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What Happened To The Ninth Legion

What Happened To The Ninth Legion

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The mystifying disappearance of Rome’s Ninth Legion has intrigued historians for ages. Was the loss of the ninth in a devastating ambush the catalyst for the creation of the England-Scotland border?

One of Roman Britain’s most compelling narratives involves the enigmatic fate of the Ninth Legion. It’s theorized that while marching north through Caledonia’s dense mists to suppress a rebellion, 5,000 of Rome’s most formidable soldiers were swallowed by the fog, leaving no trace behind.

The Ninth Legion’s history

Renowned for its valor and discipline, the Ninth Legion also known as Legio IX Hispana, played a pivotal role in the expansive era of the Roman Empire, participating in significant campaigns and battles. This section delves into the key historical events and contributions that highlight the legion’s importance before its mysterious disappearance.

Formation and Early Achievements

The exact date of the formation of the Ninth Legion remains a subject of debate among historians, but it’s widely acknowledged that it was created sometime during the late Republican period. It gained early recognition for its involvement in Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars, displaying remarkable military prowess and contributing to the expansion of Roman territory in Gaul.

The ninth legion was one of Caesar’s trusted and elite legions, and they often campaigned with him. If Caesar fought somewhere, there was a good chance the ninth was there with him.

The original ninth was disbanded around Caesar’s death before being reformed a couple of years later.

Notable Campaigns in Britain

The Roman army, including the Ninth Legion, commenced the annexation of southern Britain under the command of Emperor Claudius in AD 43. Recorded history notes the surrender of eleven British kings during this campaign, an event illustrating the effective military presence of Rome in the region. Although not securely attested, it’s speculated that the Ninth Legion played a significant role in this conquest, cementing its reputation as a formidable force.

Following this, the Ninth Legion, under the leadership of Petillius Cerialis, found itself in a perilous situation when ambushed by the forces of Queen Boudica. This ambush occurred while the legion hurried to relieve the besieged Roman town of Colchester.


The sudden vanishing of Rome’s Ninth Legion, Legio IX Hispana, from historical records at the start of the Second Century AD marks one of history’s most intriguing puzzles.

Historical accounts cease to mention the Ninth Legion after a certain period, leading to a myriad of theories regarding its disappearance. Some suggest that the legion might have succumbed to a massive defeat, possibly in a battle lost to the records of history. Others propose that the legion was gradually disbanded, its soldiers redistributed among other legions or retired after their service.

A popular theory that emerged in the 20th century, largely popularized by Rosemary Sutcliffe’s novel “The Eagle of the Ninth,” posits that the Ninth Legion met its demise in Scotland, wiped out by the local tribes. This theory, while captivating, has faced scrutiny due to a lack of solid archaeological evidence supporting a catastrophic loss in that region. Many tombstones and inscriptions attributed to members of the Ninth Legion have been found in various locations, but none conclusively point to a mass military disaster in Scotland.

In contrast, recent scholarly research suggests a different narrative. Analysis of Roman military records and archaeological findings points towards the possibility that the Ninth Legion was not destroyed but rather transferred to another part of the Roman Empire. Some evidence suggests a presence in the eastern provinces, possibly engaged in the Romans’ military campaigns in the Middle East. This theory aligns with the Roman military strategy of redeploying legions to different frontiers as needed, a common practice to address emerging threats and reinforce weakened sectors of the Empire.

Despite these prevailing theories, the exact circumstances of the Ninth Legion’s disappearance remain uncertain. The lack of definitive evidence leaves room for speculation, drawing interest from historians, archaeologists, and enthusiasts alike. The Ninth Legion’s story exemplifies the challenges in reconstructing ancient history, where gaps in the historical record often lead to more questions than answers.


In exploring the fate of Rome’s Ninth Legion, several theories emerge, each offering a different narrative on the legion’s mysterious disappearance. Despite the lack of definitive evidence, historians and archaeologists have pieced together plausible scenarios, ranging from military defeats to strategic relocations.

Ambush by the Picts

One compelling theory suggests the Ninth Legion met its demise during a battle against the Picts, a confederation of tribes in present-day Scotland. This theory posits that the legion, caught off guard, suffered heavy losses, with many soldiers either killed or captured.

Critics of this theory, however, argue that archaeological finds and historical records do not fully support this scenario, challenging the notion of a catastrophic defeat as the sole cause for the legion’s disappearance.

Relocation and Disbandment

Another theory refutes the idea of a single catastrophic event. Instead, it speculates that the Ninth Legion was gradually disbanded or relocated. Some historians suggest the legion was transferred to the Rhine-Danube border or even further to the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire.

This scenario implies the legion was absorbed into other units, diluting its identity and presence in historical records. The discovery of artefacts, such as a silver-plated bronze pendant in Germania Inferior, provides intriguing but inconclusive evidence of the legion’s movement across the empire.

Role in Insurgences

The legion’s involvement in local insurgences presents another theory. It speculates that the Ninth Legion was re-stationed in London, playing a crucial role in quelling rebellions. Some even suggest the legion might have led a rebellion, ultimately disbanding and integrating with local populations.

This theory again lacks concrete evidence, relying on speculative interpretations of archaeological finds, such as skulls discovered in London, which suggest a violent confrontation but do not conclusively tie back to the legion.

A change of scenery?

Following their known activities in Britain, evidence suggests that the Ninth Legion may have experienced a change of scenery from the fog-covered landscapes of Britain to the sun-baked regions of the Eastern Roman Empire.

This theory is buoyed by historical records indicating the presence of a Roman force resembling the Ninth in the Middle East, more specifically, in Judea. Around the early 2nd century AD, the Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire were volatile, with frequent rebellions threatening Roman rule. The shifting of legions across vast distances to suppress uprisings or to reinforce garrisons was common. Thus, the relocation of the Ninth Legion to Judea to quell unrest or to reinforce the Roman presence in this restive area appears plausible.

Records from the time indicate that Legio IX Hispana, alongside other legions, was deployed to the Eastern territories as part of the Roman military’s strategic realignment. If this is accurate, the Ninth Legion’s disappearance from Britain might simply reflect their redeployment rather than their annihilation. This perspective gains support from both archaeological finds and literary evidence hinting at the legion’s presence in the Middle East.

Moreover, the challenges faced by the Roman forces in Judea were formidable. The Jewish rebellion of 132-136 AD, known as the Bar Kokhba Revolt, inflicted heavy losses on the Roman military. If the Ninth Legion was indeed present in Judea during these turbulent times, they would have been engaged in brutal combat against a determined and resourceful enemy. It’s conceivable that the legion suffered significant casualties in these conflicts, perhaps even leading to its effective dissolution.

Critics of the Scottish massacre theory argue that the Judean scenario provides a more historically consistent account of the legion’s fate. Instead of falling to the supposedly “barbaric” tribes of Britain, the Ninth may have met its end in a catastrophic war in the deserts of the Middle East, a theater of battle that presented challenges as daunting as any in Britain, if not more so.

Archaeological Insights and Speculations

Archeological findings offer limited but fascinating glimpses into the Ninth Legion’s activities and movements. Tombstones of at least three survivors who served in the early 120s provide tangible links to the legion’s existence past its presumed disappearance. These inscriptions, one of the few pieces of evidence related to the survivors, underscore the challenges of completely unraveling the Ninth Legion’s fate.

The absence of mass graves or legion-specific commemorative tombs prompts ongoing speculative theories about their end, ranging from military annihilation to gradual disbandment due to heavy losses. Some scholars suggest that a small corner in northern Britain may still hold undiscovered archaeological evidence, a possibility that fuels the imagination and hope of finding conclusive answers.

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