York & North Yorkshire

Yorkshire Museum marks 'lost' Roman legion

Inscription to the Ninth Legion. Copyright: York Museums Trust
Image caption The inscription confirms legion was in York before vanishing

The last recorded mention of a lost Roman legion has gone on show at the Yorkshire Museum.

The fate of one of the Roman Empire's most distinguished legions, the Ninth, is the subject of a new film, The Eagle, which is released this month.

Legend says the legion marched north from York and was destroyed in Scotland.

An inscription, found in the 19th Century, confirms the legion as being in York before vanishing from history.

The inscription was found in 1854 in while workmen were installing a drain in York city centre.

Experts have described it the finest example of Romano British inscription in existence.

It will be placed in the central hall of the recently refurbished Yorkshire Museum.

'Fascinates and intrigues'

Andrew Morrison, curator of archaeology, said: "The disappearance of the Ninth Legion both fascinates and intrigues.

"Whether or not they disappeared in a mass defeat against the tribes of Scotland or came to a much less interesting end, what we do know is that the legend has caught the public's imagination.

Image caption The inscription was discovered in York in the 19th Century

"The new film will of course increase this further, and hopefully inspire people to come and learn about the truth behind the myth - starting here in York where they are last mentioned."

The inscription is a fragment from a commemorative tablet recording the building in stone of the south east gate to York's fortress.

It reads that the gateway was built by the Ninth Legion under the instructions of Emperor Trajan. It is dated to being made in Trajan's 12th year of being in power, sometime between 10 December 107 to 9 December 108.

In English, the full inscription would have read: "The Emperor Caesar, son of the divine Nerva, Nerva Traianus Augustus, Germanicus, Dacicus, pontifex maximus, in his 12th year of tribunician power, five times acclaimed Imperator, five times consul, father of his country, made this gateway by agency of the Ninth Legion Hispana."

The fate of the legion after this date has not been established.

'Truth in legend'

Rosemary Sutcliff's novel Eagle of the Ninth suggested it was defeated by tribes from Scotland, however, experts have said no proof existed of this ever happening, but equally there is little evidence to point to an alternative.

Mr Morrison said: "Some research suggests they were moved to mainland Europe, other theories suggest they were simply disbanded.

"But it is known that the Romans would not be keen to publicise a mass defeat - so maybe there is some truth in the legend. Nobody really knows and that's what makes it so interesting."

The Hollywood blockbuster, directed by Kevin MacDonald, is based on Rosemary Sutcliff's book and stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell.

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