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History of Spain

Updated on January 21, 2012

According to tradition Cadiz was founded by the Phoenicians about 1000 BC. Long before that time, however, prehistoric civilizations flourished; the famous cave paintings at Altamira in Santander province are attributed to Cro-Magnon man. The earliest tribes of historical record were primitive Iberians and Celts who entered the peninsula from the north. Like the Phoenicians, the Greeks and Carthaginians came in search of trade. The Romans succeeded the Carthaginians in Spain and eventually conquered the entire peninsula. But their power crumbled before the onslaughts of the Vandals and the Visigoths in the 5th and 6th centuries AD.

The Moors, who began infiltrating southern Spain from North Africa about 700 AD, quickly conquered most of the country, though Christian resistance continued in the north, where the kingdoms of Asturias, Navarre and Aragon became bastions of the long process of reconquest.

Moorish power and culture reached their height in the 10th century when they were centered on the Caliphate of Cordoba. The Moors brought firm government and many scientific and economic advances. The Moorish heritage in culture and the arts and Moorish influence on the Spanish way of life, have helped make Spain "different" among European nations.

Following the union of Aragon and Castile (1479), the Moors were defeated and expelled. Granada, their last stronghold, fell in 1492, the year in which, under royal sponsorship, the Genoese Christopher Columbus rediscovered the Americas. Spanish supremacy in Europe was established by the defeat of France in the battle of Pavia (1525), while in the New World a Spanish Empire was being carved out. Ironically the gold and silver of the Americas, mismanaged or squandered, did lasting harm to the Spanish economy, causing inflation, the decline of industry, and ultimately crushing poverty.

The defeat of the Armada by the English (1588) hastened the decay of Spanish power.

A revival of national spirit was kindled by the Napoleonic invasion of Spain in 1808. In the Peninsular War (1808-14), which Spaniards call the War of Independence, the French were driven out of the Iberian Peninsula with the help of the British. But Spain soon slipped back into a new period of isolation which was punctuated by civil war, revolts and harsh tyrannies alternating with weak and corrupt rule. The colonies in Latin America broke free and a further grievous blow to national morale was Spain's defeat in the Spanish-American War (1898), which lost her Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

In Morocco, part of which had been made a Spanish protectorate (1912), a Spanish army was routed by Riff tribesmen (1921); at home there was widespread unemployment and the repressive dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera (1923-30).

The monarchy became increasingly unpopular and in 1931 King Alfonso XIII was dethroned and a republic proclaimed. The new regime immediately ran into economic difficulties and political unrest was exploited by extremists of both Left and Right. In 1936 a military uprising began the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) in which the Nationalist rebels, led by General Francisco Franco and aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, defeated the Republicans. More than a million Spaniards died in the conflict.

Franco's dictatorship was organized on Fascist lines with Franco as Caudillo (Leader) and Head of State and with the Falange, a union of the various Nationalist groups, as the only political party.

Though Franco favored the Axis powers, Spain remained neutral during World War II. In 1947 he announced that the monarchy would eventually be restored and a regency council was appointed. In 1969 Prince Juan Carlos de Borbon y Borbon was made Prince of Spain and named as Franco's royal heir-designate. He assumed full power as King of Spain following Franco's death in 1975.


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    • Historia profile image

      Historia 6 years ago

      What you have said, particularly in your second paragraph, gives plenty of food for thought. Thanks for your feedback!

    • Historia profile image

      Historia 6 years ago

      Thanks for the extra information there.

    • sligobay profile image

      sligobay 6 years ago from east of the equator

      This article is an excellent summary of the history of Spain in a "nutshell". The enduring legacy of Spanish colonial power exists in the broad expansion of Spanish culture and language throughout central and South America.

      Unlike the English who retained English speaking colonies within their commonwealth and cultural and financial sphere of influence, the Spanish failed to create the institutions and infrastructure necessary to accomplish this. The English excelled at bureaucracy whereas the Spanish did not.

    • lone77star profile image

      Rod Martin Jr 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      A fascinating treatment of Spanish history and prehistory. Thanks, @Historia. Enjoyed it.

      As for the influx of Celts and Iberians from the North, I'm not so sure about that theory. Some historians based the origin of Celts (central Europe) based on a misreading of a Roman source, I think. There are some indications that Homo sapiens cultures (Cro Magnons) have existed in situ for something like 40,000 years.

      And there have been a number of incursions into Western Europe (including Iberia) which seemingly arrived from nowhere! The only real possibility seems to be Atlantis, which according to Plato lay a short distance to the West.

      See the article at for more info on this:

      The Basques of Northern Spain not only have a different average blood type (highest incidence of type O and highest of Rh-negative), plus they have the rather unusual mtDNA haplogroup X which is also found across the Atlantic from Atlantis in North America. Time of separation greater than or equal to 12,000 years, or about the same time Atlantis supposedly subsided.

      And there's proof of an Atlantis-like event at 9600 BC, from 3 separate scientific disciplines. One of them offers substantial proof of a massive tectonic collapse. The coincidence of dates makes Atlantis the likeliest suspect. And the proximity to the Cro Magnon and Basques makes them likely refugees or immigrants.