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  • Konflikt und Anpassung: Studien zu Migration und Ethnogenese der Vandalen
  • Peter Turner
Konflikt und Anpassung: Studien zu Migration und Ethnogenese der Vandalen Guido M. Berndt Husum: Matthiesen Verlag, 2007. Pp. 334, ISBN 978–3786–81489–4.

This work attempts to fill a gap in current scholarship. Against a backdrop of recent improvements in our understanding of the late Roman west and its conquerors, the Vandals and Africa have lagged behind related areas of research. A sign of the relatively slow progress is that, despite a recent revival of interest in the subject (pp.44–51) Courtois’ Les Vandales et l’Afrique (1955) remains a standard text. Other major contributions, such as those of Frank Clover, have appeared as articles. Moreover, the Vandals, despite their extraordinary political impact, have featured much less heavily than their Germanic cousins in debates about ethnogenesis and adaptation; as the title implies, the author attempts to address this aspect in particular.

The first of five sections (pp.9–51) is a general introduction to the political world of the late antique west, and covers such problems as the terms “barbarisch” and “germanisch” and the nature of the Völkerwanderung. Of particular interest is the account of the much-debated ethnogenesis question (pp.23–9). On the one hand, like most contemporary scholars, Berndt rejects any conception of ethnicity that represents groups as stable entities over time. But, on the other hand, he argues against scholars such as Charles Bowlus who deny the importance of ethnogenesis as a concept and see late antique Europe as fundamentally ethnically insensitive. Instead, he allies himself with Patrick Geary and Walter Pohl, who regard ethnic groups and traditions, although fluid in practice, as crucial in identity terms (pp.28–9).

A second section, entitled “Migration(en) der Vandalen” (pp.52–141), provides a thorough account of the Vandal journey from the borderlands of the Rhine at the beginning of the fifth century through Gaul and Spain, and finally onto Africa, whose principal city Carthage fell in 439. It was, as the account shows, an extraordinary journey not only for its speed and distance, but also in terms of [End Page 176] its effects on the Vandals. Given the ethnic, political, and military complexity of the fifth-century west, this is a very useful piece of narrative history, and is distinguished not least for its transparent use of complex and fragmentary source material. Reminding us frequently of source limitations, Berndt rightly challenges commonly held views, such as the belief that the barbarian crossings of 406/7 were caused by a freezing of the Rhine, a detail for which there is no proof (p.91).

In a third section (“Ethnogenese(n) der Vandalen,” pp.142–74), Berndt demonstrates the relationship between these migrations and the emergence of the Vandals as a single group. The work’s central thesis is demonstrated in this section: initially a migrating group involving a loose coalition of various groupings based around the Hasdings and Silings, the Vandals were joined by other groups along their journey, such as the Alans and Suebi. The identity of the unified Vandal kingdom under a “Rex Vandalorum et Alanorum” that eventually emerged cannot, therefore, be separated from the various acts of migration that culminated in it. It was through their collective crossings of the Rhine, the Pyrenees, and especially the Straits of Gibraltar—each one a “primordiale Tat” (p.10) in the people’s history—that disparate groups started to think of themselves as one, and to accept a unified leadership. Berndt’s appreciation for Pohl’s account of the ethnogenesis debate is here revealed: ethnic identities in Late Antiquity indeed revolved around a Traditionskern, albeit a far more fluid and contingent one than the initial exponent of this theory, Reinhard Wenskus, postulated.

The fourth section of the book (“Begründung und Konsolidierung des regnum Vandalorum,” pp.175–254) shows how the process of Vandal conquest and adaptation was completed by the establishment of an African kingdom. The first and longest subsection (pp.188–202) details the aggressive and astute military policy of this state under its first king Geiseric (d. 477), which included the sack of Rome in 455 and...


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