Common Errors (4): VIIII Hispana

Object mentioning VIIII Hispana

Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) is one of the most charming children’s historical novels I know. It tells the story of a young Roman officer, Marcus Aquila, who can no longer serve in the army because he is wounded, and decides to look for the eagle standard of the Ninth Legion Hispana. According to Sutcliff, this legion was destroyed in c.117 by Caledonian tribes in what is now Scotland – in 1954 a common hypothesis.

Indeed, there is no evidence that the Ninth was in Britain in the second century, but that does not mean that it was annihilated. It was almost certainly transferred to Nijmegen in Germania Inferior (on the Lower Rhine), where it was in the 120s. One of the finds that prove this, is a metal object found in Ewijk, a bit west of Nijmegen, now in the Valkhof Museum. The fact that we know the names of several high officers of the Ninth who can not have served earlier than 122 (e.g., Lucius Aemilius Karus, governor of Arabia in 142/143), is another indication that the legion was not destroyed but transferred.

It is also certain that this unit no longer existed during the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180), because it is not mentioned in a list of legions from that age. Perhaps, it had been destroyed by the Jews during the revolt of Bar Kochba (132-136); perhaps it is identical to the unit that was destroyed by the Parthians in 161 (Lucian, Alexander 27). We simply do not know. What we do know, however, is that a movie has been announced about Rosemary Sutcliffe’s lovely book – and to be honest, this time fiction is far better than facts.


  • Duncan Campbell, “The fate of the Ninth“, in: Ancient Warfare 4.5 (2010) 48-53
  • Jan Kees Haalebos, “Römische Truppen in Nijmegen”, in: Yann Le Bohec, Les légions de Rome sous le Haut-Empire (2000 Lyon) 465-489

<Overview of Common Errors>

4 Responses to Common Errors (4): VIIII Hispana

  1. Interesting to read. May I reproduce and point in the usual way to your note at
    And just to correct one small error of your own, it is Sutcliff without an E as in the first sentence, but see your last sentence for a typo that has slipped through.

    The fiction, in the form of the book, is already indeed far better than the facts. I think the film will do it justice, given who is making it, who directs and who wrote the script. (See the blog, numerous entries)

  2. fsantoro1984 says:

    A very interesting article; nevertheless, the object found at Ewijk would seem to contradict your observation (under the rubric “Common Errors,” in re IV or IIII) about the number IX being commonly written as VIIII on ancient inscriptions. How do you explain this discrepancy? Could the inscription on the above bronze object have been added at a later date? Or is it merely one of the countless curious variations of numbers found on inscriptional evidence? (e.g., VIXIT.ANN.IIX, which I take to be “he lived 8 years”; CIL 6 7874)

    Although I do not have the proper volume of CIL in front of me, I do have access to largely first-century inscriptions from the columbaria of imperial Rome (CIL VI). From just a cursory glance, the tendency is to stretch out the I’s and X’s: e.g. SOR.IIII.LOCO.VIIII (row 4, place 9: CIL 6.11045); even V(IXIT).AN.LXXXXVII [97 years!] (6.7920), although occasionally as in 6.5730, we discover that M. Vipsanius set up OL[LAS].XIV [14 urns] for himself and his family; and in 6.5313 Aurelia Epigonis lived 3 years 3 months, 17 days, and four hours: VIX.ANN.III/MENSIBVS.III/DIEB.XVII.H.IV.

    The arrangement of this inscription [and the constrictions of the plaque of 6.5313] suggests that space may have determined whether to use IIII or IV.

  3. fsantoro1984 says:

    One further observation: although the niches in this columbarium are largely occupied by the cremated bones of freed slaves of the first century, some spaces were purchased during the reign of Hadrian, which might make the IX consistent stylistically with the Ewijk object (and the name Aurelia of 6.5313), although I do think that the inscriptions on many of the narrow columbarium plaques might be a factor in how the number four was written.

  4. fsantoro1984 says:

    Oh dear, the word “inscriptions” in the above comment should have been “constrictions”: i.e. that the constrictions of space may have determined whether the stonecutter inscribed IIII or IV!

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