Your quick guide to Roman coins found in Britain

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10 January 2019
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Discover more about Roman coins found in Britain, when they were minted, and how you can add some examples to your own coin collection with our introductory guide

When Roman legions accompanying Emperor Claudius landed in Britannia (AD 43) they brought Imperial coins minted at Rome as army pay. Not far behind the fighting men came administrators and business entrepreneurs eager to enjoy the fruits of victory.

Within a year they were shipping cargoes and profits home to the Emperor. Defeated high ranking natives who chose integration rather than resistance soon found themselves drawn into the new ruling elite circles. Trickle-down effect brought citizenship of the Empire within grasp of their children.

When fresh troops arrived, as emperors ordered the transfer of legions to other frontiers, the latest coins carried to Britannia would have been scrutinized by soldiers and civilians alike seeking information about new emperors, or fresh conquests, or the current Emperor’s thoughts as graphically displayed on the reverses of all the money that passed from hand-to-hand.

By that time most Lowland Britons had willingly evolved to become Romano-Britons.

Further north Roman coins of every emperor from Claudius to Honorius have come to light as chance finds across most of Lowland Scotland.

Finds of money issued during the reigns of Vespasian, Domitian, Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius have proved most common. They may reflect the casual losses of tribesmen returning from auxiliary service in the Roman army; or raids in the direction of Hadrian’s Wall or the Antonine Wall in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. It seems just as likely, however, that the coins tell of thriving north-south trade, with the tribesmen selling dried fish, hides, livestock, Scottish pearls, gold, copper and lead to buyers from the south.

Commencing in the late-3rd century and spilling into the 4th, several usurpers attempted to carve out some of the western provinces, often including Britannia; and to set up rival states.

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Having lived so long as citizens of the Empire, many Romano-Britons preferred their now familiar way of life and took delight in hearing of a rebel’s death as much as of his rise to power. Nevertheless they appreciated the flush of new coins that usurpers invariably distributed to their armies. New mints were often set up during those years; in London and Colchester for example. 

How to start your Roman coins collection

One of the best, and often least costly, ways to start ancient money collecting as an absolute beginner is to buy an uncleaned lot of Roman finds from a British detectorist.

You will learn much about coin cleaning and preservation by starting in that way; and you may discover a rare or unexpectedly valuable coin beneath the soil still clinging to it.

Any Roman coins bought from a British detectorist will be British finds and qualify as Romano-British coins; but readers with more to spend on their collections will be on the lookout for coins carrying 'BRIT' in their legends.

Advanced collectors will be alert to auctions and dealers’ lists that include coins of emperors (and usurpers) linked closely to Britannia by their histories ... Claudius, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Clodius Albinus, Septimius Severus, Diocletian, Carausius, Allectus ... and many more.

Images: 

  • A bronze coin of Antoninus Pius (AD 138-161) which depicts on its reverse Britannia seated on rocks
  • The usurper Allectus struck this gold aureus at his London mint in c.AD 293

Visit our growing archive of coin guides to read more about British coins.