It’s sometimes said that Roman coins were the newspapers of their time, with the reverses carrying information about the emperor’s activities and conquests. The headlines on the coins of 46 AD announcing that Britain had been conquered were, with hindsight, a little bit premature, and the province continued to appear in the news (and on the coins) for the next three hundred years, leaving us with many coins that feature Britain in one way or another. This article is going to take a look at those coins.
All in all, fifteen emperors, spanning 300 years, minted coins about Britain. Some of the emperors minted a large number of coins about Britain, and some of them minted just one. Some of the coins explicitly mention Britain, while others are thought to refer to events in Britain without explicitly saying so. Some associations with Britain are just downright disputed, and I’ll go into the details why.
Septimius Severus commemorating a bridge built over the River Tay in Scotland in 208 AD. Or it might have been the River Forth in Scotland. Or a river in York. Or Rome. Or maybe not even a bridge at all.
Hadrian issued coins with Britannia on them. This is the first appearance of Britannia. The reason for these coins is unclear
Hadrian minted a number of coins at the end of his reign celebrating:
The provinces of the Roman Empire in female form
His arrival in various provinces (Adventus coins)
The armies of the empire (Excecitvs coins)
Antoninus Pius minted coins commemorating the invasion of southern Scotland by the governor Quintus Lollius Urbicus
Antoninus Pius minted coins featuring Britannia which are incorrectly attributed to commemorating the suppression of a Brigantes uprising
Commodus issued a number of coins featuring Britannia to celebrate the victories in Scotland by the governor of Britain, Ulpius Marcellus. These campaigns had started in 180AD when northern tribes breached Hadrian’s Wall and ran until 184AD. Commodus took on the title “Britannicus” for this, and all his coins after this date feature “Brit” in the legend
Victorinus minted some coins honouring his British legions
Carausius usurped power in Britain and minted a number of coins featuring Britannia. He also minted a number of Adventus coins (the emperor arrives) to commemorate his arrival in Britain, and some coins honouring his British legions
Allectus murdered Carausius and became an usurper emperor of Britain. He issued two coins celebrating his arrival in Britain, and possibly one coin honouring a British legion
Constantius Chlorus defeated Allectus and brought Britain back into the Roman Empire. A series of gold multiples were minted to celebrate this. Two of these show what is thought to be Britannia, one shows the city of London, and the other, well, you’ll have to make up your own mind about that one
Constantine the Great made one or more visits to Britain. The number of visits he made, their dates, and the reasons, are still a subject of debate
Constans travelled from Boulogne to Britain, and the daring mid winter trip was celebrated on a Medallion
Before we get started, this is a big article and I’m sure I will have missed something or made a mistake. Please get in touch if you have any comments to make.
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