The Iberian Peninsula


            The Iberian Peninsula, to clear up any confusion at the outset, simply refers to the landmass in southwestern Europe that contains the modern nations of Spain and Portugal.  The term “Iberia” stretches back to the Roman Empire, and was used by Roman administrators to encompass both the Roman provinces of Hispania (modern Spain) and Lusitania (modern Portugal).  The term “Hispania” in turn (whence “Spain,” “España,” and “Hispanic”) apparently derives from the city of “Hispalis,” modern Seville, which in turn is probably of Carthaginian (Phoenician) origin, relating in some accounts to the large number of lagomorphs (rabbits and hares) that populated the region.  Some accounts alternatively trace the origin of “Hispalis” to a Greek colony.  In any case, “Iberia” essentially denotes the peninsula west of the Pyrenees mountains which separate France from Spain.  This relatively modest-sized peninsula with a moderate population has had a tremendous impact on world history, since it was here that the first European mariners set out into the forbidding, distant oceans to round the Cape of Good Hope in Africa under Vasco da Gama, and head westward to the Americas under Columbus.  The extraordinary breadth, durability, and historical impact of the Spanish Empire are detailed here, while reasons for the pioneering and pivotal role of Spain and Portugal in the European Age of Exploration—the foundation of the West’s global dominance over the past half-millennium—are discussed here.


n      Wes Ulm



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