Classics and Ancient History Seminar Series: 'Why aren't there Vandal women? Gender, ethnicity, and dynasty in Vandal North Africa (439-533 CE)' (Robin Whelan, University of Liverpool)

5:00pm - 6:30pm / Tuesday 2nd October 2018 / Venue: Walbank Lecture Theatre Abercromby SQ (south)
Type: Seminar / Category: Department / Series: Classics and Ancient History Seminar Series
  • Admission: Free
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This paper is about the intersection of gender, ethnicity, and power in the Vandal successor kingdom to Roman rule in fifth- and sixth-century CE North Africa. It explores a critical (and under-appreciated) insight from a recent book by Andy Merrills and Richard Miles: there are no references to Vandal women in surviving texts. For Merrills and Miles, this demonstrates that Vandal ethnicity was predominantly a form of elite militarised masculinity. In this paper, I will offer an alternative explanation for this striking lacuna. Comparative evidence suggests that the absent women explicitly identified as Vandals are in fact the women of the Hasding royal family. I will suggest that their obscurity is not simply a result of fragmentary evidence, but rather reflects their (relatively) reduced significance and limited opportunity for political agency at the Vandal court in Carthage, as a result of distinctive elements in the structuring of dynasty and government in post-Roman North Africa. This peculiar gendering of power marks Vandal Africa out as anomalous in the late ancient and early medieval Mediterranean.

Robin Whelan is Lecturer in Mediterranean History at the University of Liverpool. His first book, Being Christian in Vandal Africa, was published earlier this year by University of California Press.