Massacre of the Ninth Legion

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Massacre of the Ninth Legion
Date 60 or 61
Location unknown site, near Camulodunum
Result British victory
Roman Empire Iceni, Trinovantes, and other British tribes
Commanders and leaders
Quintus Petillius Cerialis Boudica
2,500 Unknown, possibly 10,000 +
Casualties and losses
c. 2,000 Unknown

The Massacre of the Ninth Legion refers to the defeat of a large vexillation of the Legio IX Hispana during the revolt against Roman rule in Britain launched by Boudica, queen of the Iceni of Norfolk. Attempting to relieve the besieged colonia of Camulodunum (Colchester, Essex), legionaries of the Legio IX Hispana led by Quintus Petillius Cerialis, were attacked by a horde of British tribes, led by the Iceni. Approximately 80% of the Roman soldiers were killed in the battle. The event is recorded by the historian Tacitus in his Annals.[1]


In AD 60 or 61, the southeastern area of the island rose in revolt under Boudica, while the governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was campaigning in Wales. The Iceni were joined by the Trinovantes, and their first target was Camulodunum, formerly the Trinovantian capital, now a colonia or settlement of discharged Roman soldiers. Tacitus reports it was poorly defended, and archaeology confirms its former military fortifications had been levelled by this time.[2] The colonists appealed for aid to the procurator, Catus Decianus, who sent only two hundred auxiliaries. Camulodunum was burned, and the temple, where the last of the defenders took refuge, fell after a two-day siege.

Defeat of the Ninth Legion[edit]

The general area where the battle is thought to have taken place, near Camulodunum.

The Ninth Legion, commanded by Quintus Petillius Cerialis, attempted to relieve the siege. It is unlikely that the entire legionary strength of some 5,000 men was involved in the battle. Detachments of the legion were spread out across a network of small forts; on short notice, Cerialis was likely able to call on only the first cohort, possibly two others, auxiliary infantry, and a unit of some 500 cavalry - a total of perhaps 2,500 men. They may have taken the Roman road to Camulodunum from Durovigtum (Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire), a march of some 75 miles which would have taken three days.[3] However, they arrived too late to relieve the colonia. The British tribes fought the detachment in the field and defeated it, routing the Romans. Tacitus says their entire infantry strength was wiped out, with only Cerialis and his cavalry escaping to their fortified camp. Despite this significant event, the battle is not recorded in any large detail. The location of the battle is claimed by both the village of Great Wratting, in Suffolk and Sturmer in Essex some 3 miles away.[4]


Main article: Legio IX Hispana

The legion was later reinforced with legionaries from the Germania provinces. Around AD 71 they constructed a new fortress at York (Eboracum), as shown by finds of tile-stamps from the site.[5]

It is often said that the legion disappeared in Britain about 117 AD.[6][7] However, the names of several high-ranking officers of the Ninth are known who probably served with the legion after c. 120 (e.g., Lucius Aemilius Carus, governor of Arabia in 142/143), which suggests that the legion continued in existence after this date. It has been suggested that the legion may have been destroyed during the Bar Kochba Revolt in Iudaea Province, or possibly in the ongoing conflict with the Parthian Empire but there is no firm evidence for this.[8]

That the fate of the 9th was settled somewhere in the East, following a strategic transfer, rather than being lost in a British catastrophe, has now become the preferred scenario, although ultimately the evidence for this is rather insubstantial. The last testified activity of the Ninth in Britain is during the rebuilding in stone of the legionary fortress at York (Eboracum) in 108 AD. Its subsequent movements remain unknown, but there is crucial evidence, in the form of two stamped tiles, of the Legion's presence at Nijmegen (Noviomagus) in the Netherlands, which had been evacuated by X Gemina.[9] As these were stamped by the legion, and not by a vexillation of the legion, they cannot relate to the known presence of a sub unit of the legion on the Rhine frontier during the mid 80s when the emperor Domitian was fighting his war against the Chatti. In a recently published analysis of the limited evidence available, Miles Russell, senior lecturer in Roman Archaeology at Bournemouth University, concludes that "by far the most plausible answer to the question "what happened to the Ninth" is that they fought and died in Britain, disappearing in the late 110s or early 120s when the province was in disarray".[10][11] On the other hand, other historians[who?] believe that the Ninth was simply sent to the mainland in the 120s and was destroyed by the Parthians in 162.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

  • The Last Legion, 2007 film that uses the premise of the missing Ninth Legion still existing somewhere in Britain, however it certainly was no longer in existence by the mid-2nd century, long before this movie is set.
  • Centurion, a 2010 British movie which centered on the supposed disappearance of the Ninth Legion in Caledonia in AD 117.
  • The Eagle, a 2011 film that tells the story of a young Roman officer searching to recover the lost Roman eagle standard of his father's legion in the northern part of Britain which later became Scotland.
  • The Eagle of the Ninth, a 1954 novel by Rosemary Sutcliff on which the movie The Eagle is based.


  1. ^ Tacitus, Annals 14:29, 31-32
  2. ^ Graham Webster, Boudica: the British Revolt against Rome AD 60, 1978, pp. 89-90
  3. ^ Webster 1978, pp. 90-91
  4. ^ "Haverhill From the Iron Age to 1899". St. Edmundsbury Borough Council. 
  5. ^ Wright, R. P. (1978). "Tile-Stamps of the Ninth Legion found in Britain". Britannia 9: 379–382. JSTOR 525953. 
  6. ^ E.g., Winston Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, vol.1 (1956).
  7. ^ On this whole question, see: Campbell, Duncan B. (2010). "The fate of the Ninth: the curious disappearance of Legio VIIII Hispana". Ancient Warfare IV.5: 48–53. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Haalebos, Jan Kees (2000). "Römische Truppen in Nijmegen". In Le Bohec, Yann. Les légions de Rome sous le Haut-Empire. Lyon: Diffusion De Boccard. pp. 465–489. ISBN 2-904974-19-9. 
  10. ^ Miles Russell, pages 41-45 BBC History Magazine, May 2011
  11. ^ M. Russell Bloodline: the Celtic Kings of Roman Britain p 180-5 (2010)