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History of Spain

Spain's modern history must begin in prehistoric times when the country was home to Iberians, Celts, and Basques because the Basques still exist today as a significant minority group living in the area just west of and in the western part of the Pyrenees Mountains.

The Iberians and Celts eventually intermarried with the emigrating people to the region, which created a completely different society today. This began after the Punic Wars, when the Carthaginian coastal cities in Spain were overtaken by the Romans in the late 200s BC. The Romans' infrastructure and communication slowly Latinized the local people by introducing a new language and later a new religion in Christianity. However, as the Roman Empire weakened Spain fell into numerous small kingdoms until the 700s.

Modern-day Spain and the entire Iberian Peninsula was overtaken and unified by the Moors from North Africa in the early 700s. The Moors were Muslim and encouraged conversion by forcing a tax on the local Christians and Jews (although they were allowed to practice). This system encouraged a large number of conversions, but never truly converted the country to Islam. The Moors also introduced a number of new systems and foods in the country, forever altering the culture.

After a brief Christian resurgence in the north, the 1000s were a time of new Muslim leadership and stricter requirements of adhering to Islam. This, however led to a counter-push by the Christians and the 1100s and 1200s experienced a slow push of Christians from north to south, bringing all of Spain, except Granada under Christian rule by the mid-1200s.

The late 1200s and 1300s were a time of change in Spain as the Muslims unsuccessfully led fronts in the south, universities arose across the country, the political entity of Aragon rose to prominence, and the Black Death decimated parts of the country.

Aragon's power continued to grow in the 1400s when Ferdinand of Aragon married Isabella of Castile, uniting the two kingdoms. This action unified much of present-day Spain and centralized power as the country began to rapidly change. The last Muslim stronghold, Granada fell and, despite initially being granted religious tolerance, both the Muslims and Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or leave the country. The Spanish Inquisitions also began and the government funded Christopher Columbus's journey to his "discovery" of the "New World."

Spain arguably became the world's first world power in the 1500s and 1600s as it established numerous colonies, controlled much of the world's trade, and won multiple wars. These wars slowly ravaged the country though as Spanish soldiers were located throughout the world, the Protestant Reformation took its toll on domestic affairs, and soon after the Plague struck. These defeats of power led to Spain losing control over most of its European possessions.

The 1700s began on the same note as succession issues led to an internal war. This war ended with the crowning of the first Bourbon king, who further destroyed local rights and made a stronger national government. This began a slow modernization period that lasted into the 1800s.

In the early 1800s Napoleon took over Spain with the help of the Spanish ruler; this led to the birth of the Spanish War of Independence. The people, who sought to overthrow Napoleon and his Spanish leadership were supported by the Portuguese and British, eventually leading to independence, but also losing nearly all of Spain's colonies.

Just before the 1900s, the Spanish-American War broke out, but it was very short-lived as Spain lost their remaining colonies to either independence or the United States, including the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.

The 1900s began with a Spanish push to colonize Africa, but most political efforts were focused domestically as a number of changes were implemented and new freedoms were offered. Not all of these changes were welcomed though and in the 1930s the Spanish Civil War broke out and moved right into World War II (WWII), with the new government remaining neutral, but sympathetic to the Axis powers of Italy and Germany.

After WWII, Spain was courted by both sides of the Cold War and in the 1950s joined the United Nations and allied with much of Western Europe; in the 1980s this continued as they joined NATO and the European Community. In the 1970s Spain's king died and the country became a democracy, immediately giving greater rights to the smaller regions of Spain. Today, Spain remains an integral member of the European Union (EU), which was founded out of the European Community.

This page was last updated: March, 2013