Vandals, a Germanic people belonging to the family of East Germans. According to Pliny and Tacitus, they were originally settled between the Elbe and Vistula. At the time of the War of the Marcomanni (166-81) they lived in what is now Silesia, and in about 271 the Roman Emperor Aurelian was obliged to protect the middle course of the Danube against them. Constantine the Great (about 330) granted them lands in Pannonia on the right bank of the Danube. Through the Emperor Valens (364-78) they accepted Arian Christianity, yet there were also some scattered orthodox Vandals, among whom was Stilicho the minister of the Emperor Honorius. In 406 the Vandals advanced from Pannonia by way of Gaul, which they devastated terribly, into Spain, where they settled in 411. From 427 their king was Genseric (Gaiseric), who in 429 landed in North Africa with about 80,000 of his followers. It is a disputed point whether or not he was called to Africa by the Roman governor Boniface on account of the intrigues of Aetius. Peace was made between the Romans and Vandals in 435 but it was broken by Genseric in 439, who made Carthage his capital after he had thoroughly plundered it. During the next thirty-five years with a large fleet he ravaged the coasts of the Eastern and Western Empires. In 455 he plundered Rome itself during two weeks. It is asserted that the Empress Eudoxia had asked him to free her from her hated marriage with the Emperor Petronius Maximus, the murderer of her husband Valentinian III. This story, however, is probably a fable. It is said that on June 2, 455, Leo the Great received Genseric and implored him to abstain from murder and destruction by fire, and to be satisfied with pillage. Whether the pope’s influence saved Rome is, however, questioned; moreover, the Vandals had only booty in mind, nor was the plundering as extreme as later tradition and the expression “Vandalism” would imply. From 462 the Vandal kingdom included Africa and the islands of the Mediterranean, that is Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and the Balearic Islands, but like the other Germanic kingdoms on Roman soil the kingdom of the Vandals in Africa began to decay from the lack of unity of religion and of race among the two populations.
The Vandals treated the Catholics more harshly than other German peoples. Catholic bishops were punished by Genseric with deposition, exile, or death, and laymen were excluded from office and frequently suffered confiscation of their property. It is said of Genseric himself that he was originally a Catholic and had changed to Arianism about 428; this, however, is probably an invention. He protected his Catholic subjects when his relations with Rome and Constantinople were friendly, as during the years 454-57, when the Catholic community at Carthage, being without a head, elected Deogratias bishop. The same was also the case during the years 476-77 when Bishop Victor of Cartenna sent him, during a period of peace, a sharp refutation of Arianism and suffered no punishment. Genseric was one of the most powerful personalities of the era of the Migrations, and was the terror of the seas. He died at a great age on January 25, 477. According to the law of succession which he had promulgated, not the son but the oldest male member of the royal house was to succeed to the throne (law of seniority). He was succeeded by his incompetent son Hunerich (477-484), who at first protected the Catholics, owing to his fear of Constantinople, but from 482 he persecuted them in the most terrible manner. King Guntamund (484-96), his cousin and successor, protected them once more, and while Thrasamund (496-523), owing to his religious fanaticism, was hostile to Catholics, still he contented himself with bloodless persecutions. Hilderich (523-30) favored the Catholics and granted religious freedom; consequently Catholic synods were once more held in North Africa. Hilderich’s policy was opposed by his cousin Gelimer, who raised the banner of national Arianism. Hilderich was deposed and murdered in 533. This was taken as an excuse for interference by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Gelimer was defeated in 533 and 534 by Belisarius, the commander of the armies of the Eastern Empire, and North Africa became a Roman province, from which the Vandals were expelled. Gelimer was honorably treated and received large estates in Galicia. He was also offered the rank of a patrician but had to refuse it because he was not willing to change his Arian faith.