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Book III
Ch. 7

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

published by the Clarendon Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Book III
Ch. 8

Vol. II
Note G

Vandal Dominion over the Islands of the Mediterranean

It is clear that the Vandal domination (which, like that of the Athenians in the fifth century before Christ, was essentially a maritime domination) extended over several islands of the western Mediterranean, but it is not easy, from the scattered notices of the chroniclers, to draw up a precise account of the different stages of its growth.

Our chief information on this subject is derived from Victor Vitensis, who says that 'after the death of Valentinian III Genseric obtained the circuit of the whole of Africa, and moreover the largest islands — Sardinia, Sicily, Corsica, Ivica, Majorca, Minorca, and many others — and defended them with his wonted arrogance: one of which, that is Sicily, he afterwards granted to Odoacer, King of Italy, by tributary right, out of which Odoacer at certain times paid him tribute as to his lord, [Genseric] however reserving some part to himself.'1

It seems clear, however, that, at any rate as regards Sicily, there was no complete conquest of it by Gaiseric so early as 455 (the date of the death of Valentinian III). In 456, and again in 465, we find him ravaging Sicily, as if it were a hostile country.2 At the time of the great combined expedition of 468 against Gaiseric, Sicily seems to have been made a base of operations by  p504 the Imperial flotilla:3 and it was in Sicily, after the failure of the expedition, that Marcellinus was murdered by one of his colleagues.4 All these facts seem to show that at any rate the Vandal domination was not yet securely established over the whole of Sicily, though it is probable enough that Lilybaeum, and perhaps Palermo, may have been conquered and held firmly during these years of strife by Gaiseric.5 Apparently this is our last information as to Sicilian affairs until (as above stated) we find Gaiseric in 476 dealing with the whole island as his undoubted possession, and assigning it 'tributario jure' to Odovacar.

It is this fact which leads me to conjecture that in the treaty of 475 between Orestes and Gaiseric the island of Sicily may have been formally ceded to the Vandal king. The 'aliqua pars,' which Gaiseric reserved to himself at the time of his cession to Odovacar, was most probably the western corner of the island, including the fortress of Lilybaeum, though this does not seem to be anywhere distinctly stated.

Briefly to describe the later fortunes of Sicily, it evidently all formed part of the kingdom of Theodoric, till on the marriage of his sister Amalafrida with Thrasamund, king of the Vandals (circa 500), Theodoric ceded Lilybaeum and the adjacent territory to Thrasamund as part of the marriage-dowry.6 To this period, doubtless, belongs the inscription recorded by Muratori (Thesaur. Inscriptt. p494.4)7 on a stone near Marsala, 'Fines inter Vandalos et Gothos. Mil. IIII.' On the fall of the Vandal kingdom Justinian claimed Lilybaeum (which had meanwhile been taken possession of by the Goths) as part of his prize of war, and the Goths' refusal to surrender it was one of the pretexts of the war, which for a time re‑united not only Sicily but Italy also to the Empire.

As for the other islands mentioned by Victor — Sardinia, Corsica,  p505 and the Balearic isles — they appear to have been earlier and more firmly attached to the Vandal kingdom than Sicily. Sardinia was indeed recovered for the Empire by Marcellinus in 468,8 but it probably fell back under Vandal dominion soon after the failure of the expedition of that year, since, at the conference between Catholics and Arians at Carthage in 484, the names of several bishops from Sardinia and the Balearic isles are mentioned, and these were undoubtedly subjects of the Vandal king. After that conference forty‑six Catholic bishops were sent to Corsica to hew wood for the royal navy, a proof (if proof were needed) that this island also owned the sway of the son of Gaiseric.9

All these islands were easily won back to their allegiance to the Emperor after the fall of the Vandal monarchy in 533,10 though at a later period Sardinia and Corsica were for a few years subject to the Ostrogothic king Totila (circa 545‑552).11

The foregoing faint outline of the history of the Mediterranean islands seems to be all that it is possible to extract from the secular historians. Probably a careful study of ecclesiastical documents would enable us to supply much that is here missing.

The Author's Notes:

1 See the original passage, quoted p263 (note). Victor continues, 'Quarum unam illarum id est Siciliam, Odoacro Italiae regi' (observe this title) 'postmodum tributario jure concessit; ex quâ ei Odoacer singulis quibusque temporibus, ut domino tributa dependit: aliquam tamen sibi reservans partem.' De Pers. Vand. I.4.

2 Priscus, Excerpts VII and X (pp216 and 218, ed. Bonn).

3 Papencordt (p102) infers this from the words of Priscus as to the Emperor Leo (ἐν μείζονι φροντίδι τὰ ἐν Σικελίᾳ συνενεχθέντα ποιούμενος, fr. 22), but the argument seems rather weak.

4 Cassiodorus and Marcellinus, s. a. 468.

5 Tillemont (VI.224) and Baronius (s. a. 454, XXII) infer the capture of Lilybaeum from the captivity of its bishop, Paschasinus, who wrote a plaintive letter as to his sufferings to Pope Leo. Idatius tells us that 'Gaisericus Siciliam depraedatus Panormum diu obsedit' in 440, but we do not seem to be distinctly told of his capture of the city.

6 See vol. III p356.

7 I take this quotation from Papencordt.

8 Procopius (De Bello Vandalico, I.6).

9 Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, II.611, 612.

10 Procopius (De Bello Vandalico, II.5), and see vol. III p687.

11 See vol. IV pp698‑9.

Page updated: 5 Mar 12