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British penny from 1963. The coin has a relief of Britannia sitting next to the sea. She holds a trident and shield and she wears a helmet. On her shield is the Union Jack.
The National Armada memorial in Plymouth depicting Britannia

Britannia (/brɪˈtæniə/) is the national personification of Britain as a woman with a trident and shield and wearing a helmet.[1] The image of Britannia was first used in classical antiquity. The word Britannia in Latin could mean the British Isles, the island of Great Britain, or the Roman province of Britain in the time of the Roman Empire.[2][3][4]

Images of Britannia show her sitting or lying down with a spear and shield. This image was first used on Roman coins in the 2nd century AD.[3] After the Romans, the image of Britannia was first used again for coins of the pound sterling made for Charles II of England, Scotland, and Ireland.[3] These were the first to show Britannia with a Union Flag on her shield.[3] After many victories of Britain's Royal Navy, coins with Britannia show Neptune's trident from 1797. Her image wears a helmet on coins after 1825.[3]

Britannia sitting on a globe in the centre of a map of the British Empire from 1888
Roman altar dedicated to Britannia in the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow. The Latin word: Britanniae, lit.'to Britannia' is abbreviated as: Britanni on the inscription.

Britannia was the common Latin name for Great Britain starting in the 1st century BC.[5][6] Britannia replaced the name Albion as the common name for the island used by the Romans.[5][6] After the Romans overcame the ancient Britons in war in 43 AD, Britannia could mean just the southern two thirds of the island which was under Roman control. (Caledonia, north of the River Forth in modern Scotland, was only sometimes overcome by the Roman army.)[7] Britannia was also a goddess. Latin text on a gritstone base for a statue from Eboracum (York) gives the goddess the name "Holy Britannia" (Latin: Sancta Britannia).[8][9]:140–141 This stone was in existence in 1740, but it is now lost.[8] A soldier in the Roman army dedicated another altar to the goddess Britannia near Castlehill Fort on the Antonine Wall. The altar is now in Glasgow.[10][9]:140–141

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References[change | change source]

  1. Delahunty, Andrew; Dignen, Sheila (2010), "Britannia", A Dictionary of Reference and Allusion (3rd ed.), Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/acref/9780199567454.001.0001/acref-9780199567454-e-310, ISBN 978-0-19-956745-4, retrieved 2021-02-15
  2. Cannon, John; Crowcroft, Robert (2015), "Britannia", A Dictionary of British History (3rd ed.), Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/acref/9780191758027.001.0001/acref-9780191758027-e-516, ISBN 978-0-19-175802-7, retrieved 2021-02-15
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Hargreaves, A. S. (2015), "Britannia", in Crowcroft, Robert; Cannon, John (eds.), The Oxford Companion to British History (2nd ed.), Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/acref/9780199677832.001.0001/acref-9780199677832-e-616, ISBN 978-0-19-967783-2, retrieved 2021-02-15
  4. "Britannia". Collins Dictionary. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Warmington, Eric Herbert (2012), "Albion", in Hornblower, Simon; Spawforth, Antony J.; Eidinow, Esther (eds.), The Oxford Classical Dictionary (4th ed.), Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/acref/9780199545568.001.0001/acref-9780199545568-e-249, ISBN 978-0-19-954556-8, retrieved 2021-02-15
  6. 6.0 6.1 Millett, Martin J. (2012), "Britain, Roman", in Hornblower, Simon; Spawforth, Antony; Eidinow, Esther (eds.), The Oxford Classical Dictionary (4th ed.), Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/acref/9780199545568.001.0001/acref-9780199545568-e-1178, ISBN 978-0-19-954556-8, retrieved 2021-02-15
  7. Richmond, Ian Archibald; Millett, Martin J. Millett (2012), "Caledonia", in Hornblower, Simon; Spawforth, Antony; Eidinow, Esther (eds.), The Oxford Classical Dictionary (4th ed.), Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/acref/9780199545568.001.0001/acref-9780199545568-e-1258, ISBN 978-0-19-954556-8, retrieved 2021-02-14
  8. 8.0 8.1 "RIB 643. Dedication to Holy Britannia". Roman Inscriptions of Britain. Retrieved 2021-05-12.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Tomlin, R. S. O. (2018). "6 The Antonine Wall". Britannia Romana: Roman Inscriptions and Roman Britain (1st ed.). Oxford: Oxbow Books. pp. 119–154. doi:10.2307/j.ctvh1dvdr.10. ISBN 978-1-78570-700-1.
  10. "RIB 2195. Altar dedicated to the Goddesses of the Parade-ground and Britannia". Roman Inscriptions of Britain. Retrieved 2021-05-12.