Pen and Sword (2021) h/b 173pp £19.99 (ISBN 978152676 572 7)

‘New book hints 5,500 soldiers that vanished off the face of the earth were massacred after being sent south from York to suppress rebelling Britons.’ Mail On Line, 29/1/21

So at last it’s all explained. We can stop worrying about the fate of the IX and sleep peacefully. But this headline is more important than might at first be thought. In many ways it sums up the problem for historians and archaeologists of the IX, because not only does it report speculation as fact, it refers to a conclusion that the author actually rejects in the book under review. We have, it seems, generated such an amount of conjecture that almost anything can be presented as though it had some value. For this reason E.’s book is to be applauded. His approach is simple: what do we know, and from that, what can we conclude?  But such fine intentions give way almost immediately the facts are examined, because that examination leads inexorably to conjecture.

E. presents four scenarios for our consideration, along with all we can say for sure about each scenario:

  1. Rosemary Sutcliffe was right! The IX was wiped out in the far north by attacking tribesmen.
  2. In the mid-120s AD there was a violent revolution in London, with extensive, intentional burning, and much destruction (many skulls have been found). Subsequently a heavily defended fort was built to warn against any such repeated activity. But what had the IX done in that war?
  3. Subsequent to all this kerfuffle, a tile stamp appears at a fort in Nijmegem showing LEG VIIII. Wars across the northern frontier follow.
  4. Later Parthian and Jewish wars were mightily destructive of Roman personnel in the area. Was the IX there?

E. knows fine well, and admits as such, that in each case he relies on speculation to conclude, though based on the best of our current state of knowledge. It must be said, however, that no conclusion has been offered that is untroubled by inconvenient evidence. It should also be noted that E. chooses largely to leave prosopography out of consideration, even though the ongoing epigraphic records of individual careers looks promising.

The highlight of the book is certainly the events of the mid 120s, from Dominic Perring’s 2017 report of his London excavations, with its proposal of a Hadrianic War there. We need to know more, and perhaps, when we do, we can reconsider E.’s possible roles (note the plural) of the IX in that conflagration.

Meanwhile, E. is happier with a local solution. So we keep waiting.

Adrian Spooner