The Role of Arianism in the Vandal Kingdom
By Emőke Horváth
Religion, Ritual and Mythology Aspects of Identity Formation in Europe, edited by Joaquim Carvalho (Pisa University Press, 2006)
Introduction: The word ‘Vandal’ has had a long ‘career’ over the centuries. Since being used initially to denominate a people, it has been degraded, and gained negative attributes that qualify a certain attitude. Behind the changes in meaning are topoi developed in the historical literature of Roman and Byzantine authors. Later, these topoi became widespread and common knowledge. Inevitably, on the basis of these beliefs, the image of senseless devastation has been interwoven with the Vandals for all time. Is it fair for succeeding generations to remember the Vandals in this way? To answer this question fully, the history of the Vandals would have to be investigated from many viewpoints. However, my study will focus on one point: what was the role of religion in the development of the above mentioned beliefs and in the preservation of the true identity of the Vandals? In searching for the answer to my question, I have relied on the historiographical works from the Early Middle Ages, because recent church historical studies do not cover the viewpoints sufficiently, and only emphasize the religious intolerance of the Vandals. In my opinion, the contrast between Arianism and Catholicism was a dominant factor in the development of the identity of gens vandalorum, and this subject requires a thorough examination.
Vandals founded their independent state with its centre in Carthage, North Africa. Although the Roman Empire lost a significant part of its territory to the Vandals, the Romans suffered a greater blow when the Vandals became adept seaman. After occupying Carthage and a part of the Proconsularis provinces, the Vandals obtained important strategic territories in Africa. The new territories allowed them to take the initiative against Rome. As a consequence, a new power evolved beside Rome on the Mediterranean Sea. The Vandals occupied significant islands, including Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearics, and ruled the Western part of Sicily. As each strategically important territory of the Mediterranean Sea fell under their military control, the Vandals became a more powerful enemy of the Eastern Roman Empire. A brand new situation arose for the Vandals and Romans when the Vandals settled in Africa. The Vandals were separated from the Western Barbarian Kingdoms in the course of their migration and had to face the challenge of the Roman Empire alone. Also, the Vandals’ relationship with the native Berbers was ambivalent. They occasionally fought together against the Romans, but most of the time they remained enemies. The Vandals maintained their rule of Africa for one hundred years, only to disappear without trace after 534.