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Ninth Legion

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Ninth Legion

Legio IX Hispana
Germania Inferior province
Active Before 58 BC to sometime in the 2nd century AD
Country Roman Republic and Roman Empire
Type Roman legion (Marian)
Role Infantry assault
Size 2,500-5,000
Garrison/HQ Eboracum (71–?)
Mascot Bull (likely)

Legio Nona Hispana (Ninth Spanish Legion)[1] was a Roman legion which operated from the 1st century BC until mid-2nd century AD. The legion's fate is unknown but has been the subject of considerable interest and research. It was based in York in 108. The theory that it was destroyed in action north of Hadrian's Wall around 117 was popularized by a 1954 novel but was somewhat discredited when tile stamps later found in Nijmegen show that the legion was still based there between 121 and 130.[2] Dio Cassius records that a legion was destroyed in Armenia by the Parthians in 161; it was possibly the Ninth Legion.[3] In any event, the Ninth does not appear in a list of legions compiled in 165.


The origin of the legion is uncertain, but Caesar is known to have found a Ninth Legion already based in Gaul in 58 BC,[4] where it remained during the whole campaign of the Gallic wars.

According to Stephen Dando-Collins the legion was raised, along with the 6th, 7th and 8th, by Pompey in Hispania in 65 BC.[5]

Caesar's Ninth Legion fought in the battles of Dyrrhachium and Pharsalus (48 BC) and in the African campaign of 46 BC. After his final victory, Caesar disbanded the legion and settled the veterans in the area of Picenum.[6]

Following Caesar's assassination, Octavian recalled the veterans of the Ninth to fight against the rebellion of Sextus Pompeius in Sicily. After defeating Sextus, they were sent to the province of Macedonia. The Ninth remained with Octavian in his war of 31 BC against Mark Antony and fought by his side in the battle of Actium. With Octavian as sole ruler of the Roman world, the legion was sent to Hispania to take part in the large-scale campaign against the Cantabrians (25–13 BC). The nickname Hispana ("stationed in Spain") is first found during the reign of Augustus and probably originated at this time.

After this, the legion was probably a member of the imperial army in the Rhine border that was campaigning against the Germanic tribes. Following the abandonment of the Eastern Rhine area (after the disaster of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest – 9 AD), the Ninth was relocated in Pannonia.

Invasion of Britain

In 43 AD they probably participated in the Roman invasion of Britain led by emperor Claudius and general Aulus Plautius, because they soon appear amongst the provincial garrison. In 50 AD, the Ninth was one of two legions that defeated the forces of Caratacus at Caer Caradoc. Around 50 AD, the legion constructed a fort, Lindum Colonia, at Lincoln. Under the command of Caesius Nasica they put down the first revolt of Venutius between 52 and 57. The Ninth suffered a serious defeat under Quintus Petillius Cerialis in the rebellion of Boudica (61) and was later reinforced with legionaries from the Germania provinces. Around 71 AD, they constructed a new fortress at York (Eboracum), as shown by finds of tile-stamps from the site.[7]


It is often said that the legion disappeared in Britain about 117 AD.[8][9] However, names of several high-ranking officers of the Ninth are known to serve with the legion after c. 120 (e.g., Lucius Aemilius Karus, governor of Arabia in 142/143), suggesting that the legion continued in existence after this date. It has been suggested that the legion may have been destroyed during the Bar Kochba Revolt in Iudaea Province, or possibly in the ongoing conflict with the Parthian Empire but there is no firm evidence for this.[10]

The last testified activity of the Ninth in Britain is during the rebuilding in stone of the legionary fortress at York (Eboracum) in 108 AD. Its subsequent movements remain unknown, but there is crucial evidence, in the form of two stamped tiles, of the Legion's presence at Nijmegen (Noviomagus) in the Netherlands, which had been evacuated by X Gemina.[11] As these were stamped by the legion, and not by a vexillation of the legion, they cannot relate to the known presence of a subunit of the legion on the Rhine frontier during the mid-80s when the emperor Domitian was fighting his war against the Chatti.

Two passages from ancient literature are thought to have a bearing on the problem. Evidence for substantial troop losses in Britain is supplied by the Roman historian Marcus Cornelius Fronto, writing in the 160s AD, who consoled the emperor Marcus Aurelius, by reminding him of past tragedies, “Indeed, when your grandfather Hadrian held imperial power, what great numbers of soldiers were killed by the Jews, what great numbers by the Britons”.[12] Details of these casualties remain unknown, but, as the emperor Hadrian himself visited Britain around 122 AD, because, “the Britons could not be kept under Roman control”,[13] it is plausible that Hadrian was responding to a military disaster.[14] It is equally likely that the building of Hadrian's Wall stirred up trouble in the area.

The Ninth was certainly no longer in existence by the mid-2nd century as a list of legions compiled during the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161–180 AD) fails to mention it. Sheppard Frere, an eminent Romano-British authority, has concluded that, "further evidence is needed before more can be said".[15] Nevertheless, Miles Russell (senior lecturer in Roman Archaeology at Bournemouth University) has claimed that "by far the most plausible answer to the question 'what happened to the Ninth' is that they fought and died in Britain, disappearing in the late 110s or early 120s when the province was in disarray".[16][17]

Further speculation about a serious British war during the reign of Hadrian may be supported by a tombstone recovered from Vindolanda, Chesterholm in Northumberland. Here, the man commemorated, Titus Annius, a centurion of the First Cohort of Tungrians, had been, “killed in ... war” (in bello ... interfectus).[18] Further afield, a tombstone from Ferentinum in Italy was set up to Titus Pontius Sabinus, who, amongst other things, had commanded detachments of the VII Gemina, VIII Augusta and XXII Primigenia Legions on the “British expedition”, taking reinforcements to the island after (or even during) a major conflict, probably early in the emperor Hadrian’s reign (117–138 AD).[19]

In fiction and popular culture

The Ninth Legion's mysterious disappearance has made it a popular subject for historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction.

  • In Rosemary Sutcliff's 1954 historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth, a young Roman officer, Marcus Flavius Aquila, is trying to recover the Eagle standard of his father's legion beyond Hadrian's Wall.
  • A Home Service radio dramatisation of The Eagle of the Ninth was broadcast on Children's Hour in about 1956.
  • In Alan Garner's 1973 novel Red Shift, one narrative involves a group of Roman soldiers who are survivors of the Legion's destruction, trying to survive in hostile, 2nd-century Cheshire.
  • In Karl Edward Wagner's 1976 fantasy novel Legion from the Shadows (featuring Robert E. Howard's Bran Mak Morn), the survivors of the Ninth flee underground where they interbreed with the Worms of the Earth.
  • A BBC television serial was made of The Eagle of the Ninth in 1977.
  • The 1979 historical novel Legions of the Mists by Amanda Cockrell recounts the destruction of the Ninth Hispania by an attack by combined tribes in Scotland.
  • In David Gemmell's "Stones of Power" historical fantasy series, (1988–1991) the Ninth have been trapped in Limbo and are released by the protagonists (Uther Pendragon in Ghost King and Alexander the Great in Dark Prince (1991)) to help in battles.
  • In Will Murray's 1993 Doc Savage novel, The Forgotten Realm,[20] the Ninth Hispana founded a city called Novum Eboracum ("New York") in the African Congo, which survived until at least the 1930s.
  • A full-cast radio dramatisation of The Eagle of the Ninth was broadcast by BBC4 in 1996.[21]
  • In Marion Zimmer Bradley's Lady of Avalon historical fantasy novel, (1997) the Ninth is destroyed in a battle with the native Britons, from which the hero Gawen escapes to return to Avalon.
  • In Susanna Kearsley's 1997 novel The Shadowy Horses, an archaeologist believes he's found the remains of a fort that housed the Ninth Legion in remote Eyemouth, Scotland.[22]
  • N. M. Browne's 2000 Warriors of Alavna accounts for the disappearance of the Legion by transporting it to an alternative reality.
  • In Ken MacLeod's 2002 science fiction novel Dark Light, the government of Nova Babylonia is descended from the Ninth Legion, the implication being that it was abducted by aliens and transported to that distant planet.
  • Valerio Massimo Manfredi's 2002 historical novel L'ultima legione (The Last Legion) depicts the Ninth Legion as being part of the legend of King Arthur.
  • Jim Butcher's Codex Alera fantasy series (2004–2009) is populated by the descendants of the Ninth Legion and its camp followers, which had been transported to the world of Carna[23]
  • The 2006 album Caledonia by German Celtic metal band Suidakra includes a song "The IXth Legion" about the legion's fight with the Picts.
  • The 2007 movie The Last Legion based upon the Manfredi novel.
  • In Stephen Lorne Bennett's 2010 historical novel Last of the Ninth the Ninth Legion is destroyed by the Parthians under General Chosroes, in Cappadocia in 161 CE.
  • The 2010 movie Centurion follows the destiny of the Ninth Legion seen from the perspective of centurion Quintus Dias.
  • The 2011 movie The Eagle is based on the book The Eagle of the Ninth.

Reenactment groups

Several historical reenactment groups play the role of the Ninth Legion:

  • The Vicus (UK)[24]
  • Legio IX Hispana (USA)[25]

See also


External links

  • account of Legio IX Hispana
  • [1] York Tile Stamp

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