The Eagle of the Ninth

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The Eagle of the Ninth is a historical novel for children by Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992). Published in 1954, the book presupposes, and elaborates, the hypothesis of the great German historian of ancient Rome, Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903), that, sometime in the second decade of the second century CE, while on campaign in Scotland, the Ninth Legion of the Roman army (IX Legio Hispana) suffered a catastrophic defeat and was completely destroyed. In the novel Marcus Flavius Aquila, the son of the commander of the Ninth Legion, arrives in Britain from Rome in 140 CE on a mission to restore his father’s reputation, and travels to Scotland to try and discover the true circumstances of the Ninth Legion’s disappearance.

In 2011 the novel was made into a film, The Eagle, starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, and Donald Sutherland.

Mommsen’s hypothesis, based on the absence after 108 CE of any reference to the Ninth Legion in the legionary records in Britain, is no longer universally accepted by historians of Roman Britain. It is claimed that there are references after 120 CE to the Ninth Legion in the legionary records at Nijmegen in The Netherlands, and that an alternative explanation for the legion’s disappearance from British legionary records may be that it was redeployed to serve in another part of the Roman Empire. See further Peter Salway, A History of Roman Britain (Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 132.