Legio Sextae Victrix – The Sixth Victorious Legion

Originated from Caesar’s Sixth Legion?

When Julius Caesar moved north in his official capacity as governor of Illyricum and the Gallic provinces in 58bce, a Legio VI was one of the garrison units he found on his arrival. Raised in Cisalpine Gaul in 52, Caesar’s Sixth Legion served with him during his tenure as governor and was withdrawn to Spain in 49, later seeing action at Pharsalus, Alexandria and Munda, during which time it earned the name Ferrata, meaning ‘Ironclad’. The legion was disbanded in 45 establishing a colony at Arelate (Arles), but was re-formed by Lepidus the following year and given over to Marcus Antonius the year after that. Following the defeat of the republican generals Cassius and Brutus in successive battles at Philippi in 42 and the subsequent division of control between Antony and Octavian, a colony was again formed from retired veterans at Beneventum in 41 and the remainder of Legio VI Ferrata was taken by Antony to the East.

Another Legio VI evidently saw action at Perusia in 41bce, which presents us with a problem because the official Legio VI Ferrata was at that moment with Anthony in the East. This is explained in Lawrence Keppie’s excellent book The Making of the Roman Army – from Republic to Empire (p.134):

“Octavian did not hesitate to duplicate legionary numerals already in use by Antony. The latter had serving with him V Alaudae, VI Ferrata and X Equestris. Soon we find Octavian’s army boasting of a V (the later Macedonica), VI (the later Victrix) and X (soon to be Fretensis). Of these, V and X, and less certainly VI, bore under the empire a bull-emblem which would normally indicate a foundation by Caesar; but the true Caesarian legions with these numerals (Alaudae, Ferrata and Equestris) were with Antony.” (Keppie, p.134)

It would seem, therefore, that Octavian had again used the veterans of Caesars Sixth Legion, this time from those left at Beneventum, to form the core of his own Sixth Legion used at Perusia.

Incidentally, Antony’s VI Ferrata was severely mauled at the Battle of Actium in 31bce by the forces loyal to Caesar’s nephew and heir, Octavian. Following Actium, another colony of veterans seems to have been created at Byllis, probably together with soldiers from other legions, whereafter the remainder of VI Ferrata was moved to Syria where it was to remain.

In conclusion, it is possible that both Octavian’s VI Victrix and Anthony’s VI Ferrata, originated from Caesar’s Sixth Legion.

Service in Spain

The campaigns of Marcus Agrippa against the Cantabrian and Asturian tribes of Spain between 27-13bce was to be very costly in terms of Roman manpower. Agrippa was to use seven legions during these campaigns, of which only four survived. The pacification of the Spanish tribes must have been complete, however, as the strength of the resident garrison was reduced in AD9 by the removal of Legio II Augusta to Strasbourg, leaving three legions to secure Spain; IV Macedonica, VI Hispaniensis and X Gemina.

Boundary stones marking the extent of the prata legionis (‘legion’s pastureland’) of Legio IV Macedonica, prove that this legion was stationed at or near Aguilar de Campo on the Pisurga River. The name Aguilar derives from the Latin Aquila or ‘Eagle’, and the modern place name may be translated as ‘The Field of Eagles’, indicative perhaps, of the time when the Eagles of the Roman legions held dominion over the area. Unfortunately, the legionary fortresses of the other two remaining units of the late Augustan garrison, Legio VI Hispaniensis and Legio X Gemina, are not certainly known, but probably occupied sites securing the valleys of tributaries of the Douro.

Colonia Caesarea Augusta (Zaragoza) was probably established in 19bce by veterans from legions IV, VI and X.

Legio VI became known as Hispaniensis from its service in Spain but the date of the award is not known. The origin of the title Victrix (literally ‘Victorious’) is pre-Augustan, and was awarded after an outstanding victory, perhaps during the campaigns of Marcus Agrippa against the Astures (vide Legio II Augusta).

In Batavian Campaign Against Civilis

Legio VI Victrix was one of three legions (others being I Adiutrix and X Gemina) taken from Spain in AD69, that comprised part of the Flavian force of nine legions under Mucianus, sent to counter the Revolt of Civilis. In the general shake-up of the legions following the revolt, made primarily to ensure no disharmonious factions were left within the Rhine armies, VI Victrix was stationed at Novaesium on the Rhine.

It is possible that VI Victrix was reduced in strength during the second Dacian war when vexillations from the Rhine army were used to reinforce the Danube frontier. Several cohorts of IX Hispana could then have been sent from Britain as replacements for VI Victrix at Vetera on the Lower Rhine c. AD108.

Movements in Britain

It is thought that Legio VI Victrix was brought to Britain from [Vetera? in] Germany in AD122 by Platorius Nepos when he assumed governorship of the province. It is around this time that Legio IX Hispana disappeared from Britain, and the Sixth Legion may have been sent to replace it.

The Sixth Legion was certainly present at the very start of construction on Hadrian’s Wall as they are attributed with the construction of the first bridge over the River Tyne at Pons Aelius (Newcastle, Tyne & Wear) in AD122, also at many forts and stations along the barrier wall.

Vexillations of VI Victrix and XX Valeria Victrix, were used in construction work on the Antonine Wall, along with almost all of II Augusta during the governorship of Quintus Lollius Urbicus in the period AD139 to 142.

A dedication was set up at the legionary supply base at Corbridge (Corstopitum) by an officer of VI Victrix to Mars Ultor (Mars the Avenger), under Julius Verus; this may be dated to the revolt of the Brigantes tribe in AD155 which was ultimately to cause the withdrawal of troops from the Antonine Wall back to Hadrian’s Wall.

Active in Caledonian Campaigns of Severus

In response to raids by northern tribes, between AD197 and 205 Septimus Severus reorganised the forces, including VI Victrix along Hadrian’s Wall. During the years AD208-211 the situation in Britain warranted the personal attention of the emperor. Severus himself took to action in the field with his son Caracalla fighting beside him. Presumably VI Victrix was used during these campaigns against the barbarous Caledonian tribes.

Following the death of Severus, Caracalla returned to Rome where he issued coins in AD212 celebrating a victory, presumably over the Caledones of northern Britain. Vexillations of VI Victrix and II Augusta were left behind as an occupying garrison, stationed at Carpow on the south bank of the Tay and possibly also at Cramond near Edinburgh on the Firth of Forth.

Documentary Evidence for Legio VI Victrix in Britain

Ptolemy’s Geography; early second century ad

‘… Below the Selgovae and Otalini are the Brigantes extending to both seas, among whom are the following towns: … Eboracum,¹ Legio VI Victrix 20*00 57°20 …’

  1. Eburacum (York, North Yorkshire).
The Antonine Itinerary; late second century ad
ITER I – A limite, id est a vallo, Praetorio usque mpm. clvi … Eburacum, leg. vi victrix, xvii …
“Route One – From the frontier at the entrenchments¹ to Praetorium,² one hundred and fifty-six thousand paces. … Colonia Eboracensium³ and the Sixth Victorious Legion, seventeen [miles from Aldborough] …”
  1. i.e. Hadrian’s Wall.
  2. Praetorium aut Praesidium (Bridlington, Humberside).
  3. Colonia Eboracensium (York, North Yorkshire).
The Notitia Dignitatum; 4th/5th century ad
XL … Sub dispositione uiri spectabilis ducis Britanniarum: Praefectus legionis sextae …
“Chapter Forty … At the disposal of the respectable man, the Duke of the Britains: The prefect of the Sixth Legion …”

Epigraphic Evidence for Legio VI Victrix in Britain

London (11), Bath (139, 143/4), Lincoln (252), Manchester (575), Tunshill Park (582), Ribchester (583), Slack (624), York (653, 654, 658, 669, 670, 671, 675?, 679, 685, 690, 707c), Greta Bridge (747), Watercrook (754), Braugham (783), Papcastle (884), Netherby (981), Bewcastle (997b), Cumberland Quarries (1019), Piercebridge (1025, 1027a), Binchester (1038), South Shields (1057, 1061, 1070a, 1070d, 1070e), Corbridge (1120, 1122, 1125, 1131, 1132, 1137, 1159-63, 1175), Whitley Castle (1199), Risingham (1239), High Rochester (1283, 1292), Wallsend (1305), Newcastle (1329, 1330, 1322), Rudchester (1398), Halton Chesters (1427, 1429, 1430), Chesters (1460/1, 1471), Carrawburgh (1547), Housesteads (1577, 1609), Chesterholm (1684), Great Chesters (1746), Carvoran (1779), Birdoswald (1907, 1929c), Castlesteads (2000), Stanwix (2027), Bowness (2061), Hadrian’s Wall (many), Birrens (2112, 2113), Castlecary (2146, 2148, 2151), Croy Hill (2160-63), Westerwood (2164a), Auchendavy (2185), Balmuildy (2194, 2196, 2200, 2205).

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