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Legion VI Victrix

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Inscription from Mérida (Spain) mentioning a soldier from the legion VI Victrix.
Na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa - Na tych samych warunkach 3.0.

Legion VI Victrix appears in the pages of history in 58 BCE. as one created by Gaius Julius Caesar when he governed Illyria and the Gallic provinces. Other sources give the year 52 BCE as the date of formation. The legion participated in the conquest of Gaul – participated in the Battle of Alesia, and also crossed the Rubicon with its leader. The war with Pompey turned out to be the beginning of a series of “journeys” throughout the then Empire for this unit. In 49 BCE he was transferred to Spain – he fought at Ilerda. In the early months of 48 BCE found himself in Dyrrachium, he also took part in the battle of Pharsalus (August 9, 48 BCE). He accompanied Caesar on an expedition to Egypt, at the turn of 48/47 BCE (where he lost almost 2/3 of his squad and gained the nickname Ferrata) and to Asia (the battle of Zela in Ponta – the famous “veni, vidi, vici”). After the legion was disbanded in 45 B.C.E. (Battle of Munda), the veterans were settled in Arelate (today’s Arles) in Gaul. They were mobilized by Lepidus in 44 BCE. After the battle of Philippi (42 BCE), the Legio VI was re-established as a colony – this time in Beneventum. Some of them followed Mark Antony eastward.

Two twin legions

In 41 BCE the thread of the legion wearing number six “splits”. Two units with the same number appear – on both sides of the struggle between Mark Antony and Octavian August. The VI “Octavian” Legion, initially called Hispaniensis, was then formed in Spain and fought at Perusia in Italy, while the second – legio VI Ferrata – was stationed in Judea.

It is worth mentioning here about other “same name” legions in both enemy camps, they were:

  • Mark Antony’s side: legio V Alaudae and X Equestris;
  • on Octavian’s side legio V Macedonica and X Fretensis.

Most likely, both “sixes” included soldiers who fought under the command of Julius Caesar – his nephew and heir could use the Benevento colonists to form the “core” of his legion.

After the battle of Actium, when the Legio VI Ferrata was defeated by Octavian’s army, his veterans were formed into a colony in Byllis, while the remains of the legion were sent to Syria – in the east of the Empire he remained (most of the time, as legio VI Ferrata Fidelas Constans) until the end of his service (the last mention dates from 215 CE). Its history is worth discussing separately, because it is the legion that crucified Christ. “Octavian” legio VI Hispaniensis returned to Spain. From now on, only his fate will be mentioned.

Spanish Campaign

After the victory over Antony, Octavian Augustus sent Mark Agrippa to the last free piece of the Iberian Peninsula – inhabited by the Cantabri and Asturians. The battles lasted 14 years (27 – 13 BCE) and as many as seven legions took part in them, four of which lived to see the end of the struggle: II Augusta, IV Macedonica, VI Hispaniensis and X Gemina. Little is known about the location of the VI Legion during this period. Veterans from this legion (as well as IV Macedonica and X Gemina) are believed to have established a colony at Cesarea Augusta (present-day Zaragoza), and the legion itself appears – according to reports from the times of Nero – initially in the area of ​​today’s Asturias, then in the vicinity of Leon. He was then the only legion stationed in Spain responsible for maintaining peace and order there – for his exemplary service, he was nicknamed Victrix (“Victorious”).

Year of the Four Emperors, Batavian rebellion

It was in the camp legio VI Victrix that Galba was proclaimed emperor, but the soldiers did not follow him to Rome – they stayed in Spain, which ended badly for Galba himself, as we all know. A year later, the legion was assigned by Vespasian to suppress a Batavian revolt. Here we have to go back to 68 CE, when actions in Gaul against Nero were started by Gaius Julius Vindex. His forces were defeated by legions from Upper Germany led by Lucius Verginius Rufus. After being proclaimed ruler Galba these soldiers from the Germanic provinces began to be treated with suspicion by the new Caesar (Vindex was his ally). Fuel for the fire was added by the ruler’s dismissal from the service in Rome of the guardsmen from the Batavian tribe. The upheaval on the Rhine reached its apogee when the army of Lower Germany proclaimed its leader – Vitellius – Caesar. His expedition to Rome, although it ended with a victory over Otho, stripped the northern border of the Empire of troops – about 1/4 of the original army remained there. Faced with an imminent confrontation with Vespasian, Vitellius requested further reinforcements from Germania. Marcus Hordenius Flaccus (Rufus’s successor) could not send more legionnaires, so new auxiliares were recruited among the Batavians. Since so many of them were already serving under Roman marks, this sparked a rebellion led by Julius Civilis (encouraged by “military mate” Vespasian). The revolt also affected other Germanic tribes living between the Rhine and the North Sea. Initially, it brought victories over the weakened Roman forces in the north, especially the defeat of two legions (V Alaudae and XV Primigenia) at Oppidum Batavorum (today’s Nijmegen). The experienced auxilia of the Batavians, returning from Italy, also joined the revolt. Civilis’s army besieged the camp in Vetera (today’s Xanten) – it capitulated after a few months, the defenders were slaughtered and the camp itself – burnt down. The Batavian chief drove the Romans out of practically all of Lower Germany. This must have caused a reaction from Vespasian. He directed a strong army to the north, commanded by Quintus Cerialis, composed of 8 legions – including VI Victrix. Initially, he pacified Gaul (revolted independently of Germania), then together with XXI Rapax, II Adiutrix and XVI Gemina moved to Vetera. As a result of two days of murderous battle, fought on marshy ground, in pouring rain, the Batavian army was defeated. The revolt ended a few months later, and the 6th Legion remained on the Rhine frontier, in a camp at Novaesium (present-day Neuss).

70-122 CE in Germania

During this period, the main base of the legion became the rebuilt Vetera (nb. an obelisk was found near Xanten commemorating the fights of the “6” in this area during the Batavian rebellion). In the year 89 CE, he participated in the suppression of Saturnin’s revolt (governor of Upper Germania) against Domitian, for which the unit received the title Pia Fidelis Domitiana (the last part of the name was removed after the emperor’s death in 96 CE). During the Dacian Wars, part of the 6th Legion was sent to the Danube (along with troops from I Minervia and X Gemina).

In 122, Hadrian sent Platorius Nepos with the VI legion to Britain. It was another, as it turned out later – the last stop on the long “combat trail”. The unit covered a section of the border along the rivers – Salway and Tyne. It relieved legio IX Hispana in this area, which in turn was heading to the Rhine. The base of the legion (and for almost two centuries) became Eburacum – today’s York. The soldiers were sent to build Hadrian’s embankment – it’s eastern part (the western part was built by II Aug and XX ValVic). Their works also included the bridge and the temple of Neptune at Pons Aelius (now Newcastle). Almost twenty years later, the same units will build Antony’s embankment. Between 155 and 158 CE, the legion participated in the suppression of the Pictish rebellion, which forced the Romans to fall back behind Hadrian’s rampart.

Septimius Severus. Decline of the Empire

In 196, Clodius Albinus, the ruler of Britain, tried to get the imperial diadem by crossing to the continent with three “British” legions. However, he was defeated in 197 CE by Septimius Severus and his troops were sent back to Albion. After returning to Eburacum, the devastated Hadrian’s embankment and groups of Celts invading their area were waiting for the soldiers of “6”. It took them 7 years to calm the province and rebuild the fortifications. In the year 208 CE Caesar Septimius Severus himself came to this area to lead an expedition against the barbarians from the north. It lasted until 211 CE i.e. until the death of the ruler in the camp in Eburacum. The “pacification” of the Celtic tribes was completed only by the son of Septimius – Caracalla. The effect turned out to be permanent – until the end of the 3rd century CE. It was (almost) relatively quiet there. During this period, Britannica was added to the name of the legion, so the full name was legio VI Victrix Pia Fidelis Britannica.

In the year 287 C.E. Britain was taken over by the legion commander Carasius, who was murdered (and replaced) by Allectus. It returned to the Empire after six years thanks to Gaius Flavius ​​Constantius called Chlorus (father of Constantine the Great). However, the participation of troops withdrawn from the northern border in these struggles resulted in a renewed invasion of tribes from the north. And again the 6th legion returned “to the old rubbish” – it rebuilt Eburacum and its stretch of limes. After another seventeen years, the situation in Britain finally returned to the “Roman norm”, but this state lasted until 367 CE – ie invasion of Picts, Scots and Saxons. Emperor Valentinian, the first of his name, sent Theodosius north with a strong army, and Rome’s rule over Britain was restored – for the last time anyway. In the year 403 CE emperor Honorius withdrew most of the troops from it. The remains of legio VI remained in Eburacum until 410 CE when no trace of it is lost.

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