Who were the Vandals, who sacked Rome in 455? The term “vandalism” comes from them

Today it is common to talk about vandalism and give some vandal to those who voluntarily and without reason damage property and structures, especially of public interest. However, perhaps many do not know that the term comes directly from the course of history and, in particular, from one population of Germanic origin or – as the Romans would have said – barbara. We are talking, precisely, about the Vandalswhich they managed to plunder and devastate Rome In the 455 AD shortly before the fall of the Western Roman Empire and after another population, the Visigoths, who had succeeded in the same feat in 410 AD. Let’s delve deeper into the history of this people.

Who were the Vandals: the origins

The term “Vandals” appears for the first time in Roman sources in 1st century AD, where they are mentioned generically as belonging to the Germanic peoples. Although it is not clear where the first name of this people, scholars of the ancient Germanic languages ​​have proposed some theories: one of the most convincing is that it comes from Proto-Germanic root *windaz“wind” (the English term for wind, “wind”, has the same origin).

It is probable that the Vandals were originally from the south of Scandinavian Peninsulawho migrated to the territories of present-day Poland and eastern Germany in the 4th-3rd century BC and then moved further south, probably pushed by pressure from other Germanic tribes. In 2nd century AD in fact we find them settled in the current territories Czech Republic.


Between the 2nd and 3rd centuries they took part in the various border conflicts between different Germanic peoples and the Roman Empire, but at thebeginning of the 4th century the imperial authority allowed them to live in Pannonia, present-day Hungary. Despite some moments of tension, in this period the Vandals came into even closer contact with the Romans, adopting some uses and integrating as allies of the empire. Also there Christian religion it spread among them rapidly. The Vandals, like other Germanic peoples, converted toArianisma current that believed that Jesus, within the Trinity, was subordinate to God.

The Kingdom of the Vandals

Between the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 5th century, the powerful people of the Huns began to push the Germanic peoples they encountered on their way westward. The latter began to put pressure on the borders of the Roman Empire to be welcomed and find a territory to live in. The imperial authority had a lot of difficulty managing the flow of people and real armed clashes broke out: the so-called and famous “Barbarian Invasions”.

The December 31, 405 or 406various peoples, including the Vandals, crossed the frozen Rhine river, which served as the border of the empire, and entered Gaulpresent-day France, putting it by fire and sword. In the following years the Vandals moved towards Spain. In this period, their king was Genseric (389-477) who, in 429led his people beyond the Strait of Gibraltarintent on ensuring the Vandals control of the very flourishing area North Africa. Within a few years of war against the Romans, they managed to take over all the coastal territories of present-day Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Genseric then founded a new and powerful Kingdom of the Vandalswith its capital in Carthage. In addition to North Africa, he also conquered the Balearics, Sardinia and Sicily, bringing the kingdom to its maximum splendor.

Rome, deprived of the rich African and Sicilian territories, very important for thegrain supplyfell into a devastating crisishaving to face other barbarian peoples as well. The king of the Vandals, however, wanted to strike an even more serious blow to the imperial authority.


The Sack of Rome in 455 AD

Of all the Germanic peoples, the Vandals were the first to equip themselves with a fleetand on the orders of Genseric the ships coming from North Africa began to raid the coasts of the Mediterranean. Taking advantage of internal struggles in Rome for the succession to the imperial throne, Genseric set sail from Carthage with his fleet and arrived in the Eternal City, conquering her without the slightest effort. The Vandals raided the city thoroughly fourteen days, destroying buildings, starting fires and taking everything of value. The king and his followers then returned to Carthage with immense riches.

The invention of the term “vandalism”

THE damage and the devastation caused to the capital they impressed deeply both contemporaries and posterity. Many centuries later, in the context of the French Revolution (1789-1799), a religious man named Henri Grégoire (1750-1831) coined the term “vandalism”. The priest was referring to the devastation caused by the revolutionaries to religious structures, which were compared to those perpetrated by the Vandals during the sack of Rome.

The end of the Vandals

In the long run, the Vandal kingdom weakened. The conflicts between the majority of the Roman population and the Germanic landowners and the persecution of the Arians at the expense of the Catholics contributed to destabilizing the state. In 533in the context of the wars waged byByzantine Empire to once again take over the territories that belonged to the Western Empire, a army led by the great general Belisarius (500-565) was sent by the emperor Justinian (482-565) to reconquer North Africa in the name of the imperial authority of Constantinople. Although outnumbered, Belisarius defeated the Vandals several times and within just two years he managed to conquer the entire kingdom, which was annexed to the Byzantine territories.


After the fall of the Vandal kingdom of Africa, this Germanic people quickly disappeared from history. Certainly many Vandals integrated into the majority of the North African population, while others chose to move towards Italy or the eastern Mediterranean. The traces left by the Vandals in the territories they administered are very few, and they are still remembered more for the destructive value that was attributed to their name rather than for the role they played in the history of late antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages.