The greatest achievement of Rome was not art or science or civilised values - it was propaganda.
In fact, we so completely bought into admiration for the Roman Empire and a contempt for the barbarians that 2000 years after Rome's collapse was still being peddled their version of the past at school.
Somehow - from beyond the grave - Rome managed to pull off the most audacious con-trick in history.
How did they do it?
Well the answer's tied up in the Sack of Rome and the end of the Roman Empire in Europe.
Rome wasn't finished yet; that would be the job of the barbarians whose name has gone down in history as a by-word for wanton destruction.
But Vandal didn't always this connotation.
Vandal or "Wandali" originally meant "wanderers"/
It was fear of the Huns that launched their great migration in midwinter 406.
Tens of thousands of them crossed the frozen Rhine into Gaul.
They were not a warlike people and once they were over the river a third of them would be slaughtered by the local inhabitants.
Their king was killed but his baby son survived.
Geiseric would spend his childhood as a refugee in this wandering band of desperate people.
As tens of thousands of them moved through Gaul looking for somewhere to settle, the sheer numbers provoked violence.
So much violence that it was said that the whole of Gaul became a funeral pyre.
They were attacked by Romans, then Visigoths, then Romans and Visigoths together.
Eventually the Vandals ended up in southern Spain, in Andalusia, which is possibly named after them.
By 428, Geiseric was the undisputed leader.
He seems to have been a formidable man.
For example, when a certain princess committed adultery, he had her ears and nose cut off.
I don't think I'd have liked him particularly.
I don't think the Romans did either.
The reason was nothing to do with his alleged savagery but with his religion.
You see Geiseric was a Christian.
But wait a minute, you said the Romans were Christians and that's true.
But Geiseric's problem was that he was the wrong sort of Christian.
In fact, his sort of Christianity was considered worse than paganism by Rome.
It was so evil that the Empire had expressed outlawed it as a criminal heresy.
The version of Christianity adopted by Geiseric and his people was not Catholicism, it was Arianism.
Now the Arians believed that since Jesus is the son of God he must somehow be subordinate to God the father whereas the Catholics said they were both equal in status.
Now this may seem like a very minor point of divergence but it became a bitter conflict.
Catholicism said that Jesus was identical with God - that rubbed off on the Emperor ... Jesus - Emperor ... Emperor - Jesus.
Just like that.
Both represented God on Earth.
Both - according to the Romans - were infallible.
Peter Heller explained - that in Roman hands - the new faith became more than a path to righteousness.
"The Roman state make this claim about itself that it is put in place here by the Divinity.
"The Emperor is God's right-hand man on earth.
"Now if you buy into the Emperor's version of Christianity then you should be subservient to him that's what that ideology tells you.
So for going for a Christian ideology but not the State-sponsored one you are making a clear statement that you are an alternative power-structure and that you are not completely subordinate to the Imperial Power."
Geiseric certainly did not want to be subordinate to Imperial Power.
After a lifetime of being hunted and persecuted he hated Rome and since Catholicism was now identified with the Empire he hated that too.
Even here in Spain, the Empire would not let him settle.
Spain didn't suit Guiseric one bit.
For starters his people were constantly being attacked and secondly he wasn't recognised by Rome.
He must have looked longingly across the straits to northern Africa.
Perhaps beyond the sea he and his people could find a part of the Roman Empire where they could settle.
Rome thought of the Mediterranean as its own property - they called it "Our Sea" (Mare Nostrum) and it was illegal even to teach a barbarian how to sail.
But Guiseric had a vision of himself as the new Moses, leading his people away from the Pharaoh in Rome.
He couldn't part the sea but he would embark on a huge project building hundreds of boats to transport an entire nation.
In the summer of 429 they crossed the Straits of Gibraltar to North Africa.
80,000 people packed on a flotilla of small boats.
Their crossing was so unexpected that it was virtually unopposed.
Which is odd because North Africa was the last place that Rome wanted to be over-run by barbarians.
Why? Because North Africa was fertile and it was very rich; the most Romanised province in the West outside Italy.
Rome had been unopposed in this part of the world for more than 500 years.
This is just one of the many magnificent cities that flourished here in Roman North Africa.
Then it was called Thugga now it is called Dougga.
It's terrible how things change down the years.
But in Guiseric's time this was all very "des-res".
These grand buildings were put up by Roman aristocrats; rich, ancient families that could trace their line back 600 years.
But now their cities and estates fell - one by one - to Guiseric the Vandal.
Who would have thought it?
As the Arian Vandals made their way across Catholic North Africa the Roman Catholic Church went into a frenzy.
One bishop said that they were worse than Jews and pagans - inspired by the devil - but for many North Africans it was the Catholic Church which was inspired by the devil.
They condemned it as corrupt and vicious and they set up a rival church.
The Roman Catholics had been persecuting anyone who disagreed with them for some years but Guiseric didn't go it for that sort of thing so his arrival in northern Africa was greeted by some relief by most of his non-fellow Catholic Christians there.
He didn't even seem to persecute the Catholics that much apart from exiling some of the most cantankerous and die-hard bishops.
But otherwise the Vandals seem to have gone out of their way to try and reach an accommodation with the Catholics.
As for destruction, they only destroyed buildings that were falling down anyway so that they could rebuild.
It was only "vandalism" in the sense that any urban renewal is vandalism and the worst examples of Guiseric's cruelty that the Catholics could find was that he banned their hymns.
One by one the towns of North Africa fell into Guiseric's hands.
Guiseric wasn't going to stop until he got the full set.
He set his sights on the Mayfair of the North African Monopoly board : Carthage.
The last time Carthage had been captured by an invader more than half a million people had been slaughtered in a six-day orgy of killing and the entire city had been razed to the ground.
But then - that had been the Romans.
They had eventually rebuilt it and had developed over the centuries into the jewel of the imperial crown.
Over the last 30 years a vast programme of excavations has made it clear just how an important a metropolis Carthage had become.
Henry Hurst is an archaeologist whose spent much of his career unearthing the Carthage the Vandals invaded.
"There was a huge city hall, the biggest one outside Rome, a very grand temple, a library and a whole set of civic buildings and this was built by the Romans to express their power over Africa."
"So this wasn't just wasn't a minor provincial town this was a fairly key place."
"Yes, it was the second largest city in the western part of the empire after Rome, Population probably about 100,000 which by our standards isn't very big - about the size of Cambridge for example - but Pompeii which was a decent-sized city was a tenth of the size of this place - this is ten times the size of that. Roman Carthage in the early 5th century was as its most beautiful. It was famous for its beauty, It was the cultural centre where for religion, for entertainment in the circus, in the theatre. It was the centre of power in Africa where the Governor of Africa was based and all the top officials in the city and it was where some of the richest guys in the Roman world lived. A lot of the writers of the time said that this was an African Rome."
Getting ahold of a wealthy city like Carthage would have been a triumph anyway but the Carthage excavations reveal exactly why the city was so important to the Roman Empire.
The port had become the lifeline of Rome itself.
"It was a very particular type of trade. This was, if you like, the command economy. This was the Emperor getting the food supply back to Rome which meant principally grain - wheat - and wheat was grown in the fertile lands near here and brought here probably in carts overland and in small ships along the coast and then there was a big operation here of checking it all out and getting it into the big ships which went across the sea to Rome.
The archaeologists found the port's accounts - 1600 years old.
Fortunately the Romans didn't use spreadsheets but kept their records on pieces of pottery.
"In fact that pottery is just like this. This is from an amphora - an oil jar - and you see it's about that thick and it's got this nice light wash on the outside and you can write on that with black ink."
"This is an old piece of pottery."
"That's a real genuine piece of pottery, yeah".
"It was just lying around here on the floor".
"Yes, there's tons of it".
The records show that the people of Rome were taking vast quantities of grain and oil out of North Africa and it all came through Carthage.
"It's quite plainly a pretty huge operation. We know that the Emperor - from very early on - from the time of Augustus - gave free food - free grain - to the entire male population of Rome and it's been calculated that he was distributing about 120,000 tons of this stuff."
"Was this out of the goodness of his heart?"
"No, it was to keep him emperor. They'd riot if he didn't do this and there was a very, very volatile, very, very concentrated population which could unmake the emperor - break the system."
"So Geiseric by taking ahold of Carthage was actually making a politial move against Rome".
"He had an absolute ace in his hand politically".
And so it was that in 439, Geiseric and his Vandal refugees driven from their homelands by the Hun invasion - harried and beaten across Europe - found themselves in a land of milk and honey with their hands around Rome's throat.
The barbarians had waited a long time for this but not being Romans they didn't intend to kill anyone at all.
There was plenty of "blood and guts" for sure, but it wasn't spilt by the Vandals.
You see Geiseric chose to enter the city during the Roman games.
Animals and humans were being slaughtered for entertainment as the Vandals walked into the city unopposed.
It was a stunning moment.
The Romans hadn't just lost a great city - during one afternoon's "Sport's Day" the Romans suddenly found they'd lost the Mediterranean.
Rome could not survive without control of Carthage.
You'd think they'd do anything to get it back and they did.
Over there about 100 miles away in Sicily they assembled a vast army and fleet to try and knock Geiseric off his perch but it never sailed.
Yet the real irony is that the Vandal hold on Carthage was preserved by the very people who had driven him out of Germany 40 years before.
Attila the Hun had started on his bloody career and the Romans were more terrified of Attila then they were concerned about winning back North Africa.
Lucky old Geisric.
Geisric had fulfilled his destiny.
He watched the Romans dismantle the invasion fleet and pull the troops back to defend Constantinople from the Huns.
He knew what that meant : Rome was at his mercy.
He had achieved what other barbarians could only dream of.
He had taken the wealthiest Roman province and made it into an independent Vandal kingdom.
Now he could dictate his own terms to Rome but he promised to continue to supply the grain that was its lifeline.
In return, his son, Huneric was engaged to the daughter of the Western Empress, Eudoxia.
Huneric went to live in the imperial court.
The Romans recognised Geiseric as the ruler of much of North Africa.
They had no doubt that Geiseric was right up there at the top table of world diplomacy.
Geiseric was, as Procopius said, the cleverest of all men.
And there was I thinking that Vandals just wrecked telephone boxes.
But the story that began with the two babies born at the same time has not yet run its course.
The destinies of Geiseric and Attila the Hun are still inexplicably intertwined for there is one last twist to the tale.
Just as Attila's first attack had unwittingly helped Geiseric attain North Africa now he blows apart Geiseric's careful diplomacy with Rome by dying.
Attila's death removes the Hun threat from the Roman Empire - big relief - the only snag was this allowed all the seething, political tensions within the imperial court to explode.
The regime that Geiseric had done his deal with was overthrown and the Empress was forcibly married to the usurper.
For the second time, a lady of the imperial household appealed to a barbarian to be her knight in shining armour and come to her rescue.
What could the poor chap do?
Well Geisric did the right thing - he set out from his North African kingdom with enough ships and men to rescue his son's betrothed and her mother and by-the-by to commit the act that will blacken the name of his people forever.
He will sack Rome.
Less than 3 years after his meeting with Attila, Pope Leo is forced to act again.
Pope Leo decided to try his barbarian-defying feat again and he rode out to confront the Vandal invaders but this time it didn't work out quite so gloriously.
Unlike Attila, Geiseric refused to go home although he did promise that there'd be no killing and no torturing but he didn't say anything about robbing.
For the next 3 weeks Geiseric plundered Rome to his heart's content.
With a surprisingly tiny amount of bloodshed Geiseric collected a huge amount of loot much of it treasures the Romans themselves had looted down the centuries including the fabled treasures from the Temple of Jerusalem.
Geiseric rescued his son and his future daughter-in-law along with her mother, Eudoxia, and then, according to the historian Procopius :
"placing an exceedingly amount of gold and other imperial treasure in his ships he sailed to Carthage having spared neither bronze nor anything whatsoever in the palace".
He even took a shipload of statues with him but that sank.
So it is true - he did knick an awful lot of stuff but he didn't wreck things and in fact apart from the temple roof he doesn't appear to have destroyed anything.
So much for the Sack of Rome.
Geiseric returned to Carthage where he created a kingdom famous for its fine buildings, sophistication even poetry.
Come again - Vandal poetry?
"Poetry is not something that I normally associate with Vandals."
"Not quite, no.".
Judith George is an expert on the world that Geiseric created in North Africa.
"They went in for pantomime, theatre and they had these lovely villas; they enjoyed hunting. There are all those mosaics which show them doing these things."
And Judith told me that it is from their poets that we know about their achievements.
"Luxorius is one of the main writers. He lived toward the end of the main Vandal period. He compliments the king on buidling this new marvellous building - a palace that's been built in the wild - and they very cunningly used the local hot springs to provide running hot water for the palace so there's a little poem celebrating this. And this chap Southian said that the Vandals were a very good thing because they're straightforward, they're moral and upright characters. They're not like all these other Christians who were very corrupt and loose-living."
"Imagine living in this absolutely fantastic spot here; living it up with all this sophisticated court life".
"There's no record of great destruction until 100 years after the Vandals go".
Geiseric outlived the Western Empire.
He ruled in Africa for 50 years and when he died - at about 80 years old - the Roman Empire vanished from Europe.
The fatal blow wasn't Geiseric's sack of Rome although he was undeniably responsible.
Geiseric controlled North Africa and without the taxes that Rome had relied on for so long the Empire crumbled away.
All the old barbarian lands became new barbarian kingdoms and the last Western Emperor was quietly deposed.
Imperial roads were sent to Constantinople with a note saying they weren't needed.
Geisric's kingdom would last for over 100 years and yet it's not the Vandal's version of history that I was taught but Rome's : the Vandals were still destructive, Attila was still the scourge of God; Vandals were the people that wrecked Rome and plunged civilisation into the Dark Ages. How come?
The Roman's had already falsified the picture of the world they lived in and now the Catholic Church controlled our understanding of the past.
By the preservation of some documents; the destruction of others and even the invention of a few new ones.
So the Vandals became destroyers and Attila was designated the scourge of God.
That was the final stage in the story of how we lost our history and how Europe's ancestors were transformed into monsters fit for children's stories.
That was how barbarians were made.
see also "Vandal Poets in Their Context"
by Judith W. George
(from "Vandals, Romans and Berbers: New Perspectives On Late Antique North Africa")
An in-depth exploration of the suppressed history of the Vandals whose reputation for "vandalism" is entirely unjustified by the evidence and represents an ongoing sectarian conflict between the Catholic Trinitarians and the Arian forms of Christianity which were non-Trinitarian.
While Arianism continued to dominate for several decades even within the family of the Emperor, the Imperial nobility, and higher-ranking clergy, in the end it was Trinitarianism which prevailed in the Roman Empire at the end of the 4th century. Arianism, which had been taught by the Arian missionary Ulfilas to the Germanic tribes, was dominant for some centuries among several Germanic tribes in western Europe, especially Goths and Lombards (and significantly for the late Empire, the Vandals), but ceased to be the mainstream belief by the 8th century.
Trinitarianism remained the dominant doctrine in all major branches of the Eastern and Western Church and later within Protestantism.
A letter from Arius to the Arian Eusebius of Nicomedia succinctly states the core beliefs of the Arians:
"We are persecuted,
because we say that the Son has a beginning,
but that God is without beginning."