Britannia, by William Camden

Roman COINS.

Big T THE first of the Romans after Julius Cæsar, that resolv’d to subdue Britain in earnest, was Claudius; who shipping over his army, reduc’d the south-part into the form of a Province. And about that time, this first piece of money, with an abbreviated Inscription, seems to have been coin’d: TI. CLAVD. CÆS. AVG. P. M. TR. P. VIIII. IMP. XVI. i.e. Tiberius Claudius Cæsar Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, Tribunitia potestate 9. Imperator 16. To explain these titles once for all. After Julius Cæsar, who laid the foundation of the Roman Monarchy; all his successors in honour of him assumed the titles of Cæsar or Augustus (as if they were above the pitch of humane nature; for things that are sacred we call August;) and also that of Pontifices Maximi or High-Priests, because they were consecrated to all the kinds of Priesthood, and had the Oversight of all Religious Rites. They usurp’d likewise the Tribunitian power (but would not by any means be call’d Tribunes,) that they might be sacred and inviolable. For, in vertue of this authority, if any one gave them rude language, or offer’d violence to their persons, he was to be put to death without hearing, as sacrilegious. They renew’d this Tribunitian power every year, and by it computed the years of their reign. At last, they were call’d Emperors, because their Empire was large and Ample; and under that name was couch’d the power both of Kings and Dictators. And they were stil’d Emperors as oft as they did any thing very great and honourable, either in person, or by their Generals (a). But, since in the reverse of this coin there is a triumphal arch, with a man on horse-back between two trophies, and the title DE BRITAN; I should imagin, that in the 9th year of Claudius (for so I reckon, according to his Tribunitian Power) there were two Victories over the Britains.

(a) Imperator, at first (saith Mr. Walker) was an appellation of Honour given by the soldiers to their Commander, who had obtained a great victory over the enemy; but afterwards it was a title given to the chief General of their armies, as all the Emperors were. The Tribunes also of the people were accounted sacred persons, and therefore might safely accuse any man to the people. They were always of Plebeian families; but the Emperors being Pontifices Maximi were Patrician. And therefore that their power might be uncontroulable, not being capable of the Tribune-ship, they obtained to have Tribunitiam potestatem, i.e. all the power of a Tribune; which was conferred upon them every year, or as often as they desired it. Sometimes they refused it, and sometimes they conferr’d it on one of their Confidents; and sometimes for five years. So that it is not true, which most of the Medal Writers, and Camden amongst them, say, that the number of the Tribunitia potestas was the number of their reigns. See the book of Coins and Medals, in Augustus.

Nummi Romani Coins table 1
Table 1: Nummi Romani Coins

2. In the second Coin (which also is one of Claudius Augustus;) from this Inscription TI. CLAVD. CAES. AVG. GER. TR. P. XII. IMP. XIIX. we learn, that in the twelfth year of his reign, after he had been successful in Britain, he was saluted Emperor the eighteenth time; and the Ploughman with a Cow and a Bull, inform us that at the same time a Colony was plac’d in Camalodunum. The Romans (says Servius) being about to build a City, and clad after the Gabine fashion, (i.e. with part of the gown covering the head, and the other part tuck’d up,) yok’d on the right hand a Bull, with a Cow on the inner-side, and in that habit held the crooked plough-tail so as to make all the earth fall inwards. By drawing a furrow, they mark’d out the track of the walls, lifting up the plough where the gates were to be.

⌈To this (says Mr. Walker) I have added another; a Britain naked, fighting with a man, armed with sword and buckler; out of the judgment of divers learned men, though I have not seen any with such inscription.⌉

3. The son of Claudius (whose the third Coin is, with Greek characters) was by a Decree of the Senate honour’d with the sirname of BRITANNICVS, as peculiar to himself; upon the account of his Father’s success. He it was, for whom Seneca pray’d, That he might quiet Germany, † aperiat.make an inroad into Britain, and * * ducat.maintain his father’s triumphs, with new ones of his own. But what then must be the meaning of that half ship with an Inscription to this sense, The Metropolis of King Etiminius? Who this Etiminius should be, does not appear to me; unless we imagin him to be that Adiminius, Cunobelin’s son, who (as Suetonius says) took protection under C. Caligula.

⌈In this Coin (saith Mr. Walker) is expressed the manner how the Romans settled the Countries they conquered: which was by planting strong Colonies of Romans in places convenient; whereby they both kept the conquered in peace, and entred into conversation and business with them, introducing frugality, husbandry, trading, &c.

4. The fourth Coin, is Hadrian’s, with this Inscription, HADRIANVS AVG. CONSVL III. PATER PATRIAE; and on the reverse EXERCITUS BRITANNICVS (the British army) represented by three soldiers: I should imagin it to point out the three Legions, which serv’d in Britain in the year of Christ 120 (for then he was third time Consul,) namely, the Secunda Augusta, the Sexta Victrix, and the Vicesima Victrix.

5, 6. The fifth and sixth (both of Antoninus Pius) with this Inscription, ANTONINVS AVG. PIVS. P. P. TR. P. COS. III. and on the reverse of the one, Britain sitting on the rocks, with a standard, a spear, and a shield; on the reverse of the other, the same Britain sitting upon a globe. These seem to have been stamp’d by the British Province, in honour of Antoninus Pius, at his coming to the Empire in the year of Christ 140. That military habit of the Province of Britain, signifies, that at that time it flourished in military discipline. So the money coined by Italy, in honour of that Emperor, and upon the same occasion, has such a figure sitting upon a globe, with a Cornucopia, to signifie plenty of all things: that coined by Sicily, has the figure, with ears of corn, to denote fruitfulness: and that by Mauritania, has a person holding two spears, with an horse, to imply the peculiar glory of that Province in Cavalry. 9. And to this head also is to be referr’d the ninth, which is the same Antoninus’s, but not in its proper place.

7. The seventh (which is Commodus’s) only shows that upon account of a victory over the Britains, he took the name of Britannicus: for on the reverse, we see Victory with the branch of a Palm-tree, holding a shield, and leaning upon the shields of the conquer’d Britains, with this Inscription, VICTORIA BRITANNICA. ⌈But tho’ Commodus (saith Mr. Walker) was by his flatterers called Britannicus; yet the Britains either endeavoured to chuse, or actually chose, another Emperor.⌉Lamprid.

8. The eighth (which is Caracalla’s, but is not put in the proper place) plainly shews, by the Numerals, that he conquer’d the Enemy in Britain in the year of our Lord 214; and this also appears by the Trophy, which Virgil in these verses has describ’d more lively, than the best Engraver can possibly do,

Ingentem quercum decisis undique ramis
Constituit tumulo, fulgentiaque induit arma
Mezenti ducis exuvias, tibi magne tropheum
Bellipotens: aptat roranteis sanguine cristas,
Telaque trunca viri

And first he lopp’d an Oak’s great branches round,
The trunk he fasten’d in a rising ground:
And here he fix’d the shining Armour on,
The mighty spoil from proud Mezentius won.
The Crest was plac’d above that drop’d with blood,
A grateful trophy to the Warlike God;
And shatter’d spears stuck round.—

12. The same Judgment is to be made on the twelfth, which is the same Caracalla’s.

10, 11. In those of Severus and Geta, there is no difficulty.

13. Who this ÆlianAElian was, does not appear. Some reckon him to be that A. Pomponius ÆlianusAElianus among the thirty Tyrants. Others made him Cl. Ælianus among the six Tyrants under Dioclesian. And some there are, who think this was the very Tyrant in Britain under Probus the Emperor, whom Zosimus mentions in general without telling us his name; and of whom we have spoken before. ⌈I find (saith Mr. Walker) one Ælianusaelianus chosen Emperor by the Army of Lollianus, after they had slain him at Mentz.⌉ But at what time soever he liv’d, I am of opinion that he was called Augustus in Britain, because his Coins are found only in our Island with this Inscription, IMPERATOR CL. ÆLIANVS PIVS FOELIX AVGVSTVS. On the reverse, VICTORIA AVGVSTI, which implies that he subdu’d the Barbarians some where.

14. The Coin of Carausius, with this Inscription, IMPERATOR CAIVS CARAVSIVS PIVS FOELIX AVGVSTVS, and on the reverse, PAX AVGVSTI, seems to have been stamp’d after he had cleared the British Sea of the Pirates. ⌈He was (saith Mr. Walker) a man of very mean birth; but by his parts, courage and industry, together with the money he had got from the Pirates (never restoring what he took, either to the Emperor, or the persons robbed) he advanced himself to that high degree. He was of Menapia, but (as it seems) not that in Gallia, but in Ireland.⌉

15. When Allectus (who made away Carausius) had usurp’d the Government, and behaved himself stoutly against the Barbarians; he stamp’d this Coin, with the Inscription, VIRTVS AUGVSTI. By the Letters Q. L. some would have meant, Quartarius coyn’d at London; others, a QuæstorQuaestor or Treasurer of London.

16. After Constantius Chlorus had ended his days at York, and was solemnly deified, this was coyn’d in honour to his memory; as appears by the Inscription, and the † † Rather, the Altar.Temple between two Eagles. The letters underneath, P. LON. shew that the money was stamp’d at London.

17. His wife, Flavia Helena, a Lady of British birth (as our Histories tell us, and the excellent Historian Baronius confirms,) after her son Constantine the Great had * * Fudisset.routed the Tyrant Maxentius, and (having secur’d the Common-wealth,) receiv’d the titles, Fundator quietis, Founder of peace; and Liberator orbis, Deliverer of the world; she also had this money coyn’d in honour of her at Triers, as appears by the Letters S. TR. i.e. Signata Treviris, stamp’d at Triers. ⌈And in the MusæumMusaeum museum of Mr. Thoresby, there is a very fair one of her’s, minted in her Native Country, at London.⌉

18. Fl. Constantinus Maximus Augustus, the great ornament of Britain, coin’d this at Constantinople (as appears by the letters underneath, CONSA.) with the Inscription of GLORIA EXERCITVS, to ingratiate himself with the army; for in that age they, and not the Emperor, had the disposal of the Empire.

Roman Coins. Tab. II.

Nummi Romani Coins table 2
Table 2: Nummi Romani Coins & Runic Alphabet

19. Constantinus Junior, son of Constantine the Great (to whose share Britain fell, among other Countries) stamp’d this Coin while his father was living. For he is only stil’d Nobilis Cæsarcaesar, a name that was given to the * * Designatis Imperii successoribus.Heirs apparent of the Empire. We may gather, from the Building, and PROVIDENTIAE CAES. that he and his brother built some publick work; and from P. LON. that it was coyn’d at London.

20. This Coin, inscrib’d Dominus noster Magnentius Pius Fœlix Augustus, seems to have been stamp’d by Magnentius, (whose father was a Britain,) and to have been design’d to ingratiate himself with Constantius, after he had conquered some publick Enemy. For the Characters DD. NN. AVGG. i.e. Domini nostri Augusti, intimate that there were then two Augusti, or Emperors. The words VOTIS V. MVLTIS X. signify that the people then † Vota nuncupabat.solemnly pray’d That the Emperor might flourish five years, and multiplying that number, with unanimous acclamations wish’d him many ten years. And this is further made out by that passage in Nazari the Panegyrist, The Quinquennial feasts of the blessed and happy Cæsars possess all hearts with abundance of joy; but in the appointed revolutions of Ten years, our eager vows and swift hopes are at a stand. The letters P. AR. shew this Denarius to have been stamp’d at Arles.

21. Constantius, after he had * * Fuso.defeated Magnentius, and recovered Britain, had this coined in honour of the army. The R. in the basis, possibly shews that it came out of the mint at Rome.

22. This Coin (stamp’d at Antioch, as appears by the small letters underneath) was made in honour of Valentinian, after he had rais’d Britain from a sinking state, and call’d that part which he had recover’d, from his own name, Valentia.

23. To this Coin of Gratian’s I have nothing to say, but what I just now observ’d upon that of Magnentius.

24. 25.
When Magnus Maximus was created Emperor by the army in Britain, as also his son Flavius Victor, this money was coin’d in compliment and honour to the soldiers: and Theodosius, after he had dispatch’d those two out of the way, stamp’d that other with the Inscription VIRTVTE EXIRCITVS, upon the very same account.

27. In that golden Coin of Honorius, there is nothing observable, but that from AVGGG. we may infer that there were then three Augusti, or Emperors; which was after the year 420, when Honorius was Emperor in the West, Theodosius Junior in the East, and Constantius (who had conquer’d our Constantine, him who was elected here upon account of his name,) was made Emperor by Honorius. As for that CONOB, it shews it to be † Obrizum.pure gold, stamp’d at Constantinople.

For, as far as my observation has carry’d me, CONOB. is never upon any Coins, but golden ones.

I could add a great many more Roman Coins (for there are prodigious quantities found here, in the ruins of old demolished cities, * * In Thesauris & flavissis, lib. 1. c. de auri pub. prosecut. lib. 12, 13. C. Th. de suscept. præ the treasure-coffers or vaults which were hidden in that age, and in funeral urns;) And I was very much surprised how such great abundance should remain to this day, till I read that the melting down of ancient money was prohibited by the Imperial Constitutions.

Having represented those ancient Coins (British and Roman) † Suis their proper forms; it may be for the Reader’s Benefit, if we insert here a Chorographical Table of Britain (as it was a Roman Province,) together with the ancient names. Not that I promise to make it compleat; for who can pretend to that? But such a one, as, if you learn nothing else from it, will at least teach you, That there are continual changes and alterations in this world; new foundations of cities laid, new names of nations rais’d, and the old ones bury’d. So that (as the Poet says,)

Non indignemur mortalia corpora solvi,
Cernimus exemplis oppida posse mori

Vain mortals, ne’er repine at heaven’s decree,
When sad examples shew that towns themselves can die.

Roman COINS,

Which are added
To those of Mr. CAMDEN.

Tab. II, continued.

28. THE twenty-eighth is added, because, tho’ those contain nothing upon them expresly concerning Britain, yet Julius Cæsarcaesar was the first that discovered the nation, and made some small progress in reducing it. No mention of this is on his Coins, because then he was not supream, but acted as a General commissioned by the Senate; and the power of putting his Image upon Coins was not given him till afterwards, and till he had obtained the supream power. The reverse of this is, Augustus; because under him the Britains lived in peace and liberty; probably secured by Cunobelinus, who (as we said before) lived at Rome in his time.

29. The twenty-ninth is of Vespasian, who contributed more than any other to the conquest of Britain; and by his valour and success here, obtained that glory, which brought with it the Empire.

30. The thirtieth is of Decimus Clodius Albinus, a great Gourmond, but a good Justicer, and a valiant and expert soldier. He was a noble Roman, but born at Adrumetum. Commodus would have made him Cæsar, I suppose because he was accounted of a gladiatorian humor also; but he refused it, yet accepted it from Severus. When Severus went against Pescennius Niger, to keep him quiet in Britain, where he commanded the Legions, he named him Cæsar, and Sophinius; and a little after, made him partaker or companion in the Empire. But Pescennius being overcome, he went streight against Albinus; who hearing of it, met him with his British Legions in arms; where divers sore battles were fought with various success. Till, at Lyons, Albinus, by the treachery of some of his Officers, was vanquish’d, and sorely wounded, and basely and unworthily used by Severus; who cut off his head, sending it to Rome, where it was set upon the publick Gallows, and his body left in the PrætoriumPraetorium till it stunk, and was torn by dogs. It appears by divers of his Coins, that he was also Augustus, but not long before his death.

31. The thirty-first is of M. Aurelius Marius, and is placed here, because some say that he was born in Britain: at first he was a smith, but, being afterwards a soldier, and of prodigious strength and valour, he got himself to be chosen Emperor, upon Posthumus’s death. Some say, that he reigned but three days; but by his many Coins, it appears that he reigned longer, both in Britain and Gaul. The soldier who killed him, upbraided him, that it was with a sword which himself had made.

32. The thirty-second. I had here placed Bonosus, a Britain, son of a Rhetorician, a very valiant warlike man, and the greatest drinker of his age. He commanded RhœtiaRhoetia (the Grisons country) and the confines of the Roman Empire towards the Germans: and having lost the fleet upon the Rhine which was left in his charge, for fear of punishment he rebelled, and declared himself Augustus. Probus, after a great battle, took and hanged the Usurper. In his stead therefore I have taken the Coin of Æmilianus,AEmilianus being very rare; because I could not find, either in metal or writing, any one of Bonosus.

33. The thirty-third, being a rare Coin of Delmatius, I have described (though not so nearly related to Britain, being son to the brother of Constantine the Great,) chiefly, to fill up a void place.

As also (because Roman Coins are so well known, and there are very few more than what are here described, which concern Britain;) for the better understanding of exotick Coins, as of the Franks, British, and Saxon, I thought it not amiss to fill up the remaining space, with an Alphabet of such letters as are usually found upon them. Some I omitted, because I did not know them. The first Alphabet is of the Runic; which also hath some part in most of the rest.⌉


Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06