Legio XX Valeria Victrix
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Legio vigesima Valeria victrix ("Valerius' Victorious Twentieth Legion") was a legion of the Imperial Roman army. It was probably founded shortly after 31 BC by the emperor Augustus. It served in Hispania, Illyricum, and Germania before participating in the invasion of Britannia in 43 AD. It remained active in Britain until at least the beginning of the 4th century. The legion, which had a boar as its emblem, was based at the fortress of Deva Victrix, which is now the present-day city of Chester.
XX Valeria victrix was probably part of the large Roman force that fought in the Cantabrian Wars in Spain from 25 to 19 BC.
The legion then moved to Illyricum, and is recorded in the army of Tiberius operating against the Marcomanni in AD 6. From there, they were withdrawn to fight the Pannonian uprising. In Illyria they were led by the governor of Illyricum, Marcus Valerius Messalla Messallinus, who may have given his clan (gens) name Valeria to the legion. Although understrength, they managed to defeat the rebels led by Bato of the Daesitiates.
In one battle the legion cut through the enemy lines, was surrounded, and cut its way out again.
The legion was one of the four with which Claudius invaded Britain in 43. It was also one of the two legions that defeated Caratacus at the Battle of Caer Caradoc, after which, from the AD 50s, it was encamped at Camulodunum, with a few units at Kingsholm in Gloucester and a garrison at Wroxeter. In AD 60 or 61 the XX helped put down the revolt of queen Boudica, after having routed the Ordovice by crossing Menai Strait in Wales to destroy the Druids' sacred groves in 58.
The legion was then based at Deva Victrix.
In the year of the four emperors, the legion sided with Vitellius. Some units went with him to Rome. In AD 78–84, the legion was part of Gnaeus Julius Agricola's campaigns in northern Britania and Caledonia, and built the base at Inchtuthil. In AD 88 the legion returned south and occupied Castra Devena (Deva Victrix), where it remained for at least two centuries.
The Twentieth was among the legions involved with the construction of Hadrian's Wall, and the discovery of stone altars commemorating their work in Caledonia suggests that they had some role in building the Antonine Wall.
During the Carausian Revolt, which established the Britannic Empire under Carausius and Allectus in the 280s and 290s, the XX Valeria Victrix was still active. No further information is known after this period and scholars believe the XX legion was still stationed in Britain when the usurper Constantine III pulled the bulk of the military forces from there in the year 407 for his doomed campaign on the continent.
This legion has been much studied; at least 250 members of the legion have been identified in surviving inscriptions.
Legio XX Valeria Victrix and their final days in Deva (Chester) in the early AD 400s form the backdrop to the Tom Stevens mythic-fiction genre novel The Cauldron (special edition) with the story's protagonist Valerian—the Praefectus and Chief Centurion—defending the city with the rump of the legion against the incursions of Hibernian pirates as the "Dark Ages" settle on Britannia. The movie Victrix! The Valiant of Albion is in production and features an adaptation of Tom Stevens novel.
Gaius Petreius Ruso, protagonist of Medicus by Ruth Downie, is a military doctor in Britannia attached to Legio XX.
Legio XX Valeria Victrix lends its name to the character Valeria Matuchek in Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos and its sequel Operation Luna; her mother is said to describe this legion as the last to leave Britain—"the last that stood against Chaos".
The first person narrator of Stephen Vincent Benét's short story "The Last of the Legions" is the senior centurion of the Valeria Victrix, who recounts the events and the impressions of soldiers and populace surrounding the departure of the legion from Britain.
Legion Company of the U.S. Army's 1st battalion 503rd Infantry Regiment 173rd Airborne Brigade stationed in Vicenza, Italy is named after Legio XX. They chose this name for the paratroopers' ability to fight fiercely behind enemy lines.
- Velleius Paterculus, 2.112.1-2, Cassius Dio, 55.30.1-5.
- W. H. Manning (2000). "The fortresses of Legio XX". In RJ Brewer (ed.) Roman Fortresses and Their Legions.
- Moffat, Alistair (2005). Before Scotland. Thames & Hudson. pp. 243–245. ISBN 978-0-500-05133-7.
- (special edition) ISBN 978-0-9559656-1-6
- Victrix! The Valiant of Albion