The history of Spain spans the period from prehistoric Iberia, through the rise and fall of a global empire, to the recent history of Spain as a member of the European Union.
Modern humans entered the Iberian Peninsula about 32,000 years ago. Different populations and cultures followed over the millennia, including the Iberians, the Tartessians, Celts and Celtiberians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Suebi and Visigoths. In 711, the Moors, a Berber and Arab army, invaded and conquered nearly the entire peninsula. During the next 750 years, independent Muslim states were established, and the entire area of Muslim control became known as Al-Andalus. Meanwhile the Christian kingdoms in the north began the long and slow recovery of the peninsula, a process called the Reconquista, which was concluded in 1492 with the fall of Granada.
The Kingdom of Spain was created in 1492 with the unification of the Kingdom of Castile and the Kingdom of Aragon. In this year also was the first voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World, beginning the development of the Spanish Empire. The Inquisition was established and Jews and Muslims who refused to convert were expelled from the country.
For the next three centuries Spain was the most important colonial power in the world. It was the most powerful state in Europe and the foremost global power during the 16th century and the greater part of the 17th century. Spanish literature and fine arts, scholarship and philosophy flourished during this time. Spain established a vast empire in the Americas, stretching from California to Patagonia, and colonies in the western Pacific. Financed in part by the riches pouring in from its colonies, Spain became embroiled in the religiously charged wars and intrigues of Europe, including, for example, obtaining and losing possessions in today's Netherlands, Italy, France, and Germany, and engaging in wars with France, England, Sweden, and the Ottomans in the Mediterranean Sea and northern Africa. Spain's European wars, however, led to economic damage, and the latter part of the 17th century saw a gradual decline of power under an increasingly neglectful and inept Habsburg regime. The decline culminated in the War of Spanish Succession, which ended with the relegation of Spain's from the position of a leading western power, to that of a secondary one, although it remained (with Russia) the leading colonial power.
The eighteenth century saw a new dynasty, the Bourbons, which directed considerable efforts towards the renewal of state institutions, with some success, finishing in a successful involvement in the American War of Independence. However, as the century ended, a reaction set in with the accession of a new monarch. The end of the eighteenth and the start of the nineteenth centuries saw turmoil unleashed throughout Europe by the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, which finally led to a French occupation of much of the continent, including Spain. This triggered a successful but devastating war of independence that shattered the country and created an opening for what would ultimately be the successful independence of Spain's mainland American colonies. Shattered by the war, Spain was destabilised as different political parties representing "liberal", "reactionary" and "moderate" groups throughout the remainder of the century fought for and won short-lived control without any being sufficiently strong to bring about lasting stability. Nationalist movements emerged in the last significant remnants of the old empire (Cuba and the Philippines) which led to a brief war with the United States and the loss of the remaining old colonies at the end of the century.
Following a period of growing political instability in the early twentieth century, in 1936 Spain was plunged into a bloody civil war. The war ended in a nationalist dictatorship, led by Francisco Franco which controlled the Spanish government until 1975. Spain was officially neutral during World War II, although many Spanish volunteers fought on both sides. The post-war decades were relatively stable (with the notable exception of an armed independence movement in the Basque Country), and the country experienced rapid economic growth in the 1960s and early 1970s. The death of Franco in 1975 resulted in the return of the Bourbon monarchy headed by Prince Juan Carlos. While tensions remain (for example, with Muslim immigrants and in the Basque region), modern Spain has seen the development of a robust, modern democracy as a constitutional monarchy with popular King Juan Carlos, one of the fastest-growing standards of living in Europe, entry into the European Community, and the 1992 Summer Olympics.
The earliest record of hominids living in Europe has been found in the Spanish cave of Atapuerca; fossils found there are dated to roughly 1.2 million years ago. Modern humans in the form of Cro-Magnons began arriving in the Iberian Peninsula from north of the Pyrenees some 35,000 years ago. The most conspicuous sign of prehistoric human settlements are the famous paintings in the northern Spanish cave of Altamira, which were done ca. 15,000 BC and are regarded as paramount instances of cave art. Furthermore, archeological evidence in places like Los Millares in Almería and in El Argar in Murcia suggests developed cultures existed in the eastern part of the Iberian Peninsula during the late Neolithic and the Bronze Age.
The seafaring Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians successively settled along the Mediterranean coast and founded trading colonies there over a period of several centuries. Around 1100 BC, Phoenician merchants founded the trading colony of Gadir or Gades (modern day Cádiz) near Tartessos. Regarding Tartessos, it should also be mentioned that according to John Koch Cunliffe, Karl, Wodtko and other highly respected scholars, Celtic culture may well have developed first in far Southern Portugal and Southwestern Spain, approximately 500 years prior to anything recorded in Central Europe.The Tartessian language from the southwest of Spain, written in a version of the Phoenician script in use around 825 BC, has been readily translated by John T. Koch as Celtic and is being accepted by a growing number of philologists and other linguists as the first Celtic language.In the 9th century BC, the first Greek colonies, such as Emporion (modern Empúries), were founded along the Mediterranean coast on the east, leaving the south coast to the Phoenicians. The Greeks are responsible for the name Iberia, apparently after the river Iber (Ebro in Spanish). In the 6th century BC, the Carthaginians arrived in Iberia, struggling first with the Greeks, and shortly after, with the newly arriving Romans for control of the Western Mediterranean. Their most important colony was Carthago Nova (Latin name of modern day Cartagena).
The native peoples whom the Romans met at the time of their invasion in what is now known as Spain were the Iberians, inhabiting from the southwest part of the Peninsula through the northeast part of it, and then the Celts, mostly inhabiting 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 was present, the one known as Celtiberian.The Celtiberian Wars or Spanish Wars were fought between the advancing legions of the Roman Republic and the Celtiberian tribes of Hispania Citerior from 181 to 133 BC.
Roman conquest of Hispania
Roman bridge in Cordoba
Hispania 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).
The base Celtiberian population remained in various stages of Romanisation, and local leaders were admitted into the Roman aristocratic class.
The Romans improved existing cities, such as Tarragona (Tarraco), and established others like Zaragoza (Caesaraugusta), Mérida (Augusta Emerita), Valencia (Valentia), León ("Legio Septima"), Badajoz ("Pax Augusta"), and Palencia. The peninsula's economy expanded under Roman tutelage. Hispania supplied Rome with food, olive oil, wine and metal. The emperors Trajan, Hadrian, Theodosius I, the philosopher Seneca and the poets Martial, Quintilian and Lucan were born in Spain. The Spanish Bishops held the Council at Elvira in 306.
The first Germanic tribes to invade Hispania arrived in the 5th century, as the Roman Empire decayed. The Visigoths, Suebi, Vandals and Alans arrived in Spain by crossing the Pyrenees mountain range.The Romanized Visigoths entered Hispania in 415. After the conversion of their monarchy to Roman Catholicism, the Visigothic Kingdom eventually encompassed a great part of the Iberian Peninsula after conquering the disordered Suebic territories in the northwest and Byzantine territories in the southeast.
The collapse of the Western Roman Empire did not lead to the same wholesale destruction of Western classical society as happened in areas like Roman Britain, Gaul and Germania Inferior during the Dark Ages, even if the institutions, infrastructure and economy did suffer considerable degradation. Spain's present languages, its religion, and the basis of its laws originate from this period. The centuries of uninterrupted Roman rule and settlement left a deep and enduring imprint upon the culture of Spain.
Germanic Occupation of Hispania (5th–8th centuries)
After the decline 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.
Visigothic Hispania and its regional divisions in 700, prior to the Muslim conquest.
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.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 (Sarmatian) 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.
Importantly, Spain never saw a decline in interest in classical culture to the degree observable 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 Visigothic 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.
Greatest extent of the Visigothic Kingdom of Toulouse, c. 500, showing Territory lost after Vouille in light orange.
The period of rule by the Visigothic Kingdom 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 on 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, uninterested 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 8th century.