What may have happened to the Ninth Legion after the rebuilding of York in 107-108 AD, for no real evidence of the Ninth Legion after this date has ever been found. Only historical theories have been put forward and they seem to keep changing as new discoveries are made and new ideas about Roman history rise to prominence. All the established theories and current new theories are detailed below.
THEORY I – THE CHEVIOT HILLS:
By the beginning of 109 AD all the rebuilding had been completed in York but the Northern lands were still very hostile to Roman rule. Emperor Trajan was expanding the Empire, Legions were always on the move (or at least parts of them) and, in 110 AD, two cohorts of the Ninth Legion were transferred to Nijmegen (now in Holland) on the German border. This was thought safe as any trouble could be contained in Britain using less troops, but in 115 AD the Northern tribes struck back hard and burnt many small forts including Malton only 20 miles from York.
The Ninth Legion now had three hard years fighting until the situation was calm again. However, Roman troops in Scotland had been cut off and only forts on the River Tay could be supplied, and that was by sea. Governor Pompeius Falco decided to relieve these forts but, whilst this was still being planned, Emperor Trajan died in 117 AD and Hadrian took over. This was not sufficient to stop the Ninth’s final fateful expedition North.
By spring 118 AD York was filled by a further 6,000 auxiliary troops. In the first week of May that year an army group, including most of the Ninth Legion and its auxiliaries and cavalry, moved out of York and headed North with the troops in the Tay forts expecting them. As the 10,000 men left York, spies from the local tribes informed their chiefs, who in turn informed the Scottish tribes of the Ninth’s advance north. At first there was little resistance, tribes submitted, but it was noted that there was a general lack of able-bodied men in these camps!
The chiefs of the Scottish tribes gathered as many men together as they could muster, possibly numbering over 30,000 foot soldiers, 1,000 chariots, plus many horsemen – but then where to attack the Roman army? It was remembered many years before that the Ninth Legion had almost been wiped out during a night attack so it was decided to try this method again. As the Ninth Legion headed north they travelled over the Cheviot Hills keeping to the high ground. In the undulating lowland areas lay large tracts of forest in which thousands of the Northern tribesmen hid.
The Romans had to make camp and they dug the usual defences which were heavily guarded. By the time most of the camp had turned in, the tribesmen attacked from one side with 5,000 men and broke through into the camp.
Then two other attacks came with 10,000 men and the camp was almost overrun completely, the Ninth Legion just managing to construct some sort of defensive line. By the morning the whole camp was completely surrounded with all cavalry horses lost or taken.
An order to ‘break out’ was given and those Legionaries who managed this monumental achievement found other groups of tribesmen waiting for them and were slaughtered where they stood. On the further hills chariots and horsemen rode down any surviving Romans. By the end of the day every single man of the Ninth Legion and their auxiliaries had been slain.
Northern tribal leaders then gave orders that no evidence of the Ninth Legion was to remain. All bodies were stripped and burnt and the ashes buried or scattered. All cursed Roman weapons were to be melted down and destroyed which did cause some trouble as the tribesmen valued these highly but the order was nevertheless carried out. All efforts to find the Ninth’s Golden Eagle failed. The Legion’s Standard Bearer had hidden it and it has never been found – it still lies somewhere hidden in the Cheviot Hills.
Meanwhile the forts on the Tay waited for the Ninth Legion and at first when there was no sign of them it created no cause for concern. Delays were common. A ship from York arrived and the sailors were very surprised that the Ninth had not yet turned up! Other ships came and went carrying news that the Ninth had gone missing. When the Tribune left in charge of York heard such tales and sent out horsemen nothing was found. Even the forward camp had not heard or seen anything of the Ninth.
The Governor was informed and he sent 5,000 auxiliaries to York. In support the Twentieth Legion at Chester sent five cohorts to the Border. Carlisle was reinforced. A messenger was sent to the Emperor Hadrian in Rome who was most concerned and put an ‘oath of silence’ on the news of the Ninth’s disappearance fearing instability in the Roman ranks.
Hadrian then considered the problem in Britain very seriously and came over (in what year it is not known for certain though it is thought perhaps to be 122 AD, but possibly as early as 119 AD). He brought with him the Sixth Legion, Legio VI ‘Victris’, and made his headquarters at York. Those remaining soldiers of the Ninth Legion there were incorporated into the Sixth Legion. Hadrian then withdrew all Roman forces from Scotland and Ireland and built his famous wall from Wallsend-on-Tyne to Bowness-on-Solway, a distance of 80 Roman miles (73 English miles). Three Legions built it, the II ‘Augusta’, VI ‘Victris’, and XX ‘Valeria’ – perhaps a fitting tribute to what was once Rome’s finest Legion, the ‘Glorious Ninth’?
There is probably more circumstantial evidence to support this theory than any other.
THEORY II – THE SOLWAY FIRTH:
However, some think the Ninth Legion actually assisted in building the wall and survived independently to endure further adventures.
After restoring order in the north between 114 AD and 117 AD, it was decided by the new Emperor Hadrian that the Ninth Legion would be moved to Carlisle and another Legion, the Sixth Legion, would move to York. So, in 118 AD, the Ninth moved to Carlisle. It was here that they were to have built a large fort like they did initially at York, but in 119 AD trouble in the north started again and the Roman forts in Scotland, which had been relieved, were once again cut off. It was now decided on another two-pronged advance into Scotland.
This time the Sixth Legion drove north from York and the Ninth Legion from Carlisle. When the Ninth reached the Solway Firth they camped on the south side. In the morning they started to cross. The Commander, not knowing the sands and taking this route in order to save time, ran into trouble with the ground and was then heavily attacked by the northern tribesmen from the north bank. The Ninth Legion was forced to retreat back across the Solway Firth and right into the tide and soft sands. Here they perished and sank into the oncoming tide and quicksands, leaving no trace whatsoever.
An unlikely theory but just as possible as the previous one based on the lack of concrete evidence.
THEORY III – RANNOCH MOOR:
Rewind the story slightly for the next instalment:
After subduing the uprising in North Yorkshire in 115 AD, the Ninth Legion was ordered by Governor Pompeius Falco to relieve the forts on the River Tay that were still cut off and, in the summer of 117 AD, the Ninth Legion finally reached these Roman forts. All opposition had been dealt with on the way up and, having been very successful, the Legion’s Commander decided to continue this policy and destroy the surrounding tribes. Taking a large force of 12,000 to 15,000 men, he set off the following year to campaign in central and northern Scotland; however, he made a fatal tactical mistake and split his forces, the idea being to trap a large group of tribal warriors thought to be gathering in the area of Loch Rannock in Perthshire.
The main body of the Ninth with auxiliaries came up from the south and were attacked by 5,000 Scottish tribesmen. The Legion formed squares and for a time held out, but the second body of the Roman army were unable to reach this main Roman force now surrounded on Rannoch Moor. As more tribesmen reinforcements arrived the Ninth Legion was cut down and none survived. As a result Hadrian withdrew all Roman forces from Scotland and built phase one of his now famous wall beginning in 118 AD.
Apparently today local people still talk of the Ninth Legion as being lost on Rannoch Moor.
THEORY IV – THE PENNINES:
After the British tribal uprising of 115 AD the Ninth Legion restored peace. But in 117 AD another large tribal uprising spread through what is now south Yorkshire and Lancashire. Communications were cut from London and Chester. Governor Falco ordered the Twentieth Legion based at Chester and the Ninth Legion based at York to deal with this uprising and restore communications.
The Ninth Legion marched to attack a large group of hostile tribesmen far to the south of York, a route which took them over the Pennine road where they were surrounded and destroyed. No soldiers survived and again British tribesmen took this opportunity to remove all evidence of the battle. It is a known fact, however, that battles in the past were always automatically followed by the victors sending scavengers over the battlefield to loot everything that could be recycled. The mystery is that Roman military equipment of the kind used by the Ninth Legion has not surfaced in any unusual quantity in any British or Scottish archaeological context anywhere associated with the missing Legion.
The Sixth Legion did eventually restore order in these regions but the disappearance of the Ninth remains a mystery.
THEORY V – DEFEAT AT YORK:
This is simple and straightforward.
The theory goes that in 115 AD a large uprising occurred and Malton, only 20 miles from York, was burnt down and the auxiliary force there destroyed. Archaeological evidence generally supports this event.
As has been noted, the Ninth Legion then had two years of hard campaigning to restore order in the North. With part of the Legion then being sent to Nijmegen this left the Ninth very much under-strength and British tribes in the North saw this and decided to attack York directly. It was planned for early 118 AD and a night attack thought to be the ideal strategy. One cold February night when the moon was full, over 20,000 tribesmen stormed York.
Military action during the bitter winter months was entirely unexpected and caught the Romans off guard. The attack was well co-ordinated and local tribesmen knew the defences of the city well. The walls were soon overrun and the main barracks attacked with full force. Very few soldiers were able to defend themselves trapped inside the barracks, and the cold seriously affected the Legionaries’ performance once outside. By morning all of the Ninth Legion was destroyed, along with the Roman city of York.
This theory is almost impossible to substantiate based on archaeological remains. If York was overrun then the conquerors almost certainly chose to retain the city without creating the distinctive evidence associated with burning structures. It looks like the fort simply remained to be taken back at some future date and put back into full service later in that century by the Roman army.
There is just one possibility – that the superstitious Britons chose not to use the city structures at all and simply left after their victory, leaving the non-military remains of the Roman inhabitants to continue and rebuild.
THEORY VI – DEATH AT SEA:
The uprising of 115 AD was decisively put down by the Ninth Legion and, by about 118 AD, a peaceful normality had returned.
The Governor of Britain, Pompeius Falco, ordered the Ninth Legion to force open a passage to the forts on the River Tay, but it was found by reconnaissance that a much larger force than one Legion would be needed to achieve this. The Commander of the Ninth decided to request and await reinforcements but, before any such forces arrived, a ship docked from the forts with news that immediate forces were needed in order to hold them. Now the only way remaining to successfully do this was by sea.
A large part of the Ninth Legion, who were used to marine action from past campaigns, hastily boarded on to whatever ships could be commandeered or built at short notice and set sail for the Tay. On this fateful voyage a sudden storm arose and all ships were lost out at sea with no survivors from the Legion or crews.
A somewhat unlikely scenario but one theory nonetheless.
THEORY VII – REASSIGNMENT:
During the start of Hadrian’s rule the Ninth Legion had been ordered to put down a rising somewhere in the North, possibly as already outlined. The Legion left York in 118 AD and was very badly defeated in a battle where many soldiers fled.
Hadrian then came over with the Sixth Legion and, being a strict disciplinarian, cashiered the whole Ninth Legion, with Staff Officers being transferred to the Sixth Legion and, perhaps, many of the disgraced soldiers and auxiliaries being sent to help construct Hadrian’s Wall.
This makes the Ninth Legion simply vanish into Hadrian’s other Legions without the embarrassing facts being recorded.
THEORY VIII – IRELAND:
This theory goes that, in 85 AD to 86 AD, a trading post was set up in Ireland by the Ninth Legion where present day Drumanagh now stands. This later became a strong fort. Other small forts were set up along the coast, one where present day Dublin now stands; this being only 15 miles from the main Roman fort at Drumanagh.
By about 107 AD Rome occupied much of the west coast of Ireland. The Romans had also breached up to 30 miles inland and now controlled at least two of the coastal kingdoms, but the country was always highly volatile; some kingdoms were friendly others were not. The Ninth Legion was about to be moved to Carlisle from York where another Legion was due to be posted; however, events in Ireland changed all that.
Roman forts in Ireland were under threat due to new kings who did not want the Romans on Irish soil. The Ninth Legion was sent back to the now 40 acre fort at Drumanagh. Once settled in they began a series of punitive strikes against the troublesome kings in the west.
All went well at first, then in 120 AD a large military expedition left Drumanagh to campaign against the kingdoms in the west and that was the last anyone ever saw of the Ninth Legion. In haste Emperor Hadrian withdrew all Roman forces from Ireland. The Irish petty kings then systematically destroyed all evidence of Roman occupation. No records of the event were kept and, even years later, archaeologists and the National Museum of Ireland keep this great historical secret from the world.
This theory may well be the right one. Conspiracy and hidden evidence?
Now let’s move the clock forward to look at other possibilities for the eventual fate of the Ninth Legion beyond these islands.
THEORY IX – THE JEWISH WAR:
In 120 AD Emperor Hadrian came to Britain. He bought with him the Sixth Legion, Legio VI ‘Victrix’, from the Lower Rhine. The entire Ninth Legion at York was then transferred to Nijmegen (now in Holland) as the Legion had suffered heavy casualties in the summer of 117 AD and had problems with discipline ever since. The Ninth Legion was then reformed and trained up.
Twelve years later, in 132 AD, this much improved Legion was transferred to take part in the Jewish War. The Roman Commander Sextus Juilus Severus was transferred from Britain to take command in the East and, on his way, he collected the Ninth Legion; and it was during this war that the Ninth once again suffered heavy losses. This time Antonnius Pius disbanded the Legion in 153 AD.
THEORY X – THE PARTHIAN WAR:
Continuing further along the path of Roman history this theory goes that, after taking part in the Jewish War in 132 AD, the Ninth Legion returned to Nijmegen.
In 161 AD the Parthians started another war and the Ninth Legion was quickly dispatched to the East to stem the Parthian assault. The commander of the Ninth Legion, a man called Severianus, made his headquarters at Elegeia.
From Elegeia, Severianus marched the Ninth further east where he was attacked and surrounded by horse archers with powerful composite bows. The whole Legion was destroyed and never reformed.
This is the latest theory and the one currently most favoured by experts.
THEORY XI – PLAGUE IN THE EAST:
As previously, in 161 AD the Ninth Legion was ordered to Parthia to stop the massive Parthian advance. The Parthian army was defeated by the Romans under Severianus and, in 165 AD, the Parthian capital Ctesiphon was placed under siege by Roman forces and fell. It is said that the troops of the Ninth Legion burnt down the Royal Palace.
Ctesiphon, now under Roman control, was to be made the base for a conquering drive even further east with the Ninth Legion forming the spearhead of the campaign. Then a plague of some kind broke out and most of the Ninth Legion died and the Roman troops were forced to withdraw. After this the Ninth Legion was disbanded and those who survived incorporated into the Thirtieth Legion.
Frankly not very likely.
THEORY XII – CHINA:
This is the last theory, without doubt the least likely, and centres around a Roman city in China, how this city came to be, and the involvement of the Ninth Legion.
In 53 BC, whilst the Ninth Legion was with Julius Caesar in Gaul, the new Proconsul of Syria, a very ambitious man called Marcus Lincinius Crassus was given command of the army in the East and prepared to undertake a series of campaigns that would equal Alexandra the Great. This vain man was to find a place in the English Dictionary: Crass, i.e. grossly stupid, for Crassus was about to lead the armies of the East to total destruction in one of the most incompetently led campaigns in military history.
First Crassus crossed the Euphrates in 53 BC. Several Mesopotamian cities gave him allegiance which he then garrisoned. The city of Zenodotia resisted and was destroyed and Crassus then wintered in Syria.
The next spring Crassus massed seven Legions, 5,000 auxiliary infantrymen, and about the same number of cavalry. His son arrived from Southern Gaul with 1,000 Gallic cavalrymen. Some time later King Artavasdes of Armenia arrived with a small army of about 6,000 troops and a promise of a further 40,000 more. The King then advised Crassus to attack Parthia through the southern foothills of Armenia as the Parthians, who were very strong in cavalry, would have difficulty in operating freely there and the region was well watered.
Despite this good local advice Crassus decided to take the shorter and more direct route through the desert into Parthia and crossed the Euphrates during a bad storm. The superstitious Romans thought this to be a bad omen and they were right!
To add insult to injury Crassus was then tricked by an Arab chieftain called Ariamnes who told him to hasten after the Parthian army which was, at that very moment, retreating across the desert. Fatally Crassus decided to allow the devious Arabs to lead his army in pursuit of these Parthians.
Meanwhile Orodes II, King of the Parthians, split his real army in two. Orodes led one part of the army into Armenia and started to pillage the country, the second part of the army he gave to his best general, a man of great leadership named Surenas, whose task was to slow down the Roman army until Orodes could rejoin him after the raid on Armenia.
The Romans headed into the desert and the Arabs then rode away. King Artavasdes could not send his 40,000 troops to help Crassus as they were needed to stop Orodes II from further sacking Armenia. Crassus was strongly advised by his Generals to either rejoin King Artavasdes in Armenia, or to take the easier route through the foothills. Crassus ignored this advice and, instead, carried on into the desert!
As his army drew nearer to the ancient town of Carrhae, riders from the advance column told Crassus that a large body of Parthian cavalry horse archers were advancing towards his army. They soon appeared and surrounded the Romans and kept up a deadly stream of arrows from their composite bows. The Romans had expected Parthian cataphracts in complete armour but, although these heavily armoured cavalry knights were seen, they were held back in favour of the fast striking archers and refused to engage the Romans. The Parthians brought up camels with spare quivers of arrows so their bows were always kept supplied even in the desert.
The Romans made a determined charge with cavalry under Publius, Crassus’ son, but they were surrounded on a hill nearby and wiped out. The Legionaries formed a square called a ‘testudo’ but many arrows got below and through the shields and wounded hundreds of foot soldiers. By nightfall 20,000 Romans has been killed and Crassus was dead in the shifting sands. Only one quarter of the Roman army managed to escape back to Syria. 10,000 were taken prisoner, moved to Margiana, and offered their lives if they formed into groups to help defend Parthia’s eastern border. This they did.
Some Romans escaped to become mercenaries for other rulers. Romans even went further to the Chinese who welcomed these brave soldiers who would be able to guard their frontier. Eventually the Chinese allowed these men to build a frontier city called Li-gien. From this city Roman military influence was then recorded in China. Eventually the city of Li-gien was destroyed by the Tibetans who overran the whole area in 746 AD but the Romans knew of the existence of this city some years after Crassus’ military disaster at Carrhae.
The story goes that when the Romans overran the Parthian capital Ctesiphon in 165 AD further evidence of the Roman city of Li-gien came to light. It was decided by some to press on and find this city so the Roman Commander chose the Ninth Legion. The Ninth set out in the summer of 165 AD from Ctesiphon to reach the Roman city of Li-gien and disappeared.
A very unlikely theory but Li-gien did actually exist and there is strong evidence of Roman’s being there at some point in its history.
By 169 AD the Ninth Legion was no longer on the Roman army lists and, further more, no trace or knowledge of its fate during the preceding 61 years has yet been found.