A kingdom in southwestern Europe, occupying the greater part of the Iberian Peninsula. Part of the Roman Empire from the second century B.C. until the fourth century A.D., Spain was subsequently overrun by Germanic tribes, which formed the Kingdom of the Visigoths (West Goths) until 711. The Arabs invaded Spain in that year, soon occupying all of the peninsula except a few Christian enclaves in the north. During the Middle Ages, Spain was reconquered by the Christians, who gradually pushed the Arabs south in a series of wars lasting from the 9th century until 1492, when the Arab stronghold of Granada fell.
During this period, the states of Aragon and Castile came to include most of modern Spain, and the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile brought the union of the two states and the beginning of modern Spain. Spain's conquest of Granada in 1492, and the discovery of America by Columbus in the same year, brought Spain rapidly into the position of a great power. During the 16th century, Spain built a vast American empire and dominated western European affairs. Spanish power peaked c. 1580, when the Spanish king became king of Portugal as well, bringing that nation's empire under Spanish rule. The rise of The Netherlands, which overthrew Spanish rule in the late 16th century, along with the growing power of Britain on the seas and France on the Continent, marked the beginning of a long decline for Spain. Although it continued to rule a huge American empire, by 1700 Spain had become a second-class power. During the Napoleonic Wars, Spain was conquered by France, and Napoleon's brother, Joseph, was placed on the Spanish throne. Spain's colonies refused to accept Joseph's rule and proclaimed their allegiance to the legitimate monarch, Ferdinand VII. Because of this instability, Spain's American colonies were, in effect, self-governing for most of two decades. With Ferdinand's restoration in 1815, Spain attempted to regain control of its American colonies. Unwilling to return to their subservient status, the colonies revolted, and by the mid-1820s, Spanish rule had been overthrown on the American mainland. Lacking the wealth of its empire, Spain was thereafter a cipher in European affairs.
In 1898-99, Spain was defeated by the United States in the Spanish-American War, losing its last American (Cuba and Puerto Rico) and Pacific (the Philippines and Guam) colonies. In 1931, the monarchy was ousted by a leftist republican movement, which instituted many liberal reforms but was unable to restore order in the country. On July 18, 1936, a conservative army officer, Francisco Franco Bahamonde, led a mutiny against the regime in Morocco, beginning the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).
Franco was supported by Germany and Italy, while the Republicans were supported by the Soviet Union. The Spanish Civil War was in effect a dress rehearsal for World War II. The efficacy of modern weapons, the emphasis upon aircraft as a primary combat tool, and the principle of total war (against civilian as well as military personnel) were tested here. After a bloody war in which one million died, the Nationalists defeated the Republicans, and Franco assumed complete control of the country.
During World War II, Spain remained neutral, much to the disgust and frustration of Franco's German and Italian allies. Despite this, in 1946, because of the regime's close fascist associations, Spain was expelled from the United Nations. It was readmitted in 1955. In 1947, Franco declared Spain a monarchy and provided for his succession by an heir to the Bourbon dynasty, overthrown by the Republicans in 1931. Upon his death in November 1975, Prince Juan Carlos assumed the crown. Juan Carlos immediately dissolved the harsher institutions of the Franco regime, and in June 1976, free elections brought moderates and democratic socialists to power.
A right-wing coup in
February 1981 failed, when the army remained loyal to the government.
Since then, Spain has moved swiftly to rejoin the mainstream of Western
Europe. Its economy is thoroughly integrated with those of its neighbors,
and it is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Accord.