[Review] Roman Britain’s Missing Legion by Simon Elliott

Today, I am absolutely thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Simon Elliott’s new book Roman Britain’s Missing Legion: What Really Happened to IX Hispania? A huge thanks first of all to Pen & Sword for sorting me out with a copy of this absolutely wonderful book, and secondly to Simon Elliott for writing it.

Legio IX Hispana had a long and active history, later founding York from where it guarded the northern frontiers in Britain. But the last evidence for its existence in Britain comes from AD 108. The mystery of their disappearance has inspired debate and imagination for decades. The most popular theory, immortalized in Rosemary Sutcliffe’s novel The Eagle of the Ninth, is that the legion was sent to fight the Caledonians in Scotland and wiped out there.

But more recent archaeology (including evidence that London was burnt to the ground and dozens of decapitated heads) suggests a crisis, not on the border but in the heart of the province, previously thought to have been peaceful at this time. What if IX Hispana took part in a rebellion, leading to their punishment, disbandment and damnatio memoriae (official erasure from the records)? This proposed ‘Hadrianic War’ would then be the real context for Hadrian’s ‘visit’ in 122 with a whole legion, VI Victrix, which replaced the ‘vanished’ IX as the garrison at York. Other theories are that it was lost on the Rhine or Danube, or in the East. Simon Elliott considers the evidence for these four theories, and other possibilities.

The second I picked up this book, I was transported back to my university days. I have to admit that I had little interest in the history and archaeology of Roman Britain back then – I found most of my lectures to be dry and boring (sorry, lecturers. I love you really) but when I opened up this book I was wowed. This is the sort of book on Roman Britain that I wish I’d read back in my uni days.

Elliot tells the story of IX Hispania, a Roman legion who mysteriously disappeared. No explanation was given for the disappearance, they just….poof, gone. In this book, Elliot explores the disappearance of these soldiers and goes through each theory, looking at what may or may not have happened to the legion in a meticulous and very well written way. The narrative flows beautifully all throughout and, although you can tell that this is a very scholarly work, the author explains things in a clear and concise way making this work easily accessible to those who aren’t that familiar with Roman Britain or IX Hispania. And in the same way, Elliott clearly explains the background of where in the time frame of Roman history the legion were based, explains the background and makeup of Roman Britain as a whole as well as the Roman army.

Each theory is gone through – for instance there are chapters dedicated to the legions potential loss in the north of Roman Britain, the loss of them in a rather nasty and gruesome event in London, the loss of them over in Europe etc etc. As you read, you are presented with both sides of each theory and the reasons as to why the legion disappeared from the annals of history – it’s been a long time since I’ve been presented with a book that does this in such a scholarly yet readable way, and I have to admit it’s been an absolute pleasure to read. And let me just say, if Elliot writes in such an engaging way then his lectures must be even better! I may or may not be ever so slightly jealous of his students!

I would say that in an ideal world, you would need at least some knowledge of the history of Roman Britain before picking up this book but it’s not the be all and end all if you haven’t. Elliot gives a brief and engaging background of the history before launching into the main course of the books. I truly found this book to be an easy read with an engaging and highly interesting narrative – I would highly recommend it to anyone with at least a passing interest in Roman history.

5/5

[Review] The Spanish Flu Epidemic and its Influence on History by Jaime Breitnauer

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On the second Monday of March 1918, the world changed forever. What seemed like a harmless cold morphed into a global pandemic that would wipe out as many as a hundred-million people – ten times as many as the Great War. German troops faltered lending the allies the winning advantage, India turned its sights to independence while South Africa turned to God. In Western Samoa a quarter of the population died; in some parts of Alaska, whole villages were wiped out. Civil unrest sparked by influenza shaped nations and heralded a new era of public health where people were no longer blamed for contracting disease. Using real case histories, we take a journey through the world in 1918, and look at the impact of Spanish flu on populations from America, to France, to the Arctic, and the scientific legacy this deadly virus has left behind.

Given the current global situation with the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve been hearing a lot of comparisons between it and the Spanish Flu of 1918. Now, I knew that the Spanish Flu had decimated countries but other than that, I didn’t know all that much about it. When I found this book on sale in the kindle store, I thought I would pick it up and give it a read, to satisfy the curious itch that I’ve been having about this short, but deadly period in world history.

This book, written by Jaime Breitnauer, focuses on individual stories of those from across the world who were affected by the Spanish Flu. These are the stories of people from all levels of society – soldiers from the front lines of war torn France, children who lost their parents due to the illness, parents who knew that they would lose everything once they had the virus and ended up resorting to desperate message….the list goes on. It becomes very clear, very quickly, when reading this book that it didn’t matter whether you were pauper or royalty – the virus could and would strike. It affected everyone. Many of the stories are particularly heartbreaking – a father who became unwell knew that he was the only one able to work and provide for his family, so he kept on working until he was so bad that he was sent home. He knew that he had the Spanish Flu, and as he dragged himself home he decided that there was only one way out. His aim was to kill both of his daughters and then himself – whilst he managed to kill one of the girls, the other escaped. He then turned the knife he had used on his daughter upon himself. These were the actions of a very desperate man, who would rather kill himself and his family than have them suffer and starve because he caught the Spanish Flu and lost his job. When I read that little story I paused for a second and felt tears in my eyes – I couldn’t even begin to contemplate what was going through this man’s mind at the time.

We also see the impacts of the Spanish Flu on future generations. We see how Hitler’s rise to power could well have been accentuated by how the flu had affected the German population. We see how the author of A Clockwork Orange, as a child, lost his mother to the flu, and how the experience of being in the same room as her dead body for days influenced his later writing. We also see how public health procedures were stepped up in an effort to stop such a pandemic from ever happening again, up to the creation of the WHO and beyond. Of course throughout the work we also see the mistakes that were made both during the pandemic and after – in particular, the failure of certain governments to act quickly enough to halt the spread of the disease. This is something that many countries around the world are currently experiencing.

Whilst this book doesn’t aim to zero in on just where the Spanish Flu originated from, it certainly does give a short and concise overview of this huge event in history. It is exceptionally well written to the point I would call it a page turner – it gives the facts without sounding overly academic or pretentious – and let me tell you, it’s made me want to learn more about the Spanish Flu pandemic. More – I’m not sure I would say it’s negative – it has made me think a lot more about our current predicament, the mistakes that have been made and continue to be made. The second wave of the Spanish Flu was far more virulent and it honestly has me wondering whether we will end up experiencing the same with the current Covid-19 crisis.

A great read and highly recommended.

4/5