Yves Modéran: Les vandales et l'Empire romain. édité par Michel-Yves Perrin (= Civilisations et Cultures), Arles: Editions Errance 2014, 302 S., einige s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-2-87772-435-7, EUR 35,00
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Very sadly, Yves Modéran unexpectedly died in 2010. Professor at the Universitè de Caen, he was indisputably a major representative and heir of the very fruitful French school on ancient northern Africa history as well as was his maestro and also recently deceased Claude Lepelley. His work on ancient Mauri was astounding as his brilliant monograph "Les Maures et l'Afrique romaine, IVe-VIIe siècles" (2003) showed and as well the many papers and contributions he made on this subject and many others concerning Late Antique Africa. Obviously Vandal history wasn't out of his reach and he worked extensively on precisely the relationship between the barbarian newcomers and the Mauri but also Vandal religious policy, their settlement and other topics. In fact, before his premature death, Modéran was working on an ambitious book on Vandals but unfortunately he couldn't finish it. However, his wife and daughter handed the manuscript to an old friend of him, Michel-Yves Perrin, the Sorbone's Directeur d'études à l'Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes - Section des Sciences Religieuses. This manuscript is the origin of "Les vandales et l'Empire Romain".
Although Modéran's book was incomplete, Perrin saw that the first chapters were coherent enough to be published and after editing the document with minor revisions Éditions Errance published it some months ago. The book's scope reflects Vandal history till the death of Gaiseric and is focused mainly on this people's political and organizational deeds. It's divided into three main parts and these subdivided in several chapters. The first part deals with Vandal history previous to the access to the Empire in 406 and the time spent by Vandals in Gaul and Hispania; the second one is ampler and reviews the pass to Africa, the clashes with the Empire that implied the federation treaty of 435 and the later one as an independent state in 442, and the Vandal settlement. Finally, the third part is unhappily incomplete and is about Vandal piracy and the military conflict with both halves of the Roman Empire until its definitive conclusion some months before Gaiseric's death. Next there is an annex concerning the Vandalic rostra. As Perrin stated in his heartfelt introduction Yves Modéran had in mind to work on other aspects of Vandal history as the relationship with the analogous barbarian kingdoms, the organisation of the Vandal state, the civilisation of the Vandal kingdom, the religious controversy, the liaison between Vandals and Mauri and the end of the Vandal kingdom. Unfortunately these chapters were hardly sketched out.
In general terms, the book is well defined and it seems as it was prepared for publishing by Modéran himself but in a few occasions the reader can think it lacks a finishing touch although the scientific level is very high as always was Modéran's work. In fact, in these times when several scholars published several monographs concerning Vandals after Modéran's passing as e.g. Andrew Merrills and Richard Miles' The Vandals (2010), Jonathan Conant's Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700 (2012), Ralph Bockmann's Capital continuous. A study of Vandal Carthage and Central North Africa from an archaeological perspective (2013), and so many papers appeared meanwhile, Modéran's book stands on its own. It's definitively a good piece of work and it reflects the particular features of Yves Modéran way of research. The meticulous use of ancient sources, and as well archaeological data, shines through its pages and it's always guided by an extraordinary common sense that doesn't reflect any kind of positivist approach but that looks for honest solutions for historical problems instead of creating or justifying complicated or artificial theories that doesn't last when the evidence is analyzed. In spite of this, sometimes Modéran pays attention excessively on some difficult or suspect sources because of their deep partiality as Victor of Vita or the very Procopius of Caesarea.
Concerning the first part, the analysis on Vandal ethnogenesis prior to the crossing of the Imperial frontiers in 406 is luminous and accurate as he offered a simple but multifaceted review of the research relating to this topic and resulting in an elegant exposition. Likewise, his interpretation of the causes and development of the migration is convincing and he offers a compelling response to the implausible theory of the Vandals, Sueves and Alans as mere war bands. These crowds were migrating groups as sources imply time and time again (56-57 and 59-61). Maybe the chapter regarding the passage of the Vandals through Gaul and their temporary settlement in Hispania isn't the brightest one but it's worthy to stress Modéran's preference for connecting both episodes with Western Roman Empire's political context.
The second part as referred above copes with the Vandal crossing from Hispania to Africa, the conflict with the Roman Empire and their settlement till the year 455. It's the longest part of the book and certainly is where Modéran felt the most comfortable. The description made of the Vandals' crossing to Africa is a good piece as well as his fantastic analysis on the evolution of the Diocese's Roman army given that he reconstructed its historical development to explain its ineffectiveness against the Vandal eastern advance. However, he isn't as convincing when he supports the alleged Bonifatius' role on the Vandal arrival and less regarding the fall of Carthage. He is right about the violence displayed by Vandals but his use on Salvian although intelligent isn't persuasive, and the reading about archaeological damage at Carthage is excessive and he didn't take into account, for example, Lilian Ennablí's examination. On the other hand, he is brilliant describing the evolution of the Vandal State after the treaties of 435 and 442 and especially concerning its frontiers. Also his portrayal of the Vandal settlement, a topic he worked formerly in a paper in Antiquitè Tardive ("L'établissement territorial des vandales en Afrique", 2002), is extraordinary. After examining Walter Goffart and Jean Durliat's theories about tax revenues on barbarians and in particular Vandals, Modéran scrutinizes literary and archaeological evidence to demonstrate persuasively that definitively Vandals received lots of land to settle, that is, sortes Vandalorum. In fact, his subchapter regarding "le pays Vandale" is an inspired one.
Regrettably, the third part titled "La puissance vandale" is unfinished. However, its description on Vandal piracy, although not deep-minded because of Yves Modéran's unfortunate passing, can be considered a very good introduction to the bitter military conflict between the Western and the Eastern Roman Empires and the Vandal Kingdom where the African state used extensively piracy as a way of defeating both empires.
In brief, as stated above, in spite of the circumstances this monograph is a highly recommendable research on Vandals and can be considered a work of reference in Vandal historiography.
Finally, the author of this review just wanted to homage a French savant who passed away prematurely but left a fantastic historiographical heritage. I just saw him twice. The first one at a conference in Madrid (2005) and the second one when I was invited by the late Claude Lepelley to a thesis committee in Paris-X-Nanterre (2006) where Yves Modéran was a member of the examining board. As a shy and young scholar I didn't dare to talk to him in both occasions but I admired his work profoundly. He'll never be forgotten.
David Álvarez Jiménez