Caesar’s Legions at Alesia II

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Caesars Legions at Alesia II

Legio IX (possibly titled ‘Hispana’) – Ninth Legion (‘Spanish’)

Probably raised by Caesar before 58BC, little is known of this legion, although given its cognomen it is likely to have been either constituted or stationed in Spain. It fought against the Nervii in 57BC and is likely to have also fought at Alesia. After Alesia the legion took part in the Bellovacan Campaign of 51BC, where Caesar remarked on its outstanding fighting ability, along with the Seventh and Eighth Legions. The Ninth Hispana fought on Caesar’s side in the Civil War and was allied with the Eighth Legion on at least two occasions, in Africa and Greece. The Ninth is mentioned as coming under attack during the skirmishes around Dyrrachium (Albania) in 48BC. In response the Ninth replied bravely:

‘The soldiers of the Ninth Legion suddenly closing their files, threw their javelins, and advancing impetuously from the low ground up the steep, drove Pompey’s men precipitately before them, and obliged them to turn their backs; but their retreat was greatly impeded by the hurdles that lay in a long line before them, and the palisades which were in their way, and the trenches that were sunk. But our men being contented to retreat without injury, having killed several of the enemy, and lost but five of their own, very quietly retired, and having seized some other hills somewhat on this side of that place, completed their fortifications.’

[Caesar, The Civil War, III. 46]

Later, Pompey tried again to break through the fortifications that were surrounding his camp and again he met with solid resistance from the Ninth Legion, only this time a multi-pronged attack led to success for Pompey:

‘For when our cohorts of the Ninth Legion were on guard by the seaside, Pompey’s army arrived suddenly by break of day, and their approach was a surprise to our men, and at the same time, the soldiers that came by sea, cast their darts on the front rampart; and the ditches were filled with fascines: and the legionary soldiers terrified those that defended the inner rampart, by applying the scaling-ladders, and by engines and weapons of all sorts, and a vast multitude of archers poured round upon them from every side. Besides, the coverings of osiers, which they had laid over their helmets, were a great security to them against the blows of stones that were the only weapons that our soldiers had. And therefore, when our men were oppressed in every manner, and were scarcely able to make resistance, the defect in our works was observed, and Pompey’s soldiers, landing between the two ramparts, where the work was unfinished, attacked our men in the rear, and having beat them from both sides of the fortification, obliged them to flee.’

[Caesar, The Civil War, III. 63]

Later that year, at Pharsalus, the Eighth Legion – still under strength from the fighting at Dyrrachium – was placed alongside the Ninth on the left wing, in an attempt to bolster them both. This formation was repeated again in Africa against Scipio’s forces. The earlier valour of the Ninth Legion was not reflected by its behaviour at Placentia (Greece). Here its soldiers mutinied, saying they had served too long and demanding back pay. Caesar’s response was swift: he threatened decimation (the execution of one in ten men). This threat seems to have worked, with Caesar ultimately conceding that only the twelve instigators should be executed. After the Civil War the legion was disbanded, but later reconstituted by Augustus in 41BC. The legion went on to fight in Germany and in the invasion of Britain in AD43. Up until recently, this legion was last attested in the historical record in second century AD Britain, the account of its destruction inspiring a number of books, such as Rosemary Sutcliff’s Eagle of the Ninth. More recent evidence has shown its presence on the Danube frontier in the third century AD and so now it is thought that the legion may have been destroyed either there or during the Second Jewish War.

Legio X Equestris – Tenth Legion (‘Mounted’)

The Tenth Equestris was one of four legions Caesar inherited as governor of Cisalpine Gaul, and quickly rose to become one of Caesar’s favourites. This legion was possibly raised in 61BC. Caesar mentions it in the Gallic campaigns, in the battle against the Nervii, taking part in the invasion of Britain and fighting at the Siege of Gergovia. It is very likely that this legion was at also Alesia, as Caesar singles it out a number of times, and on one occasion mentions that he placed his faith in the Tenth Legion.

‘But that, if no one else should follow, yet he [Caesar] would go with only the Tenth Legion, of which he had no misgivings, and it should be his praetorian cohort. This legion Caesar had both greatly favoured, and in it, on account of its valour, placed the greatest confidence.’

[Caesar, The Gallic War, II. 40]

The legion went on to win the title ‘Equestris’, due to an unusual event from Caesar’s conflict with Ariovistus, the so-called ‘King of the Germans’ in 58BC. Caesar had set out to stop Ariovistus’ control of the Aedui and Sequani, a Roman client kingdom. Caesar openly writes that he was concerned that Ariovistus’ intrusion into Gaul would end in the expansion of Germanic rule, and ultimately to the invasion of the Italian peninsula, as the Cimbri and Teutoni had previously done. Memories of Rome’s failure when tested by the Germans galvanized Caesar to act. After lengthy negotiations, Caesar managed to bring Ariovistus to a meeting. Ariovistus had stipulated that no infantry attend the meeting, as he did not wish to be ambushed. Knowing Caesar had mainly Gallic cavalry, Ariovistus had tried to put Caesar on the back foot with this demand.

‘Caesar, as he neither wished that the conference should, by an excuse thrown in the way, be set aside, nor durst trust his life to the cavalry of the Gauls, decided that it would be most expedient to take away from the Gallic cavalry all their horses, and thereon to mount the legionary soldiers of the Tenth Legion, in which he placed the greatest confidence; in order that he might have a bodyguard as trustworthy as possible, should there be any need for action. And when this was done, one of the soldiers of the Tenth Legion said, not without a touch of humour, that Caesar did more for them than he had promised; he had promised to have the Tenth Legion in place of his praetorian cohort; but he now converted them into knights …’

[Caesar, The Gallic War, II. 42]

The Tenth went on to fight with Caesar in the Civil War, taking the prestigious place on his right wing at Pharsalus in 48BC. The valour of one of its centurions prompted Caesar to comment:

‘There was in Caesar’s army, a volunteer of the name of Crastinus, who the year before had been first centurion of the Tenth Legion, a man of pre-eminent bravery. He, when the signal was given, says, “Follow me, my old comrades, and display such exertions in behalf of your general as you have determined to do: this is our last battle, and when it shall be won, he will recover his dignity, and we our liberty.” At the same time he looked back to Caesar, and said, “General, I will act in such a manner today, that you will feel grateful to me living or dead.” After uttering these words he charged first on the right wing, and about 120 chosen volunteers of the same century followed.’

[Caesar, The Civil War, III. 91]

Later that year the Tenth were in Africa and Caesar relates how they came into contact with one of Caesar’s old generals, Labienus.

‘Labienus, with his head uncovered, advanced on horseback to the front of the battle, sometimes encouraging his own men, sometimes addressing Caesar’s legions thus: “So ho! You raw soldiers there!” says he, “Why so fierce? Has he infatuated you too with his words? Truly he has brought you into a fine condition! I pity you sincerely.” Upon this, one of the soldiers said: “I am none of your raw warriors, Labienus, but a veteran of the Tenth Legion.” “Where’s your standard?” replied Labienus. “I’ll soon make you sensible who I am,” answered the soldier. Then pulling off his helmet, to discover himself, he threw a javelin, with all his strength at Labienus, which wounding his horse severely in the breast “Know, Labienus,” says he, “that this dart was thrown by a soldier of the Tenth Legion …”’

[Caesar, The African Wars, 16]

Two years later the Tenth Legion mutinied, asking for discharge and back pay. To the legionaries’ surprise, Caesar acknowledged their petition, granting them discharge and addressing them as ordinary citizens. After realizing they were now defenceless civilians the legionaries were soon asking to be taken back into service, fighting on Caesar’s right wing at Munda in 45BC. Finally disbanded after the Civil War in 45BC, the Tenth Legion was later reconstituted by Augustus as the X Gemina (‘Twin’). Well attested through the Roman Empire, the legion won the title Pia VI Fidelis VI (‘Six Times Faithful, Six Times Loyal’) in the third century AD and is finally mentioned as being stationed at Vindobona (Vienna) in the fourth century AD. The legion’s emblem was the bull – typical of Caesar’s legions.

Legio XI – Eleventh Legion

One of the two legions recruited specifically to fight against the Helvetii in 58BC, the Eleventh Legion also fought the Nervii in 57BC, at the Siege of Bourges in 52BC, after which it was likely to have followed Caesar to Alesia. In the Civil War the Eleventh was sent to Macedonia but no further information is forthcoming. Disbanded in 45BC, it was reconstituted by Augustus and is attested until the early fifth century AD. Reasonably well attested throughout the Roman Empire, the legion won the titles Claudia Pia Fidelis for being loyal to Claudius during Scribonianus’ rebellion in AD42, and went on to be awarded the title for the sixth time in the third century AD Pia VI Fidelis VI (‘Six Times Faithful, Six Times Loyal’). Vexillations (detachments of the legion) are attested around the Empire during the third century AD and the legion is last mentioned in the fifth century AD, guarding the lower Danube frontier at Durostorum (modern-day Silistra, Bulgaria). Its emblem seems to have been either the she-wolf and twins or the sea-god Neptune.

Legio XII Fulminata – Twelfth Legion (‘Wielders of the Thunderbolt’)

The second of the two legions recruited specifically to fight against the Helvetii in 58BC, the Twelfth Legion also fought against the Nervii in 57BC. In 56BC Caesar describes the Twelfth Legion as opening the route through the Alps under Servius Galba and encamping near Geneva. Suddenly the camp was overrun with a mixed army of Seduni and Veragri and for the under strength legion the onslaught was almost too much to bear:

‘When they had now been fighting for more than six hours, without cessation, and not only strength, but even weapons were failing our men, and the enemy were pressing on more rigorously, and had begun to demolish the rampart and to fill up the trench, while our men were becoming exhausted, and the matter was now brought to the last extremity, P. Sextius Baculus, a centurion of the first rank, whom we have related to have been disabled by severe wounds in the engagement with the Nervii, and also Q. Volusenus, a tribune of the soldiers, a man of great skill and valour, hasten to Galba, and assure him that the only hope of safety lay in making a sally, and trying the last resource. Whereupon, assembling the centurions, he quickly gives orders to the soldiers to discontinue the fight a short time, and only collect the weapons flung [at them], and recruit themselves after their fatigue, and afterwards, upon the signal being given, sally forth from the camp, and place in their valour all their hope of safety.’

[Caesar, The Gallic War, III. 5]

‘They do what they were ordered; and, making a sudden sally from all the gates [of the camp], leave the enemy the means neither of knowing what was taking place, nor of collecting themselves. Fortune thus taking a turn, [our men] surround on every side, and slay those who had entertained the hope of gaining the camp, and having killed more than the third part of an army of more than 30,000 men (which number of the barbarians it appeared certain had come up to our camp), put to flight the rest when panic-stricken, and do not suffer them to halt even upon the higher grounds. All the forces of the enemy being thus routed, and stripped of their arms, our men betake themselves to their camp and fortifications.’

[Caesar, The Gallic War, III. 6]

The Twelfth fought with Labienus against the Parisii in 52BC, where it was hard-pressed by the attacking Gauls.

‘on the left wing, which position the Twelfth Legion held, although the first ranks fell transfixed by the javelins of the Romans, yet the rest resisted most bravely; nor did any one of them show the slightest intention of flying. Camulogenus, the general of the enemy, was present and encouraged his troops.’

[Caesar, The Gallic War, VII. 62]

The Twelfth held on until further legions could turn the assault. The legion’s brave fighting at Paris meant it undoubtedly was with Caesar at Alesia. It is likely the Twelfth Legion was part of Labienus’ tough fight on the foot of Mont Réa. In the year following Alesia the Twelfth Legion was given to Marcus Antonius, who commanded it under Caesar at the Siege of Uxellodunum. The legion went on to fight with Caesar in the Civil War and later with Marcus Antonius in the East from the 40s BC. From then on the Twelfth Legion saw all of its service in the East, finally being recorded guarding the banks of the Euphrates in the fifth century AD. With its service mainly in the East of the Empire, some authors even suggest that Legio XII has been mentioned as far from Rome as Azerbaijan. Although its emblem was Caesar’s bull, it is thought that the thunderbolt was a more commonly used symbol.

Legio XIII Gemina – Thirteenth Legion (‘Twin’)

One of the two legions recruited specifically to fight against the Belgae in 57BC, hence its cognomen ‘Twin’. It is also mentioned in the battle against the Nervii and at Gergovia and so we could expect it to be at Alesia. The following year it was at winter quarters in the territory of the Bituriges, after which it was summoned to Caesar for the Bellovacan Campaign of 51BC, where it took part in the Siege of Uxellodunum. In 55BC the legion was to be found protecting the north of Italy, and later it had the honour of crossing the Rubicon with Caesar in 49BC. The legion fought alongside Caesar during the Civil War, in Egypt, Tunisia and at Munda in Spain, after which it was disbanded. Reconstituted by Augustus as the Legio XIII Gemina (‘Twin Legion’), it was celebrated on coins at least twice during the third century, finally being attested in the fifth century AD in Egypt. The emblem of the legion was the lion, symbol of Jupiter.

Legio XIIII – Fourteenth Legion

Possibly the second of the two legions recruited specifically to fight against the Belgae, there is no mention of the cognomen ‘Gemina’ at this date but if the Fourteenth was recruited along with the Thirteenth, then the ‘Twin’ nickname might be appropriate. Caesar refers to the legion in Gaul in 53BC, during his conflict with Ambiorix and the Sugambri.

‘Then, having divided his forces into three parts, he sent the baggage of all the legions to Aduatuca. That is the name of a fort. This is nearly in the middle of the Eburones, where Titurius and Aurunculeius had been quartered for the purpose of wintering. This place he selected as well on other accounts as because the fortifications of the previous year remained, in order that he might relieve the labour of the soldiers. He left the Fourteenth Legion as a guard for the baggage, one of those three which he had lately raised in Italy and brought over.’

[Caesar, The Gallic War, VI. 32]

Given Caesar’s seeming lack of confidence in the fresh unit, its place at the Battle of Alesia may have been marginalized somewhat in favour of other veteran legions. There seems no doubt that the legion was at Alesia, as the Fourteenth is mentioned as being stationed with the Sixth, on the Saône, through the following winter. The legion fought in the Civil War with Caesar and was fighting at Thrapsus in 46BC. The Fourteenth fought with particular note in Spain, at Ilerda.

‘In the first encounter about seventy of our men fell: among them Quintus Fulgenius, first centurion of the second line of the Fourteenth Legion, who, for his extraordinary valour, had been promoted from the lower ranks to that post.’

[Caesar, The Civil War, I. 45]

Caesar once more recounted the bravery of the officers of the Fourteenth Legion, this time in the African Wars. A group of Caesar’s soldiers had been captured, and Scipio had them brought to him and asked them to join him against Caesar:

‘Scipio having ended his speech, and expecting a thankful return to so gracious an offer, permitted them to reply; one of their number, a centurion of the Fourteenth Legion, thus addressed him: “Scipio,” says he “for I cannot give you the appellation of general. I return you my hearty thanks for the good treatment you are willing to show to prisoners of war; and perhaps I might accept of your kindness were it not to be purchased at the expense of a horrible crime. What! Shall I carry arms, and fight against Caesar, my general, under whom I have served as centurion; and against his victorious army, to whose renown I have for more than thirty-six years endeavoured to contribute by my valour? It is what I will never do, and even advise you not to push the war any further. You know not what troops you have to deal with, nor the difference betwixt them and yours: of which, if you please, I will give you an indisputable instance. Do you pick out the best cohort you have in your army, and give me only ten of my comrades, who are now your prisoners, to engage them: you shall see by the success, what you are to expect from your soldiers.”’

[Caesar, The African Wars, 45]

‘When the centurion had courageously made this reply, Scipio, incensed at his boldness, and resenting the affront, made a sign to some of his officers to kill him on the spot, which was immediately put in execution.’

[Caesar, The African Wars, 45–6]

The legion went on to fight in Tunisia, and after the Civil War the Fourteenth Legion seems likely to have been reconstituted, together with another legion as the Legio XIIII Gemina (‘Twin’) in the 40s BC. The legion was given the titles Martia Victrix (Victorious in Battle) by Nero after its victory over Boudicca in AD61. The legion then passed on to be stationed along the Rhine–Danube frontier, where it is attested in the fourth century at Carnuntum (in lower Austria). The emblem of the later legion was the Capricorn, like many of Augustus’ legions, although it may be anticipated that the emblem of the legion at Alesia was Caesar’s bull.

Legio XV – Fifteenth Legion

Little is known about this legion. It is possible that the legion fought at Alesia with Caesar. It did not serve in the Siege of Uxellodunum, Caesar preferring to send it to protect the Roman colonies in northern Italy. Subsequently, in 55BC, when Caesar was ordered by the Senate to send a legion to the conflict in Parthia, it was the Fifteenth he chose. It is possible that he chose the weakest of his units, as the rest of his legions were left to protect Gaul, which he had high personal interest in retaining. The Fifteenth Legion went on to become embroiled in Caesar’s dispute with Pompey. On returning to Italy he discovered the Fifteenth still in Italy. The legion, along with the First (another of Caesar’s legions), had not been sent to Parthia, but had been handed to Pompey and kept in Italy. At this point Caesar’s fears over the political wrangling that had gone on in Rome while he campaigned in Gaul had come to fruition. At the Battle of Pharsalus in 48BC, Pompey used Caesar’s old legions, the Fifteenth (now numbered the Third) and First, against him. These should have been some of Pompey’s most experienced units in the battle, but they faced Caesar’s favourite, the Tenth Legion. Whether because they lacked fighting ability or had split loyalties, Pompey’s legions fought nowhere near as effectively as Caesar’s. The result was a rout and disaster for Pompey. Caesar permitted the legionaries to surrender but the auxiliaries were slaughtered. It is likely the unit was reconstituted after the Civil War by Augustus (in 40BC) as the Legio XV Apollinaris (‘Devoted to Apollo’), although there is no direct connection between the two units and the Augustan unit may simply have taken the number of a legion that had previously been disbanded. The Fifteenth Legion is attested throughout the Empire and seems to have finished in the east at Satala (Turkey).

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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