What is Vandalism? Who were the Vandals? Where did the Vandals come from?

Who were the Vandals? It is generally believed that the word vandalism derives from the Barbarian vandals who sacked Rome in AD 455. In reality, the word has a more modern, civilized origin.

The vandals were a Germanic barbarian tribe that made quite a name for themselves in the Mediterranean region during the 5th Century. Over 30 years, the vandals romped from Poland westward through Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, and North Africa, eventually establishing the Kingdom of the Vandals in modern-day Tunisia and Algeria after vanquishing Carthage in AD 439.

Why should we have pity for the Vandals? Because their reputation as fierce, conquering warriors is not the one they have today. Instead, thanks to their plundering of Rome in AD 455, the vandals are credited with inspiring the term that describes an act of malicious destruction.

The vandals were only one of many barbarian hordes during the Dark Ages that ravaged the Western Roman Empire until its fall in AD 476. But they weren’t any more barbaric than others, nor were they even the first to pillage Rome. Their German cousins, the Visigoths, had turned that trick 45 years earlier.

After a diplomatic falling out between the two Mediterranean powers, the Vandals headed to Rome, where they plundered the city for two weeks. But even that was considered to be a relatively civilized affair, because the vandals graciously refrained from wanton burning and violence.

So if the Vandals weren’t all that vandalistic, where did the word vandalism originate? The answer is France, during the French Revolution. As that great experiment in civil liberty and equality began to descend into violent chaos, the bishop of Blois, Henri Gregoire, denounced what he termed the “vandalisme”, unruly mobs that went around destroying churches and private property.

Kingdom of the Vandals and Vandalism

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