Gaiseric may not be one of the better known enemies of the Roman Empire, but he was probably the most effective. At the start of his adult life Rome was still the main power in western Europe, with an Empire that still included Britannia, Gaul, Hispania and North Africa, but by the time he died the last Western Emperor had been deposed, and what was left of the Western Empire was limited to Italy and perhaps some parts of southern Spain. During his life Gaiseric took part in the Barbarian invasion of Gaul over the Rhine at the very end of 406, and their move into Spain where they became a major power. He inherited the Vandal throne while in Spain, and made the crucial decision to invade Roman North Africa. This was a body blow for the Western Empire – the city of Rome depended on grain from Africa and the Empire’s finances were heavily reliant on Africa taxes. Gaiseric then defeated at least two major Roman attempts to reconquer North Africa, one led by the West and one by the East. At the same time the West was split by a seemingly endless series of civil wars as well as an increasing split with the East.
As the author makes clear, we don’t always have the sources required to write a detailed biography of Gaiseric – the Vandals didn’t produce a historian of their own, so we are reliant on Roman, Gothic and other writings, most of which were either hostile to them, or largely ignored them. As a result some sections rely on a certain amount of speculation to create a narrative while others read more like a general history of the Western Empire (especially for the earlier period of Gaiseric’s life). The author is refreshingly willing to acknowledge when the sources don’t really allow us to be sure about events. We don’t really have enough detailed information on him to get much idea of his personality, and his motivation can only really be assessed by looking at his actions, but his career was interesting enough, and important enough, to overcome these problems.
Hughes makes a very good case his subtitle – ‘the vandal who destroyed Rome’. Gaiseric’s actions bankrupted the Empire, his victories destroyed one of the last great army of the Western Empire and repelled the Eastern Empire, and his sack of Rome was significantly more dangerous than the more famous sack of 410. By the time of his death the last western Empire had been deposed, and the Western Empire was no more.
1 – Vandal History and Gaiseric’s Early Life
2 – The Invasion of Gaul
3 – Hispania
4 – The Empire Strikes Back
5 – Freedom
6 – Gaiseric
7 – Settlement
8 – Conquest
9 – Consolidation and Expansion
10 – The Sack of Rome
11 – War
12 – Majorian’s African Campaign
13 – The Renewal of War
14 – The Roman Invasion
15 – End Game
Author: Ian Hughes
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military