We have seen that the first definitive appearance of the Vandals was in Dacia. Before that we had Vindelici around Lake Venetos, Vindili composed of Burgodiones, Varinnae, Charini and Gutones somewhere in eastern Germany and Silingi somewhere in Mark Brandenburg. A later, one time report of the “Vandalic” mountains somewhere in Bohemia or thereabouts completes this meager picture.
Do subsequent chroniclers say anything else about the Vandals? They do, albeit what is said is usually in the context of discussing other peoples. Nevertheless, we learn some things.
The Later Chronicles
On the Origin of the Vandals
Procopius believes that Vandals, Goths and Gepide were all related and spoke (in his time) Gothic. He also notes that “from of old” these people dwelt above the Ister River and that they were called Sarmatians and Melanchlaeni. That is, Procopius does not know any Scandinavian past for any of these people but only knows that they lived somewhere above the Danube.
Both the Gothic odyssey (Jordanes’ Getica) and the Langobardic one (Origo and Paul the Deacon’s History of the Langobards) feature Vandals as the antagonists of the Goths and the (main) antagonists of the Lombards/Langobards. In each case the Goths and the Winuli (before they became Langobards) come from Scandinavia and after hitting the shores of central Europe engage the Vandals. If this took place, where did this take place?
In the case of the Goths, this is dependent on where one thinks Gothiscandza existed. Tacitus only tells us that the Goths were on the Baltic [?] sea beyond the Lygians. As already noted the Goths’ location is next to the Rugii and the Lemovii – if the Rugii were where the island of Rugia is then it would seem Gothiscandza was somewhere close to Rugia. Further, if the River Oder is the River Guttalus that might mean that that is where the Goths were. (If Vistula is Guttalus (and Oder is Vistula?) then the Goths may have been at the Vistula).
This Brandenburg hypothesis of the Vandals location seems supported by a much later mention (by Adam of Bremen) of the Winuli (remaining Langobards – now as Slavs) on the middle Oder. Whether that was the country of Golaida as related by Paul the Deacon and whether that was where Anthaib and Bainaib were is unclear – however, Paul’s mention of Burgundaib as another place occupied by the Longobards seems to fit the middle Oder too to the extent it related to the Burgundians.
There is another alternative, of course – the Eastern hypothesis. Ptolemy lists Gythones below the Venedae – presumably somewhere in Russia or Lithuania. Up through the beginning of the 20th century, the Lithuanians of Prussia would refer to the inhabitants of Žemaitija/Samogitia as Gude. In turn, the Samogitian would employ the same name for the Belarussian. And in the Gutasagan, the 13th century saga of the “Gotlanders”, these Gotlanders (Goths?) are said to leave Gotland and go to “mainland” Europe via the River Daugava/Dzwina which flows in Latvia (and at whose mouth sits Riga). And, of course, the Vikings followed the northern route when they descended upon Russia via Novgorod. Consequently, a Gothic continental landing (if there was only one) could likewise have bypassed Poland on the Northeast.
But you say… the Vandals didn’t live that far East! No problem! Here comes Procopius with the claim that they lived… “about the Maeotic Lake” (i.e., the Sea of Azov). At what point that was, Procopius does not tell us.
All in all, anything is possible but we are inclined to believe that the Goths “landed” (if in fact they actually took ships as opposed to just walking over through Denmark) somewhere in Mecklenburg-Pomerania. If so, then the Vandals could have been in Brandenburg. (Of course, another Gothic group may have gone East too).
And Where They Were Later
(But Before the Rhine Crossing!)
As mentioned previously, Jordanes claims that the Goths used the Hasdingi (presumably sometime in 270-271) to help raid the Empire. He also says that later (or presumably later) – perhaps in the first half of the 4th century, the Goths under Geberich took on the Vandals under Visimar. At the time, Jordanes says the Vandals dwelt north of the Danube in Dacia “near the rivers Marisia, Miliare, Gilpil and the Grisia” where the Gepids later lived (he actually says he relies on Dexippus – discussed previously). (incidentally, this province had been abandoned by the Romans in the 270s). A great battle was fought on the river Marisia and the Goths supposedly won.
The Vandals picked themselves up and, allegedly, asked the Emperor Constantine (First? If so this would be in 306-337. Second? Then 337-340) for permission to settle in Pannonia. Specifically, they then dwelt in both Roman Pannonian provinces (as per Jordanes) quietly for “about sixty years” before heading for Gall. To get to Pannonia Superior and Pannonia Inferior, the Vandals presumably went through (or south (?) around) the territory of the Iazyges (who sat on the Tisa River).
(The Vandals again fought the Goths later (early 5th century) and one of their (Gothic) kings was named Vandalarius (incidentally, the son of Vinitharius – as per Jordanes)).
A Blast From the Past
An interesting example of medieval (pre-medieval?) intercontinental communications and diplomacy is contained in Procopius’ Vandalic War, chapter XXII. We are told that the Vandals’ cousins who stayed behind when Godigisclus set the rest of the Vandals on their destructive way to Gall, Spain and then Africa heard of the Vandals’ exploits in Africa and decided to send an embassy to clear some things up. Apparently, they were worried that the African Vandals would eventually get either their collective behinds kicked out or perhaps would just get bored and then would get the crazy notion of going back to their home country. In effect, everyone left behind would have to live with the possibility of the return of their long lost “family” from Africa – a concept which, no doubt, put into question various property questions related to the Old Country.
In order to clarify things, the embassy arrived at the court of Gizeric/Geiseric and tried to convince the Vandal king that he should formally give up his people’s rights to the realty back home. It seems that the king was initially convinced by these curious visitors but, swayed in the last moment by an old geezer with an octogenarian’s penchant for hoarding, the king decided not to give up anything after all. The envoys departed not having fulfilled their mission.
The episode is most peculiar and, if true, indicates an awareness of geography and political sensibilities (not to mention property relations and law) that one would not have expected of a barbarian people. It recalls a similar mission of the Heruli to Scandinavia to obtain a new king. Clearly, ancient communication was not as primitive as we might today imagine.
However, what interests us most is the claim, made by some, that the Vandal embassy came from lands the ancestral lands of the Vandals in Central Europe – perhaps Poland, perhaps Bohemia. Procopius’ language that :
“Now as for those Vandals who remained in their native land, neither remembrance nor any name of them has been preserved to my time. For since, I suppose, they were a small number, they were either overpowered by the neighbouring barbarians or they were mingled with them not at all unwillingly and their name gave way to that of their conquerors.”
This fits in nicely with the notion that the Slavs were the new coming barbarians who absorbed the remaining Germanic Vandal population and that is the reason why anyone would, presumably, make such a claim. However, the idea is baseless for what should be an obvious reason and that is that (A) we do not actually know where the embassy came from and (B), given the Vandals’ path across Europe, it could have come from anywhere:
- Spain – where the Vandals had just left;
- Gall – where they had previously been;
- Pannonia – where they lived for 60 years prior;
- Dacia – where they lived before that from at least 171 A.D.;
Even if one were to assume that the Vandals had – prior to their first recorded appearance in Dacia – lived somewhere else, that presumably would be the most distant (geographically and chronologically) chapter of their past from the perspective of the African Vandal kingdom. If those Vandals who were left behind had actually come from Bohemia, Germany or Poland, it is curious why no similar embassies have been recorded from them before. When the Vandals “moved” to Dacia, were their cousins not concerned that the marauders would return? When they hopped over to Pannonia, were they not terrified that they would be back? When they moved to Gall and Spain, were they not anxious that their long-lost cousins would show up on the door step? Frankly, once Geiseric had moved his people to Africa, it would seem that any remaining worry-wart back home would finally have blown a sigh of relief that the pesky relative would not ever be back – in the ancient world that was as far as one could move without, we suppose, moving to Asia…
But maybe there were embassies before and they were just not written about! Well, we can’t prove a negative so we will let that one lie.
One also has to remark that – if one believes – in an “earlier” Vandalic past, i.e., prior to their time in Dacia, one has to ask why Poland, Bohemia and Germany would be the places where such an embassy would have come from. After all, we have seen some evidence that the Vandals may have come from Lake Venetos (if they were the same as the Vindelici) or from Scandinavia. Why would the embassy not have come from the Vandals’ (alleged) ancient haunts in Scandinavia? That Scandinavians kept in touch with their departed cousins is shown by the episode of the Herules so that link would make sense here as well (to the extent it makes sense at all).
So where did they come from? Our guess is Spain, maybe Gall but, perhaps, as far back as Pannonia. Even Dacia seems too long ago.
That’s pretty much it for the time before the Vandal time before Rhine Crossing unless, perhaps we include some much later sources such as:
- Fredegar, who claims Crocus as a Vandal King; or
- Isidore, who claims that “[t]he River Vindilicus springs from the far frontier of Gaul and people maintain that the Vandals lived by it and got their name from it.”
(History of the Wars, Book III, Vandalic War, chapter II 395-423 A.D.)
“There were many Gothic nations in earlier times, just as also at the present, but the greatest and most important of all are the Goths, Vandals, Visigoths, and Gepaedes. In ancient times, however, they were named Sauromatae and Melanchlaeni*; and there were some too who called these nations Getic. All these, while they are distinguished from one another by their names, as has been said, do not differ in anything else at all. For they all have white bodies and fair hair, and are tall and handsome to look upon, and they use the same laws and practise a common religion. For they are all of the Arian faith, and have one language called Gothic; and, as it seems to me, they all came originally from one tribe, and were distinguished later by the names of those who led each group. This people used to dwell above the Ister River from of old.”
* Incidentally, for the Melanchlaeni, see Ptolemy, Pomponius Mela and others.
(History of the Wars, Book III, Vandalic War, chapter III)
“Now the Vandals dwelling about the Maeotic Lake, since they were pressed by hunger, moved to the country of the Germans, who are now called Franks, and the river Rhine, associating with themselves the Alani, a Gothic people [!]. Then from there, under the leadership of Godigisclus, they moved and settled in Spain, which is the first land of the Roman empire on the side of the ocean. At that time Honorius made an agreement with Godigisclus that they should settle there on condition that it should not be to the detriment of the country.”
(History of the Wars, Book III, Vandalic War, chapter XXII)
“And the Vandals, recalling an ancient saying, marvelled, understanding clearly thereafter that for a man, at least, no hope could be impossible nor any possession secure. And what this saying was and in what manner it was spoken I shall explain. When the Vandals originally, pressed by hunger, were about to remove from their ancestral abodes, a certain part of them was left behind who were reluctant to go and not desirous of following Godigisclus. And as time went on it seemed to those who had remained that they were well off as regards abundance of provisions, and Gizeric with his followers gained possession of Libya. And when this was heard by those who had not followed Godigisclus, they rejoiced, since thenceforth the country was altogether sufficient for them to live upon. But fearing lest at some time much later either the very ones who had conquered Libya, or their descendants, should in some way or other be driven out of Libya and return to their ancestral homes (for they never supposed that the Romans would let Libya be held for ever), they sent ambassadors to them. And these men, upon coming before Gizeric, said that they rejoiced with their compatriots who had met with such success, but that they were no longer able to guard the land of which he and his men had thought so little that they had settled in Libya. They prayed therefore that, if they laid no claim to their fatherland, they would bestow it as an unprofitable possession upon themselves, so that their title to the land might be made as secure as possible, and if anyone should come to do it harm, they might by no means disdain to die in behalf of it. Gizeric, accordingly, and all the other Vandals thought that they spoke fairly and justly, and they were in the act of granting everything which the envoys desired of them.”
“But a certain old man who was esteemed among them and had a great reputation for discretion said that he would by no means permit such a thing. “For in human affairs,” he said, “not one thing stands secure; nay, nothing which now exists is stable for all time for men, while as regards that which does not yet exist, there is nothing which may not come to pass.” When Gizeric heard this, he expressed approval and decided to send the envoys away with nothing accomplished. Now at that time both he himself and the man who had given the advice were judged worthy of ridicule by all the Vandals, as foreseeing the impossible. But when these things which have been told took place, the Vandals learned to take a different view of the nature of human affairs and realized that the saying was that of a wise man.”
“Now as for those Vandals who remained in their native land, neither remembrance nor any name of them has been preserved to my time. For since, I suppose, they were a small number, they were either overpowered by the neighbouring barbarians or they were mingled with them not at all unwillingly and their name gave way to that of their conquerors. Indeed, when the Vandals were conquered at that time by Belisarius, no thought occurred to them to go from there to their ancestral homes. For they were not able to convey themselves suddenly from Libya to Europe, especially as they had no ships at hand, but paid the penalty there for all the wrongs they had done the Romans and especially the Zacynthians. For at one time Gizeric, falling suddenly upon the towns in the Peloponnesus, undertook to assault Taenarum. And being repulsed from there and losing many of his followers he retired in complete disorder. And while he was still filled with anger on account of this, he touched at Zacynthus, and having killed many of those he met and enslaved five hundred of the notables, he sailed away soon afterwards. And when he reached the middle of the Adriatic Sea, as it is called, he cut into small pieces the bodies of the five hundred and threw them all about the sea without the least concern. But this happened in earlier times.”
IV “Now from this island of Scandza, as from a hive of races or a womb of nations, the Goths are said to have come forth long ago under their king, Berig by name. As soon as they disembarked from their ships and set foot on the land, they straightway gave their name to the place. And even today it is said to be called Gothiscandza. Soon they moved from here to the abodes of the Ulmerugi, who then dwelt on the shores of Ocean, where they pitched camp, joined battle with them and drove them from their homes. Then they subdued their neighbors, the Vandals, and thus added to their victories.”
XIV “Now the first of these heroes, as they themselves relate in their legends, was Gapt, who begat Hulmul. And Hulmul begat Augis; and Augis begat him who was called Amal, from whom the name of the Amali comes. This Amal begat Hisarnis. Hisarnis moreover begat Ostrogotha, and Ostrogotha begat Hunuil, and Hunuil likewise begat Athal. Athal begat Achiulf and Oduulf. Now Achiulf begat Ansila and Ediulf, Vultuulf and Hermanaric. And Vultuulf begat Valaravans and Valaravans begat Vinitharius. Vinitharius moreover begat Vandalarius; Vandalarius begat Thiudimer and Valamir and Vidimer; and Thiudimer begat Theodoric.”
XVI “Now the Gothic race gained great fame in the region where they were then dwelling, that is in the Scythian land on the shore of Pontus, holding undisputed sway over great stretches of country, many arms of the sea and many river courses. By their strong right arm the Vandals were often laid low, the Marcomanni held their footing by paying tribute and the princes of the Quadi were reduced to slavery. Now when the aforesaid Philip–who, with his son Philip, was the only Christian emperor before Constantine–ruled over the Romans, in the second year of his reign Rome completed its one thousandth year. He withheld from the Goths the tribute due them; whereupon they were naturally enraged and instead of friends became his foes. For though they dwelt apart under their own kings, yet they had been allied to the Roman state and received annual gifts. And what more? Ostrogotha and his men soon crossed the Danube and ravaged Moesia and Thrace. Philip sent the senator Decius against him. And since he could do nothing against the Getae, he released his own soldiers from military service and sent them back to private life, as though it had been by their neglect that the Goths had crossed the Danube. When, as he supposed, he had thus taken vengeance on his soldiers, he returned to Philip. But when the soldiers found themselves expelled from the army after so many hardships, in their anger they had recourse to the protection of Ostrogotha, king of the Goths. He received them, was aroused by their words and presently led out three hundred thousand armed men, having as allies for this war some of the Taifali* and Astringi and also three thousand of the Carpi, a race of men very ready to make war and frequently hostile to the Romans. But in later times when Diocletian and Maximian were Emperors, the Caesar Galerius Maximianus conquered them and made them tributary to the Roman Empire. Besides these tribes, Ostrogotha had Goths and Peucini from the island of Peuce, which lies in the mouths of the Danube where they empty into the Sea of Pontus. He placed in command Argaithus and Guntheric, the noblest leaders of his race. They speedily crossed the Danube, devastated Moesia a second time and approached Marcianople, the famed metropolis of that land. Yet after a long siege they departed, upon receiving money from the inhabitants.”
* whether the Taifali were also Vandals is not known (same question for the earlier Lacringi).
XXII “For he was the son of Hilderith, who was the son of Ovida, who was the son of Nidada; and by his illustrious deeds he equalled the glory of his race. Soon he sought to enlarge his country’s narrow bounds at the expense of the race of the Vandals and Visimar, their king. This Visimar was of the stock of the Asdingi, which is eminent among them and indicates a most warlike descent, as Dexippus the historian relates. He states furthermore that by reason of the great extent of their country they could scarcely come from Ocean to our frontier in a year’s time. At that time they dwelt in the land where the Gepidae now live, near the rivers Marisia, Miliare, Gilpil and the Grisia, which exceeds in size all previously mentioned. They then had on the east the Goths, on the west the Marcomanni, on the north the Hermunduli and on the south the Hister, which is also called the Danube. At the time when the Vandals were dwelling in this region, war was begun against them by Geberich, king of the Goths, on the shore of the river Marisia which I have mentioned. Here the battle raged for a little while on equal terms. But soon Visimar himself, the king of the Vandals, was overthrown, together with the greater part of his people. When Geberich, the famous leader of the Goths, had conquered and spoiled the Vandals, he returned to his own place whence he had come. Then the remnant of the Vandals who had escaped, collecting a band of their unwarlike folk, left their ill-fated country and asked the Emperor Constantine for Pannonia. Here they made their home for about sixty years and obeyed the commands of the emperors like subjects. A long time afterward they were summoned thence by Stilicho, Master of the Soldiery, Ex-Consul and Patrician, and took possession of Gaul. Here they plundered their neighbors and had no settled place of abode.”
XXVII “Now in the place of Valens, his uncle, the Emperor Gratian established Theodosius the Spaniard in the Eastern Empire. Military discipline was soon restored to a high level, and the Goth, perceiving that the cowardice and sloth of former princes was ended, became afraid. For the Emperor was famed alike for his acuteness and discretion. By stern commands and by generosity and kindness he encouraged a demoralized army to deeds of daring. But when the soldiers, who had obtained a better leader by the change, gained new confidence, they sought to attack the Goths and drive them from the borders of Thrace. But as the Emperor Theodosius fell so sick at this time that his life was almost despaired of, the Goths were again inspired with courage. Dividing the Gothic army, Fritigern set out to plunder Thessaly, Epirus and Achaia, while Alatheus and Safrac with the rest of the troops made for Pannonia. Now the Emperor Gratian had at this time retreated from Rome to Gaul because of the invasions of the Vandals.* When he learned that the Goths were acting with greater boldness because Theodosius was in despair of his life, he quickly gathered an army and came against them. Yet he put no trust in arms, but sought to conquer them by kindness and gifts. So he entered on a truce with them and made peace, giving them provisions.”
* This smacks of confusion – Gratian was Emperor from 375 to 383 whereas the Vandals were crossing the Rhine in 405 or 406.
XXXI “When Athavulf became king, he returned again to Rome, and whatever had escaped the first sack his Goths stripped bare like locusts, not merely despoiling Italy of its private wealth, but even of its public resources. The Emperor Honorius was powerless to resist even when his sister Placidia, the daughter of the Emperor Theodosius by his second wife, was led away captive from the city. But Athavulf was attracted by her nobility, beauty and chaste purity, and so he took her to wife in lawful marriage at Forum Julii, a city of Aemilia. When the barbarians learned of this alliance, they were the more effectually terrified, since the Empire and the Goths now seemed to be made one. Then Athavulf set out for Gaul, leaving Honorius Augustus stripped of his wealth, to be sure, yet pleased at heart because he was now a sort of kinsman of his. Upon his arrival the neighboring tribes who had long made cruel raids into Gaul, — Franks and Burgundians alike,–were terrified and began to keep within their own borders. Now the Vandals and the Alani, as we have said before, had been dwelling in both Pannonias by permission of the Roman Emperors. Yet fearing they would not be safe even here if the Goths should return, they crossed over into Gaul. But no long time after they had taken possession of Gaul they fled thence and shut themselves up in Spain, for they still remembered from the tales of their forefathers what ruin Geberich, king of the Goths, had long ago brought on their race, and how by his valor he had driven them from their native land. And thus it happened that Gaul lay open to Athavulf when he came. Now when the Goth had established his kingdom in Gaul, he began to grieve for the plight of the Spaniards and planned to save them from the attacks of the Vandals. So Athavulf left at Barcelona his treasures and the men who were unfit for war, and entered the interior of Spain with a few faithful followers. Here he fought frequently with the Vandals and, in the third year after he had subdued Gaul and Spain, fell pierced through the groin by the sword of Euervulf, a man whose short stature he had been wont to mock. After his death Segeric was appointed king, but he too was slain by the treachery of his own men and lost both his kingdom and his life even more quickly than Athavulf.”
Origo Gentium Langobardum
I. “There is an island that is called Scadanan, which is interpreted “destruction,” in the regions of the north, where many people dwell. Among these there was a small people that was called the Winniles. And with them was a woman, Gambara by name, and she had two sons. Ybor was the name of one and Agio the name of the other. They, with their mother, Gambara by name, held the sovereignty over the Winniles. Then the leaders of the Vandals, that is, Ambri and Assi, moved with their army, and said to the Winniles: ‘Either pay us tribute or prepare yourselves for battle and fight with us.’ Then answered Ybor and Agio, with their mother Gambara: ‘It is better for us to make ready the battle than to pay tributes to the Wandals.’ Then Ambri and Assi, that is, the leaders of the Wandals, asked Godan that he should give them the victory over the Winniles. Godan answered, saying: ‘Whom I shall first see when at sunrise, to them will I give the victory.’ At that time Gambara with her two sons, that is, Ybor and Agio, who were chiefs over the Winniles, besought Frea, the wife of Godan, to be propitious to the Winniles. Then Frea gave counsel that at sunrise the Winniles should come, and that their women, with their hair let down around the face in the likeness of a beard, should also come with their husbands. Then when it became bright, while the sun was rising, Frea, the wife of Godan, turned around the bed where her husband was lying and put his face towards the east and awakened him. And he, looking at then, saw the Winniles and their women having their hair let down around the face. And he says, ‘Who are these Longbeards?’ And Frea said to Godan, ‘As you have given them a name, give them also the victory.’ And he gave them the victory, so that they should defend themselves according to his counsel and obtain the victory. >From that time the Winniles were called Langobards.”
II. “And the Langobards moved thence and came to Golaida [?] and afterwards they occupied the aldionates of Anthaib and Bainaib and also Burgundaib. And it is said that they made for themselves a king, Agilmund by name, the son of Agio, of the race of Gugingus. And after him reigned Laimaichio of the race of Gugingus. And after him reigned Lethuc* and it is said that he reigned about forty years. And after him reigned Aldihoc the son of Lethuc. And after him reigned Godehoc.”
* This name just screams Lestek/Leszek from the Polish Chronicles…
Paul the Deacon
History of the Lombards, Book I, chapter VII
“The Winnili then, having departed from Scandinavia with their leaders Ibor and Aio, and coming into the region which is called Scoringa, settled there for some years. At that time Ambri and Assi, leaders of the Vandals, were coercing all the neighboring by war. Already elated by many victories they sent messengers to the Winnili to tell them that they should either pay tribute to the Wandals or make ready for the struggles of war. Then Ibor and Aio, with the approval of their mother Gambara, determine that it is better to maintain liberty by arms than to stain it by the payment of tribute. They send word to the Wandals by messengers that they will rather fight than be slaves. The Winnili were then all in the flower of their youth, but were very few in number since they had been only the third part* of one island of no great size.”
* whether this relates to the Gutasagan‘s division of Gotland into three parts held by each of Graip, Gute and Gunfjaun is anyone’s guess.
Paul the Deacon
History of the Lombards, Book I, chapter VIII
“At this point, the men of old tell a silly story that the Vandals coming to Godan (Wotan) besought him for victory over the Winnili and that he answered that he would give the victory to those whom he saw first at sunrise; that then Gambara went to Frea (Freja) wife of Godan and asked for victory for the Winnili, and that Frea gave her counsel that the women of the Winnili should take down their hair and arrange it upon the face like a beard, and that in the early morning they should be present with their husbands and in like manner station themselves to be seen by Godan from the quarter in which he had been wont to look through his window toward the east. And so it was done. And when Godan saw them at sunrise he said: “Who are these long-beards?” And then Frea induced him to give the victory to those to whom he had given the name. And thus Godan gave the victory to the Winnili. These things are worthy of laughter and are to be held of no account. For victory is due, not to the power of men, but it is rather furnished from heaven.”
Paul the Deacon
History of the Lombards, Book I, chapter X
“The Winnili therefore, who are also Langobards, having joined battle with the Vandals, struggle fiercely, since it is for the glory of freedom, and win the victory. And afterwards, having suffered in this same province of Scoringa, great privation from hunger, their minds were filled with dismay.”
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