Völkerwanderungszeit - The Arrival of the Vandals in Spain

13 October 409 CE, during the Völkerwanderung, the Migration Period, the Vandal tribes, together with the Germanic Suebi and Irano-Sarmatian Alans had crossed the Pyrenees and arrived in Spain.
"The irruption of these nations was followed by the most dreadful calamities; as the Barbarians exercised their indiscriminate cruelty on the fortunes of the Romans and the Spaniards, and ravaged with equal fury the cities and the open country. The progress of famine reduced the miserable inhabitants to feed on the flesh of their fellow-creatures; and even the wild beasts, who multiplied, without control, in the desert, were exasperated, by the taste of blood, and the impatience of hunger, boldly to attack and devour their human prey. Pestilence soon appeared, the inseparable companion of famine; a large proportion of the people was swept away; and the groans of the dying excited only the envy of their surviving friends. At length the Barbarians, satiated with carnage and rapine, and afflicted by the contagious evils which they themselves had introduced, fixed their permanent seats in the depopulated country.” (Edward Gibbon, “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire“)

A mosaic from Carthage, depicting a Vandal horseman (around 6th century CE, British Museum)

Trying to put down roots in antiquity, historiography of the 19th century assumed the tribes that set forth to cross Europe from Scandinavia and Ukraine to the lands that made up the Western Roman Empire during the 4th, 5th and 6th century CE to be consistent ethnicities with either a historical continuity or at least a close cousinship to the modern national states. The rather Romantic imagination of a whole people starting in Sweden and ending up in Northern Africa, maintaining something along the lines of a coherent national identity for 400 years seems to be far fetched indeed. What can be traced is a similarity of names that probably belonged to the leading clan once and was handed down over the generations. In case of the confederation to be later known as Vandals, that might have been a place name in Sweden, Vendel, together with the old Germanic word “wand”, wandering, and the creation of a mythical ancestor, Aurvandil, the “Shining Wanderer”, a synonym for the evening star.

A modern imagination of wandering Vandals 

The people that had left Sweden and possibly Denmark had settled in Silesia in a conglomeration of Germanic, Celtic and Slavic cultural influences, the Silingi, and in Hungary and Romania, probably with a few additional ethnic backgrounds, a branch known as Hasdingi, came into contact with the Roman World during Marcus Aurelius’ Marcomanni Wars. Traditionally, the arrival of the Huns and the destruction of the Gothic kingdom in Ukraine in 375 CE marks the beginning of the Migration Period, when most of the tribal confederations between the Rhine and the Dnieper packed their belongings and moved to the south and west into Roman territory. The Silingi, Hasdingi, Suebi and Alani crossed the frozen Rhine in the night of New Year’s Eve of 406 CE into Gaul.

Giving birth to the term "Vandalism" - a 19th century imagination of plundering Vandals

After criss-crossing and plundering their way across the place for three years, they arrived in Spain and founded their own kingdoms, the Hasdingi as Roman allies in Asturia, the Suebi in Galicia, the Alans in Portugal and the Silingi in the South. The seizure of the territories by the tribes was very probably not by far as dramatic as Gibbon describes it. At least no archaeological evidence has been found so far for a drama of that extent. If the ethnogenesis of the Vandals had thriven far enough already that the Silingi could lend the tribal name to the region of (V)Andalusia, as it is commonly believed, remains debatable, however, in 418, Emperor Honorius set his Visigothic allies under Alaric’s relative and successor Wallia on the tribes in Spain, some of them still Roman foederati as well. The Alans and Silingi were almost annihilated, what remained joined the Hasdingi under their King Gunderic who led them to Africa in 429 where his nephew Genseric established the Vandal Kingdom that would be a major factor during the final destruction of the Western Roman Empire, Genseric’s Sack of Rome in 455 gave their tribal name the well-known, infamous connotation of vandalism. The Vandals ruled large parts of modern Tunisia and Algeria as well as Sicily and Sardinia until their time had come during Justinian’s Reconquista and Belisar captured their kingdom in 534. After that, the traces of the Vandals and their flourishing kingdom disappear for ever.

And more on: