History of the Basque people

History of the Basque people

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The Basque people
Basque people
The Basques as an ethnic group, primarily inhabit an area traditionally known as the Basque Country , a region that is located around the western end of the Pyrenees on the coast of the Bay of Biscay and straddles parts of north-central Spain and south-western France.The Basques are known in the...

  are a group of people inhabiting adjacent areas of Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 and France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. Their history is therefore interconnected with Spanish and French history and also with the history of many other past and present countries, particularly in Europe and the Americas.

First historical references


In the 1st century, Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

 wrote that the northern parts of what are now Navarre
Navarre
Navarre , officially the Chartered Community of Navarre is an autonomous community in northern Spain, bordering the Basque Country, La Rioja, and Aragon in Spain and Aquitaine in France...

 (Nafarroa in Basque) and Aragon
Aragon
Aragon is a modern autonomous community in Spain, coextensive with the medieval Kingdom of Aragon. Located in northeastern Spain, the Aragonese autonomous community comprises three provinces : Huesca, Zaragoza, and Teruel. Its capital is Zaragoza...

 were inhabited by the Vascones. Despite the evident etymological connection between Vascones and the modern denomination Basque, there is no proof that the Vascones were the modern Basques' ancestors or spoke the language that has evolved into modern Basque
Basque language
Basque is the ancestral language of the Basque people, who inhabit the Basque Country, a region spanning an area in northeastern Spain and southwestern France. It is spoken by 25.7% of Basques in all territories...

, although this is strongly suggested both by the historically consistent toponymy of the area and by a few personal names on tombstones dating from the Roman period.

Three different peoples inhabited the territory of the present Basque Autonomous Community: the Varduli
Varduli
The Varduli were a tribe that Roman historians reported in Northern Hispania, west of the Vascones and east of the Caristii and the Deba river, comprising the main part of the current Basque province of Gipuzkoa and parts of Alava and Navarre. Their main city was Ara-Caeli...

, Caristii
Caristii
The Caristii were a tribe reported by Roman historians in Northern Hispania west of the Deba and east of the Nervion rivers, in modern Biscay and Alava...

 and Autrigones
Autrigones
Location of the tribe of the Autrigones.The Autrigones were a pre-Roman people of ancient Spain, described by the Roman historian Paulus Orosius as neighbours of the Gallaeci, and thus had their homeland in the northwest of Hispania.-Location:Their historical territory now lies split between the...

. Historical sources do not state whether these tribes were related to the Vascones and/or the Aquitani
Aquitani
The Aquitani were a people living in what is now Aquitaine, France, in the region between the Pyrenees, the Atlantic ocean and the Garonne...

.

Fake archaeological finds at Iruña-Veleia
Iruña-Veleia
Veleia was a Roman town in Hispania, currently located in the Basque Country, Spain. The site is located in the municipality of Iruña de Oca, 10 kilometers west of Vitoria. The town was an important station on the Roman road ab Asturica Burdigalam that ran parallel to the coast of the Bay of Biscay...

 (Álava
Álava
Álava is a province of Spain and a historical territory of the Basque Country, heir of the ancient Lord of Álava. Its capital city is Vitoria-Gasteiz which is also the capital of the autonomous community...

) were presented by academics and media as proof of the existence of early Basque texts, coexisting with Latin http://www.gara.net/idatzia/20060616/art169077.php, http://atlantis.eponym.com/blog/_archives/2006/6/16/2035674.html. The area where a Basque-related language is best attested from an early period is Gascony
Gascony
Gascony is an area of southwest France that was part of the "Province of Guyenne and Gascony" prior to the French Revolution. The region is vaguely defined and the distinction between Guyenne and Gascony is unclear; sometimes they are considered to overlap, and sometimes Gascony is considered a...

 in France, to the north of the present-day Basque region, whose ancient inhabitants, the Aquitani
Aquitani
The Aquitani were a people living in what is now Aquitaine, France, in the region between the Pyrenees, the Atlantic ocean and the Garonne...

, may have spoken a language related to Basque. (The extinct Aquitanian language
Aquitanian language
The Aquitanian language was spoken in ancient Aquitaine before the Roman conquest and, probably much later, until the Early Middle Ages....

 should not be confused with Gascon
Gascon language
Gascon is usually considered as a dialect of Occitan, even though some specialists regularly consider it a separate language. Gascon is mostly spoken in Gascony and Béarn in southwestern France and in the Aran Valley of Spain...

, the Romance language that has been spoken in Aquitaine since the Middle Ages.)

During the Middle Ages the name Vascones and its derivates (including Basque) were extended to cover the entire Basque-speaking population of the present-day Basque Country, bordering areas and farther east and north (the whole Pyrenean region and Gascony).

Prehistory: the mainstream view


Although little is known about the prehistory of the Basques before the period of Roman occupation owing to the difficulty in identifying evidence for specific cultural traits, the mainstream view today is that the Basque area shows signs of archaeological continuity since the Aurignacian
Aurignacian
The Aurignacian culture is an archaeological culture of the Upper Palaeolithic, located in Europe and southwest Asia. It lasted broadly within the period from ca. 45,000 to 35,000 years ago in terms of conventional radiocarbon dating, or between ca. 47,000 and 41,000 years ago in terms of the most...

 period.

Many Basque archaeological sites, including cave dwellings such as Santimamiñe
Santimamiñe
Santimamiñe cave, Kortezubi, Biscay, Basque Country, Spain, is one of the most important archaeological sites of the Basque Country, including a nearly complete sequence from the Middle Paleolithic to the Iron Age....

, provide evidence for continuity from Aurignacian times down to the Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

, shortly before Roman occupation. The possibility therefore cannot be ruled out of at least some of the same people having continued to inhabit the area for thirty millennia.

A high concentration of Rh- (a typical European trait) among Basques, who have the highest level worldwide, had already been taken as suggestive of the antiquity and lack of admixture of the Basque genetic stock before the advent of modern genetics, which has confirmed this view. In the 1990s Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza
Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza
Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza is an Italian population geneticist born in Genoa, who has been a professor at Stanford University since 1970 .-Books:...

 published his findings according to which one of the main European autosomal components, PC 5, was shown to be a typically Basque trait believed to have receded owing to the migration of Eastern peoples during the Neolithic and Metal Ages. Further genetic studies on Y chromosome DNA haplogroups
Human Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups
In human genetics, a Human Y-chromosome DNA haplogroup is a haplogroup defined by differences in the non-recombining portions of DNA from the Y chromosome ....

 and X chromosome
X chromosome
The X chromosome is one of the two sex-determining chromosomes in many animal species, including mammals and is common in both males and females. It is a part of the XY sex-determination system and X0 sex-determination system...

 microsatellites also seem to point to Basques being the most direct descendants from prehistoric Western Europeans. Having the highest percent of "Western European genes" but found also at high levels among neighbor populations, as they are also direct descendants of the same People. However, Mitochondrial DNA
Human mitochondrial DNA haplogroups
In human genetics, a human mitochondrial DNA haplogroup is a haplogroup defined by differences in human mitochondrial DNA. Haplogroups are used to represent the major branch points on the mitochondrial phylogenetic tree...

 have cast serious doubts over this theory

Some scholars have interpreted the etymologies of Basque words for knife and axe, which contain a root meaning 'stone', as evidence that the Basque language dates back to the stone age.

Alternative theories


The following alternative theories about the prehistoric origins of the Basques have all had adherents at some time but are rejected by many scholars and do not represent the consensus view:
  • Basques as Neolithic
    Neolithic
    The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

     settlers: According to this theory, a precursor of the Basque language might have arrived about 6,000 years ago with the advance of agriculture
    Agriculture
    Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

    . The only archaeological evidence that could partly support this hypothesis would be that for the Ebro
    Ebro
    The Ebro or Ebre is one of the most important rivers in the Iberian Peninsula. It is the biggest river by discharge volume in Spain.The Ebro flows through the following cities:*Reinosa in Cantabria.*Miranda de Ebro in Castile and León....

     valley area. Genetics
    Genetics
    Genetics , a discipline of biology, is the science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms....

     also lends little support.

  • Basques arrived together with the Indo-Europeans
    Proto-Indo-Europeans
    The Proto-Indo-Europeans were the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language , a reconstructed prehistoric language of Eurasia.Knowledge of them comes chiefly from the linguistic reconstruction, along with material evidence from archaeology and archaeogenetics...

    : Linked to an unproven linguistic hypothesis that includes Basque and some Caucasian languages in a single super-family. Even if such a Basque-Caucasian connection did exist, it would have to be at too great a time depth to be relevant to Indo-European migrations. Apart from a Celtic presence in the Ebro valley during the Urnfield culture
    Urnfield culture
    The Urnfield culture was a late Bronze Age culture of central Europe. The name comes from the custom of cremating the dead and placing their ashes in urns which were then buried in fields...

    , archaeology offers little support for this hypothesis. The Basque language
    Basque language
    Basque is the ancestral language of the Basque people, who inhabit the Basque Country, a region spanning an area in northeastern Spain and southwestern France. It is spoken by 25.7% of Basques in all territories...

     shows few certain Celtic or other Indo-European loans, other than those transmitted via Latin or Romance in historic times.

  • Basques as an Iberian subgroup: Based on occasional use by early Basques of the Iberian alphabet and Julius Caesar
    Julius Caesar
    Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

    's description of the Aquitanian
    Aquitanian
    Aquitanian could refer to:*Aquitanian age, a geological age, the first stage of the Miocene Epoch*Aquitanian language, an ancient language spoken in the region later known as Gascony* Anything originating from Aquitaine, a region of France....

    s as Iberians
    Iberians
    The Iberians were a set of peoples that Greek and Roman sources identified with that name in the eastern and southern coasts of the Iberian peninsula at least from the 6th century BC...

    . Apparent similarities between the undeciphered Iberian language
    Iberian language
    The Iberian language was the language of a people identified by Greek and Roman sources who lived in the eastern and southeastern regions of the Iberian peninsula. The ancient Iberians can be identified as a rather nebulous local culture between the 7th and 1st century BC...

     and Basque have also been cited, but this fails to account for the fact that attempts so far to decipher Iberian using Basque as a reference have failed.

Paleolithic


About 35,000 years ago, the lands that are now the Basque Country
Basque Country (historical territory)
The Basque Country is the name given to the home of the Basque people in the western Pyrenees that spans the border between France and Spain on the Atlantic coast....

, together with neighbouring areas such as Aquitaine
Aquitaine
Aquitaine , archaic Guyenne/Guienne , is one of the 27 regions of France, in the south-western part of metropolitan France, along the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyrenees mountain range on the border with Spain. It comprises the 5 departments of Dordogne, :Lot et Garonne, :Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Landes...

 and the Pyrenees
Pyrenees
The Pyrenees is a range of mountains in southwest Europe that forms a natural border between France and Spain...

, were settled by Homo sapiens, who gradually displaced the region's earlier Neanderthal
Neanderthal
The Neanderthal is an extinct member of the Homo genus known from Pleistocene specimens found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia...

 population. Arriving from Central Europe, the settlers brought the Aurignacian
Aurignacian
The Aurignacian culture is an archaeological culture of the Upper Palaeolithic, located in Europe and southwest Asia. It lasted broadly within the period from ca. 45,000 to 35,000 years ago in terms of conventional radiocarbon dating, or between ca. 47,000 and 41,000 years ago in terms of the most...

 culture with them.

At this stage the Basque Country formed part of the archaeological Franco-Cantabrian province
Franco-Cantabric Region
The Franco-Cantabrian region is a term applied in Archaeology and History to refer to an area that stretches from Asturias, in northern Spain, to Provence in SE France. It includes the southern half of France and the northern strip of Spain looking at the Bay of Biscay...

 which extended all the way from Asturias
Asturias
The Principality of Asturias is an autonomous community of the Kingdom of Spain, coextensive with the former Kingdom of Asturias in the Middle Ages...

 to Provence
Provence
Provence ; Provençal: Provença in classical norm or Prouvènço in Mistralian norm) is a region of south eastern France on the Mediterranean adjacent to Italy. It is part of the administrative région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur...

. Throughout this region, which underwent similar cultural developments with some local variation, Aurignacian culture was successively replaced by Gravettian
Gravettian
thumb|right|Burins to the Gravettian culture.The Gravettian toolmaking culture was a specific archaeological industry of the European Upper Palaeolithic era prevalent before the last glacial epoch. It is named after the type site of La Gravette in the Dordogne region of France where its...

, Solutrean
Solutrean
The Solutrean industry is a relatively advanced flint tool-making style of the Upper Palaeolithic, from around 22,000 to 17,000 BP.-Details:...

 and Magdalenian
Magdalenian
The Magdalenian , refers to one of the later cultures of the Upper Paleolithic in western Europe, dating from around 17,000 BP to 9,000 BP...

 cultures. Except for the Aurignacian, these all seem to have originated in the Franco-Cantabrian region, which suggests no further waves of immigration into the area during the Paleolithic period.

Within the present-day Basque Country settlement was limited almost exclusively to the Atlantic area, probably for climatic reasons. Important Basque sites include the following:
  • Santimamiñe
    Santimamiñe
    Santimamiñe cave, Kortezubi, Biscay, Basque Country, Spain, is one of the most important archaeological sites of the Basque Country, including a nearly complete sequence from the Middle Paleolithic to the Iron Age....

     (Biscay): Gravettian, Solutrean and Magdalenian remains, mural art
  • Bolinkoba (Biscay): Gravettian and Solutrean
  • Ermitia (Gipuzkoa): Solutrean and Magdalenian
  • Amalda (Gipuzkoa): Gravettian and Solutrean
  • Koskobilo (Gipuzkoa): Aurignacian and Solutrean
  • Aitzbitarte (Gipuzkoa): Aurignacian, Gravettian, Solutrean and Magdalenian
  • Isturitz (Lower Navarre): Gravettian, Solutrean and Magdalenian, mural art
  • Gatzarria (Soule): Aurignacian and Gravettian

Epipaleolithic and Neolithic


At the end of the Ice Age
Ice age
An ice age or, more precisely, glacial age, is a generic geological period of long-term reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental ice sheets, polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers...

, Magdalenian culture gave way to Azilian
Azilian
The Azilian is a name given by archaeologists to an industry of the Epipaleolithic in northern Spain and southern France.It probably dates to the period of the Allerød Oscillation around 10,000 years ago and followed the Magdalenian culture...

 culture. Hunters turned from large animals to smaller prey, and fishing and seafood gathering became important economic activities. The southern part of the Basque Country was first settled in this period.

Gradually, Neolithic technology started to filter through from the Mediterranean coasts, first in the form of isolated pottery items (Zatoia, Marizulo) and later with the introduction of sheepherding
Shepherd
A shepherd is a person who tends, feeds or guards flocks of sheep.- Origins :Shepherding is one of the oldest occupations, beginning some 6,000 years ago in Asia Minor. Sheep were kept for their milk, meat and especially their wool...

. As in most of Atlantic Europe, this transition progressed slowly.

In the Ebro valley, more fully Neolithic sites are found. Anthropometric
Anthropometry
Anthropometry refers to the measurement of the human individual...

 classification of the remains suggests the possibility of some Mediterranean colonisation here. A comparable situation is found in Aquitaine, where settlers may have arrived via the Garonne
Garonne
The Garonne is a river in southwest France and northern Spain, with a length of .-Source:The Garonne's headwaters are to be found in the Aran Valley in the Pyrenees, though three different locations have been proposed as the true source: the Uelh deth Garona at Plan de Beret , the Ratera-Saboredo...

.

In the second half of the 4th millennium BC, Megalithic culture
Megalith
A megalith is a large stone that has been used to construct a structure or monument, either alone or together with other stones. Megalithic describes structures made of such large stones, utilizing an interlocking system without the use of mortar or cement.The word 'megalith' comes from the Ancient...

 appeared throughout the area. Burials become collective (possibly implying families or clans) and the dolmen
Dolmen
A dolmen—also known as a portal tomb, portal grave, dolmain , cromlech , anta , Hünengrab/Hünenbett , Adamra , Ispun , Hunebed , dös , goindol or quoit—is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of...

 predominates, while caves are also employed in some places. Unlike the dolmens of the Mediterranean basin which show a preference for corridors, in the Atlantic area they are invariably simple chambers.

Copper and Bronze Ages


Use of copper and gold, and then other metals, did not begin in the Basque Country until c. 2500. With the arrival of metal working, the first urban settlements made their appearance. One of the most notable towns on account of its size and continuity was La Hoya
La Hoya, Alava
The ancient town of La Hoya is a most important archaeological site of the Bronze and Iron Ages of the Basque Country and nearby areas of Spain....

 in southern Álava, which may have served as a link, and possibly a trading centre, between Portugal
Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 (Vila Nova de São Pedro
Vila Nova de São Pedro
The Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro is a Chalcolithic archaeological site in the civil parish of Vila Nova de São Pedro, municipality of Azambuja, in the Portuguese Estremadura area of Lezíria do Tejo. It is important for the discovery of thousands of arrowheads within its fortified settlement,...

 culture) and Languedoc
Languedoc
Languedoc is a former province of France, now continued in the modern-day régions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées in the south of France, and whose capital city was Toulouse, now in Midi-Pyrénées. It had an area of approximately 42,700 km² .-Geographical Extent:The traditional...

 (Treilles group). Concurrently, caves and natural shelters remained in use, particularly in the Atlantic region.

Undecorated pottery continued from the Neolithic period up until the arrival of the Bell Beaker culture
Beaker culture
The Bell-Beaker culture , ca. 2400 – 1800 BC, is the term for a widely scattered cultural phenomenon of prehistoric western Europe starting in the late Neolithic or Chalcolithic running into the early Bronze Age...

 with its characteristic pottery style, which is mainly found around the Ebro Valley. Building of megalithic structures continued until the Late Bronze Age.

In Aquitaine there was a notable presence of the Artenacian culture
Artenacian culture
Artenacian culture, named after the archaeological site of Artenac in Charente appeared in the Late Chalcolithic, c. 2400 BC, apparently as reaction to migrations of Danubian peoples into Western France....

, a culture of bowmen that spread rapidly through Western France and Belgium from its homeland near the Garonne c. 2400.

In the Late Bronze Age, parts of the southern Basque Country came under the influence of the pastoralist Cogotas I culture of the Iberian plateau.

Iron Age


In the Iron Age an Indo-European people, probably Celtic, settled on territories adjacent to the Basque region and began to exert influence. Bearers of the late Urnfield culture
Urnfield culture
The Urnfield culture was a late Bronze Age culture of central Europe. The name comes from the custom of cremating the dead and placing their ashes in urns which were then buried in fields...

 followed the Ebro upstream as far as the southern fringes of the Basque Country, leading to the incorporation of the Hallstatt culture
Hallstatt culture
The Hallstatt culture was the predominant Central European culture from the 8th to 6th centuries BC , developing out of the Urnfield culture of the 12th century BC and followed in much of Central Europe by the La Tène culture.By the 6th century BC, the Hallstatt culture extended for some...

.

In the Basque Country, settlements now appear mainly at points of difficult access, probably for defensive reasons, and had elaborate defence systems. During this phase agriculture
Agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

 seemingly became more important than animal husbandry.

It may be during this period that new megalithic structures, the (stone circle) or cromlech
Cromlech
Cromlech is a Brythonic word used to describe prehistoric megalithic structures, where crom means "bent" and llech means "flagstone". The term is now virtually obsolete in archaeology, but remains in use as a colloquial term for two different types of megalithic monument.In English it usually...

and the megalith or menhir
Menhir
A menhir is a large upright standing stone. Menhirs may be found singly as monoliths, or as part of a group of similar stones. Their size can vary considerably; but their shape is generally uneven and squared, often tapering towards the top...

, made their appearance.

Roman rule


The Romans first reached the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, including the Basque region, under Pompey
Pompey
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey or Pompey the Great , was a military and political leader of the late Roman Republic...

 in the 1st century BC, but Roman rule was not consolidated until the time of the Emperor Augustus
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

. Its laxness suited the Basques well, allowing them to retain their traditional laws and leadership. There is not much evidence of Romanisation, and the survival of the separate Basque language has often been attributed to the fact that the Basque Country, as a poor region, was little developed by the Romans.

However, there was a significant Roman presence in the garrison of Pompaelo (modern Pamplona
Pamplona
Pamplona is the historial capital city of Navarre, in Spain, and of the former kingdom of Navarre.The city is famous worldwide for the San Fermín festival, from July 6 to 14, in which the running of the bulls is one of the main attractions...

, Iruñea in Basque), a city south of the Pyrenees founded by and named after Pompey. Conquest of the area further west followed a fierce Roman campaign against the Cantabri
Cantabri
The Cantabri were a pre-Roman Celtic people which lived in the northern Atlantic coastal region of ancient Hispania, from the 4th to late 1st centuries BC.-Origins:...

 (see Cantabrian Wars
Cantabrian Wars
The Cantabrian Wars occurred during the Roman conquest of the modern provinces of Cantabria, Asturias and León, against the Asturs and the Cantabri. They were the final stage of the conquest of Hispania.-Antecedents:...

). There are archaeological remains from this period of garrison
Garrison
Garrison is the collective term for a body of troops stationed in a particular location, originally to guard it, but now often simply using it as a home base....

s protecting commercial routes all along the Ebro river, and along a Roman road
Roman road
The Roman roads were a vital part of the development of the Roman state, from about 500 BC through the expansion during the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. Roman roads enabled the Romans to move armies and trade goods and to communicate. The Roman road system spanned more than 400,000 km...

 between Asturica and Burdigala.

Many Basques joined the Roman legion
Roman legion
A Roman legion normally indicates the basic ancient Roman army unit recruited specifically from Roman citizens. The organization of legions varied greatly over time but they were typically composed of perhaps 5,000 soldiers, divided into maniples and later into "cohorts"...

s, and were often deployed far away to guard the Empire. A unit of Varduli
Varduli
The Varduli were a tribe that Roman historians reported in Northern Hispania, west of the Vascones and east of the Caristii and the Deba river, comprising the main part of the current Basque province of Gipuzkoa and parts of Alava and Navarre. Their main city was Ara-Caeli...

 was stationed on Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall was a defensive fortification in Roman Britain. Begun in AD 122, during the rule of emperor Hadrian, it was the first of two fortifications built across Great Britain, the second being the Antonine Wall, lesser known of the two because its physical remains are less evident today.The...

 in the north of Britain for many years, and earned the title fida (faithful) for some now-forgotten service to the emperor. Romans apparently entered into alliances (foedera, singular foedus) with many local tribes, allowing them almost total autonomy within the Empire.

Livy
Livy
Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

 mentions the natural division between the Ager and the Saltus Vasconum, i.e. between the fields of the Ebro
Ebro
The Ebro or Ebre is one of the most important rivers in the Iberian Peninsula. It is the biggest river by discharge volume in Spain.The Ebro flows through the following cities:*Reinosa in Cantabria.*Miranda de Ebro in Castile and León....

 basin and the mountains to the north. Historians agree that Romanization was significant in the fertile Ager but almost null in the Saltus, where Roman towns were scarce and generally small.

The Bagaudae
Bagaudae
In the time of the later Roman Empire bagaudae were groups of peasant insurgents who emerged during the "Crisis of the Third Century", and persisted particularly in the less-Romanised areas of Gallia and Hispania, where they were "exposed to the depredations of the late Roman state, and the great...

 seem to have produced a major impact on Basque history in the late Empire. In the late 4th century and throughout the 5th century, the Basque region from the Garonne
Garonne
The Garonne is a river in southwest France and northern Spain, with a length of .-Source:The Garonne's headwaters are to be found in the Aran Valley in the Pyrenees, though three different locations have been proposed as the true source: the Uelh deth Garona at Plan de Beret , the Ratera-Saboredo...

 to the Ebro
Ebro
The Ebro or Ebre is one of the most important rivers in the Iberian Peninsula. It is the biggest river by discharge volume in Spain.The Ebro flows through the following cities:*Reinosa in Cantabria.*Miranda de Ebro in Castile and León....

 escaped Roman control in the midst of revolts. Several Roman villas (Liédena, Ramalete) were burned to the ground. The proliferation of mints is interpreted as evidence for an inner limes
Limes
A limes was a border defense or delimiting system of Ancient Rome. It marked the boundaries of the Roman Empire.The Latin noun limes had a number of different meanings: a path or balk delimiting fields, a boundary line or marker, any road or path, any channel, such as a stream channel, or any...

around Vasconia
Vasconia
Vasconia is an historical name derived from the ancient tribe of the Vascones and used in different times, specially in the Middle Ages, to refer to the Basque territories...

, where coins were minted for the purpose of paying troops. After the fall of the Empire, the struggle against Rome's Visigoth
Visigoth
The Visigoths were one of two main branches of the Goths, the Ostrogoths being the other. These tribes were among the Germans who spread through the late Roman Empire during the Migration Period...

 allies continued.

Early Middle Ages




In 409, Vandals
Vandals
The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe that entered the late Roman Empire during the 5th century. The Vandals under king Genseric entered Africa in 429 and by 439 established a kingdom which included the Roman Africa province, besides the islands of Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearics....

, Alans
Alans
The Alans, or the Alani, occasionally termed Alauni or Halani, were a group of Sarmatian tribes, nomadic pastoralists of the 1st millennium AD who spoke an Eastern Iranian language which derived from Scytho-Sarmatian and which in turn evolved into modern Ossetian.-Name:The various forms of Alan —...

, and Suevi forced their way into Hispania through the western Pyrenees, chased closely by the Visigoths in 416 as allies of Rome, while the consequences of their advances are not clear. In 418 Rome gave the provinces of Aquitania
Gallia Aquitania
Gallia Aquitania was a province of the Roman Empire, bordered by the provinces of Gallia Lugdunensis, Gallia Narbonensis, and Hispania Tarraconensis...

 and Tarraconensis
Hispania Tarraconensis
Hispania Tarraconensis was one of three Roman provinces in Hispania. It encompassed much of the Mediterranean coast of Spain along with the central plateau. Southern Spain, the region now called Andalusia, was the province of Hispania Baetica...

 to the Visigoths, as foederati
Foederati
Foederatus is a Latin term whose definition and usage drifted in the time between the early Roman Republic and the end of the Western Roman Empire...

, probably with a view to defending Novempopulana from the raids of the Bagaudae
Bagaudae
In the time of the later Roman Empire bagaudae were groups of peasant insurgents who emerged during the "Crisis of the Third Century", and persisted particularly in the less-Romanised areas of Gallia and Hispania, where they were "exposed to the depredations of the late Roman state, and the great...

. It has sometimes been argued that the Basque were underlying these roving armed hosts, but this claim is far from certain. The contemporary chronicler Hydatius was well aware of the existence of the Vasconias, but does not identify the Bagaudae rebels as Basque.

While the Visigoths seem to have claimed the Basque territory from an early date, the chronicles point to their failure to subdue it, punctuated only by sporadic military successes. The years between 435 and 450 saw a succession of confrontations between the Bagaudae and Romano-Gothic troops, the best documented of which were the battles of Toulouse
Toulouse
Toulouse is a city in the Haute-Garonne department in southwestern FranceIt lies on the banks of the River Garonne, 590 km away from Paris and half-way between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea...

, Araceli
Uharte-Arakil
Uharte-Arakil is a town and municipality located in the province and autonomous community of Navarre, northern Spain.-External links:*...

, and Turiasum
Tarazona
Tarazona is a municipality in the Spanish province of Zaragoza, in the autonomous community of Aragon. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tarazona and the capital of the Tarazona y el Moncayo Aragonese comarca.- History :...

. Just about the same period, in 449-51, the Suevi under their king Rechiar
Rechiar
Rechiar or Rechiarius was the Suevic King of Galicia from 448 until his death. He was the first Catholic Germanic king in Europe and one of the most innovative and belligerent of the Suevi monarchs...

 ravaged the territories of the Vascones, probably looting their way through the region on their way back home from Toulouse. Settlements were clearly damaged after the raids and, while Calahorra and Pamplona survived, Iruña (Veleia) seems to have been abandoned as a result.

After 456 the Visigoths crossed the Pyrenees twice from Aquitaine, probably at Roncesvalles
Roncesvalles
Roncesvalles is a small village and municipality in Navarre, northern Spain. It is situated on the small river Urrobi at an altitude of some 900 metres in the Pyrenees, about 8 kilometres from the French frontier....

, in an effort to destroy the Suevic kingdom of Rechiar, but as the chronicle of Hydatius
Hydatius
Hydatius or Idacius , bishop of Aquae Flaviae in the Roman province of Gallaecia was the author of a chronicle of his own times that provides us with our best evidence for the history of the Iberian Peninsula in the 5th century.-Life:Hydatius was born around the year 400 in the...

, the only Spanish source of the period, ends in 469, the actual events of the Visigothic confrontation with the Basques are obscure. Apart from the vanished previous tribal boundaries, the great development between the death of Hydatius and the events accounted for in the 580s is the appearance of the Basques as a "mountain roaming people", most of the times depicted as posing a threat to urban life.

The Franks
Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

 displaced the Visigoths from Aquitaine in 507, placing the Basques between the two warring kingdoms. In 581 or thereabouts both Franks and Visigoths attacked Vasconia (Wasconia in Gregory of Tours
Gregory of Tours
Saint Gregory of Tours was a Gallo-Roman historian and Bishop of Tours, which made him a leading prelate of Gaul. He was born Georgius Florentius, later adding the name Gregorius in honour of his maternal great-grandfather...

), but neither with success. In 587 the Franks launched a second attack on the Basques, but they were defeated on the plains of Aquitaine, implying that Basque settlement or conquest had begun north of the Pyrenees. However, the theory of a Basque expansionism in the Early Middle Ages has often been dismissed and is not necessary to understand the historic evolution of this region. Soon afterwards, the Franks and Goths created their respective marches
Marches
A march or mark refers to a border region similar to a frontier, such as the Welsh Marches, the borderland between England and Wales. During the Frankish Carolingian Dynasty, the word spread throughout Europe....

 in order to contain the Basques ̶ the Duchy of Cantabria
Duchy of Cantabria
The Duchy of Cantabria was a march created by the Visigoths in northern Spain to watch their border with the Cantabrians and Basques. Its precise extension is unclear but seems likely that it included Cantabria, parts of Northern Castile and La Rioja....

 in the south and the Duchy of Vasconia
Duchy of Vasconia
The Duchy of Vasconia , or Wasconia, was originally a Frankish march formed by 602 to keep the Basques in check. It comprised the former Roman province of Novempopulania and, at least in some periods, also the lands south of the Pyrenees centred on Pamplona.In the ninth century, civil war within...

 in the north (602).

In the south-western marches of the Frankish Duchy of Vasconia, extending at certain periods during the 6-8th centuries across the Pyrenees, Cantabria (maybe including Biscay and Álava) and Pamplona remained out of Visigothic rule, with the latter sticking to either self-rule or under Frankish suzerainty (Councils of Toledo unattended between 589 and 684).

Despite early accounts of Christianisation of the Vascones on the banks of the lowlands of the Ebro (cf. Calahorra, mid 4th century), the Basques remained largely pagans at least up to the late 7th century after the failed mission by Saint Amandus to convert them. Muslim accounts from the period of the Umayyad conquest of Hispania
Umayyad conquest of Hispania
The Umayyad conquest of Hispania is the initial Islamic Ummayad Caliphate's conquest, between 711 and 718, of the Christian Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania, centered in the Iberian Peninsula, which was known to them under the Arabic name al-Andalus....

 (early and mid-8th century) identify the Basques as magi or 'pagan wizards'. However, about this very period, no reference is made by Frankish chroniclers to Basque paganism in the wars between the Carolingians and the Basque-Aquitanians, despite its powerful propagandistic value.

After much fighting, the Duchy of Vasconia was consolidated as an independent polity between 660
660
Year 660 was a leap year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar. The denomination 660 for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.- Europe :* Slavic principality of Carantania is first...

 and 678
678
Year 678 was a common year starting on Friday of the Julian calendar. The denomination 678 for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.- Asia :* April 27 – Japanese Emperor Temmu holds...

 ruled by the duke
Duke of Aquitaine
The Duke of Aquitaine ruled the historical region of Aquitaine under the supremacy of Frankish, English and later French kings....

 Felix, who by means of a personal union with the Duchy of Aquitaine established a de facto realm detached from the distant Merovingian rule. Synergies between ‘Roman’, non-Frankish urban elites and a rural militarised Vascon power base enabled a strong political entity in south-west Gaul.

The Basque-Aquitanian realm reached its zenith at the time of Odo the Great, but the Muslim invasion
Muslim conquests
Muslim conquests also referred to as the Islamic conquests or Arab conquests, began with the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He established a new unified polity in the Arabian Peninsula which under the subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates saw a century of rapid expansion of Muslim power.They...

 of 711
711
Year 711 was a common year starting on Thursday of the Julian calendar. The denomination 711 for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.- Europe :* April 30 – Ummayad troops led by...

, at which time the Visigoth Roderic
Roderic
Ruderic was the Visigothic King of Hispania for a brief period between 710 and 712. He is famous in legend as "the last king of the Goths"...

 was fighting the Basques in Pamplona, and the rise of the Carolingian dynasty posed new threats for this state, eventually spurring its downfall and breakup.

Vasconia's submission to the Franks after Odo’s death in 735 was interrupted by frequent outbreaks of resistance, led by the latter’s son Hunald
Hunald of Aquitaine
Hunald , Duke of Aquitaine , succeeded his father Odo the Great in 735....

 (735-744) and grandson Waifer
Waifer of Aquitaine
Waifer was the duke of Aquitaine from 748 to 768, succeeding his newly-monastic father Hunold....

 (+768). In 762, the hosts of Frankish king Pippin crossed the Loire, attacked Bourges
Bourges
Bourges is a city in central France on the Yèvre river. It is the capital of the department of Cher and also was the capital of the former province of Berry.-History:...

 and Clermont
Clermont-Ferrand
Clermont-Ferrand is a city and commune of France, in the Auvergne region, with a population of 140,700 . Its metropolitan area had 409,558 inhabitants at the 1999 census. It is the prefecture of the Puy-de-Dôme department...

 defended by the Basques and ransacked Aquitaine. After several military setbacks, the Basques pledged submission to Pippin on the river Garonne (Fronsac
Fronsac, Gironde
Fronsac is a French commune in the Gironde department in the Aquitaine region in southwestern France. The town gave its name to the Fronsac AOC wine.-Geography:...

, c. 769). At this time (7-8th centuries), Vasconia is sometimes mentioned as stretching from the lands of Cantabria in the south-west all the way to the river Loire in the north pointing to a not preponderant but clearly significant Basque presence in Aquitaine (i.e. between Garonne and Loire).

Vasconia’s newly suppressed resistance cleared the way for the Frankish army to deal with Charlemagne
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

’s interests in the Spanish marches (siege of Zaragoza). After pulling down the walls of Pamplona, Roland's rear guard headed north and were defeated in the first Battle of Roncevaux (778) by the treacherous Basques, as put by Frankish chroniclers, suggesting that the Basques overall and duke Lupus backed down on their 769 allegiance vow. After 781, tired of the Basque uprisings, Charlemagne appointed no more dukes, instead opting for a direct rule by creating the Kingdom of Aquitaine.

The Basque-Muslim state of the Banu Qasi
Banu Qasi
The Banu Qasi, Banu Kasi, Beni Casi or Banu Musa were a Basque Muladi dynasty that ruled the upper Ebro valley in the 9th century, before being displaced in the first quarter of the 10th century.-Dynastic beginnings:...

 (meaning "heirs of Cassius" in Arabic), founded c. 800
800
Year 800 was a leap year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar. It was around this time that the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years, so from this time on, the years began being known as 800 and onwards.- Europe :* December 25 - Pope Leo III...

 near Tudela
Tudela, Navarre
Tudela is a municipality in Spain, the second city of the autonomous community of Navarre. Its population is around 35,000. Tudela is sited in the Ebro valley. Fast trains running on two-track electrified railways serve the city and two freeways join close to it...

 (Tutera in Basque), acted as a buffer state between the Basques and the Cordovan Umayyads that helped consolidate the independent Kingdom of Pamplona after the 824 third Battle of Roncevaux, when a Frankish expedition led by the counts Eblus and Aznar (sometimes identified as the local Frankish vassal toppled in Aragon some 10 years earlier) was defeated by the Pamplonese and maybe the Banu Qasi, after crossing the Pyrenees, probably in the wake of Basque rebellions north of the Pyrenees. In the west fringes of Basque territory, Álava arose first in history attacked by Asturian and Muslim hosts and comprising a blur territory previously held by the Duchy of Cantabria (current Cantabria, Biscay, Álava, La Rioja and Burgos).

After the battle, Enecco Arista (Basque Eneko Aritza, i.e. Eneko the Oak), re-asserted his power in Pamplona
Kingdom of Navarre
The Kingdom of Navarre , originally the Kingdom of Pamplona, was a European kingdom which occupied lands on either side of the Pyrenees alongside the Atlantic Ocean....

 c. 824
824
Year 824 was a leap year starting on Friday of the Julian calendar.- Europe :* Third Battle of Roncevaux Pass: The Basques and Banu Qasi defeat counts Eblo and Aznar, Frankish vassals....

, the Basques managing thereafter to fend off Frankish rule to the south of the western Pyrenees. The line of the Aristas ruled Pamplona side by side with the Banu Qasi of Tudela up to the decline of both dynasties (early 10th century). When Sancho I Garces
Sancho I of Pamplona
Sancho I Garcés was king of Pamplona from 905 to 925. He was a son of García Jiménez, who was king of "another part of the kingdom" of Pamplona and Dadildis de Pallars, his second wife...

 rose to prominence in 905, Pamplonese allegiances switched to their neighbour Christian realms, with the new royal lineage starting its expansion south to the territory of their former allies. In 905
905
Year 905 was a common year starting on Tuesday of the Julian calendar.- Africa :* The Abbasid Caliphate re-establishes control of Egypt from the Tulunids.- Asia :...

 the newly formed Basque kingdom included, as stated by the Cronica Albeldense, the territory of Nájera
Nájera
Nájera is a small town located in the "Rioja Alta" region of La Rioja, Spain on the river Najerilla. Nájera is a stopping point on the Way of St James.-History:...

 and possibly the province of Álava
Álava
Álava is a province of Spain and a historical territory of the Basque Country, heir of the ancient Lord of Álava. Its capital city is Vitoria-Gasteiz which is also the capital of the autonomous community...

 (referred to as Arba).

In 844 the Vikings sailed up the Garonne to Bordeaux and Toulouse and raided the countryside at either banks of the river, killing the Duke of the Basques Sigwinum II
Seguin II of Gascony
Seguin II , called Mostelanicus, was the Count of Bordeaux and Saintes from 840 and Duke of Gascony from 845. He was either the son or grandson of Seguin I, the duke appointed by Charlemagne....

 (recorded as Sihiminum too, maybe Semeno) in Bordeaux. They took over Bayonne, and attacked Pamplona (859), even taking the king Garcia prisoner, only released in exchange for a hefty ransom. They were to be overcome only in 982 by the Basque duke William II Sanchez of Gascony
William II Sánchez of Gascony
William II Sánchez , Duke of Gascony from circa 961 at least until 996, was the younger illegitimate son of duke Sancho IV and successor, around 961, of his childless elder brother, duke Sancho V. He united the County of Bordeaux with the Gascony...

, who made his way back from Pamplona to fight to the north of Bayonne and put a term to Viking incursions, so allowing monasteries to spring up all over Gascony thereafter, the first of which was the one of Saint-Sever
Saint-Sever
Saint-Sever is a commune in the Landes department in Aquitaine in south-western France.-History and geography:Saint-Sever stands on an eminence...

, Caput Vasconiae.

William started a policy of rapprochement to Pamplona, by establishing dynastic ties with their rulers. Despite its newly found strength, by the 10th century the territory of Vasconia (to become Gascony
Gascony
Gascony is an area of southwest France that was part of the "Province of Guyenne and Gascony" prior to the French Revolution. The region is vaguely defined and the distinction between Guyenne and Gascony is unclear; sometimes they are considered to overlap, and sometimes Gascony is considered a...

 and stripped by the 11-12th century of its original ethnic sense) fragmented into different feudal regions, for example, the viscountcies of Soule
Soule
Soule is a former viscounty and French province and part of the present day Pyrénées-Atlantiques département...

 and Labourd
Labourd
Labourd is a former French province and part of the present-day Pyrénées Atlantiques département. It is historically one of the seven provinces of the traditional Basque Country....

 out of former tribal systems and minor realms (County of Vasconia
County of Vasconia
The County of Vasconia was a small medieval realm segregated c.830 from the Duchy of Vasconia in the lands around the Adur river in what is now known as the Northern Basque Country....

), while south of the Pyrenees the Kingdom of Castile
Kingdom of Castile
Kingdom of Castile was one of the medieval kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. It emerged as a political autonomous entity in the 9th century. It was called County of Castile and was held in vassalage from the Kingdom of León. Its name comes from the host of castles constructed in the region...

, Kingdom of Pamplona and the Pyrenean counties of Aragon
County of Aragon
The County of Aragon or Jaca was a small Frankish marcher county in the central Pyrenean valley of the Aragon river, comprising Ansó, Echo, and Canfranc and centred on the small town of Jaca...

, Sobrarbe
Sobrarbe
Sobrarbe is one of the Comarcas of Aragon, Spain. It is located in the northern part of the province of Huesca, part of the autonomous community of Aragon in Spain...

, Ribagorza (later merged into the Kingdom of Aragon
Kingdom of Aragon
The Kingdom of Aragon was a medieval and early modern kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula, corresponding to the modern-day autonomous community of Aragon, in Spain...

) and Pallars arose as the main regional powers with Basque population in the 9th century.

High Middle Ages



Under Sancho III the Great (1000–1035), Pamplona controlled the entire southern Basque Country; indeed, its power extended from Burgos
Burgos
Burgos is a city of northern Spain, historic capital of Castile. It is situated at the edge of the central plateau, with about 178,966 inhabitants in the city proper and another 20,000 in its suburbs. It is the capital of the province of Burgos, in the autonomous community of Castile and León...

 and Santander
Santander, Cantabria
The port city of Santander is the capital of the autonomous community and historical region of Cantabria situated on the north coast of Spain. Located east of Gijón and west of Bilbao, the city has a population of 183,446 .-History:...

 to northern Aragon
Aragon
Aragon is a modern autonomous community in Spain, coextensive with the medieval Kingdom of Aragon. Located in northeastern Spain, the Aragonese autonomous community comprises three provinces : Huesca, Zaragoza, and Teruel. Its capital is Zaragoza...

. Through marriage Sancho also became the acting Earl of Castile and held a protectorate over Gascony
Gascony
Gascony is an area of southwest France that was part of the "Province of Guyenne and Gascony" prior to the French Revolution. The region is vaguely defined and the distinction between Guyenne and Gascony is unclear; sometimes they are considered to overlap, and sometimes Gascony is considered a...

 and León
Kingdom of León
The Kingdom of León was an independent kingdom situated in the northwest region of the Iberian Peninsula. It was founded in AD 910 when the Christian princes of Asturias along the northern coast of the peninsula shifted their capital from Oviedo to the city of León...

.

Following Sancho III's death, Castile
Kingdom of Castile
Kingdom of Castile was one of the medieval kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. It emerged as a political autonomous entity in the 9th century. It was called County of Castile and was held in vassalage from the Kingdom of León. Its name comes from the host of castles constructed in the region...

 and Aragon became separate kingdoms ruled by his sons, who were responsible for the first partitioning of Pamplona. However, the kingdom was restored in 1157 under García Ramírez
García VI of Navarre
García Ramírez, sometimes García IV,V, VI or VII , called the Restorer , was Lord of Monzón and Logroño, and, from 1134, King of Navarre. He "restored" the independence of the Navarrese crown after 58 years of union with the Kingdom of Aragon.-Early years:García was born in the early twelfth century...

 the Restorer, who fought Castile for control of the western half of the realm. A peace treaty signed in 1179 ceded La Rioja and the northeastern part of present-day Old Castile
Old Castile
Old Castile is a historic region of Spain, which included territory that later corresponded to the provinces of Santander , Burgos, Logroño , Soria, Segovia, Ávila, Valladolid, Palencia....

 to the Castilian crown. In return, this pact acknowledged that Álava, Biscay
Biscay
Biscay is a province of Spain and a historical territory of the Basque Country, heir of the ancient Lord of Biscay. Its capital city is Bilbao...

 and Gipuzkoa belonged to Navarre.

In 1199, while Navarre's King Sancho VI
Sancho VI of Navarre
Sancho VI Garcés , called the Wise , was the king of Navarre from 1150 until his death in 1194....

 the Wise was away on an embassy to Tlemcen
Tlemcen
Tlemcen is a town in Northwestern Algeria, and the capital of the province of the same name. It is located inland in the center of a region known for its olive plantations and vineyards...

, Castile invaded and annexed the western Basque Country, leaving Navarre landlocked. Castile divided this territory into the three modern provinces, but permitted these to retain a large degree of self-government and their traditional Navarrese rights
Fueros of Navarre
The Fueros of Navarre were the medieval laws of the Kingdom of Navarre. They were a sort of constitution which defined the position of the king, the nobility, and the judicial procedures...

, encapsulated in special charters called fueros, which all Castilian (and later, Spanish) kings have since sworn to uphold on oath.

Basque sailors


Basques played an important role in early European ventures into the Atlantic Ocean. The earliest document to mention the use of whale oil or blubber by the Basques dates from 670. In 1059, whalers from Lapurdi are recorded to have presented the oil of the first whale they captured to the viscount. Apparently the Basques were averse to the taste of whale meat themselves, but did successful business selling it, and the blubber, to the French
French people
The French are a nation that share a common French culture and speak the French language as a mother tongue. Historically, the French population are descended from peoples of Celtic, Latin and Germanic origin, and are today a mixture of several ethnic groups...

, Castilians and Flemings
Flanders
Flanders is the community of the Flemings but also one of the institutions in Belgium, and a geographical region located in parts of present-day Belgium, France and the Netherlands. "Flanders" can also refer to the northern part of Belgium that contains Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp...

. Basque whalers used longboats or traineras which they rowed in the vicinity of the coast or from a larger ship.

Whaling and cod
Cod
Cod is the common name for genus Gadus, belonging to the family Gadidae, and is also used in the common name for various other fishes. Cod is a popular food with a mild flavor, low fat content and a dense, flaky white flesh. Cod livers are processed to make cod liver oil, an important source of...

-fishing are probably responsible for early Basque contact with both the North Sea and Newfoundland. The Basques began cod-fishing and later whaling in Labrador and Newfoundland as early as the first half of the 16th century.

In Europe the rudder seems to have been a Basque invention, to judge from three masted ships depicted in a 12th century fresco in Estella (Navarre; Lizarra in Basque), and also seals preserved in Navarrese and Parisian historical archives which show similar vessels. The first mention of use of a rudder was referred to as steering "à la Navarraise" or "à la Bayonnaise".

Magellan's exploration around the world was sailored by Basques, and when Magellan was killed in the Philippines, his Basque second-in-command, Juan Sebastián Elcano
Juan Sebastián Elcano
Juan Sebastián Elcano was a Basque Spanish explorer who completed the first circumnavigation of the world. As Ferdinand Magellan's second in command, Elcano took over after Magellan's death in the Philippines.-Early life:Elcano was born to Domingo Sebastián Elcano I and Catalina del Puerto...

 took the ship all the way back to Spain, making the Basques the first people to circumnavigate the globe.

Late Middle Ages


The Basque Country in the Late Middle Ages
Late Middle Ages
The Late Middle Ages was the period of European history generally comprising the 14th to the 16th century . The Late Middle Ages followed the High Middle Ages and preceded the onset of the early modern era ....

 was ravaged by the War of the Bands
War of the Bands
The War of the Bands was a civil war, really an extended series of blood feuds, in the western Basque Country , Gascony, and Navarre in the Late Middle Ages. The main primary source for the War is Las Bienandanças e fortunas by Lope García de Salazar, written c.1471...

, bitter partisan wars between local ruling families. In Navarre these conflicts became polarised in a violent struggle between the Agramont and Beaumont
Beaumont
-Canada:* Beaumont, Alberta* Lushes Bight – Beaumont – Beaumont North, Newfoundland and Labrador* Beaumont, Quebec- France :The following communes:* Beaumont, Ardèche* Beaumont, Corrèze* Beaumont, Gers* Beaumont, Haute-Loire* Beaumont, Meurthe-et-Moselle...

parties. In Biscay, the two major warring factions were named Oñaz and Gamboa (cf. the Guelphs and Ghibellines in Italy). High defensive structures called dorretxeak ("tower houses") built by local noble families, few of which survive today, were frequently razed by fire, sometimes by royal decree.

From the Renaissance Era to the nineteenth century


As the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 drew to a close, the lands inhabited by the Basques were allotted to either France and Spain. Most of the Basque population ended up in Spain, and the resulting situation continues to this day.

However, Basques in the present-day Spanish provinces of Navarra, Guipúzcoa, Vizcaya and Álava and in the portion of Navarre that was parcelled out to France managed to retain a large degree of self-government within their respective provinces, practically functioning as separate nation-states. The fueros recognised separate laws, taxation and courts in each province.

Basques serving under the Spanish flag became renowned sailors. Many Basque sailors on Spanish ships were among the first Europeans to reach North America. A great many early European settlers in Canada and the United States were of Basque origin.

Back in the Basque Country, the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 made some inroads and was supported by Queen Jeanne d'Albret of Low Navarre
Lower Navarre
Lower Navarre is a part of the present day Pyrénées Atlantiques département of France. Along with Navarre of Spain, it was once ruled by the Kings of Navarre. Lower Navarre was historically one of the kingdoms of Navarre. Its capital were Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and Saint-Palais...

. The printing of books in Basque, mostly on Christian themes, was introduced in the 16th century by the Basque-speaking bourgeoisie around Bayonne in the northern Basque Country. However, Protestants were persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition
Spanish Inquisition
The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition , commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition , was a tribunal established in 1480 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the Medieval...

. In the northeast, the Protestant Navarrese king converted to Roman Catholicism and went on to become King Henry IV of France
Henry IV of France
Henry IV , Henri-Quatre, was King of France from 1589 to 1610 and King of Navarre from 1572 to 1610. He was the first monarch of the Bourbon branch of the Capetian dynasty in France....

.

Self-government in the northern Basque Country came to an abrupt end when the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 centralised government and abolished the local privileges that had been granted by the ancien régime. While this development pushed some Basques to counter-revolutionary positions, others actively participated in the process, and a Basque constitutional project was drawn up by the Basque revolutionary Garat
Garat
-Places:*Garat, Charente*Garat, the Hungarian name for Dacia village, Jibert Commune, Braşov County, Romania-People:* Anne-Marie Garat , French novelist...

. This issue brought the Basque Country into the Convention War of 1793, when all the Basque territories were nominally French for a time. When the Napoleonic Army invaded Spain some years later it encountered little difficulty in keeping the southern Basque provinces loyal to the occupier. Because of this lack of resistance (see the Battle of Vitoria
Battle of Vitoria
At the Battle of Vitoria an allied British, Portuguese, and Spanish army under General the Marquess of Wellington broke the French army under Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan near Vitoria in Spain, leading to eventual victory in the Peninsular War.-Background:In July 1812, after...

), the southern Basque Country was the last part of Spain controlled by the French until the burning of San Sebastian on August 31, 1813.

In Spain, ironically, the fueros were upheld by the traditionalist, and nominally absolutist
Absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy is a monarchical form of government in which the monarch exercises ultimate governing authority as head of state and head of government, his or her power not being limited by a constitution or by the law. An absolute monarch thus wields unrestricted political power over the...

, Carlists
Carlism
Carlism is a traditionalist and legitimist political movement in Spain seeking the establishment of a separate line of the Bourbon family on the Spanish throne. This line descended from Infante Carlos, Count of Molina , and was founded due to dispute over the succession laws and widespread...

 all through the civil wars of the 19th century, in opposition to the victorious constitutional forces. The southern Basque provinces, including Navarre, were the backbone of revolts seeking to crown Carlos, the male heir to the Spanish throne who had promised to defend the Basque foral System, and his descendants after him.

Fearing that they would lose their self-government or fueros under a modern, liberal constitution, Basques in Spain rushed to join the traditionalist army, which was financed largely by the governments of the Basque provinces. The opposing Isabeline Army had the vital support of British, French (notably the Algeria
Algeria
Algeria , officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria , also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa with Algiers as its capital.In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa and the Arab...

n legion) and Portuguese forces, and the backing of these governments. The Irish legion (Tercio
Tercio
The tercio was a Renaissance era military formation made up of a mixed infantry formation of about 3,000 pikemen, swordsmen and arquebusiers or musketeers in a mutually supportive formation. It was also sometimes referred to as the Spanish Square...

) was virtually annihilated by the Basques in the Battle of Oriamendi
Battle of Oriamendi
The Battle of Oriamendi was a battle fought on 16 March 1837 during the First Carlist War.The battle was part of a campaign in spring 1837 when the liberal Army tried to chase the Carlists from the Basque Country...

.

As differences grew between the Apostolic (official) and Navarrese (Basque-based) parties within the Carlist camp in the course of the First Carlist War
First Carlist War
The First Carlist War was a civil war in Spain from 1833-1839.-Historical background:At the beginning of the 18th century, Philip V, the first Bourbon king of Spain, promulgated the Salic Law, which declared illegal the inheritance of the Spanish crown by women...

, the latter signed an armistice, the terms of which included a promise by the Spaniards to respect Basque self-government. Spain's failure to keep this promise led to the Second Carlist War
Second Carlist War
The Second Carlist War, or the War of the Matiners or Madrugadores , was a short civil war fought primarily in Catalonia by the Carlists under General Ramón Cabrera against the forces of the government of Isabella II...

, which concluded in a similar way. The final outcome was that the Basque provinces, including Navarre, lost most of their autonomy, while keeping control over taxation through the Ley Paccionada. Indeed, they still retain this power today in the form of the so-called conciertos fiscales between the Basque provinces and the Spanish government in Madrid.

Thus the wars that brought new freedoms to large parts of Spain resulted in the abolition of most (though not all) of Basques' traditional liberties. Although the Basque provinces of Spain today have greater autonomy than other mainland territories, they still have far less freedom than their ancestors under the present-day Spanish regime.

On the other hand, one consequence of the transfer of the Spanish customs border from the southern boundary of the Basque Country to the Spanish-French border was the inclusion of Spain's Basque provinces in a new Spanish market, the protectionism of which favoured the birth and growth of Basque industry.
  • Braudel, Fernand
    Fernand Braudel
    Fernand Braudel was a French historian and a leader of the Annales School. His scholarship focused on three main projects, each representing several decades of intense study: The Mediterranean , Civilization and Capitalism , and the unfinished Identity of France...

    , The Perspective of the World, 1984

Late nineteenth century


The loss of the Charts in 1876 spawned political dissent and unrest, with two traditionalist movements arising to counter the Spanish centralist and comparatively liberal stance, the Carlists and the Basque nationalists. The former emphasized staunchly catholic and absolutist values, while the latter stressed Catholicism and the charters mingled with a Basque national awareness (Jaungoikoa eta Lege Zarra). Besides showing at the beginning slightly different positions, the Basque nationalists took hold in the industrialised Biscay and to a lesser extent Gipuzkoa, while the Carlist entrenched themselves especially in the rural Navarre and to a lesser extent in Álava.

With regards to the economic activity, high quality iron ore mainly from western Biscay, previously worked in small traditional forges around the western Basque Country, was now exported to Britain for industrial processing. Then, given the momentum of new market conditions, Biscay acquired its own modern blast furnaces, opening the doors to local industrialisation and even heavier mining. The large numbers of workers which both required were initially drawn from the Basque countryside and the peasantry of nearby Castile and Rioja, but increasingly immigration began to flow from the remoter impoverished regions of Galicia and Andalusia. The Basque Country, hitherto a source of emigrants to France, Spain and America, faced for the first time in recent history the prospect of a massive influx of foreigners possessing different languages and cultures as a side-effect of industrialisation. Most of these immigrants spoke Spanish; practically all were very poor.

In this period Biscay reached one of the highest mortality rates in Europe. While the new proletariat's wretched working and living conditions were providing a natural breeding ground for the new socialist and anarchist ideologies and political movements characteristic of the late nineteenth century, the end of the century also saw the birth of the above Basque nationalism
Basque nationalism
Basque nationalism is a political movement advocating for either further political autonomy or, chiefly, full independence of the Basque Country in the wider sense...

, with the founding in 1895 of the Basque Nationalist Party. The PNV, pursuing the goal of independence or self-government for a Basque state (Euzkadi), represented an ideology which combined Christian-Democratic
Christian Democracy
Christian democracy is a political ideology that seeks to apply Christian principles to public policy. It emerged in nineteenth-century Europe under the influence of conservatism and Catholic social teaching...

 ideas with abhorrence towards Spanish immigrants whom they perceived as a threat to the ethnic, cultural and linguistic integrity of the Basque race while also serving as a channel for the importation of new-fangled, leftist (and "un-Basque") ideas.

Early twentieth century


In 1931, at the outset of the Spanish 2nd Republic, echoing the recently granted self-government to Catalonia
Catalonia
Catalonia is an autonomous community in northeastern Spain, with the official status of a "nationality" of Spain. Catalonia comprises four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. Its capital and largest city is Barcelona. Catalonia covers an area of 32,114 km² and has an...

, an attempt was made to draw up a single statute for Navarre and the Basque western provinces (the "Provincias Vascongadas"), but after an initial overwhelming approval of the draft and a round of council mayor meetings, Navarre pulled out of the draft project amidst heated controversy over the validity of the votes (Pamplona, 1932). Undaunted, the Basque nationalists and leftist
Left-wing politics
In politics, Left, left-wing and leftist generally refer to support for social change to create a more egalitarian society...

 republican forces kept working on a statute, this time only for the Basque western provinces, Álava, Gipuzkoa and Biscay, eventually approved in 1936, with the Spanish Civil War already raging and an effective control just over Biscay.

Basque nationalists in Biscay and Gipuzkoa sided with the Spanish republicans
Second Spanish Republic
The Second Spanish Republic was the government of Spain between April 14 1931, and its destruction by a military rebellion, led by General Francisco Franco....

, but many in Navarre, a Carlist stronghold, supported General Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco y Bahamonde was a Spanish general, dictator and head of state of Spain from October 1936 , and de facto regent of the nominally restored Kingdom of Spain from 1947 until his death in November, 1975...

's insurgent forces. (The latter were known in Spain as "Nacionales"—usually rendered in English as "Nationalists"—which can be highly misleading in the Basque context). One of the greatest atrocities of this war, immortalised by Picasso's emblematic mural, was the bombing of Gernika
Bombing of Guernica
The bombing of Guernica was an aerial attack on the Basque town of Guernica, Spain, causing widespread destruction and civilian deaths, during the Spanish Civil War...

 by German planes, a Biscay
Biscay
Biscay is a province of Spain and a historical territory of the Basque Country, heir of the ancient Lord of Biscay. Its capital city is Bilbao...

ne town of great historical and symbolic importance, at Franco's bidding.

In 1937, the troops of the new Basque Autonomous Government surrendered to Franco's fascist Italian allies in Santoña
Santoña
Santoña is a town in the eastern coast of the autonomous community of Cantabria, on the north coast of Spain. It is situated by the bay of the same name. It is 45 km from the capital Santander. Santoña is divided into two zones, an urban plain, and a mountainous area, with Mount Buciero at its...

 on condition that the life of the Basque soldiers was respected (Santoña Agreement
Santoña Agreement
The Santoña Agreement or Pact of Santoña was an agreement signed in the town of Guriezo, near Santoña, Cantabria, the August 24, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, between politicians close to the Basque Nationalist Party , fighting with the Republican Side, and Italian forces fighting with the...

).

The Franco dictatorship


With the war over, the new dictator began his drive to turn Spain into an authoritarian nation state. Franco's regime passed harsh laws against all minorities in the Spanish state, including Basques, aimed at wiping out their cultures and languages. Calling Biscay and Gipuzkoa "traitor provinces", he abolished what remained of their self-empowerment. Navarre and Álava were allowed to hang onto a small local police force and limited tax prerogatives.

Two developments during the Franco dictatorship (1939–1975) deeply affected life in the Basque Country in this period and afterward. One was a new wave of immigration from the poorer parts of Spain to Biscay and Gipuzkoa during the 50s, 60s and 70s in response to the region's escalating industrialization aimed to supply the Spanish internal market as a result of a post-war self-sufficiency policy, favoured by the regime.

Secondly, the regime's persecution provoked a strong backlash in the Basque Country from the sixties onwards, notably in the form of a new political movement, Basque Country And Freedom
ETA
ETA , an acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna is an armed Basque nationalist and separatist organization. The group was founded in 1959 and has since evolved from a group promoting traditional Basque culture to a paramilitary group with the goal of gaining independence for the Greater Basque Country...

/Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, better known by its Basque initials ETA
ETA
ETA , an acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna is an armed Basque nationalist and separatist organization. The group was founded in 1959 and has since evolved from a group promoting traditional Basque culture to a paramilitary group with the goal of gaining independence for the Greater Basque Country...

, who turned to the systematic use of arms as a form of protest in 1968. But ETA was only one component of a social, political and language movement rejecting Spanish domination but also sharply criticizing the inertia of the Basque Country's own conservative nationalists (organized in the PNV). To this day the dialectic between these two political trends, the Abertzale (patriotic or nationalist) Left and the PNV, dominate the nationalist part of the Basque political spectrum, the rest of which is occupied by non-nationalist parties.

The present


Franco's authoritarian regime continued until 1975, while the latest years running up to the dictator's death proved harsh in a Basque Country shaken by repression, turmoil and unrest. Two new stances arose in Basque politics, namely break or compromise. While ETA's different branches decided to keep confrontation to gain a new status for the Basque Country, PNV and the Spanish Communists and Socialists opted for negotiations with the Francoist regime. In 1978, a general pardon was decreed by the Spanish Government for all politics related offences, a decision affecting directly Basque nationalist activists, especially ETA militants. The 70s and early/mid-80s the Basque Country was gripped by intense violence practised by Basque nationalist and state-sponsored illegal groups and police forces.

Between 1979 and 1983, in the framework of the new Spanish Constitution, the central government granted wide self-governing powers ("autonomy
Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country
The Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country is the legal document organizing the political system of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country' which includes the historical territories of Alava, Biscay and Gipuzkoa. It forms the region into one of the autonomous communities envisioned in...

") to Álava, Biscay and Gipuzkoa
Basque Country (autonomous community)
The Basque Country is an autonomous community of northern Spain. It includes the Basque provinces of Álava, Biscay and Gipuzkoa, also called Historical Territories....

 after a referendum, including its own elected parliament, police force
Ertzaintza
The Ertzaintza , is the police force of the Basque Country, one of the autonomous communities of Spain. An Ertzaintza member is an ertzaina .- Origins :...

, school system
Basque education system
Education in the Basque Autonomous Community is entirely free from the age of 3 , and compulsory between 6 and 16 years. The majority of students are educated in the Basque language.-Levels of schooling:*Infant education...

 and control over taxation, while Navarre
Navarre
Navarre , officially the Chartered Community of Navarre is an autonomous community in northern Spain, bordering the Basque Country, La Rioja, and Aragon in Spain and Aquitaine in France...

 was left out of the new autonomous region after the Socialists backed down on their initial position, and it was made into a separate autonomous region. The Statute of Autonomy is a constitutional law but powers have been devolved gradually during decades according to re-negotiations between the Spanish and the consecutive Basque regional governments to reach an effective implementation, while the transfer of many powers are still due. The French Basque Country, meanwhile, lacks any political or administrative recognition whatsoever, while a large number of regional representatives have lobbied to create a Basque department, to no avail so far.

See also


  • Basque people
    Basque people
    The Basques as an ethnic group, primarily inhabit an area traditionally known as the Basque Country , a region that is located around the western end of the Pyrenees on the coast of the Bay of Biscay and straddles parts of north-central Spain and south-western France.The Basques are known in the...

  • Basque language
    Basque language
    Basque is the ancestral language of the Basque people, who inhabit the Basque Country, a region spanning an area in northeastern Spain and southwestern France. It is spoken by 25.7% of Basques in all territories...

  • Basque Country (greater region)

Sources

  • Collins, Roger. "The Basques in Aquitaine and Navarre: Problems of Frontier Government." War and Society in the Middle Ages: Essays in Honour of J. O. Prestwich. edd. J. Gillingham and J. C. Holt. Cambridge: Boydell Press, 1984. Reprinted in Law, Culture and Regionalism in Early Medieval Spain. Variorum, 1992. ISBN 0-86078-308-1.

External links