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Spain is situated at the western most portion of the European continent. So it is not surprising that from early in its history, as successive waves of peoples that migrated throughout Europe, many would end up in the Iberian Peninsula. Its geography also forms a strategic gateway between the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean and between Europe and Africa, that would point to its importance in world history.

In the Middle Ages, Spain fragmented into several smaller kingdoms under the pressure of Germanic invaders known as the Goths, who in turn succumbed to Muslim invaders from the south and who would create a new civilisation of cultural and technological brilliance. The descendents of their Goth foes, however, would prosper and create the first modern nation-state in the Iberian Peninsula — the Empire of Spain &mdashl; which would then expand into the world's first true global superpower. Economic pressures, political unrest and social problems however soon caused this empire to fall apart by the 20th century. Spain, however, managed to recover by the 1970s and is today a key participant and regional power in European politics.

Dawn of the Iberians (ca 3000—700BCE)Edit

The Iberian Peninsula, by which the region that Spain is known geographically got its name from the first peoples that arrived in the region around 3000BCE These people were a Libyan tribe from North Africa known to the Greeks, as Iberians. By around 1900BCE the Iberians established a system of city-states which were ruled by despotic warrior or priestly castes. The Iberian society was developing into a sophisticated society based the trade of metals and minerals that was abundant in the region.

As the western most landmass in Europe, however, it is no surprise however that more would arrive and settle in the area. From around 1200BCE the Celts, in several waves came into the region as they migrated across the swath of Europe, and spread into the Peninsula and so by the onset of the Punic Wars, the Iberian peoples were split into three different groups — the north of Iberia, between the Douro (or Durius) and the Cantabrian coast were vastly Celtic like many other tribes to the north-east beyond the Pyrenees, while the centre was occupied by peoples whose culture was a fusion of both Celtic and Iberian customs, hence "Celt-Iberians" in differing degrees of "Celticisation". The coastal areas of the east and south, however, were more cosmopolitan due to their being exposed to foreign cultural influence through commerce and conquest.

This fine vase, excavated from Liria in eastern Spain belies the sophistication and cultural richness of native pre-Roman cultures in the Iberian Peninsula.

Not much is known about authentic "Iberian" culture although we have managed to glean various hints — but only such. Inscriptions found in central Portugal — the known range of the Lusitanians, one of the indigenous tribes in what is today Central Portugal — have been discovered and were found to have had similarities to the languages of pre-Roman Italy. If so, this suggests some sort of link to the ancient Italic peoples, such as the Bronze Age Nuraghic culture in the Tyrrhenian Sea region west of Italy.

Contacts with outsiders (circa 700–250BCE)Edit

Around the same time, Phoenician merchants attracted by the wealth of resources in the region began to establish their own settlements along the coast in order to trade with the Celtiberians, whose lands were rich with precious metals including iron, copper and gold. Their most important trading post was Gadir (Cadiz as it is now known), which is the oldest city in Western Europe even predating their more famous City of Carthage.

In fact, the Phoenicians established their maritime empire and colonies to support their sea routes to and from their trading posts in Spain with their capital at Tyre (in present-day Lebanon) in the eastern Mediterranean. With the loss of Tyre in 680BCE, however, Tyre's role as the centre of Phoenician trade was taken up by the city-state of Carthage in north Africa, setting the stage for one of the greatest rivalries in history.

Greek merchants began to arrive in the Iberian coast as early as the 8th century BCE, setting up their own trading posts and founding several towns, including Emporio (Ampurias) and Rhodaes (Rosas) and Saguntum (Sagunto). The geographic gateway to the Atlantic was known as the Pillars of Hercules, and owes its namesake to the legends in Greek Mythology that sprung from the wealth to be had in the region. Both of these two great cultures had come from the Eastern Mediterranean, all the way to the westernmost part of Europe, attesting Spain's imortance not only as a strategic area but also as a valuable resource in its own right.

Romans Ascendant (250BCE–484CE)Edit

The conflict between the Phoenicians and the Greeks over the Spanish trading posts were always a point of contention between the two civilisations. But by the around 3rd century BCE, Greek influence was in decline, with the Romans as the rising power in the northern Mediterranean. The Romans naturally took on the role of protectorate to the Greek colonies in Spain and soon discovered that they could exploit the Iberian peninsula's rich mineral resources to make good the losses suffered from the wars with Carthage. However, Roman eagerness to extract as much gold and silver boullion often resulted in exploitation of the local population, which was to soon have sadly predictable results.

The methods employed by the Romans in gaining control of the Iberian peninsula — now known to them as Hispania (shorted to "Spain" in Anglophonic circles today) varied according to the circumstances, the most favoured approach being diplomacy. Some tribes, however, would not yield so easily. and would launch bloody assaults against Roman rule throughout an arc stretching from the head of the Duero valley to the present Portuguese-Spanish border and southward to the head of the Guadiana River, embroiling the Romans in an epic  struggle for Iberia with three different tribal confederations — the Lusitanians under the leadership of Viriathus in the west of that land which nowadays is called Portugal; the Numantines in the middle and the Astures to the north.

The name of Viriathus itself is steeped with legend, for Viriathus proved to be a cunning warrior dedicated to freeing his people of Rome and could never be defeated by the Romans in combat. For 10 years or so (from 147BCE–138BCE) the Lusitanians in the west put up a spirited fight under him. Employing guerrilla tactics, Viriathus caused a lot of damage as he moved his troops swiftly over large areas of the south and south-west of the peninsula. Viriathus’s fighting tactics have since been described as the first example of the Spanish guerrilla fighter, and for many Spaniards and Portuguese, he has become an early instance of a “national” hero. He was defeated finally in 138 BC after two aides --bribed by the Romans-- murdered him when he was asleep.

The Lusitanians aside, resistance to Rome was rife in the northern part of the Meseta at Numantia, close to the town of Soria, on the upper stretches of the river Duero. Popular attention tends to focus on the lengthy resistance of the town, although the region itself was in internal turmoil for some 20 years (beginning around 154BCE and ending with the fall of Numantia in 133BCE). The conquest of Numantia proved to be so difficult that senators were so angry with their army's lack of success and had to send one of their best generals — Scipio Aemilianus, the very conqueror of the Carthaginians. Roman legend has it that once they realised they could not prevail over Scipio, the Numantines were said to choose the Celtiberian warrior's end: its inhabitants, rather than surrender unconditionally, chose instead to set their city on fire — and themselves along with it.

History, however, is a little less starry-eyed. Although there was a long siege and some of the enfeebled Numantians did die by their own hands, most surrendered. Some fifty were sent to Rome for the triumphal procession, the rest were sold as slaves and the town razed to the ground so that — like Carthage — its memory might be obliterated. Even so, the skill and rancour of the Numantines in their bloody defiance of Rome ensured that the name of Numantia would endure for centuries, endowing it with the defiant gesture of mass suicide that has come down as an example of collective will and pride. On the contrary, the experience of Numantia could be argued as being an example of what has been seen as one of the weaknesses of the Spanish character, its centrifugal or separatist tendency in regional terms. It bears keeping in mind that more than half of the soldiers participating in the siege were natives from neighbouring tribes. And, despite its epic and tragic ending, the Numantine War (as it was called by the victorious Romans) wasn't the last Romano-Celtiberian conflict in Iberia.

Needless to say, once Hispania was fully integrated into the Roman empire, it played a great role, supplying Rome herself with high-quality olive oil and cured meats — a delicacy that continues to be produced in Spain and can still be sampled to this very day. Food and precious metals however weren't the only things the Spanish were famous for: the same light cavalrymen who were the bane of the Romans who invaded Spain were soon drafted as auxilia. Even Hadrian, one of the most illustrious Roman emperors, was himself of Spanish origin.

Christianity, originally little more than an obscure religious sect during Roman rule, soon became ensconced as the religion of the Visigothic rulers. By the 7th century, however, the Visigothic Kingdom was only nominally united. Their system of elected Kings created rival factions which encouraged foreign intervention by the Greeks, the Franks, and, finally, the Muslims in internal disputes and royal elections.

The Goths and the Arabs (484–1492CE)Edit

The next group of foreigners who would play a key role in shaping the modern Spanish identity was the Goths. Originally a group of Germanic-speaking nomads from Scandinavia, they fought and pillaged their way south and west, but eventually turned out to be the most avid fans of Roman culture, and rather than supplant Latin influence in Spain, actually helped to preserve it. Barbarian incursions became more and more prevailent as Roman authority sputtered out over the course of the Dark Ages, but it was the Visigoths who would eventually take over Spanish society, forming a warrior elite ruling the overwhelming majority of the native Hispano-Romans. As Roman influence waned, the Visigoths elected their own king, and established Toledo as capital in 484. Over eighty years later, the Visigoth king Leovigild expelled the imperial civil servants and attempted to unify the Peninsula from the Pyrenees to Gibraltar, which formed natural barriers from which Spain would hold as its borders to this day. They were more or less successful in their unification efforts, except in the north, where the Basques, Cantabrians and Asturians managed to hold out against them. Trade with the Byzantine Empire allowed Visigothic Spain to maintain its urban culture and its commercial and cultural connections within the Mediterranean domain, against the tide of fragmentation and chaos of Dark Age Europe.

In 711, a Muslim army under Jabal Tariq ibn Ziyad (whose name Gibraltar was derived from) crossed into Spain, and killed the king of the Visigoths, who until that time had been ruling Iberia since the day they first arrived there. Ibn Ziyad would return to Morocco eventually, but in the next year Musa ibn Nusair, invaded with a force of 20,000 men. They quickly swept through Spain, aided by the vast Roman road system, and were able to defeat the entire Visigothic Kingdom relatively easily due to the political disarray of the nobility. Muslim forces spread throughout the Iberian Peninsula and eventually crossed the Pyrenees into the domain of the Franks (in modern day France), reaching as far as Poitiers by 732. Despite this, there were a number of holdouts in the North that would be able to not only resist the new invaders, but go on to create the modern states of Portugal and Spain, but their time would not come well until half a millenium or so later.

Nonetheless, the newcomers left lasting influences on Spanish and Lusitanian culture, the evidence of which can be seen to this day despite the assertions of contemporary far-right groups who want to distance themselves from their Arab roots as much as possible. It is not uncommon for casual travellers throughout Hispanic nations to discover that Arab-style tiling is often used for decoration of some houses, or that many words in modern-day Spanish and Portuguese are in fact loanwords from old Arabic. The architectural designs of the Moors were transmitted into Spain itself through Arabised Christians who were known as musta'rabeen or, in Spanish, mozarabes in later years of the Muslim occupation of Spain, and would burst forth in the Baroque style known as plateresque; or "silversmith's" style.

While the Reconquest of Spain by the Christians symbolically began even before the Muslims established themselves, with the defeat of a Muslim force at Covadonga by King Pelayo (Latin: "Pelagius") of Asturias in 718, Christian resistance was never a concerted effort or had much follow-through, until the middle of the 13th Century. Like with the Visigoths before them, increasing disunity in Islamic Spain would eventually present the Christians in the north opportunities to carve new kingdoms out from Moorish territory, while Muslim rivals from North Africa weakened the local Islamic presence from the other direction. The kings of Asturias, descended from the great Pelayo, would go on to found new kingdoms: by the time of the Almohads, there were five Christian kingdoms to the north: León; Castile; Navarre; Portugal; and Aragon.

The ReconquistaEdit


Formerly a Muslim stronghold, the Alzacar of Segovia became the seat of Castilian royalty until the capital was moved to Madrid.

he final blow for the Muslims came with the marriage between Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469, uniting the two most powerful Spanish Christian Kingdoms. They would take the last Muslim hold out of Granada in 1492 after a long 10 year siege. They would be known as the Catholic Monarchs, in part because of their equality as dual Monarchs, but also because of their fanatical push for Christian fundamentalism and uniformity. They would establish the Inquisition that became known in history for its unspeakable horrors inflicted upon the population to create a thoroughly Christian Spain until the civil wars of the 1800s. Ironically, Tomas de Torquemada, descended from conversos, or Jewish converts to Christianity, would become known in history as the most effective and notorious of the Inquisition's prosecutors. Thousands of Jews and Muslims who didn't want to convert to Christianity were expelled or killed during the Inquisition.

One thing a person needs to keep in mind is that Spain was more like a federation than a unified state, like France. Each of the large Spanish provinces, acted as though it was an independent state. The states of Aragon, Castile, Granada, all of them had there own history, peoples, culture, and language even. Spain had experienced an invasion by the Moors and it was not until 1492 that they were driven out of Spain, ending in the final conquest of Granada. It was as late as 1479 that Spain was finally united, under one crown: Ferdinand II. It was Ferdinand II and Isabella who held court and sent Columbus out West with some Spanish ships and finances to cover his expedition. With the discovery of the New World, Spain immediately began claiming the lands therein. A dozen expeditions were launched, each made up of explorers, missionaries, and troops sent over to explore and conquer these vast lands in the name of God and Spain. Such men as Hernando Cortes, Ponce de Leon, Narvaez, de Vaca, and Pizarro led expeditions covering the domains from the southwestern United States to central South American mountains. In this New World they found minerals in abundance. Ships by the dozens carried loads of gold and silver from the Americas to Spanish ports.

"God is Spanish"Edit


Ferdinand and Isabela.

However, the rule of Isabella and Ferdinand, also ushered in what would be known as the siglo de oro, or Golden Age for Spain. It began with the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492. This brought the exploration of the New World to the fore. It was further accentuated when Ferdinand Magellan's expedition completed the circumnavigation of the globe in 1522. Then, with the subjugation of two of the greatest civilisations in the Americas, the Aztec (in 1519, by Hernando Cortez) and the Inca (in 1533, by Francisco Pizzaro), the Spanish would acquire enough gold and silver from the new continent to sufficiently depress European demand for both of them for many centuries, leading to her downfall 200 years later.

This was Spain's Golden Age. Spanish music, art, literature, dress, and mannerisms from Spain's Golden Age were admired and imitated throughout Europe. They not only set a standard by which the rest of Europe measured its culture but also of its military power. Spain became the military and diplomatic standard-bearer of Christendom. The Spanish fleet's victory over the Turks at Lepanto in 1572 was celebrated throughout the Christian world, even among Spain's rivals. Not only did Spain have overseas colonies throughout South America, but by this time she too was feeling her way around Asia and North America, and made her influence felt in Burgundy and Sicily.

Screenshot 2017-07-18 16.27.14

During the reign of Charles V, the Empire of Spain was at the height of its power.

Meanwhile, Spanish influence in Europe was also growing. In 1516, Charles I became the King of Spain. Charles I was from the Habsburg royal family line. His father, Emperor Maximilian I, had arranged his marriage into Spanish royalty. He began what was known as the Spanish Habsburg line and Charles I wa soon made Holy Roman Emperor after Maximilian died, making him Charles V. For a while, Habsburg influence was dominant in both Western and Central Europe, but wars with the Turks ensued and conflict developed between the German Lutherans and Catholics. By 1556, he had had enough, and abdicated his Spanish throne to his son Philip II, the Holy Roman Empire and the Austrian domains were passed onto Ferdinand I, his brother. Charles V moved into a monastery were he lived until his death in 1558.

For all the gold and silver and minerals brought in from her colonies and empire, Spain itself remained largely poor. The government, run by the landowner's and those who had run the trading with the colonies, were fabulously rich. The Spanish court was one of the wealthiest in Europe. However, such extravagant spending of wealth on palaces, the court, and diplomatic bribery was wasteful and unproductive. The majority of the population was poor and never saw the benefits of the vast quantities of gold and silver shipped in from the Americas. The unity of the Spanish was not by blood, or by wealth, or social status, it was by religion. Almost every citizen was a Catholic. The Jews and Muslims were driven and exiled from Spanish soil, or converted. The staunch Catholicism of the Spanish was the single factor unifying their nation. The Catholic religion remained in power for many years to come.

Lead and GoldEdit


The Spanish Armada. Fuelled by vast reserves of precious metals, Spain was Europe's first modern superpower.

Furthermore, the near to spectacular mineral wealth of Spain soon meant that European leaders became jealous - and sometimes resentful - of Spanish influence. France, the newly established United Provinces of the Netherlands and the English crown soon founded colonies of their own in the New World, and even sent privateers to intercept and loot the Spanish treasure galleons moving across the Atlantic to Spain. After Charles V, the Spanish empire eventually began to unravel. Although it wasn't going to be evident until the 19th century, the downfall started with the fall of the Habsburgs. Charles' successor Philip II was far less brilliant. He launched several campaigns of his own, but almost all of them proved to be dismal failures. Of all these, the most infamous of all his failures was the loss of the Spanish Armada to invade England in 1588, in which not a single ship sent to invade England ever reached London. Philip also encouraged the Inquisition to Christianise the entire Spanish population and condemn any who would profess a faith contrary to that of the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps his worst move was his lack of understanding for the Dutch, whose lands were under Spanish authority (the Netherlands). In 1581, they revolted and declared their independence. Philip's army was unable to prevent the rebellion or stop their independence but managed to retain the southern provinces, which later became the Spanish Netherlands. This territory was under Spanish rule until 1713, when it was ceded to the Austrian Habsburgs.

In 1665, the crown of Spain passed to the mentally challenged Charles II, who would die in 1700. Charles II left no heir, making him the last Habsburg monarch in the Iberian Peninsula, and sparked off a succession crisis that eventually led to full-blown war in Europe, with an alliance headed by Habsburg Austria supporting an Austrian pretender to the Spanish throne, and another with France supporting a Bourbon one.

The Bourbon DynastyEdit

Although Charles II chose Philippe, Duke d'Anjou to be his successor Philippe was too closely related to Louis XIV to the French monarchy, and his ascension as to the Spanish throne incensed the Austrians, who wanted to install the archduke Charles as the new king, as well as the English and the Dutch. This conflict quickly erupted into the War for Spanish Succession (1701-1714). The war itself was fought almost entirely between the French against the English and Germans. France was unlucky for the most part; Marlborough cleaned them up in his campaigns. However, by 1710, the Allies began to split in interests. Charles's limited conquest of Catalonia failed to establish any respectable power in Spain. Upon his father's passing, he was elected Holy Roman Emperor and Emperor of Austria. The British, seeing that it would be foolish to fight on and make him King of Spain as well, concluded peace with Spain and France. Charles had to give up his claims to the Spanish throne and the Bourbon family replaced the Spanish Habsburgs. The Bourbons would remain in power until 1808, when briefly ousted by Napoleon until 1814 (the Peninsular War).

The Seven Years' War proved to be another territorial shuffling match. The Treaty of Paris (1763) forced the concession of almost all the French territories in America. Spain lost the southern United States lands, but gained Louisiana. Spain carried out little policy with its new acquisition, it tended to concentrate on Florida and its Central and South American dependencies.

The 19th century: Napoleon and the Civil Wars (1793–1939CE)Edit

By the close of the eighteenth century, Spain's power in European affairs had declined drastically. Internationally, Spain still had some exertions over her American domains. But even these would be taken away within a few decades. Spain had initially declared war on the French Republic (1793), but she was too weak to wage a war and France came out with several gains in territory by 1795 when peace was made. This uneasy peace would last until 1807. The events that would follow Napoleon's conquest of Spain and the revolution that again freed it, were yet another sad chapter Spain's history. The Peninsular War (1808-1814) directly contributed to the rapid decline ending with the destruction of Spain's colonial empire in the Americas. Initially siding with the Royalists, Spanish colonials would eventually reject their former European patron, and by 1825, Spanish influence in Latin America was nearly extinguished, although it would take 75 more years before the Americans would show them the door.

Internally, Spain too was suffering. When the Spanish elected Ferdinand as king after the Peninsular War, his rule however would be a disaster for Spain. Not only did he revoke the constitution, and reinstate the Inquisition. Spain's colonial possessions in the New World fought for and won their independence. The next century would see Spain struggle between republicanism and absolute monarchy, as the two factions staged a series of revolts and military coups to seize control of the country. The chaos was given a period of respite when the British-educated Alfonso XII ascended to the throne, after a very brief period of republican rule. He satisfied both the conservative monarchists, and the liberals for the King's personal outlook and his willingness to institute a constitutional Monarchy. However, the loss of Spain's rump colonies in the New World in 1898 and the increasing unpopularity led to his successor, Alfonso XIII, being forced into exile.

In the wake of Alfonso's abdication, a republic was established by popular election in 1931, this being the Second Spanish Republic. Although this new regime promised equality of rights and even autonomy to various regions, it however had an anticlerical bent to it, which soon resulted in hostility from the more conservative elements of Spanish society, then rooted in the rural areas of Spain. By 1936, the nation was up in arms against itself as various political factions, either aligned to the political left or the right, plunged Spanish cities into street battles. Military coups in Navarra and Spanish-held Morocco soon ensued. Once more, Spain was embroiled in a brutual civil war which would devastate land and society alike. and in which no quarter was given on either side.


Sagrada Familia catheral: a blending of traditional and avant-garde and still unfinished, it very much exemplifies the spirit of modern Spain today.


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