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Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Vandalic War (533 – 534)

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Background

The kingdom of the Vandals and Alans was created by Genseric, the leader of the Vandals and the Germans who joined them, as a result of conquests in northern Africa on the territory of modern Tunisia, northern Algeria, north-western Libya, the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. Vandals moved from Spain to Africa in 429, after which they defeated the troops of the Western Roman Empire in a series of battles and seized Carthage in 439, which became the founding date of the Vandal kingdom – one of the first created by the Germans.

The kingdom became famous under its founder Genseric who captured and looted Rome in the year 455. The king of the vandals, Hilderic (523-530), was the son of Huneric from the Roman princess Evdokia, captured by the Vandals during the devastation of Rome. Hilderic was close with Justinian, who actually ruled the Byzantine Empire with his uncle, Emperor Justine, even before he became emperor. Hilderic broke off relations with the ruler of Italy, the leader Theodoric, imprisoning his sister on charges of conspiracy. Justinian imprisoned Hilderic in 530, and 3 years after the start of the invasion, the Byzantines ordered him to be killed.

Emperor Justinian used the unrest to start a war against the vandal kingdom. The formal pretexts were the overthrow of the usurpator Gelimer, which should have made a split among the Vandals, as well as the liberation of Orthodox Christians from the religious oppression of the Arian vandals.

Most of Justinian’s entourage were afraid to get involved in the overseas war in North Africa. There were fresh memories of defeats from vandals during the past kings.

Start of the War

Emperor Justinian appointed his commander Belisarius as the leader of the march with unlimited powers. In the summer of 533, the Byzantine naval expedition, consisting of 500 transport and 92 military vessels, headed for Carthage. The ships carried 10 thousand infantry and 5 thousand cavalry, the crews numbered 32 thousand sailors. Surrounding the Peloponnese, the Byzantine fleet crossed the Adriatic Sea and lingered on Sicily. After restocking and clarifying the situation, Belisarius headed for Africa with a fair wind.

For the king of vandals Gelimer this was a unfavorable situation. One of his commanders, the Goth of the Year, seized power in Sardinia and declared himself king. To offset him, Gelimer sent 5,000 warriors to Sardinia on 120 ships under the command of his brother Tszon. In the east of the Vandal kingdom, the inhabitants of Tripolis came under the rule of Byzantium, and the Vandals did not have enough strength to subordinate them.

3 months after the start of the campaign, the Byzantine army landed on the African coast 5 days east of Carthage. From there, the soldiers moved towards Carthage along the coast, the Byzantine fleet accompanied them.

Battle of Ad Decimum and Carthage

When the army approached the town of Decimum, 13 km from Carthage, the first battle with the Vandals took place. Gelimer ‘s plan was to simultaneously attack Belisarius from 3 sides. Gelimer himself with cavalry attacks from the rear, his brother Ammath from the front (from Carthage), his nephew Gibamund with 2 thousand warriors attacking from the south, pressed the Byzantines to the sea. However, the inconsistency of the actions of the vandal warlords led to their defeat.

In mid-September 533, Gelimer’s army was broken up in parts in the battle of Decimum. The first to enter the battle was Ammath, attacking with a small group the forward detachment of the Byzantines which was formed out of 300 shield bearers (heavily armed horsemen). After the death of Ammath, his warriors, only approaching the battlefield, were panic-stricken. Assuming that before them the main forces of the Byzantines pursued on the heels of Carthage. A few kilometers from the site of this battle, another battle took place, the “Huns” detachment destroyed the Vandals of the Gibamund.

Helimer, who came up with the main forces, managed to overturn the Byzantines, but lingered for the burial of his brother Ammat. In the meantime, Belisarius put his frustrated troops in order to retreat and unexpectedly counterattacked the Vandals who were scattered for the mourning ceremony. Gelimer fled to the depths of Numidia. Belisarius occupied Carthage without a fight, which was left without troops.

While Belisarius strengthened Carthage as his supporting fortress city in the country of the Vandals, Gelimer began a partisan war, paying a reward for the enemy’s head. His attempt to call for help from the Visigoths from Spain failed, as they learned of the fall of Carthage. The leaders of the Berber tribes decided to wait, while maintaining neutrality, backed by money and gifts from Belisarius. Some of the Moors nevertheless joined Gelimer. His brother Zason from Sardinia quickly returned to the aid of the Vandal king.

Combining forces, Gelimer with the army approached Carthage, but did not take a decisive measure, hoping for blockade actions. When the fortification of Carthage was completed, Belisarius marched out of the city.

The second battle in the Vandal War took place in the middle of December 533 near the town of Tricamar, 24 km from Carthage. The Byzantine infantry fell behind, the cavalry of the opponents lined up against each other on the banks of a small, nameless river. For a long time no one dared to start battles, then the Byzantines attacked with success. They managed to throw the vandals into their fortified camp. Tszon and another 800 vandals were killed, the losses of the Byzantines were about 50 people.

When Gelimer learned about the approach of the Byzantine infantry to his camp in the evening of the same day, he unexpectedly fled. Upon learning of this, the remaining vandals with their families began to scatter. The camp with rich supplies and slaves fell into the hands of the Byzantines without a fight. Belisarius’ warriors dispersed in search of booty to surrounding places, not thinking more about the enemy, and Belisarius with great difficulty managed to assemble a detachment of 200 soldiers to pursue Gelimer.

Fall

After the defeat at Trikamar, the vandals did not provide organized resistance anywhere else, but took refuge in temples. All of them (combat-ready men) were brought under protection to Carthage, then to be sent to the eastern provinces of Byzantium. North Africa from Gibraltar to Tripolis came under the control of Byzantium.

The total number of warriors among the vandals remained unknown. Procopius mentioned that when Gelimer sent 5,000 soldiers to Sardinia, they were all vandal-capable forces. Gelimer had at his disposal in Africa a comparable number of warriors, judging by the description of the course of the battle of Decime.

Gelimer took refuge on the mountains of Papua under the protection of the friendly Moors. All winter he was besieged by a detachment. After 3 months of deprivation in the early spring of 534, the last king of the Vandals and Alans surrendered, after which he was sent to Constantinople. 2 thousand prisoners of Vandal origin were included in the composition of the Byzantine troops and sent to war with the Persians. After these events, the Kingdom of Vandals and Alans ceased to exist. In his lands, the battles of Byzantium with the Berber tribes soon took place, and all references to historical documents disappeared from the Vandals themselves.

Source:

Isidore of Seville Vandal History
Procopius of Caesarea. War with vandals
JB Bury. History of the Roman Empire

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