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 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:
- 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.
- 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
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- 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.
- 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.
- King Arthur The Role Playing War Game: 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.
- Rome: Total War: One of the featured historical battles is the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, where the player-controlled Roman legion has to escape a barbarian trap, or be slaughtered.
- 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.
- Speculation exists that some of the Roman survivors of the disastrous Battle of Carrhae fled to China and later joined up with the Chinese as mercenaries. Rome and China not only traded with each other, the Chinese actually sent ambassadors to Rome and vice-versa. You can read more here.
- The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 14 was a catastrophic defeat for Imperial 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. In Rome, the populace was 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 mysterious case of the Ninth Legion. Stationed at Eboracum (modern day York), according to legend, they were ordered to spearhead an invasion north into Pict-inhabited Caledonia (modern day Scotland). None of the legionnaires of the Ninth Legion were ever seen or heard from again. Not a single one. The Legio IX Hispania was raised by Pompey the Great to crush Roman secessionists in Hispania (Spain) before actively participating in Julius Caesar's "pacification" of Gaul and the civil wars that followed. The Emperor Augustus Caesar finally restored order, and he counted the Ninth legion in his Imperial army. The Ninth saw multiple tours on the Roman frontier before partaking in the invasion of Britain and suffering its first major defeat at the hands of the warrior-queen, Boudica. Thereafter, the Ninth recieved little mention from Roman authors, which contributed to its quiet vanishing act in the middle of the second century.