Spain History

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Spanish origins trace back to a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The Celts and Iberians lived there anciently. Phoenicians came and established Cadiz in 1100 B.C., the oldest of the now-inhabited cities. The Greeks, the Carthaginians, and the Romans successively entered the Iberian peninsula. From Rome, Spain inherited its language, religion, and many aspects of its culture.

About 400 A.D., Germanic tribes, principally the Visigoths, invaded the peninsula and ruled for three centuries. Between 711-718 A.D., the Moors established themselves rapidly in Spain, taking advantage of fighting between the Gothic overlords and ruled for eight centuries, leaving an everlasting stamp on the culture and society of Spain. In 1492, Granada, the last Moorish stronghold on the peninsula, fell to the armies of Isabel of Castile and Fernando of Aragon. That same year Columbus sailed for America, heralding Spain’s conquest of extensive territory in the newly discovered continent. The height of Spanish expansion came during the 16th century under Charles I (Carlos I) and his son Philip (Felipe). In addition to their political achievements, they established an excellent archival system throughout the empire. The immense wealth derived from its America colonies made Spain the most powerful nation in Europe until the “Invincible Armada” was destroyed by British naval power in 1588.

In the early 17th century Spain ruled one of the largest empires in recorded history, possessing territory not only in America but also in Africa and Asia. But its national fortunes declined during the century as it suffered military defeat during the Thirty Year’s War, 1618-1648. In 1640 Portugal achieved independence from Spain. Weakened economically and militarily, Spain became a bone of contention between European powers. Napoleon subjected Spain to French power from 1808-1813. The American colonies of Spain revolted, 1810-1824, and most of them gained their independence. As the 19th century continued, Spain suffered through three wars of succession to the throne. At the end of the century in 1898, Spain was defeated in the Spanish American War, losing most of its overseas possessions, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

During the 20th century, Spain became polarized politically until the leftist electoral victory in 1936 and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Army officers under Francisco Franco revolted against the government. In a destructive 3-year war, in which some one million died, Franco received massive help and troops from Italy and Germany, while the Soviet Union, France, and Mexico supported the republic. The victorious Franco ran the country as a dictator from 1939-1975. Since his death, the country has become a constitutional monarchy. During the many wars, rebellions, and civil disruption in Spain, some of the civil registration offices and parish archives were destroyed.

Today, Spain occupies the major part of the Iberian Peninsula extending southwest from Europe between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. France and Andorra border it to the north, Portugal to the west, and the British Dependency of Gibraltar occupies the most extreme point of the southern tip of the country. The Baleares in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic off the coast of Western Sahara, constitute two autonomous insular communities of Spain. Additionally, Ceuta and Melilla, cities on the northern coast of Africa, as well as Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, Alhucemas, and Chafarinas, islands groups along the Mediterranean coast of Africa, belong to Spain.[1]



  1. The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Spain,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1984-1999.