African Vandals (442-535 AD)
DBA II/84

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By 420 AD, the Silingi Vandals had been pushed from Pannonia across Gaul and deep into Spain by the Goths and Franks. After the death of King Gunderic, son of Godegisel, in battle with the Franks in 428 AD, the Vandals elected Gunderic's bastard half-brother, Gaiseric (a.k.a. Genseric) as their king. Gaiseric convinced his people and their Alan allies to abandon Spain for North Africa, possibly at the invitation of the Roman Governor Boniface, who needed allies as a hedge against the intrigues of the Patrician Aetius in Rome.

Eighty thousand in number, including thirty thousand warriors, the Vandals crossed at the Straights of Gilbralter in 429 AD and seized lands from the local Berbers. There was a treaty of peace with Rome in 435 AD, but Gaiseric soon broke it and set about conquering the rich Roman northern African province including the 14 month seige of Hippo (in which the famous St. Augustine perished) and culminating with the sack of Carthage, which Gaiseric made his capital in 438 AD.

Having secured his kingdom, Gaiseric left intact the efficient Roman bureaucracy and set about building a great fleet. Tracing their origins to Vendsyssel, the northernmost region of Jutland, the Germanic Vandals quickly resumed their sea-faring ways, and became the terror of the Mediterranean. Over a period of thirty-five years, Gaiseric's fleets ravaged the coasts of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires. In 455 AD, a Vandal army landed in Italy and plundered the Eternal City of Rome itself, only sparing it the torch when Pope Leo the Great personally implored Gaiseric to abstain from murder and destruction by fire.

In 460 AD, the Vandals destroy the Roman fleet off Cartagena, confirming their mastery of the western Mediterranean. By 462 AD the Vandal Kingdom included the Roman provinces of North Africa, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and the Balearic Islands. In 476 AD, Gaiseric sold eastern Sicily to Theodoric, king of the Visigoths and then launched raids into Greece and Dalmatia, threatening the Byzantine capital at Constantinople. The Byzantine Emperor Leo I and his Western counterpart Anthemius joined forces to deal with the Vandal threat. Leo financed a fleet of 1000 ships that set sail in 468 AD to capture Carthage. A three-pronged attack under the overall command of Leo's brother-in-law, the incompetent Basiliscus, was poorly coordinated and ended in an embarrassing and costly withdrawal. After 474 AD, the new Eastern emperor Zeno was forced to negotiate a treaty of peace with Gaiseric to prevent further raids. The African Vandal kingdom had reached its zenith.

Gaiseric died in early 477 AD, and the throne went to his eldest son Huneric in accordance with the Vandal law of succession by seniority. Huneric, who by several accounts was not the most competent of rulers, was swayed by his Arian Christian bishops and soon began a reign of savage persecutions within the Kingdom against the orthodox Romano-Christian majority; creating numerous martyrs for the Catholic Book of Saints and committing unspeakably cruel acts that gave the Vandal name much of its bad historical connotation.

Huneric died in 484 AD, and was followed in the Kingship by Gunthamund (484-496 AD), Thrasamund (496-523 AD), Hilderic (523-530 AD), and the last Vandal King Gelimir (530-535 AD). A vigorous and warlike people under Gaiseric, the Vandals gradually became soft with the riches of their conquests and absorbed in the religious and internal politics of the former Roman North African province in which they were always a minority of the population.

In 533 AD, a Byzantine army under Belisarius landed in North Africa and launched a campaign to expel the Vandals and restore Roman rule. On Sept. 13, Belisarius met King Gelimir and his brother Ammatas with their army at the tenth milestone south of Carthage (Ad Decimum). The tide of battle stood against the Byzantines until Ammatas was killed. Gelimir lost his nerve and the Vandal army disintegrated in flight. Belisarius quickly occupied Carthage and within two years had eliminated the last of Gelimir's loyalists, marking the end of the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa in 535 AD.

Army Composition

1x 3Kn (Gen) Vandal king and his retainers
10x 3Kn Vandal warriors.
1x 3Kn or 2Lh More Vandal warriors or remnant Alan (before 500 BC) or Numidian Light Horse

Enemies

The African Vandals have it in for the Later Moorish (II/57), the Patrician Romans (II/83ab), and the Early Byzantines (III/4a).

After establishing themselves in the region of Roman North Africa, the Vandals can also look to the Later Moors (II/57) as Big Battle allies.

Camps or BUAs

A simple tent camp, Moorish or Numidian shephards with their flocks, a section of city wall, or beached dromons (in the case of a littoral layout), all make viable camps.

Miniatures

Vandals in African were armed and equipped much like the Vandals were in Spain, and so any range of Vandal, Gothic, Ostrogothic, Lombard (sans long beards) or other Dark Ages horse with chainmail, simple conical helms, round shields, and spears or swords will suffice. Draco standards are perfectly appropriate. Such figures are available from many 15mm manufacturers, including Donnington, Essex, Irregular, and Pass o' the North.

Painting Tips

What makes an African Vandal army African? Well, the Vandal aristocracy grew rich off their North Africa possessions, and can be depicted with gold accents on their equipment, richer looking clothes, decorated around the edges of their tunics and less muddy colors. Another way to make your African Vandal army unique is to use regional touches, like a leopardskin saddle blanket, or cloaks in rich African colors or featuring African designs.

Tactics

With twelve Knights, who needs tactics? Just line them up and charge! That is of course if you're willing to live and die gloriously by the roll of the die.

If you want to enhance your odds of victory, however, you'll need to take advantage of Knights and their quick-kill capabilities, guard against their impetuous behavior, and look for opportunities to use your Littoral edge. With a high aggression (3), you'll seldom have terrain on your side when fighting Patricians and Moors, but should be able to send in littoral landings against the Early Byzantines at least occasionally.

The Moorish Psiloi (a.k.a. "speedbumps") don't have a chance against Knights in open terrain, and must be protected by bad going or by the Moorish Light Horse, who can flit about and even kill the occasional impetuous Vandal Knight with good die rolling or flank overlaps.

The Patrician Romans can keep a third of the twelve Vandal Knights busy with their own mounted. But that leaves two thirds of the Vandal Knights to try their luck against the vulnerable Roman Blade, Auxilia and Warband. I like those odds unless the Roman foot can find shelter in terrain. But if they are passive on the defense, you can concentrate on the Roman mounted.

The Early Byzantine Cavalry and Light Horse pose a considerable challenge to impetuous Vandal Knights if well-used, but should be easily driven if outnumbered and overlapped. The goal, however, is to get at the more vulnerable Byzantine Blades and Psiloi, the latter who will unfortunately provide support to the former.

You might ask the question, why would an African Vandal commander ever opt for the Light Horse option when it is possible to field 12 Knights? Well, actually, the Light Horse can provide a much needed mobile threat capable of closing a flank or using its second and subsequent movement to throw your opposing general off kilter or dash in on an undefended camp.

Can the Vandals be beaten? Surely. They will beat themselves if you are not careful. An opponent who makes creative use of terrain, denies the Vandal Knights easy quick-kill opportunities, and who takes advantage of impetuous Knight follow-ups to gain overlaps, will be sure to give you headaches. But like any impetuous army, you've always got your secret weapon -- just surrender to the inevitable chaos and roll sixes!

Other Resources

Writing in 550 AD, the historian Procopius of Caesarea gave this account of the Vandal Conquest of North Africa.

Any history of the late Roman Empire is likely to feature Gaiseric and his Vandal successors, who played a prominent role in bringing about the downfall of the western Roman empire. Edward Gibbon's "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" (Volumes 1-3)(Volumes 4-6)(Abridged) is the classic example and a good source for Vandal information.

A more recent scholarly addition to anyone's "Fall of Rome" bookshelf is Thomas Hodgkin's "Huns, Vandals and the Fall of Rome," printed by Greenhill Press (1986) and weighing in at 816 pages.

The African Vandals are described in Ian Heath's "Armies of the Dark Ages" (published by WRG).


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Last Updated:  13 Oct. 2004