"So Gizeric, having ruled over the Vandals thirty-nine years from the time when he captured Carthage, died“

25 January 477, the Vandal King Genseric (or Gizeric or Gaiseric) died at the age of about 90 in Carthage after having led 20,000 refugees to become a major Mediterranean power.

“But at that time Gizeric was plundering the whole Roman domain just as much as before, if not more, circumventing his enemy by craft and driving them out of their possessions by force, as has been previously said, and he continued to do so until the emperor Zeno came to an agreement with him and an endless peace was established between them, by which it was provided that the Vandals should never in all time perform any hostile act against the Romans nor suffer such a thing at their hands. And this peace was preserved by Zeno himself and also by his successor in the empire, Anastasius And it remained in force until the time of the emperor Justinus. But Justinian, who was the nephew of Justinus, succeeded him in the imperial power, and it was in the reign of this Justinian that the war with which we are concerned came to pass, in the manner which will be told in the following narrative. Gizeric, after living on a short time, died at an advanced age, having made a will in which he enjoined many things upon the Vandals and in particular that the royal power among them should always fall to that one who should be the first in years among all the male offspring descended from Gizeric himself. So Gizeric, having ruled over the Vandals thirty-nine years from the time when he captured Carthage, died, as I have said.“ (Procopius)

One of the customary six trading cards published by Liebig's Extract of Meat Company around 1900, commemorating the events of the “Völkerwanderung“, here the rather picturesque imagination of Genseric (Geiserich) and his 20,000 Vandals landing in Africa.

Genseric, king of the Vandals in North Africa, decided it was quite enough. After murdering the rather unpopular Valentinian III, the new Western Roman Emperor Petronius Maximus was about to marry Eudocia, daughter of his predecessor, to his son Palladius. Unfortunately a violation of the terms of the peace treaty of 442, promising the Imperial princess to Genseric’s son Huneric. Ruling from Carthage and establishing the city as a threat to Rome for the first time since the Punic Wars 650 years before, Genseric controlled the western Mediterranean with his vast fleet and used his strategic advantage to land his Vandal army in Italy to show Petronius what's what. Pope Leo I, who had allegedly persuaded Attila to spare the city of Rome three years before, convinced Genseric that he would be met with no resistance by the Romans if he would not destroy the city or harm her inhabitants. Nevertheless, Genseric’s men sacked the place - spawning the term "Vandalism", even though it caused much less destruction than the Visigoth Alaric's visit in CE 410 or the more thorough destruction under Italy's Ostrogoth king Totila roughly a hundred years later. According to the Byzantine historian Procopius at least a church burned down, though. Rich Roman families were carried off to Carthage to be ransomed later, along with Valentinian’s widow and his two daughters, Placidia and the casus belli Eudocia who finally married Huneric and became Queen of the Vandals. Among the other trophies taken by Genseric was the capitol's golden roof and what remained of Jerusalem's Temple Treasure, brought to Rome by Titus in 71 CE, i.e. the parts not collected by Alaric 45 years before, including the original menorah made by Moses for the Tabernacle. Or so the story goes.

Karl Bryullov (1799 – 1852): “Genseric sacks Rome” (around 1850)

The confederation to be later known as Vandals might have gotten its name from 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. After leaving Sweden and possibly Denmark under Aurvandil’s guidance around the beginning of the Common Era, one branch of Vandal ancestors, the Silingi, settled in Silesia in a conglomeration of Germanic, Celtic and Slavic cultural influences. A second branch known as Hasdingi set up their camp in Hungary and Romania, probably accumulating a few additional local ethnic backgrounds as well. Traditionally, the arrival of the Huns and the destruction of the Gothic kingdom in present-day Ukraine in 375 CE marks the beginning of the Migration Period, the Völkerwanderung, when most of the tribal confederations between the Dnieper and the Rhine 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. 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. In 418, Emperor Honorius set his Visigothic allies 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.

Heinrich Leutermann's rather vivid imagination of Genseric's "Sack of Rome" (around 1870)

Firmly entrenched in his new capital Carthage in Northern Africa, Genseric set forth to rule the waves and put the fear of god into Eastern and Western Romans alike. Described as warlike yet wise, the Germanic condottiere had achieved what was far beyond the scope of most of the other military successful leaders of the Migration Period – the establishment of an independent kingdom that would last for the next hundred years. An ironic twist of fate was the later association of wanton destruction with him and his folks. Actually, the Vandalic kingdom in northern Africa stuck to Roman civilisation far better than any other place north and west of Italy, added a few cultural notes, practised religious and ethnic tolerance and everything would have been peaches and cream, or almost, until Justinian began his reconquest of the lost territories of the fallen Western Roman Empire. His general Belisarius took the place for Rome in 534. After that, nearly all traces of Vandal culture have disappeared while Genseric’s great-grandson Gelimer, last King of the Vandals, disillusioned and disenchanted, quoted Solomon when he was brought to Constantinople: Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas, Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

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