Spain: Spain before the Muslim Conquest

Spain before the Muslim Conquest

Civilization in Spain dates back to the Stone Age. The Basques may be descended from the prehistoric humans whose art has been preserved in the caves at Altamira. They antedated the Iberians, who mixed with Celtic invaders at an early period. Because of its mineral and agricultural wealth and its position guarding the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain was known to the Mediterranean peoples from very early times. The Phoenicians passed through the strait and established (9th cent. b.c.) colonies in Andalusia, notably at Cádiz and Tartessus (possibly the biblical Tarshish). Later the Carthaginians settled on the east coast and in the Balearic Islands, where Greek colonies also sprang up. In the 3d cent. b.c., the Carthaginians under Hamilcar Barca began to conquer most of the Iberian Peninsula and the Balearics and established Cartagena as capital.

The Roman victory over Hannibal in the second of the Punic Wars (218–201 b.c.) resulted in the expulsion of the Carthaginians. The Romans conquered E and S Spain, but met strong resistance elsewhere, notably in the north. The fall (133 b.c.) of Numantia marked the end of organized resistance, and by the 1st cent. a.d. Roman control was virtually complete. Except for the Basques, the Iberian population became thoroughly romanized, perhaps more so than any subject population. Roman rule brought political unity, law, and economic prosperity. Christianity was introduced early; St. Paul is supposed to have visited Spain, and St. James the Greater is its apostolic patron. Natives of Spain contributed increasingly to both pagan and Christian literature in Latin. Among them were Seneca, Martial, and Quintilian.

In a.d. 409, Spain was overrun by the first wave of Germanic invaders, the Suevi and the Vandals. They were followed by the Visigoths, who forced the Vandals to emigrate into Africa and established (419) their kingdom in Spain and S Gaul, with Toulouse as capital. The victory (507) of the Franks under Clovis over Alaric II at Vouillé resulted in the loss by the Visigoths of most of Gaul; in the Iberian Peninsula, Belisarius temporarily reconquered (554) S Spain for the Byzantine Empire; however, the Visigoths soon regained S Spain and in 585 also conquered the kingdom of the Suevi in Galicia. The Visigothic capital after the loss of Toulouse was at Toledo. The Germanic Visigoths, who adhered to Arianism until the late 6th cent., and the Catholic, romanized native population lived side by side under two separate codes of law (see Germanic laws); fusion of the two elements was very slow.

King Recceswinth imposed (c.654) a common law on all his subjects. His code remained the basis of medieval Spanish law. Learning was cultivated almost exclusively by the Roman Catholic clergy, among whom Orosius and St. Leander and his brother, St. Isidore of Seville, were outstanding. Byzantine cultural influence was strong, but was probably less important than that of the Jews, who had settled in Spain in large numbers, and were persecuted after 600. Politically, the Visigothic kings were weak; the clergy, meeting in councils at Toledo, acquired secular power. Visigothic society was rent by a clash of Germanic, Hispano-Roman, and Jewish influences. When, in 711, a Muslim Berber army under Tarik ibn Ziyad crossed the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain, Roderick, the last Visigothic king, was defeated, and his kingdom collapsed.

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