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This Week In History

Carthage Falls to the Vandals – October 24, 439 AD

Gaiseric (also spelled Genseric and Geiseric) was born in Hungary, c.389 AD, the illegitimate son of King Godigisel of the Vandals. Godigisel was slain in battle against the Franks in 406, during the Crossing of the Rhine. Upon his death, his son Gunderic took the throne. He ruled for 22 years, often clashing with the Visigoths who were much more numerous. Gaiseric was crowned king in 428, when the Vandals were settled in Hispania Baetica. This  is a category of  Carthage coins.

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Sacking of Rome

Gaiseric had great vision and ambition, but his relatively small Germanic tribe was in constant conflict with other tribes in the area. He decided to move all 20-80,000 of his people to North Africa, which was at the time under Roman Imperial rule and leave the fighting in Hispania to the Visigoths and Suebi. It is possible he was actually encouraged by the Roman governor, Boniface, to move there to strengthen his forces as he struggled with Imperial rule.

The Vandals moved across the Strait of Gibraltar in 429, bringing devastation in their tracks. They easily defeated the disorganized Roman forces across modern-day Morocco and Algeria. Their first major resistance was at Hippo Regius in Algeria, which consumed 14 months to capture. The Roman Emperor, Valentinian III, and Gaiseric came to a peace agreement on February 11, 435. The terms of the agreement were recognizing Gaiseric as king of the lands the Vandals conquered and in return they were to pay a tribute to the Empire; Gaiseric’s son, Huneric was to be sent to Rome as hostage; and Carthage was to be left at peace.

Four years later, Gaiseric seized on the opportunity that was likely his original goal – he caught the Romans unaware while they were heavily involved in conflicts in Gaul and captured the critical port city of Carthage on October 24, 439, along with a large part of the western Roman navy docked there. The Catholic bishop was exiled to Naples as he demanded all of his close advisors adhere to Arianism.

Gaiseric continued to build his position of strength through good management of his kingdom. Although he was strict Arian, he allowed the rest of his kingdom religious Christian freedom, apart from his close advisors. He kept the taxes low on most of his subjects, relying on the taxes from the Catholic clergy and rich Roman families. He made Carthage the capital of the Vandal kingdom and during his nearly 50 years of rule, expanded his territory to include Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearic Islands. The Roman Empire had no choice but to recognize the Vandals as an independent kingdom instead of a vassal state. After 30+ years of pirating in the Mediterranean, sacking Rome I in 455, and defeating Basiliscus in 468, when the Romans put up one last effort to defeat the Vandals, finally in 474, Gaiseric made peace with the Eastern Roman Empire. He died in Carthage in 477, succeeded by his son, Huneric, who was married to Eudocia, the daughter of Valentinian III and Licinia Eudoxia.

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