After a long and hard conquest,
the Iberian Peninsula became a region of the Roman Empire
known as Hispania. During the early Middle Ages it
came under Germanic rule. Later it was conquered by Muslim invaders. Through a
very long and fitful process, the Christian kingdoms in the north gradually
rolled back Muslim rule, finally extinguishing its last remnant in Granada in
1492, the same year Columbus reached the Americas. A global empire began. Spain
became the strongest kingdom in Europe and the leading world power during the 16th century and
first half of the 17th century; but continued wars and other problems
eventually led to a diminished status. The French invasion of Spain in the early 19th century led to chaos; triggering
independence movements that tore apart most of the empire and left the country
politically unstable. In the 20th century it suffered a devastating civil war
and came under the rule of an authoritarian government, leading to years of
stagnation, but finishing in an impressive economic surge. Democracy was
restored in 1978 in the form of a parliamentry constitutional monarchy. In
1986, Spain joined the European Union; experiencing a cultural
renaissance and steady economic growth.
Prehistory and pre-Roman peoples
Archeological research at Atapuerca indicates the Iberian Peninsula was peopled 1.2 million years ago. Modern humans in the
form of Cro-Magnons began arriving in the Iberian Peninsula through the Pyrenees some
35,000 years ago. The best known artifacts of these prehistoric human
settlements are the famous paintings in the Altamira cave of Cantabria
in northern Spain, which were created about 15,000 BCE.
The two main historical peoples of the peninsula were the Iberians and the
Celts, the former inhabiting
the Mediterranean side from the northeast to the southwest, the latter
inhabiting the Atlantic side, in the north and northwest part of the peninsula.
In the inner part of the peninsula, where both groups were in contact, a mixed,
distinctive culture—known as Celtiberian—was present. In addition, Basques
occupied the western area of the Pyrenees mountains. Other ethnic groups existed along the southern
coastal areas of present day Andalusia. Among these southern groups there grew the earliest urban
culture in the Iberian Peninsula, that of the semi-mythical southern city of Tartessos (perhaps pre-1100 BC) near the location of present-day
Cádiz. The flourishing trade in gold and silver between the people of Tartessos
and Phoenicians and Greeks is documented in the history of Strabo and in the
biblical book of king Solomon. Between about 500 BC and 300 BC, the seafaring
Phoenicians and Greeks founded trading colonies all along the Spanish
Mediterranean coast. Carthaginians briefly took control of much of the
Mediterranean coast in the course of the Punic Wars, until they were eventually
defeated and replaced by the Romans.
Roman Empire and Germanic invasions
During the Second Punic War, an expanding Roman Empire captured Carthaginian
trading colonies along the Mediterranean coast from roughly 210 BC to 205 BC,
leading to eventual Roman control of nearly the entire Iberian Peninsula; this
lasted over 500 years, bound together by law, language, and the Roman road.
The base Celt and Iberian population remained in various stages of
Romanisation, and local leaders
were admitted into the Roman aristocratic class. Hispania served as a granary
for the Roman market, and its harbors exported gold, wool, olive oil, and wine.
Agricultural production increased with the introduction of irrigation projects,
some of which remain in use. Emperors Trajan, Theodosius I, and the philosopher
Seneca were born in Hispania. Christianity was introduced into Hispania in the
1st century CE and it became popular in the cities in the 2nd century CE. Most
of Spain's present languages and religion, and the basis of its
laws, originate from this period. Rome's loss of jurisdiction in Hispania began in 409, when the
Germanic Suevi and Vandals, together with the Sarmatian Alans crossed the Rhine
and ravaged Gaul until the Visigoths drove them into Iberia that same year. The Suevi established a kingdom in what is
today modern Galicia and northern Portugal. The Alans' allies, the Hasdingi Vandals, established a
kingdom in Gallaecia, too, occupying largely the same region but extending
further south to the Duero river. The Silingi Vandals occupied the region that still
bears a form of their name - Vandalusia, modern Andalusia, in Spain.
Main article: Al-Andalus
In the 8th century, several areas of the Iberian Peninsula were conquered
(711-718) by mainly Muslims (see Moors) from North Africa.
These conquests were part of the expansion of the Umayyad Islamic Empire. Only
a number of areas in the north of the Iberian Peninsula managed to resist the
initial invasion, occupying areas roughly corresponding to modern Asturias, Navarre and northern Aragon.
Under Islam, Christians and Jews were recognised as "peoples of the
book", and were free to practice
their religion, but faced a number of mandatory discriminations and penalties
as dhimmis. Conversion to Islam proceeded at a steadily increasing pace.
Following the mass conversions in the 10th and 11th centuries it is believed
that Muslims came to outnumber Christians in the remaining Muslim controlled
The Muslim community in the Iberian
peninsula was itself diverse and
beset by social tensions. The Berber people of North Africa, who had provided
the bulk of the invading armies, clashed with the Arab leadership from the Middle East.
Over time, large Moorish populations became established, especially in the Guadalquivir River valley, the coastal plain of Valencia, and (towards the
end of this period) in the mountainous region of Granada.
Córdoba, the capital of the caliphate, was the largest, richest and most
sophisticated city of medieval western Europe. Mediterranean trade and cultural
exchange flourished. Muslims imported a rich intellectual tradition from the
Middle East and North Africa. Muslim and Jewish scholars played a great part in
reviving and expanding classical Greek learning in Western Europe.
The Romanized cultures of the Iberian
peninsula interacted with Muslim
and Jewish cultures in complex ways, thus giving the region a distinctive
culture. Outside the cities, where the vast majority lived, the land ownership
system from Roman times remained largely intact as Muslim leaders rarely
dispossessed landowners, and the introduction of new crops and techniques led
to a remarkable expansion of agriculture.
However, by the 11th century, Muslim holdings had fractured into rival Taifa
kingdoms, allowing the small Christian states the opportunity to greatly
enlarge their territories and consolidate their positions. The arrival of the
North African Muslim ruling sects of the Almoravids and the Almohads restored
unity upon Muslim holdings, with a stricter, less tolerant application of
Islam, but ultimately, after some successes in invading the north, proved
unable to resist the increasing military strength of the Christian states.
Fall of Muslim rule and unification
The Reconquista ("Reconquest") is the centuries-long period of
expansion of Spain's Christian kingdoms; Reconquista is viewed as beginning
with the battle of Covadonga in 722 and being concurrent with the period of
Muslim rule on the Iberian
peninsula. The Christian army's
victory over the Muslim forces led to the creation of the Christian
Kingdom of Asturias
along the northern coastal mountains. Muslim armies had also moved north of the
Pyrenees, but they were defeated at the Battle of Poitiers in France. Subsequently, they retreated to more secure positions
south of the Pyrenees with a frontier marked by the Ebro and Duero rivers in Spain. As early as 739 Muslim forces were driven from Galicia, which was to host one of medieval Europe's
holiest sites, Santiago de Compostela. A little later Frankish forces
established Christian counties south of the Pyrenees; these areas were to grow
into kingdoms, in the north-east and the western part of the Pyrenees.
These territories included Navarre, Aragon and Catalonia.
The breakup of Al-Andalus into the competing Taifa kingdoms helped the
expanding Christian kingdoms. The capture of the central city of Toledo in 1085
largely completed the reconquest of the northern half of Spain. After a Muslim resurgence in the 12th century, the great
Moorish strongholds in the south fell to Christian Spain in the 13th
century—Córdoba in 1236 and Seville in 1248—leaving only the Muslim enclave of
Granada as a tributary state in the south. Marinid invasions from north Africa
in the 13th and 14th centuries failed to re-establish Muslim rule. Also
in the 13th century, the kingdom of Aragon, formed by Aragon,
Catalonia and Valencia expanded its reach across the Mediterranean to Sicily. Around this time the universities of Palencia
(1212/1263) and Salamanca (1218/1254) were established; among the earliest in Europe. The
Black Death of 1348 and 1349 devastated Spain.
In 1469, the crowns of the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were united by the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand. In
1478 began the final stage of the conquest of Canary Islands and in 1492, these
united kingdoms captured Granada, ending the last remnant of a 781-year
presence of Islamic rule in Iberia. The Treaty of Granada guaranteed religious
tolerance toward Muslims. The year 1492 also marked the arrival in the New
World of Christopher Columbus, during a voyage funded by Isabella. That same
year, Spain's Jews were ordered to convert to Catholicism or face
expulsion from Spanish territories during the Spanish Inquisition. Not long
after, Muslims were also expelled under the same conditions.
As Renaissance New Monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand centralized royal power at
the expense of local nobility, and the word España - whose root is the ancient
name Hispania - began to be used commonly to designate the whole of the two
kingdoms. With their wide-ranging political, legal, religious and military
reforms, Spain emerged as the first world power.
Main article: Spanish Empire
The unification of the kingdoms of Aragon,
Castile, León, and Navarre laid the basis for modern Spain and the Spanish Empire. Spain
was Europe's leading power throughout the 16th century and most of
the 17th century, a position reinforced by trade and wealth from colonial
possessions. Spain reached its apogee during the reigns of the first two
Spanish Habsburgs - Charles
I (1516–1556) and Philip II (1556–1598). This period also saw the Italian Wars,
the Dutch revolt, clashes with the Ottomans, the Anglo-Spanish war and war with
The Spanish Empire expanded to include most parts of South and Central America,
Mexico, southern and western portions of today's United States, the Philippines, Guam and the Mariana Islands in Eastern Asia, parts of
northern Italy, southern Italy,
Sicily, cities in Northern Africa, as well as parts of France,
modern Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. It was the first empire about which it was said that the
sun never set. This was an age of discovery, with daring explorations by sea
and by land, the opening-up of new trade routes across oceans, conquests and
the beginnings of European colonialism. Along with the arrival of precious
metals, spices, luxuries, and new agricultural plants, Spanish and other
explorers brought back knowledge from the New World,
playing a leading part in transforming Europeans understanding of the globe.
The cultural efflorescence witnessed is now referred to as the Spanish Golden
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Spain was confronted by unrelenting challenges from all sides.
Barbary pirates under the aegis of the rapidly growing Ottoman empire,
disrupted life in many coastal areas through their slave raids and renewed the
threat of an Islamic invasion. This at a time when Spain
was often at war with France in Italy and elsewhere. Later the Protestant Reformation schism
from the Catholic Church dragged the kingdom ever more deeply into the mire of
religiously charged wars. The result was a country forced into ever expanding
military efforts across Europe and in the Mediterranean.
The rise of humanism, the Protestant Reformation and new geographical
discoveries raised issues addressed by an intellectual movement known as the School
By the middle decades of a war and plague ridden 17th century Europe, the effects
of the strain began to show. The Spanish Habsburgs had enmeshed the country in
the continent wide religious-political conflicts. These conflicts drained it of
resources and undermined the European economy generally. Spain managed to hold
on to most of the scattered Habsburg empire, and help the imperial forces of
the Holy Roman Empire reverse a large part of the advances made by Protestant
forces, but it was finally forced to recognise the separation of Portugal (with
whom it had been united in a personal union of the crowns from 1580 to 1640)
and the Netherlands, and eventually suffered some serious military reverses to
France in the latter stages of the immensely destructive, Europe-wide Thirty
In the latter half of the 17th century, Spain
went into a gradual relative decline, during which it surrendered a number of
small territories to France. However Spain maintained and enlarged its vast overseas empire, which
remained intact until the beginning of the 19th century.
The decline culminated in a controversy over succession to the throne which
consumed the first years of the 18th century. The War of Spanish Succession, a
wide ranging international conflict combined with a civil war, cost Spain its European possessions and its position as one of the
leading powers on the Continent.
During this war, a new dynasty—the French Bourbons—was installed. Long united
only by the Crown, a true Spanish state was established when the first Bourbon
king Philip V of Spain united Castile and Aragon into a single state, abolishing many of the regional
The 18th century saw a gradual recovery and an increase in prosperity through
much of the empire. The new Bourbon monarchy drew on the French system of
modernising the administration and the economy. Enlightenment ideas began to
gain ground among some of the kingdom's elite and monarchy. Towards the end of
the century trade finally began growing strongly. Military assistance for the
rebellious British colonies in the American War of Independence improved Spain's international standing.
Napoleonic rule and its consequences
In 1793, Spain went to war against the new French Republic, which had overthrown and executed its Bourbon king, Louis
XVI. The war polarised the country in an apparent
reaction against the gallicised elites. Defeated in the field, Spain
made peace with France in 1795 and effectively became a client state of that
country; the following year, it declared war against Britain and Portugal. A disastrous economic situation, along with other
factors, led to the abdication of the Spanish king in favour of Napoleon's
brother, Joseph Bonaparte.
This foreign puppet monarch was widely regarded with scorn. On 2 May 1808, the
people of Madrid began a nationalist uprising against the French army, one
of many across the country, marking the beginning of what is known to the
Spanish as the War of Independence, and to the English as the Peninsular War.
Napoleon was forced to intervene personally,
defeating several badly-coordinated Spanish armies and forcing a British Army
to retreat to Corunna. However, further military action by Spanish guerrillas
and Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese army, combined with Napoleon's
disastrous invasion of Russia, led to the ousting of the French from Spain in 1814, and the return of King Ferdinand VII.
The French invasion proved disastrous for Spain's economy, and left a deeply divided country that was
prone to political instability for more than a century. The power struggles of
the early 19th century led to the loss of all of Spain's
colonies in Latin America, with the exception of Cuba
and Puerto Rico.
Main article: Spanish–American War
Amid the instability and economic crisis that afflicted Spain
in the 19th century there arose nationalist movements in the Philippines and Cuba. Wars of independence ensued in those colonies and
eventually the United
became involved. Despite the commitment and ability shown by some military
units, they were so mismanaged by the highest levels of command that the
Spanish-American war of 1898 was soon over. "El Desastre" (The
Disaster), as the war became known in Spain, helped give impetus to the
Generation of 98 who were already conducting much critical analysis concerning
the country. It also weakened the stability that had been established during
Alfonso XII's reign.
The 20th century brought little peace; Spain
played a minor part in the scramble for Africa, with the colonisation of
Western Sahara, Spanish Morocco and Equatorial Guinea. The heavy losses suffered during the Rif war in Morocco helped to undermine the monarchy. A period of
authoritarian rule under General Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-1931) ended with
the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic. The Republic offered political autonomy to the Basque
Country, Catalonia and Galicia and gave voting rights to women.
The bitterly fought Spanish Civil War (1936-39) ensued. Three years later the
Nationalist forces, led by General Francisco Franco, emerged victorious with
the support of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Republican side was
supported by the Soviet Union and Mexico and international brigades , most famously the american
'Abraham Lincon Brigade', but it was not supported officially by the Western
powers due to the British-led policy of Non-Intervention. The Spanish Civil War
has been called the first battle of the Second World War; under Franco, Spain was neutral in the Second World War though sympathetic to
The only legal party under Franco's regime was the Falange española
tradicionalista y de las JONS, formed in 1937; the party emphasised
anti-Communism, Catholicism and nationalism. Nonetheless, since Franco's
anti-democratic ideology was opposed to the idea of political parties, the new
party was renamed officially a National Movement (Movimiento Nacional) in 1949.
After World War II, Spain was politically and economically isolated, and was kept
out of the United Nations until 1955, when due to the Cold War it became
strategically important for the U.S.
to create a military presence on the Iberian peninsula, next to the
Mediterranean Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar, in order to protect southern Europe. In
the 1960s, Spain registered an unprecedented economic growth in what was called
the Spanish miracle, which rapidly resumed the long interrupted transition
towards a modern industrial economy with a thriving tourism sector and a high
degree of human development.
the death of General Franco in November 1975, Prince Juan Carlos assumed the
position of king and head of state. With the approval of the new Spanish
Constitution of 1978 and the arrival of democracy, the State devolved autonomy
to the regions and created an internal organization based on autonomous
communities. In the Basque Country, moderate Basque nationalism coexisted with
a radical nationalism supportive of the separatist group ETA.
On 23 February 1981, rebel elements among the security forces seized the Cortes
and tried to impose a military-backed government. However, the great majority
of the military forces remained loyal to King Juan Carlos, who used his
personal authority and addressed the usurpers via national TV as commander in
chief to put down the bloodless coup attempt.
On 30 May 1982, NATO gained a new member when, following a referendum, the
newly democratic Spain joined the alliance. Also in 1982, the Spanish Socialist
Workers Party (PSOE) came to power, representing the return of a left-wing
government after 43 years. In 1986, Spain joined the European Community - what has now become the
European Union. The PSOE was replaced in government by the Partido Popular (PP)
after the latter won the 1996 General Elections; at that point the PSOE had
served almost 14 consecutive years in office.
The Government of Spain has been involved in a long-running campaign against
the separatist and terrorist organization ETA ("Basque Homeland and
Freedom"), founded in 1959 in opposition to Franco and dedicated to
promoting Basque independence through violent means. They consider themselves a
guerrilla organization while they are listed as a terrorist organization by
both the European Union and the United States on their respective watchlists. The current
nationalist-led Basque Autonomous government does not endorse ETA's nationalist
violence, which has caused over 800 deaths in the past 40 years.
On 1 January 2002, Spain terminated its peseta currency and replaced it with the
euro, which it shares with 14 other countries in the Eurozone. Spain has also seen strong economic growth, well above the EU
average, but concerns are growing that the extraordinary property boom and high
trade deficits of recent years may bring this to an end.
A series of bombs exploded in commuter trains in Madrid, Spain on 11 March 2004. After a five month trial in 2007 it was
concluded the bombings were perpetrated by a local Islamist militant group
inspired by al-Qaeda. The bombings killed 191 people and wounded more than
1800, and the intention of the perpetrators may have been to influence the
outcome of the Spanish general election, held three days later. Though initial
suspicions focused on the Basque group ETA, evidence soon emerged indicating
possible Islamist involvement. Because of the proximity of the election, the
issue of responsibility quickly became a political controversy, with the main
competing parties PP and PSOE exchanging accusations over the handling of the
aftermath. At the 14 March elections, PSOE, led by José Luis Rodríguez
Zapatero, obtained a relative majority, enough to form a new cabinet with
Rodríguez Zapatero as the new Presidente del Gobierno or prime minister of Spain, thus succeeding the former PP administration.