Spain in the Middle Ages

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In many ways, the history of Spain is marked by waves of conquerors who brought their distinct cultures to the peninsula. After the passage of the Vandals and Alans down the Mediterranean coast of Hispania from 408, the history of medieval Spain begins with the Iberian kingdom of the Arianist Visigoths (507–711), who were converted to Catholicism with their king Reccared in 587. Visigothic culture in Spain can be seen as a phenomenon of Late Antiquity as much as part of the Age of Migrations.

From Northern Africa in 711, the Muslim Umayyad dynasty crossed into Spain and sparked a Muslim versus Christian war called the Reconquista, or the Reconquest (i.e.: The Christians "reconquering" their lands as a religious crusade). They came at the invitation of a Visigothic clan to assist it in rising against King Roderic. The border between Muslim and Christian lands wavered southward through 700 years of war, which marked the peninsula as a militarily contended space. The medieval centuries also witnessed episodes of warfare between Spain's Christian states. Wars between the Crown of Aragon and Castile-León, though sometimes sparked by dynastic rivalries, normally originated with disagreements over tracts of land conquered or to be conquered from the Muslim south.

Peter III, king of Aragon from 1276 until 1285, had been elected to the throne of Sicily when the French Angevins were expelled from the island kingdom during an uprising in 1282. Sicily, and later Naples, became part of the federation of Spanish crowns, and Aragon became embroiled in Italian politics, which continued to affect Spain into the eighteenth century. Castile, which had traditionally turned away from intervention in European affairs, developed a merchant marine in the Atlantic that successfully challenged the Hanseatic League for dominance in the coastal trade with France, England, and the Netherlands.

The Reconquista was completed in 1492, when the forces of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile took Granada, the last Muslim territory on the Iberian Peninsula. Ferdinand and Isabella were the last of the Trastámaras, and a native dynasty would never again rule Spain. By marrying Ferdinand, Isabella had united Spain; however, she had also inevitably involved Castile in Aragon's wars in Italy against France, which had formerly been Castile's ally. The motivation in each of their children's marriages had been to circle France with Spanish allies—Habsburg, Burgundian, and English.

Early medieval Spain

Historical developments may be pursued by region:

Cultural developments can also be followed in the careers of the major Visigothic kings:

The broadest cultural divisions in Hispania during the medieval period are between Islamic and Christian societies.

Medieval Islamic Spain

For specific medieval Muslim dynasties, see:

Medieval Christian Spain

An organizing principle of medieval Spain was the Reconquista,the Crusade by which territories that had once been Christian and Visigothic were recaptured and Christianized. Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar was mythologized as the virtuous El Cid and is remembered as instrumental in this effort. For Medieval Northern (Christian) Spain see individual kingdoms and polities such as: Kingdom of Asturias, Kingdom of Galicia, Marca Hispanica, Kingdom of Aragon, Catalan counties, Principality of Catalonia, Kingdom of Pamplona/Navarre, Kingdom of León, Kingdom of Castile, Lordship of Biscay, Kingdom of Valencia, Kingdom of Majorca, Crown of Aragon or Crown of Castile.

Medieval Spanish culture

In the post-Roman period before 711, the history of the Spanish language began with Old Spanish; the other Latin-derived Hispanic languages with a considerable body of literature are Catalan (which had a relevant golden age of Valencian), and to a lesser degree Aragonese. Asturian Medieval Spanish, Galician and Basque languages were primarily oral.

Main Spanish cities in the Middle Ages

Medieval Spain was as much as a network of cities as it was interconnected provinces. Cities were cultural and administrative centers, the seats of bishops and sometimes kings, with markets and housing expanding from a central fortified stronghold. Medieval Spanish history can easily be followed through these major cities:

and at the great shrine of Santiago de Compostela.

See also


Olivia Remie Constable.

David Nirenberg.

Further reading

  • The Art of medieval Spain, A.D. 500-1200. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1993. ISBN 0870996851.
  • Linehan, Peter (1993). History and the Historians of Medieval Spain. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. ISBN 9780198219453.
  • O'Callaghan, Joseph F. (1975). A History of Medieval Spain. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 9780801492648.
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