Legio II Augusta

Legio II Augusta’s Early History

Legio II Augusta may be identified with the II Sabina reported on an inscription of a Civil War veteran at Venafrum (Venafro). It may also be identifiable with the II Gallica, the veterans of which received land at Arausio (Orange) in 36-35bce and are commemorated on the Augustan arch there.

At the Battle of Mutina on 14th March 43bce, Marcus Antonius’ two legions (II and XXXV) were caught in a pincer movement between the consular armies of Gaius Vibius Pansa who was encamped at Forum Gallorum, and Aulus Hirtius, whose two legions (IV and VII) fell upon their rear. Both legions were smashed and the survivors put to flight. The story is narrated in a letter from Sulpicious Galba (ancestor of the later emperor), a legate in the army of Hirtius, to the orator Cicero.

Legio II Augusta Reconstituted Under Augustus

In 27 bce the senate granted Octavian unprecedented civil and military powers, and bestowed on him the title Augustus. Following this, one of his first thoughts was to the composition of his army, which had been in disarray since the Civil Wars. He substantially reformed the legions, by disbanding those whose previous loyalties had brought them under suspect, creating colonies for the veteran soldiers and forming new legions loyal to himself. The three imperial legions II, III and VIII, which are all entitled Augusta or ‘Augustan’, specifically identify them as formations during his principate.

Augustus turned his attention to Spain c.25bce and launched a series of lengthy campaigns against the tribes of the Iberian Peninsula, notably the Cantabrians and Asturians. These campaigns were to continue until 13bce. We know of seven legions which took part; I, II Augusta, IIII Macedonica, V Alaudae, VI Victrix, IX Hispana, and X Gemina. Two of these were former Antonian legions (V and X), transferred to the west after Actium, and some were perhaps brought by Augustus himself from Gaul. Of the total of seven legions sent to Spain by Augustus, only four survived, II Augusta was one, the others being IV Macedonia, VI Victrix and X Gemina. The whereabouts of the legionary fortress(es) used by Legio II Augusta during the Spanish campaigns are currently unknown.

Following the Varus disaster in the Teutoberger Forest of Germany in AD9, the legion was transferred by Augustus from their lost fortress in Spain to Argentoratum (Strasbourg) in the Alsace region of north-eastern France, close to the border with Germany. They continued to garrison the fortress here until the rule of Claudius when they were withdrawn for use in the invasion of Britain.

Movements in Britain

The legion was present in the invasion force of the imperial propraetor Aulus Plautius in AD43, during which it was placed under the command of the young legionary legate Titus Flavius Vespasianus, later to become emperor. The legion was apparently split into smaller detachments or vexillationes and stationed in small campaign (or ‘vexillation’) fortresses at Chichester in West Sussex and at Park Farm near Corfe Mullen in Dorset, possibly also in a number of other forts throughout south-west Britain, until c. AD48 when the legionary fortress at Isca Dumnonorum (Exeter) was constructed.

The legionary force in Britain underwent a reformation during the governorship of Marcus Trebellius Maximus in AD67 following the withdrawal of Legion XIV Gemina to the continent by Nero; the Second Augusta was moved from Isca to Gloucester (Glevum) near the mouth of the Severn, there replacing Legio XX Valeria Victrix who were themselves moved to Viroconivm Cornoviorum (Wroxeter) Legionary Fort in the Welsh Marches, recently evacuated by the Fourteenth.

Vitellius in AD69 demoted all of II Augusta’s centurions, for their open preference of Vespasian (Tacitus, Histories, III:44). They were subsequently re-instated at their former ranks by Vespasian following his rise to power that same year.

The legion was moved from Gloucester to a new fortress more strategically located at Isca Silurum (Caerleon, West Glamorgan) in South Wales c. AD75.

The legion remained in reserve at Caerleon throughout Agricola’s governorship (c. AD78 to 84) but was apparently active during the construction of the Stanegate military highway, with detachments being stationed on the Tyne at Corbridge (Corstopitum) in Northumberland.

The entire legion apart from a small caretaker force, plus detachments of Legio VI Victrix and Legio XX Valeria Victrix, was put to work on the construction of Hadrian’s Wall during the governorship of governor Platorius Nepos, between AD122 and c.125. This great barrier was garrisoned by auxiliary cohorts, the legionaries engaged in its construction being withdrawn to their rearward fortresses for the winter months and resuming their work on the wall during the following campaign season.

The legion (again with vexillations from Legio VI Victrix and Legio XX Valeria Victrix) was used also in the construction of the Antonine Wall during the governorship of governor Quintus Lollius Urbicus, between AD139 and 142. This barrier earthwork was also garrisoned by the auxilia, there being no known legionary camps connected with its construction.

The large temporary camp at Carpow on the south bank of the Tay became a permanent campaign fort in the Severan period ( AD208-11), featuring massive stone buildings and a garrison formed from detachments of both II Augusta and VI Victrix; some of II and VI were possibly stationed at Cramond near Edinburgh on the Forth during this same time.

Legionary Standards

  • Capricorn – Meaning the legion was formed by Augustus. Capricorn was Augustus’ own birth-sign, and he considered it ‘lucky’. The Capricorn emblem was also adopted by Legio XIV Gemina.
  • Pegasus – Meaning unknown. It has been suggested by Raymond Selkirk, that the pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology, may indicate this legion’s capability to strike behind enemy lines due to its’ familiarity with amphibious assaults, which were learned during expeditions across the Rhine. The pegasus has also been attributed to III Augusta. [The pegasus emblem is still used by the military to this day, in the main by modern airborne-assault batallions. ]
  • Mars – Precise meaning unknown, but the Roman God of War would be a natural emblem for any legion to adopt.

Documentary Evidence for Legio II Augusta in Britain

Ptolemy’s Geography; early second century ad

… Next to these,¹ but more to the west, are the Dumnoni,² whose towns are: … Isca,³ where is located Legio II Augusta 17*30 52°45 …’

  1. The Durotriges tribe.
  2. The Dumnonii tribe.
  3. Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter, Devon).

See The Geography of Ptolemy .

The Antonine Itinerary; late second century ad
ITER XII – Item a Muriduno Viroconium mpm. clxxxvi sic … Iscae leg. ii Augusta xxvii …
ROUTE TWELVE – The route from Muridunum¹ to Viroconium,² one-hundred and eighty-six thousand paces. … Isca Silurum³ and the Second Augustan Legion, twenty-seven [miles from Bomium near Bridgend] …
  1. The station Muridunum is unidentified.
  2. Viroconium Cornoviorum (Wroxeter, Shropshire).
  3. Isca Silurum (Caerleon, Gwent).

See Antonine Itinerary.

The Notitia Dignitatum; 4th/5th century
XXVIII … Sub dispositione uiri spectabilis comitis litoris Saxonici per Britanniam … Praefectus legionis secundae Augustae, Rutupis …
‘Chapter Twenty-Eight … At the disposal of the respectable man, the Count of the Saxon shore in Britain: … The prefect of the Second Augustan Legion at Rutupiae¹ …’
  1. Rutupiae aut Portus Ritupis (Richborough, Kent).

See Notitia Dignitatum.

Epigraphic Evidence for Legio II Augusta in Britain

There is masses of epigraphic evidence on stone for the presence of this legion in Britain. The legion had fortresses at Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter, Devon) on the south coast, at Glevum (Gloucester, Gloucestershire) on the Severn Estuary and at Isca Silurum (Caerleon, West-Glamorgan) in South Wales where the legion was to spend almost it’s entire stay in Britain, with inscriptions on stone dateable from the late-first to the mid-third centuries. Legionary detachments were stationed at Corbridge (Corstopitum) on the Stanegate and are amply attested on both the Hadrianic frontier in Northern England and the Antonine frontier in lowland Scotland. There is avidence also for the legion being active in the Severan campaigns in northern Scotland during the early-third century, at which time a vexillatio was responsible for building (and presumably garrisoning) the campaign fortress at Carpow near the mouth of the Tay.

London (3, 17, 19), Bath (146, 147), Caerwent (311), Caerleon (322, 324, 326, 327, 330, 331, 334, 357, 360, 361, 363, 365-68, 385), Usk (396), Castell Collen (417a), Chester (488, 509), Ilkley (638), Watercrook (752), Maryport (852), Cardewlees (913), Carlisle (964a), Netherby (974, 980), Bewcastle (991, 995, 996), Cumberland Quarries (998, 999, 1001, 1008), Piercebridge (1027a), Chester-le-Street (1050), Corbridge (1127, 1136, 1147, 1148, 1154-58, 1177), High Rochester (1297), Wallsend (1299, 1308), Newcastle (1322), Benwell (1330, 1341-44), Hadrian’s Wall (many), Halton Chesters (1428), Housesteads (1582/3), Chesterholm/Vindolanda (1696, 1702, 1707), Birdoswalds (1880, 1916), Cramond (2137), Bridgeness (2139), Castlecary (2146), Bar Hill (2171), Auchendavy (2174-77, 2179-81, 2186), Cadder (2188), Balmuildy (2191-93, 2203/4), Antonine Wall (2209), Carpow (2213a), Scotland (2214), Antonine Wall near Bar Hill (2312).