Catalonia: Forged in History

Updated on January 17, 2018
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ata1515 is a student of history, focusing on the modern, medieval, and ancient histories of Europe.

Map of Catalonia, 1608
Map of Catalonia, 1608

A Land Apart

Sitting astride the great Pyrenees Mountains, Catalonia is a region with deep roots and flowing history from pre-Roman times. Located on a natural border between France and Spain, and dividing the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of continental Europe, Catalonia has developed a unique culture blending north and south together.

The history of the 20th century saw Catalonian independence crushed and attempts made to force the Catalonian people to conform to Spanish standards, but history shows that the Catalonians are not easy to cow.

Roman Aqueduct at Tarraco
Roman Aqueduct at Tarraco

Crossroads of War

The region that would come to be Catalonia was originally inhabitated by Iberian tribes that lived mostly on trading, herding and raiding. Even during this time Catalonia was a melting pot of Iberian and Celtic culture, while Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans came and colonized the area from the 8th to 2nd centuries.

Greek traders travelled across the length and breadth of the Mediterranean and established tradingg colonies as they went. Within the western Mediterranean Massalia in southern France was the largest, and longest lived colony, but along the Iberian coast Greeks settled into small trading posts to foment exchange with the natives.

As the Greek world was being eclipsed by the Roman, Iberia came under Roman dominion, who established defensible towns and client kingdoms. By this time the native Iberians has begun to form larger confederations capable of enacting state policies and international relations.

Carthage came to Spain after the First Punic War as a means to develop new income, materials and allies. While the Carthaginians largely settled in southern Iberia, which began a division that would largely continue through history, they did briefly control the region that would become Catalonia during the Second Punic War while making war on Rome and her allies.

After the fall of Carthage Iberia came to be dominated by the Romans until the Western Roman Empire fell. This led to an increase in urbanization, the creation of many city centers, and the basis for early industrial activity.

Collapse of Central Authority

As the Western Roman Empire collapsed, Germanic invaders swept across Europe. In Iberian these were the Vandals, Goths and Alans. While the Roman city centers held durig the initial blitz, the capture of Rome by the Ostrogoths ended Roman rule in Europe proper.

With the end of the Roman Empire the people of Catalonia fell under the rule of the Visigoths based in Toulouse in southern France. This once again connected Catalonia to the people north of the Pyrénées, and added another layer of culture for the Catalonia’s. The Kingdom of Tolosa would go on to capture much of Iberia before losing two disastrous events.

After the battle of Voille against the Franks largely ended Visigothic rule in southern France, the Ummayad Caliphate invaded from across the sea. While there was still resistance to Visigothic rule from Asturias and the Basques, the Visigoths we’re unable to rally series of military disasters that the hands of the Umayyads resulted in the end of Visigothic rule.

Count of Barcelona and Countess of Aragon
Count of Barcelona and Countess of Aragon

Union and Independence

As the Moors advanced north across Iberia the situation in Catholic Catalonia was grim. Two battles would change this outlook. At Covadonga and Tours the Moors were defeated and driven back. Victory at Tours led to Carolingian supremacy in Europe, and the development of an independent state in Catalonia.

As the Franks expanded east, they left a buffer state in place at Barcelona. Encouraging emmigration and expansion along the Pyrénées once again brought northern ideas south to Catalonia. As the border marches grew they developed independent of the rest of what would become Spain under Castile and León.

Barcelona and Aragon united through marriage forming an independent Catalonian state, through a composite monarchy of the County of Barcelona and Kingdom of Aragon, along the Franco-Spanish border, and created a unique society that still exists today. This state would flourish for two centuries, expanding around the Mediterranean and forming a maritime domain.

The Kingdom of Aragon would eventually be united with the Kingdom of Castile, and Catalonia would steadily lose political prominence until it was formally abolished and repressed.

Further Reading

Chandler, Cunning Between Court and Counts: Carolingian Catalonia and the aprisio grant, 778-897

Goldsworthy, Adrian The Punic Wars

Davies, Norman Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe

Questions & Answers


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      • K S Lane profile image

        K S Lane 

        2 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

        This is fascinating. I'm ashamed to say that I'd never ever heard of Catalonia before, or its history. Thanks for providing the further reading recommendations; they should come in handy.


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