Bronze as of Antoninus Pius, showing Britannia

Rome, mid-2nd century AD

Rule Britannia?

Britannia, the personification of Britain, first appears on coins of the Roman emperor Hadrian (AD 117-38), the builder of the great wall across Britain. This coin comes from the reign of his successor Antoninus Pius (AD 138-61), who built the lesser-known 'Antonine Wall' across lowland Scotland between the rivers Forth and Clyde.

This bronze as, dated to AD 155, was common in Britain but rare in other parts of the Roman Empire. It may well have formed part of a special shipment of coin to the island. If so, the subject of Britannia was well-chosen for this issue.

The image on this coin has long fascinated scholars. Some argue that the figure of Britannia is in mourning because she holds her hand to her forehead - a gesture in classical art usually taken to indicate sorrow. The traditional explanation of this is that a British revolt had recently been put down by the Roman army.

It could also be argued that the coin shows Britannia in a state of relaxed peace, perhaps in the act of drawing up the hood of her cloak (the hooded cloak was a typical Romano-British garment known as the birrus Britannicus). There is a shield at her side and a Roman army flag nearby in order to remind the local people of the protection given by the Roman army on the northern frontier. Recent archaeological research tends to dismiss the idea of a revolt in Britain in the AD 150s. This would appear to favour the second explanation.


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More information


N. Hodgson, 'Were there two Antonine occupations of Scotland?', Britannia-1, 26 (1995)

D.R. Walker, 'The Roman coins' in The Temple of Sulis Minerva at (OUCA, 1988)

R. Reece, Coinage in Roman Britain (London, Seaby, 1987)


Diameter: 26.000 mm
Weight: 11.260 g

Museum number

CM BMC1977



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