Wars of the Vandals

420-533 A.D.
Vandal Kingdom of Africa — versus — Roman and Byzantine Empires

Rise of the Vandals under Genseric : 428-477

The Vandals were a German tribe that did not rise to prominence until after the breakdown of the Roman Empire was well underway. They were however, very important in bringing about the complete collapse of the Western empire because of their vicious, and rapacious behavior. Instead of governing, they pillaged. Instead of promoting trade, they became a nation of pirates. They controlled a significant portion of the Western Empire, including Northern Africa, Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, and the Balearic Islands off of Spain, and their reputation is remembered in their name, which as come to mean "willful and malicious destruction".

By 406 A.D., the defenses in the Western Kingdom had broken down, and the Vandals, along with several other German tribes migrated through the undefended borders into Spain. There, they were opposed by the Visigoths and driven into Spain. Two events triggered the rise of the Vandal nation. The first was a battle against a Roman and Visigoth army in 422, in which they won control of several coastal towns, and came into possession of a large fleet. The second was the rise of Genseric, an unusually capable and ambitious General to leadership of the Vandals. Soon after coming to power in 428, he launched an expedition of 80,000 men to invade Northern Africa. His army included, not only Vandals, but all sorts of ex-slaves, various barbarians, and other miscreants. They looted and terrorized the population, defeated the Roman Commander Boniface in every encounter and eventually besieged Hippo in 430. (St. Augustine of Hippo famously died during this siege.) Eventually a fleet from the Eastern Empire arrived in Carthage, and the new Commander Aspar, after failing to defeat him in the field, negotiated a peaceful settlement with the Genseric in 435, officially recognizing the Vandal Kingdom, with Hippo as its capital.

Soon after Aspar returned to the east however, the Vandals made an assault on Carthage, and took the city, including its vast navy and securing for their kingdom uncontested dominance of the Western Mediterranean. All of the islands therein, including Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia quickly fell into their hands. By 455 Rome had already been looted by the Visigoths, and besieged by Attila the Hun, but neither of these disasters compared to the mayhem wrought upon the city by the Vandals, when they were allowed into the city by a dethroned empress. Due to complicated palace politics, Empress Eudoxia invited Generic to come to Rome to depose her rival, but she did not foresee the havoc he would wreak. She and her two daughters were carried off by the Vandals along with hundreds of other Romans.

In 460 A.D. the Western Empire sent an expedition against the Vandals, but the fleet was destroyed in the port of Spain before ever engaging the Vandal foe. Eight years later, Leo, the Eastern Emperor raised a great fleet. It was enormously expensive, but also failed in its mission to conquer the Vandals and most of the Imperial fleet was destroyed in the process. After these attempts no serious attempts were made to conquer the vandals for many years. The Vandal Empire, in fact, held firm until the death of Genseric at a very ripe old age in 477, having ruled North Africa for almost fifty years.

DateBattle Summary
Siege of Hippo (Rise of Vandal Kingdom ) Vandals victory
Siege was laid to this city in May, 430, by the Vandals, under Genseric. It was defended by Boniface, Count of Africa, who having command of the sea, was able to keep the city well provisioned, and after fourteen months Genseric retired, but in the peace negotiated with the Romans, was granted the city as his capital. Among those who died during the siege was St. Augustine.
Battle of Carthage (Rise of Vandal Empire ) Vandals victory
This Roman city was taken by surprise and treachery by Genseric, the Vandal King and his son Huneric. The Romans, unprepared for an attack, surrendered an enormous fleet, still in the harbor.
Battle of Rome (Rise of Vandal Kingdom ) Vandals victory
For two weeks, a Vandal army, invited to Rome by the dethroned Empress Eudoxia, sacked the city, carrying away all valuables, killing, pillaging, and carrying away captives to be sold as slaves.
Battle of Cape Bona (Genoese versus Venetians ) Vandals victory
Fought 468, between the Roman fleet of 1,100 galleys and transports under Basiliscus, and the fleet of the Vandals under Genseric. The Romans were lying at anchor, having landed their troops, and Genseric, taking advantage of a favorable wind, sent in a fleet of fire ships, following them up by a determined attack. More than half the Roman ships were destroyed, Basiliscus escaping with difficulty.

Short Biography
St. Boniface Sent as a Missionary to Frisia to convert Pagans. Cut down Thor's Oak tree. Martyred.
Aspar General from Constantinople sent to meet Genseric during the siege of Hippo.
Genseric Leader of Vandals. Conquered Northern Africa and Sicily. Invaded and ransacked Rome.
Eudoxia Dethroned Empress of Rome, who invited Genseric to enter the city and help restore her to the throne.
Hunseric Son of Genseric. Led the Vandal attack on Carthage.

Story Links
Book Links
End of the Empire of the West  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Genseric the Vandal in  Famous Men of the Middle Ages  by  John H. Haaren
Barbarians Rule in Rome  in  The Story of Europe  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Genseric the Vandal Sacks Rome  in  European Hero Stories  by  Eva March Tappan

Fall of the Vandals : 478-533

None of the Vandal kings who ruled after Genseric nearly approached his degree of generalship and authority. Immediately upon the death of Genseric, Odoacer, a barbarian who had recently made himself king of Italy, reclaimed the Island of Sicily from the Vandals, and their domination of the sea, was lessened. After his death there were numerous rebellions within the kingdom especially among the African natives, and a general decline in competence of the Vandal leadership. At the same time however, the Vandal treatment of Catholics, which under Genseric had been very harsh, improved. Finally in 533 Justinian I determined to restore the Vandal Kingdom to the Byzantine throne, and sent Belisarius on an expedition against the Vandals. This campaign was a great success. After two hard fought battles, Gelimer, The last King of the Vandals surrendered to Justinian, and North Africa again became a Roman province.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Carthage (Fall of Vandal Empire ) Byzantines victory
Fought September 14, 533, between the Vandals under Gelimer, about 160,000 strong, and the Romans under Belisarius, far inferior in numbers. Gelimer divided his army into three, of which he led one portion to attack the main body of the Romans. The action was precipitated, however, by the hasty attack by Ammatas of the vanguard, wherein he was routed with heavy loss. Gelimer then fell upon the pursuing Romans, but Belisarius coming up, the Vandals were put to flight, and the Romans gained a complete victory. On the following day Carthage opened her gates to the victors.
Battle of Tricameron (Rise of Vandal Empire ) Byzantines victory
Fought November, 533, between the Romans, under Belisarius, and the Vandals, under Gelimer and Zano. The Romans were drawn up behind a stream, and were attacked by the Vandals, though only the wing under Zano displayed any vigour in the assault. In the end the Vandals were defeated with a loss of 800, the Romans losing 50 only. This defeat put an end to the Vandal domination in Africa.

Short Biography
Gelimer Last king of the Vandals. Defeated at Tricameron.
Belisarius General associated with Julian the Great, reconquered much of lost Roman territory.

Story Links
Book Links
Soul of Justinian  in  A Child's Book of Warriors  by  William Canton
Justinian the Great  in  Famous Men of the Middle Ages  by  John H. Haaren
Rise and Fall of Justinian's Empire  in  The Story of Europe  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

Image Links

The vandals in Rome
 in Famous Men of the Middle Ages

The battle at Carthage
 in Famous Men of the Middle Ages

The Vandals in Rome
 in Greatest Nations - Rome