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“We believe in breaking things, lots of things”
“Unbreakable, that's what we are”
The Vandals were a tribe of Germanic origin that liked to destroy and corrupt of human knowledge in the Western hemisphere. They didn't like art, culture or walls devoid of garish coloured writing. Other than that, they were a fun bunch to hang out with in the dog days of the Roman Empire.
The Vandals are perhaps best known for their sack of Rome in 455 BCE, during which many of the classical writings of the great philosophers were utterly defaced, and numerous works of art were to become a Germanic abomination. Although the Vandals were not notably more destructive than others similar clans, such as the mythical trolls, mythological creatures who were infamous for stalking innocents across the Roman Empire while badgering them constantly, or the Blankers, a Francophone tribe notorious for erasing various official publications of the Praetorians and their supporters - the high regard which later European cultures held for ancient Rome led to the association of the name of the tribe with persons who cause senseless destruction, particularly in diminution of aesthetic appeal or destruction of objects that were completed with great effort.
edit Origins and early history
Initial traces of Vandal tribes can be found by following a trail of broken pottery alongside the Northern borders of the Roman empire (before the Romans took over the Germanic region). Initial indications included heaps of dung and sudden increase in amount of violence towards local centurions known to be enamoured with certain aspects of the pleasurable life of the Romans.
The first documented encounter between a Roman legion and the Vandals occurred somewhere along the Rhine Frontier. The Vandals lost, mainly because they were split between two tribal groups: The Slitthroati and the Hashtagi. The Latin writer Tacitus says both tribes were proud and ignorant of soap in his survey of all the German tribes in what is called the 'Germania' or the Kraut Roll. In the 2nd century, the Hashtagi Vandals led by the kings Haus and Raus moved their people into the Balkans where they got the better of the Romans. Emperor Aurelian gave them permission to set up their mobile homes (i.e. tents) in what had been Dacia. The Dacians were not consulted.
According to the historian Jordanes in his page turner Getica: Or How I Stopped Worrying About the Vandals and Got A Life, the Hashtagi got into a wardrobe argument with the Goths. This lead to plenty of shredded trousers until the Hashtagi moved further into Pannonia and back towards Germany, receiving in passing a letter of recommendation from Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. It got to be a bit crowded around there with Goths, their duller cousins the Gepids. This move also brought them back within spear throwing contact with the Slitthroati Vandals but inter tribal relations remained deadly. Friendly games of Goth Head Ball had to be abandoned because of mutual chanting and the destruction of agreed meeting halls.
edit Crossing the River Rhine
By now the Roman Empire was crumbling and the frontier was becoming seriously undermanned. The West Roman Emperor Honorius said he would get the Germans to rebuild it and pay for the privilege. Nothing happened until the winter of 407 froze The Rhine solid and a wedge of Germans crossed the frontier and went on a wild pay nothing shopping spree. Both tribes of Vandals went over together, along with the Suebi (The Subbuteo in Latin), and The Alans, a horde of cavalry men with long moustaches and pretty horses. All of them claimed that they had to get across the river because there was a horde of bad ass Huns on the way and they liked killing people rather than just smashing things.
The Romans were so shocked to see the Germans on the wrong side of the river that they immediately blamed Honorius and accepted a self proclaimed Roman general at 'Emperor Constantine III'. The Vandals were having the time of their lives. However the Franks who lived on both sides of The Rhine were less pleased to see them and asked for help from Rome. Eventually the Roman general Stilicho came north and tried to persuade the Vandals and friends to go home. Instead, looking for the sun to warm their hairy limbs, the Vandals, The Alans and the Suebi headed off to Spain where they hoped to carry on their looting.
edit In Hispania
Spain was a lot of fun for the Vandals. The local Romans down there had spent the last four centuries lying on couches and eating grapes. They were softer than toffee. At first there was plenty to go around but then the Vandals fell out with each other and then their fellow house breakers. Their fun eventually ended when the Romans once again played a version of musical chairs with their remaining territories and invited the Visigoths to leave Italy (where they had been since sacking Rome, sleeping in the best beds) and move to Spain. Usual promises and bribes were offered.
Now it was the turn of the Spanish interlopers to get the wrong end of a Goth spear up the arse. The Suebi ran off to the North Western corner of Spain whilst the Vandals. The Hashtagi Vandals and the Slitthroati were so badly beaten up by the Visigoths that they eventually joined forces and went on the run, along with The Alans. The Freds and The Beryls were left to their fate.
It all got complicated when The Romans got involved again, supporting the Visigoths. This so pissed off The Vandals that they got their shit together and voted to move again. This time to North Africa but first, the Vandals felt they needed a few changes as the top. Vandal king Gunderic and the Alan King Attaces were beaten to death with a chariot by a new Vandal leader called Genseric. Deciding it was getting a bit hot in Spain, what with the Visigoths and Romans chasing them around - they stole some ships and took everyone over to Morocco.
The Vandals may have given their name to the region of Andalusia, which according to one of several theories of its etymology which would be the source of Al-Andalus — the Arabic name of Iberian Peninsula), in the south of present day Spain, where they settled before pushing on to North Africa - though this theory is increasingly disputed (see Al-Andalus: Older proposals).
edit The Vandal Kingdom in North Africa
They settled mainly in the lands corresponding to modern Tunisia and northeastern Algeria. It was under the reign of king Genseric, Gunderic's half brother, when Vandals started building a fleet to plunder the Mediterranean.
In 429, political maneuvering in Rome was to change the landscape forever. Rome was ruled by the boy emperor Valentinian III (who rose to power at the age of 8), and his mother Galla Placidia. However, the Roman General Flavius Aëtius, in vying for power, convinced Galla Placidia that her General Boniface was plotting to kill her and her son to claim the throne for himself. As proof, he implored her to write him a letter asking him to come to Rome so that she would see that Boniface would refuse. At the same time Aëtius sent Boniface a letter stating that he should disregard letters from Rome asking him to return for they were plotting to kill him. When Boniface saw the letter from Rome, and believed there was a plot to kill him, he enlisted the help of the Vandal King Geiseric. He promised the Vandals land in North Africa in exchange for their help. However, when it was known that the whole thing was a plot on the part of Aëtius, and Boniface was once again in Rome's favour, it was too late to turn back the Vandal invasion.
Genseric crossed the Strait of Gibraltar with the entire tribe of 80,000 and moved east, pillaging and looting as they drove more and more refugees toward the walled city of Hippo Regius. Genseric realized that they wouldn't be able to take the city in a direct assault, so began a months long siege on the walls of Hippo Regius. Inside Saint Augustine and his priests prayed for relief from the invaders, knowing full well that the fall of the city would spell conversion or death for many Roman Christians. On 28 August 430, three months into the siege, St. Augustine died, perhaps from hunger or stress, as the wheat fields outside the city lay dormant and unharvested. After 14 months, hunger and the inevitable diseases were ravaging both the city inhabitants and the Vandals outside the city walls.
Peace was made between the Romans and the Vandals by means of a grant in 435 of territory in Northern Africa. In 439, the Vandals took and plundered Carthage without a fight, entering the city while most of the inhabitants were attending the races at the hippodrome. Genseric temporarily made it his capital, and styled himself the King of the Vandals and Alans, to denote the inclusion of the Alans of northern Africa into his alliance. Conquering Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearic Islands, he built his kingdom into a powerful state, moving the capital to Saldae.
edit Sack of Rome
During the next thirty-five years, with a large fleet, Genseric looted the coasts of the Eastern and Western Empires. After Attila the Hun's death, however, the Romans could afford to turn their attention back to the Vandals, who were in control of some of the richest lands of their former empire.
In an effort to bring the Vandals into the fold of the Empire, Valentinian III offered his daughter's hand in marriage to Genseric's son. Before this "treaty" could be carried out, however, politics again played a crucial part in the blunders of Rome. Petronius Maximus, the usurper, killed Valentinian III in an effort to control the Empire. Diplomacy between the two factions broke down, and 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 Licinia Eudoxia and her daughters Eudocia and Placidia.
The chronicler Prosper of Aquitaine offers the only fifth-century report that on 2 June 455, Pope Leo the Great received Genseric 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 Vandals destroyed an enormous East Roman fleet sent against them. Following up the attack, the Vandals tried to invade the Peloponnese but were driven back by the Maniots at Kenipolis with heavy losses. In retaliation, the Vandals took 500 hostages at Zakynthos, hacked them to pieces and threw the pieces overboard on the way to Carthage.Nevertheless, after Geiseric was able to conclude a "perpetual peace" with Constantinople in 476, relations between the two states assumed a veneer of normality.
edit Domestic religious tensions
Differences between the Arian Vandals and their Trinitarian subjects (including both Catholics and Donatists) were a constant source of tension in their African state. Catholic bishops were exiled or killed by Geiseric and laymen were excluded from office and frequently suffered confiscation of their property. He protected his Catholic subjects when his relations with Rome and Constantinople were friendly, as during the years 454–57, when the Catholic community at Carthage, being without a head, elected Deogratias bishop. The same was also the case during the years 476–477 when Bishop Victor of Cartenna sent him, during a period of peace, a sharp refutation of Arianism and suffered no punishment. Generally most Vandal kings, except Hilderic, persecuted Trinitarian Christians to a greater or lesser extent, banning conversion for Vandals, exiling bishops and generally making life difficult for Trinitarians.
Genseric, one of the most powerful personalities of the "era of the Migrations," died at a great age on 25 January 477. According to the law of succession which he had promulgated, the oldest male member of the royal house was to succeed. Thus he was succeeded by his son Huneric (477–484), who at first tolerated Catholics, owing to his fear of Constantinople, but after 482 began to persecute Manichaeans and Catholics in the most terrible manner.
Gunthamund (484 – 496), his cousin and successor, sought internal peace with the Catholics and ceased persecution once more. Externally, the Vandal power had been declining since Geiseric's death, and Gunthamund lost large parts of Sicily to the Ostrogoths and had to withstand increasing pressure from the autochthonous Moors.
While Thrasamund (496–523), owing to his religious fanaticism, was hostile to Catholics, he contented himself with bloodless persecutions.
edit The turbulent end
Hilderic (523 – 530) was the Vandal king most tolerant towards the Catholic church. He granted it religious freedom; consequently Catholic synods were once more held in North Africa. However, he had little interest in war, and left it to a family member, Hoamer. When Hoamer suffered a defeat against the Moors, the Arian faction within the royal family led a revolt, raising the banner of national Arianism, and his cousin Gelimer (530 – 533) became king. Hilderic, Hoamer and their relatives were thrown into prison. Hilderic was deposed and murdered in 533.
Byzantine Emperor Justinian I reacted to this by declaring war on the Vandals. The armies of the Eastern Empire were commanded by Belisarius, who, having heard that the greatest part of the Vandal fleet was fighting an uprising in Sardinia, decided to act quickly, and landed on Tunisian soil, then marched on to Carthage. In the late summer of 533, King Gelimer met Belisarius ten miles (16 km) south of Carthage at the Battle of Ad Decimum; the Vandals were winning the battle until Gelimer's brother Ammatas and nephew Gibamund fell in battle. Gelimer then lost heart and fled. Belisarius quickly took Carthage while the surviving Vandals fought on.
On December 15, 533, Gelimer and Belisarius clashed again at Tricamarum, some 20 miles (32 km) from Carthage. Again, the Vandals fought well but broke, this time when Gelimer's brother Tzazo fell in battle. Belisarius quickly advanced to Hippo, second city of the Vandal Kingdom, and in 534 Gelimer surrendered to the Roman conqueror, ending the Kingdom of the Vandals.
North Africa became a Roman province, from which the Vandals were expelled. The surviving Vandal men were enslaved, put into imperial service or fled to the two Gothic kingdoms (Ostrogothic Kingdom and Visigothic kingdom), while the captured Vandal women married Byzantine soldiers. The choicest Vandal warriors were formed into five cavalry regiments, known as Vandali Iustiniani, and stationed on the Persian frontier. Some entered the private service of Belisarius.
edit List of kings
- Wisimar (d.335)
- Godigisel (359–406)
- Gunderic (407–428)
- Geiseric (428–477)
- Huneric (477–484)
- Gunthamund (484–496)
- Thrasamund (496–523)
- Hilderic (523–530)
- Gelimer (530–534)