Gaiseric

(c. 390-477)
   King of the Alans and Vandals from 428 to 477, Gaiseric was one of the more ambitious and cunning of the Germanic peoples who came into contact, or rivalry, with the Roman Empire. Indeed, Gaiseric, an Arian Christian, seemed less impressed with the empire and its traditions than did many of his contemporaries. He was ruthless in his dealings with imperial officials and exploited every opportunity he was offered. After signing a treaty with the empire, Gaiseric proceeded to violate it and took control of all of North Africa. His fleet controlled much of the western Mediterranean, which allowed him to accomplish his most famous, or infamous, feat-the capture and sacking of Rome in 455.
   Writing in the sixth century, Jordanes provides a useful description of Gaiseric's physical appearance and personality: "Of medium height, lame from a fall off his horse, he had a deep mind and was sparing of speech"(Bury 1967, 246). Jordanes also notes that Gaiseric hated luxury, was covetous, and had an uncontrollable temper. Rounding out his description of Gaiseric, Jordanes notes, "He was far-sighted in inducing foreign peoples to act in his interests, and resourceful in sowing seeds of discord and stirring up hatred"(246-247). His many talents overshadowed his irregular birth-his mother was a slave, possibly of Roman descent-and enabled him to achieve great success in war. Indeed, he was a most formidable opponent, at least the rival of Attila, if not more dangerous than the king of the Huns. At the very least, Gaiseric carved a more lasting kingdom out of the Roman Empire than did Attila.
   Gaiseric's rise to power in the Mediterranean was aided by the turmoil within the government of the Roman Empire. In the 420s the Roman general and military governor in Africa, Boniface, clearly sought to establish himself as ruler of the empire, or at least an independent ruler in Africa. He successfully defeated armies led by Roman commanders sent to bring him to heel. But an army sent under the leadership of the new count of Africa, the Goth Sigisvult, was almost more than Boniface could handle, and the Goth managed to seize the important cities of Hippo and Carthage. In order to secure his position against Sigisvult, Boniface may have sought an ally in the Vandal leader Gaiseric, and perhaps asked for aid against Sigisvult in exchange for a share of Africa, an exchange that the Vandal accepted. But the chronology of events and the cause of Gaiseric's migration to Africa remain unclear. There is another tradition that authorities in Constantinople invited Gaiseric to Africa to conquer Boniface. There is also a third version of events that holds that Gaiseric recognized an opportunity when he saw it and moved all the Vandals and Alans under his control, traditionally some 80,000, from their base in Spain to Africa in 429. Whatever the case, Gaiseric's subjects are traditionally held to have included roughly 15,000 warriors, whose swords Boniface or the imperial authorities hoped to use to their advantage but which were used instead against Boniface and Roman authority.
   Although the numbers may be exaggerated, Gaiseric led a large enough population from Spain, where his people had been harassed by their traditional enemies the Visigoths as well as the Romans. He moved slowly across Africa and managed gradually, in the course of the 430s, to secure his position there. His first engagement was the siege of Hippo, in May or June of that year. St. Augustine, fearing for his city and near the end of his own life, may have called on Boniface to protect Hippo from the Vandals. But the Roman commander, now in the good graces of the empress Galla Placidia, had little success against Gaiseric, who laid siege to the city for fourteen months. Boniface received reinforcements from Constantinople, but they were of little help against Gaiseric, who maintained the siege and defeated imperial armies in engagements outside the city. Although he was forced to call off the siege before the city fell, Gaiseric demonstrated his abilities against Roman armies. Moreover, when Boniface was recalled to Italy, Gaiseric was left alone in Africa. In 435 he settled a treaty with the empire that granted Gaiseric and his Vandals much of North Africa and recognized them as foederati (federated allies). Four years later, in the face of continued turmoil, Gaiseric broke the treaty and marched against Carthage, which he took with little resistance.
   Gaiseric retained control of his new kingdom until his death in 477 and expanded his authority into parts of the western Mediterranean. His conquests were recognized by a new treaty in 442, which was reinforced by the betrothal of his son Huneric to Emperor Valentinian III's daughter Eudocia. This gain was followed by Gaiseric's efforts to seize control of other parts of the rapidly deteriorated Western Empire and make a statement asserting his place in the western Mediterranean. He may have conspired with Attila and encouraged the Hun to invade Gaul to punish the Visigoths. In 455, Gaiseric invaded Italy and plundered the city of Rome. Although the pope, Leo the Great, sought to stop the attack on Rome, as he had two years earlier in negotiations with Attila, he managed only to extract the concessions that the Vandals would neither burn the city nor indulge in a massacre. Instead for two weeks Gaiseric and his followers plundered the city, taking thousands of prisoners and much treasure, including statues, gold, precious gems, and important ecclesiastical artifacts.
   Gaiseric's assault on the former imperial capital was devastating; it was probably intended as a message that he was the most powerful ruler in the boundaries of the old Western Empire and that had to be taken into account. His conquests in the western Mediterranean included the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily. He faced repeated attempts to defeat him, including a massive naval attack of more than 1,000 ships that was launched by Emperor Leo I (457-474) in cooperation with the Western emperor in 468. The attack was a disaster for the empire. Gaiseric remained in control, and a peace treaty was finally settled between the Vandal king and the empire in 474. Indeed, over the course of his long reign, Gaiseric managed to create a powerful and impressive successor kingdom in part of the old Western Empire. His military skill and personal drive enabled him to create the most important new political unit in the western Mediterranean, one that lasted several generations before falling to the conquests of Justinian.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Victor of Vita. Victor of Vita: History of the Vandal Persecution. Trans. John Moorhead. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 1992.
 ♦ Bury, John B. The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians. New York: W. W. Norton, 1967.
 ♦ Cameron, Averil. The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity, a.d. 395-600. New York: Routledge, 1993.
 ♦ Clover, Frank M. The Late Roman West and the Vandals. London: Variorum, 1993.
 ♦ Randers-Pehrson, Justine Davis. Barbarians and Romans: The Birth Struggle of Europe, a.d. 400-700.. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983.
 ♦ Wolfram, Herwig. The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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  • Gaiseric — [gī′zə rik] var. of GENSERIC …   English World dictionary

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  • Gaiseric —    King of the Vandals (q.v.) from 428 477, and ablest Germanic leader of his time. Under Gaiseric the Vandals crossed from Spain to North Africa (qq.v.), establishing a capital at Carthage (q.v.). An adherent to Arianism (q.v.), Gaiseric began a …   Historical dictionary of Byzantium

  • Gaiseric — biographical name see Genseric …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Gaiseric — /ˈgaɪzərɪk/ (say guyzuhrik) noun → Genseric …   Australian English dictionary

  • Gaiseric — noun king of the Vandals who seized Roman lands and invaded North Africa and sacked Rome (428 477) • Syn: ↑Genseric • Instance Hypernyms: ↑king, ↑male monarch, ↑Rex * * * /guy zeuh rik/, n. Genseric …   Useful english dictionary

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