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Genseric the Vandal

King from 427-477 A.D.

The Vandals were another wild and fierce tribe that came from the

shores of the Baltic and invaded central and southern Europe in

the later times of the Roman Empire.

In the fifth century some of these people occupied a region in

the south of Spain. One of their most celebrated kings was name

Genseric (Gen'-ser-ic). He became king in 427, when he was but

twenty-one years of age. He was lame in one leg and looked as if

he were a very ordinary person.

Like most of the Vandals, he was a cruel and cunning man, but he

had great ability in many ways. He fought in battles even when

a boy and was known far and wide for his bravery and skill as a


About the time that Genseric became king, the governor of the Roman

province in the north of Africa, on the Mediterranean coast, was

a man called Count Boniface. This Count Boniface had been a good

and loyal officer of Rome; but a plot was formed against him by

Aëtius, the general who had fought Attila at Châlons. The Roman

emperor at the time of the plot was Valentinian III. He was then

too young to act as ruler, so the affairs of government were managed

by his mother Placidia (Pla-cid'-i-a).

Aëtius advised Placidia to dismiss Boniface and call him home from

Africa. He said the count was a traitor, and that he was going

to make war against Rome. At the same time he wrote secretly to

Count Boniface and told him that if he came to Rome the empress

would put him to death.

Boniface believed this story, and he refused to return to Rome.

He also sent a letter to Genseric, inviting him to come to Africa

with an army.

Genseric was greatly delighted to receive the invitation from

Boniface. He had long wanted to attack Rome and take from her some

of the rich countries she had conquered, and now a good opportunity

offered. So he got ready a great army of his brave Vandals, and

they sailed across the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa.

They soon gained possession of that part of the African coast on

which they had landed, and marched into other parts of the coast

and captured towns and cities. By this time Boniface had learned

all about the wicked plot of Aëtius. He now regretted having

invited the Vandals to Africa and tried to induce them to return

to Spain, but Genseric sternly refused.

"Never," he said, "shall I go back to Spain until I am master of


"Then," cried Boniface, "I will drive you back."

Soon afterwards there was a battle between the Romans and Vandals,

and the Romans were defeated. They were also defeated in several

other battles. At last they had to flee for safety to two or three

towns which the Vandals had not yet taken. One of these towns was


Genseric captured this town after a siege of thirteen months. Then

he burned the churches and other buildings, and laid waste the

neighboring country. This was what the Vandals did whenever they

took a town, and so the word VANDAL came to mean a person who

needlessly or wantonly destroys valuable property.

A great many of the natives of Africa joined the army of Genseric.

They had for a long time been ill-treated by the Romans and were

glad to see them defeated. Genseric continued his work of conquest

until he took the city of Carthage, which he made the capital of

his new kingdom in Africa.

But he was not content with conquering merely on land. He built

great fleets and sailed over the Mediterranean, capturing trading

vessels. For many years he plundered towns along the coasts, so

that the name of Genseric became a terror to the people of all the

countries bordering the Mediterranean.

One day a Roman ship came to Carthage with a messenger from the

Empress Eudoxia to Genseric. Eudoxia was the widow of Valentinian

III. After ruling several years, Valentinian had just been murdered

by a Roman noble named Maximus, who had at once made himself emperor.

When the messenger entered the room where Genseric was, he said:

"Great king, I bring you a message from the Empress Eudoxia. She

begs your help. She and her two beautiful daughters are in danger

in Rome. She wishes you to protect them against Maximus. She

invites you to come with an army to Rome and take the city. She

and her friends will help you as much as they can."

With a cry of joy Genseric sprang to his feet and exclaimed:

"Tell the empress that I accept her invitation. I shall set out

for Rome immediately. I shall set out for Rome immediately. I

shall protect Eudoxia and her friends."

Genseric then got ready a fleet and a great army, and sailed across

the Mediterranean to the mouth of the Tiber. When the Emperor

Maximus heard that the Vandals were coming he prepared to flee from

the city, and he advised the Senate to do the same. The people

were so angry at this that they put him to death and threw his body

into the river.

Three days later Genseric and his army were at the gates of Rome.

There was no one to oppose them, and they marched in and took

possession of the city. It was only forty-five years since Alaric

had been there and carried off all the valuable things he could

find. But since then Rome had become again grand and wealthy, so

there was plenty for Genseric and his Vandals to carry away. They

spent fourteen days in the work of plunder. They sacked the temples

and public buildings and private houses and the emperor's palace,

and they took off to their ships immense quantities of gold and

silver and jewels and furniture, and destroyed hundreds of beautiful

and priceless works of art.

The Vandal king also put to death a number of Roman citizens and

carried away many more as slaves. He took Eudoxia and her daughters

with him to Carthage. One of the daughters was soon afterwards

married to Genseric's eldest son, Hunneric.

Some years after the capture of Rome by Genseric, there was a

Roman emperor named Majorian (Ma-jo'-ri-an). He was a good ruler

and a brave man. The Vandals still continued to attack and plunder

cities in Italy and other countries belonging to Rome, and Majorian

resolved to punish them. So he got together a great army and built

a fleet of three hundred ships to carry his troops to Carthage.

But he first marched his men across the Alps, through Gaul, and

down to the seaport of Carthagena in Spain, where his fleet was

stationed. He took this route because he expected to add to his

forces as he went along. Before sailing with his army for Carthage

he wished very much to see with his own eyes what sort of people

the Vandals were and whether they were so powerful at home as was

generally believed.

So he dyed his hair and disguised himself in other ways and went

to Carthage, pretending that he was a messenger or ambassador from

the Roman emperor, coming to talk about peace. Genseric received

him with respect and entertained him hospitably, not knowing that

he was the Emperor Majorian. Of course peace was not made. The

emperor left Carthage after having got as much information as he


But Genseric did not wait for the Roman fleet to come to attack

him in his capital. When he got word that it was in the Bay of

Carthagena, he sailed there with a fleet of his own and in a single

day burned or sank nearly all the Roman ships.

After this the Vandals became more than ever the terror of

the Mediterranean and all the countries bordering upon it. Every

year their ships went round the coasts from Asia Minor to Spain,

attacking and plundering cities on their way and carrying off


All the efforts of the Romans failed to put a stop to these ravages.

The Emperor Leo, who ruled over the eastern division of the Empire,

fitted out a great fleet at Constantinople to make another attempt

to suppress the pirates. There were more than a thousand ships in

this fleet and they carried a hundred thousand men. The command of

the expedition was given to Basilicus (Bas-il'-i-cus), the brother

of Emperor Leo's wife.

Basilicus sailed with his ships to Africa and landed the army

not far from Carthage. Genseric asked for a truce for five days

to consider terms of peace, and the truce was granted. But the

cunning Vandal was not thinking of peace. He only wanted time to

carry out a plan he had made to destroy the Roman fleet.

One dark night, during the truce, he filled the largest of his ships

with some of the bravest of his soldiers, and they sailed silently

and cautiously in among the Roman ships, towing behind them large

boats filled with material that would easily burn.

These boats were set on fire and floated against the Roman vessels,

which also were soon on fire. The flames quickly spread, and in

a very short time a great part of the Roman fleet was destroyed.

Basilicus fled with as many ships as he could save, and returned

to Constantinople.

This was the last attempt of the Romans to conquer the Vandals.

Genseric lived to a good old age, and when he died, in 477, all the

countries he had conquered during his life still remained parts of

the Vandal dominions.