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Why the Ninth Legion Had a Mythical History in the Roman Army

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How does an entire legion in the Roman Army disappear? Unlike the disaster of Teutoburg Forest, where records give credence to a complete massacre of Roman legions, no such evidence exists for one of Rome’s most battle hardened legions. The Ninth Legion was a jewel in the crown of the Roman Empire. They were one of the oldest and highest famed legions to ever march for Rome. They participated in countless military campaigns, winning numerous battles and continually bringing the enemies of Rome to their knees. Quite possibly one of the highest decorated legions in the imperial army, they were at the height of their glory in the history records. Then without explanation, the Ninth Legion vanished from Rome’s history. For years, scholars have theorized a number of explanations as to the disappearance of the Ninth Legion and even movie makers have capitalized on this age old mystery. Was the end of the Ninth Legion a glorious affair with blood and sweat, fighting to the last man or was it a slow and undistinguished fading?

Commissioned in Spain during the time around 65 B.C., the Ninth Legion was one of Rome’s oldest, and eventually became one it’s most decorated legions in the empire. The Ninth Legion would participate in countless campaigns. The Ninth Legion fought under Julius Caesar during his invasion and conquest of Gaul in 58 B.C. The Ninth Legion also fought in Spain at the Battle of Ilerda during Caesar’s civil war against Pompey as well as during his African campaign of 46 A.D. (Ritterling) After this campaign, a number of the legion’s veterans settled in Picenum and Histria. However, Emperor Augustus would resurrect the Ninth Legion in 41 A.D. when he needed troops to take control of Sicily. The island was then under the control of Sextus Pompeius, whose occupation of the island was greatly damaging to Rome’s grain supplies. The Ninth Legion assured that the island soon came back under the rule of Emperor Augustus. The Ninth Legion saw additional campaigns in Spain again from 25 to 13 A.D., campaigning against the Cantabrians under Emperor Augustus. Other units, including I Germanica, II Augusta, IIII Macedonica, V Alaudae, VI Victrix, X Gemina, and XX Valeria Victrix, participated in these massive campaigns. (Ritterling)

Here, during the campaign of 24 B.C., the Ninth Legion distinguished themselves in combat, possibly earning the honorary title of IX Hispana. History becomes somewhat quiet for the Legion until almost forty years later. In 14 A.D., after the Roman massacre of Teutoburg Forest in Germania, the Ninth Legion was stationed in Pannonia along the Danube River. (Ritterling) It would remain a garrison force there until 43 A.D.

In 43 A.D., when Emperor Claudius mounted his war elephant and crossed the English Channel, he invaded with IX Hispana. Additional units included II Augusta, XIV Gemina, and XX Valeria Victrix. The IX Hispana was first stationed at Longthorpe and Newton-on-Trent under the command of Aulus Plautius. After the year 55 A.D., the Ninth Legion was transferred to the garrison at Lincoln. (Ritterling)

War broke out in Britain again with the rebellion of Queen Boudica in 60 A.D. After her husband’s death, her lands were usurped by Roman authorities, her daughters were brutally raped, and Queen Boudica herself was publicly flogged. Queen Boudica swore vengeance against the Roman Empire. She would give rise to one of most serious and effective rebellions in Roman History. Boudica successfully led her tribal army south, leaving a path of death and destruction behind her. Her wrath saw Colchester, Verulamium, and Londinium, present day London, burned to the ground. The Ninth Legion was the first to be sent to aid in the rebellion’s subjugation. But it did not have the outcome the IX Hispana was expecting. Under the command of Quintus Petillius Cerialis, the Ninth was soundly defeated and would suffer heavy casualties fighting Boudica’s forces, losing about a third of its overall fighting strength. (Mattingly, p.110) Replacements for IX Hispana arrived from provinces in Germany and little is known about the Ninth Legion’s activities until the year 77 A.D.

Records from the year 77 A.D. show that the Ninth Legion was transferred to York at this time in order to replace II Adiutrix as the guarding unit in the northern frontier. (Ritterling) In 78 A.D., the Ninth Legion was employed against the Brigantes in northern Britain where the Ninth Legion joined together with the XX Valeria Victrix, commanded by Gnaeus Julius Agricola. Together they defeated the Brigantes near Stanwick. (Ritterling) In 83 A.D., a portion of the Ninth Legion was sent to fight Germanic tribes in Germania Superior near the Mainz.

The IX Hispana’s last known activity in Britain is estimated to be have occurred around 108 A.D. or 109 A.D., when records show that the legion constructed the stone fortress at York. (Ritterling) After these records however, the Ninth Legion falls off the map, with no further evidence being found as to what fate the legion suffered. With all of its campaigns and military experience, the IX Hispana was a first-rate Roman legion and perhaps one of the most highly decorated units within the Roman army.

But how did the track record for one of Rome’s finest legions come to a complete halt, leaving no substantial evidence about the Ninth Legion’s demise or further activity? This question has puzzled scholars for years. This mystery has also been successful in generating a number of suspicions for the Ninth Legion’s mysterious disappearance. Possibly the most popularized theory concerning the Ninth Legion’s fate is that of the legion’s complete destruction. While the Ninth Legion was garrisoned on the island, Britain was one of the most troublesome of Rome’s territories. It became the source of numerous uprisings and rebellions. The most notable of these rebellions is that of Queen Boudica in 60 A.D., resulting in serious casualties and damages for Roman forces in Britain. Roman legions were constantly sent to put down theses enemies of Roman peace. As portrayed in films such as Centurion and The Eagle, popular legend tells that the Ninth Legion was sent north to fight hostile British forces. (Napier) Both films depict a legend in which the Ninth, while marching through the dark and misty forests of Northern Britain, are suddenly ambushed by vengeful Britons. Caught completely off guard by the barbarian horde, unable to deploy troop movements and without reinforcements, the legion fights to the last man and is annihilated. (Napier) Although this presents a glorious last stand worthy of a legion with the reputation as famous as the Ninth’s, more and more scholars believe the IX Hispana suffered a far less glorious fate than that of legend.

Although it had built up for itself a reputation of pride and success, the Ninth legion could not have been entirely immune from falling victim to failure. After being completely decimated by Queen Boudica’s forces, it is not impossible to believe that the Ninth Legion could have become victim to another such defeat. The IX Hispana could have suffered another shaming defeat at the hands of the barbarian tribes. If the Ninth Legion’s performance brought humiliation to the empire, authorities could have turned it into, as Tom Stanier phrases it, an “unperson”. (Stanier) The Ninth Legion would have been disbanded and from then on it would not exist, no future records of it would be kept in order to guarantee that Rome would not have to suffer further humiliation from the failures of its legions.

Out of all the possible dramatic circumstances that could have resulted in the Ninth Legion’s disappearance, there are some scholars who would argue that it is possible that the Ninth Legion could have been destroyed by nothing more than “mass desertion”. Stanier argues that when the Brigantes were defeated in 119 A.D. it caused a large native migration into Northern Britain. Stanier believes that a number of legionaries of the IX Hispana accompanied them. (Stanier) Stanier points out that Roman legionary contact with the native Britons was unavoidable. Veterans of the legions settled in Cologne in 50 A.D. and overtime became part of the British society, marrying natives and gaining further roots into the native community. According to Stanier, the tribes of the Treviri and Lingones greatly fraternized with the legions during the winter, so much so that there was “mutinous talk and the soldiers were demoralized by mixing with the civilians.” (Stanier)

By 119 A.D., Roman troops had occupied York for over forty years. (Stanier) No doubt by this time that the Romans would have had numerous connections to the Brigantes. Doubtless there would have been intermarriages between the two peoples resulting in a subsequent rise of soldiers with British families. This would have led to a breakdown in the legionaries conduct and resolve to remain solely loyal to the empire. Stanier cites a Roman’s description of Hadrian’s army reforms in Germany and implies that the army in Britain suffered the same results. Legionaries would constantly leave the camp without authorization to see the natives. The actual strength of the unit was never constant due desertions, leaving the unit vulnerable. (Stanier) Camp stores and Discipline among the Britain-stationed troops in general was on the decline. A number of cohorts had revolted and in 83 A.D. one had even killed their centurion and deserted the army altogether.

This supposed reduction in conduct not only affected the empire, but also its foreign assets as well. As a client-state ruler to Rome, Cartimandua would have been assured support and protection from Rome’s legions. But when Roman-friendly British nobility, Queen Cartimandua, was exiled from her kingdom, the Ninth Legion did not come to her aide. Stanier acknowledges that this could have been due to being understrength, but he also notes that it is possible that there was a lack of discipline and loyalty to carry out the obligations of the empire. (Stanier) Following Stanier’s arguments, it is entirely possible that the Ninth Legion, decimated by constant and humiliating desertions, was finally disbanded and stricken from the military lists.

The Ninth Legion was one of Rome’s top military units. The legion itself has seen countless military campaigns all over Europe and even participated in campaigns in parts of Africa. Earning numerous honors, it had been commanded by historical figures such as Julius Caesar during his Gallic Campaigns and Emperor Augustus during his rise to power. Both rulers had enjoyed the Ninth’s loyal service during times of civil war. However illustrious its past, Britain seems to have been the bane of IX Hispana. Here they suffered heavy losses against Queen Boudica, were assigned to guarding the garrison at York, and somehow fall from the records and history books. There have been various speculations as to the outcome of Rome’s finest legion. Romanticized legend tells us that the IX Hispana was ambushed and destroyed at the hands of brutal British barbarians. It has also been theorized that they could have been the victim of poor morale, losing so many soldiers to desertion that the legion was too weak, too dishonored to continue in existence and was disbanded. In whichever case, the fate of the Ninth Legion will continue to remain a mystery until evidence to shed light on the historical fog that surrounds Rome’s missing Legion.

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