Ancient Spain

By Tim Lambert

From about 900 BC seafaring people called the Phoenicians who came from what is now Lebanon traded with what is now Spain. They founded a chain of trading settlements along the coast on islands and peninsulas. The Iberians gave the Phoenicians silver in return for wine and olive oil as well as jewelry. The Iberians were heavily influenced by Phoenician culture. The Greeks also traded with Spain the Iberians were also influenced by Greek culture.

Meanwhile, a Phoenician colony in North Africa called Carthage rose to be powerful and important. After the Romans defeated them in 241 BC the Carthaginians increased their influence in Spain. In 227 BC they founded New Carthage (modern Cartagena). However, in 226 the Carthaginians made a treaty with Spain. They agreed not to expand north of the River Ebro.

Yet in 119 BC the Carthaginians took the town of Saguntum. It was south of the Ebro but the Romans claimed Saguntum was their ally and they ordered the Carthaginian general, Hannibal to withdraw. He refused and war ensued. The Romans sent an army to Spain in 218 BC and they gradually pushed back the Carthaginians. By 206 BC the Carthaginians were gone from Spain.

In 197 BC the Romans divided the Iberian peninsula into 2 areas, Hispania Citerior (east of the River Iberius) and Hispania Ulterior. However, the Iberians wanted independence and they rebelled against the Romans. Rome sent a man named Cato who regained control of most of Spain. Nevertheless, the Iberians continued to resist and fighting continued for nearly 200 years. Resistance finally ended when the Cantabrians were defeated in 19 BC.

Afterwards, Spain was gradually integrated into the Roman Empire. The Romans built a network of roads and founded towns and at least parts of Spain became Romanized. Under Roman rule Spain became prosperous. Mining was an important industry. Gold and silver were exported. So were olives, grapes, and grain. Roman Spain also exported a fish sauce called garum.

However, in 171-173 raiders from North Africa swept into Spain. There were further attacks at the beginning of the 3rd century. In any case from the mid-3rd century, the Roman Empire gradually declined. Meanwhile, the people of Roman Spain were gradually converted to Christianity.

Aqueduct Segovia

By the beginning of the 5th century, the Roman Empire was crumbling and Germanic peoples invaded. In 409 AD Alans, Sueves and Vandals crossed the Pyrenees and occupied most of Spain.

However another Germanic people, the Visigoths became allies of the Romans. In 416-418, they invaded Spain. They defeated the Alans but then withdrew into France. The Vandals then absorbed the remaining Alans but in 429 they crossed to North Africa leaving Spain to the Sueves. However, the Visigoth king Theodoric II (453-466) led an army into Spain and in 456 he crushed the Sueves in battle. Most of Spain came under the rule of the Visigoths.

After 409 one small part of Northeast Spain was left under Roman control. However, in 476 the Visigoths took it over. In 587 King Reccared became a Catholic and in 654 King Recceswinth made a single code of law for his kingdom. The Visigoths founded new towns in Spain. They also preserved Roman culture and learning. In the 6th century, Saint Isidore of Seville lived in Spain. He was a brilliant scholar. He wrote many books including works on history, theology, grammar, geography, and astronomy. However, the Visigoth kings were never very strong. The Visigoth kingdom suffered from internal divisions and in the end, it was easy prey for the Moors.