Legio X Fretensis
Bust of Octavian/Augustus as high priest. Museo Nacional de Arte Romano, Mérida. Legio X Fretensis: one of the Roman legions. Its name means 'the legion of the sea straits'.
This legion was founded in 41 or 40 by Julius Caesar's heir Octavian, who needed it to put an end to Sextus Pompeius' occupation of Sicily, which put the grain supply of Rome into peril. The new unit received its number as a reminder of Caesar's tenth legion - although the original legion served in the army of Octavian's fellow-triumvir and rival Marc Antony. These "double numbers" were not unusual and explains why several legionary numbers can be found twice in the Roman army.
According to the great German historian Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903), the new legion received its surname Fretensis ('of the sea straits') because it guarded the Straits of Messina and was active during the battles at Mylae and Naulochus. There is no reason to doubt this idea.
After Sextus Pompeius had been defeated, Octavian and Marc Antony started a war, which culminated in the naval battle off Actium (31), where Octavian defeated his opponent and won the supremacy in the Mediterranean world. From now on, he was known as the emperor Augustus.
After the victory at Actium, many Roman soldiers were pensioned off. Soldiers of the Tenth were sent to Cremona in northern Italy, which was now known as the Colonia Veneria - the latter element meaning 'of the goddess Venus'. (Venus was the mythological ancestress of the gens Iulia, the family of Octavian/Augustus). Other soldiers may have been sent to Brixia, modern Brescia, and Capua. Patras was colonized by veterans of X Fretensis and XII Fulminata.
The Tenth was briefly sent to the Balkans, and we find it again -after a transfer to the Near East at an unknown date- in Syria in 6 CE. At least several subunits of X Fretensis were stationed at Cyrrhus, where they guarded the route from the Euphrates to Antioch. It is probable that the men had already marched from the Balkans to the east when Augustus' son-in-law Tiberius negotiated with the Parthians in 20 BCE and obtained the eagle standards that had been captured at Carrhae in 53 BCE.
The governor of Syria, Publius Quinctilius Varus, used three of the four Syrian legions to suppress the rebellions of the Jewish messianic claimants Judas, Simon, and Athronges after the death of king Herod the Great in 4 BCE. It is likely that X Fretensis was among them, but we are not certain because we do not know the date of the transfer from the Balkans to Syria.
Its presence in Syria in 6, however, is a certainty. Our unit, together with III Gallica, VI Ferrata, and XII Fulminata, must have taken part in the campaign led by the famous governor of Syria, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, to Judaea in 6, which had become restless after the emperor Augustus had exiled Herod Archelaus, added his realm to the Roman empire, and organized the census so well-known from the Gospel of Luke.