The History of the Spanish Empire

Shortly after the union of Castile and Aragon created Spain, this fledgling country began exploring overseas in an effort to expand its territory. Christopher Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic in 1492 helped Spain establish itself as one of the world’s largest ever empires. Columbus had accidentally discovered the Americas while trying to reach Asia, and colonization of the area began not long after. This expansion continued until its peak of power in the seventeenth century, after which various wars caused this kingdom to crumble. In this video, explores the rise, dominance, and fall of this one-time world empire.

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Discovering the Americas

After the union of Castile and Aragon effectively created Spain, the resulting new kingdom quickly began to commission overseas explorations. Under the Spanish flag, it was Christopher Columbus who accidentally discovered the Americas, while attempting to reach Asia via the Atlantic.

Colonization of the Americas

This began Spain’s colonization of the Americas with countries like Portugal, England, France, and others not far behind. In 1510 Spain was finally successful in creating the first permanent European settlement, in what is now Columbia.

To the Pacific

The year 1513 saw Spain’s Vasco Núñez de Balboa become the first European to lead an expedition to the Pacific Ocean, when he crossed present-day Panama.


Groups of warrior-explorers called Conquistadors began colonizing the Caribbean Islands and areas of South America. Despite resistance by the indigenous population, the Conquistadors used rival native tribes against each other in order to gain an advantage.

Beyond the Americas

Spain’s expansion did not stop at the Americas. After finding the westward route to the Far East that Columbus had been searching for years earlier, Spain established colonies in Guam, the Philippines, and other nearby islands.

Height of Power

At the height of the Spanish Empire in the seventeenth century, the Kingdom controlled much of the Americas, territories in Africa, Asia and Oceania, and large portions of Europe. In total, they controlled approximately 13 per cent of the world’s total land area.

The End of an Empire

Continuing war with various countries throughout Europe meant trouble for Spain’s economy. By the end of the seventeenth century France had emerged as Europe’s superpower, marking the beginning of the end for Spain’s empire. In the nineteenth century, the Spanish American Wars of Independence and the Spanish-American War saw Spain lose all of its territories throughout the Americas and Asia.

Lasting Impact

Even after its fall as a dominant world power, Spain’s legacy remains evident. The Spanish dollar was the world’s first global currency because of the country’s role in the foundations of global trade. This trade would see the introduction of things like horses, apples, and even wheat to the New World from Europe. The Spanish language and Roman Catholic faith were also spread throughout the world, both still dominant in most of its former colonies, even centuries later.

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