Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Hunneric, king of the VAndals
Hunneric (Ugnericus, Hunerix, Honorichus), eldest son and successor (Jan. 24, 477) of Genseric, king of the Vandals. Sent to Rome in his youth as a hostage for the observance of the treaty his father had made with Valentinian III., he married (462), after the sack of Rome, the captive Eudocia, eldest of the daughters of that emperor. Soon after he ascended the throne he ordered diligent search to be made for Manicheans, of whom he burnt many and exiled more across the sea, being commended for this by Victor. His subjects were oppressed with taxes and exactions, but he relaxed the strictness of his father's laws against the orthodox, and, at the intercession of his sister-in-law Placidia, the widow of the emperor Olybrius, and the emperor Zeno, allowed (a.d. 481) a bp. of Carthage (Eugenius) to be elected, the see having been vacant since the death of Deogratias in 457. He made this concession upon condition that a similar liberty should be allowed the Arian bishops and laity in Zeno's dominions, or else the newly elected bishops and all other orthodox bishops with their clergy would be banished to the Moors.
To secure the succession to his son, Hunneric sent his brother Theodoric into exile and put to death his wife and children. The Arian patriarch of Carthage, who was supposed to favour Theodoric, was burnt alive, and many of his clergy shared his fate or were thrown to wild beasts; nor did Hunneric spare the friends his father had commended to him on his death-bed if suspected of being inclined to support his brother. Hunneric now took measures against the orthodox. The influence of Eugenius on the Vandals was especially dreaded by the Arian clergy, at whose suggestion the king forbade him to preach in public or to allow persons in Vandal dress to enter Catholic churches. The bishop replied that the house of God was open to all. A great number of Catholics, being the king's servants, wore the Vandal dress. Men were therefore posted at the church doors with long rakes, with which any person entering in Vandal dress was seized by the hair as so to tear off hair and scalp together. Many died in consequence. Hunneric next deprived Catholics who held posts at the court or belonged to the army of their offices and pay; many of the former were forced to work in the fields near Utica and the latter were deprived of their property and exiled to Sicily or Sardinia. A law confiscating the property of deceased bishops and imposing a fine of 500 solidi on each new bishop was contemplated, but abandoned for fear of retaliatory measures against the Arians in the Eastern empire. Virgins were hung up naked with heavy weights attached to their feet, and their breasts and backs burnt with red-hot irons to extort, if possible, a confession of immorality, which might be used against the bishops and clergy. Many expired under the torture and the survivors were maimed for life. A body of Catholic bishops, priests, deacons, and laity, numbering 4,976, was sent into banishment among the savage Moors of the desert. Victor gives a touching description of their sufferings during their marches by day and in crowded dens at night.
These cruelties were only the prelude of a more extensive and systematic persecution. Hunneric, on Ascension Day, 483, published an edict to Eugenius, and the other Catholic or, as he termed them, Homoousian bishops, ordering them to assemble at Carthage on Feb. 1, to meet the Arian bishops in conference and decide the points in controversy between them, promising them a safe-conduct. Even before the conference, however, the persecution began. Victor tells of various bishops cruelly beaten and sent into exile, while on Sept. 20, Laetus, bp. of Nepta, was burnt to terrify the rest of the Catholic party. When the meeting assembled, the Catholics were indignant to find Cyrila, the Arian patriarch, in the presidential chair. After mutual recriminations the orthodox presented a statement of their belief and their arguments for it. The Arians received it with indignation, as in it the orthodox claimed the name of Catholics, and falsely suggested to the king that the disturbance was the fault of their opponents. Hunneric seized this pretext for publishing, on Feb. 25, an edict he had already prepared and distributed to the magistrates throughout his dominions, ordering all churches of the orthodox party to be handed over with their endowments to the Arians, and further, after reciting the penalties imposed on the Donatists in 412 and 414 by edicts of Honorius (Codex Theodosianus, XVI. v. 52, 54), enacting that the Catholics should be subject to the same penalties and disabilities. Pardon was promised to those who should renounce Catholicism before June 1. Persecution, however, began before the three months' grace had expired. The first to suffer were the bishops assembled at Carthage. They were expelled from the town with nothing but the clothes they had on, and were obliged to beg their bread. The inhabitants were forbidden to give them shelter or food under pain of being burnt alive with their whole families. While outside the walls in this miserable state, they were summoned to meet at the Temple of Memory persons sent by the king, and were required to take an oath to support the succession of Hilderic, the king's son, and to hold no correspondence with countries beyond the sea. On these conditions the king promised to restore them their churches. Some took the oath, but others refused, excusing themselves by the precept "Swear not at all." They were then told to separate, the names and sees of the bishops of each party were taken down, and they were all sent to prison. A few days afterwards those who had taken the oath were told that, as they had infringed the precept of the Gospel, the king banished them to the country, assigning them land to cultivate, on condition that they should not chant, pray, baptize, ordain, or receive any into the church. To those who had refused was said, "You refused to swear because you did not wish our master's son to succeed him. Therefore you are exiled to Corsica, where you shall cut timber for our master's navy." Of the 466 attending the council, 88 fell away to Arianism; of the others one was a martyr, one a confessor, 46 were banished to Corsica, and the rest to the country parts of Africa.
Meanwhile throughout Africa a most cruel persecution raged, neither age nor sex being a protection; some were cruelly beaten, others hung, and some burnt alive. Noble ladies were stripped naked and tortured in the public streets. Victorian, a former proconsul of Carthage, was the most illustrious victim of the persecution. Victor's fifth book is full of accounts of the constancy and suffering, of the Catholics. Eugenius was entrusted to the custody of the cruel Antonius, the Arian bp. of a city in Tripoli, where his hardships brought on a stroke of paralysis. Bp. Habetdeus was bound and gagged by Antonius and forced to undergo the rite of a second baptism, which was imposed also by force or fraud upon many of the orthodox. The Vandals, who had renounced Arianism, were treated with peculiar cruelty. Some had their eyes put out, others their hands, feet, noses, or ears cut off. Hunneric, to insult Uranius, and Zeno who had sent him to intercede for the Catholics, ordered some of the cruellest scenes of torture to be enacted in the streets through which he had to pass on his way to the palace.
The most celebrated event of the persecution occurred at Typasa, a seaport town of Mauritania. A former notary of Cyrila's having been consecrated as the Arian bishop of that town, the greater part of the citizens took ship to Spain. A few, not finding room on board, remained, whom the Arian bishop on his arrival endeavoured, first by persuasion and then by threats, to induce to become Arians. They refused, and having assembled in a house, began publicly to celebrate the divine mysteries. The bishop thereupon dispatched secretly to Carthage an accusation against them to the king, who sent an officer with orders to have their tongues cut out and their right hands cut off before the assembled province in the forum. This was done, but they continued to speak as plainly as before. This is attested by Victor, who was probably an eye-witness; by the eye-witnesses Aeneas of Gaza, the Platonic philosopher (Theophrastus, in Migne, Patr. Gk. lxxxv. 1000), Justinian (Cod. i. 27), and Marcellinus (Chron. in Migne, Patr. Lat. li. 933) all of whom had seen some of these persons at Constantinople; by Procopius (de Bello Vandalico, i. 8); Victor Tununensis (Chron. in Migne, Patr. Lat. lxviii. 946); and pope Gregory the Great (Dial. iii. 32 in Migne, Patr. Lat. lxxvii. 293), and has generally been considered not only a miracle, but the most remarkable one on record after apostolic times. The variety of the witnesses and the consistency of their testimony on all material points give it claims to belief, such as few apparently preternatural events possess. Dr. Middleton was the first to suggest (Free Inquiry, 313–316) that, assuming the account true, it by no means follows that the event was miraculous, a position he maintains by instances of a person born without a tongue, and of another who had lost it by disease, who were able to speak. Mr. Twistleton (The Tongue not Essential to Speech) has shewn this explanation probable. He gives numerous cases of similarly mutilated persons in Eastern countries, and of persons in England whose tongues had been removed by surgical operations, who could still pronounce distinctly all letters except d and t; one of the latter he had actually seen and conversed with. He sums up by saying "The final result seems to be that questions connected with the phenomenon of speech in the African confessors are purely within the domain of natural science, and that there is no reason for asserting or suspecting any miraculous
intervention in the matter." The persecution continued to rage till Hunneric died, on the following Dec. 11. Like the persecutor Galerius his body mortified, and bred worms.
Sources.—Victor Vitensis, de Persecutione Vandalica, ii. iv. and v. in Migne, Patr. Lat. lviii., with Ruinart's Appendix; Procopius de Bello Vandalico, i. 8; Appendix to Prosper's Chron. in Migne, Patr. Lat. li. 605; Chron. of Victor Tununensis in ib. lxviii. Gibbon (c. xxxvii.) gives a good narrative of the persecution, and Ceillier (Auteurs sacrés, x. 452–462) may also be consulted.