Rosemary Sutcliff‘s The Eagle of the Ninth is grounded in a view about what happened to the ninth Roman legion. The fate of the legion continues to be debated, most recently on the BBC website, by Miles Russell of Bournemouth University.
The British problem was of deep concern to Roman central government. Thanks to a tombstone recovered from Ferentinum in Italy, we know that emergency reinforcements of over 3,000 men were rushed to the island on “the British Expedition”, early in Hadrian’s reign. The emperor himself visited the island in AD 122, in order to “correct many faults”, bringing with him a new legion, the Sixth.
The fact that they took up residence in the legionary fortress of York suggests that the “great losses” of personnel, alluded to by Fronto, had occurred within the ranks of the Ninth.
Archaeological evidence of the legion’s fate is scarce
It would seem that Sutcliff was right after all.
It was the Ninth, the most exposed and northerly of all legions in Britain, that had borne the brunt of the uprising, ending their days fighting insurgents in the turmoil of early 2nd Century Britain.
See also on this blog a post on The symbolism of The Eagle of the Ninth | What happened to the ninth legion: Part IX?