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History of Spain

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This is the history of Spain. Its history is part of the history of Europe and part of the history of present-day nations and states.

It is traditional (at least, since the 19th century) to start the history of modern Spain with the Visigoth kingdom. Although it is debatable whether there is continuity between it and the Kingdom of Castilla and Aragon after the 15th century, a discussion of modern Spain would be incomplete without a mention of the Visigoth Kingdom. Accordingly, both it and Al Andalus have their own sections in this article, but should have full-blown articles of their own.

Early History

The earliest history of the Iberian peninsula is discussed as part of prehistoric Europe.

Before the Roman Empire, the Iberian Peninsula was never politically unified, see Preroman Iberia for a discussion of the indigenous Celtiberian groups and the trading ports established by the Greek, Tyrian (Phoenician), and later Carthaginian along the Mediterranean coast.

Roman Iberia is discussed under Hispania and in entries keyed to the Roman provinces into which it was divided: Hispania Ulterior and Hispania Citerior during the late Roman Republic; and, during the Roman Empire, Hispania Taraconensis in the northeast, Hispania Baetica in the south (roughly corresponding to Andalucia), and Lusitania in the southwest (corresponding to modern Portugal).

Visigothic Hispania (5th-8th centuries)

Main article: Visigothic Hispania

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Germanic tribes invaded the former empire, several turned sedentary and created successor-kingdoms to the Romans in various parts of Europe. Iberia was taken over by the Visigoths after 410.

In the Iberian peninsula, as elsewhere, the Empire fell not with a bang but with a whimper. Rather than there being any convenient date for the "fall of the Roman Empire" there was a progressive "de-Romanization" of the Western Roman Empire in Hispania and a weakening of central authority, throughout the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries CE. At the same time, there was a process of "Romanization" of the Germanic and Hunnic tribes settled on both sides of the limes (the fortified frontier of the Empire along the Rhine and Danube rivers). The Visigoths, for example, were converted to Arian Christianity around 360, even before they were pushed into imperial territory by the expansion of the Huns. In the winter of 406, taking advantage of the frozen Rhine, the (Germanic) Vandals and Sueves, and the (Asiatic) Alans invaded the empire in force. Three years later they crossed the Pyrenees into Iberia and divided the Western parts, roughly corresponding to modern Portugal and western Spain as far as Madrid, between them. The Visigoths meanwhile, having sacked Rome two years earlier, arrived in the region in 412 founding the Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse (in the south of modern France) and gradually expanded their influence into the Iberian peninsula at the expense of the Vandals and Alans, who moved on into North Africa without leaving much permanent mark on Hispanic culture. The Visigothic kingdom shifted its capital to Toledo and reached a high point during the reign of Leovigild, treated in some detail at its own entry.

Importantly, Spain never entered the period of the Dark Ages such as were endured in Britain, Gaul, Lombardy and Germany. The Visigoths tended to maintain more of the old Roman institutions, and they had a unique respect for legal codes that resulted in continuous frameworks and historical records for most of the period between 415, when Visigothic rule in Spain began, and 711, when it is traditionally said to end. The proximity of the Visigothic kingdoms to the Mediterranean and the continuity of western Mediterranean trade, though in reduced quantity, supported Visigothic culture. Arian Visigothic nobility kept apart from the local Catholic population. The Visigoth ruling class looked to Constantinople for style and technology while the rivals of Visigothic power and culture were the Catholic bishops— and a brief incursion of Byzantine power in Cordoba.

The period of Visigothic rule saw the spread of Arianism briefly in Spain. In 587, Reccared, the Visigothic king at Toledo, having been converted to Catholicism put an end to dissension on the question of Arianism and launched a movement in Spain to unify the various religious doctrines that existed in the land. The Council of Lerida in 546 constrained the clergy and extended the power of law over them under the blessings of Rome.

The Visigoths inherited from Late Antiquity a sort of feudal system in Spain, based in the south of the Roman villa system and in the north drawing on their vassals to supply troops in exchange for protection. The bulk of the Visigothic army was composed of slaves, raised from the countryside. The loose council of nobles that advised Spain's Visigothic kings and legitimized their rule was responsible for raising the army, and only upon its consent was the king able to summon soldiers.

The impact of Visigothic rule was not widely felt on society at large, and certainly not compared to the vast bureaucracy of the Roman Empire; they tended to rule as barbarians of a mild sort, disinterested in the events of the nation and economy, working for personal benefit, and little literature remains to us from the period. They did not, until the period of Muslim rule, merge with the Spanish population, preferring to remain separate, and indeed the Visigothic language left only the faintest mark on the modern languages of Iberia. The most visible effect was the depopulation of the cities as they moved to the countryside. Even while the country enjoyed a degree of prosperity when compared to the famines of France and Germany in this period, the Visigoths felt little reason to contribute to the welfare, permanency, and infrastructure of their people and state. This contributed to their downfall as they could not count on the loyalty of their subjects, when the Moors arrived in the eighth century.

Al-Andalus (8th-15th centuries)

Main article: Al Andalus

In 711, Arabs and Berbers had converted to Islam, a religion founded in the 7th century by prophet Muhammad and which by the 8th dominated all the north of Africa. A raiding party led by Tariq ibn-Ziyad was sent to intervene in a civil war in the Visigothic kingdoms in Iberia. Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, it won a decisive victory in the summer of 711 when the Visigoth king Roderic was defeated and killed on July 19th at the Battle of Guadalete. Tariq's commander, Musa bin Nusair quickly crossed with substantial reinforcements, and by 718 the Muslims dominated most of the peninsula. The advance into Europe was stopped by the Franks under Charles Martel at the battle of Poitiers (France) in 732.

The rulers of Al-Andalus were granted the rank of Emir by the Umayyad Caliph in Damascus. After the Umayyad were overthrown by the Abbasids, Abd-ar-rahman I declared Cordoba an independent emirate. Al-Andalus was rife with internal conflict between the Arab Umayyad rulers, the Berber (North African) commoners and the Visigoth-Roman Christian population. Many of the Berbers, who had been given poor land in the northern parts of the peninsula, soon abandoned their estates and returned to Africa after a number of years with failed harvests. The lands were left unclaimed through disinterest, and this created a power vacuum where Christian kingdoms later would rise.

In the 10th century Abd-ar-rahman III declared the Caliphate of Cordoba, effectively breaking all ties with the Egyptian and Syrian Caliphs. The Caliphate was mostly concerned with maintaining its power base in North Africa, but these possessions eventually dwindled to the Ceuta province. Meanwhile, a slow but steady migration of Christian subjects to the northern kingdoms was slowly increasing the power of the northern kingdoms. Even so, Al-Andalus remained vastly superior to all the northern kingdoms combined in population, economy, culture and military might, and internal conflict between the Christian kingdoms contributed to keep them relatively harmless.

Muslim interest in the peninsula returned in force around the year 1000. Under Al-Mansur (a.k.a. Almanzor), who sacked Barcelona (985), and subsequently his son, Christian cities were subjected to numerous raids. After his son's death, the Caliphate plunged into a civil war and splintered into the so-called "Taifa Kingdoms". The Taifa kings competed against each other not only in war, but also in the protection of the arts, and culture enjoyed a brief upswing. The Taifa kingdoms lost ground to the Christian realms in the north and, after the loss of Toledo in 1085, the Muslim rulers reluctantly invited the Almoravides, who invaded Al-Andalus from North Africa and established an empire. In the 12th century the Almoravide empire broke up again, only to be taken over by the Almohad invasion, who were defeated in the decisive battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. By the mid-13th century Granada was the only independent Muslim realm in Spain, which would last until 1492.

Córdoba became one of the most beautiful and advanced cities of Europe, and an important scholarly center. (See also Abbadides, Almohades).

Reconquista (8th-15th centuries)

Main article: Medieval Hispania

The expulsion of the Muslims was reputedly started by the first King of Asturias, named Pelayo (718-737), who started his fight against the Moors in the mountains of Covadonga (722). Later, his sons and descendants continued with his work until all of the Muslims were expelled. See Pelayo for more information.

Meanwhile, in the east of the peninsula the Frankish emperors established the Marca Hispanica across the Pyrenees in part of what today is Catalonia, reconquering Girona in 785 and Barcelona in 801.

The idea of the Reconquista as a single process spanning eight centuries is historically inaccurate. The Christian realms in northern Spain warred against each other as much as against the Muslims. The ancient Kingdom of Asturias clung to the loose mountains of northeastern Spain, with its capital at Oviedo, while the Basques in Navarre retained sovereignty through the period of Moslem rule. The military decline of the Ummayads in Spain led to the creation in 913 of the Kingdom of Leon. Sancho III of Navarre - a man of considerable military skill - placed his son Ferdinand on the throne of the County of Castile in 1028, propelling Christian Spain yet further into the south. Ferdinand was a prudent and pious monarch, unifying Navarre, Galicia, Asturias, and Leon under his leadership. Because the tradition of primogeniture did not yet exist in Spain, upon Ferdinand's death in 1065 his lands were divided among his sons, Alfonso VI of Castile, Sancho II of Castile, and Garcia of Galicia. Alfonso attempted to take Sancho's land, although the latter apparently inherited more of his father's tact and strategy, and after defeating him sent Alfonso into exile. Garcia never ruled, and was imprisoned for the duration of his short life.

Sancho's death in 1072 meant that Alfonso VI had the superior claim, and he returned to power, once again in command of all of Ferdinand I's domains. Alfonso was an impressive leader as well, and did much to improve his realm to become one of Christian Europe's foremost monarchies, tolerating Moslems to an extent remarkable for his time. During his reign, El Cid, the 11th-century hero of Spain's epic poem was banished and found refuge with the Muslim king of Zaragoza. With the collapse of the Caliphate of Córdoba, Al-Andalus had broken apart into a number of small, warring domains, which contributed to the success of Alfonso's southward expansionist drive of the Christian kingdoms, culminating with the conquest of Toledo in 1085. After the invasion of the Almoravides, his progress was checked.

On the death of Alfonso VII, Leon and Castile were again divided, although the division was not permanent: Alfonso IX's son Ferdinand by Berenguela of Castile, united the two realms on his accession to Leon in 1230. Called the Saint, Ferdinand fought for most of his reign against the Moors in the south. The reconquest of Spain had been declared a crusade at the turn of the 13th century, but when all lands but Granada had been conquered, most of its energy was spent. Ferdinand's reign was the beginning of Spain's prominence in European affairs, ending the diplomatic isolation brought on by his father's clashes with the Pope over his marriages. The University of Salamanca - one of Europe's oldest - was built during his reign and spawned an early Christian school of thought in economics. Ferdinand's successor, Alfonso X the Learned, helped to reintroduce classical thought to Europe from the Moorish libraries and universities. Succeeding monarchs, allied to the Kingdom of Aragon, succeeded in driving the Moslems further south, capturing Gibraltar in 1309. The despotic and bloody rule of Peter the Cruel caused him to be ousted in 1366 briefly. Peter's wars with Aragon caused Castile's power to weaken briefly.

A revived movement for the Christian unification of Spain was capitalized on by the "Catholic monarchs" (Reyes Católicos in Spanish) Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon in order to justify their invasion of Granada, the expulsion of the Jews and the forceful conversion of the Moors. In the 15th century, the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were united under Isabella and Ferdinand. These two able rulers ruled jointly and worked to consolidate the power of the monarchy at the expense of the nobility. During their reign, the castles of many nobles (symbols of aristocratic independence from the monarchy) were demolished, and a system of regular taxation was established. Ferdinand and Isabella established the basis for the unification of Spain religiously as well as politically and economically. Under their rule the Muslims were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula. Aragon was at that time already an important maritime power in the Mediterranean, and Castile was in competition with Portugal for domination of the Atlantic Ocean. After the final conquest of the last Moorish stronghold at Granada in 1492, Spain started financing voyages of exploration. Those of Christopher Columbus brought a New World to Europe's attention, and were followed by the Conquistadores who brought the native empires of Mesoamerica and the Inca under Spanish Control. At the same time, the Jews of Spain were ordered on March 30, 1492 to convert to Christianity or be exiled from the country.

Through a policy of alliances with other European nobility and the conquest of most of South America and the West Indies, Spain began to establish itself as an empire. The Treaty of Tordesillas, negotiated by Pope Alexander VI between Portugal and Spain, effectively divided up the non-European world between these two budding empires. Massive amounts of gold and silver were imported from the New World into Spain's coffers. However, in the long run this hurt the Spanish economy much more than it helped it. The bullion caused high inflation rates, which undermined the value of Spain's currency. Additionally, Spain became dependent on her colonies for income, and when Queen Elizabeth I of England began to capture Spanish vessels on the way to and from the New World, Spain suffered massive economic losses. These effects, combined with the expulsion of Spain's most economically vital classes in the late 15th century (the Jews and the Moors), caused Spain's economy to collapse several times in the 16th century, brining the Golden Age of Spain to a close.

Spain under the Habsburgs (16th-17th centuries)

Spain's powerful world empire of the 16th and 17th centuries reached its height and declined under the Habsburgs. The Spanish empire reached its maximum extent under Charles I, who was also (as Charles V) emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. (See Castilian War of the Communities) Under his successor Philip II, rising inflation, the expulsion of the Jews and Moors from Spain, and the dependency of Spain on New World gold and silver combined to cause multiple bankruptcies and economic crashes in Spain. The riches of America were directed to pay the loans of European bankers like the Fugger, that funded the costly wars in defence of Catholicism and the dynastic interests. Under Phillip II Spain also suffered the inglorious defeat of its Armada As the Spanish Habsburgs declined, they ultimately yielded command of the seas to England.

The Habsburg dynasty became extinct in Spain and the War of the Spanish Succession ensued in which the other European powers tried to assume control of the Spanish monarchy. King Louis XIV of France eventually "won" the War the of Spanish Succession, and control of Spain passed to the Bourbon dynasty.

The Enlightenment: Spain under the Bourbons (18th century)

Philip V, the first Bourbon king, of French origin, signed the Decreto de Nueva Planta in 1715, a new law that revoked most of the historical rights and privileges of the different kingdoms that conformed the Spanish Crown, unifying them under the laws of Castile, where the Cortes had been more receptive to the royal wish. Spain became culturally and politically a follower of France. The rule of the Spanish Bourbons continued under Ferdinand VI and Charles III. His son Charles IV was truly incompetent (some say mentally handicapped), and under his reign Spain fell to the armies of Napoleon.

Under the Bonaparte, Spain failed to embrace the mercantile and industrial revolutions of the 18th century, and also failed to absorb the ideals that of the Enlightenment that were revolutionizing European thought. These missed opportunities, combined with the economic failures of the 17th century, caused the country to fall desperately behind Britain, France, and Germany in economic and political power.

Napoleonic Wars: War of Spanish Independence (1808-1812)

The Napoleonic invasion gave the opportunity to the American colonies to claim their independence (See Libertadores). In 1812 the Cortes took refuge at Cádiz and created the first modern Spanish constitution, informally named as La Pepa.

Reign of Ferdinand VII (1813-1833)

1813-1820 [Vivan las caenas] - The Spanish people, blaming the liberal, enlightened policies of the francophiles (afrancesados) for the Napoleonic occupation, welcome the authoritarian rule of Ferdinand VII. The constitution of 1812 was revoked by the returning king Ferdinand VII in 1814.

1820-1823 [Trienio Liberal] - After the pronunciamento (coup d'etat) by Riego, the king was forced to accept the liberal Constitution.

1823-1833 [Decada ominosa] - Another coup d'etat revoked the Constitution, executed Riego, and restored Ferdinand VII as absolute monarch.

Regency by Maria Cristina

Carlist Wars

see also Tomás de Zumalacárregui

Isabella II of Spain

Amadeus I of Spain of the House of Savoy

First Spanish Republic (1873-1874)

[The Restoration]

Alfonso XII -

The "disaster" of 1898

By 1898, Spain had lost most of its colonial possessions. Then Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam were lost to the United States. (See also: Spanish-American War) Spain's colonial possessions were reduced to Spanish Morocco, Western Sahara and Equatorial Guinea.

Alfonso XIII

The "disaster" of Annual (1921)

Mistreatment of the Moorish population in Morocco led to an uprising and the loss of all North African possessions except for the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in 1921. Abd el-Krim, Annual. In order to avoid accountability, the king Alfonso XIII decided to support the dictatorship of general Miguel Primo de Rivera.

The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1921-1930)

The dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera collapsed in 1930. Disgusted with the king's involvement in it, urban population voted for republican parties in the municipal elections of April 1931. The king was forced to resign and a republic was established.

Second Spanish Republic (1931-1939)

First time women are allowed to vote in general elections. Autonomy devolved to the Basque Country and to Catalonia.

Spanish Civil War 1936-1939

See Spanish Civil War

The dictatorship of Franco 1936-1975

Spain remained neutral in World Wars I and II, but suffered through a devastating Civil War (1936-39). During Franco's rule, Spain remained largely economically and culturally isolated from the outside world, but slowly began to catch up economically with its European neighbors.

Under Franco, Spain actively sought the return of Gibraltar by the UK, and gained some support for its cause at the United Nations. During the 1960s, Spain began imposing restrictions on Gibraltar, culminating in the closure of the border in 1969. It was not fully reopened until 1985.

Spain also relinquished its colonies in Africa, with Spanish rule in Morocco ending in 1956. Spanish Guinea was granted independence as Equatorial Guinea in 1968, while the Moroccan enclave of Ifni had been ceded to Morocco in 1969.

The latter years of Franco's rule saw some economic and political liberalisation, the so called Spanish Miracle, including the birth of a tourism industry. Francisco Franco ruled until his death on November 20th 1975 when control was given to King Juan Carlos.

In the last few months before Franco's death, the Spanish state went into a paralysis. This was capitalized upon by King Hassan of Morocco, who ordered the 'Green March' into Western Sahara, Spain's last colonial possession.

The transition to democracy 1975-1978

At present, Spain is a constitutional monarchy, and is comprised of 17 autonomous communities (Andalucía, Aragón, Asturias, Illes Balears, Islas Canarias, Cantabria, Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha, Catalunya, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, País Vasco, Comunitat Valenciana, Navarra, Ceuta and Melilla). One of the most important problems facing Spain today is ETA's terrorism - this illegal organization defends Basque independence through violent means, which is condemned by both Central and Basque government, although there is tension between these governments since PNV (the party presently governing Basque Country) longs for greater autonomy from Spain, including the possibility of independence, something Spanish government doesn't accept.

Spain since 1978

[Spain 1978-1982] The Union del Centro Democrático governments. 1981 The 23-F coup d'etat attempt. On February 23 Antonio Tejero, with members of the Guardia Civil entered the Spanish Congress of Deputies, and stopped the session, where Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo was going to be named president of the government. Officially, the coup d'etat failed thanks to King Juan Carlos.

[Spain 1982-1996] Felipe González's Socialist governments. Spain joins the NATO. 1986 Spain enters the European Union. 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Expo 92 in Seville.

[Spain 1996-2004] The Partido Popular governments of José María Aznar. On January 1, 1999 Spain exchanges the peseta for the new euro currency. On March 11 2004 a number of terrorist bombs exploded on busy commuter trains in Madrid during the morning rush-hour days before the general election. José María Aznar quickly accuses ETA however soon after it becomes apparent that the bombing was the work of an extremist Islamic group linked to Al-Qaida. Many believe that as a direct result of the the attacks the results of the election was altered. However opinion polls at the time show that the difference between the two main contenders was too close to make an accurate judgement.

[Spain 2004-] José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's Socialist government.

See also