The Vandal

Genseric “the Lame”, king of the Vandals. He was my 42nd great grandfather, he ruled over the Germanic tribe of the Vandals for over fifty years, from approximately 425 to January 25, 477.

He was born in Pannonia, which is now in Hungary, and died in Carthage, Zeugitana, which is now in Tunesia, North Africa. How that happened is one of the strangest stories in history.

Rome was still the premiere civilized country during the 400s. Earlier on the descendants of the Phoenicians had built a decent empire around the city of Carthage in North African. The Romans didn’t like that, and a series of wars occurred. It wasn’t all a Roman victory, the Punic Wars were back and forth, and a Carthaginian general named Hannibal nearly destroyed Rome.

In the end, the Romans vanquished Carthage, but feared that it would return, so they did something unusual for even Rome. They carted hundreds of wagons of salt, to spread over the city, and its fields for miles around. They wanted the city to starve and never be able to grow crops again.

Then Rome went on it’s way to conquer the world. They were stopped in a few places, the Medes and the Parthians caused some trouble, but they were so far East that it was another world.

The main problem for Rome was up north. The Germanic tribes lived in a dark forest, and resisted being civilized. And they fought like wild men.

Eventually the Romans stopped trying to make the north into provinces, and used the rivers as a natural border. Keep them on the other side, and we can trade with them now and again.

The Romans didn’t know what was on the other side of the Germans, and that was a problem. The Romans had gone to Gaul (France), and even up to Belgium and Britain, but they kept the Germans in their dark forests.

In the Germanic East the forest thinned to fertile grasslands. The Germanic tribes that were there enjoyed good farming, with rich harvests. The rich harvests attracted tribes that were even farther East. The Hunnish invaders made regular incursions, and some brought horses and carts with the intention to stay. They were fierce fighters, so the Germanic tribes were being pushed to the West.

The problem was the the West already had people living there, and they didn’t want to be replaced. It wasn’t going to be a domino game. The Ostrogoths and the Visigoth tribes decided to keep together and move as a unit through the Eastern part of Germany, or Allemania as it was called.

When they came to a border with Rome, there was conflict, so they continued West. The Visigoths ended up all the way in Spain. The Ostrogoths moved from Romania to Northern Italy and Switzerland. The Vandals were relatives to the Visigoths so the went to Spain as well.

The Vandals were good fighters but everybody was on the move, and they needed to change in order to find their “place”. When they got to the end of the road in Spain, they could see Africa beyond the Gibraltar Strait. They could see the water.

The tribal leaders said, “Let us became sailors, it can’t be that hard!”

Maybe no one said it, but that is what happened. The German tribe called the Vandals, left the plains and the forests, and they became fighters in boats, cruising the shore that was mostly desert.

There had always been pirates, but they were individual thieves sneaking up on travelers or cities. Thousands of years ago there were the “Sea Peoples”, that bought an end to the Bronze Age, but nothing since. This was a tribe, an entire nation that changed there lifestyle. They were very successful.

They continued going East, hugging the coast of Africa until they hit a very attractive area that had harbors and some small villages. It was the ancient site of Carthage. It had recovered to some extent, and the Romans had left it alone for centuries, Spain and Egypt were the breadbaskets.

Using Carthage as a base the Vandals traveled everywhere in the Mediterranean, and they kept bumping into the Romans. By now they knew a little history, and they even knew how Attila the Hun was pressing down from the north.

Rome had even hired German generals to fight back the Germans. A select few tribes were invite to live on the Roman side of the river, to act as a buffer. Some tribes even joined the Roman army.

The Vandals attacked and conquered nearly all the islands off the coast of Europe. The Mediterranean was their lake, Sardinia, Sicily and the Baleric islands were their empire.

From bases in Sardinia and Sicily it was easy to an attack on The City of Rome. Thirty years earlier it was beaten by Alaric and his Ostrogoths.

Genseric threatened Rome but the Emperor Valentinian III had offered his daughter in marriage to Genseric’s son. This was a typical royal bribe with a bride.

Rome had remembered the horror of Alaric breaching the walls of Rome, but they had a Roman general Aetius that was very good about keeping the Germans off guard, and away from Rome.

The Senate grew afraid, with many senators making plans to flee Rone with their wealth, one Senate leader thought that he would be a better Emperorand used his money to buy influence.

Petronius Maximus knew that he could never remove Valentinian as long as Aetius was around, so he made a plan to get rid of Aetius.

At every opportunity he whispered to Emperor Valentinian that Aetius was getting too popular. The Army followed him, the people cheered his victories. Even the Senate had shown extreme thanks.

After months, it finally worked. Aetius had a meeting with Valentinian to discuss the budget for the military, when Valentinian drew a sword and hit the unarmed Aetius in the head. For weeks he bragged that he had killed the “traitor” Aetius.

One senator remarked, “Yes, the Emperor had used his left hand, to cut off his right hand.” Without Aetius, the tribes attacked the border. Without Aetius, the Army was leaderless. More Senators fled the city.

Eventually Valentinian planned to leave the city as well. His personal guards were two centurions that had served with Aetius. The Emperor Valentinian III was killed as he left the city.

Petronius Maximus was thrilled, he immediately made himself Emperor and started his plan to control the country. Petronius Maximus married the Emperor’s widow Licinia, then he cancelled the wedding of the daughter of to Genseric’s son, and made her marry his own son.

This was the last straw for Genseric so he attacked Rome, broke through the walls and the Vandals sacked the City for two weeks. In the end we still remember this when we use the term “vandalized”.

Petronius Maximus fled as the Vandals arrived, became detached from his retinue and bodyguard in the confusion, and was killed.

After the two weeks, Genseric left with the Empress Licinia Eudoxia and her daughters Placidia and Eudocia.

Eudocia did marry Genseric’s son after all.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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