Visigoths in Spain and Portugal

The Visigoths were defeated by the Franks at Vouillé in AD 507, and largely expelled from Gaul. In Spain and Portugal, however, they had meanwhile seized control of much of the peninsula, except for the north-west, already occupied by the Suevi, and the Basque region. The Visigoths' cemeteries indicate the main area of settlement between the upper Tagus and the Ebro rivers. They formed the new aristocracy of Spain, taking over the positions of high office, although it is estimated that they comprised no more than five percent of the total population. Senators of Roman origin still retained much wealth and power in the south. Intermarriage with the native Hispano-Romans was banned, but the prohibition is unlikely to have been very effective. In fact, the laws of Alaric II even helped to romanise the Visigoths.

After Vouillé the Visigoths were ruled by the Ostrogoths until 549, and in 552 the Byzantines intervened in a civil war and invaded the south of Spain. But the rest of the country was unified by King Leovigild (569-586), who made Toledo his capital and struck gold coins in his own name to affirm his independence. In 584 he annexed the Suevic kingdom, while the Byzantines were largely confined to the ports in the south. He also introduced Byzantine court ceremonial as symbol of his power and tried to impose Arianism on the native Catholics. However, Reccared, his son and successor (586-601), converted to catholicism, which was established as the national religion after the Third Council of Toledo, in 589.

The Byzantines were finally expelled in the 620s and Swinthila became the first Visigothic king to reign over all of Hispania. But, in the late seventh century, rivalry for power and influence among the nobility (and even the clergy) often led to rebellion and conspiracies, which weakened the royal power. There were also serious famines and plague and, in 711, the Arabs, who had already conquered North Africa, took advantage of division of the kingdom and a Basque revolt to invade. They defeated and killed King Roderick and rapidly seized control of the peninsula. But, while some of the Visigothic nobles joined them, many others fled to Asturias in the north, where a base was established for resistance by Pelayo (leading eventually to reconquest nearly eight centuries later) and where Visigothic political institutions were preserved.

Related galleries