Earlier this year while wandering around Turkey, I wondered: why did the country use “lira” as currency?

Lira is what Italy used before the euro, and after some cursory research I discovered the it was also used in Malta and San Marino. With a little more reading, I also discovered the lira actually goes way back to antiquity, and is connected to even more currencies including the British pound.

The story of the lira begins in ancient Rome, when the Romans used the “libra pondo” — meaning “pound of weight — as both a unit of measure. The Romans spread their culture throughout the western world, and with that went their weights and monetary systems as well. Though the Roman Empire eventually fell, people across the region continued using forms of its monetary system for centuries. Hence, the “libra” eventually became the “lira” in many places.


But the impact was more widespread than might be immediately obvious. France, for example, used the “livre” from the 700s, when it was set up by Charlemagne, until 1794.

In England, Charlemagne’s monetary system was eventually adapted by the Anglo Saxons. And though the name of the currency in England became the “pound,” the symbol, £, looks like a stylized “L” due to its origins as a “libra.”

Incidentally, this history also explains why “lb” is the abbreviation for pounds, when used as a measurement of weight. That “lb” is actually an abbreviation for “libra.”

Which is all pretty incredible; every time we stand on a scale (in the US at least), we’re actually using a system that has a connection to a 2,000-year-old civilization. And though some of those connections are dying out — it’s a lot harder to see them with the metric system and the euro — it’s clear the Roman’s influence on the world is far from over.

Related reading:

Money: One of the best souvenirs you’ll ever find

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.


  1. That’s really interesting. And how funny that we never question all of the hints that hide in plain sight, our many abbreviations for pound that are illogical without knowing this history. Great read–thanks!

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