Armies in history that have 'disappeared'

Armies in history that have 'disappeared'

Shelly Barclay

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Throughout the history of the world, massive armies have moved across countries and sometimes across the globe to fight their enemies. In some cases, particularly long ago, whole units and even armies have disappeared. It is worth noting that historical records often do not tell the whole story. There is also the fact that armies were once much more likely to travel into hostile territory with scant knowledge of water and food sources. Locals were unlikely to help them and it was commonplace to cut off an army's supply of food and water as a strategy. A thus beleaguered army would have had little chance in vast wildernesses. It is also unlikely that they would have been accounted for and buried by the enemy, had they met with misfortune. Therefore, most of these are hardly mysterious. They are merely bizarre on their scale. 

Crassus' Legion 

Marcus Licinius Crassus is known for being a supporter of Julius Caesar and the general who took down the famous rebel slave Spartacus. He is also known for a major defeat by the Parthians at the end of his life that ended with his beheading. It is said that nearly 200 of his men survived the battle as captives, but their fate is unknown. In this way, they disappeared from the annals of history. However, they could have just died alongside their contemporaries. 

Interestingly, the legionnaires are said to have gone to China and there is some evidence to back this up, however scant. There is a village in China where the residents possess what are thought of as Roman features. Like the Native Americans with blonde hair and blue eyes that may have been evidence of the Roanoke colony's fate, these Chinese villagers may hold the key to Crassus' legion's disappearance. DNA tests are being conducted to decipher the likelihood of this possibility. However, no results can be taken as concrete evidence as so much as time has passed and there is no way to know that Roman ancestry in the village is the cause of a vanished army. 

Cambyses II's Army 

An interesting account written by Herodotus regards a Persian army that reportedly perished in a sandstorm around 525 B.C.E. Herodotus wrote that some 50,000 of King Cambyses II's troops were on their way to the Oasis of Siwa when a sandstorm killed them all. This was in response to defiance by priests there. The army was never able to exact Cambyses retribution and their existence and demise has never been verified. 

Archaeologists recently claimed to have found artifacts that indicate the army did indeed perish in the Sahara Desert. However, Egyptologist and Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt -- Dr. Zahi Hawass -- says that these claims "are unfounded." They apparently do not have permission to conduct any excavations in the area.  

The Norfolk Regiment

"In August of 1915, the Sandringhams and the other members of the ‘Vanished Battalion’ arrived in Sulva on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. They were under the command of Colonel Horace Proctor-Beauchamp. They saw action, for the first time, on August 11, 1915. The Allies were attempting to advance on Turkish positions on the peninsula and the ‘Vanished Battalion’ were part of the struggle for advancement. The fighting was intense and the Allies were taking heavy losses.

The following day, August 12, enemy fire was heavy when the ‘Vanished Battalion’ was ordered to advance. They fought through the heavy smoke, machine gun fire and sniper fire with their comrades. As they advanced, Colonel Beauchamp directed a group of men (including the ‘Sandringham Company’) into a wooded area. Some witnesses say that they simply marched through the heavy smoke, into the woods and were never seen again. Four witnesses said (much later) that the men had walked into a formation of ground-level clouds and had vanished right before their eyes." 

The Roman Ninth Legion

The Roman Ninth Legion deserves an honorable mention here. However, the consensus now appears to be that these men did not vanish at all, but were simply transferred. Still, it makes for a good story. 

In today's military, it would be nearly impossible for a fighting force of significant size to disappear. There would likely be at least some knowledge of their whereabouts and an idea of what befell them. In reality, they may have always been the case, but modern historians need many puzzle pieces before they can make assertions about the fate of armies that are alluded to in stories.