Brass sestertius of Hadrian

Roman, early 2nd century AD

The emperor Hadrian addresses his troops in Britain

All Roman emperors found it vital to stay popular with the soldiers. The usual way for an emperor to make contact with the common soldier was through the ritual of the adlocutio, or imperial address. These morale-boosting talks are depicted on the reverses of many coins of the early Empire.

A series of them are shown on the coins of Emperor Hadrian (reigned AD 117-138), recording the progress of his publicity tours of the provinces. On this particular coin the emperor is before the army of Britain. He is on horseback, looking like he has just arrived. His horse appears to be drawing to a halt - an elegant pose known as diatrochazein, much favoured in classical and renaissance art for equestrian statues. Hadrian holds his hand above his head to attract the attention of the troops he is about to address. Only the front of the legion is shown: the standard-bearers wearing their traditional lion-skin headresses. The legend below reads EXERC[ITVS] BRITANNICVS ('army of Britain').

Find in the collection online

Brass sestertius of Hadrian

  • Hadrian's Wall

    Hadrian's Wall


More information


R.A.G. Carson, Principal coins of the Roman-1, vol. 2 (London, The British Museum Press, 1980)

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

C. Fosse, Roman historical coins-1 (London, Seaby, 1990)


Diameter: 3.500 cm (approx.)

Museum number

CM BMC (Hadrian) 1672



Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore