inhabited by Celts, Iberians, and Basques, became a part of the Roman
Empire in 206 B.C. , when it was conquered by Scipio Africanus. In A.D.
412, the barbarian Visigothic leader Ataulf crossed the Pyrenees and
ruled Spain, first in the name of the Roman emperor and then
independently. In 711, the Muslims under Tariq entered Spain from Africa
and within a few years completed the subjugation of the country. In 732,
the Franks, led by Charles Martel, defeated the Muslims near Poitiers,
thus preventing the further expansion of Islam in southern Europe.
Internal dissension of Spanish Islam invited a steady Christian conquest
from the north.
Aragon and Castile
were the most important Spanish states from the 12th to the 15th
century, consolidated by the marriage of Ferdinand II and Isabella I in
1469. In 1478, they established the Inquisition, to root out heresy and
uncover Jews and Muslims who had not sincerely converted to
Christianity. Torquemada, the most notorious of the grand inquisitors,
epitomized the Inquisition's harshness and cruelty. The last Muslim
stronghold, Granada, was captured in 1492. Roman Catholicism was
established as the official state religion and most Jews (1492) and
Muslims (1502) were expelled. In the era of exploration, discovery, and
colonization, Spain amassed tremendous wealth and a vast colonial empire
through the conquest of Mexico by Cortés (1519–1521) and Peru by Pizarro
(1532–1533). The Spanish Hapsburg monarchy became for a time the most
powerful in the world. In 1588, Philip II sent his invincible Armada to
invade England, but its destruction cost Spain its supremacy on the seas
and paved the way for England's colonization of America. Spain then sank
rapidly to the status of a second-rate power under the rule of weak
Hapsburg kings, and it never again played a major role in European
politics. The War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) resulted in
Spain's loss of Belgium, Luxembourg, Milan, Sardinia, and Naples. Its
colonial empire in the Americas and the Philippines vanished in wars and
revolutions during the 18th and 19th centuries.
In World War I,
Spain maintained a position of neutrality. In 1923, Gen. Miguel Primo de
Rivera became dictator. In 1930, King Alfonso XIII revoked the
dictatorship, but a strong antimonarchist and republican movement led to
his leaving Spain in 1931. The new constitution declared Spain a
workers' republic, broke up the large estates, separated church and
state, and secularized the schools. The elections held in 1936 returned
a strong Popular Front majority, with Manuel Azaña as president.