When Augustine lay dying in Hippo, Augustine's concerns were not only on intellectual battles with heretics, but also for the physical safety of the local citizens because Hippo was then besieged by an army of Vandals.
The coast of Africa, between the great Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean, had the potential to be one of the most fruitful and wealthy areas of the Roman Empire. At its eastern end, there were the regional administrative and trading centres of Carthage, Hippo, and other towns, which also were key dioceses of the Christian Church. The commander of the imperial troops in Africa, Boniface, had for a while been an intimate friend of Augustine, and had been much under his influence.A rival of Boniface was named Aetius, and he persuaded the Roman Empress, Placidia, who governed in the name of her young son, Valentinian the Third, to recall Boniface from Africa. At the same time Aetius persuaded Boniface that he was being called to Rome to be dismissed. He coaxed Boniface not to obey the orders of the Empress. Boniface thus rebelled against the emperor. To support his rebellion with force of arms, he invited the Vandals from Spain to invade Africa. He thus allowed free entry into Africa to the forces that previously as a Roman general he had to keep out of Africa.
These Vandals were a savage nation, both by birth and disposition. They were a Germanic people from the area south of the Baltic Sea. Regarding religion, they were heretical Arian Christians, who hated Roman Catholic Christians. They had conquered part of Spain about twenty years previously. They probably gave their name to the Spanish province of Andalusia (originally, Vandalusia).
They now gladly accepted the unexpected invitation from Boniface. In the spring of the year 428 they moved in great numbers across the Straits of Gibraltar into Africa. Their intention was not to support Boniface, but to take advantage of the instability caused by the rebellion of Boniface in order to plunder any territory they could conquer. The Moors of North Africa joined with them, and the Donatists eagerly seized the opportunity of assisting the invaders against the Catholics. VIDEO: St Augustine Movie
In English, with Arabic subtitles. Published on 15 Mar 2016. (3 hours 15 minutes). Made in Italy, this video is a rather liberal interpretation of Augustine’s later life. For example a lead actress is introduced as his fictitious niece so as to be a love interest for a fictitious Roman soldier.
The country was laid waste, and the Catholic clergy were treated with especial cruelty, both by the Vandals and by the Donatists. A force of as many as 80,000 Vandal men attacked the fertile coastline of North Africa; they were savage and cruel, and imposed destruction and captivity wherever they went. Local inhabitants fled ahead of their arrival. They became refugees in other towns, in caves and in remote mountainous places. The Vandals even destroyed the fruit trees which might have afforded some food to the local people. The fury of the Vandals was especially exercised towards the memorials of religion. Genserik, the Vandal king, particularly sought out Christian churches, as he had heard they were adorned with treasures. The Vandals broke into the places of worship, cut to pieces all internal decorations, and then set fire to them; they tortured bishops and clergy with the hope of obtaining any information about valuables that had been hidden prior to their arrival.
When the Vandals had been plundering town after town, Augustine had taken an active role in attempting to protect his people. Although elderly, he travelled away from Hippo to meet and plead with Boniface to engage the invaders in battle. Boniface was shocked at the savage actions of the Vandals, and had discovered the deception by which Aetius had successfully tempted him to revolt.Boniface met the Vandal leader Genseric, and begged him to return to Spain. But Boniface found that he had unleashed forces that he could not control. The Vandals laughed at the pleas of Boniface.
Boniface verbally promised Augustine that he would resist Genserik, but he did nothing. The Vandals continued to advance without meeting any military resistance. Refugees poured into Hippo, and eventually Boniface also retreated to a defensive position inside the walls of city. When Genserik learned that Boniface had sought refuge in Hippo, he turned his sights there. It was the city where Augustine was the bishop. By the time of the final months of the life of Augustine in the middle of the year 430, only three cities had thus far escaped general destruction: Carthage, Hippo, and Cirtha. In this dire situation throughout most of coastal North Africa another bishop in North Africa asked Augustine if it was lawful or right for the clergy to flee at the approach of the barbarians.
Augustine replied that it was lawful for a bishop or priest to flee and leave his flock when he alone was the object of the attack; or, again, when the people had all fled, and the pastor had no one left; or, yet again, when the ministry might be better performed by others who had no need to flee. Under all other circumstances, he said, pastors were obliged to stay and watch over their flocks, committed to them by Christ. Augustine grieved deeply over the outward calamities of his people. He also grieved over the damage to the Christian religion, because the Vandals, if they professed any religion, were Arians (heretical Christians). The refugees who fled to Hippo from the Vandal attacks in other parts of North Africa brought much more than heightened responsibilities for Augustine. During the third month that Hippo was surrounded, in August of the year 430, Augustine developed a high fever, from which he never recovered. As Augustine lay dying, he had around him many of the African bishops as refugees, and among other friends, Possidius, whose account of the last hours of the life of Augustine still exists. The Vandals failed in this first attack on Hippo, which lasted for fourteen months. These months included the last year of the life of Augustine. The Vandals then renewed their attack shortly after his death, under more favourable circumstances. Augustine had instructed that the library which he had given to his church should be carefully preserved. Though Hippo was partly burned when later the city was invaded, the library of Augustine was preserved from destruction.
Possidius, a friend of Augustine, noted that the Vandal attack on Hippo was a anxious background for the final months of Augustine on this earth. He wrote: "The part of his life that Augustine endured almost at the very was thus the bitterest and saddest time of his old age. For Augustine the man of God saw cities destroyed, farm buildings ruined and their inhabitants either slaughtered by the enemy or put to flight and scattered. He saw churches stripped of their priests and ministers, and holy women and men vowed to continence scattered in all directions." (The Life of St. Augustine 28: 6 -7)
After further military advances, the Vandals in the year 435 made an agreement with Rome to limit their control to Numidia and Mauretania. But four years later Gaiseric broke the agreement. He conquered and pillaged Carthage and the rest of the Roman province of Africa. The desolation which, at that era, swept over the face of Africa, was completed by the subsequent invasion of the Saracens. Its five hundred Christian churches are no more. The entire area is now Muslim, except for a few Catholic churches from the European colonial era, which ended there fifty years ago.