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Spanish people or Spaniards constitute the European nationality and ethnic group of natives of Spainmarker, in the Iberian Peninsulamarker, which forms the southwest of Europe. The Spanish nationality is in essence made up of regional nationalities, reflecting the complex history of Spain. Spain, in its current boundaries, was formed out of a number of predecessor kingdoms in the late 15th century as a result of the Reconquista and the War of the Castilian Succession.

The official language of Spain is Spanish (español or castellano), the standard language based on the medieval dialect of the Castilians of central Spain, but the linguistic situation in Spain is more complicated. Still, with the exception of Basque, all languages native to Spain belong to the category of Iberian Romance languages.

Substantial populations with Spanish ancestry, the result of Spanish emmigration, also exist in other parts of the world, most notably in Latin America. The greater part of these groups consist of variations of combined heritages of which the predominant are Native American, Spanish, other European and/or African. The many distinctive groups of the larger Hispanosphere are discussed under demography of Latin America and from a US perspective as Hispanic and Latino Americans.

Historical background

Early populations

The earliest modern humans inhabiting Spain are believed to have been Paleolithic peoples that may have arrived in the Iberian Peninsula as early as 35,000-40,000 years ago. In more recent times the Iberians are believed to have arrived or developed in the region between the 4th millennium BC and the 3rd millennium BC, initially settling along the Mediterranean coast.

Celts settled in Spain during the Iron Age. Some of those tribes in north-central Spain, which had cultural contact with the Iberians, are called Celtiberians. In addition, a group known as the Tartessians and later Turdetanians inhabited southwestern Spain and who are believed to have developed a separate civilization of Phoenicianmarker influence. The seafaring Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians successively settled along the Mediterranean coast and founded trading colonies there over a period of several centuries. The Second Punic War between the Carthaginians and Romans was fought mainly in what is now Spain and Portugalmarker.

The Roman Republic annexed Iberia during the 2nd century BC and transformed most of the region into a series of Latin-speaking provinces. As a result of Roman colonization, the majority of local languages, with the exception of Basque, stem from the Vulgar Latin that was spoken in Hispania (Roman Iberia), which evolved into the modern languages of the Iberian peninsula, including Castilian, which became the unifying language of Spain, and is now known in most countries as Spanish. Hispania, emerged as an important part of the Roman Empire and produced notable historical figures such as Trajan, Hadrian, and Seneca.

The Germanic Vandals and their subordinates the Iranic Alans arrived around 409 AD. The Vandals may have given their name to the region of Andalusiamarker, which according to one of several theories of its etymology which would be the source of Al-Andalusmarker — the Arabic name of Iberian Peninsula). The Vandals were displaced to North Africa by another Germanic tribe, the Visigoths who conquered the region around 415 AD and became the dominant power in Iberia for three centuries. Iberian-Roman culture eventually romanized the Visigoths and other tribes. Another Germanic tribe, the Suebi (including the Buri), who arrived at roughly the same time as the Vandals, became established in the old North western Roman province of Gallaecia a kingdom which survived until late 6th century when it too was integrated by the Visigoths.

Middle Ages

In 711, the Iberian Peninsulamarker was invaded by Muslim, mainly Berbers, popularly known as the Moors, who conquered nearly all the peninsula except the Kingdom of Asturias in the very northern part and subsequently ruled part of the region as Al-Andalusmarker, but were driven south during their reign, ruling areas from between three to nearly eight centuries, ending with their defeat in 1492. These Muslim invaders were mainly of North African Berber origin with prominent Arab tribal leaders mixed in and they converted many locals to Islam to the point that at certain periods in time Muslims outnumbered Christians. Muslims of Hispanic origin were generally known as Muladis (or Muwalladin in Arabic), "those born of foreign parentage" (though the idea "foreign" in this case meant "foreign" to the Arab and Berbers).

In the 10th century a massive conversion of Christians took place, so that muladies comprised the majority of the population of Islamic Spain by the century's end. Muslim Iberia was known as Al-Andalusmarker. Ultimately, most Muslims and Sephardi Jews were either converted to Catholicism or expelled after the Christian reconquest (Reconquista). Between 1609 and 1614, approximately 300,000 Moriscos—newChristians converted from Islam who continued to speak, write, and dress like Muslims—were forcibly expelled from Spain.

In 842, another group of Germanic tribe, Vikings or Norsemen, invaded the peninsula. They attacked Cadizmarker in 844.

The union of the Christian Kingdoms of Castille and Aragon and the conquest of Granadamarker led to the formation of the Spanish state as we know it today and thus to the development of Spanish identity in the form of one people. The Canary Islandsmarker had an Indigenous population called the Guanches whose origin is still the subject of discussion among historians and linguists.


In the 16th century perhaps 240,000 Spaniards entered American ports. They were joined by 450,000 in the next century. Since the conquest of Mexicomarker and Perumarker these two regions became the principal destinations of Spanish migrants in the 16th century. In the period 1850-1950, 3.5 million Spanish left for the Americas, particularly Argentinamarker, Uruguaymarker, Brazilmarker, and Cubamarker. From 1840 to 1890, as many as 40,000 Canary Islanders emigrated to Venezuelamarker. 94,000 Spaniards chose to go to Algeria in the last years of the 19th century, and 250,000 Spaniards lived in Moroccomarker at the beginning of the 20th century.

By the end of the Spanish Civil War, some 500,000 Spanish Republican refugees had crossedthe border into Francemarker. From 1961 to 1974, at the height of the guest worker in Western Europe, about 100,000 Spaniards emigrated each year.

Ethnicities and regions

Spain's regions and nationalities

Spain itself consists of various regional populations including the Castilians, the Catalans, Valencians and Balearics (speakers of Catalan, a distinct Romance language in eastern Spain), the Basques (people inhabiting the Basque countrymarker), Basque language speakers, and the Galicians, who speak Galician. Regional diversity is important to many Spaniards, and some regions also have strong local identities and dialects such as Asturiasmarker, Aragonmarker related to south navarrese and spanish people from La Rioja, the Canary Islandsmarker, Leónmarker, and Andalusiamarker.

The Roma

Spain is home to around 200,000 Spanish-Roma (Gitanos). Roma are a formerly-nomadic group, which spread across Western Asia, North Africa, and Europe, reaching Spain in the 15th century. Gitanos, for a number of historical and cultural reasons are not considered a separate or "foreign" population in Spain, but a distinct ethnicity which overlaps with the wider Spanish ethnicity. Indeed, Gitanos play an important role in particularly Andalusian folklore, music, and culture. There are no official statistics on the Gitano population in Spain. Estimates range from 600 000 to 700 000, making Spain, together with Romania and Bulgaria, home to one of the largest Roma communities in Europe. Over 40% of Gitanos live in the region of Andalusia, where they have traditionally enjoyed a higher degree of integration than in the rest of the country. A number of Spanish "gitanos" also live in Southern France, especially in the region of Perpignanmarker.

Modern immigration

The population of Spain is becoming increasingly diverse due to recent immigration. Spain now has among the highest per capita immigration rates in the world and the second highest absolute net migration in the World (after the USA) and immigrants now make up about 10% of the population. Since 2000, Spain has absorbed more than 3 million immigrants, with thousands more arriving each year. Immigrant population now tops over 4.5 million. They come mainly from Europe, Latin America, China, the Philippines, North Africa, and West Africa.(see Immigration to Spain).


[[Image:Spain languages.PNG|thumb|right|300px|The vernacular languages of Spain (simplified)

Languages spoken in Spain include Spanish (castellano or español) (74%), Catalan (català, called valencià in the Valencian Communitymarker) (17%), Galician (galego) (7%), and Basque (euskara) (2%). Other languages are Asturian (asturianu), Aranese Gascon (aranés), Aragonese (aragonés), and Leonese, each with their own various dialects. Spanish is the official state language, although the other languages are co-official in a number of autonomous communities.

Peninsular Spanish is largely considered to be divided into two main dialects: Castilian Spanish (spoken in the northern half of the country) and Andalusian Spanish (spoken mainly in Andalusia). However, a large part of Spain, including Madrid, Extremadura, Murcia, and Castilla-la Mancha, speak local dialects known as "transitional dialects" between Andalusian and Castilian Spanish. The Canary Islands also have a distinct dialect of Castilian Spanish which is very close to Caribbean Spanish. Linguistically, the Spanish language is a Romance language and is one of the aspects (including laws and general "ways of life") that causes Spaniards to be labelled a Latin people. The strong Arabic influence on the language (nearly 4,000 words are of Arabic origin, many nouns and few verbs)The importance of this influence can be seen in words like admiral (almirante), algebra, alchemy and alcohol, to note just a few obvious examples, which entered other European languages, like French, English, German, from Arabic via medieval Spanish. Modern Spanish has more than 100 000 words. and the independent evolution of the language itself through history, most notably the Basque influence at the formative stage of Castilian Romance, partially explain its difference from other Romance languages. The Basque language left a strong imprint on Spanish both linguistically and phonetically. Other changes in Spanish have come from borrowings from English and French, although English influence is stronger in Latin America than in Spain.

The number of speakers of Spanish as a mother tongue is roughly 35.6 million, while the vast majority of other groups in Spain such as the Galicians, Catalans, and Basques also speak Spanish as a first or second language, which boosts the number of Spanish speakers to the overwhelming majority of Spain's population of 45.9 million.

Spanish was exported to the Americas due to over three centuries of Spanish colonial rule starting with the arrival of Christopher Columbus to Santo Domingomarker in 1492. Spanish is spoken natively by over 400 million people and spans across most countries of the Americas; from the Southwestern United States in North America down to Tierra del Fuegomarker, the most southernly region of South America in Chilemarker and Argentinamarker. A variety of the language, known as Judaeo-Spanish or Ladino (or Haketia in Morocco), is still spoken by descendants of Sephardim (Spanish and Portuguese Jews) who fled Spain following a decree of expulsion of Moors and Jews in 1492. Also, a Spanish creole language known as Chabacano is spoken by less than 1 million people in the Philippinesmarker, which developed from the mix of Spanish and native Tagalog and Cebuano languages during Spain's rule of the country through Mexicomarker from 1565 to 1898.

In Russiamarker, the Spaniards who moved there during World War II speak a mix of Russian and Spanish, while some speak Catalan. In Montrealmarker, Quebecmarker, Canadamarker, many Spanish-speaking immigrants relocated in the city adapted a mixed language Franspanol, while they're able to speak French and in addition, English.


According to several sources (Spanish official polls and others,, about 76% self-identify as Christian Catholics, about 2% with another religious faith, and about 19% identify as atheists.


The ancestry of modern Iberians is largely consistent with the geographical situation of the Iberian Peninsulamarker as the south-west of Europe. There are connections with the Mediterraneanmarker peoples, primarily with those on the European side of the sea, and with Atlantic Europe.

DNA analysis shows that the Spanish are most closely related to other populations of central and western Europe, such as the Portuguese, the Italians, the Irish, the Britishmarker and to a slightly lesser extent to the French, the Germans, and the Swiss.

A 2007 European-wide study including Spanish Basques and Valencian Spaniards, found Iberian populations to cluster the furthest from other continental groups, implying that Iberia holds the most ancient European ancestry. In this study, the most prominent genetic stratification in Europe was found to run from the north to the south-east, while another important axis of differentiation runs east-west across the continent. It also found, despite the differences, that all Europeans are closely related.

Previous Y-chromosome and mtDNA analysis already pointed to Paleolithic ancestry among populations in the Iberian Peninsula. Although this methodology does not provide strong inferences on genetic population structure, it is useful in tracing parts of the routes of migration in the populating of Europe. Both Y-chromosome haplogroup R1b and mitochondrial haplogroup H, reach frequencies above 60% in most of Iberiamarker, R1b peaking at 90% in the Basque region. This shows an ancestral bond between Iberia and the rest of western Europe, and in particular with Atlantic Europe, which share high frequencies of these haplogroups. Y-chromosome and mtDNA analysis seems to support the theory according to which founder populations in northern Iberia colonized the rest of western Europe at the end of the last glaciation.

In fact, according to one article, the main components in the European genomes appear to derive from ancestors whose features were similar to those of modern Basques and Near Easterners, with average values greater than 35% for both these parental populations, regardless of whether or not molecular information is taken into account. The lowest degree of both Basque and Near Eastern admixture is found in Finland, whereas the highest values are, respectively, 70% in Spain and more than 60% in the Balkans.

Autosomal studies using a small number of classical genetic markers, supported by more recent analysis of Microsatellite data, have lent support for a large Neolithic element in the European genome, supporting the demic diffusion model from the ancient Near East. This Neolithic component has also been detected at substantial levels in Spain, albeit at lower levels than in other European countries. Broad gradients across Europe, largely on South East/North West cline using a small number of classical genetic markers would thus link the populations of Western Europe (including Iberia) by a common "paleolithic" ancestry and those of eastern (and particularly south eastern) Europe by a common "neolithic" ancestry

A European wide study including Spaniards states: No significant correlation is apparent between North African admixture and geography. Genetic exchanges across the Mediterranean Sea, and especially in its western-most part where the geographic distance between continents is smallest (Spain), seem to have been limited or very limited, establishing the North African contribution at between 2.5% and 3.4%.

Haplogroup composition of the ancient Iberians was very similar to that found in modern Iberian Peninsula populations, suggesting a long-term genetic continuity since pre-Roman times. Nonetheless, the ancestry of modern Spaniards has also been influenced in a smaller degree by the many peoples which have passed on its territory throughout history. These peoples include Iberians, Celts, Celtiberians, Phoeniciansmarker (Punics or Carthaginians), Greeks (Ancient and Byzantine), Romans, Germanic tribes (Vandals, Suebi, Visigoths, and Vikings), Saqalibas (Slavs), Alans, Jews (Sephardim) or Marranos, Berbers and Arabs (Moors) and in Andalucia the Roma people (Gitanos). There was also a repopulation of Northern Andalusia with Germans in the 18th century due to a royal decree of Charles III.

There exists a number of studies which focus on the genetic impact of the centuries of Muslim rule in the Iberian peninsula (al-Andalusmarker) on the genetic make up of the Iberian population. Iberia is the region of Europe (along Sicily) with the highest presence of the typically Northwest African Y-chromosome haplotypes E-M81 and Haplotype Va. A thorough Y-chromosome analysis of the Iberian peninsula reveals that haplotype E-M81 surpasses frequencies of 10% in Southern Iberia. As for Mtdna analysis (Mitochondrial DNA), although present at only low levels, Iberia has much higher frequencies of typically North African Haplogroup U6 than those generally observed in Europe. It is difficult to ascertain that U6's presence is the consequence of Islam's expansion into Europe during the Middle Ages.

A wide ranging study (published 2007) using 6,501 unrelated Y-chromosome samples from 81 populations found that: "Considering both these E-M78 sub-haplogroups (E-V12, E-V22, E-V65) and the E-M81 haplogroup, the contribution of northern African lineages to the entire male gene pool of Iberia is 5.6%."

In fact, a European wide study including Spaniards states: No significant correlation is apparent between North African admixture and geography. Genetic exchanges across the Mediterranean Sea, and especially in its western-most part where the geographic distance between continents is smallest (Spain), seem to have been limited or very limited, establishing the North African contribution at 2.5/3.4%.

In January 2009, a study by Capelli et al. that analysed only 717 Spanish individuals found the total contribution of specific North African male haplotypes in Spain as 7.7%, with estimates ranging from 0% in Cataloniamarker to 18.6% in Cantabriamarker.

According to a widely publicited recent study (December 2008) published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, 19.8 percent of modern Spaniards (and Portuguese) have DNA reflecting Sephardic Jewish ancestry (compared to 10.6 percent having DNA reflecting Moorish ancestors with wide geographical variation, ranging from 2.5% in Cataloniamarker to 21.7% in Northwest Castilemarker). The Sephardic result is contradicted or not replicated in the body of genetic studies done in Iberia and has been subsequently questioned by the authors and by Stephen Oppenheimer since earlier migrations from the Eastern Mediterranean, ranging from the Phoenicians to the Neolithic may also account for the estimates offered for Sephardic ancestry: "They are really assuming that they are looking at his migration of Jewish immigrants, but the same lineages could have been introduced in the Neolithic". On the other hand, Chris Tyler-Smith, a collaborator with the team that carried the study, argues that the individual differences in Y-chromosome markers suggest that Iberians and Sephardic Jews must share ancestry more recent than several millennia, even though in also a recent study (October 2008) they attributed those same lineages in Iberia and the Balearic Islands as of Phoenicianmarker origin.

In 2009, an autosomal study by Moorjani et al. that used about 500k-1.5 million SNP estimated that the proportion of sub-Saharan African ancestry in Spain was 2.4% consistent with the historically known movement of individuals of North African ancestry into Spain, although it is possible that this estimate also reflects a wider range of mixture times.

Arguments concerning the accuracy of haplogroup based genetic studies, which are prone to problems such as genetic drift, founder effects, population bottlenecks, obscure routes of transmission and the reliability of the starting assumptions of autosomal based studies, continue.

The Canary Islands

The inhabitants of the Canary Islandsmarker, hold a gene pool that is halfway between the Iberians and the ancient native population, the Guanches (a proto-berber population), although with a major Iberian contribution. Guanche genetic markers have also been found, at low frequencies, in peninsular Spain, probably as a result of slavery and/or later immigration from the Canary Islands.

Other related peoples

Genetic studies, both autosomal and of haplogroup markers, show clearly that Spaniards are closely related to the rest of Europe, and in particular with the population groups of the Atlantic littoral: France, Britain, Ireland, and its Iberian neighbour, Portugal. As a western nation, Spain shares strong cultural relationships with the rest of the western world that extends back to the common medieval and Roman inheritances; but it has especially strong cultural relations with those of Italy, Portugal, and France, making it a member of Latin Europe.

Outside of Europe, in Latin America there is the largest population of people with Spanish ancestry. These include people of full or part Spanish ancestry.

Other regions of the world with small Spanish descended populations to a lesser degree include parts of Northern and Western Africa and Asia Pacific.

See also



  • Castro, Americo. Willard F. King and Selma Margaretten, trans. The Spaniards: An Introduction to Their History. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1980. ISBN 0520041771.
  • Chapman, Robert. Emerging Complexity: The Later Pre-History of South-East Spain, Iberia, and the West Mediterranean. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. ISBN 0521232074.
  • Goodwin, Godfrey. Islamic Spain. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1990. ISBN 0877016925.
  • Harrison, Richard. Spain at the Dawn of History: Iberians, Phoenicians, and Greeks. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1988. ISBN 0500021112.
  • James, Edward (ed.). Visigothic Spain: New Approaches. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980. ISBN 0198225431.
  • Thomas, Hugh. The Slave Trade: The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade 1440 – 1870. London: Picador, 1997. ISBN 033035437X.

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