The historical heritage of the Iberian Peninsula

The origins of human presence in the Iberian Peninsula date back to the arrival of the first hominids 1,200,000 years ago.
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Vincenzo Ferrillo

Vincenzo Ferrillo

24/11/2019 | Last update:

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The Iberian Peninsula during prehistoric times

Prehistory is the stage that chronologically corresponds to the origins of humanity, the one of which we are not aware about the existence of documents or written records, since writing had not yet been invented. It is only through archaeological excavations that we know this age. Prehistory has been divided into two great periods according to the materials found in the archaeological remains: whether they are made of stone or metal.

The oldest stage corresponds to the Stone Age : the remains found are made of stone. It is divided into the Paleolithic in its oldest stage and the Neolithic in the final:

The most modern stage corresponds to the Metal Age, and according to the material used it is classified as:

The Paleolithic in the Iberian Peninsula

a) Lower Paleolithic: 1,000,000 BC — 100,000 BC

b) Middle Paleolithic: 100,000 BC — 35,000 BC

c) Upper Paleolithic: 35,000 BC — 10,000 BC

Altamira cave
Painting on the ceiling of the Altamira cave (Source:

The Epipaleolithic

It’s a time of transition between 10,000 B.C. and 5,000 B.C. It corresponds to the Holocene period in which humans continue to maintain the economic strategies of the Paleolithic societies of hunter-gatherers, before the changes towards Neolithic economic production (agriculture and livestock). Therefore, the Epipaleolithic began with the end of the glaciations, marking the end of the Paleolithic about 10,000 years ago and extends until the advent of agriculture. However, important variations in the use of the term exist, according to different interpretative currents.

The Neolithic

The Chalcolithic or Copper Age

The Bronze Age

Map of the Iberian Peninsula during the Bronze Age
Mapa de la Península Ibérica durante la Edad del Bronce. Fuente:

The Urnfield culture

The Iron Age. The Protohistory

Indo-European cultures colonized the European continent. These cultures came from the region of Hindustan (India). The Iberian Peninsula suffered the migratory waves coming from the north and centre of Europe.

The Phoenicians

The Greeks

The Tartessos

The Carthaginians

The Iberians

The Romans

The Ancient Age in the Iberian Peninsula. Roman Hispania

The Ancient Age in the Iberian Peninsula. Roman Hispania

In 400 BC there were two dominant powers in the Mediterranean: Carthage and Rome. Rivalry between the two led to war: the First Punic War (264-241 BC). The Carthaginians wanted domination of the islands of Corsica and Sicily. Rome prevailed.

Later the problem arose for the control of the Iberian Peninsula. A treaty was signed for the partitioning of the Iberian Peninsula: the Ebro Treaty which dictated that the Ebro upward would be a territory under Roman rule, and the Ebro downward under Carthaginians.

In 218 BC followed the Second Punic War (218-201 BC). Hannibal began the definitive war against Rome. Hannibal wanted to cross the entire Iberian Peninsula passing through Roman territory, with the intention to attack Rome by land. In Rome, it was decided to send an army by sea to quickly reach the Iberian Peninsula and stop Hannibal’s army. In 218 B.C. the Romans landed at Empúries. They defeated Hannibal and forced him to return to the city of Carthage.

After the Second Punic War, the Romans decided to stay on the Peninsula, which was very attractive for its raw materials such as minerals, wheat, oil and wine crops and slave labour.

The conquest of the Peninsula

Roman conquest
The Iberian Peninsula during the process of conquest by the Republic of Rome. Year 196 BC


Romanization was the process of assimilation of Roman culture by the native citizens of the Iberian Peninsula. In the political aspect, in the 700 years of Roman domination, first: around 200 BC the peninsula was divided into two provinces, the east was Hispania Citerior and the south was Hispania Ulterior. In each province was installed a Pretor.

When the whole of the peninsula was conquered, Augustus declared the “pax romana” and made a new territorial division. In 19 BC he formed 3 provinces: the largest was the Tarraconensis, with capital in Tarraco. The second was the Baetica with capital in Córdoba, which later moved to Hispalis, present-day Seville. Finally, there was Lusitania, in present-day Portugal. The capital was Emerita Augusta (Mérida).

At the end of the 3rd century, Diocletian reformed the territories. He kept Lusitania. In Baetica, he added Mauritania; the Tarraconensis divided it into three: Carthaginensis, Gallaecia and Tarraconensis.

In the social aspect, 80% of the population was slave and 20% plebeian and patrician. Within this upper class, there were two groups: the senatores (with the right to be members of the Senate) and the equites (high-ranking members of the army).

Economically, the Romans were an urban culture. They wanted the conquered territories to produce food and send it to Rome. The great pillar of industry on the peninsula was the mines. The mines were owned by the state.

In the cultural aspect the immense majority of peoples of the peninsula acquired the Latin language. Religion went through three phases. In the first phase they adopted the Greek, polytheistic religion. The Romans took religion as a matter of state, until 19 BC. With the Empire, this changed. The Emperor was a god and offerings, monuments had to be made to him… In the 4th century the last change took place. Constantine declared Christianity as the only religion. This happened in 313.

Roman cities were divided into two groups:

Every Roman city must have:

As for the most relevant figures of Hispanic origin in the politics of the Empire, they stand out:

All articles of the course: Story of Spain (High-School course)

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