Rise and Fall of the Vandal Empire

The Vandals were still another of those peripatetic barbarian tribes that wandered through Europe in the early Christian era in search of a homeland. The search did not begin well.

[Location map to be added here]In 406 the Vandal tribe began moving westward from its temporary refuge in Pannonia, the region north and east of the Danube in present-day Hungary. In Gaul they were soundly defeated by the Franks, so their leader Gunderic continued their march over the Pyrenees into present-day Spain. Their initial experience there was little better, as they lost half their forces in wars of attrition with other local tribes. Finally, however, their fortunes rebounded under Gunderic's successor, Gaiseric, and they managed to achieve a shaky hegemony over the Andalusia area of the Iberian penninsula. At this point Gaiseric heard opportunity knocking in a most unusual and problematic manner.

In 428 Bonifacius, viceroy of the Roman Empire's six provinces of North Africa, found himself in a serious and threatening dispute with his master, Emperor Valentinian III, whose court was by then headquartered not at Rome but at Ravenna on the Adriatic coast of the Italian penninsula. Bonifacius rashly invited the Vandals to come to his aid; in fact, he provided the ships for transporting the entire 80,000 members of the Vandal nation to North Africa.

Finally the chemistry was right for the Vandals. Within two years the Vandals under Gaiseric captured all of Rome's African possessions except the cities of Carthage, Hippo and Cirta. By 439 those cities had fallen as well, pushing the Roman Empire entirely out of North Africa. In the following year the Vandals drove the Romans from nearby Sicily as well.

Gaiseric quickly consolidated his military gains. The Vandals created a fleet that by 470 made them the greatest maritime power of the Mediterranean. Even sooner, in 455, the Vandals were able to make an audacious raid on the city of Rome itself, occupying it for a period of two weeks and plundering it at their leisure.

Alas, although the Vandals' candle burned brightly, its light was brief.

In 531 Gaiseric's unpopular grandson, Hilderic, was overthrown as leader of the Vandals by his cousin Gelimer and imprisoned. However, Gelimer was to find that he should have given greater weight to the fact that Hilderic was a son of Eudoxia, who was herself the widow of Roman Emperor Valentinian III. For the Roman Empire, now consolidated at Constantinople and reinvigorated under Emperor Justinian I and his highly effective military commander, Belisarius, the dishonorable treatment of the son of a former Empress was sufficient excuse to launch an invasion into North Africa in 533. Belisarius' attacking forces arrived while much of the Vandal army was away in Sardinia on another expansionist adventure, and they swept through the depleted defenses of Carthage. A succession of further battles ensued, resulting in the complete defeat and resettlement of the Vandals, ending both the Vandal empire and the existence of the Vandals as a people.


2024 C. I. Gable