Legio IX Hispana: Rome’s Lost Legion

legio ix hispana

Long ago when Rome ruled the world, an elite military unit called the 9th Legion-Spanish, or Legio IX Hispana, disappeared without a trace. For millennia, historians have dedicated a considerable amount of their time, energy and research in the hope that they will finally solve this age-old mystery.

But, did they actually succeed? Read on to find out.

The Ninth’s service under Republican and Imperial rule

Lawrence Keppie, author of The Making of the Roman Army, from Republic to Empire, suggests the origin of Legio IX Hispana may date back to 90 BC during Roman Republican control and the onset of the Social War. The Ninth supposedly played a major part in the Siege of Asculum – an important fortress that served as a communication hub between the north and south areas of the peninsula.

Others think the mysterious legion was created decades later in or around 65 BC. Australian Historian Stephen Dando-Collins believes (then) Hispania Governor Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, or Pompey the Great, raised the 9th, along with the 6th, 7th and 8th. Years later, another governor, Julius Caesar, took control of four legions, which included the 7th through 10th. Immediately after this transfer of power, the Ninth was tasked with guarding Aquileia against attacks from Illyrian invaders.

By 46 BC, Caesar had engaged in a civil war effort in Africa. The Ninth Legion participated in his campaign and saw much fighting, including the battles of Pharsalus and Dyrrhachium. After a decisive victory, Julius Caesar instructed the legion to disband, with the ex-soldiers settling in the region of Picenum.

After Caesar was assassinated by Republican senators on the Ides of March in 44 BC, some of the veterans of his prior legions, including the Ninth, were called back into service to fight against a rebellion in Sicily. After quelling the insurrection, the armies were sent to Macedonia and later accompanied Gaius Octavius Thurinus, who would eventually become Emperor Augustus, in his war against Mark Antony in the Battle of Actium.

When Augustus eventually succeeded in becoming the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, Legio IX Hispana is rumored to have traveled to the Rhine borderlands and conducted warfare against the Germanic tribes. In 9 AD, the Ninth suffered a devastating defeat when they, and two other legions, were ambushed during the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, or Varian Disaster. Afterward, historians believe the legion was relocated to the Roman province of Pannonia.

From 43 AD to around 108 AD, the Ninth partook in several military campaigns including the Roman invasion of Britain, the revolt of Benutius, Battle of Camulodunum, invasion of Caledonia and Battle of Mons Graupius.

D.B. Campbell’s The Fate of the Ninth: the Curious Disappearance of the VIIII Legio Hispana noted the following in regard to the fabled legion’s last known whereabouts:

“The last attested activity of the Ninth in Britain is during the rebuilding in stone of the legionary fortress at York (Eboracum) in 108. This is recorded in an inscribed stone tablet discovered in 1864.”

After 108 AD, the Ninth’s records had become more obscure and harder to find.

A few inscribed artifacts related to Legio IX Hispana were discovered in an ancient legionary fortress located in the Netherlands and Aachen, a border city in Germany.

These items included:

  1. Tile-stamps dating back to 104-120 AD.
  2. A silver phalera (medal) with the characters “LEG HISP IX” inscribed on the back.
  3. An altar to Apollo erected by Lucius Latinius Macer, the “Primus Pilus” and “Praefectus Castrorum” of IX Hispana (or, the Chief Centurion and Third-in-Command of the 9th Spanish).

What really happened to Legio IX Hispana?

Although no surviving accounts exist that explain the Ninth’s ultimate fate, experts have still formulated a few of their own theories.

The late Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen, a German classical historian, scholar and archaeologist, believed the 9th was destroyed during a conflict between the tribes in northern Britain and Rome shortly after 108 AD. Mommsen’s theory grew in popularity after Author Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel, The Eagle of the Ninth, was published in 1954. Sutcliff zeroed in on the Ninth Legion’s supposed demise after they marched into Caledonia, or modern-day Scotland. According to the theory and subsequent story, the Legio IX Hispana was never heard of or seen again after it had traveled beyond Rome’s frontier.

Another proposal suggests the legion was obliterated during a 132-136 AD Jewish revolt led by Simon bar Kokhba. Wikipedia states:

“It was reported that the Romans suffered heavy casualties in this war, whose start-date fits neatly with the estimated time of IX Hispana’s departure from Nijmegen (120–30). In this scenario, the Ninth may have been dispatched to Judea to reinforce the locally based legions, but was heavily defeated by Jewish forces and the remnants of the unit disbanded. However, another legion, XXII Deiotariana, normally based in Egypt, is actually documented in Judea at this time and its surviving datable records also cease c. 120. It is possible that both legions were destroyed by the Jews, but if so this would rate as the worst Roman military disaster since the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (AD 9) when 3 legions were lost.”

Archaeologist Eris Birley thinks the Ninth might have been hastily transferred back to Rome from Britain in preparation for the Parthian wars or to simply fill in any military gaps and secure the city.

Still, many intellectuals believe the Ninth being destroyed in Britain is the most reasonable explanation for its utter disappearance. Miles Russell, author of Bloodline: The Celtic Kings of Roman Britain, said the following:

“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.”

Until further evidence is acquired, the debate over Legio IX Hispana’s exact fate will likely rage on.

Main Image Credit: ryomablood (DeviantArt)

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