Issued by the Banque Centrale de Syrie, the official Syrian currency has demanded international attention in recent years for its precipitous loss of value. But where did the Syrian pound come from, and how long has it been around? Read on for an extremely short history of this currency and the tumultuous social and political circumstances that have impacted it.
Before the Syrian Pound
Before the fall of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, Syria’s official currency was the Turkish lira. In fact, it used its neighboring Ottoman country’s currency for roughly 400 years.
Under foreign occupation after WWI, Syria complied with French and British mandates to adopt the Egyptian pound as its official currency. However, the French government soon took both Syria and Lebanon under a new mandate to give Syria its own currency. France ultimately granted a commercial bank, the authority to issue the new Syrian pound.
Syria Adopts the Pound
Under the French government’s direction, the Banque de Syrie (a French affiliate of the Ottoman Bank), sought introduced the Syrian pound in 1919. However, the currency was pegged to the French franc and bore the French name “livre.” The Banque de Syrie introduced notes for 1 and 5 livres as well as lower currency notes for 5, 25, and 50 qirsha. At the time, the Syrian livre has an exchange value of 20 French francs.
In 1920, the Banque de Syrie began releasing 1-qirsh notes as well as notes for and 10, 25, 50, and 100 livres. Between 1920 and 1939, the issuing body of the Syrian livre changed twice: first to the Banque de Syrie et du Grand-Liban and then to the Banque de Syrie et du Liban.
The Syrian Pound’s Evolution
During the height of World War II in 1941, the Syrian livre officially became the Syrian pound. A change in name alone, the currency remained essentially the same.
In fact, the name change was a result of a new occupation of Syria by British military forces, who replaced Syrian currency’s peg to the French franc with a peg to the British pound. At the time, a single British pound was worth just under nine Syrian pounds based on the pre-WWII conversion rate between French and British currency.
The Syrian pound would return to French valuation again before it became pegged to the US dollar in 1947 at a value of roughly 2.2 Syrian pounds to one US dollar. Compared to the rocky road it would face in later decades, the Syrian pound remained remarkably stable from 1947 to 1961, maintaining the same US dollar exchange rate.
The Banque Centrale de Syrie began issuing the Syrian pound in 1957. In 1958, it replaced the French language on all Syrian banknotes with English. It also issued a progressively higher series of bill denominations that culminated with the printing of 1000-pound notes in 1998.
Modern Times Bring Modern Problems for the Syrian Pound
Since the start of Syrian civil war in 2011, international exchange rates for the Syrian pound have deteriorated significantly. One US dollar was worth approximately 47 Syrian pounds in March of 2011. By July of 2017, that exchange rate had fallen to 1 to 515.
Catastrophic sociopolitical events such as the violent Lebanese protests of 2019 have only made matters worse for the Syrian pound. The November Lebanese protests precipitated a 30% drop in currency value, and by January of 2020, the black-market value of the Syrian pound dropped as low as 1,000 to a single US dollar.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit Syria and the rest of the world, dropping the Syrian pound into a veritable freefall. By March of 2021, the currency hit a record low on the black market, bringing just one US dollar for 4,000 Syrian pounds.