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Mereworth historian Simon Elliot suggests Channing Tatum and Michael Fassbender may have had it wrong


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A Mereworth historian is challenging Hollywood's version of history with a new book about the missing Roman IX Legion.

Beyond their acknowledged military discipline, the Romans were able to keep their extensive empire functioning through meticulous record-keeping. So it has long intrigued historians that one Legion, the IX Hispana, which was based in England, seems to have disappeared from the history books in AD108.

A scene from Centurion, just before disaster overtakes the IX Legion. Picture: Netflix
A scene from Centurion, just before disaster overtakes the IX Legion. Picture: Netflix

Many books have been written on the subject of the missing IX Legion and more than a few films have been made.

Two of the best known are The Eagle with Channing Tatum, and Centurion with Michael Fassbender.

Both use the theory made popular by novelist Rosemary Sutcliff that the legion was wiped out by the Picts after venturing into Caldonia (Scotland).

But you can’t always believe Hollywood.

Dr Simon Elliot is an archaeologist, historian and broadcaster with a PhD in classics and archaeology from the University of Kent where he is now an honorary research fellow. He is also a trustee of the Council for British Archaeology, an ambassador for the Museum of London Archaeology and president of the Society of Ancients.

Simon Elliot's book about the IX Legion
Simon Elliot's book about the IX Legion

He has spent much of his life delving into Roman history, including being co-director of the Roman villa excavation in the Medway Valley.

He has looked at all the evidence about the IX and concluded that other explanations exist.

One is that the Legion was involved an a rebellion against the state - and Dr Elliot points to evidence of the burning of London and the discovery of severed heads there that might support that version. After the rebellion was put down, the Legion may have been disbanded and subjected to 'damnatio memoriae' (struck from all official records in disgrace.)

Dr Elliot points to the arrival of Emperor Hadrian with a replacement Legion, the Legio VI, in AD122 and the construction of a new fort at Cripplegate around this time as perhaps an attempt to re-enforce Imperial authority.

But there are other possibilities.

Author Dr Simon Elliot
Author Dr Simon Elliot

One is that Legion that had been based at York was transferred abroad, either to the Rhine or to the eastern provinces.

There is some evidence from Nijmegen that the IX was there around AD120.

While other suggestions are that they were defeated by an uprising by the Jews around AD132 or by the Parthians in Armenia around AD160.

Whatever happened, the IXth met an unlucky fate somewhere, because two separate comprehensive lists of all the Roman Legions survive from AD197, and by then the 4,000 men of the IX Legion had vanished.

Dr Elliot looks at all possibilities in his book A History of the Roman Britain’s Missing Legion: What Really Happened to IX Hispana? which is published by Pen and Sword Books in hardback priced £19.99.

ISBN: 9781526765727.

Simon Elliot with a map of the Roman Empire
Simon Elliot with a map of the Roman Empire

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