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Vandals and the African Catholics

Gaiseric, and especially his son Hunneric (477-484), tried to impose Arianism on the African Catholics. This led to a relentless campaign of persecution in which priests were tortured to make them reveal church treasures and bishops were killed or exiled. Free men including wealthy landowners were enslaved or fined, and their lands were distributed amongst the Vandal warriors, while the large imperial estates were seized for the royal domain. Only Arians were appointed at court. Catholic churches were pillaged, or used as stables, and town walls were pulled down to prevent rebellion. Under Hilderic (523-531) some churches were restored to the Catholics, but Vandal pirates may still have posed a threat to Byzantine trade. The Byzantine army under General Belisarius took advantage of civil unrest to stage a rapid reconquest of North Africa in 534. King Gelimer was eventually captured while many Vandal survivors enlisted in the Byzantine cavalry to serve against the Persians and Ostrogoths, or fled to join the Moors, or were enslaved. After this, no more is heard of them, although they are still remembered for their depredations today.

Little archaeological evidence remains of Vandal presence in North Africa, except for some jewellery, and representations and personal names in a few fine mosaics, as at Annaba and Thebesa. In spite of their reputation, they seem to have largely adopted late Antique culture and an urban way of life, maintaining Roman buildings and installations and much of the old civil administration, although their kingdom was in decline by the end of the sixth century. A hoard of cut garnets found at Carthage suggests the presence of an early cloisonné workshop there.