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Spanish Empire

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Spanish Empire
Imperio Español

Cross of Burgundy Flag Coat of arms
Capital Toledo (1492-1561) Madrid (since 1561)
Language(s) Spanish
Religion Roman Catholic
Government Monarchy
 - 1516-1556 Charles I
 - 1886-1902 Maria Christina of Austria, Regent during the minority of king Alphonse XIII
 - Discovery of the Americas 1492
 - Conquest of the Aztec Empire 1519-1521
 - Conquest of the Inca Empire 1532–1537
 - Spanish-American War 1975
Currency Spanish real, Spanish escudo

The Spanish Empire was one of the largest empires in history and one of the first global empires.

In the 15th and 16th centuries Spain was in the center of European global exploration and colonial expansion and the opening of trade routes across the oceans, with trade across the Atlantic Ocean between Spain and the Americas and across the Pacific Ocean between Asia-Pacific and Mexico via the Philippines. Conquistadors destroyed the Aztec, Inca, and Maya civilizations, and took a lot of land in North and South America. For a time, the Spanish Empire the oceans with its experienced navy and ruled the European battlefield with its well trained infantry. Spain enjoyed a cultural golden age in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Spanish conquistadors discovered and ruled vast territories belonging to different cultures in America and other territories of Asia, Africa and Oceania. Spain, especially the kingdom of Castile, expanded, colonizing the territories and thereby build the greatest economic empire the world then . Among the incorporation of the Portuguese Empire in 1580 ( lost in 1640 ) and the loss of the American colonies in the nineteenth century with the Spanish defeat in the War of Independence Spanish-American, was one of the greatest empires for territory, despite having suffered bankruptcies from the second half of the seventeenth century and military defeats.

The marriage policy of the Kings allowed their union with the Crown of Aragon first, with burgundy and temporarily Austria later. With this policy were acquired many territories in Europe, where he became one of the major powers.

Spain dominated the oceans with its experienced navy, his soldiers were the best trained and the most feared infantry . The Spanish Empire had its golden age between the sixteenth century and the first half of the seventeenth century, both militarily and culturally .


This vast and scattered empire was in constant dispute with rival powers by territorial, commercial or religious causes . In the Mediterranean with the Ottoman Empire in Europe, with France, who disputed the primacy, in America, initially with Portugal and much later in England, and once the Dutch won their independence, also against those in other seas .

The constant struggles with rising powers in Europe, often simultaneously, for long periods and based on both political and religious differences, with the gradual loss of territory, hardly defensible by its dispersion, contributed to the slow decline of Spanish power. Between 1648 and 1659, the peace of Westphalia and the Pyrenees ratified the beginning of the decline of Spain as hegemon . The decline culminated in regard to control over European territories, with the Peace of Utrecht ( 1713 ), signed by a monarch who came from one of the rival powers, Felipe V : Spain renounced its territories in Italy and the Netherlands Netherlands, lost hegemony in Europe, resigned to continue to dominate European politics.

However, Spain maintained and actually expanded its vast overseas empire, harassed by British expansionism, French and Dutch, remaining as a major economic power, successive revolutions until you dispossessed of their territories in the Americas at the beginning of the century XIX.


Spain retained two possessions of its empire in America: Cuba and Puerto Rico . Also, in the Pacific, the Philippines and some preserved islands in Oceania, including the Carolinas ( including the Palau Islands) and the Marianas ( including Guam) . The Spanish-American War of 1898 resulted in the loss of almost all of these last territories . The only possessions that survived were the small islands of Oceania ( except Guam), which were eventually sold to Germany in 1899 .

The moral impact of this loss was hard, and compensate by creating sought, with little success, a second colonial empire in Africa, focusing on Morocco, Western Sahara and Equatorial Guinea, which lasted until decolonization in the decades of 1960-1970 to leave the last colony, the Sahara in 1975.


The Spanish Empire generally means Spain's overseas colonies in the Americas, the Pacific, and elsewhere. But it is not clear what is exactly part of the Spanish Empire. For instance, traditionally, territiories such as the Low Countries or Spanish Netherlands were included as they were part of the possessions of the King of Spain, governed by Spanish officials and defended by Spanish troops. But the British historian Henry Kamen writes that these territories were never part of a "Spanish" state and instead formed part of the wider Habsburg estate. Therefore many historians use both "Habsburg" and "Spanish" when they speak of the empire of Charles V or Philip II. Only from an "Anglosaxon" point of view can these observations be accurate since, with all effect, the Low Countries were part of Spain during that period.

Philip II's realms in 1598, showing its administrative structure during the Iberian Union, 1580-1640.

Portugal was occupied by Spanish forces and was ruled by the same monarch in "personal union", but Portugal remained a separate state. The Portuguese empire continued to be ruled from Lisbon during this period. Therefore there was a joint Spanish-Portuguese rule for some time. These jointly run empires have sometimes been called the Spanish-Portuguese Empire, but they were not parts of one state.

The Beginnings of the Empire (1402–1521)

Historically incorrect map of the Aragonese Crown

The marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile created a personal union of Aragon and Castile.

Surrender of Granada's king in the presence of the Catholic Kings.

In 1492, Spain drove out the last Moorish king of Granada. After their victory, the Spanish monarchs allowed Christopher Columbus to try to reach India by sailing west. Columbus instead "discovered" America. That was the start of the Spanish colonization of the continent.

Christopher Columbus taking possession of La Española.

By the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494, the globe was divided into two hemispheres between Spain and Portugal. Therefore Spain had the right to start colonies in all of the New World from Alaska to Cape Horn (except Brazil), as well as Asia. The Castilian Empire was the result of a period of rapid colonial expansion into the New World, as well as the Philippines and colonies in Africa: Melilla was captured by Castile in 1497 and Oran in 1509.

Results till today

The Spanish language and the Roman Catholic Church were brought to the Americas and to the Spanish East Indies (Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Marianas, Palau and the Philippines) by the Spanish colonization which began in the 15th century. Together with the Portuguese empire, the Spanish empire laid the foundations of a globalised trade by opening up the great trans-oceanic trade routes. Modern International law has its roots in the Spanish colonial expansion and bad experience with imperialism as well.


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tl:Imperyong Kastila