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Euro cash

Austrian Schilling
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Italian Lira  
Italian Currency
Curriculum Vitae:
Born 1860
Replaced grana, ducat, zecchino, florin, giulio
1 euro = 1940 lira
The Italian euro
Despite Italy's long tradition of monetary systems - the denarius was first issued in 212 BC under the Roman Empire - the lira only became a national currency in the 19th century.

Though coins known as the lira had been minted in Italian cities in the Middle Ages, it fell out of use until Napoleon reintroduced it to the island of Sardinia. When the unified Kingdom of Italy was formed in 1860, the lira was chosen as the currency to which all the other hotch-potch of Italian currencies should be tied.

When inflation began to spiral during the 1920s, Mussolini was determined to save face internationally and halt the lira's plunge. He announced the "battle of the lira" and reined it in with an unrealistically low exchange rate against the British pound, which forced steep wage cuts.

But as always with the lira, more inflation was just around the corner. Italy's invasion of Ethiopia left a big hole in the public coffers. Italians were urged to give in their gold - including their wedding rings - for the fascist cause, bringing in a haul of 400m lira. But more cash was still needed, and the government turned to printing money again, sending the lira once more on a downhill trend.

Periodic patches of massive inflation continued - for example after the fall of fascism in 1943 and again in the 1970s - and Italians have become used to counting their money in thousands and millions.

With such a rocky monetary history behind them - as well as a tough slog to enter the single currency - it is perhaps unsurprising that Italians are far and away the most enthusiastic of the eurozone populations with 83% in favour. The big names of Italian culture - Dante, Boticelli, da Vinci - will be featured on the coins.

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