The Vandals or Vandal Tribe were originally of Scandinavian origin who migrated to the East of Germany in around 120 B.C. The 5th Century A.D. would see them become part of the Barbarian Horde, along with other predominantly Germanic tribes, that would bring the end of the Roman Empire in the West. 6th-Century Byzantine historian Procopius described them as tall, blonde and handsome. Under the ambitious King Gaiseric, the Vandals would rise from being a relatively insignificant tribe to one of the major military powers of the Mediterranean, albeit for a short while. Moving across Europe to Spain and crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in 429 A.D., they would conquer a huge stretch of the North African coastline and take Roman Carthage in 439 A.D. This would have major repercussions since North Africa had for many centuries been one of the most important sources of grain and the very breadbasket of Rome.
After the establishment of a new Vandalic Kingdom in Carthage, Gaiseric turned his sword towards the heart of the Empire, with raids against the coasts of both Italy and Greece, and the sacking of Rome in 455 A.D.
During this period, the Roman Navy in the West had become impotent in countering this threat, despite repeated attempts and Vandal raids would continue unabated over the next two decades. It is believed that due to Malta's geographical location, such raids must have occurred here too.
By 470 A.D., Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Gibraltar and practically all the smaller islands within the Western Mediterrean were under their control. No evidence survives of any military or administrative establishment of the Vandals in Malta, but their take-over of the entire region, would logically imply an invasion here too. A number of sources place this at around 455 A.D. The Byzantines stepped in by launching a number of expeditions, the first of which in 448 A.D. which got no further than Sicily. In 460 A.D., the Vandals attacked and destroyed a Western Roman invasion fleet at Cartagena in Spain. Finally, in 468 A.D., a huge Eastern expedition was assembled under Emperor Basiliscus, reputedly numbering 1,113 ships and 100,000 men, but this too was another disaster. Some 600 ships were lost and the financial cost nearly bankrupted the Empire, forcing the Romans to come to terms with Gaiseric and sign a peace treaty.
Vandal King Gaiseric, also spelled Geiseric From the Old High German name Geiserich, composed of two elements: Gaizaz (spear, pike, javelin) and Rīkijaz (kingly, royal, noble, mighty, distinguished, powerful, rich)
The Vandal threat would only recede after Gaiseric's death in 477 A.D., with much consequence, and territorial losses including most of Sicily over the next two decades. Then in 533 A.D., Byzantine Emperor Justinian I declared war, taking advantage of internal strife within the Vandal Kingdom. The campaign was part of the Emperor's quest aimed at reconquering the Western Roman Empire's territories lost a century earlier. The first documented instance of Byzantine military presence in Malta was due to these events, when General Belisarius landed here while on his way to North Africa.
Byzantine General Flavius Belisarius
Belasarius, often referred to as one of the 'Last Romans' and a military genius, went on to defeat the Vandals and won back most of Italy from the Ostrogothic Kingdom in a series of sieges between 535-540 A.D. after incorporating our islands as part of the newly established Byzantine Province of Sicily.
The Ostrogoths and Visigoths were two branches of the Germanic Goths, and shared similar origins to the Vandals. Procopius interprets these terms as Eastern and Western Goths respectively. Between them, they would conquer most of the territories that formerly belonged to the Roman empire in Southern Europe, ranging from Hispania to the Balkans, including mainland Italy. Under Theodiric the Great, the Ostrogoths invaded Italy in 488 A.D. establishing an Ostrogothic Kingdom there, until Belisarius re-established Byzantine / Roman rule between 535-554 A.D.
What came to be known as the Gothic War devastated Italy, and brought a definitive end to the Ostrogoth Kingdom, but imperial rule was soon overturned by the invasion of yet another Germanic Tribe, the Longobards, and their founding of the Kingdom of Lombards in 567 A.D. Unlike the Vandal & Ostrogothic short-lived kingdoms, the Lombards who remain in control of most of peninsular Italy until 774 A.D., before being conquered by Charlemagne.
As from the late 7th Century the Mediterranean was countering a new threat, that of Muslim expansion. This prompted the Byzantines to take measures aimed at improving the defences of Malta, under the supervision of the 'dux' (military leader).
Beyond a scatter of Bronze Age walls and a handful of Roman Towers, there was little much to go by, so new defensive walls were built in a number of sites such as that of tas-Silg, then a Monastery. They could have also been responsible for reducing the size of Melita for defensive purposes. The presence of a 'drungarios' and 'archon' also indicates the presence of an important naval station.
These measures proved futile however, andin 870 A.D.* Malta was occupied by Aghlabid Muslims from North Africa,led by Halaf al-Hādim. The Byzantine city of Melita ruled by governor Amros (possibly Ambrosios) was besieged for a number of weeks or months. Al-Hādim was killed in the fighting, but the siege was maintained under Sawāda Ibn Muḥammad, sent from Sicily for this purpose. After Melita fell to the invaders, the inhabitants were massacred, the city was destroyed, its churches looted and stripped of their marble which was used to build the castle of Sousse. * There are some discrepancies about the actual year of the Arabic invasion, and some historians argue that it was more likely 868/9 A.D., while others state this could have been even earlier, given the first landings in Sicily go back as far as 827 A.D. It is very possible that our islands were subject to incursions between these dates, and eventually lost towards the end of the 860s. The Byzantines returned however, with various attempts to reconquer the islands. The last of these was in 982 A.D., but Arab control would somewhat remain until the Norman invasion of 1090.