As a Hollywood film dramatises ancient tale, the 2,000 year riddle of Rome's lost Ninth Legion is solved at last

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For centuries, historians have puzzled over the disappearance of a legion of 5,000 battle-hardened Roman soldiers in northern Britain around 108 AD.

The ancient riddle, which has captivated storytellers, has just been dramatised by Hollywood in The Eagle, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell.

Now, experts have revealed that the children’s book on which the film is based is more fact than fiction.

Historians were left baffled how thousands of heavy infantry soldiers could simply disappear. They suggested that the most likely explanations were that the legion disbanded and its members joined other units, or it was deployed to an eastern part of the empire.

Meanwhile, the myth-making continued. In 1954, children’s author Rosemary Sutcliff published The Eagle Of The Ninth, an adventure novel in which the heroic legion was massacred by Pict hordes in hostile mountainous terrain.

Now a group of experts say the elite infantry force was indeed defeated by a band of ‘barbarians’ in a military catastrophe that shamed the empire, prompting a conspiracy of silence.

The dramatic new evidence hinges on a single gravestone tribute and was brought to light by historian and film-maker Phil Hirst, whose documentary Rome’s Lost Legion will be screened next month....

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