The Spanish World



A Capsule History of Spain

By  Frank DeFina PhD.

Many centuries before the Roman conquest brought Spain its Latin language and identity ”Iberians,” Celts, Pheonicians, Greeks and Carthaginians had left their imprint on the Iberian Peninsula. The Iberians, original Neolithic settlers, of disputed origin, were displaced by the Celts (c.900-600 B.C.). By about 600 B.C. the Pheonicians were being replaced by the Greeks and between 600 and 300 B.C., the Carthaginians came in search of precious metals trade and Empire, to be replaced by Rome.

The Romanization of Spain, beginning about 200 B.C., proved a difficult, piece-meal task. Eventually the Imperial imprint was felt in nearly every part of the peninsula. Roman law, religion (Christianity after 306 A.D.), administration, language, and customs, architecture and art, agriculture and commerce, roads and bridges all became a part of Spain, and in time, this Western Roman Province was to supply the Empire two of its outstanding Emperors – Hadrian and Trajan.

Seven Roman centuries gave political and social stability, and unity, but as Roman rule drew to a close, Spain was marked with the same corruption, despotism, economic collapse and internal disorder as the rest of the decaying Empire. Finally, in the 5th century, the country was eventually overrun by the Visigoths whose reign lasted until

711 A.D. Descended from Germanic tribes led by forest chieftans, their custom of selecting each new King usually ended in bloody civil wars that kept the country in constant turmoil. Their primitive background little prepared them to succeed the relatively sophisticated urban and commercial institutions and traditions of Rome, and with their anti-urban, anti-semetic attitudes, it is little wonder that when the Moors  invaded from Africa in 711, it took them only about seven years to complete their conquest. They seized almost all of Spain except a small portion of Asturies where a small remnant of Spanish Christians, largely ignored, defended their mountain fastness, from where they eventually were able to establish the foundations of the Reconquest that took almost 800 years to complete.

The Spanish Moors, in the meantime, established the highest cultural center of the Mediterranean and perhaps of the world. In the 9th and 10th centuries the kingdoms of Cordoba and Sevilla were renowned centers of learning, attracting the most brilliant minds in science, arts and letters. The reign of the Moors was also marked by religious and social tolerance uncommon for its time. Militant Christianity, however, was building up power in the north, and by the 11th century the kingdoms of Leon, Castilla, Galicia, Aragon, and Navarra had been reclaimed. This era of reconquest was crowned by the great triumph of the Christian forces in Toledo(1085). With the aid of fierce Muslim tribes from Maurtania, Islam was able to recover some of its losses in the peninsula, but internal disputes soon weakened them, and by the mid-13th century only Granada remained non-Christian. That the Moors were able to retain Granada for some 250 years, until 1492,is due largely to the dynastic disputes that arose among the emerging Christian kingdoms, and the difficulty of assimilating the large areas into the fold of Christian control and institutions.

The marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castilla finally united the Christian kingdoms under a single crown and Spain became one of modern Europe`s first nation-state, reconquering Granada(1492). The tolerant policies of most Christian rules at the time, however, allowed many Moors to remain in Spain, where their scientists and men of arts and letters continued to influence the more primitive Christian society. It was not until 1609 that Philip III, initially favored the Moors, was finally induced to expel the last remnants that had not accepted Christianity. After 1492 all Jews who had not agreed to conversion (“Los Conversos”) were theoretically banished from Spain.

A great empire was built in the Old and New World that would be dominant for two centuries in Europe, and three centuries in the Americas. Indirectly, however, the riches from America ultimately contributed to Spain’s ambition to dominate Europe, and to protect its colonial and imperial wealth. Spain became embroiled with practically every country in Europe, dispatching its troops here and there, and dissipating its substance and manpower. Eventually the European wars of the 17th and 18th centuries and a procession of  weak kings left Spain economically depleted. The rise of England and France at that time was partly at the expense of Spain.

But Spain had had its century or more of greatness, its “Siglo de Oro,” which spanned the reigns of Charles V, and his successors Philip II and III. It was an era which birth to the works of artists like El Greco, Murillo, and Valasquez, writers like Cervantes and Lope de Vega and musicians and scholars of great excellence. Spain recaptured some of its greatness in the 19th century under the Bourbon Kings an enlightened monarch Charles III (1758-88) instigated social and economic reforms, and education, science and art again flourished.

Bourbon recovery was short-lived however, for Charles IV (1788-1808) was too weak to resist the power of Napoleon. Many liberals, in fact, hopeful of political modernization welcomed the French Revolution, but the Spanish people in general resisted Napoleonic invasion and control. Aided by the British, the Spanish “guerilla” warfare finally led to the expulsion of the French, and the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty, of Ferdinand VII, who was an ultra-conservative who nullified the brilliant liberal reforms of the Parliament (Cortes of Cadiz) in 1812, and returned Spain once again to reaction and anarchy. During Ferdinad`s reign (1808-33)) Spain lost its American colonies, the remnants of which were finally stripped from her by the United States after the Spanish American War 1898. Spanish vitality, despite her sad history, was reflected in the post- War Era under the intellectual and literacy leadership of the Generation of `98 which attempted to create a new in, more realistic, and modern Spain which would combine the best of the old and new in Spanish history and institutions, with some models based on European developments (e.g. Ortega y Gasset, proposed a Europeanization of Spain).

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, however, Spanish society and institutions continued to be politically and socially antiquated, and a widening gulf continued between liberals and conservatives, between rural and urban areas, and between the aristocracy and working classes. Rather than resolving problems, the Republic established in the early 1930`s invoked further anarchy and bitter social conflicts which finally exploded into a savage Civil War when the military rebellion led by General Fransisco Franco involved, as his allies, the facist powers of Hitler and Mussolini. With the victory of Franco and the army, church and oligarchy which supported him, a personal dictatorship of 40 yeas ensued, characterized, according to its proponents, by “stability, law and order.” Many have questioned whether there was “law and justice,” but definite judgments must be reserved for future history.

At the end of the Civil War (1938), deeply involved in its own post-war recovery, Spain maintained neutrality during World War II, though favorable to the Axis powers. While economic recovery since the Civil War has been slow, the country made considerable strides since 1960`s,characterized by booming foreign tourist entrances, and a massive movement of Spanish migrant workers to the European Economic Market Powers, especially Germany, both resulting in increased European and modernizing influences. The death of Franco in 1975, followed by Reform Bills which opened the way for the first relatively free Spanish elections in 40 yeas have all represented great change, opening the way for even greater transformation of Spain as a more modern freer nation. The entrance of Spain into the European Common Economic Market is a final step into the mainstream of the rights and responsibilities of the European community, and a possible counter-measure to American multi-nationals and military bases in Spain. How much longer Spain can retain its uniqueness-based on that historical combination-Christian , Jew and Moor- is difficult to predict, and future developments capture the interest and concern of Western Society.

The Spanish World

by Virgilio Blanco Lage PhD

The Spanish World is known for its great diversity. It is so diverse that some people question its very identity. Is it a linguistic unit? – Is it an ethnic group, a people, a race, a nation? – It is difficult to define because it defies any definition. Many Spaniards question the very notion of Spain, as many Latin Americans question the very notion of the terms Latin American, Hispanic or Latino. Let’s review the facts and you can come up with your own definition.


The Iberian peninsula was inhabited about 35000 years ago by the first Europeans. We now know they came from the east. They were the first Celts or the Old Celts. It is now thought that their language might have developed into modern Basque.  During the last glacial age about 15000 years ago most northern Europeans took refuge in Spain. The first Iberians were followed by the new Celts, Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Jews, Germanic tribes, Moors, Arabs, Syrians and Gypsies.

Although there was extensive intermarriage, some of these groups ended up more isolated than others in a very mountainous area. Therefore, people in some areas developed their own language, customs and identity. Therefore, there are millions of Spaniards who are bilingual and whose second language is Spanish.


When the Spaniards conquered parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas, they found well established civilizations which had developed different languages and customs. Thus, there are countries such as Peru where many people speak Quechua as their first language and Spanish as a second language. The same is true of Paraguay where many people speak two languages Guarani and Spanish. There are also Spanish countries where there are many people who do not speak Spanish. That is the case of Mexico. The Spaniards were in the Phillipines for four hundred years. They left their language, their religion and their customs. However, nowadays Tagalo replaced Spanish as the first language in the Philippines.  


Millions of immigrants flocked to Latin America during the nineteenth century from countries as diverse as Japan, China, Lebanon, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Russia and Eastern Europe. They brought their customs, and their language. Most of them integrated into the Latin America melting pot others preferred to remain separated preserving their language and customs. There were Welch, German, Scottish, Croatian, Japanese and many other communities in many parts of Latin America. The big influx of African slaves to the Spanish colonies came during the nineteenth century as well. They were brought primarily to the Caribbean area to harvest sugar and other crops. Some of them ran away forming their own communities others were integrated into the new nations forged out of former Spanish colonies. Three quarters of the land of the continental United States was once Spanish territory. Such American legends as Daniel Boone, Sam Austin and Admiral David Farragut are part of that heritage.



Geographically as well, The Spanish World extends from places of perennial snow in Antartica to tropical paradises in the Caribbean or the Pacific Ocean; from places where it never rains in North Africa or South America to places where it always rains in northern Spain or Southern Chile.


Can you now define that which is Hispanic?