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Thursday, 7 May 2015

184) Currency & Coinage of Tunisia, North Africa: Dinars & Milims (or Millimes):

184) Currency & Coinage of Tunisia, North Africa: Dinars & Milims (or Millimes):

The Currency of Tunisia is the Dinar sub-divided into 1000 Milims or Millimes.

Historical development of Tunisia:

Tunisia is the northernmost country in Africa, and the smallest country in the Maghreb region of North Africa. It was originally called “Ifriqiya” or Africa.

Tunisia was originally inhabited by Berber tribes.

The name Tunisia, perhaps has its origins with a term of Berber origin “Tns” (meaning “encampment”) or because of its association with the Punic Goddess “Tanith” (or “Tunit”) or the ancient city of Tynes.

Legends record that “Dido” from the city of Tyre, founded the city of Carthage in 814 BC. The settlers of Carthage brought their culture and religion from the Phoenicians.

After a series of Wars with the Greek-City States of Sicily in the 5th century BC, Carthage rose to prominence and became the dominant civilisation in the Western Mediterranean. It is recorded that the Phoenician settlers of Carthage, after the harvest each year would raise a fleet of ships to ferry mercenary armies sometimes upto 50,000 or 100,000 strong, to anyone of the 2500 City states of Sicily for plunder. The Sicilian City States were so terrified with the Phoenician depredations, that they formed several alliances among themselves to put up joint defences against the Phoenician invaders. Interestingly, these Alliances resulted in “Alliance coinage” to be minted between Allied City States, which depicted the gods & goddesses and several cultural and political aspects of the Allied City States. Coins produced during this period are worth a fortune today.

 The citizens of Carthage worshipped a pantheon of Middle Eastern Gods including Baal and Tanit (a female goddess).

During the Second Punic War, the Carthagian General Hannibal, led an invasion to Italy ,one of a series of wars with Rome, which shook the very roots of the Roman Empire.

Following the Battle of Carthage in 149 BC, Carthage was conquered by the Rome Empire. Predominantly an agriculture intensive country, Tunisia was called the “Granary of the Roman Empire” and became a large supplier of food-grains to the Roman Empire among other food and other products viz, figs, beans, grapes, textiles, marble, wine, timber, livestock, pottery etc.

During the 5th and 6th centuries (430-533 AD), the Germanic Vandals captured these territories from the Romans which were recaptured in 533-534 AD during the reign of Roman Emperor Justinian I by the Eastern Romans.

In the 7th & 8th Century AD, Arab Muslims conquered these territories founding the first Islamic city in North Africa – Kairouan where stands the “Mosque of Uqba” or the “Great Mosque of Kairouan” which has the oldest standing minaret in the world and is a fine piece of Islamic art & architecture.

From 800 to 909 AD, the Arab Governors or “Beys” founded the Aghlabid Dynasty which ruled Tunisia, Tripolitania & Eastern Algeria during this period.

From 972 to 1148 AD, the local Zirids controlled Tunisia.

In the 12th century AD Tunisia was briefly under the control of the Normans of Sicily.  

From 1159-1230 AD the Almohads ruled Tunisia, after driving out the Normans.

In 1534, the first conquest of Tunis by the Ottoman Turks took place which went under Spanish control shortly thereafter.

From 1574 to 1881 AD, the Ottoman Turks, recaptured Tunis from Spain and ruled it & the neighbouring territories. Tunisia became an autonomous Province of the Ottoman Empire under Turkish governors called “Beys” during this period.

In 1869, Tunisia became bankrupt at the time of suppression of the Barbary pirates in which campaign, the French forces also aided Tunisia.

In 1881, Tunisia became a French Protectorate following the Treaty of Bardo in the same year.

In 1942 – 1943, Tunisia was the Battle theatre of the Tunisia Campaign, which was a series of battles between the Allied and the Axis forces during World War II which culminated in a defeat for the Axis forces.

In 1956, Tunisia achieved its Independence and Habib Bourguiba became the first Tunisian President.

In November 1987, upon Bourguiba being declared medically unfit to rule, Prime minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali took over the Presidency.

In 2011, a revolution resulted in the overthrow of the autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who was forced to step down following mass demonstrations & charges of corruption within his ruling coterie.

Tunisia held its first Parliamentary elections since the Arab Spring on 26.10.2014 and its Presidential Elections on 23.11.2014.

Since then Tunisia has been consolidating its democratic set-up.

Historical development of Coinage in Carthage/Tunisia:

From around 410 BC, coins were struck at Carthage to the Greek standards bearing the profile of Tanit, the Carthagian counterpart of Persephone on the obverse and a stallion’s head on the reverse.

Later coins featured entire horses or lions and both gold and electrum pieces were also struck.

By 146 BC, Carthage was conquered by the Romans, whereafter, Roman coinage was used in Carthage.

In the Dark Ages, Carthage was overrun by Vandals, during which time, a Byzantine Mint operated briefly producing Gold, silver & copper coins.

From the 8th Century onwards, Islamic coinage was in use. During this time, successive “Beys” (Governors) issued coins in the name of the Turkish Sultan in Algeria & Tunisia.

In 1830, the French invaded Algeria fighting the Barbary pirates and annexed Algeria in 1848.

In 1881, Tunisia was declared a Protectorate of France, who had helped suppress the Barbary pirates.

 From 1881 to 1891, coins similar to those already in circulation in Tunisia, were struck with the Paris mint mark.

In 1891, the French Franc was adopted as the circulating currency. The pattern on these coins was inscriptions in Arabic on the obverse and French on the Reverse.

Central Bank of Tunisia (or Banque Centrale de Tunisie – BCT): The Central Bank of Tunisia was established in 1958, two years after Tunisia gained its Independence in 1956. It is located in Tunis and has has 12 Branches.

In December 1958, the newly created Dinar was delinked from the French Franc which was circulating as the interim currency.

Coinage of Tunisia – After Independence:

In 1957, Tunisia became a Republic. The Independent country introduced a coinage based on a Dinar subdivided into 1000 Millim or Millime. These coins depicted President Bourguiba or a Tree on the obverse.

In 1960, 1, 2 and 5 Millime (all Aluminium) and 10, 20, 50 and 100 Millime (all Brass) coins were circulated.

In 1968, Nickel ½ Dinar coins were introduced/circulated.

In 1976, Cupro-nickel 1 Dinar coins were circulated and the ½ Dinar coins were replaced by Cupro-nickel coins.

Since 1976, Commemorative coins have also been issued.

In 1983, the 2 Millime coins were issued for the last time and are no longer legal tender.

In 1990, the 1 Millime coins were last issued and are no longer legal tender.

In 2002, Bimetallic 5 Dinar Coins were circulated.

Presently, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 Millimes and ½, 1, 2 and 5 Dinar coins are in circulation.

On 26.12.2013, two new tridecagonal coins were introduced – one of 200 Millimes denomination (copper-zinc) and 2 Dinar (cupro-nickel).

Banknotes of Tunisia:

On 03.11.1958, Banknotes were circulated by the central Bank of Tunisia in the denominations of ½, 1 and 5 dinars.

On 03.03.1966, the designs on the circulating denominations viz., ½, 1 and 5 Dinars were revamped/changed, with the date mentioned as 01.06.1965 on the new Banknotes.

On 02.01.1970, 10 Dinar Banknotes were issued bearing the date 01.06.1969.

On 15.10.1973, the last ½ Dinar Banknotes were issued.

On 15.10.1980, the last 1 Dinar banknotes were issued.

On 26.12.1984, 20 Dinar Banknotes, bearing the date 15.10.1980.

Between 1997 and 2011, 30 Dinar Banknotes were introduced.

On 25.07.2009, 50 Dinar Banknotes, bearing the date 2008 were introduced.

On 08.11.2005, a new version of the 10 Dinar Banknote was circulated.

Presently Circulating Series of Banknotes:

The present Series of Banknotes includes denominations of 5, 10, 20, 30 and 50 Dinars.

There are two versions of the 5 Dinar Banknote presently in circulation:

On the Front of the 5 Dinar Banknote is depicted Hannibal, the famous Carthagian General and Port Pinique in Carthage.

On the Front of another 5 Dinar (5 Cinq Dinars) Banknote is depicted the Carthagian General Hannibal wearing a helmet and the City of Carthage.

On the Back of the above 5 Dinar Banknotes are depicted Carthagian naval ships (Navires Carthaginois - mentioned on the lower periphery of this Banknote).

The colour of these Banknotes is predominantly green.

Hannibal Barca (247-183 BC): He was a Punic Carthagian military Commander who is considered to be the greatest military Commanders of Antiquity in terms of strategic planning, bravery and genius, together with Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar etc. Hannibal was called the “Father of Strategy” and Rome, his greatest enemy came to adopt elements of his military tactics in its own combat strategies.

Napolean Bonaparte regarded him as the greatest strategist & wanted his generals to strategise “outside the box” like Hannibal.

Hannibal’s father Hamilcar Barca was a leading Carthagian Commander during the First Punic War. When Hannibal was young, the Roman Republic had established its supremacy over the other great powers – Carthage and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of Macedon, Syracuse and the Seleucid Empire. Hannibal was made to take an oath by his father to remain forever hostile to the Romans and take every step to keep them out of his homeland, which he did in true measure.

One of his most famous achievements at the outbreak of the Second Punic War was to  march from Iberia over the Pyrenees and the Alps into Italy with an army consisting of soldiers, heavy and light cavalry and elephants through inclement weather, surprising the Roman infantry garrisoned around Rome.

In the initial phase, he won three dramatic victories – at Trebia, Trasimene and Cannae taking advantage of the Roman weaknesses and won over several allies to fight the Romans. The Battle of Cannae was a classic example of his military genius, where a Roman Army of some 100,000 men was surrounded from all sides by the much smaller Hannibal’s forces and literally cut to pieces losing some 80000 men killed or captured.

 For over 15 years, Hannibal occupied much of Italy, instilling fear in the hitherto “invincible” Roman garrisons. The Romans were fast learners, employed Hannibal’s strategies and at the Battle of Zama, Hannibal suffered a defeat, retreating to Carthage where he became a politician, finally committing suicide when the Romans attacked and defeated Carthage in several battles, ultimately occupying it in 149 BC.

 There are three versions of the 10 Dinar Banknote presently in circulation:

Image Ibn Khaldoun on a Banknote

On the Front of the 10 Dinar Banknote is depicted Ibn Khaldoun.

Ibn Khaldoun (27.05.1332 – 19.03.1403):

He was an Arab Historiographer and Historian, regarded as the founding fathers of modern Sociology, Historiography and Economics.

He is best known for his book The Muqaddimah (or “Prolegomena in Greek). This Book influenced 17th century Ottoman historians like Hajji Khalifa and Mustafa Naima who used the theories in the book to analyse the growth and decline of the Ottoman Empire. Later scholars also acknowledged the significance of his book and considered him to be one of the greatest philosophers to emerge from the Muslim world.

On the Front of another 10 Dinar Banknote is depicted Elissa (Dido) instituted after the United Nations IT Conference in Tunis 2006.

(Elissa or Dido: She was the founder and first queen of Carthage, in modern day Tunisia. The Roman poet Virgil has given an elaborate description of her in his epic – “Aeneid”. She also finds a mention in the lost writings of Timaeus of Tauromenium, Sicily, around 356-260 BC. She was the wife of Acerbas and sister of Pygmalion, the King of Tyre. It is said that her father, the earlier King of Tyre had nominated both his beautiful daughter Dido and son Pygmalion to jointly rule Tyre. However, the citizens of Tyre, preferred to have Pygmalion as the sole King upon the passing away of their father. She was married to Acerbas who was murdered by Pygmalion for his gold, which she managed to hide from Pygmalion. Fearing Pygmalion’s wrath, she fled with her followers and sought the permission of the Berber King Larbas to settle in a place which could be covered by an ox-hide. She cut the ox-hide into several strips, so that she could encircle a nearby hill later called “Byrsa” (or Hide) which later developed into the city of Carthage. Larbas, then wanted to take Dido as his wife, but she refused and instead died in a “funeral pyre” which she lit in her late husband’s memory (a form of “Sati”). She was deified as a goddess and worshipped in Carthage, thereafter.

On the Back of the above 10 Dinar Banknotes is depicted Sbeitla Temple and a Satellite dish.

The colour of these Banknotes is predominantly blue.


This is a city in North Eastern Tunisia. Near this city are the Roman ruins of Sufetula, which contain the best preserved Forum temples in Tunisia. Sbeitla was the entry point of the Muslim conquest of North Africa and south of Europe. Sbeitla organises an annual festival in the forum and it has an archeological museum which houses several maps, sculptures and mosaics.

On the Front of the third Ten Dinar Banknote is depicted Aboul-Qacem Echebbi.

Aboul-Qacem Echebbi (24.02.1909 – 09.10.1934): He was a Tunisian poet best known for writing the final twi verses of the current National anthem of Tunisia, “Humat-al-Hima (Defenders of the Homeland) that was originally written by the Egyptian poet Mustafa Sadik el-Rafii. His poems touched a wide variety of subjects – from Nature to Patriotism. His poem   - “Elaa Toyaat el-Eaalam” (To the tyrants of the world) – became a popular slogan chant during the 2011 Tunisian and the later Egyptian demonstrations. Some of his other popular works are “Modakkeraat” (Memories), “Rasaael” (A collection of letters), “Ayaani el-Hayaat” (Canticles of the Life) & “Sadiqi” (A collection of seminars given to the Alumni Association of the College). His image also features on the 30 Dinar Banknote.

On the Back of this Ten Dinar (Ten Dix Dinars) Banknote are depicted the Arches of El Medersa El Bacchia School in Tunis.

The colour of this Banknote is predominantly blue and yellow.

There are two versions of the 20 Dinar Banknote presently in circulation:

On the Front of the Twenty Dinar Banknote is depicted Kheireddine Et-Tounsi or Khair al Din Pasha al Tunsi .

The colour of this Banknote is predominantly purple.

On the Front of another Twenty Dinar Banknote is depicted Kheireddine Et-Tounsi, Ksar Ouled Soltane, fortified granary in Tataouine District.

The colour of this Banknote is predominantly red, blue and yellow.

Khair al Din Pasha al Tunsi or Hayreddin Pasha (1820-1890):

 He was a Tunisian-Ottoman politician who was born into a Circassian family. At first he served as “Beylerbeyi” (Governor) of Ottoman Tunisia and later rose to the position of Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire. He was a political reformer at the time of growing European ascendancy.

On the Back of this Twenty Dinar Banknote is depicted the L’Ecole Sadiki (Sadiki College) Building in Tunis.

On the Front of the 30 Dinar Banknote is depicted Aboul-Qacem Echebbi.

On the Back of the Thirty Dinar Banknote is depicted a Field and Water Tower.

The colour of this Banknote is predominantly orange.

There are two versions of the 50 Dinar Banknote presently in circulation:

On the Front of the Fifty Dinar Banknote is depicted Ibn El Rachiq Kairouani, the City of Culture Building.

On the Back of the Fifty Dinar Banknote is depicted the Rades Bridge over the ship canal to Tunis, Enfidha-Hammamet International Airport (formerly called Zine el-Abidine ben Ali Airport, after the President who was overthrown in January 2011).

The colour of this Banknote is predominantly green and purple.

On the Front of another Fifty Dinar Banknote is depicted Ibn El Rachiq Kairouani, Musee de la Monnaie (Money or Currency Museum) buildings in Tunis.

On the Back of this Fifty Dinar Banknote is depicted the Place Gouvernement la Kasbah, Central Square in Tunis.

The Coat of Arms or Emblem of Tunisia:

Armiger: Republic of Tunisia

Crest: A crescent (moon) and mullet (star) of five points, both Gules (red), inside a Roundel (round emblem) Argent (silver), fimbriated Gules.

Escutcheon: In base per pale Or and Or , to the sinister (left), a Balance Sable, to the sinister (right) a Lion Rampant Sable (forepaws raised), holding in its dexter paw a Sabre Argent, and on a Chief Or, on a base wavy Azure (blue), a Punic Lymphad in full sail, sails Argent, flag Gules. Over all, a scroll Or bearing, in Arabic script, the words “Liberty – Order – Justice” Sable.

The Coat of Arms of Tunisia displays a Punic Galley (symbol of Freedom) along with a lion holding a sword (symbol of order) as well as a weighing scale (symbol of justice). In the centre, just below the Punic Galley is the National motto written in Arabic “Freedom, Order, Justice”.

The Central Emblem of the National Flag a crescent moon & a star is seen above the Shield. The background on all the sections of the shield is gold.

This is the third Coat of Arms adopted by Tunisia:

1956 – 1957 – Kingdom of Tunisia

1957 – 1963 – Republic of Tunisia

1963 – onwards – Republic of Tunisia

(The 5 & 10 Dinar Banknotes are from the collection of Jayant Biswas. Banknotes scanned and post researched and written by Rajeev Prasad)


  1. Vikram Bhatnagar has commented:
    "Rajeev, your reportage invigorates the bank note, makes it come alive and move, from being just currency to history depicted in prose! Remarkable!"

    1. Thank you for your extremely encouraging words, Vikram. Much appreciate..