Lost Roman Legion

Sometime about A.D. 117, the Ninth Legion, which was stationed at Eburacum where York now stands, marched north and was never heard of again.
The Eagle of the Ninth, Introduction.

The Ancient Roman legions made up one of the most Badass Armies known to history. However, as powerful, disciplined, and successful as they were, they weren't invincible; on multiple occassions, they were defeated in battle, and sometimes an entire legion was destroyed in a single dramatic battle, or else simply disappeared while on campaign with none returning to tell what happened.

Of course, people are free to speculate on what happened to those legionaries who went missing in action. That is where this trope comes into play.

There are usually two distinct ways this trope plays out:

  1. The story follows another Roman legion which has been sent to find out what happened to the lost legion and (if possible) recover its Eagle Standards. This one tends to appear more often in Historical Fiction.
  2. The story follows the lost legion itself and / or its descendants (assuming it leaves any behind). While also somewhat common in Historical Fiction, the idea of a Roman legion displaced in space, time, or dimension has been used so often in Science Fiction and Fantasy as to be regarded as cliche. Does not always end happily.

Many stories that use this plot are inspired by any of three particular cases of actual "lost legions" in Roman history: Crassus' defeat at the Battle of Carrhae, the destruction of three legions in the Teutoberg Forest, or the mysterious case of the Ninth Legion.


Examples:

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     Comic Books  

     Fan Fiction  

  • In The Return the fate of a Lost Roman Legion is given as the reason Succubae speak a Latin derived language. Apparently the Legion tried to attack a group of Succubae and (the survivors) got Turned instead.

     Film  

     Literature  

  • In Ranks of Bronze, the defeated and enslaved remnants of Crassus' legions are bought by an alien guild to fight wars against low-tech planets on their behalf due to a sort of twisted Prime Directive that requires them to use equivalent-tech weapons against undeveloped planets.
  • The Alerans from Codex Alera are descended from a lost Roman legion that fell into Another Dimension. The series actually started as part of a bet between Jim Butcher and an unnamed fan. Butcher felt a good author can turn even the worst idea into a story, while the fan claimed some ideas are just unwritable. To prove a point, Butcher let the fan choose two horrible cliches that he (Butcher) would write a story based on. The fan chose the Lost Roman Legion...crossed with Pokémon. The rest is history.
  • The Videssos Cycle features one of these as the driving force in the plot, as evidenced by the title of the first novel, The Misplaced Legion. Bonus points for including a misplaced Gaul prisoner along with the legion.
  • The Eagle of the Ninth deals with the aforementioned Ninth Legion.
  • Eagle of the East by L. S. Lawrence follows the legion from the Battle of Carrhae.
  • The fate of the Ninth Legion is a plot point in one of David Gemmell's Ghost King. This one also connects the lost legion with King Arthur.
  • From the prologue of Andre Norton's Star Rangers:
    There is an old legend concerning a Roman Emperor, who, to show his power, singled out the Tribune of a loyal legion and commanded that he march his men across Asia to the end of the world. And so a thousand men vanished into the hinterland of the largest continent, to be swallowed up forever. On some unknown battlefield the last handful of survivors must have formed a square which was overwhelmed by a barbarian charge. And their eagle may have stood lonely and tarnished in a horsehide tent for a generation thereafter. But it may be guessed, by those who know of the pride of these men in their corps and tradition, that they did march east as long as one still remained on his feet.
    • Norton later co-authored Empire of the Eagle, a fantasy involving enslaved men of Crassus' army who're displaced into another universe after being given to a Chinese emissary.
  • H. Warner Munn wrote a 1980 novel titled The Lost Legion, which he specifically said in the foreword was partly inspired by the Andre Norton prologue above. Caligula ordered the legion east, ostensibly to search for possible descendants of survivors from Crassus' legions. In the end, as Norton described, "the last handful of survivors" was overwhelmed by proto-Mongols. But men from a Chinese garrison rescued the eagle ... and gave it a place of honor in their temple with the eagles their ancestors had brought east — so, in a sense, the legion did accomplish its assigned mission.
  • In a Known Space story in one of the Man-Kzin Wars books, it turns out a legion from Britain was kidnapped by the last free Jotok to serve as footsoldiers against the Kzin. By the time of the story (only a few generations for them due to Time Dilation), the free Jotok have died out, but the Romans are still holding out, and are conveniently rescued by modern humans just when said modern humans were themselves warring against the Kzin. They're promised a planet of their own once the war ends.
  • In Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Frank Zhang is descended from Roman Legionaries who reached China and established themselves in a city called 'Li Jien'.
    • The entire Roman demigod camp is the Twelfth Legion Fulminata, directed by Jupiter to continue Rome's legacy even after its fall.
  • William Forstchen's The Lost Regiment series focuses on a variation of the theme: a Union regiment from the American Civil War that travels through a portal to an alien world, where they encounter both an alien race that feeds on humans and multiple societies set up by previous groups of humans that were stranded there. Among their eventual allies are the descendants of a lost Roman legion.
  • The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane uses the defeat at Carrhae to take the protagonists into Parthia.
  • The Last Legion by Valerio Manfredi, adapted into a film of the same name (see above), involves the Ninth Legion.
  • Lovecraft's short story The Very old folk combines this trope with his usual themes in the form of an Apocalyptic Log and All Just a Dream.
    And then I waked. It was the most vivid dream in years, drawing upon wells of the subconscious long untouched and forgotten. Of the fate of that cohort no record exists, but the town at least was saved—for encyclopædias tell of the survival of Pompelo to this day, under the modern Spanish name of Pompelona

     Tabletop Games  

  • In Hero Games' Lands of Mystery, one of the groups populating the world of Zorandar were descended from a Roman legion that accidentally marched through a gate from our Earth.
  • Homaged in Warhammer 40,000, where two of the twenty original Space Marine Legions have been struck from all records, "order origination unknown." The designers admitted they liked the idea of legions being declared in damnatio memoriae, and also wanted to give fans some Canon Fodder to play with.

     Video Game  

  • King Arthur The Role Playing Wargame: In the prologue of the second game (that comes with pre-ordering or can be purchased as Downloadable Content), Roman commander Sulla travels to the netherworld and recruits the lost 9th legion albeit in a Power at a Price fashon: His mortal soldiers must be possessed in order for them to fight for him. You get forced to do so even if you say no repeatedly. In the main campaign, you have to fight against these "undying" units; until you seal the three gateways to the netherworld, the entire armies you kill of them just keep re-appearing on the campaign map.
  • One of the featured historical battles in Rome: Total War is the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, where the player-controlled Roman legion has to escape a barbarian trap, or be slaughtered.
    • The sequel also includes a portrayal of the Teutoburg ambush.

     Western Animation  

     Real Life  
  • The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 14 was a catastrophic defeat for Rome; the legions XVII, XVIII, and XIX being completely annihilated over the course of the three day engagement. Eighteen thousand legionnaires, plus an equivalent number of auxiliary formations, totaling one-tenth of the entire field army were permanently lost beyond recovery. The Romans themselves were thunderstruck by the disaster and the crisis nearly turned to general panic. The Emperor Augustus saw the ruin of his ambition to conquer and assimilate middle Europe and later, on his deathbed, he advised his successor not to expand the empire for any reason.
  • The Legio IX Hispana (9th Spanish Legion) of the Roman army, a unit with a fairly well-documented history from the 1st century BC onward and which was stationed in Britain since the conquest of that province, disappears from historical sources around 120 AD. This has led to the assumption (first popularized by Theodor Mommsen) that the legion was completely destroyed in a catastrophic defeat against British Picti not long after 108 AD. This scenario was then further developed by Rosemary Sutcliff's historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), which posits that the legion was wiped out during an operation north of Hadrian's Wall, and revolves around a young Roman officer trying to uncover the circumstances of the legion's disappearance. Sutcliff's book has fostered the misconception that the "disappearance of the 9th Legion" was a real disappearance, rather than a "disappearance from the historical sources"; but while it is likely that the apparent disbandment of the Legio IX Hispana was preceded by a severe defeat, there is no reason to believe that the fate of the legion was a mystery in its own time. Furthermore, traces of the Legio IX Hispana from c. 120 AD have been found in Nijmegen in the Netherlands in the 1990s, which goes to show the hypothetical defeat did not even necessarily take place in Britain. Finally, the construction of Hadrian's Wall started in 122 AD, so the idea of anyone going or disappearing "north of Hadrian's Wall" before that date is an anachronism.