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The XX Legion - Valeria Victrix

Replica XX Legion shields inside the gyrus at the Lunt Roman Fort

Salve! Welcome to the XX Legion

The XX Legion (20th Legion) have strong ties to the local area around Coventry. In this section we will uncover the fascinating history of this Legion and discover the site of its many postings across the Roman Empire. One thing to bear in mind as you read is that in each place the Legion would have recruited locals in to its ranks, so that by the time it arrived in the W Midlands, the Legion would most probably have contained members from the Balkans, Italy, Germany, Spain, and no doubt some from N Africa as well. For more on the diversity of the Roman army, see the section on Diversity.

Roman Legions – A Brief Overview

(More information on the Roman army can be found at the Roman Leicester Resources.)

During the Roman Imperial Period (ca. 27BC- AD 476) a Roman legion was typically composed of around 4,000-6,000 troops, including legionnaires and auxiliaries (additional troops). Typically a legion was made up of the following cohorts:

Each cohort was comprised of six Centuries of 80 men (originally there had been 100 men – hence the name - but this had decreased by the first century BC). The man in charge of a century was known as a ‘centurion’.

Centurions did not necessarily remain attached to one legion or serve in one province for their whole careers. Mattingly cites one centurion T. Flavius Virilis known to have served in three British legions including the XX Valeria Victrix then one in Africa and one in Italy in a career spanning forty-five years (2007, 185). His British wife Lollia Bodicca (!) buried him in Numidia (modern Algeria) aged 70. He may even have been British himself.

Below the centurions were the legionary soldiers, who enlisted in a legion for a period of twenty-five years and had to be citizens under the age of 45. Auxiliary troops differed from the legionaries in being non-citizens but also signed on for twenty-five years, though in practice some served longer. Citizenship was awarded upon discharge, or occasionally to a whole unit for outstanding valour in battle, and later in the occupation, some recruits were already citizens, the sons of former auxiliary soldiers. By the late 70s, in Britain, auxiliaries outnumbered legionaries.

The Origin of the Legion's Name

The XX Legion was also known as the Legio vigesima Valeria Victrix – the "Twentieth Victorious Valeria Legion." The origin of its name is unknown, and various theories have been put forward for why and when Victrix ‘victorious’ was added to the name. One idea is that the name was awarded from a victory the legion achieved during the Great Illyrian revolt under the command of the general Marcus Valerius Messalla Messallinus (AD 6-8). This may also be the origin of the Valeria part of the name as well as the Victrix. Another theory suggests that the name came from the role played by the XX’s role in defeating Boudica (ca. AD 60-61). The silver ring found at Lunt Roman Fort may have something to say about this…(see resources on the Lunt). The symbol of the Twentieth Legion was a jumping boar. The significance of this emblem is not fully understood.

Moulded antefix roof tile showing the badge and standard of Legion XX, from Holt, Clwyd, Wales

A History of the XX Legion