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Spain Before the Romans

History of Spain. Recent studies of the Atapuerca archaeological site have proven the ancient origin of the first people to have settled in Spain.

Recent studies of the Atapuerca archaeological site, one of the oldest in Europe, have proven the ancient origin of the first people to have settled in Spain.

One of the theories explaining the origins of the Basques suggests they descended from prehistoric Cro-Magnon man, whose cave-paintings have been preserved at Altamira. Eastern and Central Europeans, who moved to Spain in search of a milder climate, were the predecessors of the Iberians, who would in turn intermingle with Celtic invaders. Due to the country's mineral and agricultural wealth, and to its strategic position protecting the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain had been known to other Mediterranean peoples from a very early date. Thus the Phoenicians crossed the strait as early as the 9th century BC, founding colonies in Andalusia, chiefly at Cadiz and Tartessus (possibly the lost city of Tarshish mentioned in the Bible). The Greeks settled along the Mediterranean coast, and the Carthaginians would follow suit, occupying the Balearic Islands at the same time. By the 3rd century BC, under the leadership of General Hamilcar Barca, the Carthaginians set out to conquer most of the Iberian Peninsula and the Balearics, establishing Carthago Nova as their capital.

The Roman victory over Hannibal Barca, son of Hamilcar, in the second Punic War (218-201 BC) led to the expulsion of the Carthaginians from Hispania. The Romans conquered the east and south of the country, but met strong resistance elsewhere, notably in the north. The fall of Numantia in 133 BC marked the end of organized resistance, and by the 1st century AD Roman control was virtually complete. With the exception of the Basques, the whole Iberian population would be romanized.

Emperor Augustus finally brought the conquest of Hispania to an end in the year 9 AD. Cultural development in Hispania flourished under the Romans, as proven by some of the great artistic and architectural monuments such as those along the Silver Road or Camino de la Plata (one of the pilgrim routes from Seville to Santiago), and various aqueducts, theatres and circuses. Two Roman Emperors were actually Spanish, Trajan and Hadrian. Roman rule also brought political unity, law, and economic prosperity to Spain. On the religious front, Christianity was introduced between the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, and coexisted with pagan rites. In a Roman epistle St Paul had expressed a wish to evangelize Spain and he is supposed to have visited the country with that purpose, while the apostle St James the Greater became the patron saint of the nation. Pagan and Christian literature in Latin were increasingly nourished by contributions from Spanish writers, including Seneca, Martial, and Quintilian.

The decline of Rome began in the 3rd century AD, and over the next two hundred years Gothic peoples from the north gradually extended their realm across the Empire; Spain was invaded by the West Goths (Visigoths).

The Middle Age in Spain: Goths, Arabs, Reconquest >>