The legions of ancient Rome were renowned for their organization and efficiency, winning battles with a mix of ingenuity and fear. But which legion was the most feared?
There does not appear to be any particular single Roman legion that was the most feared and, ultimately, it is a subjective matter. However, there are many Roman legions that are renowned for their prowess, with many Roman emperors being enthroned by their favored legions.
To find out more about some of the most interesting legions in Roman history, read on.
Feared Roman Legions
Considering the long history of the Kingdom of Rome, the Roman Republic, and the subsequent Roman Empire, many legions were involved in a wide range of conflicts, massacring enemies in ruthless conquests such as those of Gaul and Carthage. The Romans had a reputation for brilliance in their engineering and organizational skills, but they ruled and expanded often using intense violence.
The question of which legion was the most feared is ultimately rather subjective, but there were certainly legions that had a reputation for their efficiency in warfare. Legions like the Legio XII Fulminata and Legio XIV Gemina had been instrumental in Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, with the Legio XIV Gemina likely beginning at the Siege of Alesia that led to the deaths of 250,000 Gauls.
Legio XII Fulminata, like many other legions, would be instrumental in Caesar’s war against Pompey and helping him to seize power. Legio XIII Gemina would also go down in history for its role in crossing the River Rubicon with Julius Caesar, a symbolic act of his challenging the Senate.
During the Punic Wars too, Roman legions often made a name for themselves for their brutality, participating in the siege and eventual destruction of Carthage that killed thousands of people and destroyed the area with a crushing defeat.
The Roman conquests of Britain, where they aimed to annihilate the religion of the ancient Britons, the conquest of Dacia, and the violence during the Great Jewish Revolt showed the fear the legions of Rome could instill. The legions of Rome were strictly run with punishments and rigid training to keep them in check.
This combination of efficiency and violence was key to the fear the Roman legions created and the amount of fear instilled in their enemies by one legion over another would likely have been insignificant.
Nero’s Killing Machine and the Vanishing Legion
Two Roman legions are often cited as being among the most feared yet, while they may have reputations to this day, it is impossible to truly say whether they were the most feared. These legions are Legio XIV Gemina and Legio IX Hispana.
Legio XIV Gemina was likely raised by Julius Caesar during his conquest of Gaul and as mentioned above, had fought in the brutal campaign there that perhaps killed around one million people and forever changed Celtic society in continental Europe.
The legion also won battles against the German rebel Arminius, who had previously wiped out three entire Roman legions at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest and helped put a stop to Roman expansion in Germania.
Legio XIV Gemina participated in the invasion of Britain and subsequently defended against Boudica’s rebellion in 61 AD, with 10,000 men against 250,000 and winning the praise of Nero as his most effective legion. To this day, Legio XIV Gemina is claimed by some to be “Nero’s killing machine” and they continued to secure victories until the 5th century.
Formed in Spain in 65 BC, Legio IX Hispana was one of Rome’s oldest legions and was instrumental in Caesar’s campaigns. The legion was used by Augustus too in his war against Antony, as well as in fighting in Macedonia and against the Cantabrians, for which they were awarded the title Hispana.
The legion participated in the invasion of Britain in 43 AD where they experienced heavy losses during Boudica’s rebellion. The last recorded activity of the legion was in 109 AD in York, with one popular yet controversial theory being that they were killed by Picts, which helped motivate Hadrian to build a wall across the north of Britain.
What Was the Most Feared Roman Legion?
To summarize, the legions of Rome were renowned and feared for their military successes and were instrumental in the expansion of Rome.
It is impossible to truly say which was the most feared among them, but several legions do appear to have had reputations for being elite troops. These include Legio XIV Gemina and Legio IX Hispana, yet many legions fought in the expansion of Rome and it was the legions of Rome, rather than a specific legion in particular, that gained a reputation to fear among the enemies of Rome.