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Biography and History

The Vandals

How the Roman Empire
was "Vandalized" 

The word "vandal" is used to describe a person who recklessly destroys property. The term originated in the Dark Ages as the name for a tribe of barbarians that plundered and pillaged their way across much of the Roman Empire. 

Little is known of the origins of the Germanic tribe known as the Vandals. They are believed to have originated in Denmark and later migrated to the valley of the Oder River on the Baltic Sea, about the 5th century BC. 

The Vandals in action

In 406 AD, the Vandals were driven from their homes on the Baltic by the Huns. They headed southwest, crossed the Rhine River and invaded Gaul (now France). 

For the next couple of years, the Vandals roamed throughout Gaul killing, raping, and pillaging, in an orgy of wanton destruction. Despite the many pleas for help from the citizens of Gaul, Rome's power was in decline, and it did not have the means to stop them. When news of the devastation of Gaul reached Roman troops in Britain, they decided to act, and under their commander Flavius Constantine, they traveled to Gaul where they were joined by other troops from Spain. The Vandals were finally defeated in battle and in 409 fled to Spain.

Once in Spain, The Vandals traveled about the countryside and continued to lay waste to everything and everyone in their path. The Romans made several attempts to evict the Vandals from Spain, but the Vandals defeated every army sent to destroy them. Just when they had exhausted the riches of southern Spain, the Vandals were invited into Africa by a rebellious Roman warlord, Bonifatius, who wanted to recruit them for his campaign to take over North Africa.

In 428, the largest ever sea-borne movement of a barbarian peoples resulted in some 80,000 Vandals landing near Tangier. There was little opposition from the locals, and within two years nearly all of North Africa was under their control. With the fall of Carthage in 439, the Vandals controlled a major naval base, which they used to raid all of the cities of the Western Mediterranean. In 455, they thoroughly and mercilessly sacked Rome .

In 533, the Emperor Justinian sent an army large enough to destroy the Vandal Kingdom. They managed to capture Gelimer the last King of the Vandals, and brought him back to Rome. "Vanity of vanities," Gelimer said, as he groveled at Justinian's feet just before he was executed, "all is vanity."

And so the Vandal's rein of terror finally came to an end. Although the Vandals left a trail of death and destruction in their wake, they also brought with them several technological advances, such as an advanced plow that enabled farmers to plow deeper and straighter furrows, butter, rye, oats, and hops. Though the tribe was completely eliminated, their name lives on.



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