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Spanish People

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Spanish People

This article is about ethnic Spanish people. For information on the ethnic make-up of people in Spain, see Demographics of Spain.
"Spaniard" redirects here. For other uses, see Spaniard (disambiguation).

Spanish people  · Españoles
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Total population

 Spain Nationals 41,539,400[1]
(for a total population of 47,059,533)

Nationals Abroad : 1,931,248[2]

Hundreds of millions of Hispanic Americans with Spanish ancestry
Regions with significant populations
Argentina Argentina 385,388[2]
France France 206,589[2]
Venezuela Venezuela 186,163[2]
Germany Germany 116,056[2]
 Brazil 110,422[2]
 Mexico 100,782[2]
Switzerland Switzerland 99,539[2]
 Cuba 97,980[2]
United States United States 94,585 -(including Puerto Rico)[2]
 United Kingdom 74,389[2]
 Uruguay 62,491[2]
 Chile 51,768[2]
 Belgium 50,318[2]
 Andorra 24,014[2]
 Peru 21,009[2]
 Netherlands 20,926[2]
 Italy 19,707[2]
 Colombia 18,213[2]
 Australia 17,679[2]
 Dominican Republic 17,382[2]
Languages of Spain
(Spanish, Basque, Catalan, Galician and others)
Related ethnic groups
Portuguese · French · Italians
 · other Western Europeans ·
 · Sephardic ·
 · White Hispanics ·
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Spanish people
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The term Spanish people, or Spaniards (Spanish: españoles [espa'ɲoles]), has two distinct meanings: Traditionally, it applies to people native to any part of Spain. More recently, it has also come to have a legal meaning, referring to people who hold Spanish citizenship.

Within Spain there are a number of nationalisms and regionalisms, reflecting the country's complex history. The official language of Spain is Spanish (also known as Castilian), a standard language based on the mediaeval dialect of the Castilians of north-central Spain. There are several commonly spoken regional languages (mainly Basque, Catalan and Galician). With the exception of Basque, the languages native to Spain are Romance languages.

There are substantial populations outside Spain with ancestors who emigrated from Spain; most notably in Hispanic America.

Historical background

Early populations

The earliest modern humans inhabiting Spain are believed to have been Neolithic peoples who 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 Phoenician influence. The seafaring Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians successively founded trading colonies along the Mediterranean coast over a period of several centuries. The Second Punic War between the Carthaginians and Romans was fought mainly in what is now Spain and Portugal.[5]

The Roman Republic conquered Iberia during the 2nd and 1st centuries BC 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 main lingua franca 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, Seneca and Quintilian.

The Germanic Vandals and Suebi, with part of the Iranian Alans under King Respendial, arrived en masse in the peninsula in 409 AD. It is widely believed that the Vandals may have given their name to the region of Andalusia formerly known as Baetica, which according to one of several theories of its etymology which would be the source of Al-Andalus, the Arabic name of the Iberian peninsula. Part of the Vandals with the remaining Alans, now under Geiseric in personal union removed themselves to North Africa after a few conflicts with another Germanic tribe, the Visigoths, who established in Toulouse supported Roman campaigns against the Vandals and Alans in 415–19 AD and became the dominant power in Iberia for three centuries. The Visigoths were highly romanized in the eastern Empire and already Christians, so their integration within the late Iberian-Roman culture was full; they accepted the laws and structures of the late Roman World with little change, more than any other successor barbarian state in the West after the Ostrogoths, and all the more so after converting away from Arianism. The other Germanic tribe remaining in the peninsula, the Suebi (including the Buri), became established according to sources as federates of the Roman Empire in the old North western Roman province of Gallaecia, but in fact largely independent and predatory on neighboring provinces to stretch their political control over ever-larger portions of the southwest after the Vandals and Alans left, creating a totally independent Suebic Kingdom. After being checked and reduced in 456 AD by the Visigoths moving to settle in the peninsula, it survived until 585 AD, when it was annihilated as an independent political unit by the Visigoths, after involvement in the internal affairs of the kingdom, supporting Catholic rebellions and sedition within the Royal family. The Suebi became the first Germanic kingdom to convert officially to Roman Catholicism in 447 AD. under king Rechiar.

Middle Ages

After two centuries of domination by the Visigothic Kingdom, the Iberian Peninsula was invaded by Muslim armies in 711.[6] These armies consisted mainly of Berbers with prominent Arab tribal leaders amongst them and were commonly known as the Moors. They conquered nearly all of the peninsula except for the Christian Kingdom of Asturias in the far north. Muslim controlled areas of Iberia became known as Al-Andalus. The duration of Muslim rule varied greatly, from as little as twenty two years in the Northwest of the peninsula to 781 years in the far south. For the first three centuries of Muslim rule, the peninsula's Christian kingdoms in the north were very much on the defensive, but eventually after the break-up of Muslim unity in the 11th century, the Muslims were driven south in a long process that historians term the Reconquista, which ended with their final capitulation in 1492.

In the first two centuries of Al-Andalus, Muslims formed a ruling minority. Another minority, present since Roman times, were the Jews. In the 10th century a massive conversion of the population from Christianity to Islam took place, so that muladies (native Spanish/Iberian Muslims) comprised the majority of the population by the century's end.[7] However, the process began to reverse as the Christian reconquest gathered pace. Ultimately, Jews and Muslims either converted to Catholicism or were expelled from Spain in 1492 and 1502, following the completion of the Reconquista. Between 1609 and 1614, approximately 300,000 Moriscos—new Christians forcibly converted from Islam who continued to speak, write, and dress like Muslims—were expelled.[8]

Meanwhile, after 842, when the Viking rovers from Scandinavia set up a permanent base at the mouth of the Loire River, they could strike as far as northern Spain, where some of them remained permanently and added to its ethnic mixture.[9] They attacked Cadiz in AD 844. In some of their raids they were crushed either by Kingdom of Asturias or Emirate armies. These Vikings were Hispanised in all Christian kingdoms, while they kept their ethnic identity and culture in Al-Andalus.[10]

The union of the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon and the conquest of Granada 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 Islands had an indigenous population called the Guanches, whose origin is still the subject of discussion among historians and linguists.

Colonialism and emigration

In the 16th century, following the military conquest of most of the new continent, perhaps 240,000 Spaniards entered American ports. They were joined by 450,000 in the next century.[11] Since the conquest of Mexico and Peru these two regions became the principal destinations of Spanish colonial settlers in the 16th century.[12] In the period 1850–1950, 3.5 million Spanish left for the Americas, particularly Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico,[13] Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, and Cuba.[14] From 1840 to 1890, as many as 40,000 Canary Islanders emigrated to Venezuela.[15] 94,000 Spaniards chose to go to Algeria in the last years of the 19th century, and 250,000 Spaniards lived in Morocco at the beginning of the 20th century.[14]

By the end of the Spanish Civil War, some 500,000 Spanish Republican refugees had crossed the border into France.[16] From 1961 to 1974, at the height of the guest worker in Western Europe, about 100,000 Spaniards emigrated each year.[14]

The peoples of Spain

Nationalisms and regionalisms

Within Spain, there are various regional populations including the Castilians, the Catalans, Valencians and Balearics (who speak Catalan, a distinct Romance language in eastern Spain), the Basques (who live in the Basque country and speak Basque, a non-Indo-European language), and the Galicians (who speak Galician, a descendant of old Galician-Portuguese).

Respect to the existing cultural pluralism is important to many Spaniards. In many regions there exist strong regional identities such as Asturias, Aragon, the Canary Islands, León, and Andalusia, while in others (like Catalonia, Basque Country or Galicia) there are stronger national sentiments. Some of them refuse to identify themselves with the Spanish ethnic group and prefer some of the following:

Regional ethnic groups

The Roma

Spain is home to one of the largest communities of Romani people (commonly known by the English exonym "gypsies", Spanish: gitanos). The Spanish Roma, which belong to the Iberian Kale subgroup (calé), are a formerly-nomadic community, which spread across Western Asia, North Africa, and Europe, first reaching Spain in the 15th century.

Spanish Roma, for a number of historical and cultural reasons are not considered a separate or "foreign" population in Spain, but a distinct ethnicity constituting one of the populations native to Spain. Roma play an important role in particularly Andalusian folklore, music, and culture.

There are no official statistics on the Roma population, but estimates fluctuate between 600,000 and 1,500,000, with the Spanish government's estimating a number between 650,000 and 700,000. Most Spanish Roma live in the autonomous community of Andalusia, where they have traditionally enjoyed a higher degree of integration than in the rest of the country. A number of Spanish Kale also live in Southern France, especially in the region of Perpignan.

Modern immigration

Main article: Immigration to Spain

The population of Spain is becoming increasingly diverse due to recent immigration. From 2000 to 2010, Spain had among the highest per capita immigration rates in the world and the second highest absolute net migration in the World (after the USA)[17] 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.[18] Immigrant population now tops over 4.5 million.[19] They come mainly from Europe, Latin America, China, the Philippines, North Africa, and West Africa.[20]


Main article: Languages of Spain

Languages spoken in Spain include Spanish (castellano or español) (74%), Catalan (català, called valencià in the Valencian Community) (17%), Galician (galego) (7%), and Basque (euskara) (2%).[21] 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 Castile–La Mancha, speak local dialects known as "transitional dialects" between Andalusian and Castilian Spanish.[22] 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)[23] 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 46 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 Domingo 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 Fuego, the southernmost region of South America in Chile and Argentina. 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, which developed by the mixing of Spanish and native Tagalog and Cebuano languages during Spain's rule of the country through Mexico from 1565 to 1898, is spoken in the Philippines (by fewer than 1 million people).

Anti-Franco political dissidents from Spain who moved to Russia during World War II speak a mix of Russian and Spanish, while some speak Catalan and Basque. In Montreal (Quebec, Canada), many Spanish-speaking immigrants relocated in the city adapted a mixed language Franspanol, while they're able to speak French and in addition, English. The Spanish language is also found in small communities of Africa, Australia and New Zealand.


Main article: Religion in Spain

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.

Emigration from Spain

Main article: Spanish diaspora

Outside of Europe, Latin America has the largest population of people with ancestors from Spain. These include people of full or partial Spanish ancestry.

People with presumed Spanish ancestry

Country Population (% of country) Reference Criterion
Mexico Spanish Mexican 80,000,000+ [24] estimated: 15–17% as Whites
70–80% as Mestizos.
Argentina Spanish Argentine 15,000,000 (37%) undefined
Brazil Spanish Brazilian 15,000,000 (8.0%) [25] estimate by Bruno Ayllón.[26]
Colombia Spanish Colombian 15,000,000 (50%) undefined
Cuba Spanish Cuban 10,050,849 (88.89%) [27] Self-description as White, mulatto and mestizo
Puerto Rico Spanish Puerto Rican 3,064,862 (80.5%) [28][29]
Self-description as white
83,879 (2.1%) identified as Spaniard
United States Spanish American 2,389,841 (0.8%) [32] Self-description
625,562 (0.2%) identified as Spaniard
Canada Spanish Canadian 325,730 (1.0%) [33] Self-description
Australia Spanish Australian 58,271 (0.0%) [34] Self-description

The listings above shows the ten countries with know collected data on people with presumed ancestors from Spain, although the definitions of each of these are somewhat different and the numbers cannot really be compared. Spanish Chilean of Chile and Spanish Uruguayan of Uruguay could be included by percentage (each at above 40%) instead of numeral size.

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 0-520-04177-1.
  • Chapman, Robert. Emerging Complexity: The Later Pre-History of South-East Spain, Iberia, and the West Mediterranean. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-521-23207-4.
  • Goodwin, Godfrey. Islamic Spain. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1990. ISBN 0-87701-692-5.
  • Harrison, Richard. Spain at the Dawn of History: Iberians, Phoenicians, and Greeks. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1988. ISBN 0-500-02111-2.
  • James, Edward (ed.). Visigothic Spain: New Approaches. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980. ISBN 0-19-822543-1.
  • Thomas, Hugh. The Slave Trade: The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade 1440–1870. London: Picador, 1997. ISBN 0-330-35437-X.
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