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  • Title: Cymbeline: Britons and Romans
  • Author: Jennifer Forsyth
  • General textual editors: James D. Mardock, Eric Rasmussen
  • Coordinating editor: Michael Best

  • Copyright Jennifer Forsyth. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Jennifer Forsyth
    Not Peer Reviewed

    Cymbeline: Britons and Romans

    1. Excerpt from "The Conquest of Britain under Claudius Caesar,"Nero Caesar, or Monarchy Depraved: An Historical Work, by Edmund Bolton (1624)

    [This excerpt from Nero Caesar regarding a coin of Emperor Claudius suggests the state of historical knowledge in England regarding the relationship between ancient Britain and ancient Rome. Bolton's interpretation of the coin, hampered by the lack of a clear image, highlights the ambiguous nature of ancient Briton, reflecting upon their national identity in the early modern period: surrounded by water, they might be a seafaring nation, as the symbol of a tiller would note, but the phrasing comments upon the access to the island, not the travel from the island. The same figure might, however, show the nature of the Britons as farmers, if it were a plow rather than a tiller. In either case, Bolton's discussion also reflects an ambivalence toward the superior might and civilization of continental powers that characterized early modern England as well as ancient Britain.]

    Among those precious coins which the treasury of Antonius Augustinus hath afforded to the world, I find one of Claudius's concerning Britain peaceable, omitted by all men who have of purpose handled our affairs.

    What the left hand of the image held unluckily appears not in that fair printed copy with which it pleased a great and generous earl to befriend me. It might be a garland, a cornucopia, a little winged victory, or the like, but I could think it was some round figure, the sign of tribute money. The whole may signify that Claudius, the conqueror of Britain, civilized the subdued Britons, the person's gowned habit a manifest token of it, who is otherwise wont to be represented martial and unclothed.

    And though the rudder or helm of a ship, which here Britannia holds downward in her right hand as a rest, doth ordinarily signify nothing else in ancient Roman coins but that the country whose figure appears upon the metal is an island whereunto there is no access but by water, yet here perhaps it further noteth that not only the navigation of Britain flourished by his means but that tillage, formerly neglected, did also set up now and prosper, if that which coucheth behind be not the half part of a ship but the hinder end of an antique plow--a coin put forth into the world after the southern Britons were provinciated and the Roman government fully settled here, nor improbably when the colony of old soldiers was drawn and planted at Camalodunum in the twelfth year of Claudius, for that was precisely the time (as that most modest and ancient good friend of mine, William Camden Clarenceux, hath happily and learnedly observed out of another of Claudius's medals), Camalodunum the place upon which the raging tempest of rebellion did first discharge the force of itself as the insolencies of that colony were among the heinous sparks which fired the wronged natives.

    This in general was the case and state of Britain so far as the Romans intermeddled from the first entrance of Julius Caesar thereinto, who what he could not materially annex to the mainland, attempted to fasten virtually to the empire, as an out-work.