some standard
Ptolemaic coins were struck at Kyrene, but they are rare as Ptolemaic coins go.
 We must bite the bullet.  We must face the facts.  Kyrenaic coins are
hard to collect.
 Back to Syrtica.  From the 5th century BCE Carthage was usually at war
with some European polity.  They never managed to control all of Sicily, having
to deal with the united armies of powerful Greek coalitions.  In 264 BC Rome got
involved.  After 23 hard fought years of this (from the Roman point of view)
First Punic War, Sicily was completely lost.  Both sides were exhausted and
 At this point in time Rome was becoming a highly organized, bureaucratic
imperial state, governing far flung territories in a fiscally efficient manner.
Carthage was still governing at a city-state level, something like what they had
in medieval Italy.  In the Punic War Carthage had spearheaded a coalition of
African neighbors, and in the aftermath of the loss there was violent bickering
over whose fault it was and what to do next.  Over in Libya they raised a revolt
against Carthaginian supremacy.  The war continued for 4 years, the rebels
producing silver and gold imitations of Carthaginian coins and a few bearing,
for the first time, the name "Libya."  These coins are, like all the Libyan
ancients, rare.
 Immediately following the crushing of the Libyan Revolt Carthage set out
to colonize Spain.  Rome was not happy about the development of an enemy
presence to the West.  Relations were strained, and war again broke out.  Italy
was invaded from Spain, the Punic forces led by the great Hannibal Barca.  After
years of fighting in Italy the tide finally turned for Rome.  Africa was invaded
and the Carthaginians defeated in 202 BCE.
 The Romans continued to fear even a defeated Carthage, and they continued
to put the screws to the enemy.  It finally got to be too much, Carthage was
against the wall, and by 149 BC Rome wanted the wall.  In the third and last
Punic War Rome crushed Carthage, razed the city, sowed the fields with salt, and
sold into slavery all whom they didn't kill.  End of Carthage.  The Romans
organized the former Carthaginian territory into the province of Africa,
rebuilding the destroyed city as a Roman town.  Under Roman rule Libyan Syrtica
produced some municipal coppers from Leptis Magna, Oea (now Tripoli), and
Sabratha, the three towns that gave the region its later name of Tripolitania.
The Sear catalog lists some of these coins at affordable prices, but I've never
seen them.
 Kyrenaica, you may recall, was attached to Ptolemaic Egypt, and when
Egypt went to Rome the Libyan province went along.  A few imperial type coins
were struck in the former Carthaginian lands, none in Kyrene, now styled
"Cyrenaica."  All are rare.  The local North African coinage pretty much ends
after the reign of Tiberius.
 Carthage was an occasional mint for provincial issues of antoniniani and
such, and is a scarce mint for regular coins from the reign of Diocletian on.
It was held by the Vandals in the 5th century, and Vandalic coins, mostly
imitations of Roman types, can sometimes be obtained.  Retaken by the Byzantine
emperor Justinian, It remained a mint town, gold and copper sturck down to the
reign of Heraclius are not infrequently seen.  But from the towns of Libya
proper there is nothing.
 The armies of Islam swept through Libya in the mid-7th century CE, but
established no more than ephemeral control.  Proselitizing was slow; the Libyans
were not wholly converted for some 400 years.  Some gold and copper of so-called
"Arab-Byzantine" style were struck in North Africa, presumably at Carthage.
These are rare and expensive.  During the early Abbasid period silver dirhems
were struck a new town near Carthage, then called Ifriqiya.  Aside from some
rare coppers struck at Tripoli during the time of the Umayyad caliphs, there was
no Libyan coinage during the middle ages.
 In the early 16th century the last of the Mamluk kings in Egypt was
vanquished by the Ottoman Turks.  By 1551 the Tripoli was conquered and a
governor appointed from Istanbul.  Tripoli was a mint town for Ottoman gold at
least from the 17th century, with copper and silver following shortly after.
All early Ottoman coins from this mint are rare.
 In the 18th century the Libyan coinage was elaborated, with a number of
denominations added to the menu.  Large silver (billon, actually) coins were
made.  All of these are rare as well.  During the reign of sultan Mahmud II,
1808-39, a large variety of coins were struck in copper, billon, and gold, and
if you're going to find a coin of Ottoman Libya it's most likely going to be one
of these.  The mint product was quite irregular, and it was finally closed
around 1835.
 Italy seized Tripoli from the tottering Ottoman Empire in 1911.  By 1932
much of the interior had been occupied as well.  Originally governed as the two
separate colonies of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, the dual administrations were
merged into "Libya" in 1934, and the colony annexed as national Italian
territory in 1939.
 Libya was the site of a good deal of military activity during World War
II.  Tripoli was occupied by the British, who issued military paper currency
there in 1943.  The southern desert region, known as Fezzan, was occupied by the
French.  Doubtful Fezzan overprints on French West Africa paper money are known.
 In the aftermath of the war the United Nations set a target date of 1952
for independence.  A National Assembly was convened, which chose as king the
amir of Cyrenaica, Muhammad Idris Al-Senussi.  It is his portrait we see on the
common coins of 1952.  I should qualify that designation; the 1952 coins were
imported in quantity by dealers in the 1960s, especially the millieme, to be
placed in "coins of all nations" sets.  But by now all the stocks are dispersed,
and there is no wholesale.  There's supposed to be a proof set, but I've never
seen nor heard of one being offered.
 During the 1950s Libya was pretty hard up, and it made most of its
national revenue by leasing military bases to the United States and Great
Britain and international foreign aid.  That all changed when oil was discovered
in 1959.  Big wheels started turning and there was reason to be hopeful.  In the
midst of the improvements came the coin issue of 1965.  This was a utility
issue, not made for collectors.  It was not imported by dealers in any quantity.
A bit difficult to find, those coins are.
 Well, the king was not distributing the benefits of the new cash flow
very equitably.  A large majority of the populace was living in miserable
squalor, the well-connected were wallowing in luxury, and the Great Power
soldiers on the leased military bases were just sitting there, guarding the oil.
The deep distress of the people called forth in 1969 a military coup, led by a
visionary fanatic named Muammar Kadhafy.
 The new government evicted the foreign soldiers and nationalized the oil.
The internal development needs neglected by the king were addressed.  Literacy
has become high, health and sanitation and transport have improved.  Kadhafy has
been something of a publicity hound in his career, and has boisterously made
trouble for the rest of the world.  The world has responded with
on-again-off-again boycots of Libyan oil, supposedly the "sweetest" in the
world, and Libya is easing toward problems again.  Perhaps we could usefully
think of Kadhafy as the Crazy Horse of our time.
 There are two issues of circulation coins by the current government.  The
1975 coins are not very easy to find, and I always charge too much for them.
This doesn't stop people from buying them though.  There's an apocryphal mint
set that no one has had for sale in 21 years.  The 1979 coins are scarcer yet,
especially the small denominations.  I remember seeing the 1979 dirham offered
once for $80.00 or some such price.  It certainly doesn't turn up very often.
Shall I offer to pay $10.00 and see if anyone will part with them at that price?
 1979 20, 50, and 100 dirhams are much easier to find, which in the Libyan
context means I can expect to come by a couple, maybe, ever couple of years.
And typically this last decade or so, the grade has been some sort of
"circulated."  These coins do not turn up in "poundage."
 There are two, count 'em, commemoratives, both for the 1981 UN Year of
Disabled Persons.  I remember seeing the silver coin offered on the after-market
during the '80s.  There are supposed to be piedforts.  Never seen them.
 Libya hasn't done anything with coins since then, though it's gone
through a number of paper money series.  I'd like to hear from someone who's
been there about what they do for small change.