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THANKS to its geographically strong position, the Iberian Peninsula had up till now escaped barbarian invasions; when however the Roman troops stationed to protect the passes of the Pyrenees gave way to negligence, the Asdingian and Silingian Vandals, the (non-German) Alans, and the Sueves availed themselves of the favourable opportunity to cross the mountains (autumn 409). For two whole years the four peoples wandered about devastating the flourishing country, especially the western and southern provinces, without settling anywhere; it was only when famine and disease broke out and menaced their own existence that they were persuaded to more peaceful relations. They concluded a treaty in the year 411 with the Emperor, according to which they received land to settle on as foederati, i.e. as subjects of the Empire with the duty of defending Spain against attacks from without. The assignment of the provinces in which the different peoples should settle was decided by lot; Galicia fell to the Asdingians and the Sueves, while the Silingians received Baetica (southern Spain), and the Alans, numerically the strongest people, Lusitania (Portugal) and Carthaginensis (capital Carthagena). Probably they divided the land with the Roman proprietors. The peace brought about in this way did not however last long; the Imperial Government had professed only to regard the arrangement as a temporary expedient. As early as the year 416 the Visigoth king, Wallia, appeared in Spain with a considerable army to free the land from the barbarians in the name of the Emperor. First of all the Silingians were attacked and, after repeated combats, completely destroyed (418), their king, Fredbal, being carried to Italy as prisoner. As a tribal name the name of Asdingians disappears: it only survived as the appellation of members of the royal family.

The Alans also, against whom Wallia next marched, were severely beaten and so much weakened that after the death of King Addac the people decided not to choose another head but to join the Asdingian Vandals, whose kings from that time bore the title Reges Vandalorum et Alanorum (418). Only the recall of Wallia (end of 418) saved the Asdingians and the Sueves from the extermination which menaced them. The former rallied wonderfully: they first of all turned against their Suevian neighbours, then under the rule of Hermeric, who had once more made overtures to the Emperor, and pressed them back into the Cantabrian Mountains from which they were only extricated by a Roman army which hurriedly came to their assistance (419). Obliged to retreat to Baetica, the Vandals encountered in 421 or 422 a strong Roman army under Castinus, but owing to the treachery of the Visigoth troops who were fighting on the Roman side they gained a brilliant victory. This success immensely stimulated the power of the Vandals and their desire for expansion. They then laid the foundation of their maritime power, afterwards so formidable; we understand that they infested the Balearic Isles and the coast of Mauretania in the year 425. At that time Carthagena and Seville, the last bulwarks of the Romans in southern Spain, also fell into their power.

Three years later died Gunderic who had ruled over the Vandals since 406. He was succeeded on the throne by his brother Gaiseric (born about 400), one of the most famous figures in the Wandering of the Nations (428). A year after his accession Gaiseric led his people over to Africa. This undertaking sprang from the same political considerations as had earlier moved the Visigoth kings, Alaric and Wallia: the rulers of that province, whose main function it was to supply Italy with corn, had the fate of the Roman Empire in their hands, but they were themselves in an almost unassailable position so long as a good navy was at their disposal. The immediate occasion was furnished by the confusion which then reigned in Africa—the revolt of the Moors, the revolutionary upheaval of the severely oppressed peasantry, the revolt of the ecclesiastical sects, particularly the Donatists (Circumcelliones), the manifest weakness of the Roman system of defense everywhere, and, finally, a quarrel between the military governor of Africa, Bonifacius, and the Imperial Government. The well-known story that Bonifacius himself had called the Vandals into the land to revenge the wrongs he had suffered is a fable, which first appeared in Roman authorities of a later time and was invented to veil the real reason. The crossing took place at Julia Traducta, now Tarifa, in May 429. Shortly before embarking the Vandal king turned back with a division of his army and totally defeated the Sueves in a bloody fight near Merida. The Sueves had taken advantage of the departure of their enemies to invade Lusitania. According to a trustworthy account, Gaiseric's people numbered at that time about 80,000 souls, i.e. about 15,000 armed men; their numbers were made up of Vandals, Alans, and Visigoth stragglers who had remained behind in Spain.

The Germans first met with the sternest resistance when they entered Numidia in the year 430. Bonifacius opposed them here with some hurriedly collected troops, but was defeated. The open country was then completely given over to the enemy; only a few forts—Hippo Regius (now Bona), Cirta (Constantine), and Carthage—were kept by the Romans, Hippo mainly through the influence of St Augustine who died during the siege 28 August 430. As it was impossible for the barbarians to take these strongholds owing to their inexperience in siege-work, and as the Romans in the meantime sent reinforcements under Aspar into Carthage by sea, Gaiseric, after heavy losses, resolved to enter into negotiations with the Emperor. On 11 Feb. 435, at Hippo Regius, a treaty was concluded with the imperial agent Trigetius, according to which the Vandals entered the service of the Empire as foederati and were settled in the proconsulate of Numidia (capital Hippo), probably in the same way as earlier in Spain, for here too no formal cession of territory took place.

Gaiseric, however, no doubt regarded the situation thus produced as only temporary. After he had again to some extent united his forces, he posed as a perfectly independent ruler in the district assigned to him. The arbitrary actions in which he indulged comprised the deposition of a number of orthodox clergy who had tried to hinder the performance of the Arian service. Vandal pirates scoured the Mediterranean and even plundered the coasts of Sicily in 437. But on 19 Oct. 439, Gaiseric unexpectedly attacked Carthage and captured the city without a stroke. The occupation was followed by a general pillage which naturally did not end without deeds of violence, even if we are not told of any deliberate destruction or damage to particular buildings. The Catholic clergy and the noble inhabitants of Carthage experienced the fate of banishment or slavery. All the churches inside the town as well as some outside were closed for orthodox services and given over to the Arian clergy together with the ecclesiastical property.

Gaiseric must have expected that after these proceedings the Imperial Government would use every possible means of chastising the bold raiders of its most valuable province. To prevent this and to reduce the Western Empire to a state of permanent helplessness by continuously harassing it, he fitted out a powerful fleet in the harbour of Carthage in the spring of 440 with the special aim of attacking Sardinia and Sicily, which were now primarily relied upon to supply Italy with corn. Although extensive preparations for defence had been arranged the Vandals landed in Sicily without encountering any resistance and moved to and fro, burning and laying waste, but returned to Africa in the same year, 440, on hearing tidings of the approach of powerful Byzantine succours. The expected Greek fleet certainly appeared in Sicilian waters in 441, but the commanders wasted their time there in useless delay, and when the Persians and the Huns invaded the borderlands which had been denuded of troops, the whole fighting force was called back without having effected anything. Under these circumstances the Emperor of Western Rome found himself obliged to conclude a peace with Gaiseric, whose rule was officially recognized as independent, 442. It is stated by some authorities that Africa was divided between the two powers. The best parts of the country: Tingitian Mauretania (by which the Straits of Gibraltar were controlled), Zeugitana or Proconsularis, Byzacena and Numidia proconsularis fell to the Vandals, whilst Mauretania Caesariensis and Sitifensis, Cirtan Numidia and Tripolis remained to the Roman Empire.

This treaty forms an important epoch in the history of the Vandals and marks the end of their migration. A final settlement of the conditions for colonization now took place. The Vandals settled down definitely in the country districts of Zeugitana in the neighbourhood of Carthage. Military reasons, which made a settlement of the people desirable, especially in the neighbourhood of the capital city, as well as the circumstance that the most fertile arable land lay there, were of principal weight in this step. The former landowners—as many as had not been slain or exiled during the conquest—had to choose whether, after the loss of their property, they would make their home as freemen elsewhere or remain as servants, i.e. probably as coloni, on their former estates. The Catholic clergy, if they resided within the so-called Vandal allotment, met with the same fate as the landowners, a measure which was principally directed against their suspected political propaganda. In the other provinces and especially in the towns the Roman conditions of property remained as a rule undisturbed, although the Romans were considered as a subject people and the land the property of the State or the king. In order to deprive his enemies, internal or external, of every possible gathering-point, Gaiseric next had the fortifications of most of the towns demolished, with the exception of the Castle Septa in the Straits of Gibraltar, and the towns Hippo Regius and Carthage. The last was looked upon as the principal bulwark of the Vandal power. The sovereign position which Vandal power had now attained found expression in the legal dating of the regnal years from 19 Oct. 439, the date of the taking of Carthage, which was reckoned as New Year's Day. There is no trace here of any reckoning according to the consular years or indictions, as was the custom, for example, in the kingdom of the Burgundians, who continued to consider themselves formally as citizens of the Roman Empire.

How powerful the kingdom of Gaiseric was at this epoch is seen from the fact that the Visigoth king, Theodoric I, sought to form alliance with him by marrying his daughter to the king's son Huneric, the heir-presumptive to the throne. This state of affairs however did not last long, for Gaiseric, under the pretext that his daughter-in-law wanted to poison him, sent her back to her father after having cut off her nose and her ears. Probably the dissolution of this coalition, so menacing to Rome, was brought about by a diplomatic move on the part of the West-Roman minister Aetius, who held out prospects to the king of the Vandals of a marriage between his son and a daughter of the Emperor Valentinian III. Although the projected wedding did not take place, friendly relations were begun between the Vandals and the Romans which lasted until the year 455. Gaiseric was even induced to allow the see of Carthage, which had been vacant since 439, to be again filled.

But this friendly connection ceased at once when the Emperor Valentinian, the murderer of Aetius, was himself slain by that general's following (16 March 455). Gaiseric announced that he could not recognize the new Emperor Maximus, who had had a hand in the murders of Aetius and Valentinian and had forced the widowed Empress Eudoxia to marry him, as a fit inheritor of the imperial throne. Under this pretext he immediately sailed to Italy with a large fleet, which seems to have been long since equipped in readiness for coming events. That he came in response to an appeal from Eudoxia cannot be for a moment supposed. Without meeting with any resistance the Vandals, amongst whom also were Moors, landed in the harbour of Portus, and marched along the Via Portuensis to the Eternal City. A great number of the inhabitants took to flight; when Maximus prepared to do likewise he was killed by one of the soldiers of his body-guard (31 May). On 2 June Gaiseric marched into Rome. At the Porta Portuensis he was received by Pope Leo I, who is said to have prevailed upon the king to refrain at least from fire and slaughter and content himself merely with plundering.

The Vandals stayed a fortnight (June 455) in Rome, long enough to take all the treasures which had been left by the Visigoths in the year 410 or restored since. First of all the imperial palace was fallen upon, all that was there was brought to the ships to adorn the royal residence in Carthage, among other things the insignia of imperial dignity. The same fate befell the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, of which even the half of the gilded roof was taken away. Among the plundered treasure the vessels of Solomon's Temple, formerly brought to Rome by Titus, took a conspicuous place. On the other hand, the Christian churches as a rule were spared. Murder and incendiarism also, as has been certainly proved, did not take place, neither was there any wanton destruction of buildings or works of art. It is therefore very unjust to brand Gaiseric's people with the word "Vandalism," which indeed came into use in France no earlier than the end of the eighteenth century. Besides the enormous spoil which the Vandals carried away were numerous prisoners, in particular the widowed Empress Eudoxia with her two daughters, Eudoxia and Placidia, as well as Gaudentius, the son of Aetius. The Vandals and the Moors divided the prisoners between them on their return; nevertheless Bishop Deogratias raised funds to ransom many of them by selling the vessels of the churches.

The capture of the Empress Eudoxia and her daughters gave the king valuable hostages against the hostile invasion of his kingdom which might now be expected. He was now fully master of the situation; his personality is from this time the centre of Western history. The Vandal fleet ruled the Mediterranean and cut off all supplies from Italy, so that a great famine broke out. In order to put an end to this intolerable state of affairs, Avitus the new Emperor of Western Rome (from 9 July 455) sent an embassy to Byzantium to induce the Emperor to take part in a joint attack against the Vandal Empire, for in an attack on Africa he could not dispense with the East-Roman fleet. But Marcian, probably influenced by the chief general Aspar, all-powerful in the East, still clung to inactivity and contented himself with asking Gaiseric to refrain from further hostilities towards Italy and to deliver up the prisoners of the imperial house, a proceeding which of course was quite ineffectual.

The result of this lethargy on the part of both empires was that the Vandals were in a position to seize the rest of the African provinces belonging to Rome; even the Moorish tribes seem to have acknowledged the Vandal sovereignty without positive resistance. Moreover Gaiseric made an alliance with the Spanish Sueves who had invaded and plundered the province of Tarraconensis (456) which belonged to the Roman Empire. At the same time a Vandal fleet laid waste Sicily and the bordering coast territory of South Italy. It is true that on land the Romans succeeded, under Ricimer, in defeating a hostile division at Agrigentum, as well as one at sea in Corsican waters, but these successes had no lasting effect, for the Vandals still commanded the Mediterranean as before. The populace, furious from the continued famine, compelled Avitus to fly to Gaul, where he died at the end of the year 456.

His successor on the imperial throne, Majorian (from 1 April 457), at once began in real earnest to consider schemes for the destruction of the Vandal Empire. It might be looked upon as auspicious that not long after his accession a body of Roman troops succeeded in defeating a band of Vandals and Moors, led by Gaiseric's brother-in-law, who were engaged in desultory plunder in South Italy. The Emperor himself marched with a large army, which he had not got together without difficulty, from Italy to Gaul, in November 458, in order to exact recognition of his authority from the Visigoths and Burgundians who had seceded from Rome, and his success in this task at once rendered nugatory Gaiseric's conclusion of a Visigoth, Suevian, and Vandal alliance. In May 460 Majorian crossed the Pyrenees and moved upon Zaragoza to Carthagena in order to cross from thence to Africa. The force that had been raised was so impressive that the king of the Vandals did not feel himself a match for it and sent messengers to sue for peace. When peace was refused he laid waste Mauretania and poisoned the wells in order to delay the advance of the enemy as much as possible. The Roman attack, however, could not be carried out, for the Vandals managed by means of treachery to seize a great number of the Roman ships which were lying outside the naval harbour near the modern Elche. Majorian had no alternative but to make peace with Gaiseric; his authority, however, was so shaken by this failure that he was divested of his dignity by Ricimer in August 461.

The result of the elevation of a new Emperor, Libius Severus, was that Gaiseric once more declared the agreement he had but just made to be at an end. He again began his naval attacks on Italy and Sicily. The embassies sent to him by the West-Roman as well as by the Byzantine Emperor Leo had no further result than the deliverance of Valentinian’s widow and her daughter Placidia, for he had previously given the elder princess Eudoxia to his son Huneric in marriage. The king received as ransom a part of the treasure of Valentinian. It also seems that an agreement was come to with the East-Roman Empire. On the other hand the hostile relations with West-Rome continued, for Ricimer refused to comply with Gaiseric’s principal demand, the bestowal of the imperial throne of the West upon Olybrius, Huneric’s brother-in-law. Every year in the beginning of spring detachments of the Vandal fleet left the African harbours to infest the Mediterranean coasts. Unprotected places were plundered and destroyed, while the garrisoned places were carefully avoided.

The danger threatening the Western Empire reached its height when the commander Aegidius, who maintained an independent position in Gaul, made an alliance with Gaiseric and prepared to attack Italy in conjunction with him. This scheme was not carried out, for Aegidius died prematurely (464), but the situation still remained dangerous.

These miserable conditions lasted until the end of 467. The energetic Emperor Leo had by this time succeeded in overcoming the influence of Aspar, who had always been a hindrance to hostile measures against the Vandals. He dispatched a fleet under the command of Marcellinus to convey the newly-created Western Emperor Anthemius to Italy and afterwards proceed to Africa. But first he sent an embassy to Gaiseric to inform him of the accession of Anthemius and to threaten him with war unless he would relinquish his marauding expeditions. The king instantly refused the demand and declared the agreements made with Byzantium at an end. His ships no longer sought Italy, but the coasts of the Eastern Empire: Illyria, the Peloponnesus, and all the rest of Greece felt his powerful arm, and even Alexandria felt itself menaced. But when the attempt of Marcellinus to advance against Africa miscarried on account of contrary winds, Leo determined to make great warlike preparations and to destroy his terrible opponent at one blow. Eleven hundred ships were got together and an army of 100,000 men raised. The plan of campaign was to attack the Vandal Empire on three sides. The main army was to march under Basiliscus direct to Carthage, another body under Heraclius and Marsus was to advance overland from Egypt to the West, while Marcellinus with his fleet was to strike at the Vandal centre in the Mediterranean. But once more fortune favoured the Vandals. They succeeded under cover of night in surprising Basiliscus’ fleet, which was already anchored at the Promontorium Mercurii (now Cape Bon), and destroyed a part of it by fire. The rest took to flight and scarcely one-half of the fine armada managed to escape to Sicily (468). The not unimportant successes which the other Byzantine generals had in the meantime achieved could not balance this catastrophe, and as a crowning misfortune the able Marcellinus when on the point of sailing for Carthage was murdered (August 468). Leo was therefore obliged to relinquish further undertakings and make peace once more with Gaiseric.

The peace, however, only lasted a few years. After Leo's death (Jan. 474) the Vandals again devastated the coast of Greece in frequent expeditions. The Emperor Zeno, who was not prepared to punish the marauders, was obliged to sue for peace, and sent the Senator Severus to Carthage to superintend negotiations. It was agreed that the two empires from that time should not be hostile to each other. The king promised to guarantee freedom of worship to the Catholics in Carthage and to permit the return of the clergy who had been banished for political intrigues, although he could not be prevailed upon to allow a new appointment to the Carthaginian bishopric, vacant since Deogratias’ death (457). Besides this he restored without ransom the Roman prisoners who had been allotted to him and his family, and gave Severus permission to buy back the slaves allotted as booty among the Vandals with the goodwill of their owners. In return the Byzantine Emperor, as the overlord of both halves of the Empire, no doubt formally recognized the Vandal kingdom in its then extent—it comprised the entire Roman province of Africa, the Balearic Isles, Pithyusae, Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily (autumn 476). Gaiseric soon afterwards made over Sicily to Odovacar in return for the payment of a yearly tribute, only reserving for himself the town of Lilybaeum, which had a strategical importance as a starting-point for Africa.

On 25 January 477, Gaiseric died at a very great age after he had raised the Vandal Empire to the height of its power. What he accomplished, as general and politician, in his active life is beyond praise and is unreservedly acknowledged by contemporaries. On the other hand, a less favourable verdict must be pronounced on his statesmanship. The Empire he established was a hybrid State and therefore bore from the beginning the seeds of decay in itself. The nations under his rule were kept strictly separate from each other, and the possibility of an amalgamation, which might have been the foundation of a new political organization, was thus prevented. Herein is seen the truth found by experience, that the existence of all kingdoms erected by conquest is bound up with the life of their creator unless the latter can succeed in creating a united organism on a national, constitutional, or economic basis.


The decline was already noticeable under Gaiseric's eldest son and successor, Huneric, the husband of the imperial princess Eudoxia. The Moorish tribes living in the Aures mountains, after fighting for some time with varying fortune, succeeded at last in shaking off the Vandal rule. In a quarrel with the Eastern Empire over the surrender of Eudoxia’s fortune, Huneric early gave in; he was even willing to permit the episcopal see at Carthage to be filled again (481) and grant the Catholics in his Empire still greater freedom of movement. Only when he learned that he had not to fear hostilities from Byzantium did he shows himself in his true colours, a tyrant of the worst, most blood­thirsty type. Then he raged against the members of his own house and against his father’s friends. Some of them he banished, others he murdered in a horrible manner in order to secure the succession to his son Hilderic. When nothing more remained for him to do in this direction he proceeded to oppress his Catholic subjects. Among some of the measures taken by him the most important is the notorious Edict of 24 January 484, in which the king ordered that the edicts made by the Roman Emperors against heresy should be applied to all his Catholic subjects unless they adopted Arianism by 1 June in that year. Next, orthodox priests were forbidden to hold religious services, to possess churches or build new ones, to baptize, consecrate, and so forth, and they were especially forbidden to reside in any towns or villages. The property of all Catholic churches and the churches themselves were bestowed on the Arian clergy. Laymen were disabled from making or receiving gifts or legacies; court officials of the Catholic creed were deprived of their dignity and declared infamous. For the several classes of the people graduated money-fines were established according to rank; but in case of persistence all were condemned to transportation and confiscation of property. Huneric gave the execution of these provisions into the hands of the Arian clergy, who carried out the punishments threatened with the most revolting cruelty, and even went beyond them. Repeated intervention on the part of the Emperor and the Pope remained quite ineffectual, for they confined themselves to representations. Perhaps Catholicism might have been quite rooted out in Africa if the king had not died prematurely on 23 December 484.

Under his successor Gunthamund, better times began for the oppressed orthodox Church. As early as the year 487 most of the Catholic churches were opened again and the banished priests recalled. The reason for these changed circumstances lay partly in the personal character of the king, partly in the Emperor’s separation from the Roman Church which appeared to debar Gunthamund’s Catholic subjects from conspiring with Byzantium, and partly in the now ever-increasing dimensions of Moorish rebellion. Gunthamund was very fortunate in driving back these last to their haunts, but he did not succeed in completely defeating them. He absolutely failed when he attempted to regain possession of Sicily during the struggle between Odovacar and Theodoric the Great. The expedition sent thither was expelled by the Ostrogoths, and the king was compelled even to relinquish the tribute which had hitherto been paid to him (491).

Gunthamund died 3 September 496; Thrasamund his brother, distinguished for his beauty, amiability, wisdom, and general culture, succeeded him on the throne. He pursued yet a different course from that of his predecessors with regard to the Catholics. He tried, like Huneric, to spread Arianism in his kingdom, yet as a rule he avoided the violent measures to which that king had recourse. Thus several bishops, among whom was the bishop of Carthage, were once more banished, but they were well treated in their exile. His action was mainly due to religious fanaticism, for there was no ground for political suspicion, at least during the greater part of his reign; the king was on friendly terms with the schismatical Emperor Anastasius. After the accession of the orthodox Emperor Justin (518) Thrasamund’s aversion to the Catholics is easier to understand, especially when the Emperor took steps to improve the position of the orthodox episcopate in Africa. The Vandal kingdom found a real support in the alliance with the Ostrogoths in Italy. Theodoric the Great, swayed by the desire to bring about an alliance of all German princes of the Arian faith, wedded his widowed sister Amalafrida to Thrasamund, whose first wife had died childless; she came to Carthage with a retinue of 1000 distinguished Goths as her body-guard as well as 5000 slaves capable of bearing arms, and brought her royal husband a dowry of the part of the island of Sicily round Lilybaeum (500). A temporary interruption occurred in the alliance between the two States in 510-511, because Thrasamund gave pecuniary support to Gesalech the pretender to the Visigothic throne, who was not recognized by Theodoric; but on the representation of his brother-in-law he repented and apologized. Serious difficulties occurred in the Vandal kingdom once more through the Moors. The tribes of Tripolis really succeeded in making themselves independent. At the end of his reign the king himself took the field against them, but suffered defeat.

Thrasamund died on 6 May 523; he was succeeded by the already aged, utterly effeminate son of Huneric and Eudoxia, Hilderic, who was averse from warfare. Thrasamund, having a presentiment of future events, had exacted an oath from him not to restore to the banished Catholics either their churches or their privileges, but Hilderic evaded his pledge, for even before his formal accession, he recalled the' exiled clergy and ordered fresh elections in the place of those who had died. In foreign politics also the new king turned entirely from the system hitherto followed, of alliance with the Ostrogoth kingdom, and entered into a close connection with the Byzantine Empire where Justinian, the nephew of the ageing Emperor Justin, already practically wielded the sceptre. Inasmuch as he had coins struck bearing the effigy of Justin I, Hilderic formally gave the impression of recognizing a kind of suzerainty of the Byzantine Empire. To the opposition of Amalafrida and her following he replied by slaughtering the Goths and flinging the sister of Theodoric into prison. To avenge this insult the Gothic king fitted out a strong fleet, but his death (526) prevented the dispatch of the expedition, which would probably have been fatal to the Vandal kingdom. Theodoric’s grandson and successor Athalarich, or rather his mother Amalasuntha, was content with making remonstrances, which of course received no attention.

Though there was nothing to fear from the Ostrogoths, the danger from the Moors waxed ever greater. After the year 525 it appears that they had acquired control over Mauretania Caesariensis with the exception of its capital city, of the Sitifensis Province, and of southern Numidia as well—Mauretania Tingitana had already been given up. But especially momentous in its widespread results was the rise of Antalas who at the head of some tribes in the southern part of Byzacene infested this province more and more, and at last severely defeated the relieving Vandal troops commanded by Oamer, a cousin of Hilderic. The dislike of the Vandals to their king, which had been existent long before this event, showed itself fully at this failure. Hilderic was deposed by the defeated army on its return home and was imprisoned together with his followers, and in his stead the next heir to the throne Gelimer, a great-grandson of Gaiseric, was called upon to rule (19 May 530). Doubtless this usurpation was mainly the result of Gelimer’s ambition and love of power, but on the whole it was sustained by the will of the people. They were discontented with the policy hitherto pursued towards the Catholics and Byzantium as well as with the unwarlike, inconsistent character of Hilderic, who was to Teutonic ideas utterly unworthy of royalty.

This course of events was most welcome to the Byzantine Emperor, who in any case had for some time past harboured some idea of the plan which later he definitely announced for joining all the lands belonging to the old Roman Empire under his own sceptre. Just as he afterwards posed as the avenger of Amalasuntha, so he now became the official protector of the rights of the deposed king of the Vandals. He asked Gelimer in the most courteous manner not openly to violate the law regarding the succession to the throne, which had been decreed by Gaiseric and had been always hitherto respected, but to be satisfied with the actual exercise of power and to let the old king, whose death might shortly be expected, remain as nominal ruler. Gelimer did not deign at first to answer the Emperor; when, however, the latter took a sharper tone and demanded the surrender of the prisoners he haughtily rejected the interference, emphatically claimed validity for his own succession and declared that he was ready to oppose with the utmost vigour any attack which might occur. Justinian was now firmly resolved to bring matters to an armed decision, but first took steps to end the war which had been begun against the Persians. In the year 532 peace was concluded with them.

The scheme directed against the Vandal kingdom found no approval from the body of crown councillors before whom Justinian laid it for an opinion. They objected to the chronic want of money in the state treasury and that the same fate might easily be prepared for the Byzantines as had befallen Basiliscus under Gaiseric. The troops, too, which had just sustained the fatigues of the Persian campaign, were little fit to be again sent to an uncertain conflict against a powerful and famous kingdom on the other side of the sea. Justinian was almost persuaded to give up the undertaking when a fresh impulse, that of religion, made itself felt. An oriental bishop appeared at Court and declared that God himself had, in a dream, commanded him to reproach the Emperor on account of his indecision and to tell him that he might count on the support of Heaven if he would march forth to liberate the Christian (that is, the orthodox) people of Africa from the dominion of the heretics.

Through this kind of influence on the part of the Catholic clergy, and through the endeavours of the Roman nobility who had been reinstated by Hilderic but driven forth again by Gelimer, Justinian was entirely brought round. Belisarius, previously commander-in-chief in the Persian war, was placed at the head of the expedition with unlimited authority. It was very fortunate for the Emperor that, in the first place, the Ostrogoth queen Amalasuntha declared for him and held out prospects of supplying provisions and horses in Sicily, and, further, that the Vandal governor of Sardinia, Godas, rose against Gelimer and asked for troops to enable him to hold his own, and finally that the population of Tripolis, led by a distinguished Roman, Prudentius, declared itself in favour of union with Byzantium.

In June 533 the preparations for war were completed. The army mustered reckoned 10,000 infantry under Johannes of Epidamnus and about 5000 cavalry, also the 5000 men of Belisarius' powerfully mounted guard, 400 Heruls, and 600 Huns. The fleet was composed of 500 transport vessels and 92 battleships under the command of Kalonymus. Among Belisarius' attendants was the historian Procopius of Caesarea, to whom we owe the vivid and trustworthy description of the campaign. The departure of the ships took place at the end of July, and the last hour of the kingdom which was once so powerful had struck.


It is only in Africa that we are well acquainted with the internal circumstances of the Vandal kingdom; for of the parallel conditions in the Spanish communities of the Sueves, Alans, and the Silingian and Asdingian Vandals we only know, at the present time, that they were under monarchical rule. The centre of Vandal rule in Africa was Carthage; here all the threads of the government converged, here the king also held court. The Roman division of the land into provinces (Mauretania: Tingitana, Caesariensis, Sitifensis; Numidia; Proconsularis or Zeugitana; Byzacene; Tripolitana) remained the same. The districts assigned to the Vandals, the so-called ‘Sortes Vandalorum’, were separated as especial commands. The governing people were the Vandals of the Asdingian branch which now alone survived, with whom were joined the Alans and contingents from different peoples, among whom in particular were Goths. The Alans, who probably were already Germanized at the time of the transference to Africa, seem to have maintained a kind of independence for a while, but in Procopius' time these foreign elements had become completely merged in the Vandals. The Romans were by far more numerous. These were by no means looked upon as having equal privileges, but were treated as conquered subjects according to the usages of war. Marriages between them and the Vandals were forbidden, as they were in all the German States founded on Roman soil except among the Franks. If, however, the hitherto existing arrangements outside the Vandal settlements remained the same in the main—and indeed even the high offices were left in the hands of the Romans— this only happened because the Vandal kings proved themselves incapable of providing a fresh political organization. On the other hand, the numerous Moorish tribes were to a great extent held in only slight subjection. They retained their autonomy, as they did in the time of the Romans, but their princes received from the hands of the Vandal kings the insignia of their dignity. Under Gaiseric's stern government they conducted themselves quietly and completely left off their raids into civilized districts, which had occurred so frequently in the last years of the Roman rule, but even under Huneric they began with ever-increasing success to struggle for their independence. The destruction which befell the works of ancient civilization in Africa must be placed to the account of the Moors, not of the Vandals.

The first settlement of the Vandals in Africa was on the basis of a treaty with the Roman Empire, when the people were settled among the Roman landowners and as an equivalent became liable to land tax and military service. The land settlement which took place after the recognition of the Vandal sovereignty was carried out as by right of conquest; the largest and most valuable estates of the country land­owners in the province of Zeugitana were taken possession of and given to individual Vandal households. Further particulars of the details are wanting, yet it is certain that the Roman organization arranged on the basis of landed property grants was not disturbed. The property only changed hands, otherwise the conditions were the same as they had been under Roman government. Of the villa, the manor-house on the Roman estate, a Vandal with his family now took possession, and the coloni had to pay the necessary dues to the landed proprietor or his representative and render the usual compulsory service. The profits of the single estates were in any case on an average not insignificant, for they made the development of a luxurious mode of life possible even after an increase in the number of the population. The management of the estate was, as formerly, directed only in a minority of cases by the new masters themselves, for they lacked the necessary knowledge, and service in the Court and in the army compelled them to be absent frequently from their property. More often the management was entrusted to stewards or farmers (conductores) who were survivals from the earlier state of things. Nevertheless the position of the dependents of the manor, wherever they were directly under the Vandal rule, must have been materially improved in comparison with what it had been formerly, for we know from various authorities that the country people were in no way content with the reintroduction of the old system of oppression by the Byzantines after the fall of the Vandal kingdom.

The Vandals like the other German races were divided into three classes—slaves, freemen, and nobles. The nobleman as he now appears is a noble by service who derives his privileged position from serving the king, not as earlier from birth. The freemen comprised the bulk of the people, nevertheless they had, in comparison with earlier times, lost considerably in political importance while the rights of the popular assembly had devolved in the strengthened monarchy. The slaves were entirely without rights, they were reckoned not as persons but as alienable chattels. The position of the coloni who were taken over from the Roman settlement was wholly foreign to the Vandals; they remained tied to the soil but were personally free peasants who kept their former constitutional status

At the head of the State was the King, whose power had gradually become unlimited and differed but little from that of the Byzantine Roman Emperor. His full official title was Rex Vandalorum et Alanorum. His mark of distinction and that of his kindred was, as with the Merwings, long hair falling to the shoulders. While the earlier rulers dressed in the customary Vandal costume, Gelimer wore the purple mantle, like the Emperor.

The succession to the throne was legally settled by Gaiseric's so-called testament. Gaiseric, who himself had obtained the throne through the choice of the people, ignoring probably the sons of his predecessor Gunderic, who were still minors, considered himself after he had fully grasped monarchical power as the new founder of the Vandal kingship, as the originator of a dynasty. The sovereignty was looked upon as an inheritance for his family over which no right of disposal belonged to the people. As however the existence of several heirs threatened the by no means solidly established kingdom with the risk of subdivision into several portions, Gaiseric established the principle of individual succession; moreover he provided that the crown should pass to the eldest of his male issue at the time being. By this last provision the government of a minor, unable to bear arms, was made, humanly speaking, impossible. The Vandal kingdom was the first and for a long time the only State in which the idea of a permanent rule of succession came to be realized —and rightly is Gaiseric's family statute reckoned in history among the most remarkable facts relating to public law. It remained valid until the end of the kingdom. Gaiseric himself was succeeded by his eldest son Huneric who was succeeded in turns by two of his nephews Gunthamund and Thrasamund, and only after the death of the latter came Huneric’s son Hilderic. Gelimer obtained the throne, on the other hand, in a direct and irregular way, and his endeavours to represent himself to Justinian as a legitimate ruler did not succeed.

The scope of the royal power comprised the national army, the convening of the assembly, justice, legislation and executive, the appointments to the praefecture, the supreme control of finance, of police, and of the Church. Of any co-operation in the government by the people—by the Vandals (not of course by the Romans) such as obtained in olden times, there is no sign whatever.

The development of absolute government seems to have been completed in the year 442; according to the brief but significant statements of our authorities several nobles, who had twice risen against the king because he had overstepped the limits of his authority, were put to death with a good many of the people. The origin of the royal power is traceable to God; the dominant centre of the State is the king and his court.

In war the king is in chief command over the troops and issues the summons to the weapon-bearing freemen. The arrangement of the army was, like that of the nation, by thousands and hundreds. Larger divisions of troops were placed under commanders appointed especially by the monarch and generally selected from the royal family. The Vandals had been even in their settlements in Hungary a nation of horsemen, and they remained so in Africa. They were chiefly armed with long spears and swords, and were little suited to long campaigns. Their principal strength lay in their fleet. The ships they commanded were usually small, lightly built, fast sailing cruisers which did not hold more than about 40 persons. In the great mobility of the army as well as of the navy lay the secret of the surprising successes which the Vandals achieved. But immediately after Gaiseric's death, a general military decline began. Enervated by the hot climate and the luxury into which they had been allured by the produce of a rich country, they lost their warlike capacity more and more, and thus sank before the attack of the Byzantines in a manner almost unique in history.

The king is the director of the whole external polity. He sends forth and receives envoys, concludes alliances, decides war and peace. On single and peculiarly important questions he may take counsel beforehand with the chiefs of his following, but the royal will alone is absolute.

The Vandals were judged according to their national principles of jurisprudence in the separate hundred districts by the leaders of the thousands. Sentences for political offences were reserved for the king as executor of justice in the national assembly. Legal procedure for the Romans remained the same as before. Judgment was passed on trivial matters by the town magistrates, on greater by provincial governors according to Roman law but in the name of the king. Quarrels between Vandals and Romans were of course settled only in the Vandal court of justice according to the law of the victor. That the king often interfered arbitrarily in the regular legal proceedings of the Romans is not surprising, considering the state of affairs, but a similar arbitrary interference among the Vandals is a circumstance of political importance: treason, treachery against the person of the king and his house, apostasy from the Arian Church come into prominence, so that the life and freedom of individuals were almost at the mercy of the monarch’s will.

The laws which the Vandal kings enacted were, as far as we know, for the most part directed against the Romans and the Catholics. In addition to the numerous edicts concerning religion the regulations issued against the immorality so widespread in Africa are especially worthy of remark, but like all regulations of the kind only possessed a temporary efficiency. On the other hand, the law of royal succession which we have already alluded to possessed universal validity.

The officials in the service of the Court and State as also those in the Church are all subject to the royal power; they are nominated by the monarch or at least confirmed by him, and can be deprived of their functions by peremptory royal decree. The members belonging to the household of the king represent different elements, spiritual and lay, German and Roman, free and unfree together. The highest official in the Vandal Court was the praepositus regni, whose importance lay entirely in the sphere of the government of the kingdom; his position corresponded to that of a prime minister. As holders of this office appear, so far as is known, only persons of Teutonic nationality. An important post was also that of head of the Chancery of the Cabinet, who had to draw up the king's written edicts and was besides frequently entrusted with different missions of especial political importance. The existence of a special Arian court clergy is to be inferred from the fact that at the princely courts house chaplains are mentioned. Besides these there lived permanently at the Vandal Court a supernumerary class of men who without holding any definite office enjoyed the favour of the king and were employed by him in different ways. A number of them seem to have borne the title comes as among the Franks, Ostrogoths, and others; from among them were taken, for example, the envoys sent to foreign nations. Together with the provincial officials, who might be temporarily present at the Court, and the Arian bishops, the persons of principal position in the king's circle frequently co-operated in the decision of important questions of state affairs. As a general designation for these persons when they belonged to the laity the expression domestici appears. Admittance into the royal household required an oath of fealty.

From among the king's circle were drawn the greater part of the higher officials in the provincial government, especially over the Vandals. The most important officers of the Vandals were the heads of the thousands (the chiliarchs, millenarii), on whom devolved the management of the districts, i.e. the settlements of a thousand heads of families, in judicial, military, administrative, and fiscal respects. Outside the Vandal allotments the organization of the Roman system in Africa still remained, with the exception of the military, and the duties of the separate offices were discharged by the Romans themselves. The only exceptions were the islands in the Mediterranean; Sardinia, Corsica, and the Balearic Isles were united into one province and placed under a governor of German nationality who resided in Sardinia and exercised both military and civil functions.

The ruler has by virtue of his position absolute right over the revenue of the State; state property and royal private property are identical. A principal source of revenue is provided by the produce of royal domains, which in Roman Africa occupy a particularly important place. To this was added the taxes paid by the provincials, from which the Vandals themselves were entirely exempt. The burdens, however, cannot as a rule have been so oppressive as they were under the Roman rule, for later on, under the government of the Byzantines, the former more lenient conditions were regretted. Besides the taxes were to be taken into account the proceeds from the tolls, the right of coinage, fines, dues from mines and manufactures, and other unusual receipts.

The Arian as well as the Catholic Church is subject to the royal power; the appointment of bishops is dependent on the consent of the sovereign, the synods are convoked by the king and can only meet with his permission. The Asdingian Vandals in their seats in Hungary had clearly been already converted to Arianism, while the Silingians, Alans, and Sueves in the first phase of their Spanish career were still adherents of paganism. After the occupation of Africa the Catholic clergy were entirely expelled from the country districts in the province of Zeugitana as well as from Carthage, and the vacant places were given over to the Arian clergy with the whole of the church property. In the other parts of the kingdom few or no Arian priests were to be found; only under Huneric who presented the whole of the Catholic churches to the Arians (a measure which certainly was never wholly carried out) were they installed in greater numbers. The bishop residing in Carthage bore the title of Patriarch and exercised as metropolitan a supreme power over the whole of the Arian clergy. Since the Arian church-service was held in the vernacular as among the other Germans, the clergy were mostly of German nationality.

The position of the Catholic Church was, as has been already remarked, very varied under the different rulers and very largely dependent on the state of foreign politics. In Africa, after the tumult of the conquest had passed over and the endowment of the Arian Established Church was put into effect, Gaiseric only proceeded against those adherents of orthodoxy from whom danger to the State was to be feared. The clergy beyond the Vandal allotment were closely supervised, but they were not molested if they did not oppose the royal will but confined themselves to the execution of their pastoral duties. The real persecutions began first under Huneric and were continued, after an interval of peace, by Gunthamund and Thrasamund, though in a milder form. Hilderic gave the Catholic Church its complete freedom again; his successor Gelimer, an ardent Arian, was too much occupied with political complications to be able to be active in that sphere. Ecclesiastical conditions suffered therefore only temporary not permanent disturbance and sustained no material hurt; rather, the persecutions contributed largely to temper the inner strength of the African Church.

When the Vandals occupied Africa they were undoubtedly still in the same primitive stage of civilization in which they had lived in their homes in Hungary. Their political position as conquerors, the settlement in an enclosed district, the sharp religious opposition must certainly have hindered a rapid acceptance of the Roman influence. But under Gelimer they quite adopted the luxurious mode of life of the Romans, i.e. of the rich nobility; they lived in magnificent palaces, wore fine clothes, visited theatres, gave themselves up to the pleasures of an excellent table and did homage with great passion to Aphrodite. Roman literary culture had just made its appearance in the royal Court and among the nobility. Gaiseric was himself certainly, at least at first, not skilled in Latin, but one of his grandsons was famous for having distinguished himself in the acquisition of manifold knowledge. The same is said of Thrasamund, and we may assume it of Hilderic.

Latin was the language of diplomatic intercourse and legislation, as it was in the other German kingdoms; the Vandal language was quite supplanted, and only remained in use in popular intercourse and in the church-service. So in the last years of the Vandal dominion Roman literature in Africa produced a tiny harvest. The poet Dracontius is to be remembered in this connection, and the poets preserved in the anthology of the Codex Salmasianus, and Bishop Fulgentius of Ruspe. The art of architecture found in Thrasamund an eager patron; mention is made of splendid buildings which were raised under this king. There is certainly no authentic trace extant of any artistic capacity among the Vandals themselves.