Legio VIII Augusta (“Augustus’ Eighth Legion”) was one of the oldest legions of the Imperial Roman army.
When was Legio VIII Augusta Formed?
Legio VIII was raised by Julius Caesar during his tenure of office as Governor of Illyricum and Gaul, probably in 59bce along with VII, IX and X. The Eighth Legion continued to serve with Caesar in Gaul for the next ten years, and was quick to join his side in the Civil Wars against Pompey in 49, seeing action at Corfinium and Brundisium in Italy, and taking a hand in the final defeat of Pompey’s army at Pharsalus in Thessaly the following year. Much to Caesar’s chagrin, Pompey escaped immediate capture and fled to Egypt, whereupon he was treacherously murdered. Pompeian adherants continued the struggle, however, and Legio VIII was active in the Battle of Thapsus, just south of modern Sousse on the Tunisian coast on 21st March 46bce.
Many of Caesar’s legions were officially disbanded during 46 and 45bce, and a colony of veteran soldiers of VIII Gallica is attested at Casilinum in Italy sometime before 44. Veterans of Caesar’s Seventh were also settled close-by at Calatia, near Capua.
The oldest of the legions’ three known titles, Gallica, was probably awarded by Julius Caesar himself for some outstanding service during the campaigns in Gaul, but when exactly, is unknown.
Revived After the ‘Ides of March’
Following the treacherous murder of Julius Caesar on March 14, 44bce, the veterans of Caesar’s old legions openly voiced their disgust at the Roman Senate for their leniency towards Cassius and Brutus, the assassins of their old and trusted general. A few ambitious men made use of this resentment to quickly re-form several old legionary formations from the Caesarian colonies;
- Marcus Antonius (Antony), ex Magister Equestris (‘Master of Horse’) to the charismatic Dictator, revived his favourite Legio V Alaudae (‘the Skylarks’) in Northern? Italy.
- Gaius Octavius (Octavian), Caesar’s great-nephew and heir, then only eighteen, was evidently in possession of a degree of his uncle’s charismatic personality, because he was able to very quickly re-form VII and VIII in Campania.
- Marcus Aemilius Lepidus re-established VI, X, and possibly one more legion, from the Caesarian colonies in Transalpine Gaul.
- Ventidius Bassus also attempted to reform VII, VIII and IX from veterans in Italy, but it is uncertain whether any of his formations survived for very long and it is possible that they were all disbanded before Philippi.
As the only remaining consul, and thus the highest official in Rome, Antony offered a compromise solution to stabilise the state by ratifying all of Caesar’s statutes in exchange for immunity for the assassins. Cassius and Brutus were given quasi-diplomatic missions in the eastern Adriatic, and the self-styled ‘Liberators’ were quickly removed from the political hotbed of Rome. However, this was seen by some of Caesar’s veterans as another act of betrayal.
When the will of Caesar was made public, it became apparent that Caesar had adopted his sister’s grandson Gaius Octavius as the heir to his estates. Octavian was in Macedonia at the time, training for his first stint in the legions as a Military Tribune in the projected Parthian campaigns. When the news of his great-uncle’s death reached him he immediately decided to return to Rome to lay claim to his inheritance. Antony brushed aside requests by Octavian for his great-uncle’s papers and his family’s money, primarily because he had tampered with the former and had dipped his fingers in the latter. After Cicero the orator had joined in the public humiliation of the young man, Octavian’s fate seemed to have been sealed.
Political Discord and the Second Triumvirate
Antony had pursuaded the senate to give him the governorship of Gaul instead of Macedonia which had been allotted him, and also to transfer the six legions then stationed in Macedonia to his own province. Whilst Antony was personally supervising the landing of the first four of these legions at Brundisium, Octavian decided to try to strengthen his political position by appealing to the Veterans of VIII Gallica and VII Paterna in Campania. Thousands of disaffected veterans answered his call and before long, the standards of two old Caesarian legions were dusted-off, anointed, and thus purified, once again proudly displayed.
The reformation of VII and VIII shocked the Roman Senate into accepting that Octavian posed a serious political threat, and when two of Antony’s Macedonian legions (IIII Macedonica and Legio Martia ¹) declared for Octavian and marched north to join forces with him, the Senate began also to seriously doubt their judgement regarding Antony, who had for his own personal safety, departed north to Cisalpine Gaul with his remaining two legions (II and XXXV) and subsequently besieged Mutina, wherein Decimus Brutus, one of Caesar’s assassins was encamped.
The following year (43bce) the Senate did a remarkable political U-turn, granting Octavian the powers of a praetor and encouraging him to join with the appointed consuls Hirtius and Pansa in a campaign against Antony. Octavian’s veteran soldiers proved to be extremely effective in battle, being twice victorious against Antony’s forces, first at Forum Gallorum and then a few days later at Mutina. The two consuls, however, were not so lucky; Pansa died from wounds recieved during Forum Gallorum, and Hirtius was killed during the course of Mutina. Decimus Brutus attempted escape to Greece during the confusion but was captured by Antony, who immediately put him to death even though he was consul-elect. Antony then retired thru Gaul to lick his wounds, and was to recieve help from his old associate Marcus Lepidus, then governor of Transalpine Gaul and Nearer Spain.
Realising a stalemate, Lepidus, Antony and Octavian formed a private pact to split the Roman empire between them, and the senate were coerced into passing a law, the lex titia, which confirmed: Triumviri rei publicae constituendae, or ‘Three Men to reorder the state’. Lepidus was assigned the provinces of Africa and Sicilia, Antony recieved Cisalpine Gaul and Octavian, Gallia Narbonensis and Spain.
Another of the Eighth Legions’ titles, Mutinensis, was awarded after the Battle of Mutina in 43bce. The name was short-lived, however, as the tide of fortune changed and The Second Triumvirate was formed the following year, it was no longer appropriate for Octavian to celebrate the victory over Antony at Mutina, so the title was dropped.
The Partitioning of the Empire
The first task that the newly formed Triumvirate set themselves was to hunt-down the surviving republican murderers of Julius Caesar. A series of vicious proscriptions began, which was to end with the deaths of over 130 senators and 2,000 equestrians at Rome, and culminated in two consecutive battles at Philippi in 42bce. The combined army of Antony and Octavian was here victorious against the forces of Caius Cassius Longinus on 26th October, and against Marcus Junius Brutus on 16th November. Both republican generals committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of their protagonists.
Following Philippi, and the end of republican power, Antony went to the East and Octavian took his VII and VIII legions back to Italy, together with IV Macedonica, which had defected to him in the summer of 44. These legions were to campaign with Octavian in Gaul and Spain throughout the next decade, and colonists of the Eighth are attested at Teanum in 41bce, and at Forum Julii c.36bce.
When Antony spurned his lawful wife Octavia (36bce), the elder sister of Octavian, and took to his bed Cleopatra the promiscuous queen of Egypt, Octavian was in no position to do anything as Antony still had powerful friends at Rome. When Antony attempted to establish an Oriental-style sultanate and made gifts of Roman territories to Cleopatra, Octavian caused Antony’s will, which had been lodged in Rome under the protection of the Vestal virgins, to be made public. Antony’s will was seen to be traitorous, and the senate declared Antony an outlaw of the state.
The Battle of Actium on 2nd September 31bce marked the end of Mark Antony’s power, he committed suicide by falling on his own sword when he heared (falsely) that Cleopatra had been killed, and Cleopatra, upon recieving news of Antony’s death, killed herself by the application of serpent’s poison. The entire Roman world now belonged to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus.
It is very likely that Legio VIII were active at Antium, as they were stationed nearby in the Balkans from 30bce onwards.
V Macedonica and VII and VIII Augusta almost certainly served in Asia Minor during the early part of Augustus’ reign, possibly under a legate in Galatia, which would have been after c.25bce when Galatia became part of Rome following the death of King Amyntas.
A vexillation of VIII Augusta is reported during Augustus’ reign at the Magdalensberg hillfort in Noricum. A vexillation are also believed to have accompanied Claudius to Britain in ad43.
The last of the Eighth Legions’ known official titles, Augusta, very likely signifies its reconstitution by Augustus after Actium, or it may have been awarded after an unrecorded victory during the period 27bce to ad14. For more information on the reconstitution of the legions by Augustus, Vide Legio II Augusta. For the activities of Legio VIII Augusta in Germany from ad6, vide Legio XIV Gemina.
Sided With Vespasian
The legion declared for Vespasian during the civil war uprising against Vitellius in ad69, and formed part of the victorious Flavian army. VIII Augusta was later numbered among the five Italian legions sent by the Flavian caretaker Mucianus to bolster the four already under the command of Quintus Petillius Cerialis and Appius Amicus Gallus, and helped them to crush the revolt of Julius Civilis in Batavia and Germania Inferior in ad69. Following the capitulation of Civilis there was a general shake-up of the legions and VIII Augusta was posted to Argentoratum (Strasbourg) on the Rhenus frontier to avoid their being stationed near any legion against which they had been opposed in the field of battle.
Further Service in Britain under Hadrian
A vexillation of VIII Augusta was seemingly dispatched to Britain from the Rhine under Hadrian. A shield-boss recovered from the River Tyne was inscribed with the name of its owner; ‘Junius Dubitatus of the Century of Julius Magnus of VIII Augusta’, and attests to their being posted on the Wall.
Evidence for Legio VIII Augusta in Britain
Other Epigraphic Evidence for Legion VIII Augusta
(C.I.L., xiii, 7731)
An altar, found at Argentoratum (Strasbourg), erected by Tertinius Severus, a Beneficiarius Consularis of VIII Augusta.
Legio Martia, whose exploits are recorded by Appian, Dio, Valerius Maximus and Cicero, is only ever referred to by name, the numeral associated with this legion is not known. A clue is given by Valerius Maximus, which places the legion in Africa in 46bce. We know that in this year there were five legions based in Africa Province; XXVI, XXVII, XXIX, XXX and perhaps XXV. Martia must, therefore, be associated with one of these numerals.
References for Legio Octae Augusta – The Eighth Augustan Legion
Legio VIII Augusta and the Claudian Invasion by Lawrence J.F. Keppie, in Britannia II (1971) pp.149-155.