Legio IX Hispana

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Legio IX Hispana
Roman Empire 125.png
Map of the Roman empire in 125 AD, under emperor Hadrian.
ActiveBefore 58 BC to sometime in the 2nd century AD
CountryRoman Republic and Roman Empire
TypeRoman legion (Marian)
RoleInfantry assault
Garrison/HQEboracum (71–?)
MascotBull (likely)
  (Redirected from Massacre of the Ninth Legion)
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Legio IX Hispana
Roman Empire 125.png
Map of the Roman empire in 125 AD, under emperor Hadrian.
ActiveBefore 58 BC to sometime in the 2nd century AD
CountryRoman Republic and Roman Empire
TypeRoman legion (Marian)
RoleInfantry assault
Garrison/HQEboracum (71–?)
MascotBull (likely)

Legio Nona Hispana (Ninth The Spanish Legion)[1] was a Roman legion which operated from the 1st century BC until the mid-2nd century AD. The legion fought in various provinces of the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire but was then stationed in Britain following the Roman invasion in 43 AD. The legion disappears from Roman records in the first half of the second century, but there is no account of what happened to it.

The mysterious fate of the legion has been the subject of considerable interest and research. It was last definitely recorded in York in 108. One theory was that the legion was destroyed in action in northern Britain some time around 120, perhaps during a rising of northern tribes. This view was popularized by the 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth in which the legion is said to have marched into Caledonia (Scotland), after which it was "never heard of again"

This theory was thought to have been discredited when tile stamps later found in Nijmegen appeared to show that the legion was still based there between 121 and 130.[2] However, this evidence has been disputed. Other possibilities are an end in the Bar Kokhba revolt or in Armenia in 161.[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 Julius Caesar is known to have founded 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]


Memorial to Lucius Duccius Rufinus, a standard bearer of the Ninth, Yorkshire Museum, York

The Caesarian 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 Hispania") 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 in 9 AD), the Ninth was relocated in Pannonia.

In 43 AD they most likely 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 at the Battle of Camulodunum under Quintus Petillius Cerialis in the rebellion of Boudica (61), when most of the foot-soldiers were killed in a disastrous attempt to relieve the besieged city of Camulodunum (Colchester). Only the cavalry escaped. It was later reinforced with legionaries from the Germania provinces. When Cerialis returned as governor of Britain ten years later, he took command of the Ninth once more in a successful campaign against the Brigantes in 71-2, to subdue north-central Britain. Around this time they constructed a new fortress at York (Eboracum), as shown by finds of tile-stamps from the site.[7]

The Ninth participated in Agricola's invasion of Caledonia (modern Scotland) in 82-3. According to Tacitus the legion narrowly escaped destruction when the Caledonians beyond the Forth launched a surprise attack at night on their fort. The Caledonians "burst upon them as they were terrified in their sleep". In desperate hand-to-hand fighting the Caledonians entered the camp, but Agricola was able to send cavalry to relieve the legion. Seeing the relief force, "the men of the Ninth Legion recovered their spirit, and sure of their safety, fought for glory", pushing back the Caledonians.[8] The legion also participated in the decisive Battle of Mons Graupius.

The last attested activity of the Ninth in Britain is during the rebuilding in stone of the legionary fortress at York (Eboracum) in 108 AD. This is recorded in an inscribed stone tablet discovered in 1864.[9] The Ninth was certainly no longer in existence by the mid-2nd century, as a list of legions compiled in 165 – during the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161–180 AD) – fails to mention it. Its subsequent movements remain unknown, but hypotheses abound.

Theories about the disappearance[edit]

A stamp of the Ninth legion at York
the last definite attestation of the Ninth: a stone inscription at York dated 108

Rebellion in Britain[edit]

The unexplained disappearance of the legion from the records was first noted by 18th century scholar John Horsley in his book Britannia Romana (1732).[9] By the late 19th century, evidence had emerged that the legion's disappearance coincided with unrest in the north of Britain. Italian scholar Bartolomeo Borghese found an inscription about the life of one Lucius Ligarianus, which suggested he served with the legion around 116. Combining this with evidence that the Legio VI Victrix had been sent to Britain at this time, he concluded that Ninth had been destroyed during a rebellion or invasion, the details of which had not been preserved. The famous scholar Theodore Mommsen agreed, writing that "under Hadrian there was a terrible catastrophe here, apparently an attack on the fortress of Eboracum [York] and the annihilation of the legion stationed there, the very same Ninth that had fought so unluckily in the Boudican revolt."[9] He suggested that a revolt of the Brigantes some time after 108 was the most likely explanation.

Mommsen cited evidence for substantial troop losses in Britain 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”.[10] While the Jewish rebellion known as the Bar Kokhba revolt is well documented, there is nothing known about this apparently equally serious crisis in Britain. 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”,[11] it is plausible that Hadrian was responding to a military disaster.[12]

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).[13] 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).[14]

By the mid 20th century, the view that the Ninth had been destroyed in an uprising was the standard one. As Winston Churchill wrote, the legion "disappears from history in combating an obscure rising of the tribes in Northern Britain".[15] Emil Ritterling used new inscription discoveries to argue that the event must have occurred a decade or so later than 108, perhaps in the early 120s. This was based on evidence concerning the careers of several high-ranking officers who seem to have served with the Ninth after 120 (e.g., Lucius Aemilius Carus, governor of Arabia in 142/143), suggesting that the legion continued in existence after this date.[9]

Though none of these theories involve the legion mysteriously vanishing without trace, or even marching into Scotland, Rosemary Sutcliff's 1954 novel, The Eagle of the Ninth added the fictional element that the legion had "marched north" to deal with a "rising of the Caledonian tribes" and was "never heard of again".[16] According to Ross Cowan, though this is the best known story of the legion's fate, it has no basis in fact and is taken seriously only by "fantasists and nationalists".[17]

Contrary evidence and arguments[edit]

In 1959 two stamped tiles were discovered at Nijmegen (Noviomagus) in the Netherlands bearing the legion's number. The fortress had been evacuated by X Gemina.[18] It was at first thought that these may have come from a vexillation (subunit) of the legion, known to have been on the Rhine frontier during the mid-80s when the emperor Domitian was fighting his war against the Chatti. However, the evidence of the presence of senior officers indicated to many scholars that the Ninth Legion as a whole was based there between 121 and 130.[2] Other inscription evidence emerged that officers must have served in the legion in the 120s. By 1969 G. R. Watson in The Roman Soldier was asserting that the Ninth had been moved out of Britain into northern Germany and may have met its fate when sent to deal with the Judean Bar Kochba Revolt in 132-5, or possibly in Armenia in 161 during the ongoing conflict with the Parthian Empire.[19] The Roman historian Cassius Dio recorded that a legion was destroyed in 161 in Armenia, but it is not known if it was the Ninth.[3]


Several scholars still argue that destruction in Britain is the most likely scenario. 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".[20][21] Such scholars criticise the assumptions of those who extrapolate from inscription evidence, arguing that it is easy to confuse evidence about different persons with the same name.[9] It is highly unlikely that if the legion continued in existence up to the Armenian war of 161, no records at all later than c.120 would be known. Lawrence Keppie says that "no inscriptions recording the building activities of the legion or the lives and careers of its members have come from the East", suggesting that if the legion did leave Britain, it ceased to exist very soon afterwards.[22] Russell argues that "there is not one shred of evidence that the Ninth were ever taken out of Britain." The tile stamps found at Nijmegen cannot be dated to the period after 120, but "all seem to date to the 80s AD, when detachments of the Ninth were indeed on the Rhine fighting Germanic tribes."[20] Keppie also says that the tiles cannot be securely dated, but suggests that they date from c.105 during a temporary absence of the legion from Britain.[22] However, Keppie thinks that the legion may have been withdrawn from York around 117 to help deal with the war in Parthia at the end of Trajan's reign. Rather than the legion being destroyed in a British rebellion, Keppie suggests that absence of the legion encouraged the northern tribes to rebel, forcing Hadrian to send the Legio VI Victrix to Britain.[22]

Sheppard Frere, an eminent Romano-British authority, has concluded that "further evidence is needed before more can be said".[23]

In fiction and popular culture[edit]

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

The Silchester eagle, the Roman eagle that inspired Sutcliff's novel. According to Reading Museum it "is not a legionary eagle but has been immortalized as such by Rosemary Sutcliff."[24]

Reenactment groups[edit]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "York's Spanish connection". BBC.co.uk. 13 January 2008. 
  2. ^ a b Bowman, Alan K; Garnsey, Peter; Rathbone, Dominic (2000). The Cambridge Ancient History: The High Empire, A.D. 70–192 (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 497. ISBN 978-0-521-26335-1. 
  3. ^ a b Bowman, p. 158.
  4. ^ Keppie, Lawrence (1984). The Making of the Roman Army, from Republic to Empire. London: Batsford. p. 208. ISBN 0-7134-3651-4. 
  5. ^ Dando-Collins, Stephen (2002). Caesar's Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar's Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of Rome. New York: Wiley. pp. 269–270. ISBN 0-471-09570-2. 
  6. ^ Keppie, Lawrence (1983). Colonisation and veteran Settlement in Italy, 47–14 BCE. London: British School at Rome. p. 54. ISBN 0-904152-06-5. 
  7. ^ Wright, R. P. (1978). "Tile-Stamps of the Ninth Legion found in Britain". Britannia 9: 379–382. JSTOR 525953. 
  8. ^ Herbert W. Benario, Tacitus - Agricola, Germany, and Dialogue on Orators, Hackett Publishing, 2006, p.42.
  9. ^ a b c d e D. B. Campbell, "The Fate of the Ninth: the Curious Disappearance of the VIIII Legio Hispana", Ancient Warfare, IV-5, 2010, pp.48-53.
  10. ^ Fronto Parthian War 2, 220
  11. ^ Scriptores Historiae Augustae Hadrian, 5, 1
  12. ^ E.g. Breeze, D. & Dobson, B. (2000). Hadrian's Wall (4th ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p. 25. ISBN 0-14-027182-1. 
  13. ^ Roman Inscriptions of Britain, vol. 3 (Oxford 2009) no. 3364
  14. ^ B. Dobson Die Primipilares (Cologne/Bonn, 1978) no. 117, where the connection with Hadrian's visit is considered "likely".
  15. ^ Winston Churchill, "Chapter III: The Roman Province", A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, vol.1 (1956).
  16. ^ Burton, Philip, "Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth: A Festival of Britain", Greece & Rome (Second Series), Volume 58, Issue 01, April 2011, pp 82-103
  17. ^ Cowan, R., Roman Legionary AD 69-161, Osprey Publishing, 2013, p.10.
  18. ^ Haalebos, Jan Kees (2000). "Römische Truppen in Nijmegen". In Le Bohec, Yann. Les légions de Rome sous le Haut-Empire. Lyon: Diffusion De Boccard. pp. 465–489. ISBN 2-904974-19-9. 
  19. ^ Lendering, Jona. "Legio VIIII Hispana". Livius.org, Articles on ancient history. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  20. ^ a b Russell, Miles (May 2011). BBC History Magazine: 41–45. 
  21. ^ Russell, Miles (2010). Bloodline: The Celtic Kings of Roman Britain. Amberley. pp. 180–5. ISBN 978-1848682382. 
  22. ^ a b c Lawrence Keppie, "The Fate of the Ninth Legion: a problem for the Eastern Provinces?", in Legions and Veterans: Roman Army Papers 1971-2000, p.247 ff.
  23. ^ Frere, S. S. (1987). Britannia. A History of Roman Britain (Third, extensively revised ed.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 124. ISBN 0-7102-1215-1. 
  24. ^ Reading Museum's Silchester Eagle PDF
  25. ^ Robeson, Kenneth (1993). Doc Savage: The Forgotten Realm (1st ed.). Bantam Spectra. ISBN 0-553-29555-1. 
  26. ^ BBC, Eagle of the ninth. ISBN 1-4084-6776-3
  27. ^ Amazon reviews of The Shadowy Horses.
  28. ^ Q&A with Jim Butcher
  29. ^ "What We Do: Roman Units". Vicus – Romans and Britons. Retrieved 27 March 2014. "The Vicus represents two Roman military units. A vexillation of Legio IX Hispania: The choice of portraying Legion IX was an easy one as most of the legions that were present during the invasion and early occupation of Britain were already being portrayed in the UK and also the ninth does seem to have been involved in many of the significant military events...." 
  30. ^ "Legio IX Hispana: Bringing Rome to Life!". Legio IX Hispana. 

External links[edit]