Dracontius and the Wider World: Cultural and Intellectual Interconnectedness in Late Fifth-Century Vandal North Africa
By Mark Lewis Tizzoni
Networks and Neighbours, Volume 2, Issue 1, 2014
Introduction: The traditional image of Vandal North Africa is one of oppression, persecution, military aggression, and, ultimately, societal decay: the antagonistic thassalocracy of Gaiseric, the Arian strong-arming of Huneric, and the weak decadence described by Procopius.
This viewpoint has, ever increasingly, been shattered under the weight of modern scholarly investigation. In recent years, scholars from various fields have come together to greatly enhance, and fundamentally alter, our understanding of the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa. One facet of this research has been the investigation of Vandal North Africa’s place in the wider history of the Late Antique world. This work geared at contextualizing Vandal North Africa has centred especially upon Mediterranean interconnectedness as witnessed in political, economic, and theological issues.
A crucial aspect of this interconnectedness, however, has largely been overlooked: literary and intellectual culture flourished in fifth-century North Africa, and the Vandal Kingdom produced one of the most important and prominent poets of Late Antiquity, alongside a number of other lesser figures. This key figure was Blossius Aemilius Dracontius.
Dracontius himself provides us with an interesting case-study: a Catholic Afro-Roman Senator (by birth, leastwise), an illustrious member of the Carthaginian intelligentsia, a court poet ultimately imprisoned by his ruler, and a master of the Late Antique art of poetry. Dracontius is also of vital importance for the investigation of cultural and intellectual interconnectedness in the late-fifth-century Latin West, and it is with this that we are here concerned. The central question of the current paper, then, is this: what can the works of Dracontius tell us regarding the nature and depth of the cultural and intellectual connections between North Africa and Europe during the period of Vandal rule in Carthage?