The Mystery of the Ninth Legion | 44 Bread Ovens | Rosemary Sutcliff Discovery of the Day

In Digging Up  the Past (‘a news and resource centre for Biblical archaeology’) Kendall K. Down posted something written in 2009 about the disappearance of the Ninth Legion, possibly in Scotland, referring to Rosemary Sutcliff’s book The Eagle of the Ninth and the coming film (now called The Eagle and out in 2011). He reviewed  the ‘evidence’ to date as he interpreted it. He concluded:

Good reasons can be found for rejecting the tale of a Scottish defeat, but no good reasons can be found for accepting any alternative proposal, so I suppose the best conclusion is the one that earlier historians proposed: the disappearance of the Ninth Legion is a mystery.

That is unless  Rosemary Sutcliff’s informed but creative leaps of the imagination in The Eagle of the Ninth satisfy you …

Intriguingly he writes of latter-day research in Scotland:

A new survey of Scotland has found evidence that the story of the Romans north of Hadrian’s Wall is far more complicated than historians have hitherto thought. Ground surveys have previously found 225 Roman military camps from the Borders to Aberdeenshire. (This compares with 150 in England and Wales.) Now a new study using remote sensing technology is set to increase that number, while the Deers Den excavations at Kintore in Aberdeenshire show the extent of the Roman commitment to conquering Scotland: 44 bread ovens have been uncovered!

Source – Diggings: The Mystery of the Ninth Legion

3 thoughts on “The Mystery of the Ninth Legion | 44 Bread Ovens | Rosemary Sutcliff Discovery of the Day

  1. Robert: I’m interested in the vigour of your comments! A thought in almost complete ignorance of the details or even the field you clearly are very very knowledgeable about. Might not tiles turning up in a place signal no more or less than that someone or some people carried those tiles there from somewhere very different, as well as other possible explanations? Of course I do not know if the tiles found on the continent are a whole floor or roof or depot of them; or just one or two? I suspect my wondering would only have any force in the latter case?


    • Hi Anthony,
      Legionary or other units producing tiles signals they’re building locally. Tiles are not something you carry around ;). In this case, they’re operating the oven in the legionary Castrum of Noviomagus/Nijmegen. So when tiles with these stamps turn up, the unit is busy at that spot.


  2. I can agree with the conclusion that “the disappearance of the Ninth Legion is a mystery”. It’s a fact – we do not know where and when exactly the Ninth legion disappeared from history, or how: either destroyed in battle or perhaps disbanded, somewhere along the Danube or in the Middle East.

    However, I most strongly disagree with the claim that “no good reasons can be found for accepting any alternative proposal”, for this is in fact a straw man. No alternative theory exists because, as rightly remarked, we do not know when or where the Ninth disappeared. But that’s not the claims. The only thing that ‘alternative theories’ claim is that the Ninth did not disappear in Scotland, and therefore there is no ‘alternative proposal’.

    The hypothesis that the Dutch tiles were made by the remainder of the ‘destroyed’ legion is easily dealt with: either you have a legion or you don’t. IF the legion was indeed destroyed in Scotland, there would not have been a ‘leftover’ that could be transferred to another legionary fortress, still bearing the title. Ergo, the tiles were produced by a unit that could still be recognised as the Ninth legion. Which means, in turn, that the Ninth was not destroyed in Scotland. It’s as simple as that.

    Also, referring to ‘more evidence of Roman presence in Scotland’ is exactly that: more evidence of Roman presence. It does not take us one step closer to disclosing any activities of the Nith in Scotland, let alone it’s mythical disappearance in the Scottish mists.


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