1ST ADIUTRIX LEGION
AD 68, to serve new emperor Galba.
Initially, Gallia Narbonensis and Italy.
Misenum, Spain, Mogontiacum, Sirmium, Brigetio, Dacia, Parthia, Brigetio.
Battle of Old Camp, AD 70.
Trajan’s Dacian Wars, AD 101–106.
Trajan’s Partian Campaign, AD 114–116.
Marcus Aurelius’ German Wars, AD 161–180.
Publius Hevius Pertinax, future emperor.
BLOODED AT ROME, TESTED ON THE DANUBE
Thrown together during the war of succession, fighting on Otho’s losing side before making a name for itself under Trajan, it would be one of Stilicho’s legions in the last desperate battles before the fifth-century fall of Rome.
A legion with surprising beginnings
In the late spring of AD 68, in a desperate bid to keep his throne, the 30-year-old emperor Nero raised a new legion, taking the unprecedented step of enlisting sailors from the Roman battle fleet based at Misenum, on the east coast of Italy, for legionary service. But the sailors could not save him; or would not. With both the Praetorian Guard and his German Guard bodyguard deserting him, and with the Senate declaring him an enemy of the state and sending troops to arrest him, on June 9 Nero apparently committed suicide. The Senate had already recognized the claim to the throne of 70-year-old Sulpicius Galba, governor of the province of Nearer Spain, and that autumn Galba came marching to Rome from Spain, attended by an entourage which included a new 7th Legion he had raised there, and a large body of cavalry.
In the meantime, Nero’s legion of seamen had sat stubbornly in Rome awaiting developments. With no quarters, they slept wherever they could around the city. At the time, Rome was crowded with legion detachments summoned to Rome by Nero during the last gasps of his reign; those troops, including men from the 11th Claudia and 15th Apollinaris legions, had resorted to sleeping in temples and public buildings. [Tac., H, I, 31] The seamen from Misenum had not been presented with an eagle and standards to signify that their legion was officially constituted, but they were determined to gain recognition of their unit; with that recognition would come a grant of Roman citizenship to each of them.
At this time, seamen and marines serving in Rome’s navy were not citizens. Neither were they slaves. Contrary to the erroneous picture painted by nineteenth-century authors, Rome’s sailors of this era were salaried free men who possessed neither Latin status nor Roman citizenship. [Starr, III, 3, and V, 1] Once the much valued prize of citizenship had been dangled before them by Nero, the seamen from Misenum were determined to win it from the new emperor Galba. Consequently, when news reached Rome in October AD 68 that Galba and his column from Spain were approaching, the 5,000 sailors of the new legion went flooding out of the city gates, joining the thousands of civilians gathered there to greet him.
Three miles (4.8 kilometers) north of Rome, this “disorderly rabble of the seamen,” as Plutarch described them, “those whom Nero had made soldiers, forming them into a legion,” crowded around Galba and loudly demanded “to have their commission confirmed.” [Plut., Galba] Preventing the emperor from being seen or heard by the crowds lining the route into the city, the ex-sailors “tumultuously pressed him, shouting loudly to have colors for their legion and quarters assigned to them.” [Ibid.] Galba tried to put them off, saying he would consider the matter later, and rode on.
But the seamen were not satisfied with this response, “which they interpreted as a denial” of their request. [Ibid.] Growing “more insolent and mutinous” and “some with drawn swords in their hands,” they continued to follow him, yelling their demands. [Ibid.] The sight of the sailors’ drawn swords frightened Galba, and as the column approached the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber river he “ordered the cavalry to ride over them.” [Ibid.] The seamen, the vast majority of whom were unarmed, “were soon routed” by the cavalry. Not a man stood his ground, “and many of them were killed, both there and in the pursuit” as they tried to flee back to the city. [Ibid.]
According to Tacitus, the affair resulted in “the slaughter of thousands of unarmed soldiers” of the unofficial legion by Galba’s cavalry. [Tac., H, I, 6] Cassius Dio, writing of the event more than 150 years later, estimated that “about 7,000 perished on the spot, and the survivors were later decimated,” with one in ten executed. [Dio, LXIII, 3] But 7,000 was certainly an exaggerated figure; an imperial legion only numbered a little over 5,200 men. And there is no other record of the decimation.
Word of Galba’s cold-blooded act of brutality against his own men at the Milvian Bridge soon spread around the empire, and did nothing to endear their new emperor to the Romans. The event was so impressed on the mind of Plutarch, who was at the time a young man in his twenties, and that of fellow historian Tacitus, then in his early teens, that both would observe that this was a bad omen for the new emperor’s reign “that Galba should make his first entry [to Rome] through so much blood and among dead bodies.” [Plut., Galba] Despite this lethal treatment, the surviving seamen hardened their resolve to gain recognition. The legion “which Nero had levied from the fleet” still remained in the congested capital, albeit in custody, and significantly reduced in numbers. [Tac., H, I, 6, 87]
This legion’s tortured beginnings were now about to take another turn. Tacitus wrote that, several months later, the city of Vienna “had recently raised legions for Galba.” [Tac., H, I., 65] This was not today’s Vienna in Austria, but present-day Vienna, in southern France. Roman Vienna was a leading city of the province of Narbon Gaul, through which Galba had passed on his march from Spain to Rome. [Plut., Galba] Situated on the south bank of the Rhône, Vienne, the capital of the powerful Allobroges tribe in Celtic times, had become one of the wealthiest cities in Gaul, even advertising its wealth with an inscription above the city gates, “VIEN FLOR FELIX,” which declared that Vienna was rich and flourishing. Such riches, and such boasts, could only attract the avaricious attention of neighbors who coveted “the gold of the men of Vienna.” [Tac., H, II, 29] And so it was to prove.
From AD 67 to AD 69, Vienna and the neighboring city of Lugdunum, today’s Lyon, were in a state of “perpetual feud.” [Tac., H, I, 65] Rivalry between the two went back as far the first century BC, when Vienna had expelled Roman colonists, who had subsequently been taken in by Lugdunum. When Gallic governor Vindex rose in revolt against Nero in AD 67, Lugdunum immediately threw its support behind Vindex, while Vienna retained its loyalty to Nero. During this period, Vienna had even sent armed men to raid Lugdunum. To keep the peace following the Vindex Revolt, Nero’s Palatium stationed the new 1st Italica Legion in Lugdunum, supporting the 18th Cohort of Rome’s City Guard, which was there to guard Lugdunum’s imperial mint. In an ironic twist, Lugdunum had then switched its support to Nero, and Vienna to Galba.
According to Tacitus, the people of Lugdunum now “began to work on the passions of individual soldiers, and to goad them into destroying Vienna.” [Ibid.] Tacitus says that in trying to coerce the 1st Italica legionaries into attacking Vienna, the people of Lugdunum claimed that while their city had begun as a colony of Roman legion veterans, the people of Vienna were foreigners. This potential threat, of an attack by the 1st Italica Legion, appears to have spurred the people of Vienna to come up with a novel solution, the formation of the first of their “legions for Galba” mentioned by Tacitus, levying young men locally.
Vienna’s first objective was the creation of a force to protect their city from attacks sponsored by Lugdunum, but the elders of Vienna would claim that they were merely creating legions in support of the nearby 1st Legion, the Italica, out of loyalty to their new emperor. Hence, the name taken by this, the first of Vienna’s new legions for Galba, was the 1st Adiutrix, or 1st Supporter Legion; literally, the legion in support of the 1st. Several months later, as Galba passed through their province on his way to Rome, the Viennase would have presented him with their new legion—a unit with perhaps a name but without an eagle, standards, or official standing—and Galba would have added Vienna’s recruits to his train as he marched on.
On December 22, apparently in a Saturnalia Festival act of clemency connected with his birthday, which was just two days away, Galba released some of the imprisoned seamen who had survived the massacre in October outside the city, discharging from military service those considered too old or too unfit to be of further use to the State. [Starr, VIII] The discharge diplomas issued to these men show that up to that point they had not received the Roman citizenship promised by Nero. Meanwhile, the remaining seamen from the Milvian Bridge massacre continued to languish in prison.
At this same time, Galba conveyed eagle and standards to the new legion, officially commissioning it into service as the 1st Adiutrix Legion. [Ibid.] That the legion was officially constituted by Galba, not Nero, is confirmed by Cassius Dio. [Dio, LV, 24] The December 22 timing of this formal presentation ceremony meant that from this time forward the legion would display the astrological birth sign of Capricorn.
Meanwhile, the remaining seamen of Nero’s legion enlistment were still imprisoned. [Tac., H, I, 87] So who was filling the legion’s ranks? It would seem that it was Vienna’s citizen recruits. Twenty-four days later, on January 15, AD 69, Galba was assassinated in Rome by a disaffected soldier of the 15th Apollinaris Legion. The Praetorian Guard at once hailed as their new emperor Otho, the former governor of Lusitania, who had marched to Rome with Galba the previous autumn. The Senate endorsed their choice.
Knowing how unpopular Galba had become with the military, one of Otho’s first acts was to win the loyalty of the fleet at Misenum. Tacitus records how Otho achieved this: Otho “enrolled in the ranks of the legion the survivors of the slaughter at the Milvian Bridge, who had been retained in custody by the stern policy of Galba.” [Tac., H, I, 87] That is, Otho added to the already existing 1st Adiutrix Legion the sailors he now released from custody. On being taken into the legion and joining the Viennase recruits, these seamen would be granted the Roman citizenship for which they had hungered. This diverse mix produced 1st Adiutrix soldiers who were, according to Plutarch, “strong and bold.” [Plut., Otho] As for the rest of the sailors of the fleet at Misenum, to them Otho “held out hopes of a more honorable service in the future”; they, too, might aspire to citizenship eventually. [Ibid.]
With the unit’s official commissioning by Galba, the name of the 1st Adiutrix Legion was formalized, as was its emblem, Pegasus the flying horse. In mythology, Pegasus was the son of Neptune, god of the sea, which would seemingly make the flying horse an appropriate symbol for a legion whose first recruits had come from the navy. Yet, as Starr points out, the seamen of Rome’s battle fleets showed no inclination to worship Neptune. [Starr, IV, 2] Neither did they worship Castor and Pollux, the patron deities of merchant sailors. In fact, the men of the fleet at Misenum venerated Isis, the patron goddess of sailors in Hellenistic times, who was believed to control the weather. [Ibid.]
Another new legion to adopt the Pegasus emblem, the 2nd Adiutrix, was raised the following year. This unit would also have a connection with both Vienna and the Roman navy. Apart from these two units, only one other imperial Roman legion is known to have employed the Pegasus emblem, and that was the 2nd Augusta Legion—a long-established and renowned unit known to use Gallia Narbonensis, a maritime province, as a recruiting ground. It may be that, rather than as a symbol of veneration of Neptune, both Adiutrix legions instead took Pegasus as their emblem in emulation of the 2nd Augusta, the “home” legion of Narbon Gaul, where they began life.
The 1st Adiutrix Legion spent that winter at Misenum, using the fleet’s quarters. Less than two months after the seamen officially joined the unit, the legion was ordered to prepare to march; its first battle was just weeks away. Ironically, the 1st Adiutrix faced the 1st Italica Legion, which it had been founded by Vienna to counter, in its first battle in April AD 69. It fought for Otho against Vitellius’ army at the First Battle of Bedriacum in northern Italy. Otho’s army lost; the 1st Adiutrix surrendered, after which Vitellius sent it to Spain.
In AD 70, the new emperor Vespasian transferred the 1st Adiutrix from Spain to Mogontiacum on the Rhine. Domitian stationed it in Pannonia. By the reign of Nerva it was at Brigetio, on the Danube. From there it took part in both of Trajan’s Dacian Wars, after which Trajan took it to the East for his Parthian campaign. From the reign of Hadrian the legion was back at Brigetio in Lower Pannonia, where it remained for the next 200 years defending the Danube.
In AD 193 the legion joined the march to Rome by the Pannonian legions that installed Septimius Severus on the throne after the Praetorian Guard murdered the popular soldier emperor Pertinax.
The Notitia Dignitatum shows the legion still in existence early in the fifth century, as part of the army of the Eastern Roman emperor, and stationed in the center of modern-day Hungary under the command of the Duke of Valeriae Ripensis.