The vandals were none

Sp tantike V lkergruppe was more cultured than its reputation

A mounted vandal, depicted on a mosaic of the late antique city of Carthage. © historical
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Because of destructive barbarians: the vandals of Roman antiquity were far better than their current reputation. Because even if they fought against the Romans, they and their culture were quite civilized, as a historian reports. The Vandals were also not a single people, but consisted of several, summarized by the Romans under the name Vandals groups of peoples.

They are often considered the symbol of destructiveness and barbarism: the vandals. This group of peoples of Germanic origin is known for their invasion of Roman territory in the year 406 AD, when they beat Frankish and Roman troops. The Vandals reached the Limes and Rhine far into France and continued in the following years to Spain and North Africa on.

The big plunder

In 455 AD, the Vandals and Alans invaded Rome and plundered the city. The reason: The Roman Emperor Valentinian II had promised Vandals Prince Hunerich his daughter, but made a backlash. The Romans' painful and lossy looting of Rome earned vandals the reputation of being barbaric destroyers.

But that contradicts now Roland Steinacher of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. "Based on scientific facts, the Vandals were cultivated conquerors and not more destructive than many other peoples, " explains the historian. "It may sound amazing to the laity, but the vandals were not vandals." Even in the plundering of Rome, there is no evidence of blind destructiveness, but instead they systematically robbed valuables - as was common in wartime.

This gilt bronze shield hull bears witness to the artistry of the vandals. He comes from the 3./4. Century and was discovered in today's Hungary. © Wolfgang Sauber / CC-by-sa 3.0

Normal "barbarians"

As the historian explains, the vandals were by no means particularly barbaric. Instead, during late antiquity they were among the many peoples around the Roman Empire who fought against the Romans. Quite a few vandals worked as soldiers for the Romans and lived as "foreigners" and thus in Roman usage as "barbarians" among them. display

"The Vandals were Roman barbarians - soldiers who knew how to secure a privileged place in society in the Spatial Mediterranean, " Steinacher clarifies. "This also had financial reasons, because a Roman recruit in the 5th century cost six times as much as a barbarian Fëderat, " emphasizes the researcher. The vandals were no different in this respect than other Germanic peoples at any time. Ornate grave goods, shields and weapons also testify to their thoroughly advanced culture.

Escape instead of conquering urge

The westward migration of the Vandals in the 5th century had less to do with the urge to conquer than with flight: the Huns approaching from the east drove out the ethnic groups, later united as vandals, from their ancestral settlements in present-day Poland. As Steinacher explains, the Roman leadership at that time would probably have lost control in the provinces even without an invasion by the vandals.

The barbarian groups of peoples, each referred to as vandals, were not uncivilized cultural destroyers, as the researcher points out. Around the year 440, they founded their own prosperous kingdom in North Africa, which lasted over a hundred years. There, the vandals cultivated a largely Roman lifestyle and integrated themselves into the economic structures of the late Mediterranean world.

Incidentally, it was not until the eighteenth century that the vandals had a particularly bad reputation, more than a thousand years after the decline of their kingdom in Africa. While in Germany the vandals were regarded as noble and warlike ancestors, in the France of the revolutionary period the term of vandalism for particularly destructive acts was stamped. It was based on stories of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, which reflected a distorted image of the Vandals Vorst e over the Limes and Rhine.

(Austrian Academy of Sciences, 23.06.2016 - NPO)