The above map shows the geopolitical situation on the Iberian Peninsula in roughly AD 1400. The words are in Catalan. Castile, Navarre and Aragon had yet to become one. You can still see the last Muslim enclave in proto-Spain as the Emirat de Granada. Neat.
Now, exact historical details, like articulated below, were a stumbling block to me for some time. I didn’t want to spend literal scores of hours researching European history. What good would that do? Well, I still don’t know. But, words like below are fun to write.
This section from Once Upon a Time in Europe is right after “Catalan is NOT Spanish”.
A beginning of Catalan history
Many Catalans within Spain consider themselves a separate nation of people, and to this day seek independence from Madrid. How did they come under the crown of the Spaniards? Why I’m so glad you asked!
I’ll be kinda’ quick. If you’re not interested in learning any European history, as I will interweave throughout this book, then skip these sections to get back to my buffoonery. However, if you’re an American who doesn’t know any European history, why not learn something new?
Seriously, why not?
In the Year of our Lord 711, 235 years after the fall of the Roman Empire to roaming Germanic barbarians, a powerful enemy from Africa crossed the Straight of Gibraltar into Spain: the Muslims. The former Roman province called Hispania, then ruled by the Germanic Visigoths, was not capable of fielding powerful phalanxes for defense. The Muslims conquered virtually all of the Iberian Peninsula. By 732 they were even at the gates of Paris. Western Europe was in terror. Had the Muslims won, history would have been indescribably different. However, a man named Charles Martel, the progenitor of France’s Carolingian kings, defeated them at the Battle of Tours, and sent them back south of the Pyrenees, never to invade France again. However, in Iberia, they stayed for almost eight hundred years.
Charles Martel was a Frank. The Franks were another one of the Germanic tribes, like the Visigoths, that destroyed the Roman Empire. The Franks conquered the Roman Province of Gaul – modern France – in the 400’s. A Frankish ruler named Clovis accepted Christianity in 496 AD, and created a military-political-religious alliance with the growing Church at the City of Rome, which was to become the Catholic Church and the nucleus of a new civilization in Western Europe.
Now, the grandson of Charles Martel you’ve probably heard of. His name was Charlemagne. He created a massive empire across modern France, Italy, Germany and beyond by 800 AD, and did his part to establish Christianity as THE religion of Europe. This call to expand Christendom impelled him to send armies south of the Pyrenees, and whip some Muslim butt, and set up Christian political units called “Marches” south of the Pyrenees. These Spanish Marches were the beginning of small Christian kingdoms that came into existence in the north of Iberia in the 900’s.
One those Spanish Marches was the Kingdom of Aragon. The people’s vulgar Latin here evolved into Aragonese, which is a language distinct from Spanish still spoken by a small groups. Another former Spanish March was the County of Barcelona, Barcelona being a prosperous merchant city that was established in Roman times. In addition to Charlemagne’s Marches, there were parts of Iberia that were never conquered, from which grew kingdoms like Asturias, Navarre and Castile. The point is that, in time, these Christian enclaves in proto-Spain all fought incessantly against Muslims to send them back to Africa once and for all. These enclaves were also aided periodically from other lands in Christian Western Europe, who had in an interest in expanding the frontiers of Christendom against the Islamic world.
Because the County of Barcelona was in Northern Iberia, they were further away from concentrations of Muslim power further in Southern Iberia. The lack of Muslim marauding after AD 1000, and the lack of interference from Christian France to the north, and the lack of interference from the Iberian Christian kingdoms to the west (though interference from Castile was inevitable), fostered an autonomy of culture that yielded prosperity for Barcelona, and the beginning of a trading empire across the Mediterranean.
Their isolated autonomy also yielded a unique evolution of Roman Latin into Modern Catalan, which, again, is similar to Spanish, but is its own unique language. The word “Catalan” likely evolved from “Gothalaunia” or Latin for “land of the Goths.” Though all of Iberia was the land of the Goths, before the Muslim conquest, “Gothalaun” or “Catalan” seemed to stick only to the language of Barcelona and its surrounding territorial possessions. Thus, those who spoke Catalan became Catalans and their greater realm was called Catalunya.
Then, the Catalans came to be under the Crown of Aragon in 1150. That is, they came to share a common king. However, the Kingdom of Aragon and the County of Barcelona continued to have their own representative bodies, laws and customs. They were not fully politically integrated, nor would the Crown even try. This union is best seen as a perpetual alliance. Both Barcelona and Aragon benefitted.
The Catalans benefitted by, essentially, creating a buffer state in Aragon against the growing power of the Kingdom of Castile to the west of Aragon, which was a warranted fear considering Castile would one day rule Catalunya with an iron fist, though centuries after 1150. For Aragon the union created an outlet to the sea and an opportunity to obtain some of the riches of Barcelona’s trading empire. The union proved wise, and the power of the Aragonese Crown grew by land and sea with an overall increase of manpower more strategically directed.
The Crown took land to the west, and made its buffer against Castile stronger. It took land to the south, and incorporated what became Catalan-speaking Valencia, almost doubling the Crown lands’ size. It also sought to reclaim Catalan-speaking people in the far south of France, who, to this day, number close to 50,000.
By sea it took the Balearic Islands, Sicily, Sardinia, Naples. The Crown even had controlled Greek lands for some time. The Catalans got a large piece of the action transporting cereals, olives and wines, which are abundant in Mediterranean lands. They also got some of the lucrative trade of Oriental spices which made Venetians filthy rich.
An Aragonese king named Ferdinand, the last one before Aragon’s permanent union with Castile through his marriage to Isabella, was so adept at consolidating power that Machiavelli, the famous author of The Prince, considered Ferdinand as his inspiration.
In 1467 the Kingdom of Castile and the Kingdom of Aragon would become one. The history of the entire world would change forever. This isn’t exaggeration.
FEATURED MAP FROM: