Spanish Beginnings

Early Inhabitants of Spain

The earliest record of humans in what is today Spain is found in the Cave of Altimira in the village of Santillana del Mar near the port city of Santander. It is thought that the paintings on the ceiling of the cave are at least 13,000 years old and may be even older. Virtually nothing else is known about the people who executed these fabulous works of art. The Iberian people began moving into the Iberian Peninsula from North Africa about three millennia before the birth of Christ. They settled along the Erbo River and to the south of it. (Erbo is a variant of Iber.) At some point about twelve centuries before Christ the Phoenicians began trading with the Iberians and established trading posts along the Spanish coastline. They are thought to have founded the cities of Cadiz and Malaga in southern Spain. In about 900 B.C. the Celts began moving into the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula and interacted with the Iberians. Greeks began to arrive in Spain as traders in about 600 B.C. and soon established trading posts along the Mediterranean coast. In the third century before Christ, Carthage invaded Spain and founded Barcelona and Cartagena. The Carthaginian general Hannibal launched his invasion of Italy from Spain and used it as his rear base of operations against the Romans until finally driven back to North Africa in 203 B.C. Following the defeat of Hannibal, Rome established firm control of Spain and effectively ruled it for five centuries. During this period, Jews entered the country in large numbers and Christianity was introduced. Early in the fifth century, after the birth of Christ, a series of Germanic tribes overran Spain. First the Vandals and their allies and later the Visigoths. The Visigoths pushed the Vandals out of Spain to North Africa and by the end of the sixth century established firm control throughout the country. The Visigoths greatly respected their Roman past and Roman Catholicism characterized their society. That society was however, an amalgam of many peoples and cultures.

The Battle of Jerez in 711 A.D. and the Battle of Covadonga in 722 A.D.

In the early eighth century the Visigoth Empire maintained a fortress at Ceuta across from Gibraltar. It's commander was Count Julian. For reasons that are not entirely clear, General Julian and the Visigoth King Roderick did not enjoy good relations. In 711 A.D. a Moorish army invaded Spain and General Julian assisted in the defeat of King Roderick's army on the Plains of Jerez. The Moorish force was composed of a mixture of zealous Arab followers of the newly established religion of Mohammed. It took a matter of months for the Moors to go on and subjugate virtually all of Spain. In 1732 they crossed the Pyrenees into France and were defeated by King Charles Martel (Charles the Hammer) at Poitiers. Following that defeat the Moors fell back to Spain to consolidate their power and establish a society that was to last in Spain for more than seven centuries. During this period of Moorish control, Spain was one of the most intellectually advanced countries in the world, but an increasingly hostile resentment festered among many native Spaniards. One of the most independently minded regions of the country was Asturias. Neither the Romans nor the Visigoths had fully subjugated these fiercely independent residents of the Cantabrian Mountains. The Moors tried their hand at it in 722, but were defeated by the Asturian chieftain Pelayo in a small battle at Covadonga. The Moors were busy elsewhere and apparently felt that the area was insignificant and not worth the effort to subdue it. In any case they did not return to avenge their earlier defeat. In the years to follow Asturias was to become the rallying point for anti-Moorish resistance within Spain and it became so significant that in latter years the Heir Apparent to the throne of Spain was given the title of Prince of Asturias.

The Battle of Granada in 1492 A.D.

The Moorish influence in all aspects of Spanish culture is enormous. Moors were in a position of power in various parts of the country for more than seven centuries. During that long period, Moors, Jews, and Christians intermarried and their cultures interacted to create an unique culture that was to be found nowhere else in the world. This is not to say that relations between the various groups were always harmonious. Far from it. Over the centuries Christian Princes and Kings gradually accumulated more and more power at the expense of Jews and Moors. At first the Christian opposition was confined to Asturias in the North, but year by year it very slowly expanded southward and the Christian knight emerged as a central force not only in battle but also in politics. Moorish control was concentrated in the cities of Cordoba, Seville, and Granada. The city of Cordoba was conquered by Christians in 1236, Seville in 1248, and Granada in 1492. Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile had married in 1469 and their conquest of Granada resulted in the complete defeat of the last Moorish king in Spain. The period from 711 until 1492 is known in Spain as the "Reconquest." It was the very first Christian crusade against Islam and was a crucial factor in the formation of the fifteenth century Spanish character. The Christian church promised heaven to those slain in battle and the victors enjoyed the spoils of war. The Cult of St. James centered in the town of Santiago promised supernatural assistance to the Christian soldier. ("Santiago" became the Spaniards' battle cry.) Common men who excelled in battle could aspire to wealth and recognition. The national hero that emerged in Spain in the eleventh century was "El Cid," the epitome of a self-made Christian knight who gained riches and power through his own individual efforts.

Ferdinand and Isabella

The Inquisition had been established in 1480. At first it was primarily directed at those who had converted from Judaism and Islam and were suspected of insincerity, but gradually it was used to maintain and expand royal power within Spain. Ferdinand was an absolute monarch striving for a unified and powerful country. Church and state power were concentrated in the monarch's hands. Machiavelli regarded Ferdinand to be the perfect Renaissance Prince and used his acts to illustrate his teachings. Ferdinand and Isabella took up residence in the Red Palace of the Moorish Kings in the Alhambra on January 2, 1492. That same year 150,000 Jews were expelled from Spain, Rodrigo Borgia, a Spaniard and political supporter of Ferdinand, was named Catholic Pope in Rome, and Christopher Columbus, sailing under Spanish colors, discovered the Americas. The Reconquest of Spain was complete and the Conquest of the Americas was about to begin.

  Spain After the Reconquest...