Roman Coins About Britain

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Roman Coins About Britain
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Claudius announcing in 46 AD that Britain has been conquered. If only he knew….

Photo Copyright Classical Numismatic Group, LLC

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.

Constantius Chlorus liberating London in 296 AD.

Photo Copyright Classical Numismatic Group, LLC. Auction 460 lot 1047

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.

Photo Copyright Numismatica Ars Classica NAC AG Auction 106 Part I, Lot 991

A broad outline of what we’re going to cover is:

43 AD

Claudius commemorated his conquest of Britain

79-81 AD

Vespasian and Titus minted coins celebrating Agricola’s victories in modern day Scotland

119-121 AD

Hadrian issued coins with Britannia on them. This is the first appearance of Britannia. The reason for these coins is unclear

134-136 AD

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)

142-144 AD

Antoninus Pius minted coins commemorating the invasion of southern Scotland by the governor Quintus Lollius Urbicus

154-155 AD

Antoninus Pius minted coins featuring Britannia which are incorrectly attributed to commemorating the suppression of a Brigantes uprising

184-185 AD

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

208-211 AD

Septimius Severus, Caracalla, and Geta came to Britain and mounted two campaigns deep into Scotland.  Many coins were minted to commemorate these events

269-271 AD

Victorinus minted some coins honouring his British legions

286-293 AD

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

293 AD

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

297 AD

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

307-314 AD

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

343 AD

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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