A Brief History of Spain
History of SpainPre-Roman Era
Although archaeological digs and the resultant fossils found in Spain’s Atapuerca Mountains suggest that the Iberian Peninsula was populated as early as 1.2 million years ago, it wasn’t until approximately 35,000 years ago that modern humans first arrived on the peninsula, traveling from the north on foot. The best evidence of this Cro-Magnon (or perhaps even Neanderthal) presence are the famous paintings in the Altamira Cave in northern Iberia, created from 35,600 to 13,500 BC.
In looking at records, the two main historic peoples of the Iberian Peninsula were the Iberians, a people who inhabited the Mediterranean side of the peninsula from the northeast to the southeast; and the Celts, a northern people, who inhabited the Atlantic side, in the north, center, northwest and southwest portion of the peninsula. In addition, the Basques, much smaller in number, occupied the western area of the Pyrenees mountain range and areas adjacent.
The “semi-mythical city” of Tartessos appeared in the south of the Iberian Peninsula in approximately 1100 BC; a city whose gold and silver trade with the Phoenicians and Greeks flourished, according to the writings of Strabo in the Book of Solomon. Between 800 BC and 300 BC, the seafaring Phoenicians and Greeks established trading colonies along the Mediterranean coastline. For a brief while, the Carthaginians exerted control over much of the Mediterranean side of the peninsula, until they were defeated by the Romans in the Punic Wars.
Hispania: the Roman Empire and the Gothic Kingdom
Hispania was the name given to the region now known as Spain during the Roman Empire. During the Second Punic War, the ever-expanding Roman Empire captured Carthaginian trading colonies along the Mediterranean coast from approximately 210 to 205 BC. In total, it took the Roman Empire two long centuries to conquer the Iberian Peninsula, though they held control over the region for the following six centuries.
Because on its geographic location—its Mediterranean and Atlantic harbors—Hispania became a major granary of the Roman market and one of the most important regions in the Empire. It was during the Roman Empire era that Hispania underwent a major cultural shift, one that would end up leaving a lasting impression. The cultures and languages of the Iberian and Celtic peoples gradually became Romanized or Latinized under the Romans. Christianity was introduced in the first century AD, or the beginning of the common era, and became popular throughout the region by the close of the second century. Even today, most of Spain’s languages, religion and the basis for its laws can be traced back to this very crucial historical period in history.
The Roman Empire’s grip on Hispania began to weaken in 409, when the “Germanic Suebi and Vandals, along with the Sarmatian Alans crossed the Rhine and ravaged Gaul until the Visigoths drove them into Iberia that same year.” Under Visigoth rule, and as the western part of the Roman Empire disintegrated, the region became much more simplified both socially and economically, but even after these changes, successor regimes maintained many of the institutions and laws of the late empire, including Christianity.
In the years between 711 and 718, nearly all of the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by the North African Moorish Muslim armies—conquests that were a component of the expansion of the Umayyad Caliphate. Only a small and mountainous area in the peninsula’s northwest managed to stave off the initial invasion.
Following these conquests, the region’s Christians and Jews were given the unfortunate status of dhimmi. Although not prohibited from practicing their faith freely within their specific communities, the dhimmi were labeled subordinate to Muslims and were thus required to pay a special tax and had legal and social rights that were inferior to those of Islamic followers. Because of this, and in an effort to retain their full rights and status, many Iberian natives in Al-Andalus (the name given to Iberia during Moorish rule) began to convert to Islam, a conversion that occurred at a fairly rapid rate. In fact, by the end of the 10 century the Muladies (Muslims of ethnic Iberian origin) comprised the majority of Al-Andalus’ population.
During the period of Muslim rule, the city of Córdoba, the capital of the caliphate, was the largest, wealthiest and most sophisticated city in Western Europe. Here Mediterranean trade flourished, as did cultural exchange, with Muslim and Jewish scholars working together to play a crucial role in reviving classical Greek learning in Western Europe. The manner in which the Latinized peoples interacted with Jewish and Muslim cultures created a unified and quite distinctive new culture in the region, one that allowed these diverse groups to openly share ideas and experiences to improve and simplify the life of all people living in the region.
The 11 century saw Al-Andalus fracture into rival Taifa kingdoms, a development that enabled the small Christian communities to greatly enlarge their territories. However, when the Islamic ruling sects of Almovarids and Almohads arrived from North Africa they managed to restore unity in the region, leading to another 100+ years of Muslim fortunes and reversing some of the gains made by the Christians.
The Reconquista, or “Reconquest,” defines the centuries-long period in which the Christians of the Iberian Peninsula expanded their respective kingdoms. Although Al-Andalus was mostly restored in the 11 century after initially breaking up into Taifa kingdoms, the capture of Toledo near the end of that century (1085) saw a shift in power in favor of the Christian kingdoms. The Moors recovered greatly in the 12 century, however, when much of the south of the peninsula fell to Christian forces in the 13 century—Córdoba in 1236 and Seville in 1248—only Granada remained as a Muslim enclave.
The beginning of the end for the Moors happened in 1469 with the marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, thus uniting these two kingdoms. 1478 saw the conquest of the Canary Islands, and in 1492, the combined forces of Castile and Aragon worked in unison to capture the Emirate of Granada, effectively ending 781 years of Islamic rule in Iberia.
[pic1] As you will remember from history class, 1492 was also the year that Columbus discovered the New World, a voyage funded by Queen Isabella. This would later lead to much colonial expansion in this region of the world. As Renaissance Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella centralized royal power at the expense of local nobility, and renamed the region España (Spain) as a way to designate the two kingdoms. As a result of the New Monarchs many wide-ranging reforms in the region—political, religious, legal and military reforms—Spain became the globe’s first world power.
The Imperial Era in Spain
The union of Ferdinand and Isabella, and thus of Aragon and Castile, laid the foundation for modern Spain and the Spanish Empire, although in terms of society, politics, law and language, each kingdom throughout Spain remained a separate country—at least for a time. Spain became the most significant power in Europe during the 16 and much of the 17 century, a status backed up by wealth and trade from colonial possessions. The empire reached its climax during the reigns of the first two Spanish Hapsburgs—Charles I (1516-1556) and Phillip II (1556-1598). This Hapsburg era saw the Italian Wars, the Dutch Revolt, and the Morisco Revolt, along with the revolt of the comuneros, clashes with the Ottomans, the Anglo-Spanish War and the wars with France.
The Imperial Era can best be described as a time of discovery, both within Iberian Spain and around the world. Spain acquired land and unprecedented wealth as the empire expanded into parts of the Americas, into islands in the Asia-Pacific region, and into parts of Italy, North Africa and what are now France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Often referred to as the Spanish Golden Age, this era saw many daring voyages, the opening of new trade routes and the rise of humanism and the Protestant Reformation.
If the early part of the Imperial Era was the Golden Age, the latter half of the 16 century and the early part of the 17 century might be nicknamed the “Age of War.” As a Catholic country, Spain found itself deeply entrenched in religiously-charged wars during the Protestant Reformation, resulting in military conflicts across Europe and in the Mediterranean. The Black Legend, or anti-Spanish propaganda, was aimed at Spain by rival European powers, particularly by the Protestant countries of England and the Netherlands as a means to “morally disqualify the country and its people.” The Black Legend particularly embellishes the facts with regard to the Inquisition, or the treatment of the American indigenous peoples in its Spanish colonies, and non-Catholics in its European territories.
Towards the end of the 17 century, a war-torn Spain gradually began to decline, surrendering many of its territories in France and the Netherlands and losing the region now known as Portugal. The country did, however, retain its massive empire overseas, which it would continue to hold onto until early in the 19 century.
In the early part of the 18 century, a controversy over succession to the throne led to the War of Spanish Succession, costing Spain its European possessions and its title as one of the world’s powers. It would later, however, recover some of its international standing by aiding the British in the American War of Independence. During the War of Spanish Succession, the French-originating Bourbon dynasty rose to power, and the first Bourbon king, Philip V, united the crowns of Castile and Aragon into a single state, thus eradicating many of the old regional privileges and laws.
The Napoleon Era
In 1807, the Spanish King Charles IV entered into the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau with the French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte—a treaty in which it was agreed that Portugal and all Portuguese dominions were to be divided between the two signatories. By doing this, Napoleon wanted to secure and ensure the Continental Blockade he had imposed on Britain in 1806 by capturing the Portuguese ports. The Spanish Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy was also present at the time the treaty was signed.
For its part, Spain acted very slowly with regard to the occupation, and Napoleon, who was fully aware of the disastrous state of Spain's economy and administration, its political fragility, and its perceived weakness as an ally, began positioning French troops in Spain in preparation for a French invasion of Portugal. Once this was completed, Napoleon continued to move additional French troops into Spain.
The presence of French troops was far from popular with the Spanish people, ultimately resulting in the Mutiny of Aranjuez and the March, 1808 abdication of Charles IV of Spain in favor of his son Ferdinand VII. Napoleon had amassed some 100,000 troops in Spain by this time, and Charles IV hoped that the French ruler would assist him in regaining the throne. However, not only did Napoleon refuse to help Charles, he also refused to recognize his son, Ferdinand VII as king, and instead pressured both of the Spanish monarchs to cede the throne to himself, at which time he installed his oldest brother as King Joseph I.
Joseph Bonaparte, a puppet monarch, was much-reviled by the Spanish people, and the revolt on May 2, 1808 was just one of the many uprisings led by the Spanish people in opposition to French rule. Collectively these revolts triggered the Spanish War of Independence. Initially in this war, Napoleon’s forces were able to push back the badly-coordinated Spanish armies, but due to the brave actions of Spanish guerillas and Wellington’s British-Portuguese forces, coupled with Napoleon’s devastating loss during the invasion of Russia, the French troops were finally ousted in 1814 and King Ferdinand VII was installed as the new king.
Civil War Comes to Spain
In the early part of the 20 century, heavy losses, resulting from Spain’s attempt to colonize parts of Africa, began to undermine the country’s authority. For a period, the country came under the authoritarian rule of General Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-1931), a period which ended with the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic. Among other moves, the leadership of the new Republic offered political autonomy to the Basque Country, Galicia and Catalonia, and gave suffrage rights to women.
The Spanish Civil War between the Republican forces and the rebel Nationalist forces raged on from 1936 to 1939, claiming the lives of some 500,000 people and causing another half million people to flee the country, with most ending up in South America, particularly Argentina. The Nationalist forces. backed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, were ultimately victorious, leading and the Nationalist General, Francisco Franco, was installed as the new ruler of Spain.
History of Spain Under Franco
Under General Franco, Spain was nominally neutral during the Second World War, although its official sympathies rested with the Axis Powers. Only one legal political party existed under Franco’s dictatorship—the Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las JONS. Established in 1937, this sole party, which would later be renamed the Movimiento Nacional (National Movement) in 1949, emphasized Catholicism, Nationalism and anti-Communism.
During the 1960s, Spain, which had basically been politically and economically isolated after World War II, experienced an unprecedented rate of economic growth in what came to be known as the Spanish Miracle. The growth helped the country resume the much interrupted transition towards a modern economy.
Post Franco Era and the New Democracy
Following the death of General Franco in 1975, Juan Carlos succeeded as the King of Spain and head of state. Three years later, the country approved a new Spanish Constitution, resulting in the restoration of democracy. It was at this time that the country began to delegate much of the previously-held National authority to the regions and created an international organization based on autonomous communities.
Following a referendum, Spain joined NATO in May of 1982, the same year that the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) came to power, the first left-wing government in 43 years. Spain joined the European Union in 1986, and in 1996, the PSOE, after having served 14 consecutive years in office, was defeated by the Partido Popular in the General Elections. In 2002, Spain discontinued use of the peseta as currency, replacing it with the Euro.
On March 11, 2004, a series of bombs exploded in commuter trains in Madrid, killing 190 people and injuring roughly 1,800 more. After a lengthy trial, spanning five months, it was concluded that the bombings were perpetrated by a local Islamist group inspired by al-Qaeda, with the possible goal of influencing the general elections to be held three days later.
Like in many countries throughout the world, Spain is currently in the midst of a major economic recession/crisis, caused largely by the massive decline in the housing market.
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