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Lost eagles of Roman army

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)


The Roman army was one of the best in the world for a reason. However, despite many victories, this unbeatable machine also had numerous failures. However, the most shameful defeat took place when the legion lost its eagle.

The legionary eagle, aquila, was worshipped because the eagle was a symbol of Jupiter. For this reason, the loss of this banner on the battlefield was the greatest possible disgrace to the unit, and Roman soldiers were ready to die to regain the mark. However, the loss of a legionary eagle in battle has often occurred. One of the first such defeats was fought in 53 BCE. the Battle of Carrhae, during which the Parthians captured seven legionary eagles. Their return was negotiated by Augustus in 20 BCE.

In the civil war (49-45 BCE), Aulus Gabinius and Publius Vatinius suffered defeats during the battles with the Dalmatian tribes, which resulted in the loss of further legionary eagles, which were recovered in 23 BCE. During the civil wars, during the fighting in Spain, the Romans lost another eagle, which was recaptured during the Cantabrian war.

In 40 BCE, during battles with Parthians, in the battle of Antioch, the Romans suffered a defeat, which resulted in the loss of several legionary eagles. They were recovered during negotiations in 20 BCE, nomen omen, together with the eagles previously lost at Carrhae.

In 36 BCE, during the Parthian wars of Antonius, the Romans lost two more eagles, which were recovered in the course of 20 BCE during August’s peace negotiations.

In 17 BCE Marcus Lollius suffered a defeat in the clash with the Germanic tribes of Sugambrians, Tencteri and Usipetes, which resulted in the loss of the eagle of the fifth Macedonica legion. The lost banner was recovered a year later.

In the 9th year of our era, in a terrible defeat in the Teutoburg forest, three Roman legions, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth, were destroyed, and their eagles fell into the hands of the victorious Germans. Two of them were recaptured by Germanicus during the campaign in 15 and 16, and the last one was recovered by Publius Gabinius Secundus in 41.

In 66, during the Jewish war, in a battle in the Beth Horon Gorge, Jewish insurgents defeated the legionaries of the 12th Fulminata Legion and captured their eagle. The fate of the lost banner remains unknown.

In the 70s, during the Batavian uprising, the Germans destroyed three Roman legions, the fifth Alaudae, the fifteenth Primigenia and the sixteenth Gallica, capturing their eagles. The further fate of the lost banners remains unknown.

In 86, during the Dacian Wars of the Domitian, the fifth legion of Alaudae was completely annihilated at the Battle of Tapae, and his eagle was captured by the victorious Dacians. The lost aquila was recovered by Emperor Trajan during his campaign in 101 or 102.

In 132, during the uprising of the Bar-Kochba, the eagle was to lose the legion of the ninth Hispania or the twenty-second Deiotarian, but there is nothing to this certainty.

In 161, the Romans suffered a defeat in the battle with the partisans of Elegy, in which probably the eagle lost the legion of the ninth Hispania, or the twenty-second Deiotarian, but this is not certain.

In 260, in the lost battle of Edessa, the Romans lost several legionary eagles. The fate of the lost banners is unknown.

In 378, the Romans suffered a defeat in the battle of Adrianople. The exact number of participating in the battle of the legions is unknown, but regardless of the fact that the winners of the Goths had to get at least a few eagles. The fate of the lost banners is unknown.

Author: Marcin Gwizdalski
  • Cassius Dio, Roman history
  • Bernard Nowaczyk, Masada 66-73
  • Res Gestae Divi Augusti
  • Paweł Rochala, Las Teutoburski 9 rok n.e.
  • Tacitus, Agricola

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