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.
Source: BC News – The Roman Ninth Legion’s mysterious loss.
See also on this blog a post on The symbolism of The Eagle of the Ninth | What happened to the ninth legion: Part IX?
One thought on “‘It would seem that Sutcliff was right after all” | The Eagle and The Eagle of the Ninth | More on The Roman Ninth Legion’s mysterious loss | BBC News”
Sadly, Dr. Miles Russell turns things around. In fact it was the book that became ‘the fact’, and that without a shred of evidence. Instead, Dr Russell wants us to believe that the historians who think otherwise have no evidence at all. He dismisses the Nijmegen tiles ínadmissable ‘from the 80s’, without any ground at all. What he does not even discuss is the fact that we know the names and careers of several officers from the Ninth, and whose careers suggest that the legion could not have been destroyed before the early 120s, after Hadrian’s visit to Britain (when the Sixth moved to York). (http://www.livius.org/le-lh/legio/ix_hispana.html)
Even his claim that historians say that the Ninth was in fact ‘destroyed by the Persians’ is wrong, because the enemy was in fact the Parthian (Arsacid) empire, not yet the Persian (Sassanid) empire.
Personally I have no idea why this opinion should be voiced by the BBC, or even indeed whether dr. Russel indeed was not misquoted, but it seems that despite claims to the opposite, dr. Russell is as yet the only scholar who claims that the Ninth was destroyed in Britain. And without offering any evidence for that.