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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

p884 Vandals

Vandals (Lat. Vandili or Vandilii), a term used by early writers only as a collective designation for a group of Teutonic tribes including, according to Pliny, the Burgundians and the Goths. As a tribal name Vandali occurs first in connexion with the Marcomannic War. The people to whom the name is there applied seem to be identical with those formerly known as Lugii. Another tribe called Silingae by Ptolemy likewise appears among the Vandals at a later time. Both these tribes appear to have inhabited the upper part of the basin of the Oder, and the name of the Silingae is preserved in Silesia. The Vandals figure in the earliest legends both of the Goths and the Lombards, both of whom they are said to have encountered unsuccessfully. They first came into contact with the Romans during the Marcomannic War. In the time of Aurelian they invaded Pannonia, and during the reign of Probus we find them fighting in Dacia. In the time of Constantine I, according to Jordanes, they suffered a great defeat at the hands of Geberich, king of the Goths, their own king Visimar being killed, and the survivors were allowed by the Romans to settle in Pannonia. Here they seem to have remained in subjection to the Romans for about sixty years. In the year 406 they moved westward, according to some writers at the instigation of Stilicho, who is himself said to have been of Vandal origin, and crossing the Rhine at Mainz proceeded towards Gaul. A portion of the nation is, however, said to have remained behind, and Procopius tells a story that these remnants sent an embassy to Gaiseric, asking that their kinsfolk in Africa should renounce their claims to the lands which their forefathers had held in the old homes of the race.

[F. G. M. B.]

In Gaul the Vandals fought a great battle with the Franks, in which they were defeated with the loss of 2000 men, and their king Godégisel was slain. In 409 his son Gunderic led them across the Pyrenees. They appear to have settled in Spain in two detachments. One, the Asdingian Vandals, occupied Galicia, the other, the Silingian, Andalusia. Twenty years of bloody and purposeless warfare with the armies of the empire and with their fellow-barbarians, the Goths and the Suevi, followed. The Silingian Vandals were well-nigh exterminated, but their Asdingian brethren (with whom were now associated the remains of a Turanian people, the Alani, who had been utterly defeated by the Goths) marched across Spain and took possession of Andalusia.

In 428 or 429 the whole nation set sail for Africa, upon an invitation received by their king from Bonifacius, count of Africa, who had fallen into disgrace with the court of Ravenna. Gunderic was now dead, and supreme power was in the hands of his bastard brother, who is generally known in history as Genseric, though the more correct form of his name is Gaiseric. This man, short of stature and with limping gait, but with a great natural capacity for war and dominion, reckless of human life and unrestrained by conscience or pity, was for fifty years the hero of the Vandal race and the terror of Constantinople and Rome. Probably in the month of May 428 he assembled all his people on the shore of Andalusia, and numbering the males among them from the greybeard down to the newborn infant found them to amount to 80,000 souls. The passage was effected in the ships of Bonifacius, who, however, soon returning to his old loyalty, besought his new allies to depart from Africa. They, of course, refused, and Bonifacius turned against them, too late, however, to repair the mischief which he had caused. Notwithstanding his opposition, the progress of the Vandals was rapid, and by May 430 only three cities of Roman Africa — Carthage, Hippo and Cirta — remained untaken. The long siege of Hippo (May 430 to July 431), memorable for the last illness and death of St. Augustine, which occurred during its progress, ended unsuccessfully for the Vandals. At length (30th January 435) peace was made between the emperor Valentinian III and Gaiseric. The emperor was to retain Carthage and the small but rich proconsular province in which it was situated, while Hippo and the other six provinces of Africa were abandoned to the Vandal. Gaiseric observed this treaty no longer than suited his purpose. On the 11th of October 439, without any declaration of war, he suddenly attacked Carthage and took it. The Vandal occupation of this great city, the third among the cities of the Roman empire, lasted for ninety-four years. Gaiseric seems to have counted the years of his sovereignty from the date of its capture. Though most of the remaining years of Gaiseric's life were passed in war, plunder rather than territorial conquest seems to have been the object of his expeditions. He made, in fact, of Carthage a pirate's stronghold, whence he issued forth, like the Barbary pirates of a later day, to attack, as he himself said, "the dwellings of the men with whom God is angry," leaving the question who those men might be to the decision of the elements. Almost alone among the Teutonic invaders of the empire he set himself to form a powerful fleet, and was probably for thirty years the leading maritime power in the Mediterranean. Gaiseric's celebrated expedition against Rome (455), undertaken in response to the call of Eudoxia, widow of Valentinian, was only the greatest of his marauding exploits. He took the city without difficulty, and for fourteen days, in a calm and business-like manner, emptied it of all its movable wealth. The sacred vessels of the Jewish temple, brought to Rome by Titus, are said to have been among the spoils carried to Carthage by the conqueror. Eudoxia and her two daughters were also carried into captivity. One of the princesses, Eudocia, was married to Hunneric, eldest son of Gaiseric; her mother and sister, after long and tedious negotiations, were sent to Constantinople.

There does not seem to be in the story of the capture of Rome by the Vandals any justification for the charge of wilful and objectless destruction of public buildings which is implied in the word "vandalism." It is probable that this charge grew out of the fierce persecution which was carried on by Gaiseric and his son against the Catholic Christians, and which is the darkest stain on their characters. This persecution is described with great vividness, and no doubt with some exaggeration, by the nearly contemporary Victor Vitensis. Churches were burned; bishops and priests were forced by cruel and revolting tortures to reveal the hiding-places of the sacred vessels; the rich provincials who were employed about the court, and who still adhered to the Catholic faith, were racked and beaten, and put to death. The bishops were almost universally banished, and the congregations were forbidden to elect their successors, so that the greater part of the churches of Africa remained "widowed " for a whole generation. In 476, at the very close of Gaiseric's life, by a treaty concluded with the Eastern emperor, the bishops were permitted to return. There was then a short lull in the persecution; but on the death of Gaiseric (477) and the accession of Hunneric it broke out again with greater violence than ever, the ferocity of Hunneric being more thoroughly stupid and brutal than the calculating cruelty of his father.

On the death of Hunneric (484) he was succeeded by his cousin Gunthamund, Gaiseric having established seniority among his own descendants as the law of succession to his throne. Gunthamund (484‑96) and his brother Thrasamund (406‑523), though Arians, abated some of the rigour of the persecution, and maintained the external credit of the monarchy. Internally, however, it was rapidly declining, the once chaste and hardy Vandals being demoralized by the fervid climate of Africa and the sinful delights of their new capital, and falling ever lower into sloth, effeminacy and vice. On the death of Thrasamund, Hilderic (523‑31), the son of Hunneric and Eudocia, at length succeeded to the throne. He adhered to the creed of his mother rather than to that of his father; and, in spite of a solemn oath sworn to his predecessor that he would not restore the Catholic churches to their owners, he at once proceeded to do so and to recall the bishops. Hilderic, elderly, Catholic and timid, was very unpopular with his subjects, and after a reign of eight years he was thrust into prison by his warlike cousin Gelimer (531‑34).

The wrongs of Hilderic, a Catholic, and with the blood of Theodosius in his veins, afforded to Justinian a long-coveted pretext for overthrowing the Vandal dominion, the latent weakness of which was probably known to the statesmen of Constantinople. A great expedition under the command of Belisarius (in whose train was the historian Procopius) sailed from the Bosporus in June 533, and after touching at Catana in Sicily finally reached Africa in the beginning of September. Gelimer, who was strangely ignorant of the plans of Justinian, had sent his brother Tzazo with some of his best troops to quell a rebellion in Sardinia (that island as well as the Balearic Isles forming part of the Vandal dominions), and the landing of Belisarius was entirely unopposed. He marched rapidly towards Carthage and on the 11th of September was confronted by Gelimer at Ad Decimum, 10 m. from Carthage. The battle did not reflect any great credit either on Byzantine or Vandal generalship. It was in fact a series of blunders on both sides, but Belisarius made the fewest and victory remained with him. On the 11th of September 533 the imperial general entered Carthage and ate the feast prepared in Gelimer's palace for its lord. Belisarius, however, was too late to save the life of Hilderic, who had been slain by his rival's orders as soon as the news came of the landing of the imperial army. Still Gelimer with many of the Vandal warriors was at liberty. On the return of Tzazo from Sardinia a force was collected considerably larger than the imperial army, and Gelimer met Belisarius in battle at a place about 20 m. from Carthage, called Tricamarum (December 533). This battle was far more stubbornly contested than that of Ad Decimum, but it ended in the utter rout of the Vandals and the flight of Gelimer. He took refuge in a mountain fortress called Pappua on the Numidian frontier, and there, after enduring great hardships in the squalid dwellings of the Moors, surrendered to his pursuers in March 534. The well-known stories of his laughter when he was introduced to Belisarius, and his chant, "Vanitas vanitatum," when he walked before the triumphal car of his conqueror through the streets of Constantinople, probably point to an intellect disordered by his reverses and hardships. The Vandals who were carried captive to Constantinople were enlisted in five squadrons of cavalry and sent to serve against the Parthians under the title "Justiniani Vandali." Four hundred escaped to Africa and took part in a mutiny of the imperial troops, which was with difficulty quelled by Belisarius (536). After this the Vandals disappear from history. The overthrow of their kingdom undoubtedly rendered easier the spread of Saracen conquest along the northern shore of Africa in the following century. In this as in many other fields Justinian sowed that Mahomet might reap.

[T. H.]

See Pliny, Natural History, IV.99; Tacitus, Germania, cc. 2, 43; Ptolemy, II. c11, §§18 ff.; Julius Capitolinus, De Bello Marcomannico, 17; Vopiscus, Probus, 18; Dexippus, Excerpta, pp18 ff. (Bonn); and Jordanes, 4, 16, 22; Procopius, De Bello Vandalico, a first-rate authority for contemporary events, must be used with caution for the history of the two or three generations before his time. The chroniclers Idatius, Prosper and Victor Tunnunensis supply some facts, and for the persecution of the Catholics Victor Vitensis and the Vita Augustini of Posidius may be consulted. See also E. Gibbon, Decline and Fall, chaps. xxxiii and xli; Papencordt, Geschichte der vandalischen Herrschaft in Afrika (Berlin, 1837); T. Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders (1880‑99); L. Schmidt, Geschichte der Wandalen (Leipzig, 1901); and F. Martroye, L'Occident et l'époque byzantine (1904).

[F. J. H.]


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