The IX Legion

RP578

LE
Book Reviewer
#1
Like many people, I read Rosemary Sutcliff's "Eagle of the Ninth" as a child and have wondered about how true the legend of the Legion's fate was. Apparently a film about that very subject is now in the offing: BBC News - The Roman Ninth Legion's mysterious loss

The Roman Ninth Legion's mysterious loss





The disappearance of Rome's Ninth Legion has long baffled historians, but could a brutal ambush have been the event that forged the England-Scotland border, asks archaeologist Dr Miles Russell, of Bournemouth University. One of the most enduring legends of Roman Britain concerns the disappearance of the Ninth Legion. The theory that 5,000 of Rome's finest soldiers were lost in the swirling mists of Caledonia, as they marched north to put down a rebellion, forms the basis of a new film, The Eagle, but how much of it is true?
It is easy to understand the appeal of stories surrounding the loss of the Roman Ninth Legion - a disadvantaged band of British warriors inflicting a humiliating defeat upon a well-trained, heavily-armoured professional army. It's the ultimate triumph of the underdog - an unlikely tale of victory against the odds. Recently, however, the story has seeped further into the national consciousness of both England and Scotland.

For the English, the massacre of the Ninth is an inspiring tale of home-grown "Davids" successfully taking on a relentless European "Goliath". For the Scots, given the debate on devolved government and national identity, not to say the cultural impact of Braveheart, the tale has gained extra currency - freedom-loving highlanders resisting monolithic, London-based imperialists.

The legend of the Ninth gained form thanks to acclaimed novelist Rosemary Sutcliff, whose masterpiece, The Eagle of the Ninth, became an instant bestseller when published in 1954.
Since then, generations of children and adults have been entranced by the story of a young Roman officer, Marcus Aquila, travelling north of Hadrian's Wall in order to uncover the truth about his father, lost with the Ninth, and the whereabouts of the Legion's battle standard, the bronze eagle.

The historians have dissented, theorising that the Ninth did not disappear in Britain at all, arguing both book and film are wrong. Their theory has been far more mundane - the legion was, in fact, a victim of strategic transfer, swapping the cold expanse of northern England, for arid wastes in the Middle East. Here, sometime before AD 160, they were wiped in out in a war against the Persians.


But, contrary to this view, there is not one shred of evidence that the Ninth were ever taken out of Britain. It's just a guess which, over time, has taken on a sheen of cast iron certainty. Three stamped tiles bearing the unit number of the Ninth found at Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, have been used to support the idea of transfer from Britain.
But these all seem to date to the 80s AD, when detachments of the Ninth were indeed on the Rhine fighting Germanic tribes. They do not prove that the Ninth left Britain for good.
In fact, the last certain piece of evidence relating to the existence of the Legion from anywhere in the Roman Empire comes from York where an inscription, dating to AD 108, credits the Ninth with rebuilding the fortress in stone. Some time between then and the mid-2nd Century, when a record of all Legions was compiled, the unit had ceased to exist.


But what happened to the Ninth?

The early years of the 2nd Century were deeply traumatic for Britannia. The Roman writer Fronto observed that, in the reign of the emperor Hadrian ( AD 117 - 138 ), large numbers of Roman soldiers were killed by the British.
The number and full extent of these losses remain unknown, but they were evidently significant. The anonymously authored Augustan History, compiled in the 3rd Century, provides further detail, noting that when Hadrian became emperor, "the Britons could not be kept under Roman control".
The British problem was of deep concern to Roman central government. Thanks to a tombstone recovered from Ferentinum in Italy, we know that emergency reinforcements of over 3,000 men were rushed to the island on "the British Expedition", early in Hadrian's reign. The emperor himself visited the island in AD 122, in order to "correct many faults", bringing with him a new legion, the Sixth.
The fact that they took up residence in the legionary fortress of York suggests that the "great losses" of personnel, alluded to by Fronto, had occurred within the ranks of the Ninth.
Archaeological evidence of the legion's fate is scarce
It would seem that Sutcliff was right after all.
It was the Ninth, the most exposed and northerly of all legions in Britain, that had borne the brunt of the uprising, ending their days fighting insurgents in the turmoil of early 2nd Century Britain.
The loss of such an elite military unit had an unexpected twist which reverberates to the present day. When the emperor Hadrian visited Britain at the head of a major troop surge, he realised that there was only one way to ensure stability in the island - he needed to build a wall.
Hadrian's Wall was designed to keep invaders out of Roman territory as well as ensuring that potential insurgents within the province had no hope of receiving support from their allies to the north. From this point, cultures on either side of the great divide developed at different rates and in very different ways.
The ultimate legacy of the Ninth was the creation of a permanent border, forever dividing Britain. The origins of what were to become the independent kingdoms of England and Scotland may be traced to the loss of this unluckiest of Roman legions.
Dr Miles Russell is a senior lecturer in Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology at Bournemouth University.
 

Joker62

ADC
Book Reviewer
#2
RP, there is another film which touches on the subject - Centurion. Ok, maybe a piece of fanciful fiction, but uses the Ninth as it's basis and the end could be the answer that you seek.
 

jim24

LE
Book Reviewer
#3
But, Although the history of the Ninth is a bit sketchy , the history of some of it's officers is not, lucius Norius Crispinus Satninius, is well recorded, but why did it take him over 25 years to get promoted,was he one of the mounted officers that did a runner when the 9th got slaughtered and thus screwed up his career
 
#4
I was in Siluria at the time, with the 2nd Agusta at Isca but some member of our Legion did work on the Wall at that time, That Satininus was the Laticavius Tribune of the 9th and a right cnut woudn't put it beyond him to run away
 
#5
I think this bit of history is being given the Braveheart treatment by the Celtic myth industry, with the usual evil English being replaced by evil Romans....

I tend to agree with the more conservative historical view, that the Legion - probably already very understrength when it went to York - gradually withered away over decades of peacetime neglect. When things kicked off and a fresh Roman army was sent to Britain, I imagine the remnants of the 9th were simply subsumed as BCRs and not reconstituted as a full legion.

AFAIK, current archaeological consensus is that Hadrian's Wall represented an economic and political frontier - a trading & tax boundary - rather than a military edifice constantly under siege by vast hordes of northerners.
 

RP578

LE
Book Reviewer
#6
I think this bit of history is being given the Braveheart treatment by the Celtic myth industry, with the usual evil English being replaced by evil Romans....

I tend to agree with the more conservative historical view, that the Legion - probably already very understrength when it went to York - gradually withered away over decades of peacetime neglect. When things kicked off and a fresh Roman army was sent to Britain, I imagine the remnants of the 9th were simply subsumed as BCRs and not reconstituted as a full legion.

AFAIK, current archaeological consensus is that Hadrian's Wall represented an economic and political frontier - a trading & tax boundary - rather than a military edifice constantly under siege by vast hordes of northerners.
(My bold) Which would be a contrast to Sutcliff's book. 'The Eagle of the Ninth" was very much pro-Roman in sentiment, or at least, pro-Legio IX.
 
#7
As I remember it , there were a number of other units went adrift at the same time,the Ala Agrippiane Miniata cavalry wing, and the 1st Nervonorium ,2nd Vasconum,4th Delmatarum and the 5th Raetorum Auxiliary light infantry Cohorts. And when the Emperor Hadrian arrived later that year 122 he started our boys on building the wall
 

Sixty

ADC
Moderator
Book Reviewer
#8
Apparently a film about that very subject is now in the offing
Yep, it's out next week; I'm going to see it on Friday. I'll bang a quick review up after that in case anyone else fancies it.
 
T

Tremaine

Guest
#9
National Geographic channel is running several Roman type programmes at the mo.. IIRC there's also one on History Rome's Lost Legion on Thursday, March 17th, 2011, 10:00pm to 11:00pm.

Found a link Being a Lincoln lad, I remember the Roman Well, from when the IX Legion was stationed there and built its Fortress, circa AD65 (Lindum). To be honest I'd read that Boudiccas curse saw off the spanish legion, she gave it a spanking in 60-61AD. Or that the IX Legion was just disbanded, rather than just disappearing hunting Picts in Scotland ?

Pretty good reference material at this link.Ninth Legion
 

chrisg46

LE
Book Reviewer
#10
I was in Siluria at the time, with the 2nd Agusta at Isca but some member of our Legion did work on the Wall at that time, That Satininus was the Laticavius Tribune of the 9th and a right cnut woudn't put it beyond him to run away
Wall Walt :)
 
#12
I blame it all on the defence cuts myself, if they had not made so many Legionnaires redundant earlier that year, before they had finished the usual 25 years the 9th would not have been short handed and the Venicones,Caledoii, and the Vacomagi would never have tried it on
 
#13
Do you remember the Antonine wall?
We didn't get around to building that until 20 years after the 9th got stuffed but yes it was a right crap job, spent the summer at Velvniate, by the Gods what a dump. Mind you had a great time just down the road 1800 years later at Bathgate driving a Fire engine
 
#14
Pick one; there is no definitive evidence either way. It's certainly possible the IX were simply disbanded/amalgamated. It's also possible they were out-numbered and ambushed in territory where a Roman Legion's strengths - iron discipline and the ability to fight as a cohesive unit - were not applicable. This, after all, was what happend in the Tuetoburg Forest, where three whole Legions were massacred by the Germanic tribes.

The Roman army at its peak was the most powerful military machine in the world. But they were not unbeatable. The Germanic Tribes, Spartacus, Hannibal and Atilla the Hun all gave the Romans epic shoeings before eventually being betrayed and defeated. And while the slaughter of the Ninth Legion may be a myth, the results of the final Roman attempt to fully conquer "Scotland" are a historical fact; 40,000 Roman soldiers invaded, commanded by the Emperor himself. Four years later he had lost 4,000 soldiers and spent a fortune without having won a single major battle. He was so desperate to find an exit strategy(sound familiar?)that he bribed some local chiefs into "submitting".

The Emperor minted coins to spread the word of his "triumph" and returned to Northern England. As soon as he did so, the Picts started raiding the Border lands again. Sick and dying, he ordered his son to return to Scotland with the Legions in a punitive raid. His son, who had served with him in Scotland, thought, "Bugger that for a game of soldiers!" and went straight back to Rome as soon as his old man kicked the bucket.

The Picts were past-masters of hit and run warfare, and far too smart to stand toe to toe with the most professional soldiers in the world at that time. They preferred to attack isolated units in places where they could not fight as a unit. The Picts were trained to fight as individuals and one on one were more than a match for a Roman Legionaire, who's training emphasized fighting as a team, often in a large shield wall.

We will never know the truth. The Picts left no written record and the Romans, if they had lost an entire Legion in such a humiliating fashion, would have made sure that the whole incident was kept very quiet.
 

Joker62

ADC
Book Reviewer
#15
We will never know the truth. The Picts left no written record and the Romans, if they had lost an entire Legion in such a humiliating fashion, would have made sure that the whole incident was kept very quiet.
See the film "Centurion". But, then Tropper's here to tell the tale, so all's not lost :)
 

Auld-Yin

ADC
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Reviews Editor
#16
Originally Posted by Werewolf
We will never know the truth. The Picts left no written record and the Romans, if they had lost an entire Legion in such a humiliating fashion, would have made sure that the whole incident was kept very quiet.
See the film "Centurion". But, then Tropper's here to tell the tale, so all's not lost :)
Thing is, will this get passed the Senate of Defence (SoD) or will any reports be censored in the same manner as MoD did to Dead Men Risen? :)
 
#18
Pick one; there is no definitive evidence either way. It's certainly possible the IX were simply disbanded/amalgamated. It's also possible they were out-numbered and ambushed in territory where a Roman Legion's strengths - iron discipline and the ability to fight as a cohesive unit - were not applicable. This, after all, was what happend in the Tuetoburg Forest, where three whole Legions were massacred by the Germanic tribes.

The Roman army at its peak was the most powerful military machine in the world. But they were not unbeatable. The Germanic Tribes, Spartacus, Hannibal and Atilla the Hun all gave the Romans epic shoeings before eventually being betrayed and defeated. And while the slaughter of the Ninth Legion may be a myth, the results of the final Roman attempt to fully conquer "Scotland" are a historical fact; 40,000 Roman soldiers invaded, commanded by the Emperor himself. Four years later he had lost 4,000 soldiers and spent a fortune without having won a single major battle.

The Picts were past-masters of hit and run warfare, and far too smart to stand toe to toe with the most professional soldiers in the world at that time.

We will never know the truth. The Picts left no written record and the Romans, if they had lost an entire Legion in such a humiliating fashion, would have made sure that the whole incident was kept very quiet.
How could the loss of a legion be kept quiet? Every other Roman disaster has reverberated through history, recorded by themselves and by others.

The 9th is last in the UK archaeological record stagging-on in about 120AD, or about 60 years after the last major fight in which they may or may not have been mauled. Presumably they'd have recovered after three or four generations of recruitment! After 120AD, there were another 200-odd years of peace and prosperity in "England" as it was then, so its not clear how any Roman legion could get itself slaughtered.
 
#19
Ever thing I have posted is historic fact, the 9th Legions 2I/C did not get another promotion for over 25 years and those other Auxiliary units disappeared from the history books at the same time, it is very strange for a high flier like Satininus to be over looked for so long unless he really blotted his copy book, by buggering off and leaving his men in the crap
 
#20
How could the loss of a legion be kept quiet? Every other Roman disaster has reverberated through history, recorded by themselves and by others.

The 9th is last in the UK archaeological record stagging-on in about 120AD, or about 60 years after the last major fight in which they may or may not have been mauled. Presumably they'd have recovered after three or four generations of recruitment! After 120AD, there were another 200-odd years of peace and prosperity in "England" as it was then, so its not clear how any Roman legion could get itself slaughtered.
Because Scotland was the Final Frontier; the arse-end of the Empire and a very long way from Rome in a time when communication was at the speed of a man on a fast horse. History is usually written by the victors, but the Picts had no written language, so if they had raped, killed and eaten(perhaps not in that exact order)a Roman Legion, then only the Romans themselves would have been in a position to record it. And why would they? It's a matter of historical record that the Romans were not above a bit of spin-doctoring to make their victories even more impressive than they actually were.

Also remember that Britain was the first place Roman troops were pulled out off when the Empire started to crumble. What followed was the Dark Ages; who knows how much information was lost?
 

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