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Famous Men of The Middle Ages|
Genseric the Vandal
by Haaren, John H. (LL.D.) and Poland, A. B. (Ph.D.)
|King from 427-477 A.D.
The Vandals were another wild and fierce tribe that came from the
shores of the Baltic and invaded central and southern Europe in
the later times of the Roman Empire.
In the fifth century some of these people occupied a region in
the south of Spain. One of their most celebrated kings was named
Genseric (Gen'-ser-ic). He became king in 427, when he was but
twenty-one years of age. He was lame in one leg and looked as if
he were a very ordinary person.
Like most of the Vandals, he was a cruel and cunning man, but he
had great ability in many ways. He fought in battles even when
a boy and was known far and wide for his bravery and skill as a
About the time that Genseric became king, the governor of the Roman
province in the north of Africa, on the Mediterranean coast, was
a man called Count Boniface. This Count Boniface had been a good
and loyal officer of Rome; but a plot was formed against him by
AŽtius, the general who had fought Attila at Ch‚lons. The Roman
emperor at the time of the plot was Valentinian III. He was then
too young to act as ruler, so the affairs of government were managed
by his mother Placidia (Pla-cid'-i-a).
AŽtius advised Placidia to dismiss Boniface and call him home from
Africa. He said the count was a traitor, and that he was going
to make war against Rome. At the same time he wrote secretly to
Count Boniface and told him that if he came to Rome the empress
would put him to death.
Boniface believed this story, and he refused to return to Rome.
He also sent a letter to Genseric, inviting him to come to Africa
with an army.
Genseric was greatly delighted to receive the invitation from
Boniface. He had long wanted to attack Rome and take from her some
of the rich countries she had conquered, and now a good opportunity
offered. So he got ready a great army of his brave Vandals, and
they sailed across the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa.
They soon gained possession of that part of the African coast on
which they had landed, and marched into other parts of the coast
and captured towns and cities. By this time Boniface had learned
all about the wicked plot of AŽtius. He now regretted having
invited the Vandals to Africa and tried to induce them to return
to Spain, but Genseric sternly refused.
"Never," he said, "shall I go back to Spain until I am master of
"Then," cried Boniface, "I will drive you back."
Soon afterwards there was a battle between the Romans and Vandals,
and the Romans were defeated. They were also defeated in several
other battles. At last they had to flee for safety to two or three
towns which the Vandals had not yet taken. One of these towns was
Genseric captured this town after a siege of thirteen months. Then
he burned the churches and other buildings, and laid waste the
neighboring country. This was what the Vandals did whenever they
took a town, and so the word VANDAL came to mean a person who
needlessly or wantonly destroys valuable property.
A great many of the natives of Africa joined the army of Genseric.
They had for a long time been ill-treated by the Romans and were
glad to see them defeated. Genseric continued his work of conquest
until he took the city of Carthage, which he made the capital of
his new kingdom in Africa.
But he was not content with conquering merely on land. He built
great fleets and sailed over the Mediterranean, capturing trading
vessels. For many years he plundered towns along the coasts, so
that the name of Genseric became a terror to the people of all the
countries bordering the Mediterranean.
One day a Roman ship came to Carthage with a messenger from the
Empress Eudoxia to Genseric. Eudoxia was the widow of Valentinian
III. After ruling several years, Valentinian had just been murdered
by a Roman noble named Maximus, who had at once made himself emperor.
When the messenger entered the room where Genseric was, he said:
"Great king, I bring you a message from the Empress Eudoxia. She
begs your help. She and her two beautiful daughters are in danger
in Rome. She wishes you to protect them against Maximus. She
invites you to come with an army to Rome and take the city. She
and her friends will help you as much as they can."
With a cry of joy Genseric sprang to his feet and exclaimed:
"Tell the empress that I accept her invitation. I shall set out
for Rome immediately. I shall set out for Rome immediately. I
shall protect Eudoxia and her friends."
Genseric then got ready a fleet and a great army, and sailed across
the Mediterranean to the mouth of the Tiber. When the Emperor
Maximus heard that the Vandals were coming he prepared to flee from
the city, and he advised the Senate to do the same. The people
were so angry at this that they put him to death and threw his body
into the river.
Three days later Genseric and his army were at the gates of Rome.
There was no one to oppose them, and they marched in and took
possession of the city. It was only forty-five years since Alaric
had been there and carried off all the valuable things he could
find. But since then Rome had become again grand and wealthy, so
there was plenty for Genseric and his Vandals to carry away. They
spent fourteen days in the work of plunder. They sacked the temples
and public buildings and private houses and the emperor's palace,
and they took off to their ships immense quantities of gold and
silver and jewels and furniture, and destroyed hundreds of beautiful
and priceless works of art.
The Vandal king also put to death a number of Roman citizens and
carried away many more as slaves. He took Eudoxia and her daughters
with him to Carthage. One of the daughters was soon afterwards
married to Genseric's eldest son, Hunneric.
Some years after the capture of Rome by Genseric, there was a
Roman emperor named Majorian (Ma-jo'-ri-an). He was a good ruler
and a brave man. The Vandals still continued to attack and plunder
cities in Italy and other countries belonging to Rome, and Majorian
resolved to punish them. So he got together a great army and built
a fleet of three hundred ships to carry his troops to Carthage.
But he first marched his men across the Alps, through Gaul, and
down to the seaport of Carthagena in Spain, where his fleet was
stationed. He took this route because he expected to add to his
forces as he went along. Before sailing with his army for Carthage
he wished very much to see with his own eyes what sort of people
the Vandals were and whether they were so powerful at home as was
So he dyed his hair and disguised himself in other ways and went
to Carthage, pretending that he was a messenger or ambassador from
the Roman emperor, coming to talk about peace. Genseric received
him with respect and entertained him hospitably, not knowing that
he was the Emperor Majorian. Of course peace was not made. The
emperor left Carthage after having got as much information as he
But Genseric did not wait for the Roman fleet to come to attack
him in his capital. When he got word that it was in the Bay of
Carthagena, he sailed there with a fleet of his own and in a single
day burned or sank nearly all the Roman ships.
After this the Vandals became more than ever the terror of
the Mediterranean and all the countries bordering upon it. Every
year their ships went round the coasts from Asia Minor to Spain,
attacking and plundering cities on their way and carrying off
All the efforts of the Romans failed to put a stop to these ravages.
The Emperor Leo, who ruled over the eastern division of the Empire,
fitted out a great fleet at Constantinople to make another attempt
to suppress the pirates. There were more than a thousand ships in
this fleet and they carried a hundred thousand men. The command of
the expedition was given to Basilicus (Bas-il'-i-cus), the brother
of Emperor Leo's wife.
Basilicus sailed with his ships to Africa and landed the army
not far from Carthage. Genseric asked for a truce for five days
to consider terms of peace, and the truce was granted. But the
cunning Vandal was not thinking of peace. He only wanted time to
carry out a plan he had made to destroy the Roman fleet.
One dark night, during the truce, he filled the largest of his ships
with some of the bravest of his soldiers, and they sailed silently
and cautiously in among the Roman ships, towing behind them large
boats filled with material that would easily burn.
These boats were set on fire and floated against the Roman vessels,
which also were soon on fire. The flames quickly spread, and in
a very short time a great part of the Roman fleet was destroyed.
Basilicus fled with as many ships as he could save, and returned
This was the last attempt of the Romans to conquer the Vandals.
Genseric lived to a good old age, and when he died, in 477, all the
countries he had conquered during his life still remained parts of
the Vandal dominions.