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Visigothic Spain

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Visigothic belt buckle from Visigothic Aquitaine, first half of the 6th century A.D.Visigothic belt buckle from Visigothic Aquitaine, first half of the 6th century A.D.

Aborigenal people in Spain either were Celts in most part of the Iberic Peninsula, or Iberians on a band along the eastern shores up to French Roussillon. Iberians were a semitic people influenced by Greeks and Phoenicians. The Iberian language might be related to that of Basques. Since the Greeks came ashore Spain, they praised equestrian skills of Iberians and their amazing balanced horses. Such those horses were also praised by Muslims once the peninsula conquered and that kept on with riders of all courts of Europe in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, who praised at the time Andalusian horses, which were the descendants of the original Iberians. At the time of the Germanic invasions, Germans, for the first time, crossed the Pyrenees and drove into Spain. They were the Vandals, the Suevians, and the Alani (who were Scythians or Tatars). The Vandals, after some time in Baetica (which became the "Vandalusia", present Andalusia), quickly passed further in Africa. The Suevians, once marginalised in Gallicia, passed under the control of the Visigoths, as the Alani were brought into subjection. Hence the Visigoths became the most important of the Germanic tribes who had passed in the peninsula. They were the "Western Goths" who had sacked Rome in 410 and who had first settled, like foederati, with Ataulf (410-415) and Wallia (415-419), in this southern part of Gaul between the Loire and the Garonne, and in the northeastern part of Spain (which thus became the "Gotha-landia", the "Catalonia"). Walia extended the occupation over most of Spain, Galicia, with the Suevians, excepted, as Euric, in 466, with his capital in Toulouse, put a real term to any rule of Rome in Spain. He may be considered the first monarch of Spain, with the Suevians managing to keep their independence in Galicia. Euric gave the Visigoths their first written laws. Visigothic Spain, as soon as under the Visigoths lived on the fringes of the rest of the Continent, as that isolation was to be accentuated after the Arab invasion and terminated by Year 1,000 A.D. only when Arabic Spain declined. Spain kept its links with the East -and not only Byzantium- during the Early Middle Ages

The most important aspect of the Visigothic rule of that period is that the Visigoths were Arians, that is they were haeretic Christians. The first consequence of that is that the Franks, who had become Christians with King Clovis, took the role of protectors the Spanish Catholics against the heresy of the new rulers -even if they had not been any serious persecutions except against some prelates considered like political opponents as well as religious one. The king's minister, Leo, was Catholic as Catholics fleeing North Africa had found refuge in the kingdom. The Visigoths were eventually defeated by Clovis at Vouillé in 507, as such kings like Alaric II (485-507) or Amalric (526-531) lost their lives and the Visigoths eventually left their Gallic possessions and retained Spain only. Their capital was transfered to Toledo. The real history of Visigothic Spain began since then onwards. It was the Ostrogoths who, after the battle of Vouillé, 'rescued' the Wisigoths. They imported into Spain the reorganization, hence the romanity, they had put to work in Italy. As Alaric II was the son-in-law to Theodoric, the Ostrogothic king, he carried out his role of guardian of Amalric, his grandson. Goths then, kept Narbonne and the province of Septimania. The occasion also allowed Theodorc to establish a king of protectorate above the varied Germanic powers in the West, the Franks excepted. As their capital city was Ravenna, North of the Italian peninsula, they practiced a double culture which was both gothic and Roman, as that system could only survive through a strong character. When the Ostrogothic King Theodoric died, his regime collapsed. Goths, generally, had been united until in the 3rd century A.D. and then they parted into two branches, the Ostrogoths and the Wisigoths namely. At the time of the Hunnic push by 370 A.D., Ostrogoths eventually turned, in the Balkans and not without rebellions, the Huns' vassals as they participated, for example, into the battle of the Catalaunic Fields, by 451 A.D. They managed to free themselves from the Huns and settled into Pannonia whence they entered into relations with the Byzantines, like the Wisigoths had done a century before. The Byzantines, in their case too, eventually diverted the Ostrogoths towards the West. Under King Theodoric, the Ostrogoths conquered northern Italy against the Herules, by 490 A.D. By that time the Ostrogoths and the Wisigoths were seen to become closer to each other. One of the successors to Theodoric inherited the Wisigothic kingdom as the Wisigoths, the Ostrogoths -and the Vandals- eventually gave up -or were threatened by- the Byzantine, Justinian Reconquest. As the Ostrogoths, as seen from the point of view of Justinian, were to be used like a buffer-state between the Byzantines and the Franks, they finally were eliminated amidst the struggles between Justinian and Belisarius and Narses, his commanders. As long as they remained Arians, Visigoths maintained consistent relations with Byzantines, which maybe was due to a kind of unity of the Mediterranean world as that was taking place along with the fact that Byzantines held, after the Justinian endeavors, a southern coastal band until in 616 A.D. Whence they undertook to convert Suevians -the inhabitants of nowadays Portugal. Former close relationships which existed with North Africa also kept on alive until in the 7th century as some refugees fleeing Maures by 570 passed into Spain

The Byzantine Greeks were given maritime places in the country's South-East, in 554, for the price of their help to Atanagild during his fight against King Agilas as the Catholic Church, with an unlimited tolerance was constantly increasing its strength at the detriment of the monarchs. The Visigothic monarchy, further, was a elective one, as the nobility made and un-made kings at will. Of 35 Visigothic kings, 17 were eventually slain and beheaded! The political unity was restored by King Leovigild (568-586) however who even subdued the Suevians. Spain, at that time, had managed best to preserve the cultural heritage of the Antiquity as two visigothic princesses had been maried to Frankish kings, Brunehaut with Sigebert, king of Austrasia, and Galeswinthe, her sister, with Chilperic, king of Neustria respectively. Queen Brunehaut thus had the old Roman roads of her kingdom restaured, which took the name of 'Brunehaut's Roads.' But the religious divisions however had reached the royal family as the Visigothic Arians moreover had became isolated after the fall of the Arian Ostrogothic and Vandalic kingdoms. The Byzantine reconquest of the Mediterranean, on a other hand, introduced itself like a 'Roman Catholic' one. That eventually brought on a civil war, with king's son St. Hermengild taking the lead of Catholics against the Arians who, with Leovigild, were trying to revive their religion. Hermengild was defeated and suffered martyrdom. After a failed attempt of conciliation of both religions by a synod in Toledo, Hermengild's brother, Recared (586-601), managed to bring Spain to the religious unity, having himself converted to Roman Catholicism in the 3rd Council of Toledo in 589, adding to the political unity his father had performed. The Visigothic king since, at the imitation of Byzantium which became a model, adopted the custom of the royal throne and mantle. That conversion however was more a sign of the monarchy rallying to Byzantines as the Jews already brought that policy to a failure and force the Byzantines to leave Spain. Byzantines were trying to expel them from Spain. The Visigoths soon followed his example and rallied to the Catholic faith. From then on, the Gothic invaders were more likely to fuse with the Hispano-Roman people, as the Byzantines were expulsed by Sisebut and Suintila. Chindasvint and Recesvint worked about the legislative unity and legalized marriages between Goths and Spaniards which were until then prohibited. "In law and politics the Romans became Gothic; the Goths in social life and religion became Roman". This unity was in a way detrimental to the Catholic Church, as it was established like the national and official Church, with connection to Rome -which had been briefly restored- ceasing almost entirely, and the Gothic kings appointing the bishops and convoking the "national council" of Toledo, which was the head of the Spanish Church. Until about 650 A.D., at least in art, some Byzantine influence maintained itself in Visigothic Spain, like the votive crown of king Receswinth, which followed a Greek ritual of gift to churches as it was maybe made in Constantinople

That did not bring a stop however to the constant struggles of the royal family with aristocraties, both secular and spiritual. Visigothic noblemen had mostly remained Arians and allied themselves with Jews. This led to a form of decline appeared as soon as with King Wamba. Immorality increased and a neat decay and effiminacy occurred with the reign of Witiza and culminated with the last Visigothic ruler, Roderic (710-714). Struggles were due to the elective system of monarchy. This was very dangerous as, at the time, the Moslems invaders were swiftly progressing in North Africa, mastering the area as soon as of the middle of the 7th century. The legend has that Count Julina, the Byzantine governor of Ceuta, a city on the North Africa coast where the Byzantines have managed to remain, to avenge the violation of his daughter Florinda by King Roderic, opened to the Moslems the gates of Spain. The Arab invasion thus kept into the logics of the fights between Arians, Jews and the Catholic monarchy as the Arabic troops were mostly constituted of Berbers who were Arian or Muslim in religion. Jews, as far as they are concerned, as they had suffered under the Wisigothic kings despite the judeophily of the Spanish noblemen, entered relations with their African compatriots and the Caliph. A fist plot failed in 694 and the invasion eventually occurred. Tarif, then Tarik led two expeditions successively, as, eventually Roderic and the Visigoths were defeated at the battle of Guadalete (or Jerez de la Frontera) in July 711. The defeat seems to have been due to the treachery of partisans of the former king Witiza. The Arabs soon spread into Andalusia, reached Toledo, the capital, as the important Jewish communities of the cities were facilitating their moves by being entrusted by Arabs the custody of those, freeing troops for the conquest. Helped by Musa, governor of Barbary, the invaders of Tarik moved quickly North, capturing Saragossa as soon as 714 and reaching as far northwest as Leon and Astorga. As some of the Spaniards accepted to live under the Arab rule (they called themselves the "Mozarabs"), the rest fled to the northern mountains where 4 kingdoms were created, Astorias, Navarre, Aragon, and Catalonia, which were to become the chief-rallying points for the "Reconquista". Most of the Visigotic elites indeed rallied to Arabs due to their Arianism

As far as Church is concerned, many very important councils were held during the Visigothic period, with the most important ones of Toledo and Braga, as the two brothers Leander and Isidore were the most famed of the numerous Spanish saints. St. Isidore was the main contributor to the upbuilding of the Mozarabic litterature. St. Emilian Millan was the father of the Spanish monks. Paulus Orosius is the Spanish historian of the Visigothic era, with the chroniclers Idacius and John of Biclara

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