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Rome and the Vandals

from HISTORICAL CASE STUDIES: The Mediterranean world

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 April 2017

Andy Merrills
Affiliation:
University of Leicester, United Kingdom
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Summary

ABSTRACT.This contribution assesses the extent to which Vandal maritime activities represented a continuation of existing practices within the late antique Mediterranean. It argues that the merchant crews the Vandals obtained when they conquered Carthage in AD 439 were used to combining trading, ferrying, fishing and piracy and continued to do all of these for their new masters. The Vandals were never a naval power in the strict sense of the word, but they integrated into the maritime networks of the western Mediterranean, both trading and raiding effectively for almost 100 years.

RÉSUMÉ.Cette contribution analyse la manière dont l'activité maritime des Vandales s'inscrit dans une continuité des pratiques existantes dans la vaste région méditerranéenne antique. Elle explique comment les équipages marchands capturés par les Vandales après la conquête de Carthage en 439 ap. J.-C. – qui étaient habitués à pratiquer de manière combinée le commerce, le transport, la pêche et la piraterie – furent utilisés aux mêmes fins par leurs nouveaux maîtres. Les Vandales n'ont jamais représenté une puissance navale au strict sens du terme mais ont néanmoins insufflé au réseau maritime en place en Méditerranée occidentale une tradition à la fois commerciale et de pillage qui dura presque cent ans.

At some point in the middle of the fifth century, Vandal pirates launched a raid on the coast of Campania. Among the hostages taken by the raiders was a widow's only son, a young man who had fallen into the possession of the leader of the raid, himself the son-in-law of the Vandal king. Beside herself with worry, the widow approached Paulinus, the bishop of Nola, to seek his help. Paulinus promptly set sail for North Africa, and offered himself to the captor in return for the hostage. The Vandal was persuaded by Paulinus’ rhetoric, and was impressed by his skill in the garden, and so agreed to the deal. As time passed, Paulinus befriended the king's son-in-law, to whom he regularly brought fresh produce from the garden, and proved himself indispensable to his new master, tending to his vegetables, but also advising him on political matters and slowly directing him towards the True Light of Christ. Eventually, Paulinus revealed his true identity to the Vandal prince and secured his own release, and that of all of the hostages taken from Nola in the recent raids.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2017

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