The fate of the Roman Ninth Legion has fascinated historians and the public for centuries. The legion, which fought in various regions of the Roman Empire, including Britain, disappeared from historical records around AD 117. What happened to the 5,000 soldiers who vanished without a trace?
One popular theory, based on a novel by Rosemary Sutcliff and adapted into several films, is that the legion was annihilated by the Picts in northern Britain while trying to quell a rebellion. This version of events portrays the British warriors as freedom-loving underdogs who defeated a well-trained, heavily-armoured professional army. It also reflects the different attitudes towards Roman rule and national identity of both England and Scotland.
However, another theory, based on archaeological evidence, is that the legion was transferred to another province, possibly the Middle East, where it was destroyed by the Persians or other enemies. This view challenges the romantic notion of the Ninth Legion’s disappearance and suggests that it was a victim of strategic transfer and obscurity.
The debate over the Ninth Legion’s fate has been fueled by various sources of evidence and interpretation, such as inscriptions, tiles, coins, and historical accounts. However, none of these are conclusive or definitive, leaving room for speculation and imagination.
As one historian put it: “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.”
The mystery of the Ninth Legion has also inspired creative works, such as novels, films, and TV shows. The most enduring of these is Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth, which was published in 1954 and became an instant bestseller. The novel tells the story of a young Roman officer who travels north of Hadrian’s Wall to find out what happened to his father, who was lost with the Ninth, and to recover the legion’s battle standard, the bronze eagle.
The novel was adapted into a film in 2011, titled The Eagle, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell. The film received mixed reviews from critics and audiences, who praised its action scenes but criticized its historical accuracy and dialogue.
Another film that explored the legend of the Ninth Legion was Centurion, released in 2010. The film depicts the legion as being ambushed and massacred by the Picts, with only a few survivors who try to escape back to Roman territory. The film was also met with mixed reactions, with some appreciating its gritty realism and others finding it too violent and clichéd.
The mystery of the Ninth Legion may never be solved, but it will continue to intrigue and entertain people who are interested in history and culture. As one writer said: “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?”
– The Vanished Legion: What Happened to the Roman IXth?, Historic Mysteries, 27 July 2022
– Revealed: the Roman Ninth Legion’s guilty secret, The Guardian, 28 August 2010
– The Roman Ninth Legion’s mysterious loss, BBC News, 16 March 2011
– The Ninth Roman Legion: Myths, Truths and Propaganda, World History, 21 June 2017