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Another note on the Vandal occupation of Hippo Regius

  • Holmes V. M. Dennis


It is usually held that Hippo Regius, after successfully resisting a siege by the Vandals in 430–1 A.D., was abandoned by its inhabitants and burned by the invaders, and that it was afterwards reoccupied by the Romans. There are, however, certain difficulties involved in the acceptance of this view, which is based on the following passage in the Life of St. Augustine by Possidius: ‘Of the innumerable churches he [St. Augustine] saw only three survive, namely those of Carthage, Hippo and Cirta, which by God's favor were not demolished. These cities too still stand, protected by human and divine aid, although after Augustine's death the city of Hippo, abandoned by its inhabitants, was burned by the enemy.’

In The Journal of Roman Studies (vol. xiv, pp. 257–8), Mr. E. C. Howard published ‘A Note on the Vandal Occupation of Hippo Regius’, in which he suggests that ‘Hippo,’ in the passage quoted above, refers not to Hippo Regius, now Bona, but to Hippo Diarrhytus (or Zarytus), now Bizerta. That his suggestion is impossible will be shown below. But first, in order to facilitate an understanding of the whole question, it will be necessary to review briefly certain portions of the history of the period, to state the problem, and to outline Mr. Howard's arguments.



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page 263 note 1 Sancti Augustini Vita Scripta a Possidio Episcopo, edited with revised text, introduction, notes, and an English version by Herbert T. Weiskotten (Princeton University Press; Oxford University Press, 1919), chapter xxviii. The Latin of the most important portions of this chapter is as follows: ‘Videbat enim [Augustinus] … vix tres superstites ex innumerabilibus ecclesiis, hoc est Carthaginensem, Hipponensem et Cirtensem, quae Dei beneficio excisae non sunt, et earum permanent civitates, et divino et humano fultae praesidio; licet post eius obitum urbs Hipponensis incolis destituta ab hostibus fuerit concremata … Accrevitque maeroribus et lamentationibus eius, ut etiam adhuc in suo statu consistentem ad eandem Hipponensium regiorum civitatem ab hisdem hostibus veniretur obsidendam.’

page 264 note 1 Procopius, B.V.; Victor Vitensis; Capreolus, I (P.L. 53, 843 ff.); Possidius, xxviii. The exact date is disputed. A discussion of the sources and arguments may be found in Hodgkin, , Italy and her Invaders, ii, pp. 290292.

page 264 note 2 Prosper, Epitoma Chronuon, a. 395, a. 430 (= Mommsen, , Chronica Minora i, pp. 463 and 471).

page 264 note 3 Chronica Minora, i, p. 473; Procopius, , B.V. i, 3, 30 ff.; Possidius xxviii.

page 264 note 4 Chronica Minora, i, p. 473: ii, p. 77.

page 264 note 5 Procopius, , B.V., i, 3, 34; Possidius xxviii–xxix; Chronica Minora, i, p. 473.

page 264 note 6 Chronica Minora, i, p. 497; cf. i, p. 474, ii, p. 156, and iii, p. 458.

page 264 note 7 ibid. i, p. 477; i, p. 497; ii, p. 80; ii, p. 156; iii, p. 458.

page 264 note 8 Procopius, , B.V. ii, 4, 26, calls it a πόλιςἐΧυρά. This expression would seem to indicate a fortified city; but in view of what is said in B.V. i, 5, 8 ff. this is improbable. At all events, whatever be the exact interpretation of ἐΧυρά Procopius furnish unimpeachable testimony to the fact that in his days Hippo Regius was a city of some importance.

page 264 note 9 Possidius, xxviii.

page 264 note 10 See below p. 267, note 2.

page 264 note 11 Weiskotten, op. cit. Intoduction, pp. 19–20.

page 265 note 1 Mr. Howard, in saying that Possidius adds that after the death of Augustine Bizerta, too, was at least partially burnt, assumes the correctness of his identification of the Hippo referred to by Possidius with Bizerta.

page 266 note 1 The following statistics are compiled from Dr. Weiskotten's index. The instances of forms of the word Hippo in the passage under discussion are not included.

A. Nominal forms of ‘Hippo’ occur as follows:

1. Hipponem-regium (p. 44). The only instance of the addition of regius either to the nominal or to the adjectival form, except in the passage under discussion.

2. Hipponem; Hippone (p. 80). The reference is to Hippo Regius, cf. P. L. 42, 709.

B. Adjectival forms of ‘Hippo’ occur as follows:

1. Where it is certain from the context that Hippo Regius is meant.

(a) in ecclesia Hipponensi Catholica (p. 46).

(b) Hipponensi ecclesiae; ad ecclesiam Hipponensem; clericis omnibus Hipponensibus (p. 56).

(c) ecclesiae Hipponensi (p. 62).

(d) infra Hipponensem ecclesiam (p. 72).

(e) in Hipponensi Ecclesiae regione; de bibliotheca Hipponensis ecclesiae (p. 84).

(f) Hipponensium (as a substantive) ecclesiae Hipponensi (p. 96)

2. Where it is very probable from the context and from other sources that Hippo Regius is meant.

(a) in … Hipponensi urbe; Hipponenses cives (p. 50); de Hipponensi civitate (p. 52), cf. P.L. 42, 112.

(b) in Hipponensi ecclesia (p. 76). cf. P. L. 32, 633.

page 266 note 2 Dr. Weiskotten's translation of the clause in question is: ‘And it increased his grief and sorrow that this same enemy also came to besiege the city of the Hippo-Regians which had so far maintained its position.’

page 266 note 3 B.V. i, 3, 34. The translation is Professor Dewing's.

page 266 note 4 Hodgkin, , op. cit. ii, p. 248 note 1.

page 267 note 1 See Ramusio, Navigationi et Viaggi i, p. 65 (in at least one edition incorrectly numbered p. 71). It is fairly obvious that by ‘Goths’ Leo means the Vandals.

page 267 note 2 Dr. Weiskotten places the composition of Possidius' Sancti Augustini Vita between the years 432 and 439 (Introduction, p. 21). The arguments for this dating are as follows. The Vita cannot have been written before 431 because its composition is obviously subsequent to the end of the siege of 430–1. It was probably, almost certainly, not written before 432 because the expression, come quondam Bonifacius (ch. xxviii) seems to imply the death of Boniface which occurred in 432 (Chronica Minora, i, p. 658; ii, pp. 22 and 78). It cannot have been written after 439 because Possidius says Carthage was still standing when he wrote, and that city fell in 439.

These arguments are unimpeachable but there are others, and the limits between which the Vita was composed may with some probability be narrowed. First, Dr. Weiskotten says that no inference as to the date of the Vita can be drawn from the date of the burning of Hippo Regius which is unknown; but this burning may with much show of reason be placed between 432 and 435. Here is another reason for believing that the terminus a quo is 432 (this is not an argument in a circle because one of the reasons for placing the burning of Hippo Regius not earlier than 432 has nothing to do with the date of the composition of the Vita). As to the terminus ad quem, there is an argument which is not compelling but which is plausible. It is offered for what it is worth and is as follows: Possidius says that St. Augustine saw only three cities still standing; that they remained standing when he wrote, though one of them (Hippo Regius) was subsequently deserted, burned by the Vandals, and reoccupied by the Romans. But there is ground for believing that Hippo Regius had not only been reoccupied by the Romans but had been ceded to the Vandals by 435. Is it not probable that Possidius would have mentioned this last event also if it had occurred before he wrote ? It is at least natural to suppose that he would have done so, and therefore it is not improbable that the Vita was written not later than 435. To sum up, it is certain that the Vita was written between 431 and 439; almost certain that it was not written before 432; and probable that it was written not later than 435.

Another note on the Vandal occupation of Hippo Regius

  • Holmes V. M. Dennis


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