Who is Britannia?
Britannia has been the national personification of Britain, an allegorical figure like Lady Liberty here in the U.S., since the second century. When the Roman Empire reigned over Britain, they called the British Isles Britannia. She was revived as a national symbol in the 1680s, on coins minted by King Charles II.
Britannia is a helmeted female warrior, armed with a trident (sometimes a spear) and carrying a shield. Traditionally, she wears a Corinthian full-face helmet, often topped with a horsehair crest – because that’s how generals and other important battlefield leaders were recognized by their troops.
Her choice of weapons is interesting… A spear is a weapon more widely used for hunting than for combat. The trident is nothing more than a fishing spear. Both weapons have peaceful uses (unlike, say, a sword), representing Britannia’s ability to fight without an inclination to do so. The same logic applies to her shield – she’s a defender of the people. A warrior by necessity rather than by choice.
In other words, Britannia is a fantastic example of a defender of the people she loves.
Britannia’s appearances on coins
The image of Britannia first appeared on Roman coins of the 2nd century CE.
Her modern incarnation began in 1649, with coins minted by King Charles II. He began the tradition of adding the Union Flag to Britannia’s shield.
Though previously she’d preferred a spear, in 1797 Britannia started carrying a trident instead, symbolizing the Royal Navy’s victories in the French Revolutionary War.
Her Corinthian helmet was added in 1825, symbolizing her connection to Britain’s distant Roman past.
In modern times, Britannia appeared on all modern British coinage until 2008. After a seven-year hiatus, she returned on the 2015 £2 coin in a modern design by Antony Dufort.
Today, she’s well-known for her appearances on The Royal Mint’s gold Britannias and silver Britannia bullion coins. So well-known, in fact, that we once called her “the Royal Mint’s other woman.”
Britannia coin annual designs
- 1998: 88,909 coins minted with classic standing Britannia with a strongly maritime approach, Britannia windswept on a cliff-top, the very essence of authority and elegance. (Philip Nathan)
- 1999: 69,394 coins minted with Britannia riding horse-drawn chariot. (Philip Nathan)
- 2000: 81,301 coins minted with classic standing Britannia (Philip Nathan)
- 2001: 44,816 coins minted with Britannia standing, accompanied by a lion (similar to the Una and the Lion reverse used on the very rare 1839 £5 gold coins). (Philip Nathan)
- 2002: 48,816 coins minted with classic standing Britannia (Philip Nathan)
- 2003: 73,271 coins minted featuring Britannia wearing a helmet with waves in the background. (Philip Nathan)
- 2004: 100,000 coins minted with classic standing Britannia (Philip Nathan)
- 2005: 100,000 coins minted that feature a seated figure of Britannia, similar to that used on halfpennies and farthings from 1672, which in turn reflects the original personification of Britannia dating from ancient Roman coins of Hadrian. (Philip Nathan)
- 2006: 100,000 coins minted with classic standing Britannia (Philip Nathan)
- 2007: 100,000 coins minted with a seated figure of Britannia, with large shield bearing the Union Flag (Union Jack), with a lion at her feet, and what looks like the white cliffs of Dover and a sailing yacht in the background. (Christopher Le Brun)
- 2008: 100,000 coins minted with a new design featuring Britannia on a beach, with giant waves and a lighthouse in the background (John Bergdahl)
- 2009: 100,000 coins minted with the 1999 design of Britannia riding horse-drawn chariot. (Philip Nathan)
- 2010: 126,367 coins minted with a new design featuring Britannia in a Corinthian helmet, emphasising her warlike spirit, accompanied by a lion symbolizing courage. However, Britannia's serene gaze and the presence of an olive branch, also portrays the goddess as a protective defender of peace and modern British liberty and values. Her eastward looking gaze alludes to Britain's role in the EU. (Design by Suzie Zamit)
- 2011: 100,000 coins minted with a new design featuring Britannia standing in front of a large flag (David Mach)
- 2012: 100,000 coins minted with classic standing Britannia (Philip Nathan)
- 2013-2021: Unlimited mintage based on demand (total number unknown), all featuring the classic standing Britannia (Philip Nathan)
Here’s a look at the changing designs of the Britannia gold bullion coins over the decades.
Brittanias (and other misspellings!)
I have an issue with spelling mistakes, and for some reason Britannias really bring them out in people. Here’s a list of the most common Britannia typos:
Brittania (certainly the most common)