Legio V Alaudae
(Musei Vaticani, Roma) Legio V Alaudae: one of the Roman legions. Its name, which is not Latin but Gaulish, means 'the larks' (cf. French alouette).
This legion was founded in transalpine Gaul in 52 BCE by Julius Caesar. It was the first legion to be recruited in the subject provinces, and Caesar paid the soldiers from his private purse. Only later was it recognized by the Senate. The creation of this unit was an important step towards the romanization of the provinces: from now on, the provincials were no longer barred from service in the legions.
Maybe the legion was originally called V Gallica. The unusual, Gaulish surname must refer to the Gallic custom to wear lark's wings on their helmets (still visible on the boxes of Gauloise cigarettes). The new legion saw its first action during the campaign against the Gallic leader Vercingetorix and the siege of Alesia (text).
During the civil war between Caesar and his fellow-triumvir and rival Pompey, V Alaudae took part in Caesar's invasion of Italy (49) and stayed in Apulia for some time. In the winter of 49/48, it served at Dyrrhachium, after Caesar's assistant Marc Antony had ferried it across the Adriatic Sea. It was not present when Caesar defeated Pompey in the battle of Pharsalus.
Coin of Caesar (©**)
However, it did take part in the African campaign against Scipio and Cato (46), which culminated in the battle of Thapsus. Here, the legion heroically fought against the elephants used by Caesar's republican enemies. This made great impression, and V Alaudae is the only Caesarian legion known not to have used the bull as its emblem. Instead, it chose the elephant.
The Fifth was also present at Munda (17 March 45).
After the violent death of the legion's founder on 15 March 44, civil war broke out between Caesar's adjutant Marc Antony and his adopted son Octavian. Both wanted to be leader of the Caesarian faction. The fifth legion sided with Antony and fought for him in the lost battle of Mutina (43) against Octavian. When the two men later decided to cooperate (Second Triumvirate), they defeated the murderers of Caesar in the battle of Philippi (42). Again, V Alaudae was there.
Later, it followed Antony to the east, where veterans were settled at Beirut. The Fifth must have participated in Antony's ill-fated war against the Parthian empire. It is interesting to notice that one soldier, known from an inscription, was called Gaius Valerius Arsaces - an unexplained Parthian surname. Antony employed the fifth legion also during his campaign against Octavian, which culminated in the naval battle off Actium (31).
Here, Antony was defeated. The victor, now called Augustus, transferred the Fifth to Mérida (pictures) in Hispania Ulterior after 30 BCE, where it took part in the campaigns against the Cantabrians, which started in 25. (It may be noticed that Mérida started to strike coins with lark's wings.) The Cantabrian war was one of the largest wars Rome ever fought: among the troops involved were I Germanica, II Augusta, IIII Macedonica, V Alaudae, VI Victrix, VIIII Hispana, X Gemina, XX Valeria Victrix, and another legion, perhaps VIII Augusta.
After a few years, V Alaudae was moved to Gallia Belgica, where it (temporary) lost its standard, when its commander Marcus Lollius was defeated by the Germanic Sugambri (17/16; clades Lolliani). The battle probably took place in the valley of the Meuse. Although we can not be precise, it is likely that the transfer from Hispania Ulterior to Belgica had taken place in 19, when Augustus' friend Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa invaded Germania.
The fifth legion was transferred to Nijmegen or Xanten by Augustus' stepson Drusus and it took part in his Germanic campaigns. The soldiers of V Alaudae crossed the Weser and reached the Elbe in 9 BCE. For some time, they may have lived at Oberaden or Haltern on the east bank of the Rhine.