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History - Vandals and Visigoths

THE BARBARIANS: VISIGOTHS AND VANDALS 5TH TO 8TH CENTURY AD

These groups from northern Europe ruled Andalucia for over 300 years.   At the beginning of the fourth century AD, the expanding Mongolian population was pressurising the tribes on the Russian Steppes, and over the next century they in turn pushed the Vandals, the Visigoths and the Franks further to the boundary of the Roman Empire on the Rhine.

Vandals: 335-435 AD

In AD 409 the Roman frontier was breached and the Vandals crossed the Pyrenees into the Iberian peninsula. There, they received land from the Romans. Hispania.

The Hasdingi (Vandals) went to the Northwest and received land from the Romans under treaty. The Silingi Vandals went to Hispania Baetica (todays Andalucia) and the Alans took lands in Lusitania to the west and around Carthago Nova (Cartagena) to the east.

AD 417 The Visigoths, lead by King Athaulf invaded Iberia on the orders of the Roman Emperor Honorius, almost crushed the Silingi Vandals in Hispania Baetica (todays Andalucia) and then the Alans, killing the Alan king Attaces. The remainder of the Alans and the remnants of the Silingi merged under the Vandal King Gunderic.

AD 422 Vandal King Gunderic decisively defeated a Roman-Suebi-Gothic coalition led by the Roman Castinus at the Battle of Tarraco. (Tarragona). For the next five years, according to writings of Bishop Hydatius, Gunderic created widespread havoc in the western Mediterranean.

AD 425 the Vandals sacked Hispalis (Seville) and maritime city Carthago Spartaria (Cartagena) the capture of the latter enabled the Vandals to engage in widespread naval activities.

AD 428 Gunderic, often regarded by historians as the most able barbarian leader of the period, captured Hispalis for a second time but died while laying siege to the city's church. He was succeeded by his half-brother Genseric.

AD 429 The Vandals departed Spain for North Africa, which returned almost totally in Roman hands until 439 when a Sueves expansion south took Emerita Augusta (Mérida), the main city of Roman administration for the whole peninsula.

Visigoths

These tribes were followed by the Visigoths, who separated from the Ostrogoths, invaded Italy and sacked Rome. The Visigoths first settled in southern Gaul as a tribe federated to the Romans (they had to provide them with troops). They converted to Arianism rather than Nicean Catholicism followed by the Romans and were seen by them as heritics. The Visigoths soon fell out with their Roman hosts and extended their authority into Hispania Betica at the expense of the Suevi and Vandals.   The Visigoths had nearly completed the conquest of Spain by AD 476 pushing the Vandals south in Africa. Hence with the exception of the Suevic kingdom in the north west, which did not fall until 585, and the exception of areas controlled by the Basques, all Hispania was Visigoth.

AD 476 Romulus Augustulus was forced to abdicate to the Germanic warlord Odoacer after loosing the Battle of Ravenna (Northern Italy, last Capital of the Western Roman Empire). Most chronologies place this the end of the Western Roman Empire.

AD 484 the Visigoths established Toledo as their capital in Hispania. It is often thought that by this period, the Romans had left Hispania. Indeed, their armies had gone but many Roman families had been in Hispania for generations and had survived the deprivations of the Vandal period and it was those people who ran the civil administration. Latin continued as the official language. Education and government became the responsibility of the church bishops who answered to the pope.

AD 550 Revolts against the Visigoth rulers took place. Roman Catholics in Cordoba defeated Visigoth King, Aguila, who retreating to Merida.

AD 551 Usurper to the Visigothic throne, Athanagild, met Aguila in battle and took Seville. Athanagild ruled as king from Seville in opposition to Agila.

AD 552 According to Isidore of Seville in his ‘History of the Goths’, Athanagild asked the Byzantines, who occupied NA, for assistance against Agila. A Byzantines force landed at the mouth of the Guadalette river (Puerto de Santa Maria). For two years, they expanded the territory they held into a coastal strip from the Portuguese border to north of Cartagena.

Byzantine Province

In 554, Granada, Malaga and southernmost Hispania Baetica were lost to the Byzantine Empire to form the province of Spania. The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern successor to the Roman Empire in the west. It came into being around the year 330 AD when Rome's first Christian Emperor, Constantine I moved the capital from Rome to Byzantium, later Constantinople now Istanbul. Under Emperor Justinian a concerted effort was made to regain much of the lost empire.

In 551 a Vizigoth nobleman named Athanagild, who was fighting the Vizigoth King Agila made his base Seville. Athanagild 'invited' Byzantium Emperor Justinium to help. His forces arrived in 552, after a couple of years Agila was assassinated in Merida and Athanagild was crowned. However the Byzantine forces stayed on, as a spearhead to a reconquest of the far west envisaged by Roman emperor Justinian I. However Visigoth King Suintila reconquered completely in 624.

AD 552 According to Isidore of Seville in his ‘History of the Goths’, Athanagild asked the Byzantines, who occupied North Africa, for assistance against Agila. A Byzantines force landed at the mouth of the Guadalette river (Puerto de Santa Maria). For two years, they expanded the territory they held into a coastal strip from the Portuguese border to north of Cartagena.

AD 555 A further Bazantine army landed at Cartagena. The Byzantines called it Spania and were to remain for another seventy years until they were removed by Visigoths who still held the vast majority of Spain.

Basilica de Vega del Mar in San Pedro, Marbella is a rare example of a Byzantine Church.

Visigoths

In the sixth century, Visigoth rule in Gaul was ended by the Franks. After that, the Visigoth kingdom was limited to Hispania.

589 AD King Reccared converted his people from Arianism to Catholicism. Their legal code, the Visigothic Code, was completed in 654 and abolished the long standing practice of applying different laws for Romans and Visigoths. Once legal distinctions were no longer being made these two peoples became known collectively as Hispani.   Their Catholic bishops increased in power, until, at the Fourth Council of Toledo in 633, they took upon themselves to upsurp the nobles' right to select a king from among the royal family. Visigothic also began the persecution of Jews began after the conversion to Catholicism.

When the Tariq and the Moors invaded in 711, they conquered Visigothic Iberia very quickly. Following the death of Hispani King Rodrigo in the battle of Guadalete, there was no movement by the Visigoth nobility, nor Wanda's prince sons, nor the people to push them back. Perhaps the Visigoth saw the berber tribesman as involuntary allies who were going to rid them of a fiscal and clerical tyranny. It was true almost everybody helped them on their way, like a liberating army, guiding them and opening gates for them. More about the Moorish invasion.

The Visigoths left very few visible signs from their rule in Andalucia, except for stone pillars from their churches (some were Arian, others Catholic) reused by the Moors to build their mosques. If you are interested, you can visit some Visigoths graves at Carteia ruins.

Driving past Algeciras on the N340, a passer-by would never suspect that nestled behind Cepsa´s vast petrochemical plant is one of Andalucia´s most significant ancient heritage sites. More →