The peninsula constituting the SW of Europe, with the Atlantic Ocean on its W, the Mediterranean Sea on the E, the straits of Gibraltar on the S, and the Pyrenees on the NW. The peninsula was settled by two distinct groups. In the south and east the inhabitants immigrated from Africa in the Neolithic period and again near the end of the Bronze Age. They probably received the name Iberians because they settled along the Ebro River, called the Iberius by the Greeks who discovered it. Later the name Iberians was loosely extended to cover all the peoples of the peninsula. North and central Spain were settled by waves of migrating Celtic tribes from the eighth through the sixth centuries b.c. They entered what is now Portugal and Galicia but left the Bronze Age Iberians of the south and east untouched. Culturally the tribes of the N and E and the Valencia coast were greatly influenced by the Greek settlements at Ampurias, then Emporion, and in the Alicante region. The tribes of the southeast were affected by the Phoenician influence coming from the Carthaginian settlements at Málaga, then Malaca, Almuñécar (Sexi), and Abdera (Adra). The overlap between the Celts and the other Iberians created a Celtiberian society.
The Bronze Age Iberians provided a unique moment in the history of the peninsula. Between 1700 and 1000 b.c. there flourished an El Argar culture named after the fortified town of El Argar, famous for its brilliant metallurgy. During this period it had considerable influence within the peninsula and in trade with the Levant region and the Balearic Islands.
Phoenician merchants from Tyre founded Gadir, now Cádiz, in the SW of the peninsula c. 1100 b.c. Invaders from Carthage, itself founded by Phoenicians, began colonizing the peninsula in 654 b.c., and c. 500 they took Gadir. In 219 b.c. the Iberian city of Saguntum, now Sagunto, founded by Greeks but allied with Rome, was taken by the Carthaginian Hamilcar, thus starting the Second Punic War of 218 to 201 b.c. The Romans landed at Emporion in 218 b.c., and in 206 b.c. Gadir was taken by them and renamed Gades. In the same year the town of Italica was founded. The result of the war was a thorough victory for the Romans, who then steadily expanded their influence in Iberia for two centuries. In the wars between Caesar and Pompey, Caesar’s victory at Ilerda, now Lérida, in 49 b.c. put all of Spain in his hands. Sporadic Celtibernian uprisings were put
down, and the Cantabrian War of 29 to 19 b.c., started and won by Augustus, assured Roman domination of the peninsula internally. Marcus Ulpius Trajanus, who later became the first non-Italian emperor as Trajan, was born in Italica c. a.d. 55. Trajan adopted a Spanish orphan who succeeded him as the Roman emperor Hadrian from 117 to 128. The Iberian peninsula was eventually divided into the Roman provinces of Tarraconensis, Baetica, and Lusitania. Today it is crisscrossed with Roman roads, and Roman remains may be seen in abundance in Barcelona, Tarragona, Mérida, Italica, and Córdova. In the fourth century the entire peninsula was unified into the diocese of Spain in the reorganization of the Roman Empire.
Roman control ended when the peninsula was overrun and ruled by the Visigoths between 534 and 712. Their kingdom excluded only the Suevi in the NW and the Basques in the N. Toledo became their capital. Though the Visigothic Kingdom at first provided a fairly strong government with regular codified laws, internal dissensions soon weakened it. Circa 575 the Byzantine Empire conquered southern Spain, but the Visigoths retook it by 625. In 712 the Muslim Tarak landed at Gibraltar, spearheading an invasion that drove out the Visigoths and eventually spread over the entire peninsula and briefly into France, with the exception of Christian areas in the N and NW, the Basque area, and the Spanish March of the Carolingian Empire.
Moorish art, culture, and architecture flourished, especially in Toledo, Córdoba, and Seville. Granada was the site of magnificent buildings, including the palace of the Alhambra. Moorish rule of Iberia was based on the emirate of Córdova from 756 to 926, and from 929 to 1031 on the caliphate of Córdova, which became a major center of the entire Muslim world.
The Moors were unable to subdue the Christian states in the N: among them Asturias and the county of Barcelona. By the 10th century Asturias had grown into the kingdom of León and the county of Castile; while the Basque areas had formed the kingdom of Navarre. These maintained a steady war of resistance against the Moors and were soon on the offensive, aided by crusaders from the rest of western Europe. With the collapse of the caliphate of Córdova in 1031, the gradual process of Christian conquest, known as the Reconquista, began in earnest. Castile was first united with León in 1037. By 1035, with the union of Valencia and Catalonia
(Barcelona), the kingdom of Aragon was formed in the northeast.
The northern kingdoms steadily widened their conquests. When Ferdinand II of Aragon married Isabella of Castile, the kingdoms became united as modern Spain. The last of the Moors were driven out of Granada by them between 1481 and 1492, the same year in which the Spanish-backed expedition of Columbus discovered the New World and Spain embarked on almost two centuries as a colonial empire. A region of the western section of the Iberian peninsula became an independent monarchy under Alfonso I in the 12th century as Portugal, and in the 15th and 16th centuries it joined Spain as a major colonial power. See also Phoenicia, Rome.