▷  Vandals re-visited

At the April meeting of the Ancient History Group, Mark delivered another intriguing session on the Vandals, this time on their Africa campaign and their final demise. We learnt already that the word ‘vandals’ as we are used to, is a misnomer in relation to the Vandals, as they behaved neither better nor worse than other tribes who roamed around the Roman empire at the time. The Vandals’ crossing of the Straits of Gibraltar is today seen as a turning point in history. It was the first real barbarian invasion of the Roman provinces in Africa, a foundation of the Western Roman Empire and a region that had been untouched for centuries. It was the Roman breadbasket. The Vandal army under Gaiseric landed from Spain and moved east toward Carthage, which lay in what is today Tunisia. From the start, his army used their usual pillaging and slaughtering attacks as they moved along the coast of Northern Africa. Many of the aristocrats and wealthier citizens fled Africa, mostly to Italy, especially as they feared religious persecution. Although both the Vandals and Romans were Christians, the former were Arians and had great contempt for Nicene Christianity, which had been the formally accepted school of Christianity in Rome since 325. That resentment was partially caused by Roman persecution of the Arians as heretics in their own territories, which was fuelled by thoughts and works of Saint Augustine of Hippo, a Roman African and an early Christian theologian and philosopher. Thus, the Vandals’ attack also showed a sign of being a religious war, though it certainly was only a by-product of their attack, not its ultimate goal. The Romans, of course, tried to stop their advance through Numidia, which covered the modern-day coast of Algeria. Their army was led by Boniface, who had managed to patch up his relations with the imperial government as both feared the Vandal invasion.
In 432, the combined army of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires suffered a substantial defeat by the Vandals. Rome had no other choice but to agree to a peace treaty. This peace treaty was signed in AD 435 after a period of prolonged ceasefire. The Vandals lasted until in AD 533 the Byzantines routed them completely, taking Carthage and Carrying their king captive to Constantinople.

The talk was followed by a lively discussion on issues such as the languages spoken by the different tribes involved and whether people were able to communicate with each other. Also, whether families moved with the army. Mark thought that they did.