History

Three Hundred and Thirty Six Years of Confirmed Service to the Empire!

Tracing the history of the Roman Legions is a bit like putting together an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. You can figure out the picture, but some details remain unknown.  During Caesar’s time we have his works for reference, but later, especially in the second and third centuries AD, sources are basically limited to inscriptions showing the displacement of the legions.  The following is believed to be accurate, but feel free to send us your source for correction.

The History of Legio VI Ferrata Fidelis Constans

Raised in Cisalpine Gaul in 52 BC by Gaius Julius Caesar, the Sixth Legion served with him during his tenure as governor and fought at the Siege of Alesia, before being stationed at Cabillonum (Chalons-Sur-Saone) in 51 BC and then surpressing a revolt of the Carnutes at Cenabum (Orleans) in 50 BC. In 49 BC it was transferred to Spain to fight in the civil wars, where it earned the title “Hispaniensis” after fighting at Ilerda (Comentarii de Bello Gallico, Caesar). Later seeing action at Dyrrhachium in 48 BC and at the Battle of Pharsalus on August 9th of that year, Julius Caesar took the Sixth to Alexandria to settle the dispute in Egypt with Ptolemy. There Caesar fought the Ptolemaic fleet and besieged the enemy army in their camp, emerging victorious and taking the city (Unknown, De Bello Alexandrino, 16-32). After this, Caesar took the Legion to Syria and then Pontus, where the author of the Alexandrian Wars states:

 

"When he was arriving in Pontus, and had drawn all his forces together, which were not very considerable either for their number or discipline (except for the sixth legion, composed of veteran soldiers, which he had brought with him from Alexandria, and which, by its many labors and dangers, the length of its marches and voyages, and the frequent wars in which it had been engaged, was reduced to less than a thousand men) he had only the legion of Deiotarus, and two more that had been in the late battle between Domitius and Pharnaces..."

 

- De Bello Alexandrino, 69

From 48 BC to 47 BC the Legion campaigned in Pontus, contributing heavily to the victory at the Battle of Zela on August 2nd, 47 BC:

 

"After a sharp and obstinate conflict, victory began to declare itself for us on the right wing, where the sixth legion was posted. The enemy there were totally overthrown, but, in the center and left, the battle was long and doubtful; however, with the assistance of the gods, we at last prevailed there also, and drove them with the utmost precipitation down the hill which they had so easily ascended before."

- De Bello Alexandrino, 76

"He ordered the sixth legion to return to Italy to receive the honors and rewards they had merited; and sent home the auxiliary troops of Deiotarus, and left two legions with Caelius Vincianus to protect the kingdom of Pontus."

- De Bello Alexandrino, 77

The Legion would then be settled as veterans at "Colonia Iulia Paterna Arelatensium Sextanorum" and found the city of Arles, which would become a major administrative center in the Principate. However, the Legion was evidently also present at the Battle of Munda on March 17th, 45 BC. It would be reconstituted by Marcus Aemelius Lepidus, who handed it over to Marcus Antoninus in 43 BC. The Legion fought in the Battle of Phillipi against Brutus and Cassius in 42 BC, after which another group of veterans were settled at Beneventum in Italy (Adkins and Adkins, Life in Ancient Rome).

In 41 BC a certain Sixth Legion is recorded as having fought at the Battle of Perusia, to which Lawrence Keppie suggests that Octavian reduplicated many of the numerals that Caesar used in his legions, forming Legio VI Victrix out of the veterans at Beneventum, along with V Macedonica and X Fretensis, the latter two of which would work with VI Ferrata closely in the future (Lawrence Keppie, The Making of the Roman Army - from Republic to Empire, 134).

In 37 BC Legio VI followed Mark Antony east to Judea, where they assissted in Herod the Great's rise to power. In 36 BC Mark Antony took Legio VI into Parthia, but was forced to retreat to Armenia after an unsuccessful campaign. (Adkins and Adkins, Life in Ancient Rome).

On September 20th, 31 BC both Mark Antony and Octavian fought in Epirus at the Battle of Actium, which pitted Legio VI Ferrata and Legio VI Victrix against each other. Ultimately Octavian emerged victorious, and Legio VI Ferrata was sent back to Judea, while VI Victrix was sent to Spain (Jona Lendering, Legio VI Ferrata, Livius.org).

In 20 BC Augustus' stepson and successor Tiberius employed VI Ferrata, III Gallica, X Fretensis, and XII Fulminata against the Parthians, who would return the standards lost at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC (Jona Lendering, Legio VI Ferrata, Livius.org).

 

In 4 BC, while serving under the current governor of Syria, Publius Quinctilius Varus, Legio VI helped suppress the rebellions of three Jewish messianic claimants (Judas, Simon, and Athronges) before assissting in the struggle between the Roman prince Germanicus and the subsequent Governor of Syria, Piso (Tacitus, Annals, 2.79-81). Around this time (6-3 BC), the historical figure Ieshua ben Iosef (Jesus) of Nazareth was born, who would be put to death by the Jewish people in c. 29-33 AD. It is possible either Legio VI Ferrata or Legio X Fretensis were involved in the events of his life.

 

From roughly 31 BC to 73 AD, Legio VI Ferrata was stationed in Syria. It waas probably based at Raphanaea, or also possibly Cyrrhus or Emesa, and its veterans were settled at Ptolemais, founding the city of Acre (Jona Lendering, Legio VI Ferrata, Livius.org).

In 58 AD, Legio VI Ferrata campaigned under Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo against Armenia, where Legio VI participated in the siege and capture of Volandum, Artaxarta (Yerevan), and Tigranocerta (Pat Southern, The Roman Army: A Social and Institutional History, 301; Tacitus, Annals, 13.39-41) . However, the situation soured after the Parthians defeated IIII Scythica and XII Fulminata at the Battle of Rhandeia in the winter of 62/63 AD, forcing Corbulo to return and fortify the Euphrates with VI Ferrata, III Gallica, and XV Apollinaris (Adrian Goldsworthy, Imperial Legate: Corbulo and Armenia, 318-319). Corbulo then responded in 63 AD by gathering VI Ferrata, III Gallica, and V Macedonica, whose arrival at Melitene persuaded the Parthians to agree to peace (Tacitus, Annals, 15.26-29). Legio VI remained in Armenia for some time before returning to Syria.

In 66 AD Legio XI Fulminata, along with contingents of III Gallica, VI Ferrata and IIII Scythica, were defeated in the First Jewish Revolt at the Battle of Beth Horon.

 

In 69 AD Legio VI Ferrata sided with Mucianis, an ally of Vespasian, in the civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors. A contingent of VI Ferrata would fight against the Dacians, who had crossed the Danube, and continue on to reach Rome in Italy (Tacitus, Histories, 3.46). Upon its return it was stationed in the newly annexed kingdom of Commagene, garrisoning Samosata (Jona Lendering, Legio VI Ferrata, Livius.org).

 

By 106 AD the Legion had been transferred to Bostra in the province of Arabia Superior under the command of Aulus Cornelius Palma Frontonianus. A Vexillatio of it had evidently participated in the Battle of Sarmisegetusa during the Dacian War earlier that year (R.P. Longden, "Notes on the Parthian Campaign of Trajan", Journal of Roman Studies 21 (1931), 35).

 

In 114 AD the Legion campaigned with the emperor Trajan in Armenia, annexing the kingdom, before then moving on to conquer Mesopotamia and Babylonia from the Parthians in 115-116 AD (Jona Lendering, Legio VI Ferrata, Livius.org). After the emperor Hadrian abandoned most of these gains in 118 AD, the Legion returned to Arabia.

 

Legio VI Ferrata participated in the invasion of Palaestina in 132-136 AD, where it participated in the suppression of the Simon Ben Kosiba Revolt. In the year 138 AD it is again found in Palaestina, newly stationed at Caparcotna, but is then briefly sent to Africa under the emperor Antoninus Pius to assist in construciton of a road (Webster, The Roman Imperial Army). By 150 AD, it is again in Palaestina (Adkins and Adkins, Life in Ancient Rome). In 162 AD, it was employed by emperor Lucius Verus in the war against Parthia, where it probably assisted in the Sack of Ctesiphon in 165 AD (Jona Lendering, Legio VI Ferrata, Livius.org).

In 193 AD, Legio VI sided with Lucius Septimus Severus after the assassination of Pertinax, and took up arms against Pescennius Niger. Exactly what happened is not known, but its believed that the war between the Jews and Samarians in 195 AD was in fact part of this Roman civil war, and that Legio VI Ferrata withstood an intense siege by X Fretensis. For these acts it was awarded the last part of its title, "Fidelis Constans" (Jona Lendering, Legio VI Ferrata, Livius.org).

 

In 215 AD, Legio VI is still stationed at Caparcotna in Palaestina (Adkins and Adkins, Life in Ancient Rome). This camp, as well as coins, roof tiles, table legs, and even pieces of lorica squamata dating to the early 3rd century AD, have been recently been found at Al-Lajjun in Israel. Excavations of the fortress of Legio VI at Caparcotna are currently still underway. Bronze coins of the emperor Phillip the Arab found in Caesarea Maritima inscribed with the "VI" stamp on the back continue to place them in Palaestina from 244-249 AD.

 

Under the reign of the emperor Diocletian, from 284-311 AD, Legio VI was stationed at Adrou (Udruh) in Arabia Superior, meaning it had been moved there from Caparcotna some time in the 3rd century AD and begun its integration into the Limes Arabicus. However, the Legion is not listed in the Notitia Dignitatum, meaning it had disappeared prior to 395 AD (Paul Erdkamp, A Companion to the Roman Army, 253; D. Kennedy & H. Falahat, "Castris Legionis Sextae Ferratae", Journal of Roman Archaeology 21 (2008), 150-169). It may have been destroyed or reorganized in the civil wars after the death of Diocletian or defeated in the failed campaign of Emperor Julian II the Apostate in 363 AD, although this is purely speculation. Alternatively, it may have been separated out and all of its detachments renamed, the name fading away with time on the frontiers of Arabia.

 

The Title and Symbols of Legio VI Ferrata:

"Ferrata" was Legio VI's primary title and is best translated as "Ironclad", suggesting the Legion was noted for its use of iron armor, or possibly its fortitude expressed in the Battle of Zela, where, severely deprived of manpower, it held the right flank and won the battle. Adkins and Adkins suggest that they may have introduced a new style of iron armor, but their sourcing is unclear and remains conjectural (Adkins and Adkins, Life in Ancient Rome). The title "Fidelis Constans" was added in the civil wars of 193-195 AD, for their loyalty to Septimus Severus. It had also earned the title "Hispaniensis" under Julius Caesar after the Battle of Illerda, although it was not used.

The Legion's symbol was initially the Bull, whence Legio VI Victrix would get its symbol as it was created from VI Ferrata. However, by the end of the 1st Century BC it had switched to the Wolf and Twins as its symbol (Webster, The Roman Imperial Army; Adkins and Adkins, Life in Ancient Rome).

Sources:

Primary:

  • Unknown, De Bello Alexandrino.

  • Unknown, De Bello Africo.

  • Gaius Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Gallico.

  • Tacitus, Annales.

  • Tacitus, Historiae.


Secondary:

  • Adkins, Leslie and Adkins Roy. Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

  • Erdkamp, Paul. A Companion to the Roman Army. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

  • Goldsworthy, Adrian. In the Name of Rome: The Men who Won the Roman Empire. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.

  • Kennedy, D. "Legio VI Ferrata: The Annexation and Early Garrison of Arabia." In Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 84 (1980): 283-309.

  • Kennedy, D. and Falahat, H. "Castris Legionis Sextae Ferratae." In Journal of Roman Archaeology 21 (2008): 150-169.

  • Keppie, Lawrence. The Making of the Roman Army: From Republic to Empire. New York City: Barnes & Noble Books, 1994.

  • Lendering, Jona. "Legio VI Ferrata." www.livius.org/le-lh/legio/vi_ferrata.html

  • Longden, R.P. "Notes on the Parthian Campaign of Trajan." In Journal of Roman Studies 21 (1931): 35.

  • Southern, Patricia. The Roman Army: A Social and Institutional History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

  • Tully, Geoffrey. "The Stratarches of Legio VI Ferrata and the Employment of Camp Prefects as Vexillation Commanders." In Zeitschrift fur Papyrologie und Epigraphik 120 (1998): 226-232.

  • Webster, Graham. The Roman Imperial Army of the First and Second Centuries A.D. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.

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