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Vandals and the Roman Empire

The Vandals formed a group of Eastern Germanic peoples, originally perhaps from Jutland. They occupied lands between the Oder and Vistula rivers in the first century AD. According to a Roman historian, they lived in waggons and moved from pasture to pasture tending their herds of cattle and horses. While living in the Danube region the Vandals supplied troops for the Roman army and adopted the heretical Arian form of Christianity. Later, when they migrated to areas of the Roman Empire, Arianism set the Vandals apart from native populations.

At the end of 406 the Vandals joined with escaped slaves from Pannonia and other barbarian tribes, including the Suevi, the nomadic Alans, and some Goths, and crossed the frozen Rhine near Mainz into Roman Gaul, probably to escape from domination by the Huns. After ravaging France they crossed the Pyrenees in 409 and eventually settled in southern Spain for a while. They occupied the countryside, but left the towns to the native population. Their name might be preserved in that of Andalusia, but this is uncertain. The Vandals seized Roman ships and made piratical raids around the Mediterranean, even as far as the coasts of Greece.

Allegedly at the invitation of a disgraced Roman governor, Count Boniface, the Vandals crossed to North Africa in 429. A census, taken at that time, numbered 80,000 males amongst them. Under King Gaiseric they went on to establish an autocratic kingdom in what is today eastern Algeria and Tunisia. The kingdom centred on Carthage, the wealthy third city of the empire and Rome's main source of grain. There they built a fleet with which they were able to seize the Balearic Islands, Sardinia, Corsica and western Sicily. They even captured Rome itself briefly in 455, stripping the city of its riches and carrying off the empress Eudoxia and her two daughters. The emperor was forced to recognize Vandal rule after an attempt to recover Africa was defeated in 460 and the Vandal kings issued their own coins as a symbol of their independence.