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Britannia on a 2005 £2 coin.

Britannia was originally the Latin name that the Roman Empire gave to the island of Great Britain and its possessions thereupon. It has since become a figure of national personification of the United Kingdom.


[edit] Roman period

At the height of Roman Britain, the Empire included most of Britannia (first invaded by Julius Caesar in 55 BC), which was bordered by Hadrian's Wall, close to today's border between England and Scotland. To the Romans, northern Britain which remained unincorporated into the Empire was known as Caledonia. A southern part of what is now known as Scotland was occupied by the Romans for a brief period by the end of the Roman reign, keeping in place the Picts to the north of the Antonine Wall. The Romans never completely occupied the island of Great Britain, and the Celtic tribes even prevented full consolidation of the southwest. People living in the Roman province of Britannia were called Britanni. Ireland was a separate region, which was never conquered by the Romans; it was called Hibernia.

There was a celtic goddess called Brigid who is one of the many sources of the personification of Britain. The Emperor Claudius paid a visit while Britain was being pacified and was honoured with the agnomen Britannicus as if he were the conqueror, but Britannia remained a place, not a female personification of the land, until she appeared on coins issued under Hadrian<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>, which introduced a female figure labelled BRITANNIA.

Typical of the Romans, Britannia was soon personified as a goddess. Early portraits of the goddess depict Britannia as a beautiful young woman, wearing the helmet of a Centurion, and wrapped in a white toga 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.

Modern Historians have noted similarities Britannia has in appearance to Boudicca. Both are usually depicted with shields and wearing togas, and the physiognomy of both female figures in early depictions are remarkably similar.

[edit] British revival

A statue of Britannia in Plymouth, United Kingdom

Britannia remained the Latin name for Great Britain, but after the fall of the Roman Empire it had lost most symbolic meaning until the rise of British influence and later, the British Empire, which at its height, ruled a third of the world's population and a quarter of the world's landmass.

With the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 came the succession of her Scottish cousin, James VI of Scotland to the English throne. He would became James I of England and herald the personal unification of the Kingdoms of England (and the dominion of Wales) and Scotland. With the constitutional unification of these kingdoms in 1707 and the continued growth of British power and influence in the 1700s, Britannia increasingly became an important symbol and a strong rallying point among Britons.

British power, which depended on the supremacy of its 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 her Corinthian helmet and her white robes, but now she held Poseidon's three-pronged trident and often stood in the ocean, representing British naval power. She also usually held or stood beside a Greek hoplon shield, which sported the British Union Jack: also at her feet was often the British Lion, the national animal of England which also appears on the Arms of Scotland. Another change was that she was no longer bare breasted, due to the modesty of Victorian society.

In the Renaissance tradition, Britannia came to be viewed as the personification of Britain, in imagery that was developed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. When James I came to the 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 beautiful nymph, Britannia herself...

Britannia on the reverse of a 50p coin.

Britannia first appeared on the farthing in 1672, followed by the halfpenny later the same year; the model used, then and later, was Charles II's mistress, the Duchess of Richmond. She then appeared on the penny coin between 1797 and 1970, and on the 50 pence coin since 1969. When the 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).

Perhaps the best analogy is that Britannia is to the United Kingdom and the British Empire what Marianne is to France or perhaps what Lady Liberty is to the United States of America. Like Lady Liberty, Britannia became a very potent and more common figure in times of war. During the 1990s a new term, Cool Britannia (a pun on the poem 'Rule Britannia' by James Thomson [1700 - 1748], and the song adapted from it, which is often used as an unofficial National Anthem), was used to describe the contemporary United Kingdom. The phrase referred to the fashionable London, Glasgow, Cardiff and Manchester scenes, 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-1990's Britain as a fashionable place to be.

[edit] Namesakes

Today Britannia lives on in British symbols and British patriotism such as:

[edit] References


[edit] See also

da:Britannia es:Britania sv:Britannia


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