It happened today - October 19, 2015

Geiseric sacking RomeOn this date back in 439 the Vandals under their chief/king Geiseric took Carthage. And, one imagines, left the place quite a mess.

I realise it was that kind of time. Rome itself had already been sacked by the Visigoths in 410 and would get the treatment again by Geiseric in 455 and the Ostrogoths in 546 by which point it wasn’t an empire any more anyway due to endless trashing by barbarians. But the Vandals were special.

First emerging into the light of history, or arguably its darkness, in what is now Poland in the writings of Pliny the Elder, they were a troublesome part-time ally of the Romans for centuries before they erupted and started walloping on everyone in the disorder that accompanied the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Ultimately they were themselves crushed by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 534. But their name lives on as a byword for wanton destruction.

In its own way it’s quite an achievement, especially given the competition then and later. We’re not even sure whether their most impressive leader was called Gaiseric or Geiseric or Genseric but whatever it was one imagines it scrawled offensively across some smashed and desecrated site.

Wikipedia tries to rehabilitate them, saying “Renaissance and Early Modern writers characterized the Vandals as barbarians, ‘sacking and looting’ Rome. This led to the use of the term ‘vandalism’ to describe any senseless destruction, particularly the ‘barbarian’ defacing of artwork. However, modern historians tend to regard the Vandals during the transitional period from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages as perpetuators, not destroyers, of Roman culture.”

I don’t know, though. I can’t imagine anyone ever saying “Oh good, here come the Vandals” and the fact that their name is still a byword for moronically pointless but effective violence suggests they deserve the bad name that has persisted for 15 centuries and counting.