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Legio VI Victrix

During the Batavian revolt, the legion was transferred from Spain to the rhine in 69/70 AD. Until the turn from first to second century AD it was stationed at the legions fortress of Novaesium (Neuss) and then at Vetera II in the vicinity of Xanten. It remained there at the latest until 122 AD, when it was moved to Eburacum (York) in Great Britain.

Against Celts, Romans and other enemies: Cesar’s glorious 6th

"Quintum Tullium Ciceronem et
Publium Sulpicium Cavalloni et
Matiscone in Haeduis ad Ararim
rei frumentariae causa conlocat."

"Quintus Tullius Cicero and Publius Sulpicius
were positionated for the safty of grain supply
at Cavillonum and Matiso at the Saone
into the area of the Haeduer."

(Caesar: De bello Gallico VII; 90,7)

Thus described Gaius Iulius Cesar his troop deployment in the winter of 52 BC ("De bello Gallico"). Among these units was Cesar’s legio VI. This legion was the foundation of two younger legions, legio VI Ferrata and legio VI Victrix. It is first mentioned in the 8th volume of "de bello Gallico", when Cesar ordered legions VI and XIV to leave their winter encampments on the river Saone (Bell Gall. VIII 4,3).

In the Roman civil war against Pompeius, two great battles took place in the year 48 BC. After his defeat at Dyrrhachium (Durazzo), which Pompeius was unable to exploit, Cesar claimed a decisive victory at Pharsalos on August 8th 48 BC. Legio VI was always at Cesar’s side. Gaius Suetonis Tranquillus (70 - 146 AD) described - reminiscent of hero worship - that a single cohort of legio VI held of 4 Pompeian legions at a fort for hours at the battle of Dyrrhachium, before it was almost entirely annihilated by 130000 arrows (Sueton; Caesar 68).

The 6th was also to be found at the battle of Pharsalos. Commanded by Decimus Calvinius, it formed the center of Cesar’s line, joined by two newly founded legions. Following the defeat at Pharsalos, in which he lost between 6000 and 10000 men, Pompeius fled to Egypt. Cesar pursued him to Egypt with 2 legions, one that he brought from Thessalia and another that he drew from the forces of his legate Quintus Fufius. Upon his arrival, Cesar learnt of Pompeius’ murder by the court of King Ptolemai VIII. In the following conflict, the so-called Alexandrinian wars, the bulk of Cesar’s forces consisted of those 2 legions that he brought. The one from Thessalia, in fact, was legio VI, at this point a veteran unit.

After the successful outcome of the war in Egypt and the enthronement of Cleopatra VIII as queen, Cesar marched to Asia Minor. In the shadow of the Roman civil war, Phanarces of Pontus, son of Mithridates VI Eupator, had tried to re-consolidate his father’s realm there. On 6/12/47 BC the two armies clashed at Zela in a decisive battle. Due to the earlier campaigns, the 6th was less than 1000 strong. After an audacious surprise attack by Phanarces, Cesar - personally commanding this legion - was able to push the hostile forces back and thereby to achieve the step to victory. "Veni, vidi, vici", Cesar had those words announced in Rome to exemplify the quickness of his Asian campaign.

The veterans of legio VI were settled in Arelate (Arles) after the conclusion of this war. Their colony was leter to be named Iulia Peterna Arelatensium Sextanorum. When war broke out with the sons of Pompeius in Spain in 45 BC, it’s possible that legio VI followed Cesar to war once more. The names of the 2 legions that sprang off from it, the legio VI Ferrata (The Iron) and legio VI Victrix (The Victorious) are a testimony to the glory of this legion of Cesar’s.

Victrix / Hispania: "Salve Galba Imperator noster!"

At the time of the second triumvirate between Octavian, Marcus Antonius and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, probably as early as the twin battles against Cesar’s murderers at Philippi (42 BC), the two legions that succeeded the former VI already existed. It’s quite likely that, when Octavian fought Lucius Antonius (Marcus Antonius’ brother) in the Perusian campaign, the legio VI that served among his forces was legion VI Victrix, because legio VI Ferrata was later commanded by Marcus Antonius. Therefore it can be assumed that legio VI Victrix fought with Octavian during the war against Marcus Antonius, the war against Egypt (32-30BC).

Starting with the principate of Octavian Augustus, Legio VI was stationed in Spain- The legion participated in putting down the revolt of the Cantabarans and Asturians in north-western Spain. The legions campsite in Spain is unknown today. It is known though that it must’ve been somewhere in Gallaetia (Hispania citerior). Apparently it shared the camp with legio X Gemina, according to Strabon. In the mid first century AD new uprisings were reported in Asturia with the victorious taking part in its quelling. During the reign of Nero (58-68 AD) legio X Gemina received orders to relocate to Pannonia where it replace legio XV Apollinaris at Carnuntum, which in turn was ordered to the east. Thereby, legio VI was the only legion left in Spain between 63 and 68. Its martial duties were probably limited to putting down local uprising.

In 68 AD, Marcus Salvius Otho, governor of Lusitania, and Servius Sulpicius Galba, governor of Hispania Taraconensis, joined Gaius Julius Vindex, governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, in rebellion against Nero. Because Vindex refused to become emperor in case of victory, Galba, his power based on the only legion under his command, the VI, had himself proclaimed "legate of the senate and the Roman people" in Carthago Noca on 4/2/68. Following his proclamation, Galba began to increase his military might by raising a new legion which accompanied him to Rome after Nero had committed suicide and he had been confirmed as emperor by the senate. To honor the loyal legio VI Victrix, this new legion received the number VII. It was later named legio VII Gemina. This same year, the new legio VII replaced legio X in Pannonian Carnuntum. The latter legion was then ordered back to Spain. The office of emperor passed to Aulus Vitellius from April through December 69, after Galba has been assassinated and his successor Otho had been defeat by Vitellius’ forces at Bedriacum on 4/17/69 and committed suicide. Vitellius moved yet another legion to Spain, legio I Adiutrix, that had been raised by Galba from marines at the end of 68 AD, thus increasing the count of legions stationed on the Iberian peninsula to 3. In July 69 the Roman forces in Egypt, Syria and Judaea broke away from Vitellius and proclaimed Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus emperor. The Danubian army, commanded by Marcus Antonius Primus, followed suit and marched on Italy, where it dealt a defeating blow to Vitellius at the second battle of Bedriacum, near Cremona. After this battle, the Spanish legions joined Vespasian’s side; a decision that was spearheaded by legio I Adiutrix.

After the death of Vitellius and the taking of office by Vespasian, strong troop-contingents were assembled to quell the Batavian revolt on the Rhine. Thus, two of the Spanish legions, legio I Adiutrix and legi VI Victrix, the latter having been stationed in Spain for about a century, left for the rhine. No incident had been reported in which the legio VI served outside of Spain during the time it had been station there, in fact, the identification of this legion with Spain appeared to be so strong that it was also called legio VI Hispana.

Victrix / Germania: A legion in the army of Cerealis

The situation on the Rhine had been getting troublesome for the Romans. The Batavian chieftain Iulius Civilis, who had received Roman military training, used the wars of succession to lead the Germanic auxiliary units in rebellion against Rome. He was soon supported by other German tribes, some of them originating from lands east of the Rhine.

This seemed to have served as a signal, as soon thereafter the Treverians rose up as well, led by Iulius Tutor and Iulius Classicus. The loyal forces could not resist successfully. The besieged forts and fortresses were surrendere. Only Mogontiacum (Mainz) and Vindonissa (Windisch) were held successfully. All camps north of Mogontiacum were razed and a great part of the Roman army of the Rhine capitulated, some even pledging their loyalty to the leaders of the revolt. In 70 AD the Imperium Galliarum was proclaimed by the rebels at Colonia Claudia Ara Aggripinensium (Cologne).

Thus was the situation when Quintus Petillius Cerialis took command of the forces that were being drawn together from all over the empire. His mission, which he accomplished by winning two major battles was the quelling of this rebellion. It has already been mentioned that the sixth had left Spain for Germany. According to Tacitus, the legion caught up with Ceralis forces after the victorious first battle, at Trier, and , arriving with 2 other legions, doubling the Roman forces. The defeated Civilis meanwhile withdrawn towards Xanten to regroup his forces. Cerealis pursued the enemy and finally managed to the deciding battle on him in the vicinity of Xanten, probably in July of 70 AD. Before the battle, Cerealis rallied his forces once more, by reminding them of their deeds of glory, may they be done already or yet to be done in the future. For legio VI Victrix he stressed that Galba owed having been made Emperor largely to them.

By employing a true hail of missiles followed up by a quick, heavy-hitting assault, the rebels were able to push back the Roman auxiliary untis. But the rush ground to a halt when Roman legionary forces were employed.. After 2 alae, guided by a defector, had circumvented the enemy, a frontal attack by the legions routed the enemy. After the battle, legio XIV Gemina was relocated to the upper Rhine, which Cerealis was compensated for by having put the 3rd Spanish legion, legio X Gemina, under his command. This compensation seemed necessary because, although defeated in battle, Civilis had retreated north, and was still - albeit without success - attacking Roman forces on the Rhine. It took until the winter of 70/71 to end this conflict - by negotiations - after another evasive maneuver by Civils and the devastation of the Batavian island by Cerealis. As consequences of this rebellion, Germanic auxiliary units were stationed far from their homes and commanded by foreign officers. After the end of the uprising, Vespasian had to completely reorganize the Rhine army.

Four legions, legio I Germanica, legio IV Macedonia, legio XV Primigenia and legio XVI Gallica were disbanded for cowardice, treason and collaboration with the enemy. Following the reorganization of the German legions, four, shortly thereafter five were stationed in the upper-German, 4 in the lower-German military district. Among the latter was legio VI Victrix. As early as 70 AD construction was begun on the castrae destroyed by the rebels. The 6th legion, for example, began rebuilding the legionary fortress at Novaesium, where it was to be quartered. Bricks with imprints of the legion’s stamps bear evidence of the legion’s work. Elements of the legion were also breaking stone in the valley of the Brohl. In the summer of 73, legio VI finally erected a monument on the very spot of the battle of Vetera, commemorating the Roman victory over the ambitions and hopes of Civilis.

Victrix / Germania: Pia Fidelis Domitiana

An uprising of the Brukters in 77 AD was put down by Gaius Rutilius Gallicus, in command of the lower-German troops. Quite likely legio VI participated in this action. During Domitians reign (81-96 AD), another rebellion occurred in 88/89 AD. Using 2 legion based at Mogontiacum (Mainz), legio XIV Gemina and legio XXI Rapax, the upper-German commander Gaius Antonius Saturnius rose up against Domitian. He was soon joined by the Chatts. The commander of the lower-German legion, Bucius Lappius Maximus, consequently moved his forces towards Mogontiacum. In the deciding battle at Rigomagus (Remagen) the lower-German army defeated Saturnius’ units. The ice covering the Rhine had begun to melt, so that the Chatts cross the river to come to Saturnius’ aid. He died in battle, while Domitian had many of the rebellious officers executed. Quite farsighted, Bucius Lappius Maximus had some of the incriminating evidence destroyed to limit the necessary punishment by the emperor. The 2-legion fortress at Mogontiacum was dissolved after the rebellion. Legio XXI Rapax was relocated to the Danubian frontier that very year, legio XIV followed two years later. The loyal lower-German legions received titles of honor from the emperor: "The loyal, dutiful, Domitian" Thus the sixth was from now on named "legio VI victrix pia fidelis domitiana".

At about the time of the turn of the century the number of legionary fortresses in Germania inferior was reduced to 3, shortly thereafter to 2.The first one to be abandoned was at Novaesium (Neuss), the second one at Noviamagus (Nijmegen). Due to this, legio VI left its camp at Novaesium and moved into the fortress Vetera II, which was left by legio XXI Primigenia. The latter legion had been ordered to Germania superior, being based at the new single-legion fortress at Mogontiacum. After the turn of the century the legions again sent detachments to the stone-breaks of the Brohl. An element of the 6th took part in this, too. It has to be assumed that most of the material was used in the construction of Colonia Ulpia Traiana (Trier), newly founded by emperor Tarjan (98 - 177 AD) in 98 AD. Another construction-material produced by the 6th , namely brick, was widely used in the lower-German area, and can mostly be dated by the presence - or absence - of the honorary title "pia fidelis" in the imprints of the legions stamp as being from the time the legion spent in Neuss or Xanten respectively.

When Trajan needed troops for his first Dacian campaign in 101/102 AD, one of the lower-German legions, legio I Minervia, from Bonna (Bonn) was sent to the Danube. It’s possible that the other legions too sent vexillations (detachments) to serve in this campaign. At this time, the backbone of the Roman border defenses at the lower Rhine consisted of only two legions, legio X Gemina at Nijmegen and legio VI Victrix at Vetera II. This force appeared ample, as this are was considered pacified. It is not quite certain when legio X Gemina left for Aquincum at the Danube , but it must’ve been sometime in between the two Dacian campaigns, probably in 104 AD. As legio I Minervia did not return to Bonna until 107, legio VI Victrix, in the meantime, was the only legionary unit left in Germania inferior.

Under the reign of Hadrian a third legion was again stationed in Germania inferior in 121 AD. This Legion, legio VIII Hispana from Eburacum (York/Britain) was based at the fortress of Noviamagus, vacant since legio X Gemina had left, until the year 130 AD. In the years 117-119 AD conflict with the Brigants had flared up, causing a need for a bigger presence of Roman troops. Possibly the "Victorious" was ordered to Britain during this conflict in 119, accompanied by some vexillations of other legions. Yet, it is also possible that legio VI was transferred later, though at the latest in 122 AD, following the reorganization of the defense of the Britannic borders.

The presence of the VI in Germania, lasting about 50 years, was thus ended. The gap created by the leaving of legio VI was immedeately closed by legio XXX ulpia arriving from Pannonia superior. Doubtlessly, the 6th legion had an important impact on the transition of Germania inferior from military district to province (90AD). It has left traces from it's arrival in Germany until departing for Britain. Traces such as the monument at Xanten, the final stage of construction of the legionary fortress at Novaesium, its name on bricks or the stone breaks in the valley of the brohl as well as work at Colonia Ulpia Traiana are a testimony to the deeds accomplished by this legion. Although its presence at the Rhine was only a minute aspect in legio VI victrix's history, its traces endure to this day.

Victrix / Britannia: Clodius Albinus; backing the wrong horse

In Britain the 6th soon moved into the camp at Eburacum (York), formerly occupied by legio VIIII hispana, after the latter was transferred to Germania inferior. Eburacum was to become the camp the VI spent the most time at. It is notable taht the legion saw action or did work almost everywhere along Hadrian's wall, but apparently did not help in its construction from the year 122 on.

In the years 130 - 138 there were clashes with the Brigants once again. Legio VI victrix could possibly have seen action then. This can be ascertained though for the reign of Antoninus Pius (138 - 161). For the Brigants rose again in 142/143, leading to war, and after roman victory to the construction of a border fortification north of Hadrian's wall. Legio VI victrix participated in errecting this wall of Antoninus Pius in Scotland. Part of this new fortification was destroyed by a new flareup of hostilities in the 150s. This conflict seems to have been a bit more limited so that the three legions of provincia britannia, legio II augusta, legio VI victrix and legio XX valeria victrix, could deal with it alone, possibly supported by vexillations from other legions. It can only be proven that the ranks of the britannic army, decimated by the conflict, were replenished by soldiers from the rhine army in 158.

During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the britannic army, commanded by Sextus Calpurnius Agricola put down yet another uprising in 161/162. The same thing happened during the reign of Commodus (180-192 AD), when Calledonic tribes overran the Antonine Wall and put the Roman forces in distress. Although the enemy was eventually driven back, the border had to be taken back to Hadrian’s wall in 184 AD. In 191 AD a man was made governor who should cause great political upheaval in the years to come. His name was Decimus Clodius Septimus Albinus.

Following the year of the four emperors in 193, the contender to the throne Septimus Severus, who was proclaimed emperor by the Pannonian legions and confirmed by the senate, was opposed by the counter-emperor Pescennius Niger in Syria. In order to act against Niger unopposed, Septimus Severus neutralized another potential contender to the throne, by offering him the title of "Cesar" and thereby hopes to succeed him as emperor. This man was the governor of Britannia, Clodius Albinus. Deceived by the offer, he really kept quiet while Septimus Severus defeated Pescennius Niger in the east in 194/195. But Albinus saw his expectations betrayed, when Severus had his son Lucius Septimus Bassius, called Caracalla, proclaimed emperor. Albinus, who enjoyed many sympathies and was in command of the three Britannic legions as well as the auxiliary units, reacted to Severus action by having himself proclaimed Augustus by his soldiers at the end of 195 or the beginnig of 196 AD. Soon thereafter he crossed over to Gallia, with his army, including legio VI victrix, where he put up his headquarters at Lugdunum (Lyons). His hopes that, after having defeated the governor of Germania inferior, units of the Rhine army would join him were dashed as well as his intentions of crossing into Italy. His opponent Septimus Severus had swiftly had all the passes through the Alps closed by his troops.

In the winter of 196/197 Severus took the initiative and invaded Gallia. He finally forced Clodius Albinus’ army to a deciding battle, after having won several skrimishes, at Lugdunum on 2/19/197. When they met, both armies had to be roughly of equal size.Cassius Dio described in his writings of the Roman history the shifting luck of this battle. Everything was at stake for the two opponents. Routed by the forces of Septimus Severus, the left wing of Albinus’ forces fled back to their camps. The pursuing enemy decimated the fleeing troops even further. At the other side of the battlefield, luck took an entirely different turn at first. There, units of Clodius Albinus’ were able to the enemy into a trap. In the ensuing confusion many of Severus’ soldiers were slain. Septimus Severus recognized the imminent danger and threw his pretorians into the fray. By when this as well was threatened by disaster, and after Severus had lost his horse and was endangered himself, it is said that he joined up with his fleeing forces, ready to fight, and rallied them to make a stand. He was able to motivate his forces and to drive back the pursuing enemy. Yet, many of his own fleeing soldiers were killed - erroneously - by their own comrades, now advancing. A flanking maneuver by his cavalry at the right moment decided the battle in Severus’ favor eventually. (Cassius Dio, LXXVI, 6). Clodius Albinus died fleeing, stabbed to death. Cassius Dio claims that he committed suicide recognizing the desperate situation, but there is no evidence to prove, or disprove, this. Septimus Severus emerged from these battles as sole emperor. But his victory over Albinus had come at the prize of tremendous casualties. Among the sixth legion the toll must have been considerable. The "Victorious", for the first time in its history, was on the losing side of a conflict.

Victrix / Britannia: From death at Eburacum to the time of secessions

To pre-empt further rebellions, Septimus Severus divided the province Britannia into Britannia inferior and Britannia superior . Legio VI Victrix constituted the only legionary unit in Britannia inferior. Septimus Severus died from a severe illness at the fortress of Eburacum, that the 6th still occupied, after successful campaigns that led Roman forces as far as the Marray Firth in Scotland, on 4/2/211.

During the 3rd century AD reports about the history and activities of legio VI Victrix get scarcer. Certain is just that in the 250s vexillations were sent to the Rhine and the Danube, where emperor Gallienus (253-268AD) was desperately trying to make a stand against the assaulting Germanic tribes.

With the proclamation of Postumus as counter-emperor in Cologne in 260, the secession of the Britannic, Gallic, Hispanic and Germanic provinces began, lasting 14 years. This so-called "Gallic Empire", to which Britannia belonged until the death of Postumus, had among its forces the 6th legion. Nothing is known about the it must have conducted on the continent during this time. The presence of Britannia in the imperial fold lasted a mere 18 years.

In 286 the "Britannic Empire" under Carausius (286-293 AD) seceded from the Roman Empire, then ruled by Diocletian (284-305 AD). The secession, which Allectus continued from 293-296 lasted for a total of ten years. Except for the fact that it was still stationed at Eburacum, nothing else is known about the 6th. Constantius Chlorus (305/306) successfully led the defense against the Picts in 306, before he died at Eburacum on July 25th 306.

Victrix / Britannia: Traces into the darkness of history

These battles were probably the last ones in which the legion took part in its old structure. The restructuring of the amry experienced in the 4th century, first under Constantin I(306-337 AD) and later under Valentinian I (364 - 375), led to a quick degradation from top-notch legionary forces to mere border guards, and that was probably a fate shared by legio VI victrix. The new power of the Roman military doctrine now were the Comitatensian mobile forces, stationed in the provincial areas behind the borders, drawn from the empires best forces.

The final mention of the legio VI victrix can be found in the Notitia Dignitatum, an administrative manual from the early 5th century AD, parts of which being as old as 300 AD. The entry, going back to the time of Diocletian, mentions the legions as being a part of the forces of the Dux Britanniorum. It read: "Praefectus legionis sextae victricis Eburaci".

Zeichnung eines römischen Legionärs aus dem Logo der I. Roemercohorte Opladen e.V.