1902 Encyclopedia > Vandals


VANDALS. The Vandals, one of the leading Teutonic nations that overthrew the Roman empire, were of the Low German stock and closely allied to the Goths. We first hear of them in the time of Pliny and Tacitus as occupy-ing a district nearly corresponding to Brandenburg and Pomerania. From thence, in the 2d century, they pressed southwards to the confines of Bohemia, where they gave their name to the mountains now called the Riesengebirge. After a century of hostile and desultory operations against the Roman empire, having been signally defeated by Aurelian (271), they made peace with Rome, one of the conditions being that they should supply 2000 fcederati to the imperial army. Sixty years later they sustained a great defeat from the Goths under their king Geberich, after which they humbly sought and obtained permission from Constantine to settle as Roman subjects within the province of Pannonia. Here they remained seventy years, and during this period they probably made some advances in civilization and became Christians of the Arian type. In 406, when the empire under Honorius was falling into ruin, they crossed the Rhine and entered Gaul. Stilicho, the chief adviser of Honorius, who was a man of Vandal extraction, was accused by his enemies of having invited them into the empire, but this is probably a groundless calumny. In Gaul they fought a great' battle with the Franks, in which they were defeated with the loss of 2000 men, and their king Godigisclus 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 Sil-ingian, Andalusia. Twenty years of bloody and purpose-less 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 Alans, 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. In the month of May 428 (?) he assembled all his people on the shore of Andalusia, and numbering the males among them from the graybeard 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 re-turning 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 mis-chief which he had caused. Notwithstanding his opposi-tion the progress of the Vandals was rapid, and by May 430 only three cities of Boman 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 Valen-tinian III. and Genseric. The emperor was to retain Carth-age 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. Genseric ob-served this treaty no longer than suited his purpose. On the 19th 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 Boman empire, lasted for ninety-four years. Gen-seric seems to have counted the years of his sovereignty from the date of its capture. Though most of the remain-ing years of Genseric'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, from 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. Genseric's celebrated expedition against Borne (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 Borne 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 Huneric, eldest son of Genseric ; 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 Genseric and his son against the Catholic Christians, and which is the darkest stain on their charac-ters. This persecution is described with great vividness, and no doubt with some exaggeration, by the nearly con-temporary 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 475, at the very close of Genseric'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 Genseric (477) and the accession of Huneric (a bitter Arian, made more rancorous by the orthodoxy of his wife Eudocia) it broke out again with greater violence than ever, the ferocity of Huneric being more thoroughly stupid and brutal than the calcu-lating cruelty of his father.

On the death of Huneric (484) he was succeeded by his cousin Gunthamund, Genseric having established seniority among his own descendants as the law of succession to his throne. Gunthamund (484-496) and his brother Thrasa-mund (496-523), 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 (523-531), the son of Huneric 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 wyould not restore the Catholic churches to their owners, he at once pro-ceeded 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 (531-534).

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 his-torian Procopius) sailed from the Bosphorus 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 re-bellion in Sardinia (that island as well as the Balearic Isles forming part of the Vandal dominions), and the land-ing of Belisarius was entirely unopposed. He marched rapidly towards Carthage and on the 13th of September was confronted by Gelimer at Ad Decimum, 10 miles 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 14th 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 twenty miles from Carthage, called Tricamarum (December 533). This battle was far more stubbornly contested than that of Ad Deci-mum, 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 Numidiah 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 in-troduced 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 histor}'. 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 Mohammed might reap.

Authorities.—Procopius, De Hello Vandalico, a first-rate authority for contemporary events, must be used with caution for those which happened two or three generations before him. Consult especially i. 5 for the land settlement of Genseric, and also Victor Vitensis and Possidius ( Vita Augustini) for the persecution of the Catholics. The chroniclers Idatius, Prosper, Victor Tunnunensis supply some facts. The Chronicon of Isidore adds little to our knowledge and is absurdly wrong in its chronology. Of modern treatises that of Papencordt (Gesch. d. Vandal. Herrschaft in Afrika) is the most complete. Consult also Dahn (Könige der Germanen, part I.), Gibbon (chaps, xxxiii. and xli.), and Hodgkin (Italy and her Invaders, vols. ii. and iii.).

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