In 455 CE, King Genseric of the Vandals (a demonym most likely coming from a PIE word for "wind"), upset at the cancellation of a betrothal, led an army toward Rome, knocking down aqueducts along the way. By the time he got there, a mob had already overthrown the Roman emperor, and the Pope at the time convinced him to not destroy the city nor murder its inhabitants. All in all, the famed Sack of Rome wasn't nearly as bad as it could've been: they only stayed for a fortnight, and didn't do anything violently, although they did carry off some slaves and treasure and destroyed some monuments. Other sacks in history were far worse, but this one was amplified by Enlightenment poets who idealized Rome and portrayed the Vandals as the most egregious example of barbaric brutes and defacers of art. This idea was propagated throughout Europe, and by the 1660s, vandalism made its debut as a word in the English language, inextricably associating the Germanic tribe with destruction of property for the rest of time.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.