Brass sestertii of Hadrian showing Personifications of Africa and Spain

Roman, early 2nd century AD

Emperor Hadrian - imperial tourist

Hadrian spent many years travelling extensively throughout his vast empire. He did this mainly to court popularity with the Roman army. He is shown meeting and greeting his armies on a number of his coins. They had a potential cause for grievance against the emperor. From the start of his reign he had pursued a non-expansionist policy, which meant that his soldiers had little chance for booty or advancement through glory.

It is clear that there was another purpose to Hadrian's travels: tourism. His villa at Tivoli, just outside Rome, contains sculptural and architectural reminders of his journeys.

The people of the provinces were clearly flattered by the unexpected attentions of their ruler: in Egypt he visited the great monuments and in Greece he took part in religious and cultural events. Although he did not enjoy a great deal of popularity at Rome, he was often fondly remembered outside of Italy. Hadrian was commemorated in Britain with at least one impressive bronze statue. (The head is now in The British Museum.)

The provinces that Hadrian visited are commemorated on the coinage of the time. Here we have Africa (ancient Tunisia) and Spain (Hispania), personified as women with symbolic objects appropriate to their country.

'Africa' is associated with two African animals, she wears a head-dress of a small elephant and rather daringly holds a scorpion! The basket next to her contains corn-ears to remind the viewer of the province's role as surplus producer of grain for the empire. Spain at this time was a peaceful province, located well away from the frontiers. She is depicted holding a branch, a symbol of peace. Next to her is a rabbit, closely associated with the region by the Romans who nicknamed it Rabbity-Spain!

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Brass sestertii of Hadrian showing Personifications of Africa and Spain

Brass sestertius of Hadrian showing Personification of Africa

  • Personification of Spain

    Personification of Spain


More information


A. Birley, Hadrian: the restless emperor (London, Routledge, 1997)

C. Foss, Roman historical coins (London, Seaby, 1990)

C. Scarre, Chronicle of the Roman emperor (London, Thames & Hudson, 1997)

J.M.C. Toynbee, The Hadrianic school: chapter (Cambridge University Press, 1934)


Diameter: 30.000 mm (both coins)
Weight: 29.280 g
Weight: 29.280 g

Museum number

CM BMC (Hadrian) 1709;CM BMC (Hadrian) 1749

not found on MERLIN


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