Legio XII Fulminata

Map of the Roman empire in AD 125, under emperor Hadrian, showing the Legio XII Fulminata, stationed at Melitene (Malatya, Turkey), in Cappadocia province, from AD 71 until the 4th century

The Legio duodecima Fulminata ("Thunderbolt Twelfth Legion"), also known as Paterna, Victrix, Antiqua, Certa Constans, and Galliena, was a legion of the Imperial Roman army. It was originally levied by Julius Caesar in 58 BC and which accompanied him during the Gallic Wars until 49 BC. The unit was still guarding the Euphrates River crossing near Melitene at the beginning of the 5th century. The legion's emblem was a thunderbolt (fulmen). In later centuries it came to be called commonly, but incorrectly, the Legio Fulminatrix, the Thundering Legion.

Under The Republic

The Twelfth legion, as it is perhaps better known, fought in the Battle against the Nervians, and probably also in the Siege of Alesia. The Twelfth fought at the Battle of Pharsalus (48 BC), when Caesar defeated Pompey. After Caesar won the civil war, the legion was named Victrix, and enlisted in 43 BC by Lepidus and Mark Anthony. Mark Anthony led the Twelfth, renamed XII Antiqua during his campaign against the Parthian Empire.

During the latest part of Augustus' principality, XII Fulminata served in Syria, camping at Raphana.

Under The Empire

Against the Parthians

For more details on this topic, see Roman–Parthian War of 58–63.

In the East, King Vologeses I had invaded Armenia (58), a client kingdom of Rome. Emperor Nero ordered Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, the new legatus of Cappadocia, to manage the matter, and Corbulo brought the IV Scythica from Moesia, and with III Gallica and VI Ferrata defeated the Parthians, restoring Tigranes VI to the Armenian throne. In 62, IV Scythica and XII Fulminata, commanded by the new legate of Cappadocia, Lucius Caesennius Paetus, were defeated by the Parthians and Armenians at the battle of Rhandeia and forced to surrender. The legions were shamed and removed from the war theatre.

Great Jewish Revolt

In 66, after a Zealot revolt had destroyed the Roman garrison in Jerusalem, the XII Fulminata, with vexillationes of IV Scythica and VI Ferrata, was sent to retaliate, but it was sent back by Gaius Cestius Gallus, legatus of Syria, when he saw that the legion was weak. On its way back, XII Fulminata was ambushed and defeated by Eleazar ben Simon at Beit-Horon, and lost its aquila. However, XII Fulminata fought well in the last part of the war, and supported its commander T. Flavius Vespasian in his successful bid for the imperial throne. At the end of the war, XII Fulminata and XVI Flavia Firma were sent to guard the Euphrates border, camping at Melitene.

Defending the Eastern frontier

Roman inscription in Boyukdash (near Baku), Azerbaijan, left by Legio XII Fulminata

In 75 AD, XII Fulminata was in Caucasus, where Emperor Vespasian had sent the legion to support the allied kingdoms of Iberia and Albania. Indeed, in Azerbaijan, an inscription has been found which reads:

IMP DOMITIANO CAESARE AVG GERMANICO LVCIVS IVLIVS MAXIMVS LEG XII FVL, Under imperator Domitian, Caesar, Augustus Germanicus, Lucius Julius Maximus, Legio XII Fulminata.[1]

Some historians argue that the actual settlement of Ramana near Baku was possibly founded by the Roman troops of Lucius Julius Maximus from Legio XII Fulminata in circa 84-96 AD[2] and derives its name from the Latin Romana.[2][3] Among the facts that strengthen this hypothesis are the military-topographical map of Caucasus published in 1903 by Russian Administration which spells name of town as "Romana"; various Roman artefacts found in Absheron region and also old inhabitants' referring to the town as Romani.

The legion was probably in Armenia during Trajan's campaign of 114 AD, that ended with the annexation of the Kingdom of Armenia.

In 134, the threat of the Alans was subdued by the governor of Cappadocia, Arrian, who defeated the invaders with the aid of XII Fulminata and XV Apollinaris.

The "Miracle of Rain"

The Twelfth probably fought in the Parthian campaign of Emperor Lucius Verus, in 162-166, if a mixed unit of XII and XV controlled for some time the newly conquered Armenian capital Artaxata. Emperor Marcus Aurelius commanded the XII Fulminata in his campaign against the Quadi, a people inhabiting an area in modern-day Slovakia, and an episode of a miraculous rain saving a Twelfth subunit from defeat is reported by the sources.[4] At this time, most of the Twelfth was composed chiefly of Christians.[5] There was a belief that this had led to the emperor issuing a decree forbidding the persecution of the Christians, but this seems to have been based on a forgery.[6]

In 175, the legion was in Melitene, when Avidius Cassius revolted; the Twelfth, having been loyal to the Emperor, obtained the cognomen Certa Constans, "surely constant".

After the death of Emperor Pertinax, 193, XII Fulminata supported the governor of Syria, Pescennius Niger, who was in the end defeated by Emperor Septimius Severus. When the Eastern frontier of the Empire was moved from the Euphrates to the Tigris, the Twelfth stayed in the reserve, possibly as a punishment for its support of Severus' rival.

The region around Melitene was one of the first in which Christian faith spread. Polyeuctes is a martyr under Valerian who was a soldier of the Twelfth.

The Sassanid Empire was a major threat to the Roman power in the East. King Shapur II conquered the base of the XV Apollinaris, Satala (256), and sacked Trapezus (258). Emperor Valerian moved against Shapur, but was defeated and captured. The defeat caused the partial collapse of the Empire, with the secessionistic Gallic Empire in the West and Palmyrene Empire in the East. It is known that the XII Fulminata was under the command of Odaenathus, ruler of the Palmyrene Empire, but also that Emperor Gallienus awarded the legion with the cognomen Galliena.

After these episodes, the records of the Fulminata are scarce. The Palmyrene Empire was reconquered by Aurelian; Emperor Diocletian defeated the Sassanids and moved the frontier to Northern Mesopotamia. The Twelfth, which probably took part to these campaigns, is recorded guarding the frontier of the Euphrates in Melitene, at the beginning of the 5th century (Notitia Dignitatum).

In popular culture

In Rick Riordan's book The Son of Neptune, the Twelfth Legion went to America after the fall of Rome following the Roman gods as they move Mt. Olympus to Manhattan. The Legion stayed at San Francisco where they founded the Roman Demigod camp, Camp Jupiter. The legion's eagle had been found by the Twelfth Legion and subsequently lost again in Alaska during the 1980s. It was then recovered by Percy Jackson.

In Mikhail Bulgakov's book The Master and Margarita, Pontius Pilate mentions the Legion during his meeting with Caiaphas. He threatens using the Legion in bloody pacification of possible future Jewish rebellion, along with auxiliary Arab cavalry.

See also


  1. This is the furthest eastern place a Roman soldier went.
  2. 1 2 Ашурбейли Сара. История города Баку: период средневековья. Баку, Азернешр, 1992; page 31
  3. History 1
  4. The episode reported by Cassius Dio refers of the presence of an Egyptian mage, Harnuphis, who evoked Mercury, obtaining the rain shower. The Christian writer Tertullian, on the other hand, claims that the miracle of the rain was the result of the prayers of the soldiers, who were Christians. See Cassius Dio, Roman History, lxxii.8-10
  5. Lives of the Saints edited by Rev. Hugo H. Hoever p.25
  6.  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Thundering Legion". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  7. Homilies xix in Patrologia Graeca, XXXI, 507 sqq.


External links

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