‘The Origins of ‘Vandalism’’, International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 16.2. (2009), 155-75.

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  The notion of ‘Vandalism’ is common to all modern western languages, and yet themetaphorical srcins of the term are frequently forgotten. When the barbarian Van-dals of the early medieval period are remembered, it is often assumed that they wereparticularly violent, even by the bloody standards of that time. The present article ex-plores the srcins of the notion of ‘ vandalisme ’ in the aftermath of the French Revolu-tion and examines the varied representations of the historical Vandals in theEnlightenment It argues that the Vandals enjoyed a complex series of associations dur-ing the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and appeared in a variety of guises in theprose, plays and political tracts of the period. It concludes that the wholly negativerepresentation of the group arose ultimately from a specific school of French histori-ography in this period, which sought to contrast the creative energies of the idealizedFranks with the demonized Vandals. I n the late summer of 1794, the Abbé Henri Grégoire, Bishop of Blois, pre-sented the National Conventionwith his ‘ Rapport sur les destructions opérées par le vandalisme, et sur les moyens de le réprimer ’. 2 The report considered thedamage caused by widespread rioting during the early months of the French © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009 Andrew Merrills, School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester,Leicester LE1 7RH, UNITED KINGDOM International Journal of the Classical Tradition, Vol. 16, No. 2, June 2009, pp. 155-178. 1. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at seminars in Birmingham, Not-tingham, Manchester and Leicester. Many important points were raised in thesediscussions, and I am grateful to all who attended for their valuable advice. Ishould also like to thank Lesley McFadyen, Richard Miles, Christina Pössel, DaveEdwards, Jen Baird and Wolfgang Haase, the editor of this journal, for their sug-gestions and criticism. Any remaining mistakes are my own.2.The text is found reconstituted in Oeuvres de l’abbé Grégoire (Nendeln: KTO Press,1977), II, pp. 257-78. Dated 14 Fructidor An. II (August 31, 1794). The term ‘ van-dalisme ’ was first used (by Grégoire) in a mémoire read to the Convention in Janu- The Origins of ‘Vandalism’ 1 ANDREW MERRILLS  156 International Journal of the Classical Tradition / June 2009 Revolution, discussed its likely srcins and sought appropriate responses tothis destruction. Over the months that followed, Grégoire produced two fur-ther reports on the same phenomenon. 3 Throughout, his intention was to putan end to what he regarded as a hateful distortion of revolutionary principles:“I created the word in order to kill the thing”, he was later to declare in his  Mé-moires . 4 He was only half right. His reports did not manage to establish a na-tional policy towards heritage – that would have to wait for the restoredmonarchy of Louis Philippe – but they did successfully introduce a metaphorwhich became commonplace thereafter. 5 With astonishing speed, Vandalisme  became the standard term, not only for systematic revolutionary violence, butfor any act of cultural desecration, particularly against art and architecture.In 1798 Vandalisme was included in the fifth edition of the Dictionnaire de l ’aca démie française, 6 and within weeks of Grégoire’s coinage, the term hadcrossed the channel and the Rhine. 7 By the middle of the nineteenth century,the metaphor had become so pervasive that it had effectively eclipsed its ref- ary of the same year. On the reports, see Eugène Despois, Le Vandalisme Révolu-tionnaire. Fondations littéraires, scientifiques et artistiques de la Convention (Paris: F.Alcan, 1868); on the ‘ vandalisme ’ which prompted them and Grégoire’s responsecompare Stanley J. Idzerda, ‘Iconoclasm during the French Revolution’, AmericanHistorical Review  , 60.1 (1954), pp. 13-26; Pierre Marot, ‘L’abbé Grégoire et le van-dalisme révolutionnaire’, Revue de l’Art  , 49 (1980), pp. 36-9; Joseph, L. Sax, ‘Her-itage Preservation as a Public Duty: The Abbé Grégoire and the Origins of an Idea’,  Michigan Law Review  , 88.5 (1990), pp. 1142-69; Anthony Vidler, ‘The Paradoxes of Vandalism: Henri Grégoire and the Thermidoran Discourse on Historical Monu-ments’, in Jeremy D. Popkin and Richard H. Popkin (eds), The Abbé Gré goire and hisWorld  , ser. International archives of the history of ideas = Archives internationa-les d’histoire des idées 169(Dordrecht – Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers,2000), pp. 129-56 and esp. the papers in Simone Bernard-Griffiths, Marie-ClaudeChemin and Jean Ehrard (eds), Révolution française et «vandalisme révolutionnaire».Actes du colloque international de Clermont-Ferrand, 15-17 décembre 1988 (Paris: Uni-versitas, 1992). Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revo-lution. The Making of Modern Universalism (Berkeley: University of California Press,2005) provides an excellent English-language introduction to the life of the AbbéGrégoire.3. Secondrapport sur le vandalisme, séance du 8 brumaire l’an III  (Paris: Impr. nationaledes lois, 1794), (October 29, 1794) and Troisième rapport sur le vandalisme, séance du24 frimaire l’an III  (Paris: Impr. nationale des lois, 1794), (December 14, 1794).4.Grégoire,  Mémoires  , ed. Jean-Michel Leniaud,  Mémoires de L’Abbé Grégoire (Paris: A.Dupont, 1834; repr. Paris: Impr. SAGI, 1989), p. 60: “  Je créai le mot pour tuer la chose ”.5.Sax, ‘Heritage Preservation’ (above, n. 2), discusses the heritage policy of nine-teenth-century France. On Joseph Lakanal’s improbable claim to have anticipatedthe Abbé Grégoire in his usage of ‘ vandalisme ’, see the comments of MichelMorineau, ‘Appendice 2: Notes d’information’, in Bernard-Griffiths et al., Révolu-tion française et «vandalisme révolutionnaire» (above, n. 2),pp. 439-53.6. Dictionnaire de l’Académie Françoise, Revu, corrigé et augmenté par l’académie ell-même,Cinquième edition (Paris: Chez J. J. Smits et Ce., Imp.-Lib., rue de Tournon, N°. 1133,Faubourg St. Germain: an VII [= 1798]), vol. II, p. 776. 7.Reports of Grégoire’s coinage appear in The Oracle and Public Advertiser from Fri-day September 12, 1794. The term is employed without reference to Grégoire in SirFrancis d’Ivernois, A cursory view of the assignats, and remaining resources of French   Merrills 157  finance (September 6, 1795) (Dublin: printed by P. Byrne, 1795), p. 66. The receptionof the term in Germany is discussed below, pp. ••.8.Studies of early modern attitudes to the Vandals have been sparing. RolandSteinacher’s important research in Vienna has done much to assess scholarly per-spectives on the group. See esp. his Vienna dissertation Studien zur vandalischenGeschichte. Die Gleichsetzung der Ethnonyme Wenden, Slawen und Vandalen vom Mit-telalter bis ins 18. Jahrhundert (2002). Discussion of popular representations haverarely progressed beyond the cursory treatment in Hanno Helbling, Goten undWandalen. Wandlung der historischen Realität (Zurich: Fretz and Wasmuth, 1954),pp. 53-62 and Christian Courtois, Les Vandales et L’Afrique (Paris: Arts et métiersgraphiques, 1955), pp. 58-60. Claude Bourgeois, ‘Les Vandales, le vandalisme etl’Afrique’, Antiquités africaines  , 16 (1980), pp. 213–28 purports to examine the ques-tion of ‘ vandalisme ’, but simply represents an apologia for the group. CatherineVolpilhac, Dany Hadjadj and Jean-Louis Jam, ‘Des Vandales au vandalisme’, inBernard-Griffiths et al., Révolution française et «vandalisme révolutionnaire» (above,n. 2), pp. 15-27 provides a better assessment, and considers several of the themesdeveloped more fully in the present paper.9.A selection of this material will be discussed briefly in A.H. Merrills and R.T. Miles, The Vandals (Malden, MA & Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, forthcoming).10.The terms ‘Germanic’ and ‘Barbarian Invasions’ are used throughout this paperwith respect to each concept as it was generally understood in the seventeenthand eighteenth centuries (respectively the shared cultural and biological traits of the northern European peoples of the late iron age, and the period of extensivesocial and political upheaval of the period AD 400 – 800). Neither concept is com-monly employed in the modern literature. On contemporary understanding of each see esp. Guy Halsall, ‘The Barbarian Invasions’, in Paul Fouracre (ed.), TheNew Cambridge Medieval History, I . c. 500 – c. 700 . (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-versity Press, 2005), pp. 35-55.11.John Renwick,  Marmontel, Voltaire, and the Bélisaire affair  , Studies on Voltaire andthe eighteenth century 121(Banbury: The Voltaire Foundation, 1974 ) provides an erent – those who destroyed art or architecture were simply ‘vandals’ (with asmall ‘v’). The point of comparison to the barbarians of the dark ages hadlargely been lost.Grégoire’s neologism had a dramatic effect upon the way in which theVandals were remembered within modern Europe. 8 Prior to that date, the Van-dals had certainly been regarded as violent agents in the fall of the RomanEmpire, and had been invoked to condemn more recent acts of barbarism.Poets, preachers and jeremiad writers of every hue compared contemporarysins to the worst excesses of the dark age barbarians, and the Vandals werecommonly featured alongside the Goths, Huns and other warlike groups intheir tracts. 9 But this chauvinism was tempered by a more romanticised viewof the heroic ‘Germanic’ peoples, and here too the Vandals enjoyed someminor celebrity. 10 The group had a starring role in a small number of novelsand plays during the seventeenth century, one eighteenth-century opera, andhad a walk-on part (through their king Gelimer) in the celebrated Belisarius af-fair of the 1730s. 11 Dubious claims to Vandal heritage were posited by a num- ber of Hanseatic towns and by the royal families of several different states,and the group came tantalisingly close to having a fourteenth Americancolony named in their honour. But Grégoire’s coinage all but stripped them of   158 International Journal of the Classical Tradition / June 2009 their Romantic associations. Within a matter of months, the group had losttheir relatively minor role in the idealized medievalism of the early modernperiod, and were remembered solely for their violence and destruction. It isthe purpose of the present paper to examine this transformation.  A brief history of the Vandals The Vandals first appear in the textual record in a small handful of classical ge-ographical texts, which ambiguously place the group (or groups) somewherein the vast territory to the east of the Rhine and the north of the Danube. 12 From the second century, a scatter of historical fragments hint that a numberof warbands bearing the name were active along the Middle and UpperDanube during the Marcomannic Wars and their aftermath. None of these bands seem to have been particularly large, nor were they conspicuously suc-cessful. Over the century and a half that followed, the Vandals appear only fit-fully in the historical record and never for very long. It was only with theirinvolvement in the Radagaisus campaign of AD 405, and their later appear-ance on the Rhine frontier of the empire that the narrative history of the Van-dals may be written with any confidence. In the winter of AD 405 or 406, several warbands bearing the Vandalname crossed the Rhine into Gaul, and occupied the northern provinces of the region for two or three years. Despite causing some damage to the townsof the region, the Vandals did not represent a major military threat; wheneverthey were faced in pitched battle they seem to have been defeated, and a rep-utation for cowardice followed them even after they crossed the Pyrenees intoSpain in AD 409. Once established in Spain, defeats continued to plague theVandals and their allies: in 416 a federate Gothic army under King Wallia ut-terly crushed the so-called ‘Siling’ faction of the Vandals, and put their Alanallies to flight. Only good fortune and an unexpected military reverse pre-vented the remaining ‘Hasding’ Vandals from defeat at the hands of theRoman general Castalius in 422, but thereafter the group was allowed a periodof respite in the southern province of Baetica. In or around 429, the group ex-ploited a major political schism within the western Roman empire and crossedinto the rich lands of North Africa – perhaps at the invitation of one or otherof the warring generalissimos Bonifatius, Felix and Aetius. In short order, theyfound their fortunes dramatically changed. In 439, under their king Geiseric,the group occupied the African capital of Carthage, where they were to re-main for almost a century. overview of the Belisarius affair. Johann Georg Conradi’s opera Gensericus wasfirst performed in Hamburg in 1693 with a libretto by Christian Heinrich Postel.Both score and libretto have since been lost, but the work was revived sporadicallyduring the 1720s and 1730s and was the first opera to be reviewed in the influen-tial journal Critica Musica 1.3 (1722). On the opera see Alfred Loewenberg, Annalsof Opera 1597-1940 (London: Rowan and Littlefield, 1978).12.Courtois, Vandales (above, n. 8) remains the definitive treatment of the Vandals asa historical group. The narrative which follows broadly follows the account inMerrills and Miles, The Vandals (above, n. 9), including several revisions of Cour-tois’s interpretation.   Merrills 159 The Vandal occupation of North Africa is viewed by modern historiansas a paradoxical combination of violent excess and cultural sensitivity. As shall be discussed, the srcins of this contrast may be identified in the historiogra-phy of the late Enlightenment. Following the capture of Carthage, and the ap-propriation of the North African fleet, the Vandals dominated the shippinglanes of the western Mediterranean. For the most part, Geiseric was contentwith a strong-arm, sail-boat diplomacy, but in AD 455, responding to a com- bination of provocation and opportunity, he led the Vandals in an attack onRome. This was not the first time that the imperial city had been sacked, evenwithin living memory: the Visigothic attack of AD 410 still remained a sensi-tive subject for contemporary writers, and was certainly the more profoundideological blow. But the attack of 455 was followed by the kidnap of threeimperial princesses, and represented something of a turning point in Vandaldiplomacy. Over the generation that followed, the Arian rulers of Carthagewithstood two (or perhaps three) imperial campaigns against them, and grewincreasingly estranged from their Catholic subjects. These religious differencesculminated in a short but bloody period of religious persecution during thereign of Geiseric’s successor Huneric, which was recorded with macabre en-thusiasm in the extant Historia Persecutionis of the African priest Victor of Vita.Thereafter, however, things seem to have improved. Epigraphic and numis-matic evidence hints at an economic upturn under the later Vandal kings andthe possible institution of fiscal and monetary policies in the last years of thefifth century. The kings Thrasamund and Hilderic are known to have beenpatrons of the arts from the corpus of poetry known as the Latin Anthology which survives from the period. But this ‘renaissance’ proved short-lived. TheVandal kingdom in Carthage lasted only until the early sixth century. In 530,the pretender Gelimer seized the throne of Carthage, and prompted the east-ern Roman emperor Justinian into an ambitious programme of conquest. In534, the Byzantine general Belisarius reoccupied the city with little resistance.Thereafter, beyond some minor revolts in Byzantine Africa, the Vandalsdrifted out of history forever.In many ways, the Vandals were fairly typical of the players on the worldstage in the fifth and sixth centuries. More successful than some groups,markedly less so than others they experienced moments of extraordinary vi-olence, but also proved themselves to be patrons of the arts. As such, theywere appropriate enough as a point of comparison for violent behaviour, butthey would not have been a particularly obvious choice. Indeed Edward Gib- bon, writing less than two decades before Grégoire’s Rapports  , suggests thatit was the Goths –and not the Vandals –who were most frequently invokedas a shorthand for excessive violence:So memorable was the part which they acted in the subversion of the Western empire that the name GOTHS is frequently but im-properly used as an appellation of rude and warlike barbarism. 13 13.Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (London: W.Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776-1789), ed. David Wormersley, 3 vols (London – NewYork: Penguin Books , 1994), ch. 10.
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