(480-553)King of the Vandals and Alans
Gelimer was the last Vandal king of
Africa (roughly, modern
Hilderic a Catholic and through his mother a Roman had an ally in the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian the Great, who had hoped to bring the Vandal Kingdom back into the imperial fold through Hilderic. So when Hilderic appealed to the Justinian for help. Justinian the Great’s immediately protested, to which Gelimer replied that “nothing was more desirable than that a monarch should mind his own business.” Justinian the Great’s advisers, including John of Cappadocia, warned against launching an expedition to North Africa, fearing a repeat of Emperor Leo’s failed expedition 65 years earlier and the huge drain it represented on the imperial treasury. The invasion fleet would be sailing over 1,000 miles into Vandal waters, with no reinforcements available, when they landed in North Africa. The invasion fleet might have its supply-lines cut between Belisarius and the empire. John of Cappadocia said to Justinian, “Even if you are victorious, you will never hold Africa while Italy and Sicily are in the hands of others, while if you are defeated your breach of a treaty will put the whole empire in jeopardy. Success, in short, will bring you no lasting gain, while failure will risk the ruin of your flourishing and well-established state.” However an eastern bishop had informed him of a dream in which the Almighty had promised his assistance in a holy war against the Arian Vandals. Justinian responded, that God was on their side.
With his Eastern frontier secured Justinian soon declared war on the Vandals, ostensibly to restore Hilderic but more likely to restore north Africa to the Roman Empire. In June 533, Justinian launched an expedition led by Belisarius (a Thracina who had had several successes in the war with the Persians, including a victory at Dara) against the Vandal kingdom in Africa. The field army numbered about 18,000 men: 10,000 of them infantry and 5,000 cavalry, plus some barbarian federates including 600 Huns and 400 Heruls (Germanic tribe), they were transported in a fleet of 500 transports with support by 92 dromons (an eastern warship, designed for speed). As luck would have it for future generations on the flagship went also Justinian military secretary Procopius and his wife Antonina.
The war did not start well for Belisarius with 500 men being poisoned from the sacks of biscuit provided by John of Cappadocia, which were found to be mouldy but eventutually they arrived at Sicily, which some 60 years ago had been sold by King Gaiseric to King Odoacer of Italy in return for an annual subsidy . Fortunately for Belisarius, Sicily was now controlled by the Ostrogoths, who had conquered Italy from Odoacer under their King Theodoric. The Ostrogoths were friendly to Belisarius and his army, providing a useful vantage-point from which Belisarius could prepare his fleet for the final attack. From here Procopius was sent south to Syracuse, where he fortuoutsly he ran into an old boyhood friend, a slave who had recently returned from Carthage. The slave reported that Gelimer was unaware of the offensive and had sent 5,000 men and 120 ships under his brother Tata (Tzazo) to put down a rebellion in Sardinia.
With this bit of good news Belisarius decided to sail at once for Africa landing at Caput Vada, south of Carthage after having traveled via Malta in September 533 he held a council of war with his generals, and decided to march the army along the coast towards Carthage while the fleet accompanied it offshore. During their march Vandal towns fell to them without a fight, as many old fortifications were razed during the reign of King Gaiseric. The reasons for this razing of fortifications had been to deny the Romans a strong base from which to begin a rebellion and to prevent the emperor from capturing a city and establishing a stronghold from which to trouble the Vandals. Procopius wrote that, would it have been a five day journey for an unencumbered traveller, with their baggage and equipment it took the army twice that time to march toward Carthage, before meeting the Vandal army at the tenth Milestone from the capital on 14th September AD 533.
Once the Roman fleet had been sighted off the coast and then landed Vandal territory, Gelimer knew himself in trouble with part of his army and fleet away in Sardinia and the Roman’s marching on Carthage. He needed to wait for his brother to return from Sardinia, but he had only two options: abandon Carthage or offer a battle. He ordered his cousin Hilderick, an old king who was in prison to be killed and acted quickly organising his available army at home numbering 30,000. Gelimer chose a place at the tenth Milestone (Ad Decium) for the confrontation. He divided his main army into three groups: his brother Ammatas would attack the vanguard, his nephew Gibamund with 2,000 men would attack the Roman left flank via a salt plain and he himself with his main army would fall upon Belisarius’ rear by far marching around the Roman left. His plans seemed to be working, unfortunately for him, his communications let him down and in the confusion his brother Ammatas died. Gelimer noticing the dead body of his brother Ammatas and the fight went out of him. He remained motionless, refusing to leave the spot until the corpse had been carried from the field and arrangements made for it’s proper burial. Belisarius saw his chance and took advantage leading his main army down upon the Vandals at the right and left sides. This battle was over, the Vandals fled westward into the deserts of Numidia as a path to Carthage was blocked by the Romans. Carthage lay open to Belisarius and his army.
The day after the battle, Belisarius marched on Carthage. He ordered his army not to camp outside the city walls, suspecting a Vandal trap. Before entering the city, he ordered his army not to kill or enslave any of the people of Carthage, as they were Roman citizens under the Vandal tyranny for a century. Carthage now in Belisarius’ hand, many citizens welcomed him and his army as they entered through the wide-open gates. Carthage became a Roman city again for the first time in nearly a century. He went straight to the palace where he sat on the throne of the Vandal King. He set to rebuilding the fortifications of the city, and his fleet sought shelter in the lake of Tunis five miles south of Carthage.
Gelimer sought not to struggle on alone from his temporary refuge at Bulla Regia in Numidia, some hundred miles west of Carthage. He sent an urgent message to his brother Tzazo who was still on his Sardinian expedition with his army. Victorious Tzazo received the bad news and rushed back to North Africa to reunite with the Gelimer and his forces. Gelimer settled down to reorganise and regroup his own army and called to his aid local Punic and Berber tribes. He offered them generous rewards for every Roman head that they could lay before him. He sent his secret agents into Carthage to persuade the Huns and some citizens who were fellow-Arians to transfer their allegiance, to betray Belisarius. When Tzazo and his army joined Gelimer early in December AD 533 he felt himself strong enough once more to take the offensive. He ordered his army to ready itself to march out of Bulla toward Carthage. With the two brothers at the head of the army, the Vandal force paused on the way to demolish the great aqueduct on which the capital chiefly depended for it’s water supply.
Belisarius had spent the weeks since the Battle of Ad Decium strengthening the city defences, he did not want to face a siege and he was beginning to grow suspecious of the loyalty of the Huns and other barbarians under his command, knowing some of his army was being approached by agents of Gelimer. He gave the order to march to meet the Vandals in battle putting the Huns and barbarians in the rear of his force.
The battle was fought at Ticameron on 15th December AD 533. Belisarius places the Roman cavalry in the first line and the infantry formed the second line. Immediately the Roman cavalry charged three times into the thick of the Vandals ranks: hand to hand fighting. In the third charge, Tzazo was cut down in front of Gelimer, who lost heart. The Vandal lines began to retreat in a rout. Gelimer fled back into Numidia, his army pell-mell after him. The battle was over, the Vandals having lost over 3,000, either killed or taken prisoner. Belisarius marched on the city of Hippo, which opened its gates to him at once.
Gelimer was aware that his kingdom was lost but did not at first surrender.
He planned instead to transport his part of Vandal treasure and surviving
supporters to Visigothic Spain where he would seek refuge. In Spain were some
long lost Vandal cousins, descendents of those who had remained in the south
of Spain when King Gaiseric led the big migration of his people to North
Africa a century earlier.
But the Romans intercepted Gelimer, who lost his treasure and fled into the mountains, sheltered by Berber tribesmen. The year after he was found and surrounded by a Roman force under commander Pharas the Herulian who urged him to give up. Gelimer received emperor Justinian's word that the Romans would treat Gelimer as a king and would arrange for him a dignified and comfortable retirement. After a long and extremely disagreeable winter, Gelimer finally surrendered to Belisarius at Mount Papua. The Vandal Kingdom was at an end in North Africa.
Gelimer was led into the Hippodrome in chains to the cheers of Roman citizens where he saw an emperor seated on a throne at the end of Hippodrome. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” the last King of the Vandals is said to have murmured as he grovelled in the dust beside his conqueror. He refused the offer Patrician rank for which he would have to abandon his Arian faith. He accepted Justinian’s offer of rich estates in Galatia where he and his family were to spend their lives in safety, free to worship as they liked. Over 2,000 Vandal prisoners were less fortunate and were formed into five imperial regiments known as the Vandali Justiniani. They were marched off to the Persian front to fight for Justinian’s empire and to survive as best they could.
Therefore contrary to rumours there was no whole scale slaughter of the Vandals and that when Justinian recovered Africa from the Vandals, he left the major portion of the population only conscripted the elite warriors into the Vandali Justiniani. Four hundred of whom subsequently escaped back to Africa and took part in a mutiny of the imperial troops, which was with difficulty quelled by Belisarius (536). After this the Vandals disappear from history.