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Book III
Chapter 2

This webpage reproduces a section of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London, 1892

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.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book III
Chapter 3

Book 3 (continued)

Vol. II
Note E

Chronology of the Vandal Kings

There are some difficulties besetting the subject of the Chronology of the Vandal dominion in Africa, and though no question of importance turns upon them, and I have no reason to dissent (except in one particular where I follow Tillemont) from the ordinary chronology as given in Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall,' it may be worth while to point out what these differences are, and on what foundation the received chronology rests.

The first point, the only one that can now be considered a matter of controversy, is the date of the Passage of the Vandals into Africa. As to this it may be well to quote the entry of Prosper in full.

"Hierio et Ardabure Coss [= 427]

"Bonifacio, cujus potentia gloriaque in Africâ augebatur, bellum ad arbitrium Felicis, quia ad Italiam venire abnuerat, publico nomine illatum est, ducibus Mavortio et Galbione et Sinoce, cujus proditione Mavortius et Galbio, cum Bonifacium obsiderent interempti sunt: moxque ipse a Bonifacio dolo detectus occisus est. Exinde gentibus, quae uti navibus nesciebant, dum a concertantibus in auxilium vocantur, mare pervium factum est bellique contra Bonifacium coepti in Sigisvultum Comitem cura translata est."

"Gens Vandalorum ab Hispaniis ad Africam transiit."

"Felice et Tauro Coss [=428]

Then follow the events of this year which do not relate to Africa.

The author of the Chronicon Imperiale, or the so‑called 'Tiro,' says 'VIII Theodosii II post mortem Honorii [=431], Wandali in Africam transfretantes, ingentem, laceratâ omni provinciâ, Romanis cladem dedere.' (This is evidently wrong, as Augustine's death during the siege of Hippo by the Vandals is quite clearly fixed to 430.)

 p291  Idatius writes 'V Theodosii II post mortem Honorii, Gaisericus rex de Baeticae provinciae litore cum Wandalis omnibus eorumque familiis mense Majo ad Mauretaniam et Africam relictis transiit Hispaniis.'

Clinton truly remarks that, according to Idatius' chronology, the fifth year of Theodosius II after the death of Honorius would be 429, since he gives Honorius' reign a year more than its due, and thus puts his death in 424 instead of 423.

Still, as a matter of fact, the fifth year of Theodosius II after his uncle's death would be not 429 but 428; and it is clear that some of Idatius' dates require correction. Take, for instance, the papal accessions. Celestine I's accession is four years too late, 426 instead of 422; that of Sixtus III two years, 434 instead of 432; that of Leo I one year, 441 instead of 440. Evidently there is a tendency at this part of Idatius' Chronicon to bring down his dates too low, and this may be in part owing to his having made the reign of Honorius too long by one year (Tillemont makes this remark: 'Idace ne le met néanmoins qu'en 429, mais ce serait s'éloigner beaucoup de S. Prosper. Et peut-être cela ne vient‑il que de ce qu'il a mis la mort d'Honoré un an trop tard, ce qui brouille beaucoup sa suite.')

Cassiodorus here, as elsewhere, for the most part, does little more than transcribe Prosper.

Marcellinus has no entry on the subject.

Victor Tunnunensis does not begin till 444.

Isidore, in his 'Historia Wandalorum,' has under 'Era quadringentesima sexagesima septima' [the 467th year of the Spanish Era corresponding with A.D. 429]. Gesericus frater Gunderico succedit in regno annis quadraginta. Qui ex Catholico effectus Apostata in Arianam primus fertur transisse perfidiam. Hic de Baeticae provinciae litore cum Vandalis omnibus eorumque familiis ad Mauritaniam et Africam relictis transit Hispaniis.'

Isidore appears here to be transcribing Idatius, and therefore adopts his chronology. Isidore's own Vandal chronology, as we shall see further on, is an inconceivable muddle of errors.

The Chronicon Paschale (seu Alexandrinum) has the entry '11th year of the 20th Indiction [428] Consulship of Felix and Taurus. Under these Consuls the Vandals entered Africa.'

This date, 428, I believe to be the true date of the Vandal invasion  p292 of Africa. Herein, I follow Tillemont, and differ from Pagi, Gibbon, and Clinton, who put it in 429.

My reasons for this view are —

(1) The Paschal Chronicle, which seems to be accurate in its dates at this point, is the only one, except Prosper, which mentions the names of the Consuls under whom the event occurred. Any one who studies the principle on which the lists are composed, will see how extremely easy it is for an event to be dated a year too high or too low, when only the number of the regnal year is given. Much less is the chance of error when the date is linked with the names of the Consuls.

(2) It is generally admitted that Prosper's apparent date (427) is too early, since the war waged by the Court of Ravenna against Bonifacius, which was the cause of the invitation, only began in that year, and there is some reason to respect the statement of Idatius that the Vandals crossed in May.

I am not sure, however, that Prosper is really an adverse authority to the date 428. It will be seen that he describes under 427 at some length the war against Bonifacius and then at the end of this entry, and immediately before 'Felice et Tauro Coss,' says 'Gens Vandalorum ab Hispaniis ad Africam transiit.' He perhaps, therefore, means to describe under 427 rather the events which led up to the crossing of the Mediterranean than the crossing itself.

The over-running of at least four African provinces, and the capture of all their cities but three, are events quite sufficient to fill up the two years between 428 and the siege of Hippo.

The next event of importance in Vandal chronology is the Taking of Carthage. This is fixed by the consenting voice of Prosper, Idatius, Cassiodorus (who must be looked upon as only an echo of Prosper), Marcellinus, and the Paschal Chronicle to the year 439 (Consulship of Theodosius and Festus). 'Tiro,' who assigns it to 444, may be safely pronounced inaccurate. Idatius and Marcellinus agree that the capture was in the month of October, Idatius placing it on the 19th and Marcellinus on the 23rd of that month. The Paschal Chronicle also places it Ὑπερβερεταίῳ, which corresponds with October.

Prosper says that Carthage was taken by the Vandals 'Anno postquam Romana esse coeperat DLXXXV (alias DLXXXIII). The Vatican MS. of Prosper says 'Carthago capitur a Vandalis anno  p293 postquam Romana esse coeperat quingentesimo octogesimo quarto.' As the year of the Roman capture of Carthage was B.C. 146, these dates correspond to 439, 437, and 438 respectively.

Still, as before said, there can be no doubt that the true date is near the end of October, 439.

The Death of Gaiseric took place on or about the 25th January, 477. We get this date from Victor Vitensis (I.17), who says (reckoning from the capture of Carthage), 'Duravit in regno annis triginta septem mensibus tribus': and who is confirmed by the appendix to Prosper (Augustan MS. in Roncalli's Chronica I.702). 'Post consulatum' (this, as Clinton remarks, must be corrected to 'Consulatu') 'Theodosii XVII et Festi, Geisericus Wandalorum Rex Carthaginem ingressus est die XIV Kalendarum Novembrium [= 19 October, 439; the date given by Idatius]. 'Qui regnavit eandem Africam civitatem annis XXXVII, mensibus III, diebus VI.'

Gaiseric therefore died 25 January, 477.

Reigns of Gaiseric's successors. From the same appendix to Prosper (Roncalli I.702) we get our most accurate chronology of these reigns.

'Post hunc regnavit Hunerix, filius ejus annis VII, mensibus X, diebus XVIII.'

Accession of Huneric, 25 Jan. 477.
Death of Huneric, 13 Dec. 484.

'Post eum regnavit Guntamundus Gentunis ejusdem Hunerici Regis fratris filius annos XI, mensibus IX, diebus XI.'

Accession of Gunthamund, 13 Dec. 484.
Death of Gunthamund, 24 Sep. 496.

'Post quem regnavit Trasamundus Gentunis filius annos XXVI, mensibus VIII, diebus IV.'

Accession of Thrasamund, 24 Sep. 496.
Death of Thrasamund, 28 May, 523.

'Post quem regnavit Hildrix filius Hunerici annos VIII, dies VIII.'

Accession of Hilderic, 28 May, 523.
Dethronement of Hilderic, 5 June, 531.

'Quo regnante assumptâ tyrannide Geilamer regnum ejus invadit in quo sedit annos III, mensibus III.'

Accession of Gelimer, 5 June, 531.
End of reign of Gelimer, 5 Sep. 534.

 p294  But this brings down the dethronement of Gelimer a year too low, as we know that the expedition of Belisarius against Carthage sailed in June, 533, and had accomplished all its work, including the captivity of Gelimer himself, by March, 534. We find also that we have one year too many, from the summation made by Prosper's continuer himself. 'Fiunt ergo ab exordio Regis Geiserici usque ad exitum Wandalorum anni XCIII, menses X, dies XI.'

But the numbers above given add up to 94 years, 10 months, and 16 days. We therefore reduce the reign of Gelimer to II years and III months (agreeing herein with the tenour of the narrative of Procopius), and thus the end of the reign of Gelimer is brought to 5th September, 533: almost the exact date of Belisarius' landing in Africa. According to the view of an Imperialist chronicler the Vandal domination in Africa would end de jure as soon as Justinian's army entered the province.

Upon the whole it must be admitted that this chronology has been preserved with great accuracy, and its accords with the general course of the history.

Very different is the judgment which must be passed upon the only system of Vandal chronology, which has any pretension to compete with that of Prosper and his continuer,​1 namely, that of Isidore of Seville. This Spanish bishop (who lived from about 560 to 636) in his 'Historia Wandalorum,' which is compiled chiefly from Idatius and Victor Tunnunensis, gives us a series of dates, which is apparently very complete, but which must be the result of some bewildered back-reckoning of events, and is entirely and hopelessly inaccurate. His dates are given according to the Spanish era or Era of Augustus, which corresponds with 38 B.C.; but translating them into dates of the Christian Era they are as follows:—

Irruption of the Vandals and allied nations into Gaul A.D. 366​2      should be 406
Their entry into Spain 408       " 409
Division of Spain between Vandals, Alans, and Suevi 411      
 p295  Reign of Gunderic 18 years
Accession of Gaiseric (who reigned 40 years)​3 429      
Accession of Huneric (who reigned 7 years and 5 months) 477       should be 477
Accession of Gunthamund (who reigned 12 years) 476       " 484
Accession of Thrasamund (who reigned 27 years and 4 months) 488       " 496
Accession of Hilderic (who reigned 7 years and 3 months) 515       " 523
Accession of Gelimer 522       " 531
Fall of the Vandal monarchy 525       " 534

'Africa was recovered by Belisarius in the 97th year of the entry of the Vandals.' This agrees sufficiently well with Isidore's reckoning (525‑429 = 96). 'The kingdom of the Vandals had lasted 113 years from King Gunderic to the death (interitum) of Gelimer.' According to Isidore's reckoning this interval was 114 years (525‑411 = 114), and moreover it was not terminated by the death of Gelimer, but by his defeat and captivity. It will be seen that the dates of Huneric's and Gunthamund's accessions do not correspond with the periods allotted for the reign of their predecessors. And the whole chronology is so hopelessly at variance with history that the expedition of Belisarius against Carthage is brought to the year 524‑5, two years before the access of Justinian to the Empire. It is clear that Isidore did not understand the rudiments of the subject about which he professed to inform his readers, and that his scheme of chronology is absolutely worthless.

Of the other chroniclers, Marcellinus Comes does not mention the accessions of the Vandal kings, but is of course acquainted with the true date of the campaign of the conquest of Africa (534). He puts it, however, in the 96th year after the capture of Carthage by the Vandals. According to his own dates it should have been the 95th year.

Victor Tunnunensis is utterly wrong in his earlier Vandal chronology, but struggles into accuracy for the later period. He has evidently been the chief author of confusion to Isidore.

 p296  He puts the death of Gaiseric 'anno Regni XL' in the year 464 instead of 477.

This mistake, which vitiates all this part of his chronology, perhaps arises from a confusion between the accession of Gaiseric (which may have happened in 424) and the capture of Carthage in 439. But, even so, it is only in round numbers that Gaiseric can be said to have reigned at Carthage for 40 years.

The reign of Huneric is said by Victor to have lasted 7 years and 5 months (7 years, 5 months and 18 days, according to Prosper's continuer), but to have ended in 479, though his accession is placed in 464. By this arithmetical blunder 8 years of the redundant 13, arising from the ante-dating of the death of Gaiseric, are silently cancelled and Huneric's death is made only five years too early.

Gunthamund comes to the throne in 479, reigns 12 years (instead of 11 years, 9 months, and 11 days), and dies in 497. The whole of the redundant years are now cancelled, and Thrasamund actually comes to the throne a year too late (497 instead of 496).

Thrasamund reigns 27 years and 4 months (instead of 26 years, 8 months, and 4 days), and dies in 523, the correct year.

Hilderic comes to the throne in 523, and reigns 7 years and 3 months (instead of 8 years and 8 days). This would probably bring his deposition to 530, but Victor agrees with Prosper's continuer in fixing it for 531. The fall of Gelimer is assigned to the year of Belisarius' landing in Africa, 533.

Probably these inaccuracies of the ecclesiastical chroniclers and their desperate attempts to remedy them by a suspension of the laws of arithmetic, are due to the fury of the Vandal persecution, which had caused the registers of the churches to fall into hopeless confusion.

The Author's Notes:

1 Not the author who is technically known as 'Continuator Prosperi' in the Copenhagen MS. edited by Hills.

2 'Era quadringentesima quarta,' but the omission of 'quadragesima' is probably due to a transcriber's error.

3 The lengths of the Vandal reigns are those given by Isidore himself, though inconsistent with his chronology.

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