Review: Roman Britain’s MISSING LEGION – Simon Elliott

It seems like I’ve always been aware of the legion that disappeared – the Legio IX Hispana – but it is many years since I last read about it and I was therefore delighted to be offered the chance to read Simon’s new book on the subject, Roman Britain’s Missing Legion.

Since this is a very longstanding mystery, I did not expect Simon to reveal with a flourish on the very last page that he had discovered the true fate of the legion – and sure enough, he didn’t!

What I hoped to find in Simon’s book was an up to date, scholarly reworking of the various theories about the legion’s disappearance – and that is exactly what Missing Legion provides.

This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to learn what might have happened to the legion, based on the actual evidence we have.  Simon’s method is to discuss each possible theory in turn, examine the evidence upon which it is based and reach a conclusion about how likely it is to be true. For me, this methodical approach, which dismissed no theory out of hand, worked very well.

What Simon grasps clearly is that the average interested reader is not necessarily a scholar steeped in classical history. So to avoid losing you on page 1, he gives you a way into each section which provides a context for what is to come. In the early chapters there is a wealth of background material as well as some discussion of available sources. This amount of detailed information can be difficult to absorb but it does enhance the reader’s insight into the nuances of the mystery.

In the course of the book, Simon deals with the most popular theories about the legion’s demise: a disaster in northern Britain; caught up in a devastating event in London during the Emperor Hadrian’s rule; lost north of the Rhine or Danube; or lost in the eastern empire at the hands of either the Parthians or Jewish rebels. All these possible theatres of war are analysed and the merits of each one considered before Simon delivers his own personal opinion about the legion’s fate.

Missing Legion is thus a balanced and comprehensive account which offers the reader a series of snapshots of moments when the Ninth Legion might have been annihilated. In doing so, it provides an insight into many aspects of Roman political, military and economic organisation during the first and second centuries AD.

Simon Elliott has produced a fresh, crisp and forensic analysis of a very old mystery.

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