This legion was created probably to deal with Sextus Pompeius, the last opponent of the second triumvirate, garrisoned in Sicily and threatening Rome's grain supply. Following the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra in the battle of Actium (31 BC), the legion was stationed in Gaul. In the end of the 1st century BC, the seventeenth was sent to the Germania provinces in the Rhine and was stationed in Xanten. In 5 AD, the provinces were pacified and Publius Quintilius Varus was assigned governor and commander of the Germania army.
In September 9 AD, Arminius, leader of the Cheruscan allies, reported a rebellion in the Rhine area. Without suspecting the information received, Varus took his three legions, the XVII along with Legio XVIII and Legio XIX, and headed west. In September 9, near modern Osnabrück, the Cheruscii led by Arminius ambushed the governor's. All three legions were destroyed in what is known as the battle of Teutonburg Forest and their eagle standards lost.
Later, Germanicus sent an expedition to the place and recovered the eagles to Rome.