Legio XX Valeria Victrix

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Map of the Roman empire in AD 125, under emperor Hadrian, showing the Legio XX Valeria Victrix, stationed at Deva Victrix (Chester, England), in the province of Britannia. They were stationed there from AD 88 until at least the late 3rd century.
Moulded antefix roof tile showing the badge and standard of Legion XX, from Holt, Clwyd, Wales

Legio XX Valeria Victrix, in English Twentieth Victorious Valeria Legion was a legion of the Imperial Roman army.

The origin of the Legion's name is unclear and there are various theories, but the legion may have gained its title Valeria Victrix from a victory it achieved during the Great Illyrian revolt under the command of the general Marcus Valerius Messalla Messallinus.

The legion had a boar as its emblem.


The legion was probably founded shortly after 31 BC by the emperor Augustus.[1]

XX Valeria victrix was probably part of the large Roman force that fought in the Cantabrian Wars in Hispania from 25 to 19 BC.

The legion then moved to Burnum in Illyricum at the beginning of the Pannonian uprising (Bellum Batonianum) in AD 6.[2] It is recorded operating against the Marcomanni in AD 6 in the army of Tiberius.

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.[3] In one battle the legion cut through the enemy lines, was surrounded, and cut its way out again.

After the disaster of Varus in AD 9, XX Valeria Victrix moved to Germania Inferior and was based at Oppidum Ubiorum, then moved to Novaesium at the site of modern Neuss during Tiberius' reign.

The legion was one of the four, with which Claudius invaded Britain in 43 AD. It was also one of the 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.

Around AD 55 under The command of Manlius Valens it moved to Usk, in an unsuccessful attempt to pacify the Silures, a tribe very resistant to the imposition of Roman rule in Wales. But the legion suffered defeat, resulting in Valens’ replacement as legate[4] In AD 60 or 61 the Twentieth helped put down the revolt of queen Boudica, after outflanking the Ordovices it took part in the second Roman invasion of Anglesey which destroyed the Celtic Druids and their religious practices.[5][6] In AD 66, the legion was transferred to the much more passive Viroconium (Wroxeter).[7] It may also have occupied Gloucester (Glevum) at this time.[8]

RIB 2199. Distance Slab of the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix[9] George MacDonald calls in no. 13 in the 2nd edition of his book The Roman Wall in Scotland.[10] It was found near Cleddans, close to Duntocher. It may have been a "waster" and lacks distance data. It has been scanned and a video produced.[11]
Legio XX built Deva Victrix (now Chester), a Roman castrum shown in the figure. The Legio was stationed in Roman Britain until the beginning of the fifth century

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 Britannia and Caledonia, and built the base at Inchtuthill. In AD 88 the legion returned south and occupied Castra Deva (Deva Victrix), where it remained based 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.[12]

The legion probably went on campaign in 196 under Decimus Clodius Albinus into Gaul, and would have suffered heavy losses in Gaul before returning to Britain.[13]

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 Legio XX was still stationed in Britain when 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.

Attested members[edit]

Name Rank Time frame Province Source
Marcus Roscius Coelius[14] legatus legionis 69-70 Britannica Tacitus, Histories, I.60
Gnaeus Julius Agricola[15] legatus legionis 70-73 Britannica Tacitus, Agricola 7.3
Lucius Pomponius Mamilianus[16] legatus legionis early 90s Britannica CIL VII, 164
Marcus Aemilius Papus[17] legatus legionis c. 128 Britannica CIL II, 1371
Gaius Curtius Justus[18] legatus legionis between 140 and 145 Britannica CIL III, 1458
Lucius Cestius Gallus[19] legatus legionis between 160 and 180 Britannica CIL X, 3722
Tiberius Claudius Balbilus military tribune c. 43 Britannica
Marcus Accenna Helvius Agrippa[20] military tribune 2nd century Britannica CIL II, 1262
Lucius Aemilius Naso Fabullinus[20] tribunus laticlavus 2nd century Britannica CIL VI, 29683CIL VI, 29684
Marcus Caelius Flavius Proculus[21] tribunus laticlavus 2nd century Britannica CIL XI, 3883


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)[22] 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.[23] The movie Victrix! The Valiant of Albion is in production and features an adaptation of Stevens' novel.

Legio XX Valeria Victrix was the legion featured in the novel Eagle in the Snow; author Wallace Breem postulates that they were annihilated by the Germanic invasion of 406.

Several of the main characters in the early novels of Jack Whyte's A Dream of Eagles series were former members of Legio XX Valeria Victrix.

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.

Legio XX Valeria Victrix features in the six-novel series Soldier of Rome: The Artorian Chronicles by James Mace.

Legio XX Valeria Victrix is mentioned in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story "Through the Veil".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Legio XX Valeria Victrix - Livius".
  2. ^ Velleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History, 2.112.1–2.
  3. ^ Velleius Paterculus, 2.112.1-2, Cassius Dio, 55.30.1-5.
  4. ^ "Roman fortress discovered underneath town centre".
  5. ^ Moffat, Alistair (2005). Before Scotland. Thames & Hudson. pp. 243–245. ISBN 978-0-500-05133-7.
  6. ^ Agricola
  7. ^ W. H. Manning (2000). "The fortresses of Legio XX". In RJ Brewer (ed.) Roman Fortresses and Their Legions.
  8. ^ "GADARG - Essay 1". Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2013-06-09. The colonia of Glevum
  9. ^ "RIB 2199. Distance Slab of the Sixth Legion". Roman Inscriptions of Britain. Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  10. ^ Macdonald, Sir George (1934). The Roman wall in Scotland, by Sir George Macdonald (2d ed., rev., enl., and in great part rewritten ed.). Oxford: The Clarendon press. p. 387. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  11. ^ "Distance slab of the 20th Legion, Cochno Estate, Duntocher". 30 March 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  12. ^ "Distance slab of the Twentieth Legion, Castlehill". 28 May 2015. Retrieved 27 October 2017.
  13. ^ Mason (2001), pp. 155–156.
  14. ^ Anthony Birley, The Fasti of Roman Britain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), pp. 231f
  15. ^ Birley, Fasti, pp. 76f
  16. ^ Birley, Fasti, p. 235
  17. ^ Birley, Fasti, p. 243
  18. ^ Birley, Fasti, pp. 252f
  19. ^ Birley, Fasti, pp. 258f
  20. ^ a b Birley, Fasti, p. 279
  21. ^ Birley, Fasti, p. 280
  22. ^ (special edition) ISBN 978-0-9559656-1-6
  23. ^ Stevens, Tom (July 2008). The Cauldron: Special Edition. ISBN 978-0955965616.

External links[edit]