Main articles: Muslim conquests, Umayyad conquest of Hispania, Al-Andalus, and Reconquista
The Arab Islamic conquest covered dominated most of North Africa by 640 AD. In 711 an Islamic Arab and Berber raiding party, led by Tariq ibn-Ziyad, was sent to Iberia to intervene in a civil war in the Visigothic Kingdom. Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, they won a decisive victory in the summer of 711 when the Visigothic King Roderic was defeated and killed on July 19 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 Iberian Peninsula. The advance into Western Europe was stopped in north-central France by the West Germanic Franks under Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732.
Caliph Al-Walid I paid great attention to the expansion of an organized military, building the strongest navy in the Umayyad Caliphate (first Moorish dynasty of Al-Andalus) era. It was this tactic that supported the ultimate expansion to Spain. Caliph Al-Walid I's reign is considered as the apex of Islamic power.
The rulers of Al-Andalus were granted the rank of Emir by the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I in Damascus. Emir Abd-ar-rahman I challenged the Abbasids. The Umayyad Caliphate or Emirate was overthrown by the Abbasid Caliphate or Emirate (second Moorish dynasty), some of the remaining Umayyad leaders escaped to Castile and declared Cordoba an independent emirate. Al-Andalus was rife with internal conflict between the Islamic Umayyad rulers and people and the Christian Visigoth-Roman leaders and people.
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. The first navy of the Caliph of Cordoba or Emir was built after the humiliating Viking ascent of the Guadalquivir in 844 when they sacked Seville. In 942, pagan Magyars (present day Hungary) raided across Europe as far west as Al-Andalus. Meanwhile, a slow but steady migration of Christian subjects to the northern kingdoms in Christian Hispania was slowly increasing their power. 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.
Al-Andalus coincided with La Convivencia, an era of religious tolerance and with the Golden age of Jewish culture in the Iberian Peninsula. (See: Emir Abd-ar-Rahman III 912 ; the Granada massacre 1066 ).
Muslim interest in the peninsula returned in force around the year 1000 when Al-Mansur (known as Almanzor), sacked Barcelona (985). Under his son, other 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 Almoravid 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.
Medieval Spain was the scene of almost constant warfare between Muslims and Christians. The Almohads, who had taken control of the Almoravids' Maghribi and Andalusian territories by 1147, far surpassed the Almoravides in fundamentalist outlook, and they treated the dhimmis harshly. Faced with the choice of death, conversion, or emigration, many Jews and Christians left. By the mid-13th century Emirate of Granada was the only independent Muslim realm in Spain, which would last until 1492.
The Kings of Aragón ruled territories that consisted of not only the present administrative region of Aragon but also Catalonia, and later the Balearic Islands, Valencia, Sicily, Naples and Sardinia (see Crown of Aragon). Considered by most to have been the first mercenary company in Western Europe, the Catalan Company proceeded to occupy the Duchy of Athens, which they placed under the protection of a prince of the House of Aragon and ruled until 1379.
As the Reconquista continued, Christian kingdoms and principalities developed. By the 15th century, the most important among these were the Kingdom of Castile (occupying a northern and central portion of the Iberian Peninsula) and the Kingdom of Aragon (occupying northeastern portions of the peninsula). The rulers of these two kingdoms were allied with dynastic families in Portugal, France, and other neighboring kingdoms. The death of Henry IV in 1474 set off a struggle for power between contenders for the throne of Castile, including Joanna La Beltraneja, supported by Portugal and France, and Queen Isabella I, supported by the Kingdom of Aragon, and by the Castilian nobility. Following the War of the Castilian Succession, Isabella retained the throne, and ruled jointly with her husband, King Ferdinand II.
Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon were known as the "Catholic Monarchs" (Spanish: los Reyes Católicos), a title bestowed on them by Pope Alexander VI. They married in 1469 in Valladolid, uniting both crowns and effectively leading to the creation of the Kingdom of Spain, at the dawn of the modern era. They oversaw the final stages of the Reconquista of Iberian territory from the Moors with the conquest of Granada, conquered the Canary Islands and expelled the Jews and Muslims from Spain under the Alhambra decree. They authorized the expedition of Christopher Columbus, who became the first European to reach the New World since Leif Ericson, which led to an influx of wealth into Spain, funding the coffers of the new state that would prove to be a dominant power of Europe for the next two centuries.
Isabella ensured long-term political stability in Spain by arranging strategic marriages for each of her five children. Her firstborn, a daughter named Isabella, married Alfonso of Portugal, forging important ties between these two neighboring countries and hopefully to ensure future alliance, but Isabella soon died before giving birth to an heir. Juana, Isabella’s second daughter, married into the Habsburg dynasty when she wed Philip the Handsome, the son of Maximilian I, King of Bohemia (Austria) and entitled to the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor. This ensured alliance with the Habsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire, a powerful, far-reaching territory that assured Spain’s future political security. Isabella’s first and only son, Juan, married Margaret of Austria, further maintaining ties with the Habsburg dynasty. Her fourth child, Maria, married Manuel I of Portugal, strengthening the link forged by her older sister’s marriage. Her fifth child, Catherine, married Henry VIII, King of England and was mother to Queen Mary I.
If until the 13th century religious minorities (Jews and Muslims) had enjoyed quite some tolerance in Castilla and Aragon - the only Christian kingdoms where Jews were not restricted from any professional occupation - the situation of the Jews collapsed over the 14th century, reaching a climax in 1391 with large scale massacres in every major city, with the exception of Avilla. Over the next century, half of the estimated 200,000 Spanish Jews converted to Christianity (becoming "conversos"). The final step was taken by the Catholic Monarchs, who, in 1492, ordered the remaining Jews to convert or face expulsion from Spain. Depending on different sources, the number of Jews actually expelled is estimated to be anywhere from 40,000 to 120,000 people. Over the following decades, Muslims faced the same fate and about 60 years after the Jews, they were also compelled to convert ("moriscos") or be expelled. Jews and Muslims were not the only people to be persecuted during this time period. Gypsies also endured a tragic fate: all Gypsy males were forced to serve in galleys between the age of 18 and 26 - which was equivalent to a death sentence - but the majority managed to hide and avoid arrest.
The Spanish language and universities
In the 13th century, there were many languages spoken in the Christian sections of what is now Spain, among them Castilian, Aragonese, Catalan, Basque, Galician, Aranese and Leonese. But throughout the century, Castilian (what is also known today as Spanish) gained more and more prominence in the Kingdom of Castile as the language of culture and communication. One example of this is the El Cid. In the last years of the reign of Ferdinand III of Castile, Castilian began to be used for certain types of documents, but it was during the reign of Alfonso X that it became the official language. Henceforth all public documents were written in Castilian, likewise all translations were made into Castilian instead of Latin.
Furthermore, in the 13th Century many universities were founded in León and in Castile, some, like those of the leonese Salamanca and Palencia were among the earliest universities in Europe. In 1492, under the Catholic Monarchs, the first edition of the Grammar of the Castilian Language by Antonio de Nebrija was published.
Main article: Spanish Empire
See also: Habsburg Spain
The Spanish Empire was one of the first modern global empires. It was also one of the largest empires in world history. In the 16th century Spain and Portugal were in the vanguard of European global exploration and colonial expansion and the opening of trade routes across the oceans, with trade flourishing across the Atlantic between Spain and the Americas and across the Pacific between East Asia and Mexico via the Philippines. Conquistadors toppled the Aztec, Inca and Maya civilizations and laid claim to vast stretches of land in North and South America. For a time, the Spanish Empire dominated the oceans with its experienced navy and ruled the European battlefield with its fearsome and well trained infantry, the famous tercios: in the words of the prominent French historian Pierre Vilar, "enacting the most extraordinary epic in human history". Spain enjoyed a cultural golden age in the 16th and 17th centuries.
This American empire was at first a disappointment, as the natives had little to trade, though settlement did encourage trade. The diseases such as smallpox and measles that arrived with the colonizers devastated the native populations, especially in the densely populated regions of the Aztec, Maya and Inca civilizations, and this reduced economic potential of conquered areas.
In the 1520s large scale extraction of silver from the rich deposits of Mexico's Guanajuato began, to be greatly augmented by the silver mines in Mexico's Zacatecas and Bolivia's Potosí from 1546. These silver shipments re-oriented the Spanish economy, leading to the importation of luxuries and grain. They also became indispensable in financing the military capability of Habsburg Spain in its long series of European and North African wars, though, with the exception of a few years in the seventeenth century, Spain itself (Castile in particular) was by far the most important source of revenue. From the time beginning with the incorporation of the Portuguese empire in 1580 (lost in 1640) until the loss of its American colonies in the 19th century, Spain maintained the largest empire in the world even though it suffered fluctuating military and economic fortunes from the 1640s. Confronted by the new experiences, difficulties and suffering created by empire-building, Spanish thinkers formulated some of the first modern thoughts on natural law, sovereignty, international law, war, and economics; there were even questions about the legitimacy of imperialism — in related schools of thought referred to collectively as the School of Salamanca.