By Philipp von Rummel
Between Taxation and Rent: Fiscal problemsfrom Late Antiquity to Early Middle Ages, eds. Pablo C. Diaz and Iñaki Martín Viso (Bari, 2011)
Introduction: As far as taxation is concerned, the African provinces, and above all the province Africa proconsularis, were extremely important regions of the Empire. Africa delivered a major part of the goods transported to Rome within the tax system of the annona, and was, at the eve of the Vandal invasion, a rich region with a large number of towns. This situation changed dramatically in 429, when an army under the leadership of the Vandal King Geiseric crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and entered Africa. All of a sudden, stability was gone, not only in terms of taxation.
With the Vandals, the migration of Northern barbarians flowed into a region that had of course been weakened by innumerable internal crises but was still essentially wealthy, productive and well governed. Thanks to its prolific agriculture in what is today Tunisia and eastern Algeria, Africa Proconsularis was the center of the grain and oil annona for Rome – a constant food supply without which the capital could not have functioned. This relevance left its marks in Africa. The organization, realization and administration of this empire du blé created a North African landscape that belonged to the most densely urbanized regions of the Roman world. The Vandal conquest of Carthage in 439 marked the collapse of the huge apparatus which secured a permanent stream of fiscal goods to Rome. The resources, however, as well as most of the skilled people, stayed in Africa, and the Vandals were forced to reconsider the question of taxes in their realm.