The Vandals

The Vandals, like the Goths, were from the east and their language was probably also East Germanic. They are first recorded in modern Poland (specifically in Silesia), where they were either allied with or the same as a people called the Lugii, and therefore may have been partly Slavic. On the assumption they originally came from Scandinavia, their earlier homeland has been variously identified with Hallingdal in Norway, Vendel in Sweden, and Vendsyssel in Denmark.

In the 2nd century CE, one group of Vandals moved south and attacked the Romans in the lower Danube area. In about 271 Emperor Aurelian was protecting the middle course of the Danube against them. They made peace and settled in western Dacia and Pannonia, but eventually came into conflict with the Goths. They then moved west to Pannonia, where in about 330, Constantine the Great granted them lands on the right bank of the Danube. They lived there until 400 or 401, converting to Arian Xianity as the Goths had done.

Then, possibly because of attacks by the Huns, their king Godgisel moved them and their allies the Sarmatian Alanii and the Suebi further west into Roman territory again. When they reached the Rhine in 406, they met resistance from the Franks, who were in control of Romanized regions in northern Gaul. 20,000 Vandals, including Godigisel himself, died in the resulting battle, but with the help of the Alans they managed to defeat the Franks, and on December 31, 406 crossed the frozen Rhine to invade Gaul, which they devastated terribly. Under Godigisel's son Gunderic, they continued to plunder their way westward and southward through Aquitaine. On October 13, 409 they crossed the Pyrenees into the Iberian peninsula. There one group of Vandals (Hasdingi) were given land as fœderati in Gallćcia in the northwest and the other (Silingi) in Hispania Baetica (in the south), and the Alans in Lusitania (in the west) and the region around Carthago Nova. The Suebi also controlled part of Gallćcia. The Visigoths crushed the Alans in 426, killing the western Alan king Attaces. The remainder of his people subsequently appealed to the Vandal king Gunderic to accept the Alan crown. Later Vandal kings in North Africa styled themselves Rex Wandalorum et Alanorum ("King of the Vandals and Alans"). The Moorish kingdom of Spain, Al-Andalus, may have taken its name from the Vandals.

They expanded their power into North Africa, and King Geiseric or Genseric, Gunderic's half brother, built a fleet there and started plundering the Mediterranean.

As a result of Roman intrigues (a letter was sent to him claiming that there was a plot to kill him), in 430 Geiseric took his entire tribe of 80,000 Arians across the Straits of Gibraltar and moved east, pillaging and looting and driving huge numbers of Nicene Xian (Catholic) refugees toward the walled city of Hippo Regius, which he besieged. The wheat lay unharvested outside. On 28 August 430, three months into the siege, St. Augustine died, perhaps from hunger or stress. After 14 months, hunger and the inevitable diseases were ravaging both the city inhabitants and the Vandals outside the city walls. Eventually the Romans made peace and granted the Vandals territory in North Africa, but in 439 Geiseric broke the terms by seizing Carthage while most of the inhabitants were attending the races at the hippodrome. Geiseric then built the Kingdom of the Vandals and Alans into a powerful state with the capital at Saldć; he conquered Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearic Islands and racked up plunder.

After the death of Attila, the Hun leader, the Romans could afford to pay more attention to the Vandals. Emperor Valentinian III offered his daughter's hand in marriage to Geiseric's son. But then he was assassinated by a usurper. In 455 with a letter from the Empress Licinia Eudoxia begging Geiseric's son to rescue her, the Vandals took Rome, along with the Empress and her daughters Eudocia and Placidia. This was the third of four barbarian sacks of Rome. Pope Leo the Great is reported to have received Geiseric and implored him to abstain from murder and destruction by fire, and to be satisfied with pillage. Whether the pope's influence saved Rome is, however, questioned. The Vandals departed with countless valuables, including the spoils of the Temple in Jerusalem, booty brought to Rome by Titus.

In 468 the Byzantine Emperor sent a huge fleet against the Vandals, which they destroyed. The Vandals tried to invade the Peloponnese in retaliation but were driven back by the Maniots at Kenipolis with heavy losses. They took 500 hostages at Zakynthos, hacked them to pieces and threw the pieces overboard on the way back to Carthage. But after Geiseric was able to conclude a "perpetual peace" with Constantinople in 476, relations between the two states assumed a veneer of normality.

There were constant religious tensions between the Arian Vandals and their Catholic subjects. With the exception of Hilderic, the Vandal kings persecuted Catholics, banning conversion for Vandals and exiling bishops. This eventually led to the Vandals being crushed by Belisarius on behalf of the Eastern Emperor Justinian I. King Gelimer surrendered in 534. North Africa became a province of the Eastern Empire and the Vandals were expelled from it. The surviving Vandal men were enslaved, some of them in Belisarius' own household, or became Byzantine soldiers, the best warriors forming five cavalry regiments called Vandali Iustiniani ("Justinian's Vandals") and stationed on the Persian frontier. The captured Vandal women married Byzantine soldiers.

Map of barbarian invasions including Vandals:

Map created by MapMaster modified by Nihad Hamzic, Wikimedia Commons

[1. Map of Barbarian Invasions image from]


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