Britannia has been used in several different senses. The name is a
Latinisation of the native Brittonic word for the island, Pretanī,
which also produced the Greek form Prettanike or Brettaniai, which
originally, in the fourth to the first centuries BC, designated a
collection of islands with individual names, including
Britain. By the 1st century BC,
Britannia came to be used for Great
Britain specifically. After the Roman conquest in 43 AD, Britannia
meant Roman Britain, a province covering the island south of Caledonia
(roughly Scotland). When
Roman Britain was divided into four provinces
in 197 AD, two were called
Britannia Superior and
Britannia is the name given to the female personification of the
island, and it is a term still used to refer to the whole island.
In the 2nd century, Roman
Britannia came to be personified as a
goddess, armed with a trident and shield and wearing a Corinthian
helmet. The name
Britannia long survived the end of Roman rule in
Britain in the
5th century and yielded the name for the island in most
European and various other languages, including the English Britain
and the modern Welsh Prydain. After centuries of declining use, the
Latin form was revived during the
English Renaissance as a rhetorical
evocation of a British national identity. Especially following the
Acts of Union in 1707, which joined the Kingdoms of England and
Scotland, the personification of the martial
Britannia was used as an
emblem of British maritime power and unity, most notably in "Rule,
A British cultural icon, she was featured on all modern British
coinage series until the redesign in 2008, and still appears annually
on the gold and silver "Britannia" bullion coin series. In 2015 a new
definitive £2 coin was issued, with a new image of Britannia. She is
also depicted in the
Brit Awards statuette, the British Phonographic
Industry's annual music awards.
1 Greek and Roman periods
2 British revival
2.1 Medieval use
2.2 Renaissance and British Empire
2.3 Modern associations
2.4 Depiction on British currency and postage stamps
2.4.3 Postage stamps
Britannia watermark in paper
2.6 Brit Awards
4 See also
7 External links
Greek and Roman periods
Roman Britain and Britain (name)
The first writer to use a form of the name was the Greek explorer and
Pytheas in the 4th century BC.
Pytheas referred to
Prettanike or Brettaniai, a group of islands off the coast of
North-Western Europe. In the 1st century BC,
Diodorus Siculus referred
to Pretannia, a rendering of the indigenous name for the Pretani
people whom the Greeks believed to inhabit the British Isles.
Following the Greek usage, the Romans referred to the Insulae
Britannicae in the plural, consisting of
Albion (Great Britain),
Iceland or Orkney) and many
smaller islands. Over time,
Albion specifically came to be known as
Britannia, and the name for the group was subsequently dropped.
Claudius is commonly attributed with the creation and
unification of the province of
Britannia in 43 AD,
Julius Caesar had
already established Roman authority over the Southern and Eastern
Britain dynasties during his two expeditions to the island in 55 and
54 BC. Just as Caeser himself had been an obside in Bithynia as a
youth, he also had taken the King's sons as obsides or hostages,
back to Rome, partially to be educated.
The Roman conquest of the island began in AD 43, leading to the
establishment of the
Roman province known in Latin as Britannia. The
Romans never successfully conquered the whole island, building
Hadrian's Wall as a boundary with Caledonia, which covered roughly the
territory of modern Scotland, although the whole of the boundary
Hadrian's Wall lies within modern-day Northern England. A
southern part of what is now
Scotland was occupied by the Romans for
about 20 years in the mid-2nd century AD, keeping in place the Picts
to the north of the Antonine Wall. People living in the Roman province
Britannia were called Britanni, or Britons. Ireland, inhabited by
the Scoti, was never invaded and was called Hibernia. Thule, an island
"six days' sail north of Britain, and [...] near the frozen sea",
possibly Iceland, was also never invaded by the Romans.[citation
An As coin from the reign of
Antoninus Pius struck in 154 AD showing
Britannia on the reverse
Claudius paid a visit while Britain was being conquered
and was honoured with the agnomen Britannicus as if he were the
conqueror; a frieze discovered at
Aphrodisias in 1980 shows a bare
breasted and helmeted female warrior labelled BRITANNIA, writhing in
agony under the heel of the emperor. She appeared on coins issued
under Hadrian, as a more regal-looking female figure.
soon personified as a goddess, looking fairly similar to the goddess
Minerva.[according to whom?] Early portraits of the goddess depict
Britannia as a beautiful young woman, wearing the helmet of a
centurion, and wrapped in a white garment with her right breast
exposed. She is usually shown seated on a rock, holding a spear, and
with a spiked shield propped beside her. Sometimes she holds a
standard and leans on the shield. On another range of coinage, she is
seated on a globe above waves: Britain at the edge of the (known)
world. Similar coin types were also issued under Antoninus Pius.
In James Gillray's
Britannia between Scylla and Charybdis (1793),
Britannia is shown without the weapons which would invariably
characterise her in the 19th century
After the Roman withdrawal, the term "Britannia" remained in use in
Britain and abroad. Latin was ubiquitous amongst native Brythonic
writers and the term continued in the Welsh tradition that developed
from it. Writing with variations on the term
the native language) appeared in many Welsh works such as the Historia
Prydein and the 12th-century Historia Regum
Britanniae, which gained unprecedented popularity throughout western
Europe during the High Middle Ages.
Following the migration of Brythonic Celts, The term
came to refer to the Armorican peninsula (at least from the 6th
century).) The modern English, French, Breton and Gallo names for
the area, all derive from a literal use of
Britannia meaning "land of
the Britons". The two "Britannias" gave rise to the term Grande
Bretagne (Great Britain) to distinguish the island of Britain from the
Following the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, the term '"Briton"
only referred to the native British, Celtic-speaking inhabitants of
the province; this remained the case until the modern era. The use of
the term as an inhabitant of the island of
Great Britain or the UK is
Renaissance and British Empire
It was during the reign of Elizabeth I that "Britannia" came to be
viewed as a personification of Britain. In his 1576 General and rare
memorials pertayning to the Perfect Arte of Navigation,
John Dee used
a frontispiece figure of
Britannia kneeling by the shore beseeching
Elizabeth I, to protect her empire by strengthening her navy.
With the death of Elizabeth in 1603 came the succession of her
Scottish cousin, James VI, King of Scots, to the English throne. He
became James I of England, and so brought under his personal rule the
Kingdoms of England (and the dominion of Wales), Ireland and Scotland.
On 20 October 1604,
James VI and I
James VI and I proclaimed himself as "King of
Great Brittaine, France and Ireland", a title that continued to be
used by many of his successors. When James came to the English
throne, some elaborate pageants were staged. One pageant performed on
the streets of London in 1605 was described in Anthony Munday's
Triumphs of Reunited Britannia:
On a mount triangular, as the island of Britain itself is described to
be, we seat in the supreme place, under the shape of a fair and
Britain's first road atlas was updated in a series of editions titled
from the early 18th into the early 19th centiry using the title
During the reign of Charles II,
Britannia made her first appearance on
English coins on a farthing of 1672 (see Depiction on British coinage
and postage stamps below). With the constitutional unification of
Scotland in 1707 and then with Ireland in 1800, Britannia
became an increasingly important symbol and a strong rallying point
A later Gillray cartoon, on the 1803 Peace of Amiens, features a fat
Britannia kissing "Citizen François"
Britannia Triumphant, poster celebrating the Battle of Trafalgar.
British power, which depended on a liberal political system and the
supremacy of the navy, lent these attributes to the image of
Britannia. By the time of Queen Victoria,
Britannia had been renewed.
Still depicted as a young woman with brown or golden hair, she kept
Corinthian helmet and her white robes, but now she held Poseidon's
trident and often sat or stood before the ocean and tall-masted ships
representing British naval power. She also usually held or stood
beside a Greek hoplite shield, which sported the British Union Flag:
also at her feet was often the British Lion, an animal found on the
arms of England,
Scotland and the Prince of Wales.
Neptune is shown symbolically passing his trident to
Britannia in the
1847 fresco "Neptune Resigning to
Britannia the Empire of the Sea" by
William Dyce, a painting Victoria commissioned for her Osborne House
on the Isle of Wight.
New Zealanders adopted a similar personification of their country in
Zealandia, Britannia's daughter, who appeared on postage stamps at the
turn of the 20th century and still features in the New Zealand
Coat of Arms.
1914 Russian poster depicting the
Triple Entente –
Marianne (left) in the company of Mother Russia. In this
depiction, Britannia's association with the sea is provided by her
holding an anchor, an attribute usually represented by Poseidon's
Perhaps the best analogy is that
Britannia is to the United Kingdom
British Empire what
Marianne is to France or perhaps what
Columbia is to the United States.
Britannia became a very potent and
more common figure in times of war, and represented British liberties
During the 1990s the term
Cool Britannia (drawn from a humorous
version by the
Bonzo Dog Band
Bonzo Dog Band of the song "Rule Britannia", with words
by James Thomson [1700–1748], which is often used as an unofficial
national anthem), was used to describe the contemporary United
Kingdom. The phrase referred to the fashionable scenes of the era,
with a new generation of pop groups and style magazines, successful
young fashion designers, and a surge of new restaurants and hotels.
Cool Britannia represented late-1990s Britain as a fashionable place
Depiction on British currency and postage stamps
Britannia depicted on a halfpenny of 1936
Although the archetypical image of
Britannia seated with a shield
first appeared on Roman bronze coins of the 1st century AD struck
under Hadrian, Britannia's first appearance on British coinage was on
the farthing in 1672, though earlier pattern versions had appeared in
1665, followed by the halfpenny later the same year. The figure of
Britannia was said by
Samuel Pepys to have been modelled on Frances
Teresa Stuart, the future Duchess of Richmond, who was famous at
the time for refusing to become the mistress of Charles II, despite
the King's strong infatuation with her.
Britannia then appeared on the
British halfpenny coin
British halfpenny coin throughout the rest of the 17th century and
thereafter until 1936. The halfpennies issued during the reign of
Queen Anne have
Britannia closely resembling the queen herself.
Bank of England
Bank of England was granted a charter in 1694, the directors
decided within days that the device for their official seal should
represent 'Brittannia sitting on looking on a Bank of Mony' (sic).
Britannia also appeared on the penny coin between 1797 and 1970,
occasional issues such as the fourpence under William IV between 1836
and 1837, and on the 50 pence coin between 1969 and 2008. See
"External Links" below for examples of all these coins and others.
In the spring of 2008, the
Royal Mint unveiled new coin designs
"reflecting a more modern twenty-first century Britain" which do
not feature the image of Britannia. This decision courted some
controversy, with tabloid press campaigns, in particular that of the
Daily Mail, launched to "save Britannia". The government has pointed
out, however, that earlier-design 50p coins will remain in circulation
for the foreseeable future. Also
Britannia still appeared on the
gold and silver "Britannia" bullion coins issued annually by the Royal
A new definitive £2 coin was issued in 2015, with a new image of
Britannia. In late 2015, a limited edition (100000 run) £50 coin was
produced, bearing the image of
Britannia on one side and Queen
Elizabeth II on the obverse.
Bank of England
Bank of England five pound note or "white fiver" showing
Britannia in the top left corner.
Bank of England
Bank of England note issues
A figure of
Britannia appeared on the "white fiver" (a five pound note
printed in black and white) from 1855 for more than a century, until
From 1928 "
Britannia Series A" ten shilling and one pound notes were
printed with a seated
Britannia bearing both a spear and an olive
The 25 cents fractional paper currency of the Dominion of Canada
(1870, 1900 and 1923 respectively) all depict Britannia. The notes are
no longer produced and usually not used as currency anymore, although
they are still legal tender.
King George V Seahorses
King George V Seahorses postage stamp, featuring
Irish Free State
Irish Free State overprint.
Britannia also featured on the high value
Great Britain definitive
postage stamps issued during the reign of
George V (known as
'seahorses') and is depicted on the £10 stamp first issued in 1993.
Britannia watermark in paper
Britannia watermark has been widely used in papermaking, usually
showing her seated. An example can be found at papermoulds.typepad.com
Britannia is depicted in the
Brit Award statuette, the British
Phonographic Industry's annual music awards. The statuette of
Britannia is regularly redesigned by some of the best known British
designers, stylists and artists, including Vivienne Westwood, Damien
Hirst, Tracey Emin, Sir Peter Blake and the late Zaha Hadid.
Britannia Airways featured the name and image of Britannia.
The name "Britannia", symbolising Britain and British patriotism, has
been adopted for various purposes such as:
K1 Britannia, a 1994 replica (refit in 2012) of King George V's famed
Britannia which was scuttled in 1936.
Britannia silver, a high-grade alloy of silver introduced in Britain
Britannia coins, a series of British gold bullion coins issued since
1987, which have nominal values of 100, 50, 25, and 10 pounds.
HMS Britannia, any of eight vessels of the Royal Navy.
Britannia Royal Naval College, the Royal Navy's officer training
The former Royal Yacht Britannia, the Royal Family's personal yacht,
recently retired in Leith, Edinburgh Scotland.
RMS Britannia, the first steam ocean liner owned by
Samuel Cunard in
SS Britannia, a 1925 British liner, sunk by the German auxiliary
cruiser Thor in 1941 with the loss of 122 crew and 127 passengers.
MV Britannia, the flagship of the P&O Cruises fleet, which came
into service in 2015.
Bristol Type 175 Britannia, a 1952 British turbo-prop airliner.
Bristol Type 603S3 Britannia, a 1983 British luxury car.
Pugnaces Britanniae, war dog of Britain.
The patriotic song "Rule, Britannia!", set to music in 1740.
Company names such as
Britannia Building Society,
Britannia Class, an alternative name for the BR Standard Class 7
series of steam locomotives produced between 1951 and 1954, the first
of the BR "standard" classes. Preserved Class 7 locomotive No. 70000,
built in 1951, was also named Britannia.
"The Britannia" is a popular pub name; there were 82 English public
houses with this name in 2011.
Britannia Building Society
Britannia Building Society traded for over a century before
deciding to merge with
The Co-operative Bank
The Co-operative Bank and now trades as
Britannia. They are the official sponsors of
Stoke City F.C.
Stoke City F.C. and so
their logo appears on the team's shirts and the
Britannia Stadium is
named after the company.
Britannia is a community South of the town of Bacup, in Lancashire,
UK. The "home" of the
Britannia Coco-nut Dancers.
Britannia Sea Scouts is a sea scouting group connected to Sea Scouts
New Zealand located in Evans Bay, in the
Wellington zone of New
Britannia was started in 1927.
Hibernia (personification), a personification of Ireland
Kathleen Ni Houlihan, a personification of Ireland
Prydain, Welsh name for
Great Britain in both ancient and modern
William Camden, author of Britannia, author of topographical and
historical survey of all of
Great Britain and Ireland, first published
^ a b Snyder, p. 12.
^ Allen, p. 174.
^ Davies, p. 47.
^ Creighton, John (2006-01-31). Britannia: The Creation of a Roman
Province. Routledge. p. 3. ISBN 9781134318407.
^ obsides is Latin, meaning hostage
Roman Britain By Timothy W. Potter and Catherine Johns, University
of California Press, 1992 p.40
^ a b "
Britannia on British Coins". Chard. Retrieved 25 June
^ Fleuriot, Léon (1980). Les Origines de la Bretagne: l'émigration
[The origins of Brittany: emigration] (in French). Paris: Payot.
pp. 52–53. ISBN 2228127108.
^ "Britishness". Oxford English Dictionary Online. September 2008.
Retrieved 14 September 2010.
^ Virginia Hewitt, '
Britannia (fl. 1st–21st cent.)', Oxford
Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004
^ Proclamation styling James I King of
Great Britain on 20 October
^ 1901 Penny Universal, Stamps NZ. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
^ National Coat of Arms of New Zealand, Heraldry of the World.
Retrieved 25 January 2010.
^ J. Ayto, Movers and Shakers: a Chronology of Words that Shaped our
Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), ISBN 0-19-861452-7,
^ "Cool Britannia". BBC News. Retrieved 9 November 2016
^ "3 – The Halfpenny". Coins of the UK. Tony Clayton.
^ Morris, Steven (28 January 2008). "Brown blamed as
the boot". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 28 January 2008.
^ "2008 Emblems of Britain Silver Proof Collection". The Royal Mint.
Archived from the original on 14 October 2008.
Royal Mint unveils coin designs". BBC News. 2 April 2008.
Britannia 2015 UK £50 Fine Silver Coin". Royal Mint.
^ "£5 note, Bank of England". British Museum. Archived from the
original on 3 February 2013. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
^ Sharples, BS (17 June 2009). "A Short History of English Banknotes".
Retrieved 24 January 2013.
^ a b "Dame Zaha Hadid's
Brit Awards statuette design unveiled". BBC.
1 December 2016.
^ a b "Damien Hirst's 2013
Brit Award statue unveiled". BBC. 1
^ Wrecksite: SS
^ Daily Mail 14 April 2011: "A thousand rather popular pubs..."
Allen, Stephen (2007). Lords of Battle: The World of the Celtic
Warrior. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-948-7.
Collingwood, Robin George (1998).
Roman Britain and the English
Settlements. Biblo & Tannen Publishers.
Davies, Norman (2000). The Isles a History. Macmillan.
Hewitt, Virginia. "
Britannia (fl. 1st–21st cent.)", Oxford
Dictionary of National Biography, online edition 2007, accessed 28 Aug
Snyder, Christopher (2003). The Britons. Blackwell Publishing.
M. Dresser (ed.), 'Britannia', Patriotism: the making and unmaking of
British national identity, vol. 3
R. Samuel, National fictions (1989), pp. 26–49
Britannia depicta: quality, value and security, National Postal Museum
H. Mattingly, Nerva to Hadrian, reprint (1976), vol. 3 of Coins of the
Roman empire in the British Museum
J. M. C. Toynbee, The Hadrianic school: a chapter in the history of
Greek art (1974)
M. Henig, 'Britannia', Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae,
3/1 (1983), pp. 167–69
K. T. Erim, 'A new relief showing
Aphrodisias', Britannia, 13 (1982), pp. 277–81
Minerva Britannia, or, A garden of heroical devises (1612)
J. Thomson, Britannia: a poem (1729)
R. Strong, Gloriana, the portraits of Queen Elizabeth I (1987)
H. A. Atherton, Political prints in the age of Hogarth. A study of the
ideographic representation of politics (1974)
Media related to
Britannia at Wikimedia Commons
Britannia on British coins and medals – Guy de la Bédoyère
David Dimbleby. "Age of Conquest". Seven Ages of Britain. 6:56 minutes
in. BBC 1. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
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