Your RDA of Irony

“The” Barbarians

Now let’s talk about the most notorious of the barbarians: the Vandals. In some ways, they actually were the most impressive, a comparatively small tribe that proved remarkably adaptative. If anyone deserved to be named Entrepreneurs of the Fifth Century, it certainly was the Vandals.

The Vandals had first migrated from Spain. Andalusia was not named for a realtor’s daughter. They were among the first German tourists to loot Roman Iberia. Unfortunately for the Vandals, the Visigoths also heard about Hispania and migrated there, too. Preferring to be the sole barbarians on the peninsula, the Visigoths began wiping out the Vandals. Half of the tribe was gone when the Roman governor of North Africa saved the Vandals. He was rebelling against the Emperor and needed mercenaries, so he transported the entire tribe to North Africa.

Ironically, the Roman governor called off his rebellion, but the Vandals didn’t. They soon occupied the territory extending from Libya to Morocco. (Yes, Rommel’s Afrika Korps was actually the second German invasion there, and the less successful of the two.) The Vandals proved quite adaptive, and quickly developed a fleet that dominated the western Mediterranean and allowed them to sack Rome in 455.

Their rule in North Africa was relatively benign. They restored the stability and prosperity that the disintegrating Roman Empire had failed to maintain. The Vandals’ most conspicuous failing was religious intolerance. Like many of the Germanic tribes, they were Christians but did not subscribe the theological convolutions of the Nicene Creed. To the Germanic mind, God was Odin and Jesus was Thor. However, while the Goths were tolerate of the more sophisticated interpretations of Christianity, the Vandals were not. They persecuted the Church–and earned their ever-lasting infamy. (More savage tribes such as the Franks and the especially barbaric Angles and Saxons eventually converted to the Nicene Creed and received a baptism in history’s whitewash.)

Their kingdom in North Africa lasted until 533. To the Vandals surprise, the Byzantine army had stopped cowering behind city walls and now was on a vindictive offensive. Led by the greatest general of the age, Belisarius, the Byzantine army was formidable. In a two-year campaign, Belisarius overthrow the Vandals’ kingdom, ending their 100 year rule of North Africa.

You can well imagine how the Byzantines won. They infiltrated the Vandals’ Human Resources department, belaboring the Vandal army with inexplicable paperwork regarding its HMO coverage until the Germanic host was reduced to catatonia.

Actually, facing Belisarius, the Vandals’ King Gelimer forgot to get reinforcements and then had a nervous breakdown on the battlefield. And that is how a kingdom falls.

Yet, the Vandals evidently made some impression on the natives of North Africa. The blond hair and a possible tendency to goosestep would seem conspicuous. Almost two centuries later, when those North Africans conquered Spain, they remembered that the Vandals had come from there. So the Moors referred to this realm as “Andalusia”.

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