History of Spain

Brief History of Spain

Prehistory to the Reconquista

As with most countries, the history of Spain is marked by invading forces. In prehistory, Spain was inhabited by a group of peoples known as the Iberians. Later, Phoenicians, Celts, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors settled in Spain and had varying degrees of control over Spain.

Phoenician traders founded ‘Gades’ (Cádiz in modern day Andalusia) around 1,100 B.C. Celtic tribes began to enter the Iberian Peninsula (and so enter the history of Spain) from the northeast (via the Pyrenees) around the 9th Century B.C and settled, becoming in time the Celt-Iberian people. It should be noted that the prehistoric Iberians may have included the Basque people: the only pre-Celtic people living in Spain (Basque Country) today as a distinct ethnic group.

The Greeks arrived in Spain around the 8th Century B.C. and founded trading settlements such as Emporion (Ampurias in modern day Catalonia): Emporion in Greek means "market place". Carthaginians entered Spain in the 6th Century B.C., to establish a stronghold in the Western Mediterranean in their fight for its possession with Greece. One of their legacies was a colony known today with its derived name as Cartagena (in Murcia).

Roman Rule

The Roman occupation of Spain began in the 2nd Century B.C. making it a part of the Roman Empire. Spain supplied the Rome with food, olive oil, wine and metal. The Rome supplied Spain with Latin, religious beliefs and laws which have played a significant part in shaping the Spain of today. The Visigoth ruler Ataulf took control of Spain on behalf of the Roman Empire around 412 A.D. Later he ruled Spain independently.

Muslim Rule

In 711 A.D. the Moors landed on Spanish soil from North Africa and within a few years took control of Spain: with the exception of the regions known today as Asturias, Navarre and Aragon (which later became Kingdoms in their own right). Córdoba (located in Andalusia) was founded as the capital city of a country that went on to experience a period of muslim rule lasting some 800 years.

Throughout the period of Muslim Spain there was relative peace where Jews, Christians and Muslims co-existed in close proximity. However, Muslim rule was eroded by the expansion of the Christian kingdoms (principally Aragon and Castile, the most important regions between the 12th and 15th centuries).

History of Medieval Spain

The Reconquista

The expansion of the Christian kingdoms leading to the reclaiming of Spain is known as the Reconquista, which culminated in 1492 when Ferdinand II and Isabella I (the monarchs of Aragon and Castile) took the last Moorish stronghold in Spain: Granada (Andalusia), expelling Muslims from Spain in the process. Granada still has one of the finest examples of Moorish architecture in Spain: the Alhambra.

The Christian monarchy of Ferdinand and Isabel established Roman Catholiscism as the official religion of the state. The new state religion was not as tolerant as its predecessor and alternative beliefs were quashed. Jews (in 1492) and Muslims (in 1502) were given a choice between coversion to catholicism or expulsion from Spain.

1492 was a key year in Spanish history as it was also the year that Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colom) began his journey to discover the Americas: this is known as el Descubrimiento (the discovery) and was funded by Ferdinand and Isabel.

By the year 1512 most of the regions of Spain had become politically unified. The Spanish Empire was built and Spain acquired enormous wealth through such acts as Cortés’ conquest of Mexico (Méjico) by 1521 and Pizarro’s conquest of Peru (Perú) by 1533.

Portugal and and the Kingdoms of Spain were united to create a single Spanish state in 1580 when Felipe II took the Portuguese throne. Spain’s territories covered South America, Central America, Asia-Pacific, southern Italy, Germany, the Low Countries and of course the Iberian Peninsula.