The Roman Empire has long been of interest to me. You're almost left in awe at the history this period in time produced. While much of it is widely documented and some of it dramatised for modern film, TV and literature, there are still some gaping holes in our knowledge. Those gaps have given birth to a whole bunch of myths and legends which have fascinated me. One of those particular legends is the complete disappearance of the infamous 9th Legion. Known by their Latin name as Legio IX Hispana.
In this post I'm going to look at their history and their journey towards their disappearance as well as taking a look at a few recognised outcomes.
It's important to look into the history of the 9th Legion as it explains why they ended up on the outer reaches of the Roman Empire. The first possible deployment of the ninth came in a siege on an Italian stronghold called Asculum. However, there was no official sighting of them, only fragments of a lead slingshot which had the 'Legio IX' inscribed.
The first real introduction of the 9th Legion came when Julius Caesar required four legions for his Gallic conquest. In 59BC, they engaged in many battles and sieges that would solidify their trust with Julius Caesar. They became an incredibly tough unit to overcome and Caesar would rely on them for many years after the end of the Gallic conquest. The Ninth served alongside Caesar during the civil war against Pompey the Great, despite a great number of losses suffered at Dyrrachium, they continued to serve and secured big victories at Pharsalus and Thapsus.
Following the great victories at Pharsalus and Thapsus, Caesar granted the Ninth Legion their freedom and many were settled by Caesar himself. However, the most notorious part of the Ninth Legion's history was on the horizon. A unit as good as the Ninth would never stay away from the battlefield for too long and they rose again, serving Octavian in his wars against Marc Antony and Cleopatra. They fought in the Battle of Actium in 31BC, which sparked the downfall of the infamous Marc Antony and Cleopatra. It also ensured that Octavian ruled over the entire Roman Empire.
Hispania (Modern day Spain)/Pannonia
After the success alongside Octavian, the Ninth Legion were sent up to Spain in which they were to engage and clear out a number of Spanish tribes that lived in the area. The Ninth Legion arrived at a time when the Cantabrian wars had just begun. Hispania was divided into three regions; Baetica, Lusitania and Hispania Citerior. The latter having Basque Country and Cantabria attached to it.
In 26BC, Emperor Caesar Augustus began a campaign against the Cantabrians. The Ninth Legion and five other legions fought for 10 years, starting from 29BC, and aided Augustus in his campaign against the Cantabrians. In around 25BC, a native community known as The Asturians joined up with the Cantabrians in their defence against the Roman Empire. They fought hard, but were pushed back all the way to the Mountainous region known as Mons Medullius (Las Medulas). In 19BC, the defence surrendered and fell to the Roman Empire. It was during this campaign that the Ninth Legion were renamed Legio IX Hispania.
Following the extremely successful campaign and the military exploits of the legion noted, they were sent to a region known as Pannonia. Which in today's world includes central European countries such as Austria, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. There was a necessity to the Ninth Legion's presence in the area as they helped crush the Dacians expansion into Pannonia. The Dacians were inhabitants in a region known as Dacia. Modern day Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. They were attempting to gain control of Pannonia to expand their territories, but were unsuccessful and Pannonia fell under total Roman control in 9BC.
Unsatisfied with the Roman Empire control of the region, it's native inhabitants known as Pannonians joined with The Dalmatians and Illyrian tribes to engage in a revolt. This was called the Great Illyrian Revolt. It took the Roman Empire three years of fighting to eventually squash the revolt. The land of Illyricum, home to the Illyrian tribe, was included in the division of territories. Pannonia and Dalmatia. The Ninth Legion, along with six other legions, protected the River Danube from Germanic barbarian tribes. However, the Ninth Legion wouldn't remain in Pannonia.
While they were operating in Pannonia, The Roman Empire was attempting to expand into North Africa. However, they encountered a fierce rebellion led by a man called Tacfarinas. They were proving to be a nuisance to the Roman legions in the area, in fact they were taking a bit of a battering. The Ninth were sent to provide support and help demolish the Berber tribes, which they were successful in doing and returned to Pannonia.
After the success in North Africa, the legion returned to Pannonia. However, being the formidable fighting force that they were, they were again stationed on the outer reaches of The Roman Empire. Emperor Claudius prepared an invading force destined for the shores of modern day Great Britain, and he wanted the Ninth to be part of it. When the Ninth reached Britannia, they set up camp in Lindum Colonia, which in today's world is Lincoln. They spent six years in relative peace before a legendary historical figure led her people into a revolt against the Romans.
That would be where Boudicca comes into the frame. Queen of the Iceni, which was an area just south of the Lindum Colonia fort which the Ninth resided in. Boudicca led her forces south towards Camulodonum. A Roman colony had settled in Camulodonum at the time, but Boudicca obliterated them. Upon hearing this news, the Ninth moved to help. Given the reputation of quashing rebellions, it would've been expected that Boudicca would've fallen at the feet. That was absolutely not the case, as they couldn't even reach Camulodonum, due to Boudicca sabotaging the advancing legion en-route. It is said that only the commander and a few of his men survived the attack, Boudicca and the Iceni's killed everyone else.
This was an absolutely devastating blow, and the force of the annihilation was felt throughout the Roman Empire. However, they still somehow managed to halt Boudicca's rebellion and were also able to strengthen their numbers using reinforcements that were scattered across the Roman Empire. In addition to this, they moved from their fort in Lindum, to Eboracum (York). Eboracum is further north and a step towards the north of Britannia, which means confronting a new force.
After moving to Eboracum, the Ninth were moved into modern day Scotland, which was known as Caledonii. The Caledonians were led by Calgacus, but this was not confirmed in the writings of Tacitus. Calgacus just seemed like a prominent figure within the ranks of the Caledonians. The Ninth, at the time of their advance into Caledonii, were led by Gnaeus Julius Agricola, this was believed to have taken place in 82AD.
Agricola's approach was to conquer the Forth-Clyde frontier which runs through the centre of Scotland. His chosen method of attack was to split his force into three smaller divisions. The Ninth was one of those smaller divisions, however, the Caledonians managed to secure the information that this was going to happen. They figured it would be more effective to eliminate one smaller division and then move to confront the other two. The division they selected to attack was the Ninth. They attacked at night and it completely caught out the Ninth. The Caledonians ripped through the fort they were stationed at, but the Ninth gained some amount of composure and began defending themselves. The Ninth suffered huge losses and were on the verge of total defeat.
Agricola was informed of the events taking place and launched a full scale attack on the Caledonians. They marched over to the Ninth, who were believed to be stationed at Inchtuthil. Agricola eventually arrived at the scene and surrounded the attacking force, killing everyone in sight.
The disappearance doesn't quite begin here as they did pop up back in Eboracum, due to some inscriptions made. Until at least 122AD there was someone present at Eboracum, as the Sixth Victrix moved into occupy in 122AD. Between 82AD and 122AD, the Ninth were still active.
What are the theories?
A personal theory of mine, based on the studying I've done on the subject, is that they were forcibly struck from all future writings of the Roman Empire. Substantial losses at the hands of Boudicca and the Caledonians suggest that they were not the fighting force they once were. Under Caesar, in Pannonia, under Octavian, in North Africa and the conquest in Hispania they were an elite unit. They experienced success in most ventures and became a trusted legion under various emperor's. I simply believe the defeats they suffered in Britannia were too notable and therefore the Ninth would be disbanded and any remaining troops still alive from the mauling they suffered against the Caledonians would be sent to other legions.
The biggest theory is that the Ninth were destroyed some time between 82AD and 122AD. The Caledonians were never defeated and small uprisings would've occurred throughout Caledonia as the Romans seeked to gain total control. It's entirely possible that one of these uprisings could've completely wiped out the legion, hence the arrival of a fresh legion (VI Victrix) at the garrison in York.
Another theory proposed is that due to the length of time spent in Britannia and Caledonia, the legion would've taken wives/mistresses from the area they were stationed as a tribe called the Brigantes were present. Despite being a well disciplined unit, you can't always uphold the values set by the Roman Empire and natural urges would've set in. Whether they found love or just picked a woman to sleep with, children would've been born and perhaps the hearts that were once so dedicated to the empire, were becoming lost in Britannia/Caledonia. This would've been hugely embarrassing for the empire, especially if the once loyal legionnaires started to rebel themselves.
There are scattered remains of inscriptions and events throughout the Roman Empire which would suggest that the Ninth legion lived beyond 122AD. Some claim that the Middle East, and the fight with the Persians, is where the Ninth met their fate, however there is no real evidence of this. There is also a suggestion that the Ninth were moved to Nijmegen in Germania and stationed there, or at least a portion of the legion were moved. The Rhine and The Danube were also destinations as suggested by some historians, seeing as the Roman Empire wanted to keep the barbarian forces from encroaching on their territory and bolstering those defensive lines would've made logical sense.
Recent discoveries have actually put Legio IX Hispania in the East to help crush a Jewish rebellion. The Third Jewish War between 132-135 was raging on and of course resources needed to be sent to win the war. With a new legion in York, as of 122AD, replacing the Ninth there could've been a chance that the remaining members of the legion were sent to the East. That is where the legion would've fallen.
Those theories are based on some very small pieces of evidence, but there are some unnamed rumours of mass execution and complete annihilation that could've been the end of the Ninth.
The first I'll address is the mass execution as some recent archaeology shows us that in modern day London, there was a great fire and a small collection of decapitated heads. Seeing as the fighting was mainly taking place up on the border of Caledonia, could a small collection of soldiers been taken down to London and executed? Perhaps to bury the crimes of those that the legion may have committed, taking part in a rebellion would've prompted such an event to take place.
The last theory I'll address is that of a complete annihilation of a legion in Armenia. Commander Marcus Severianus led a legion into battle in Armenia as the war with The Parthians chugged along. However, the legion that remained unnamed, was completely destroyed. There were no survivors. This took place in 161AD which coincides with Marcus Aurelius' inscription of all active legions which would've been at the start of his rule in 161AD, The Ninth were not on this list. No further evidence, so far, suggests they lived any later than 161AD.
That's it so far. Legio IX Hispania, a legendary fighting force who were present under Julius Caesar's reign, and quickly became one of his trusted legions. Deployed all over the Roman Empire, success followed wherever they were stationed. Britannia/Caledonia was just a station too far and an entire legion was consumed. Whether the Caledonians eventually inflicted the final blow, or the legion was moved on to prevent any further defeats, one thing remains, how did 5,000 soldiers disappear without any significant trace?