Why is vandals called vandals? History of “vandalism”

Posted on Mar 9, 2022      236

You’ve probably heard more than once about the shenanigans of hooligans who shredded bus seats or broke glass in the train. “Those vandals!” - you thought, shaking your head disapprovingly. The word is so ingrained that we rarely think about its origins. So who are vandals really?

The Vandals (or Vandilians) were originally from the Germanic tribe of the Vandals, one of the many tribes that roamed Europe during the Great Migration of Nations. What exactly are the Vandals so “famous” that they became synonymous with improper actions, hooliganism and damage to other people’s property?

By the beginning of the 5th century AD. The Western Roman Empire was gradually losing its influence and military might under the onslaught of many barbarian tribes. In the former lands of the once-powerful state was chaos: new tribes conquered the cities, but in a couple of years to their place came new conquerors. One such tribe was the Vandals, who from Germany moved first to Spain, and from there were forced to move to North Africa. The reasons for this exodus are unclear: some historians claim the Vandals were forced out by other tribes, others say that the Vandals were invited to Africa by the Roman governor who wanted to take over the provinces by foreign force and become the sole ruler in them. Either way, by 435 the Vandals had taken possession of most of the territories in North Africa. The fragile peace with Rome did not last long, and already in 439 the city of Carthage fell to the Germanic onslaught. The empire, torn by its enemies, had nothing to offer the barbarians, so they forced it to recognize their conquest and make peace. Now the Vandals, with all their might, were looming over a defenseless Rome, whose troops were fighting in other parts of the country. Vandal leader Geyserich could not cannot take advantage of such an opportunity, and, breaking the truce, went straight to the Eternal City with an army. In June 435 Rome fell. Pope Leo the First could take from the Vandals a promise not to kill citizens and not to destroy the city for surrender. The barbarians kept their promise, but in their own way: within two weeks they pillaged the city, taking all its treasures and capturing thousands of its inhabitants. The vandals ruined the monuments they found and desecrated places that were holy to the Romans. Rumors of the ruthless plundering of Rome had reached every corner of the known world. When asked “Who sacked Rome?” people invariably got the answer, “the Vandals...” The expression has become so ingrained in the people that anyone who desecrates or destroys someone else’s property is still called a vandal to this day.