The intention of this article is to break over two thousand years of Spanish history down into a series of bite size chunks, giving you a quick outline of the key events and, hopefully, a solid context for more detailed reading.
Carthage Begins to Conquer Spain 241 BCE
Hulton Archive / Stringer/ Hulton Archive/ Getty Images
Beaten in the first Punic War, Carthage – or at least leading Carthaginians – turned their attention to Spain. Hamilcar Barca began a campaign of conquest and settlement in Spain which continued under his son in law. A capital for Carthage in Spain was established at Cartanega. The campaign continued under Hannibal, who pushed further north but came to blows with the Romans and their ally Marseille, who had colonies in Iberia.
Second Punic War in Spain 218 – 206 BCEAs the Romans fought the Carthaginians during the Second Punic War, Spain became a field of conflict between the two sides, both aided by Spanish natives. After 211 the brilliant general Scipio Africanus campaigned, throwing Carthage out of Spain by 206 and beginning centuries of Roman occupation.
Spain Fully Subdued 19 BCERome’s wars in Spain continued for many decades of often brutal warfare, with numerous commanders operating in the area and making a name for themselves. On occasion the wars impinged on the Roman consciousness, with eventual victory in the long siege of Numantia being equated to the destruction of Carthage. Eventually Agrippa conquered the Cantabrians in 19 BCE, leaving Rome ruler of the whole peninsula.
Germanic Peoples Conquer Spain 409 – 470 CEWith Roman control of Spain in chaos due to civil war (which at one point produced a short lived Emperor of Spain), German groups the Sueves, Vandals and Alans invaded. These were followed by the Visigoths, who invaded first on behalf of the emperor to enforce his rule in 416, and later that century to subdue the Sueves; they settled and crushed the last imperial enclaves in the 470s, leaving the region under their control. After the Visigoths were pushed out of Gaul in 507, Spain became home to a unified Visigothic kingdom, albeit one with very little dynastic continuity.
Muslim Conquest of Spain Begins 711A Muslim force comprised of Berbers and Arabs attacked Spain from North Africa, taking advantage of a near instant collapse of the Visigothic kingdom (the reasons for which historians still debate, the “it collapsed because it was backward” argument having been now firmly rejected); within a few years the south and centre of Spain was Muslim, the north remaining under Christian control. A flourishing culture emerged in the new region which was settled by many immigrants.
Apex of Umayyad Power 961 – 976Muslim Spain came under the control of the Umayyad dynasty, who moved from Spain after losing power in Syria, and who ruled first as Amirs and then as Caliphs until their collapse in 1031. The rule of Calpih al-Hakem, from 961 – 76, was probably the height of their strength both politically and culturally. Their capital was Cordoba. After 1031 the Caliphate was replaced by a number of successor states.
The Reconquista c. 900 – c.1250Christian forces from the north of the Iberian Peninsula, pushed partly by religion and population pressures, fought Muslim forces from the south and centre, defeating the Muslim states by the mid-thirteenth century. After this only Grenada remained in Muslim hands, the reconquista finally being completed when it fell in 1492. The religious differences between the many warring sides have been used to create a national mythology of a catholic right, might and mission, and to impose a simple framework on what was a complicated era.
Spain Dominated by Aragon and Castile c. 1250 - 1479The last phase of the reconquista saw three kingdoms push the Muslims almost out of Iberia: Portugal, Aragon and Castile. The latter pair now dominated Spain, although Navarre clung on to Independence in the north and Granada in the south. Castile was the largest kingdom in Spain; Aragon was a federation of regions. They fought frequently against Muslim invaders and saw, often large, internal conflict.
The 100 Years War in Spain 1366 - 1389In the later part of the fourteenth century the war between England and France spilled over into Spain: when Henry of Trastámora, bastard half brother of the king, claimed the throne held by Peter I, England supported Peter and his heirs and France Henry and his heirs. Indeed, the Duke of Lancaster, who married Peter’s daughter, invaded in 1386 to pursue a claim, but failed. Foreign intervention in the affairs of Castile declined after 1389, and after Henry III took the throne.
Ferdinand and Isabella Unite Spain 1479 - 1516Known as the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile married in 1469; both came to power in 1479, Isabella after a civil war. Although their role in uniting Spain under one kingdom – they incorporated Navarre and Granada into their lands – has been downplayed recently, they nonetheless united the kingdoms of Aragon, Castile and several other regions under one monarch.