Sunday, November 13, 2011

Christ and Vandals

Siliqua of Vandal king Genseric (389-477)

Let us work a little to understand the role of the famous Vandals during the Migration Period in connection with the Kingdom of Heaven. After all, who has not heard of vandalism?

Name and origins
It is possible that like the Gothic tribes also Vandals originally came from Sweden. Their tribal name may survive in the parish of Vendel in Uppland.  The village is on the large Vendelsj√∂ lake and there is also a Vendel river. (Other theories about the name also exist). During the 3rd century A.D. they already had reached the borders of Rome and had at this time probably mixed with other Germanic and Slavic tribes. The two main groups were called by Roman historians and geographers  Silingi and Hasdingi.

Wikipedia tells:
According to Jordanes' Getica, the Hasdingi came into conflict with the Goths around the time of Constantine the Great. At the time, the Vandals were living in lands later inhabited by the Gepids, where they were surrounded "on the east [by] the Goths, on the west [by] the Marcomanni, on the north [by] the Hermanduri and on the south [by] the Hister (Danube)." The Vandals were attacked by the Gothic king Geberic, and their king Visimar was killed. The Vandals then migrated to Pannonia, where after Constantine the Great (about 330) granted them lands on the right bank of the Danube, they lived for the next sixty years.

Around this time, the Hasdingi had already been Christianized. During the Emperor Valens's reign (364–78) the Vandals accepted, much like the Goths earlier, Arianism, a belief that was in opposition to that of Nicene orthodoxy of the Roman Empire. Yet there were also some scattered orthodox Vandals, among whom was the famous magister militum Stilicho, the chief minister of the Emperor Honorius (384-423).

Christ and Vandals
How did Christ reach the Vandals so that we find them as Christians already at the time of Constantine the Great?

We apparently have no information about this but the process may have been similar to what happened with the Goths who raided Roman territory and took Christian captives, especially women.

However, there was no Wulfila. Vandal speech has never been written down, as far as I know, and they never not the New Testament in their own language. Since church historians wrote about the persecution of Nicene Christians by Arian Vandals in north-Africa we see that also in this they resembled the Goths by confessing the teaching of Arius.

Vandals had a different kind of deep impact on the Kingdom of God - for they, together with Alans, attacked Frankish tribes in Gaul. This fight was crucial for Clovis who became a Christian as a consequence of his prayer victory. (We shall return to the fundamentally important Franks later.)

In 406 the Vandals advanced from Pannonia travelling west along the Danube without much difficulty, but when they reached the Rhine, they met resistance from the Franks, who populated and controlled Romanized regions in northern Gaul. Twenty thousand Vandals, including Godigisel himself, died in the resulting battle, but then with the help of the Alans they managed to defeat the Franks, and on December 31, 406 the Vandals crossed the Rhine, probably while it was frozen, to invade Gaul, which they devastated terribly. Under Godigisel's son Gunderic, the Vandals plundered their way westward and southward through Aquitaine.

Hispania and North-Africa

Vandals continued vandalizing southern Europe and reached Spain in 409. There the Alans wanted to join them so that their army may have reached over 80.000 men (estimates vary). After they established their kingdom in Carthage the title of the ruler was Rex Wandalorum et Alanorum.

"From around 1540, the Swedish king had been styled, Suecorum, Gothorum et Vandalorum Rex ("King of the Suecii (Swedes), Goths (Geats) and Vandals (Wends)"). Carl XVI Gustaf, dropped the title in 1973 and now styles himself simply as King of Sweden." (wikipedia)

Death of St Augustine
With the leadership of their most powerful leader Genseric (389-477) they crossed Gibraltar in 429 and conquered North-Africa. 430 AD they laid heavy siege on Hippo Regius where St. Augustine was Bishop of a Nicene Church.

It may well be that the hardships brought by the long siege by Christian Vandals led to the death of that man of God, Saint Augustine of Hippo: "On 28 August 430, three months into the siege, St. Augustine (who was 75 years old) died".(wikipedia)

Attacked by the Romans and the Suevi, the Vandals left Galicia about 420 and settled in southern Spain, which have got its name Andalusia from the Vandals. They did not stay in Andalusia for long however, their new king Gaiseric (also called Geiseric or Genseric) led them to north Africa 429 where they created a powerful state. Carthage was seized 439 and made into their new capitol and their navy that was built shortly afterwards made the the Mediterranean unsafe and conquered all large islands in the western Mediterranean. The sacking of Rome would much later result in the term "vandalism". But the Vandal kingdom was weakened after Gaiseric's death 477 and it was easily conquered by the East Roman Empire 533-534.
  • 400-428 Gunderic
  • 428-477 Gaiseric
  • 477-484 Huneric
  • 484-496 Gunthamund
  • 496-523 Thrasamund
  • 523-530 Hilderic
  • 530-534 Gelimer
Historical Atlas

For a recent scholarly discussion on the subject see, for example, this on-line article
(To read the article you need a membership to library society or you can purchase 24h rights to read it)

Christianity and the Vandals in the reign of Geiseric
Peter Heather July 27 2011
Institute of Classical Studies. School of Advanced Studies, University of London

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