Monday, 1 July 2013

Was the Ninth Legion wiped out by the Picts?



It's one of those enduring narratives of Romano-British history - and has been made the stuff of legend in novels and movies for at least the last sixty years, with two feature films produced on the topic in 2010 and 2011. I'm sure you've heard the story...a Roman legion marches off into the wilds of Scotland and is never heard of again - and it's always the mysterious Ninth Legion, whose missing Eagle inspires heroic efforts by subsequent Romans to find the truth...

So what is the truth? Did the Ninth Legion actually go missing?

Well, first a bit about the Ninth. We come across the Ninth as one of Julius Caesar's Spanish Legions sent into Gaul in 58BC. It subsequently sees action during Caesar's civil war and later under the command of Octavian. During the early years of the Empire the Ninth returns to home-ground in Spain, but by 9BC is up in the Rhineland as the 'Ninth Hispania' dealing with the aftermath of the Varro disaster in the Tuetoburg forest. With the abandonment of the German province the legion heads to Pannonia (modern-day Hungary) and finally it reaches Britain in 43AD as one of the four legions used in Claudius' invasion.

This is where the Ninth gets itself a bad name. In 61AD, the legion is virtually wiped out during the Boudica Rebellion as it marched to relieve the siege of the Colchester. Ten years later and now mostly likely filled with recruits from Gaul, the Ninth settles down in a permanent fortress at York to garrison the northern borders. In 108AD, the legion is still there...and then it disappears.

What happened? Well, that's going to be my next post. For more on the Roman legions, you can read 'Vagabond' - available from Amazon, just follow the links