Spain History - Barbarian Period (409 - 476)

The main tribe in the history of the Barbarian occupation of the Peninsular were the Visigoths who originated from what is now known as Germany who first appeared in 415 AD . Their style of living, dress and rule was in complete contrast to the Romans. Four years later their occupation was so successful that the Visigoth King Wallia formed a new Kingdom of Toulouse which included the most of the northern part of the Peninsular. This area was extended by King Euric by 484 to extend from the Loire River down to the south coast of Spain. Of the 34 Visigoth Kings in their rule of the peninsular only 15 died of natural causes. Very little physical evidence remains today to indicate their culture other than some churches, a number of pieces of jewellery and records of an obscure form of local administrative law. This is all that can be positively related to their reign of just over three hundred years, from 409 until 711 AD. Despite this they controlled at one time the strongest and largest Kingdom in Europe which constantly suffered from internal strife and disunity.

The early invaders were reputed to have been the Suevi (Swabians) from the Upper Danube and the famous Vandals from the Vistula River area. Within a very short period they took possession of most of the peninsular including that of the area of Cantabria which had not succumbed to the Romans for the previous two centuries. As the Suevi swarmed over the Pyrenees into Galicia the Vandals arriving by boat attacked from the south. The success of the invasion was undoubtedly considerably assisted by the decline and disintegration of the Roman Empire.

Rome had already been taken by the Visigoths in 410 and had set up a puppet Roman ruler. The new ruler made an attempt to take the Peninsular by setting one tribe against another. They commissioned the Goths under the leadership of Atawulf but after he successfully defeating the Vandals they retired to make their own Kingdom north of the Pyrenees at Toulouse. The defeated Vandals, always thirsty for new aggression, then moved to North Africa and took and settled in the areas now known as Algeria and Morocco. The defeated Suevi retreated to the northwest and ruled this area for another 180 years.

When Rome finally and completely fell in 476 AD the Visigoths found themselves at first rulers of a massive kingdom but this was soon disrupted when the Franks took Gaul so they moved their power base to Hispania. They chose the town of Toledo as their capital marvelling at the construction of the previous Roman rulers. It is possible to consider that at any one given time the Barbarians did not number much in excess of 200,000 during their period of rule. They successfully ruled over several million Hispano-Romans by allowing them to continue with their own positions of authority and not trying to impose their own culture upon a society that was already well established. However, in matters they considered of importance they were efficiently brutal in applying their rules. A large difference of attitude existed however in the area of religion. The Barbarians had an Arian form of Christianity which denied the Trinity, whilst the local inhabitants practiced the Roman Religion and many country folk still believed in and practiced Pagan style ceremonies.

In the 6th Century a new seat of power for the old Roman Empire had been established in far of Constantinople. The new Byzantine rulers eyed the Peninsular as their rightful property and Justinian led a series of successful invasions of North Africa to end up conquering the town of Septum (Ceuta). This location was viewed as an excellent base from which to attempt the re-conquer the Peninsular. From here they successfully later took Málaga and Cartagena and also the Balearic Islands to create a new province which they called Spania.

During this whole period the one race which remained stubbornly independent of any overlord was the Basques. As with other invaders they did not take kindly either to the Barbarians and at one point they swept successfully down the Ebro Valley to Barcelona before retreating back to their own lands. Under the rule of King Leovigild the Visigoths however did manage to rid the Peninsular of the Suevi in the far northwest. His rule was noted for battle successes and he also crushed an uprising in Cantabria. However, history had recorded that as from 507 the empire of the Visigoths tribe began to slowly crumble. It is recorded that King Recared, the successor to Leovigild, became a convert to the Christian religion in 589.

This King converted to Catholicism and banned the previous Arian religion. Toledo then became not only a seat of regal power but also the seat of religion thus binding the two together. This move gave new powers to the church which previously they had not enjoyed and was to become the root cause of problems much later. The inhabitants in general appeared to readily accept this new situation and its effect filtered into the culture and society itself. As the Visigoths had their own smiths and potters examples of their work are evident but they in the areas of architecture and the fine arts they seemed to have been seriously lacking. One outstanding person from this era was St. Isidore (560 - 636), who as an intellectual compiled an encyclopaedia, copies of which were then distributed to almost every Monastery in Europe. He also was recorded as being the author of the first anti-Jewish treatise and Bishop of Seville in 600. The Jewish population of the peninsular was at that time larger than that of the Barbarians and had enjoyed a certain amount of tolerance through the previous centuries. They now suffered the first taste again of hard persecution by being forced to either accept Catholicism or leave for other lands. Many refused to change their religion and a sizable majority fled to North Africa.

The problems caused by a Byzantines invasion on the south coast in 554 under General Belisarius were removed in 624 AD when their hold over part of the coastal regions was finally overcome. This was the first time with the exception of the Basques that the Visigoths effectively ruled under one King the entire peninsular. However, this situation was short lived and the situation returned to normal with internal strife. A plot was discovered where leading Jews had linked up with the North Africa Moors and invited an invasion of the peninsular. After this invasion failed King Wamba ordered general bloodletting and many Jews were slaughtered. This episode was the forerunner of what was on the horizon and at the 4th Synod of Toledo two important rulings were introduced. Firstly, The official language in all matters became Latin, and secondly, all Jews were required to be baptised in the Christian faith. The King then took the mistaken decision to order all priests to become part of his army. The revolt was quick to come with the church siding with rebel nobles and under the leadership of Ervigius they took the throne away from Wamba. Some years later the relative quick downfall of the Barbarians came to an end when the then ruler King Witiza attempted to pass his throne to his son. Again the nobles objected and sided with a new leader by the name of Roderick caused a civil war to start which they duly won. King Roderick and his Visigoth followers were short-lived as rulers because they failed to unite the peninsular under one kingdom. In 711 the Moslem leader Tariq Ibn Ziyad landed with a strong invasion force at Gibraltar and commenced his rapid Moorish conquest of the Peninsular by defeating King Rodrigo at Guardelete.


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