The Roaring Lion Of Zion: 10 Santeem (Ethiopia, 1969/1977)-Article

Updated: Nov 13, 2021

This Ethiopian coin represents the 2nd denomination coin of the Second Birr (Series 1977). The coin is smooth edged design, made of copper. It's dimensions are 23 mm (0.905 in) wide, 1.4 mm (0.055in) thick and weighs 4.5 g. Making similar in size to a standard US Quarter, although lighter.

Issued under the Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia (1974-1987). This military junta was commonly known as the "Derg", the Amharic for the "committee" or "council". The Derg was responsible for the overthrow of Emperor Selassie I, the last Emperor of Ethiopia. Its Marxism-Leninism ideology was determined to eliminate the social structure of the previous feudal government. Through a system of radical land reforms and repression of political dissenters.


The observe features a roaring Ethiopian Lion, in right-ward profile. The Lion is national symbol of the Ethiopian nation. As it represents the Lion of Zion, a cultural analogue to the biblical Lion of Judah. Notably the Lion of Zion was featured on the Imperial Flag of Haile Selassie I. Its appearance on this coin is a testament to its cultural significance. Even after the Derg's overthrow of Emperor Selassie I.

The coin uses a unique Ethiopian dating system, based on letters of the Ge'ez alphabet. In which, individual letters are assigned values in the "1s" and "10s" range. With special characters valued at 100 (፻) and 10,000 (፼). Unlike similar dating systems, such as Hebrew dating. This Ge'ez based dating system lacks values for "100s". Leading to some relatively complex solutions, to overcome this limitation.

For example this coin reads ፲ ፱ ፻ ፴ ፮, broken down as ፲ (10)-፱ (9)-፻ (100)-፷ (60)-፱ (9).

Mathematically the date can be expressed as, 10(፲)+9(፱)=19x100(፻)=1900+60(፷)+9(፱)=1969. Notably a system upper and lower brackets are used to differentiate "numbers" from letters.

In addition, collectors should be aware of the differences of the Ge'ez and Georgian (standard) calendars. As it's fairly common for beginning collectors. To mistakenly assume that the coin's listed date, is referring to standard western dating. Often unaware of complexity of the Ge'ez calendar.

This unique calendar began on 29 August 8 CE and features an additional "leap year" day without exception, every 4 years. This has lead to a slowly growing gap between the Ge'ez and Georgian calendars. The before mention gap grows roughly 1 day, every 1 to 2 centuries. Further adding to this complexity, by it's very nature a Ge'ez year spans across 2 standard Georgian years.

For example, this coin's mint date (Ge'ez 1934) ranged from 12 September 1943 and ended in 11 September 1944. As a general rule, one can quickly create a rough estimate for standard year dates. By simply adding 8 years to the Ge'ez year. Which is occasionally used by vendors, when processing large quantities of Ethiopian coins and banknotes.

While more precise dating can be made, by calculating from the 11 September. More appropriate when estimating particular dates, such as historical events, unlisted in standard Georgian dating. Also it should be noted that Ge'ez years divisible by 4 (leap year). For the near future will begin on 12 September.


The reverse depicts an endangered Mountain Nyala (antelope) grazing. They can be found in isolate areas of the Ethiopian Highlands. While Nyala are generally not hunted in Ethiopia, the Oromo people do in special occasions. Such as Easter, when all able-bodied men embark on horseback, in a communal village hunt.

The body of the Nyala features a large number "10", representing the coin's 10 Santeem value. Below the grass line is a single line of text in Amharic (the national language of Ethiopia). It reads "አስር:ሳንቲም", translated as Ten Santeem. Notably the coin's artwork was designed by Australian goldsmith Stuart Devlin (1931-2018).

Size Comparison

A 10 Santeem coin with a US Quarter for scale.
A 10 Santeem coin with a US Quarter for scale.

Additional Notes

  • The name Birr translates to "silver" in Ge'ez, Satim is a Ethiopian variant of "cent".

  • The "Derg" ruled Ethiopia from 1974-1987, transitioning to a civilian government.

  • The People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, was ruled by the Workers' Party of Ethiopia.

9 views0 comments