The True Story Of The Eagle’s Ninth Legion & How Much Of The Movie Is Real

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Summary

  • Historical dramas like The Eagle are loved by movie enthusiasts, but their accuracy is often debated due to the lack of concrete evidence from the past. Writers can get creative with possible scenarios, making it hard for modern audiences to comprehend.
  • The disappearance of the Roman Ninth Legion, upon which The Eagle is based, is a historical mystery. Theories on their fate have varied, with some suggesting they were wiped out in Northern Britain while others have found evidence of their presence in the Netherlands.
  • The movie takes liberties with historical facts, including the portrayal of the Roman aquila and the significance of Hadrian’s Wall. The protagonist Marcus and his slave Esca are fictional characters, and the wall’s purpose in reality was not as an impenetrable fortress but a checkpoint and trade route.


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Historical drama The Eagle was based on a book, but it asks of how much of the movie is true and what happened to the real Roman Ninth Legion of the movie. Originally sourced from the 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth, written by Rosemary Sutcliff, the 2011 movie follows the story of Roman Centurion Marcus Flavius (Channing Tatum) and slave Esca (Jamie Bell) as they attempt to locate the lost eagle standard of the legion of Marcus’ father. There’s a lot of history packed into its runtime, but its accuracy is up for debate.

Historical dramas are generally well received by movie lovers, although the truth is often blurred due to the real historical figures being long gone and the exact evidence being lost to time. Although frustrating, it does allow writers to be creative with possible situations that could have happened, creating characters that someone from the modern day couldn’t even comprehend. The Eagle was based on a novel that used both historically accurate and fictional details, many of which have been heavily debated.


Who The Ninth Legion Was & Why Their Disappearance Has Been Historically Debated

The Eagle 2011 poster

The Ninth Legion was based on Legio IX Hispana, a legion of the Imperial Roman Army. Legio IX Hispana was frequently nicknamed “Hispana”, due to at one point being stationed in Hispania under Caesar Augustus. They were then stationed in Britain in 49 AD, but from 120 AD onward disappeared from Roman records, with no known information as to what happened to them. It’s been debated by scholars worldwide as to what happened to the legion. Originally, theorist Theodor Mommsen concluded that they had been wiped out in Northern Britain around 108 AD, but this was then disputed when inscriptions of IX Hispana were found at a legionary site in the Netherlands.

The 2011 Movie Changes The History Of The Real Silchester Eagle

the eagle

The Eagle standard, known as an aquila in Latin, was a real item carried by each Roman legion. It was seen as a symbol by Roman soldiers, resembling both religion and commitment to their duties, and to lose one was a significant problem. Soldiers would go to extreme standards to protect an aquila and would return to the field even after defeat to try and retrieve one should it be lost in battle. It has been theorized that Legio IX Hispana lost their aquila in the Bar Kochva Revolt, but it has been disputed by scholars, and it is unknown what truly happened to it.

In The Eagle, the aquila is formed as a statuette of an eagle, the Silchester Eagle. Historical images have shown, however, that an aquila came in several forms. A typical aquila was shaped like a coin, with the legion’s details engraved into it. Other known forms included an orb, meant to symbolize Rome’s dominance over the rest of the world. The Silchester Eagle was a real Roman artifact, found in Silchester, England in 1980. The bronze statue wasn’t believed to be an aquila, but rather just a piece of art, although historians have never been able to confirm this.

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Even The Book The Eagle Was Based On Wasn’t Completely Accurate

the eagle wall-1

In the foreword of The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff explained that the novel was inspired by two historical details: the disappearance of the Ninth Legion, and the discovery of the Silchester Eagle. At the time of writing, Sutcliff felt that Mommsen’s theory was plausible due to the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, although scholars to this day still debate this. By combining the two elements together, the story is not completely accurate to history, although it is unlikely that the true story will ever be discovered.

The Eagle’s Marcus Is A Fictional Character

eagle seal tribe

There is no historical data found for an honorably discharged Roman soldier called Marcus Flavius, nor his slave Esca. Due to the time period, reliable documentation for those who weren’t war heroes is practically non-existent. In The Eagle of the Ninth, Marcus is 19 years old, whereas Tatum was 31 at the time of filming The Eagle – not that the age of the character is particularly relevant, given that there was no historical representation at all. Ultimately, Marcus was just an invented character for the book who was later used in the movie. While it certainly makes sense, as audiences need a central protagonist to bond with, it’s still not historically accurate.

Related: The 10 Best Historical Drama Movies Of All Time, According To Ranker

The Wall In The Eagle Wasn’t A Formidable Fortress In Reality

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian’s Wall was built in 122 AD, spanning 73 miles across Northern England and creating a divide between Roman Britannia and Caledonia. In The Eagle, Marcus is warned by his uncle that no Roman can survive north of Hadrian’s Wall, and this false history has been repeated in numerous other fictions (such as the Wall in Game of Thrones standing in for Hadrian’s Wall). In the movie, Marcus is attacked by the Seal People at the wall, delving into an action-packed fight scene leaving Marcus fighting for his life. In reality, Hadrian’s Wall was used as a multi-location checkpoint and tollway that the occupying Romans used to control trade with the tribes in Northern Britain. Contact was quite common between Romans and the Northern tribes as a means of keeping a finger on the pulse of the people and squelching rebellions. The Eagle took quite a few liberties with known history, though it makes for an entertaining story.