Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Eric Fournier: The Battalions of Impiety: A Bishop’s Perspective on the Vandal Migration

“Finding a province that enjoyed peace and tranquility, the Vandals threatened on all sides the magnificence of this flourishing land with the battalions of impiety.” Thus Victor of Vita describes the Vandal migration into North Africa in his Historia persecutionis africana prouinciae(1.3). Obviously not a neutral representation, this description was, rather, part of an elaborate rhetorical narrative aiming to highlight the religious nature of what Victor saw as an invasion and a persecution by the heretical new masters of North Africa. Victor was a cleric who conceived the world as polarized, divided between theologically correct Catholics (Nicene Christians) and heretical Arians (Homoian Christians). He was not a historian of the Vandal migration, yet he provides the best evidence for the Vandal migration. Hence the importance of analyzing and understanding the rhetorical elements of his text.      This paper argues that Victor’s rhetorical depiction of the Vandal migration is completely conditioned by his theological views. Victor wrote over fifty years after the migration (after 484 CE) and he retroactively applied his knowledge of a later, short-lived episode of religious coercion that followed a council of bishops in 484, to the whole Vandal period up to his time. His systematic use of vocabulary relating to violence, cruelty and furor, as well as his depiction of Vandals as barbaric enemies, are good evidence of his rhetoric at play. Victor’s text is first-hand evidence of the Nicene reaction to the Vandal migration, but not of the migration itself.

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