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Stone Age
Metal Ages
Roman Hispania
Spain After Christ
Hispania to Spain


Stone & Metal Ages, Carthage, Hispania

Spain has a wealth of prehistoric sites. Many of the best preserved prehistoric remains are in the Atapuerca region, rich with limestone caves that have preserved a million years of human evolution. Among these sites is the cave of Gran Dolina, were six hominid skeletons, dated between 780,000 and 1 million years ago, were found in 1994. Experts have debated whether these skeletons belong to the species Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, or a new species called Homo antecessor. In the Gran Dolina, investigators have found evidence of tool use to butcher animals and other hominids, the first evidence of cannibalism in a hominid species. Evidence of fire has also been found at the site, suggesting they cooked their meat.

Also in Atapuerca is the site at Sima de los Huesos, or “Pit of Bones.” Excavators have found the remains of 30 hominids dated to about 400,000 years ago. The remains have been tentatively classified as Homo heidelbergensis and may be ancestors of the Neanderthals. No evidence of habitation has been found at the site except for one stone hand-ax, and all of the remains at the site are of young adults or teenagers. The age similarity suggests the remains were not the result of accidents. The seemingly deliberate placement of remains and lack of habitation may mean that the bodies were deliberately interred in the pit as a place of burial, which would make the site the first evidence of hominid burial.

Spain was also the first country where remains of Neanderthals were found when a Neanderthal skull was found in Forbes’s Quarry in Gibraltar in 1848. However, Neanderthals were not recognized as another species until the discovering of remains in Neandertal, Germany in 1856. Subsequent Neanderthal discoveries in Gibraltar have also been made, including the skull of a 4 year old child and preserved excrement on top of baked mussel shells.

Neanderthal remains have been found at other sites within Spain, including Zafarraya, where a Neanderthal mandible and Mousterian tools, associated with the Neanderthal culture, were found in 1995. The mandible was dated to 30,000 years ago and the tools to 27,000. These dates make the Zafarraya remains the youngest evidence of Neanderthals and have expanded the timeline of Neanderthal existence. The more recent dating of the remains also provides the first evidence for prolonged co-existence between Neanderthals and modern man. Some have also suggested that the newer remains in Spain suggest Neanderthals were driven out of Central Europe by modern man to the Iberian peninsula, where they sought refuge.



Stone Age Modern Man

Dolmen de Menga (c.2500 BC), Antequera, Andalucia, Spain
Dolmen de Menga (c.2500 BC), Antequera, Andalucia, Spain

Modern men appeared in Spain about 35,000 years ago. At this time, the Aurignacian culture dominated Europe. L'Arbreda Cave in Catalonia contains Aurignacian cave paintings, as well as earlier remains from Neanderthals. Around 20,000 years ago the Aurignacian culture was replaced by that of the Solutreans, who produced some of the finest flint work of the Stone Age, allowing them to produce lighter projectile weapons, among other advantages. Despite the superior production abilities of the Solutrean culture, it was replaced by the Magdalenian culture around 17,000 years ago. The Magdalenians period marked the height of cave painting.

By far the most significant cave painting site in Spain is Altamira, dated from about 16,000 to 9,000 BC. Altamira is part of the Cantabrias region where many more cave paintings have been found. In Altamira, excavators have found evidence of human occupation alongside the paintings. These artifacts include evidence of Solutrean occupation in addition to the Magdalenians, to whom most of the painting is attributed to. The Magdalenians used charcoal, ochre, haematite and animal fat to produce the elaborate display in the cave, the most noteworthy part of which is the Polychrome Ceiling, with many images of bison and other animals. In addition to the grand scale of the paintings, the Stone Age artists also used comparatively advanced artistic techniques. Because of the cave paintings’ scale and quality, some have called Altamira the “The Sistine Chapel of Quaternary art."

The Magdalenians were replaced by the Azilian culture around 10,000 years ago. The Azilians were the final Paleolithic culture to occupy Spain and extended their time span into the Mesolithic age. During the Mesolithic period, cave art continued to advance, especially in the Levant area of Spain.

Spain has many ruins of megalithic monuments created during the Neolithic period and continuing into the Chalcolithic or Copper Age. The monuments share many similarities with other Megalithic structures throughout Europe, including those in Brittany and Malta. Dolmens are an especially common structure built by the Neolithic Spaniards.

Last Ice Age ended around 10,000 BC

The  glaciation began about 70,000 BC, and reached its maximum extent about 18,000 BC. In Europe, the ice sheet reached northern Germany.
Overlaying ice had exerted pressure on the earth's surface. As a result of melting ice, the land has continued to rise yearly. This is important for archeologists, since a village that was coastal in the Stone Age now is inland.

Iberians are Europe's First Culture

Beginning in the 10th millennium BC,  the populations sheltered in Iberia, descendents of the Cro-Magnon, migrate and recolonize all of Western Europe.. In this period we find the Azilian culture in Southern France and Northern Iberia (to the mouth of the Douro river), as well as the Muge Culture in the Tagus valley.

The Neolithic will bring changes to the human landscape of Iberia (from the 5th millennium BC onwards), with the development of Agriculture and the beginning of the Megalithic European culture, spreading to most of Europe and having one of its oldest and main centres in the territory of modern Portugal.



The Metal Ages

Several different cultural groups inhabited Spain before the arrival of colonizers, and eventually, the Romans.

The Beaker People spread throughout Europe c. 2000 BC and carried with them knowledge of metal work and their unique pottery designs. The group may have originated in Spain or Portugal.

The Vascon people inhabited northern Spain from an unknown date. The Vascons were mentioned by the Romans upon their arrival to Spain. The Vascons were likely the ancestors of the modern Basque people whose language, probably the descendent of the Vascon language, has been a linguistic enigma. The language is outside the regionally dominant Indo-European family and has no similarities with other language families. Some have suggested that the origins of the Basque language extend far back into the Stone Age.

The Los Millares culture developed in the third millennium B.C. Centered on the Los Millares site, the culture spread throughout Andalucia and eastern Spain. The Los Millares site contained a complex defensive system with multiple rings of walls and a necropolis with a false dome.

The Los Millares culture fell to the El Argar culture, which lasted from c. 1800 B.C. to c. 1400 B.C. The El Argar mined extensively for their metal working, including bronze work. The culture disappeared abruptly in 1400 B.C.

Another Spanish lost civilization were the Tartessos, now known only through historical references and scattered artifacts. The Tartessos people had advanced knowledge of both metal working and navigation. They sailed to the British isles to trade for tin and other metals. They then traded these with Phoenicians who, possibly as early as 1100 B.C., established the city of Cadiz as a trading post. Tartessos disappeared in the sixth century B.C. Nothing of Tartessos remains except scattered artifacts and historical references by classical civilizations. The city is thought to have been at the mouth of the Guadalquivir river and now likely lies beneath its marshy delta.

The Iberians arrived in Spain sometime in the third millennium B.C. Most scholars believe the Iberians came from somewhere farther east in the Mediterranean, although some have suggested that they originated in North Africa. The Iberians settled along the eastern coast of Spain. The Iberians lived in isolated communities structured as tribes. They also had a knowledge of metal working, including bronze, and agricultural techniques. In later years, the Iberians evolved into a more complex civilization with urbanized communities and social stratification. They traded metals with the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians.

The Celts entered Spain through two separate migrations in the ninth and seventh centuries B.C. They generally settled along the northern part of Spain and assimilated various other groups into Celtic culture. The Celts mixed with the Iberians to form the Celtiberians, who integrated the Celtic tradition and knowledge of iron working with Iberian culture.

The Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthagians all colonized parts of Spain to facilitate trade. The Phoenicians founded Cadiz, the oldest city in Western Europe, in 1,100 B.C. The Phoenicians continued to use Cadiz as a trading post for several centuries and left a variety of artifacts, most notably a pair of sarcophaguses from around the fourth or third centuries B.C. The Greek colony at what now is Marseilles began trading with the Celtiberians on the eastern coast around the eight century B.C. The Greeks finally founded their own colony at Ampurias during the sixth century B.C.

Phoenician and Greek colonization eventually faded and gave rise to the growing presence of Carthage. After their defeat in the First Punic War (which ended in 241 B.C.), the Carthagians began conquering Spain to expand their empire. In the Second Punic War, (218 BC-201 BC), Hannibal marched his armies, which included Iberians, through Spain to cross the Alps and attack the Romans in Italy. Hannibal was defeated and Carthage sacked. In 202 B.C., at the end of the Second Punic War, Carthage had lost Spain, and Rome began its conquest and occupation of the Iberian peninsula, thus beginning the era of Roman Spain.

The Lady of Baza, made by Iberians or Celtiberians 
The Lady of Baza, made by Iberians or Celtiberians
Hispania versus Iberia

The term Hispania is Latin and the term Iberia Greek. To substitute Spanish for Iberian or for Hispanicus is anachronistic. Surviving Roman texts always use "Hispania" (first mentioned 200 BC by the poet Quintus Ennius), while Greek texts always employ "Iberia." The Romans had adopted the Carthaginian name, romanized first as Ispania. The term later received an H, much like what happened with Hibernia, and was pluralized as Hispanias.

The emperors Trajan (r. 98-117), Hadrian (r. 117-38), and Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-80) were born in Hispania.

Roman Hispania

The major part of the Punic Wars, fought between the Punic Carthaginians and the Romans, was fought on Iberian lands. Rome gained control of the Iberian Peninsula in 201 BC after the defeat of Carthage in the Second Punic War.

Roman armies invaded Hispania in 218 BC, using it as a training ground for officers and as a proving ground for tactics during campaigns against the Carthaginians and the nations of Hispania, such as the Iberians, the Lusitanians, the Celtiberians and the Gallaecians. Iberian resistance was fierce and prolonged, however, and it wasn't until 19 BC that the Roman emperor Augustus (r. 27 BC-14 AD) was able to complete the conquest. Many conflicts arose during those two centuries, namely:

  • Wars for independence, where different Iberian nations and tribes were slowly defeated, in spite of fierce resistance by the city of Numantia and the Lusitanian chieftain Viriato, amongst many others.
  • A war led by Quintus Sertorius, praetor of Hispania Citerior, from where he successfully challenged Rome.
  • The civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey, which was fought mostly in Hispanian territory.
  • Julius and Augustus Caesar's campaigns to subdue the Gallaecians, Asturians, and Cantabrians in conflicts suchs as Cantabrian war
  • Finally, with Augustus' Pax Romana, Hispania was divided into three provinces in the 1st century BC.

Romanization of the Iberians peoples proceeded quickly after their conquest. Hispania wasn't one political entity but was divided into three separately governed provinces (nine provinces by the 4th century). More importantly, Hispania was for 500 years part of a cosmopolitan world empire bound together by law, language, and the Roman road.

Iberian tribal leaders and urban oligarchs were admitted into the Roman aristocratic class and they participated in governing Hispania and the empire. The latifundios (sing., latifundio), large estates controlled by the aristocracy, were superimposed on the existing Iberian landholding system.

The Romans improved existing cities, such as Lisbon (Olissipo), established Zaragoza, Merida, and Valencia, and provided amenities throughout the empire. The peninsula's economy expanded under Roman tutelage. Hispania, along with North Africa, served as a granary for the Roman market, and its harbors exported gold, wool, olive oil, and wine. Agricultural production increased with the introduction of irrigation projects, some of which remain in use. The Hispano-Romans - the Romanized Iberian populations and the Iberian-born descendants of Roman soldiers and colonists - had all achieved the status of full Roman citizenship by the end of the 1st century.

G. Pompeus Trogus sets the picture of its inhabitants:
The Hispanics (from Hispania) are accustomed to abstinence and fatigue, and the mind set for death: a hard and austere soberness for all (dura omnibus et adstricta parsimonia). [...]with so many centuries of wars with Rome they haven't had any captain but Viriato, a man of such high virtue and continence that, after beating the consular armies for 10 years, he would never want to be distinguished in any way from any private individual.

Livy (59 BC to 17 AD), another Roman historian, also writes about his perception of the character of the Hispanic person:
Agile, bellicose, anxious. Hispania is different from Italica in that it is more than ready for war because of the rough land and its man's nature.

Lucius Anneus Florus (1st and 2nd century centuries), who was a historian and friend of the emperor Hadrian, also makes some observations:
The Hispanic Nation, or the Hispania Universa, didn't manage to unite against Rome. Protected by the Pyrenees and the sea it would have been inaccessible. Its people were always worthy, but they lacked hierarchy. [That is, each village or tribe had its own organization but there was no hierarchy to organize them as a nation.]



Christianity was introduced into Hispania in the first century and it became popular in the cities in the second century. Little headway was made in the countryside, however, until the late fourth century, by which time Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire. Some heretical sects emerged in Hispania, but the Hispanic church remained subordinate to the Bishop of Rome. Bishops who had official civil as well as ecclesiastical status in the late empire continued to exercise their authority to maintain order when civil governments broke down there in the fifth century. The Council of Bishops became an important instrument of stability during the ascendancy of the Visigoths, a Germanic nation.

Rome continued to dominate the area until the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west. The Hispano-Romans turned to the Visigoths to provide protection when Rome could no longer spare legions to protect the territory.

Rome's loss of power in Hispania began in 405. The Germanic Suevi and Vandals, together with the Sarmatian Alans, crossed the Rhine and ravaged Gaul until the Visigoths drove them into Iberia in 409. The Suevi established a kingdom in the northwestern corner of the peninsula (modern Galicia and northern Portugal). The Vandals, and their Alan allies, occupied the region that bears their name - Vandalusia (modern Andalusia, in Spain) and southern Lusitania (modern Alentejo and Algarve, in Portugal) .

Because large parts of Hispania were outside his control, the western Roman emperor, Honorius (r. 395-423), commissioned his sister, Galla Placidia, and her husband Ataulf, the Visigothic king, to restore order in the Iberian Peninsula. Honorius gave them the rights to settle in and to govern the area in return for defending it.

The highly Romanized Visigoths entered Hispania in 415 and managed to compel the Vandals and Alans to sail for North Africa in 429. In 484 the Visigoths established Toledo as the capital of their Hispanic monarchy. The Visigothic occupation was in no sense a barbarian invasion, however. Successive Visigothic kings ruled Hispania as patricians who held imperial commissions to govern in the name of the Roman emperor. In 585 the Visigoths conquered the Suevi kingdom, thus controling almost all Hispania.

There were about 300,000 Germanic people in Hispania, which had a population of 4 million. They were a privileged warrior elite, though many of them lived as herders and farmers in the valley of the Tagus river, in northern Portugal and Galicia (the Suevi), and on the central plateau (around Toledo). Hispano-Romans continued to run the civil administration and Latin continued to be the language of government and of commerce.

Under the Visigoths, lay culture wasn't so highly developed as it had been under the Romans, and the task of maintaining formal education and government shifted decisively to the church because its Hispano-Roman clergy alone were qualified to manage higher administration. As elsewhere in early medieval Europe, the church in Hispania stood as society's most cohesive institution. And it embodied the continuity of Roman order.

Religion was the most persistent source of friction between the Roman Catholic Hispano-Romans and their Arianist Visigoth overlords, whom the former considered heretical. At times this tension invited open rebellion, and restive factions within the Visigothic aristocracy exploited it to weaken the monarchy. In 589, Recared, a Visigoth ruler, renounced his Arianism before the Council of Bishops at Toledo and accepted Catholicism, thus assuring an alliance between the Visigothic monarchy and the Hispano-Romans. This alliance wouldn't mark the last time in the history of the peninsula that political unity would be sought through religious unity.

Court ceremonials - from Constantinople - that proclaimed the imperial sovereignty and unity of the Visigothic state were introduced at Toledo. Still, civil war, royal assassinations, and usurpation were commonplace, and warlords and great landholders assumed wide discretionary powers. Bloody family feuds went unchecked. The Visigoths had acquired and cultivated the apparatus of the Roman state but not the ability to make it operate to their advantage. In the absence of a well-defined hereditary system of succession to the throne, rival factions encouraged foreign intervention by the Greeks, the Franks, and finally the Muslims in internal disputes and in royal elections.

  From Hispania to Spain

With time, a secondary form of the word Hispania gained usage: Spania. According to Isidore of Seville, it is with the Visigothic domination of the zone that the idea of a peninsular unity is sought after, and the phrase Mother Hispania is first spoken. Up to that date, Hispania designated all of the peninsula's lands. In Historia Gothorum, the Visigoth Suinthila appears as the first king of "totius Spaniae"; the history's prologue is the well-known De laude Spaniae ("About Hispania's pride"), where Hispania is dealt with as a Gothic nation.

With the Muslim Moorish invasion of Hispania (اسبانيا, Isbá-nía ), which they called Al-Andalus (الأندلس), the different chronicles and documents of the high Middle Ages designate as Spania, España, or Espanha, only the Muslim-dominated territory. King Alfonso I of Aragon (1104-1134) says in his documents that "he reigns over Pamplona, Aragon, Sobrarbe y Ribagorza", and that when in 1126 he made an expedition to Málaga he "went to the España lands."

By the last years of the 12th century the whole Iberian Peninsula, whether Muslim or Christian, became known as España or Espanha, and the denomination "the Five Kingdoms of Spain" became used to refer to the Muslim Kingdom of Granada, the Christian Kingdoms of León and Castile, Kingdom of Navarre, Kingdom of Portugal and Crown of Aragon (including the County of Barcelona).

The process of the Reconquista (Reconquest) of Hispania from the Moors produced the emergence of several Christian kingdoms, suh as the ones mentioned above. Some of these eventually merged into a single country. In fact, with the union of Castille and Aragon in 1492 (and specially with the incorporation of Navarre in 1512), the word Spain (España, in Spanish, or Espanha, in Portuguese), began being used only to refere to the new kingdom and not to the whole of the Iberian peninsula, now formed of two independent countries, Portugal and Spain.


Last Update: 15SEP05
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