Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Brief history of Malta's money

The island's numismatic history (the study or collection of money and coins) can be traced back over two millennia. This is a timeline:

218BC: The Carthaginians were the first to introduce bronze coins in Malta. Following the conquest by the Romans, a local bronze coinage based on Roman weight standards was emitted.

35BC: At about this time Maltese coins became completely Roman in character with the first appearance of the Graeco-Latin inscription - MELITAS (of Malta) - on the coinage. After the first century there is no evidence that any more Romano-Maltese coins were struck and the Roman metropolitan coinage, current throughout the Empire, became the standard currency.

AD395 to 1530: Between the division of the Roman Empire in AD395 and the arrival of the Order of St John in Malta in 1530, the coins in circulation were those of successive rulers: Arabs (890-1090); Normans (1127-94); Swabians (1194-1266); Angevines (1266-1283); and Aragonese (1284-1530). Although no Maltese coins of the mediaeval period are known to exist in public or private collections, reference to Maltese specie can be found in official documents.

1530-1798: The Order of St John acquired the right to mint its own coins in Malta. Throughout its rule, various gold (the Zekkin), silver (Skud tal-Fidda) and copper coins were struck.

1798-1800: After the surrender of Malta to Napoleon in June 1798, the French seized all the gold and silver and precious stones they could lay their hands on. Some of the silver was taken to the mint in the Conservatoria, now Malta's National Library, and converted into 30 and 15 Tarì pieces bearing the bust and arms of Ferdinand von Hompesch, the last Grandmaster to govern Malta. During the subsequent blockade no minting was carried out and the confiscated gold and silver was converted into ingots, stamped with their intrinsic value and circulated as money.

1800-1850: With the advent of the British Protectorate in 1800 the mint ceased to function. During the first 50 years of British rule the circulating coinage was a potpourri of foreign coins. British gold sovereigns and half sovereigns were also introduced in 1826.

1855: British coins were declared the sole legal tender with all the remaining gold and silver of the Order and the foreign coins demonetised. Despite this, the Sicilian dollar continued to dominate the local circulation, until it was finally withdrawn in 1886 when it was demonetised by the Italian government.

1972: On May 16, Malta changed over to a decimal currency and abandoned the British system of pounds, shillings and pence. The Maltese Pound (renamed Maltese lira in 1983) was retained as the currency unit and the first set of decimal coins was issued in eight denominations: 50c, 10c, 5c, 2c in copper nickel; 1c in bronze; and 5m, 3m, and 2m in aluminium.

1975: An octagonal 25c denomination in brass was introduced in December.

1986/1987: A new set of seven definitive coins in denominations of Lm1, 50c, 25c, 10c, 5c, 2c and 1c was issued.

2008: On January 1, the island adopted its own euro coins with symbols of the island's Coat of Arms, the Maltese Cross and the altar of the Mnajdra Temples. There are eight denominations in all: €2, €1, €0.50, €0.20, €0.10, €0.05, €0.02 and €0.01.

* Information adapted from a lecture by Commendatore Joseph C. Sammut at the 19th annual conference of Banking and Finance in the Mediterranean (July 2007).

Cyprus, Malta expand eurozone group to 15 members

Frankfurt - Cyprus and Malta introduced the euro as their countries' official currency on Tuesday, expanding the eurozone group to 15 members, the European Central Bank said in Frankfurt. The ECB said that the central banks of Cyprus and Malta were now "full members of the Eurosystem" with the same rights and obligations as the previous 13 members in the group.

Both central banks had paid the remainder of their contributions to the capital of the ECB and had likewise made their payments into the ECB's foreign reserve assets.

"The Cypriot and Maltese counterparties of the Eurosystem will be able to participate in the Eurosystem's main refinancing operations for the first time on 3 January 2008," the ECB statement said.

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