North Africa was one of the heartlands of the Roman Empire. It produced most of the grain that fed Rome, the olive oil that burned in lamps from Sicily to Spain, the pottery that sat on every dinner table from Britain to Greece, and the tax revenue that kept the Roman government flush.
When the Vandals, a group of barbarians who had burned and looted their way from the Rhine to Iberia, took North Africa by force, it was the final nail in the coffin of the western half of the Roman Empire.
The Western Empire could get by without Britain, which cost more to defend than it had ever generated in revenue, and it could even get by without parts of modern-day France. It couldn’t do without African grain to feed the populace of Rome or African taxes to pay the army.
Sure, they tottered along for a few more decades, but when the Vandals set themselves up to live off the fat of Africa, that was more or less the end.
I’m Patrick Wyman, and I just finished my PhD on the end of the Roman Empire. It seems pretty silly to me that professional historians don’t actually talk to the general public—why would you spend decades working on something if you don’t want to tell people about it?—so that’s why I’m doing this podcast on the fall of Rome.
In this episode, we look at the intertwined stories of North Africa in the later Roman Empire and the barbarian Vandals, a group of predatory raiders who terrorized the Mediterranean from Spain to Egypt. We’ll follow the lives of two hypothetical people to help ground our story—a Vandal warrior who participated in the conquest of Africa and what came after, and a sailor who worked the shipping routes that bound Africa commercially to the rest of the Mediterranean world.
If that sounds interesting, give the eighth episode of The Fall of Rome a listen.