Battle of Cap Bon (468)
|Battle of Cap Bon (468)|
|Part of the Germanic Wars|
|Vandal Kingdom||Western Roman Empire
Eastern Roman Empire
|Commanders and leaders|
1,113 ships (Cedrenus)
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Cap Bon was an engagement during a joint military expedition of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires led by Basiliscus against the Vandal capital of Carthage in 468. The invasion of the kingdom of the Vandals was one of the greatest military undertakings recorded in the annals of history, a combined amphibious operation with over ten thousand ships and one hundred thousand soldiers. The purpose of the operation was to punish the Vandal king Gaiseric for the sacking of Rome in 455, in which the former capital of the Western Roman Empire had been overwhelmed, and the Empress Licinia Eudoxia (widow of Emperor Valentinian III) and her daughters had been taken as hostages.
The plan was concerted between Eastern Emperor Leo, Western Emperor Anthemius, and General Marcellinus, who enjoyed independence in Illyricum. Basiliscus was ordered to sail directly to Carthage, while Marcellinus attacked and took Sardinia, and a third army, commanded by Heraclius of Edessa, landed on the Libyan coast east of Carthage, making rapid progress. It appears that the combined forces met in Sicily, whence the three fleets moved at different periods.
Procopius records that Basiliscus, brother-in-law to Emperor Leo, had been selected as general by the emperor in hope he would balance the growing influence of the Alan Magister militum Aspar who sought to control Leo; however, Basiliscus sought the friendship of Aspar to further his own designs on the throne, and Aspar "repeatedly urged upon Basiliscus that he should spare the Vandals and Genseric".
Ancient and modern historians provided different estimates for the number of ships and troops commanded by Basiliscus, as well as for the expenses of the expedition, although both were enormous sums. According to the text of Priscus, 100,000 ships were assembled, although modern scholars have emended this to 1100, which is closer to Cedrenus's figure of 1113 vessels. The figures for the money spent this expedition ranges from the 1300 centaria of gold reported by Priscus and Procopius (130,000 Roman pounds), to the 64,000 pounds of gold and 700,000 pounds of silver by John Lydus and to 65,000 of gold and 700,000 of silver by Candidus.
Sardinia and Libya were already conquered by Marcellinus and Heraclius, when Basiliscus cast anchor off the Promontorium Mercurii, now Cap Bon, opposite Sicily, about forty miles from Carthage. Geiseric requested Basiliscus to allow him five days to draw up the conditions of a peace. During the negotiations, Geiseric gathered his ships and suddenly attacked the Roman fleet. The Vandals had filled many vessels with combustible materials. During the night, these fire ships were propelled against the unguarded and unsuspecting Roman fleet. The Byzantine commanders tried to rescue some ships from destruction, but these manoeuvres were blocked by the attack of other Vandal vessels. Basiliscus fled in the heat of the battle.
One act of heroism stands forth from this naval defeat. Despite the situation, Basiliscus' lieutenant, Joannes, bravely fought the Vandal onslaught; Procopius describes him as "standing on the deck "and turning from side to side kept killing very great numbers of the enemy". Upon seeing that his ship was about to be captured, he refused to surrender to Genso, the son of Gaiseric, instead leaped overboard in heavy armor and drowned himself. His last words were that he "would never come under the hands of dogs".
One half of the Roman fleet was burned, sunk, or captured, and the other half followed the fugitive Basiliscus. The whole expedition had failed. Heraclius effected his retreat through the desert into Tripolitania, holding the position for two years until recalled; Marcellinus retired to Sicily, where he was reached by Basiliscus; the general was, however, assassinated, perhaps at the instigation of Ricimer, by one of his own captains; and the king of the Vandals expressed his surprise and satisfaction, that the Romans themselves would remove from the world his most formidable antagonists.
After returning to Constantinople, Basiliscus hid in the church of Hagia Sophia to escape the wrath of the people and the revenge of the Emperor. By the mediation of Verina, Basiliscus obtained the Imperial pardon, and was punished merely with banishment to Heraclea Sintica, in Thrace.
- Smith, William (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Boston: C. Little and J. Brown. pp. 466. Archived from the original on 22 August 2006. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
- Procopius, De Bello III.6.4; translated by H.B. Dewing, Procopius (Cambridge: Loeb Classical Library, 1979), vol. 2 pp. 55f.
- Priscus, fragment 42; translated by Colin D. Gordon, The Age of Attila: Fifth Century Byzantium and the Barbarians (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1966), p. 120f. See Gordon's note 11 on the emendation.
- Procopius, De Bello III.6.2; translated by Dewing, Procopius, vol. 2 p. 55. Candidus, fragment 2; translated by Gordon, p. 121
- Procopius suggests that Geiseric supported his request for a truce with a bribe. (De Bello III.6.12-16; translated by Dewing, Procopius, vol. 2 p. 59f)
- Procopius, De Bello III.6.22-24; translated by Dewing, Procopius, vol. 2 p. 63
- J.B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire (Macmillan, 1923), vol. 1 pp. 336f