Legio X Fretensis derived its name from the Fretum Siculum. This is the water channel located between Italy and Sicily, now called the Straits of Messina.
Legio X Fretensis was reported to have been officially formed sometime during 712 or 713 AUC (41 to 40 BC) by Octavian. The "bull" symbol on the Vexillum standard indicates that it was probably organized during the time period of 17 ApriI to 18 May, as this is the zodiac sign sacred to Venus, the goddess mother of the Julian gens.
An additional emblem, the trireme, was also used. This has been interpreted to represent the involvement of Legio X in the war between Octavian against Sextus Pompeius, in 717 AUC (36 BC), in the Straits of Messina, off Navlochus, in Sicily. Each side had about 300 ships. But Octavian had Marcus Vispanius Agrippa, the inventor of the iron grapnel. This device consisted of a heavy beam with a large spike at the far end. The grapnel, attached to a heavy line, was thrown over on the deck of the enemy ship and the line drawn tight until the grapnel caught and held fast in the wooden planking. The use of this device afforded Octavian's troops a tactical advantage. When engaging the enemy ships, Octavian's naval forces would hook on tight to the opponent's deck. It now provided them with a bridge for his soldiers to cross over and thus defeat the enemy.
As part of Octavian's army, over the years, Legio X acquired two more emblems to display: a dolphin and a boar.
After this naval battle, Legio X was stationed at Mylae, Sicily. Then it was moved to Navlochus in the following year. From here it was transferred to Actium in 722 AUC (31 BC). This was followed by another move to serve in the Macedonia region in 723 AUC (30 BC).
No one knows for sure when Legio X was sent to be stationed in Syria. We do know that by 759 AUC (6 AD) Legio X had made Syria its home base, along with the Legio III Gallica, Legio VI Ferrata, and Legio XII Fulminata. Nearby in Egypt two additional legions were stationed. They were the Legio III Cyrenaica, and Legio XXII Deiotariana. Among their many duties of maintaining the peace in this volatile area was the vital protection of the corn supply being exported to Rome.
It is a known fact that it came to pass in those days of 749 AUC (4 BC) that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all of the Roman world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirnius was governing Syria. Roman soldiers were ordered into Judaea in order to conduct this special census issued by Caesar. The commanding Legatus of Legio X Fretensis was P. Sulpicius Quirnius. Some cohorts of Legio X were stationed at Cyrrhus, on the vital trade route from Antioch to Zengma, one of the chief places for crossing the river Euphrates. It will be our contention that the IV Cohort was utilized to maintain a Roman military presence in Judaea, and especially in Jerusalem, under the command of Pontus Pilate.
Roman records of identification for Legio X cover a time period of 250 years. Following our designated time of 784 AUC (31 AD) Legio X was ordered north for involvement in the Parthian campaign of 809 to 811 AUC (56 to 58 AD). Legio X participated in the siege and capture of the Parthian capital of Artaxata. The Roman commander Corbulo, reported that there were insufficient troops to properly garrison the captured capital. So he ordered the city center to be razed, with the city inhabitants to be spared their lives.
Shortly thereafter, Legio X was moved to Cilicia (now located in southeast Turkey). Then in 816 AUC (63 AD)Legio X was ordered to return to Syria. In 819 AUC (66 AD), the emperor Nero had planned an expedition against the Ethiopians in Africa. Thus Legio X, along with the Legio V Macedonia, found themselves stationed in Alexandria, Egypt. But a Jewish rebellion necessitated their deployment into Judaea. At first they were to set up a winter camp at Ptolemais. Due to the large number of legions being mobilized here, Legio X relocated to the port city of Caesarea, in Samaria. In command of Legio X was M. Ulpius Trajanus, the future governor of Syria and the father of the future emperor Trajan. The overall commander, Vespasian, had gathered his legions because of the increasing friction of an impending Jewish revolt.
The war of the Jews against Rome did not begin suddenly. Ever since the death of Agrippa I, and the ensuing rule of the first Roman procurator, there had been many clashes of short duration between Romans and Jews. Even in relatively quiet times the land seemed to seethe with an undercurrent of rebellion. The procurator Florus ignited this major revolt by attempting to set up a statue of the Emperor in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. This time, the Jewish people refused to take any more mistreatment at the hands of Florus.
Even though several factions of Jews continued to disagree amongst themselves, they finally united sufficiently enough to successfully rout the Roman garrisons stationed in and around Jerusalem. These initial Jewish victories sent shock waves throughout the Roman Empire. The Emperor knew that the rebellion from this tiny nation had to be stamped out quickly, lest other provinces of Rome got the wrong impression about the nature of Rome's true strength.
Given the best of Rome's fighting forces and virtually unlimited power, Vespasian departed for Judaea. In the campaign to capture Jerusalem, Vespasian had gathered together squads of cavalry from Caesarea and Syria, and in addition, he had some 15,000 elite troops including archers and soldiers to make an effective fighting force of sixty thousand men. Now confident of his military strength, he marched upon Galilee in 820 AUC (67 AD). Here Legio X was first used in the capture of Tarichacae and Gamala, located on the west and east shores of the Sea of Galilee. Vespasian then based Legio X at Scythopolis, just west of the Jordan River.
During this same year, the other legions were successful in taking Jotapata, where the Jewish historian Josephus had made his defiant stand. The city was taken on July 20th, after forty thousand Galileans had perished. This city was razed to the ground. Next to fall to the Romans was the important city of Jaffa.
After these victories, Vespasian made haste to return to Caesarea, for his winter headquarters with two of his legions, Legio X and Legio V. Vespasian had succeeded in crushing the general revolt throughout Judaea. Only Jerusalem and the zealot fortress of Masada remained outside of Roman control. But at about this time the Emperor Nero had been overthrown and pursued to the point that he had taken his own life. Now a civil war was rocking the Roman Empire. After a revolt by Vindex in Gaul, and the brief reigns of Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, the Eastern legions proclaimed Vespasian Emperor. Returning to Rome, Vespasian within a year successfully secured the throne. He had not forgotten the rebellious Jews holding out in Judaea. Thus he sent his son Titus to finish the job of crushing this uprising once and for all.
Now came the important campaign to capture Jerusalem. With four legions under his command, Titus stationed them on the hills surrounding the city. Legio V was positioned slightly to the north. Legio X set up their fortress camp on the Mount of Olives. Titus located his Headquarters on Mount Scopus, with Legio XII and Legio XV. However, Titus did not trust Legio XII to be dependable after their defeat with Cestius Gallus, and thus he dispatched them to nearby Melitene
During the siege of Jerusalem, Legio X gained fame in the effective use of their various war machines. It was noted that they were able to hurl stones, which weighted a talent (about 55 lbs.), a distance of two furlongs (440 yards) or further. The projectiles of their ballistae caused heavy damage to the ramparts, especially after someone got the idea of blackening the white stone missiles so that the besieged defenders would not be able to see them coming at them from a distance and have time to take effective cover. Josephus reported seeing a man standing on the wall who had his head knocked off and the force of the blow had carried his head a distance of three stadia (550 yards). It should also be noted here that Josephus was considered to be prone to exaggeration.
The siege of Jerusalem lasted five months and the besieged population experienced all the terrible rigors of starvation. Finally, the combined assaults of the legions succeeded in taking this holy city. With the successful capture of Jerusalem in September of 823 AUC (70 AD), there remained only the defiant fortress of Masada. For now, Titus turned over the devastated city of Jerusalem to Legio X Fretensis.
During the Spring of the following year, Titus ordered Legio V and Legio XV to return to their respective provinces. Titus himself then set sail for Rome. A new military governor was now appointed from Rome, Lucilius Bassus, whose assigned task was to undertake the "mopping-up" operations in Judaea. Naturally, he used Legio x for these actions.
There still remained some small islands of resistance besides the fortress Masada. Thus Legio x undertook the taking of Herodion, crossed the river Jordan, to capture the fortress of Machaerus, which was located on the shore of the Dead Sea. Due to illness, Bassus did not live to complete his mission. Flavius Silva replaced him.
Now Silva moved against the last Jewish stronghold, Masada, in the autumn of 825 AUC (72 AD). He used Legio x, auxiliary troops, and thousands of Jewish prisoners. When orders for surrender had failed, Silva established several base camps and a wall of circumvolution completely around the seemingly invincible fortress atop the high plateau protected by almost sheer, vertical cliffs.
This last stronghold of Jewish rebellion had been subjected to brutal and psychologically devastating attacks. Yet in the end, they managed to maintain their unshakable belief that "We shall know no master but God." When the Romans finally broke through the walls of this citadel, they encountered only an eerie silence. It was to be a hollow victory, for the Jewish defenders had chosen death with a mass suicide, rather than become slaves to a Roman master.
After the conclusion of the Jewish revolt, Legio X was garrisoned at Jerusalem. Their main camp was positioned on the Western Hill, located in the southern half of the old city, now leveled of all former buildings. For now, Legio x was the sole legion assigned to maintain the peace in Judaea.
During Trajan's campaign against the Parthians, Legio X was used in expanding the empire to its greatest extent. After Trajan's death in 870 AUC (117 AD), the new emperor, Hadrian, made defensive moves to protect the existing Roman Empire. It was felt that the Roman Empire had grown as large as was possible to be ruled by a single man. In fact, the Roman legions actually withdrew from the regions across the Danube later in the Second Century A. D.
Finally in the year 883 AUC (130 AD), Emperor Hadrian made an imperial tour of his eastern lands, traveling through Judaea, Arabia, and Egypt. To prepare for his royal visit, the Romans made extensive repairs to the road system in Judaea, including the construction of a new city where Jerusalem had stood. Legio X was employed in this reconstruction phase. The Romans decided to rename the city Aelia Capitolinus. The name was derived from the emperor's own first name, Aelius Hadrianus, and for Jupiter Capitolinus, the emperor's favorite god. This renaming was no doubt a major cause of discomfort to the remaining Jewish inhabitants. Two years later, the Jewish people revolted against this and other instances of harsh Roman rule and took the new city by storm.
This second Jewish revolt, called the Bar Kochba Revolt, involved several additional legions and some very serious fighting. The Romans suffered terrible losses but they finally succeeded in retaking the city three years later.
Legio X was made the permanent unit of the Roman Province of Judaea. After the Bar Kochba Revolt, Legio X was garrisoned in Aelia Capitolinus, while the northern region was to be guarded by Legio VI. Legio X apparently survived these devastating events, for it was still reported to be stationed in Judaea in 903 AUC (150 AD) and again in 968 AUC (215 AD). But by now the area was known as Syria Palestina.
When we come to the year 1053 AUC (300 AD) we still find Legio X stationed in Palestine. Later on it is moved to Aila (present day Elat) along the Red Sea, to guard the critical Scorpion Pass. At this time, during the late empire, a legion only consisted of perhaps 1,000 men in the mobile field deployment or Comitatensis and around 3,000 men in the territorial legions, the Limitanei and Ripariensis. Beginning in the late Third Century and continuing on through the Fourth and Fifth Centuries, the Roman legions came to be composed to an increasingly greater degree of barbarian recruits under Roman officers while it became harder and harder to recruit native Roman troops. In fact, some units, the foederati or federated troops, were barbarian forces enlisted wholesale, keeping their own leaders as officers. With the Romans' sad abdication of their responsibility to defend themselves, it was not long before the once proud Roman Empire in the West deteriorated into a weak state possessing but a shadow of its former glory under a weak succession of puppet emperors.