HISTORIA LEGIONIS: The History of the Original Legio XX 10/15/03
This history of Legio XX is based
on one I wrote a few years ago for Adlocvtio,
using several sources. It did not include footnotes or other documentation,
so I am not certain now just where each fact came from. It should
be reasonably accurate, however, and if someone ELSE would like to rebuild
the research and add the proper citations (and correct any omissions or
errors), please feel free! Primary sources include Tacitus, Suetonius,
and Cassius Dio; Keppie is one of the best secondary sources (see the Bibliography).
The original founding of Legio XX may have been as early as 40 BC, for one of Octavian's campaigns. The legion was certainly part of his Actium campaign and his victory over Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BC, and was afterwards based in Illyricum (Yugoslavia).
In the great Pannonian revolt of 6 AD, Legio XX served with distinction. During one battle the legion broke through the enemy lines, but then became cut off and surrounded and had to fight its way back out again. After Varus' defeat in 9 AD, the legion was moved to Cologne and then to Neuss in Germany, and in the following years took part in Germanicus' punitive campaigns across the Rhine.
Legio XX was part of the army sent by Emperor Claudius to invade Britain in 43 AD. Its first base was Camulodunum (Colchester), then it moved west in 47 or 49, possibly to Kingsholm (near Gloucester), and probably to Usk shortly afterwards. There was sporadic fighting against such famous enemies as Caratacus, and against the Silures and Ordovices in south-eastern Wales.
Probably the best-known event in the history of Legio XX is the defeat of Boudicca's Revolt in 60. The Roman governor Suetonius Paulinus was just completing the eradication of a Druid stronghold in northwest Wales (Angelsey) when he got word of the revolt. The rebels had sacked and burned three undefended towns, including London, and had ambushed and wiped out part of Legio IX Hispana, which had been rushing to the scene (although the Roman cavalry contingent escaped cleanly--some ambush!). Paulinus force-marched his army--Legio XIIII Gemina, most of Legio XX, ans some auxiliaries--across the province, and met Boudicca's vastly larger force head on. In the resulting battle, the Britons were completely crushed, and Roman losses were minimal. For its part in this action, Legio XX was awarded the titles Valeria Victrix, apparently meaning "Valiant and Victorious".*
In 69 AD a vexillation was sent to support Vitellius in his brief term on the Imperial throne. Legio XX seems to have fought against its old comrades in Legio XIIII in the Battle of Cremona. In 83 another vexillation participated in Emperor Domitian's war against the Chatti, and the next year the legion was with Agricola's campaign into the far north of Britain. Legio XX was to have been based at Inchtuthil in Scotland, and began building a fortress there called Victoria--the northernmost Roman fortification in the Empire. But before construction was completed, the decision was made to withdraw from the region. The undoubtedly disgruntled legionaries completely demolished the fortress and moved back to the Welsh border. In the early 90s they moved into the fort of Deva (Chester), which Legio XX was to call home for the next two hundred years.
There was still much activity, however. The men of Legio XX.VV helped build both Hadrian's Wall (122-125) and the Antonine Wall (c. 140). They probably participated in campaigns into Scotland in the 2nd and early 3rd centuries. A vexillation was sent to Germany in 255, and from there to the Danube--and apparently never returned to Britain.
Under Caracalla, the unit added
Antoniniana to its titles, but this was dropped about 222. Emperor
Trajan Decius (249-251) briefly added Deciana to the legion's name.
The latest known reference to Legio XX is on coins struck by the usurper
Carausius, who died in 294--in all, a unit history of nearly 350 years.
Many thanks to Nigel Spry, who suggested a couple corrections, and some sources for more information. The Gloucester and District Archaeological Research Group website at http://www.gadarg.org.uk has an essay entitled "Roman origins of Gloucester", and the Ermine Street Guard has a unit history and links, too.
More information can be found at
the Legio XX.VV database site, www.legioxx.org.uk.
*Lawrence Keppie believes that the legion had no name prior to 60, since there are no references or inscriptions to "Legio XX Valeria" or "Leg.XX.Val", etc. There were several other early imperial legions that had no title at first, though all had adopted or been granted titles by the Flavian period.