Lucius Procopius – The Vandalic Wars

A return to books of history brings me to The Vandal Wars (ca. 553) by Lucius Procopius are in fact Books III & IV of The History Of The Wars. This is a history of the military activities of the Eastern Roman Empire, or rather the Byzantine Empire, during the reign of Emperor Justinian, who attempted to recover the Roman Empire after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Procopius organized his history not by year but by subject so that he could tell a more coherent history as the Eastern Roman Empire was engaging in many activities. This setup also allows him to start each wars-sequence with a story of the background. In the case of the Vandal Wars he recounts where the Vandals came from and how they ended up in modern day Tunisia where they created a kingdom that in size was very reminiscent of ancient Carthage. Their capital actually was a new version of that actual city. His history thus actually covers a period from about 400 to 550 CE with the greater part taking covering the last 20 years of that period. His long introduction is thus also interesting as a source of the history of that period.

What makes this history different from The Persian Wars is that the great general Belisarius has a strong presence here with Procopius himself present as his secretary. Most of what is written is thus actually an almost eyewitness account or else from trusted sources.

Oddly enough Belisarius is not that much present in the story although he is credited with much of the success. Reality however shows that the Vandals had been enjoying a fairly luxurious life and lived mostly by raiding. They were there rather Romanized barbarians, more feared than actually countered by the weakened structures in the Mediterranean. The Byzantine campaign is rather poor in setup. It is a set of lucky circumstances which allow them to make the right choices and obtain quick and easy victories. Despite the name Vandal Wars this is far from a great war. The Byzantines managed to maintain the upper hand and despite internal intrigue and some poor governors a number of capable commanders prevent the Vandals to regain their strength and crush them permanently.

The recovery of the empire is thus not so much a matter of competence but a matter of luck. The region itself is rather weak and the feared opponent is not that terrible. The conqueror itself shows plenty of weaknesses so it is no surprise that it was easily conquered by the expansion of the Islam a century later.

Procopius himself provides no analysis or comments on the problematic events of the wars. In this he is thus neutral. He recounts the facts, whether they are good or bad. The reader has to judge them. There are two views to be opinionated here. Either he his blind to the many shortcomings of his society or he lets the reader decide on that. In that light it is somewhat hard to find the voice of the author in this work. I like to read these contemporary works because they usually express the mores and the wiles of the society of those times. It is hard to do so here although one can comment that Procopius is simply used to these kind of affairs and that it is not that unordinary.

The Vandal Wars provides the reader with a number of interesting insights in the events of those times and also gives some cultural details on the Vandals and the way they fight their wars with a mixture of barbarian and romanized behavior. The reader is also provided with their background and history so this work is more than a simple history on a number of events. This all makes this work quite interesting and as it is not a very long work it is a relative easy read.

 

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