The Decline and Fringes of Empire
The movie ended and I was confused. All the running around and the hasty love story are confusing! Critics agreed with me. They felt that the film was a blatant reference to the guerilla warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan against the American troops at the time of the film’s release in 2010. Critics enjoyed the cinematography of the film, but felt that the violence took over an underdeveloped plot. Audiences, on the other hand, really enjoyed it! The ones that watched it, I mean. The film had a budget of 12 million and only grossed a little over 6 million worldwide. The audience reviews I read were from big history buffs, in particular Roman history. While this film doesn’t seem to be for everyone, the famous disappearance of the ninth legion seems to interest many. The reasons behind their disappearance, at least what we can glean from Roman records, have been explored in tv shows and novels, including a popular Doctor Who episode, as well as Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Coincidentally, Noel Clarke plays one of the survivors of Ninth Legion, as well as the popular character Mickey in the Doctor Who television series.
Now for a movie set in such a period, there is always the question of what aspects of the movie are historically accurate. The Romans did have garrisons posted in northern Britain at this time and had been involved in skirmishes with the Picts. In 84 CE, the Romans won a battle against the Picts. The Legion’s last recorded Roman activity was the building of a stone fortress in York in 108 or 109. There still survives today in a York museum traces of the legion: an altar, tombstone, and commemorative tablet with mentions of members of the Ninth Legion. An inscription from the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE) sums up the activity of all the legions under his reign and the Ninth Hispana is missing. Many scholars use this as evidence that the legion was destroyed before his reign. There are two theories as to what happened to the Ninth Hispana. Some scholars believe that it was destroyed by the Picts sometime around 117 CE, as depicted in the film. Others believe that the legion was transferred to the Rhine, as there is some surviving evidence of officers that served after 122 CE, when the building of Hadrian’s Wall commenced. The disappearance of the Ninth Legion is still heavily disputed by scholars and we may never know what truly happened to them.
Late Antiquity (c. 150 - 500)