Freelance Spain

A Brief History of Spain

From Atapuerca to King Juan Carlos in 500 words. Text by Mark Little.

Most of the Iberian peninsula has been populated since prehistoric times. Early evidence of human habitation unearthed at the Atapuerca site in northern Spain are some 800,000 years old. Modern man made his appearance around 35,000 BC. Sometime around 4000 BC, much of Spain was settled by the Iberians, arriving from the east. The Celts arrived later, settling in the northern third of the peninsula. Bronze age civilization flourished in the south, culminating with the Tartessian civilization around Seville (1000-500 BC).

Around 1100 BC, Phoenician seafarers from present-day Lebanon set up trading colonies in Cadiz and elsewhere along the Spanish coast. Phocaean Greeks also traded along the north-eastern coast. With the fall of Phoenicia, the Iberian peninsula came under the rule of Carthage (present day Tunisia), but was occupied by Rome following the Punic Wars. The Romans held sway in Iberia for six centuries, laying the foundations for Spanish language and culture.

Following the fall of the western Roman empire in the fifth century AD, Spain was ruled by the Visigoths, a Germanic people who had migrated from central Europe. In 711, the Muslims of northern Africa launched an invasion across the Strait of Gibraltar, occupying most of the peninsula within a few years. Their presence lasted more than seven centuries, though the Christian kingdoms to the north increased in power over the generations, gradually driving the Moors southwards. The last Moorish kingdom, Granada (the eastern half of present-day Andalusia), was conquered in 1492.

The discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus and the expulsion of Jews and Moors from Spain were to mark Spanish history forever. Treasure from Spain's vast overseas empire pushed Spain into the forefront of European countries, but constant warfare drained resources. With the accession of the Bourbon dynasty to the Spanish throne at the beginning of the 18th century, Spain came within the French sphere of influence for the following 100 years, up to the defeat of Napoleon's army during the Peninsular War.

During the 19th century, Spain was sharply divided between conservatives and liberals, and rural and urban society. Coups d'etat and changes of government were frequent. With the increasing power of the working class, in 1931 king Alfonso XIII was forced to abdicate, and Spain was declared a republic. Conservative reaction from the church and army sparked the Spanish Civil War, which raged from 1936 to 1939 and was a prelude to World War II. Under the dictator Franco, who had been sympathetic to the Axis powers, Spain was ostracized from the community of nations until it became strategically attractive to the US during the Cold War. The first US bases opened in the 1950s. Spaniards working abroad and tourists arriving in increasing numbers brought  in foreign revenue and fueled the emergence of a large middle class. When Franco finally died in 1975, the accession of King Juan Carlos to the throne and the transition to a democratic state were relatively smooth.

Mark Little was the editor of the Freelance Spain website.

KEY DATES IN SPANISH HISTORY

1100 BC. Phoenician traders establish colony at Cádiz in southern Iberia.

228 BC. Carthaginians occupy southern and eastern Iberia.

218-220 BC. Romans defeat Carthage in Second Punic War and occupy Iberian peninsula.

74. Inhabitants of Iberia are granted full Roman citizenship.

409. Visigoths occupy Iberian peninsula.

711. Combined Arab and Berber force from northern Africa cross Strait of Gibraltar to occupy Iberian peninsula.

756. Independent Emirate is established in Iberia, with Córdoba as its capital.

913. Having re-taken territories in northern Spain, Christians establish capital in León.

1013. Powerful Caliphate of Córdoba breaks up due to internal strife; Moorish Spain split into small feuding kingdoms.

1212. Decisive Christian victory at battle of Navas de Tolosa spells the beginning of the end of Moorish rule in Spain.

1492. King Fernando and Queen Isabel's army capture Granada after a long siege, the final defeat of the Moors in Spain. Jews are forced to convert to Christianity; those who refuse are expelled from Spain. Christopher Columbus sets sail on his voyage of discovery.

1588. Defeat of Spanish Armada sent to invade England. Spanish Empire is at the height of its power, but is slowly declining.

1702-14. War of Spanish Succession. Bourbon dynasty accedes to Spanish throne.

1808-14. Peninsular War. Spaniards rise against Napoleon's occupying force. Combination of guerilla tactics and support from Wellington's army end in French defeat.

1898. Spanish American War. Spain loses Cuba and Philippines.

1931. Spanish king is forced to abdicate. Spain becomes a republic.

1936-39. Spanish Civil War. Bloody conflict ends with General Franco's victory. Dictatorship established.

1975. Franco dies, Juan Carlos de Borbón is proclaimed king. Spain becomes constitutional monarchy. Democracy would bring membership of the European Community.

MORE INSIGHTS  

See also: 
"Heaven can wait" by Robert Latona, about Queen Isabel.
"The First Europeans" by Mark Little.
"Royal Centennial" by Mark Little, about King Carlos I.
  

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