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Gaiseric

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This profile of Gaiseric is part of
Who's Who in Medieval History

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Gaiseric was also known as:

Geiseric or Genseric

Gaiseric was known for:

Sacking the city of Rome in 455. As King of the Vandals and the Alans (Alani), Gaiseric was a significant figure in the final decades of the Western Roman empire, leading his peoples to victory after victory and establishing a reputation as a feared warrior.

Occupations:

Places of Residence and Influence:

Important Dates:

Born: c. 390
Captured Carthage: Oct. 19, 439
Sacked Rome: June, 455
Died: Jan. 25, 477

Description of Gaiseric:

"Gaiseric, still famous in the City for the disaster of the Romans, was a man of moderate height and lame in consequence of a fall from his horse. He was a man of deep thought and few words, holding luxury in disdain, furious in his anger, greedy for gain, shrewd in winning over the barbarians and skilled in sowing the seeds of dissension to arouse enmity."
--From The Origin and Deeds of the Goths by Jordanes

About Gaiseric:

The illegitimate son of King Godegisel and a slave woman (possibly a Roman), Gaiseric is believed to have been born as early as 390 C.E. Upon his father's death c. 406, Gaiseric's half brother Gunderic took over and ruled until his death in 428. Gaiseric then took the throne, even though the legitimate Gunderic had at least one son; this speaks to Gaiseric's standing among the Vandals.

In May of 428, Gaiseric led all of his people -- Vandals and Alani -- out of Spain and headed to Africa, where he had evidently been invited by the Roman governor, Bonifacius. The number of people was supposedly 80,000; even though he faced no military opposition, it was an extraordinary feat to take so many people on a journey of approximately 2,000 kilometers. The trek resulted in quite a bit of devastation, and when they finally arrived in Africa, Gaiseric turned on Bonifacius and defeated his army. When joint forces of Eastern and Western Rome were sent against him, he defeated them, as well.

By June of 431, Gaiseric and his people had begun to besiege the city of Hippo, where Saint Augustine was bishop. The siege lasted approximately 14 months and the venerable saint did not live to see it end. Ultimately, many of the residents fled the city, and Gaiseric moved in.

In 435 Gaiseric made a treaty that allowed the Vandals to keep control of Mauretania and part of Numidia and made them foederati of Rome. Four years later he broke the treaty by capturing Carthage. This was quite a blow; the city was the gateway to Africa and considered by many to be either the second or third most important city in the empire. The conquest added significantly to Gaiseric's reputation as a brutal military leader.

In 442 another treaty gave the Vandals control of Africa, Byzacena, and part of Numidia. With the help of his extraordinary fleet, Gaiseric exercised control over a large portion of the Mediterranean.

When the western Emperor Valentinian III was murdered in 455, Gaiseric reasoned that his treaty with Valentian was void, and he attacked the undefended city of Rome itself. His warriors pillaged the city for two weeks. The sacking of Rome was a horrific event that had repercussions throughout the empire. Several attempts were made to avenge the city -- by Majorian and Basiliscus, most notably -- but Gaiseric defeated all attackers.

For the next 22 years Gaiseric ruled his portion of Africa with considerable success. He died on January 24, 477, having witnessed the formal end of the western Roman Empire only a few months earlier.

More Gaiseric Resources:

Gaiseric on the Web

Gaiseric
Concise introduction by Mark Furnival at the Dark Age Web.

Encyclopedia of World Biography on Gaiseric
Short but substantive bio at Bookrags.

Procopius of Caesarea: Gaiseric & The Vandal Conquest of North Africa, 406 - 477 CE
Translation of Procopius' 6th-century work by H. B. Dewing, made available online at the Ancient History Sourcebook.

Gaiseric in Print

The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples
by Herwig Wolfram

The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians
by J. B. Bury


Early Europe

Guide Note: This Who's Who Profile of Gaiseric was originally posted in September of 2003, and was updated in March of 2012. Content is copyright ©2003-2012 Melissa Snell.


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