The Iberian Peninsula has been inhabited since prehistoric times, first by Neanderthal Man and later by Cro-Magnon Man and various other early peoples.

The earliest Iberian civilization was centered in the south, which was rich in metals, especially copper. Phoenician traders and colonists from the eastern Mediterranean came to the peninsula about 1100 B.C. The native Iberian kingdom of Tartessus (Biblical Tarshish), in the region of the Guadalquivir River, developed a flourishing commerce. The Greeks came to trade and then established colonies along the southeastern coast. Meanwhile, waves of Celtic invaders had crossed the Pyrenees into Spain and had begun to intermingle with the Iberians.

During the sixth century B.C., Carthage (a Phoenician colony in North Africa) began to gain control of Spanish trade. In 237 B.C., Carthaginian forces under Hamilcar Barca invaded southern Spain and conquered it. Hannibal, Hamilcar's son, launched an invasion against Italy from Spain.

Rome defeated Carthage in the Second Punic War (218–201 B.C.), but pacifying the Spaniards took nearly 200 years. Spain prospered as Roman trade and industry flourished. Christianity, introduced probably in the first century A.D., rapidly gained strength among the Spaniards.

Important dates in Spain
1000's B.C. The Phoenicians began to colonize Spain.
400's B.C. The Carthaginians conquered much of Spain.
200's B.C. The Romans drove the Carthaginians from Spain.
A.D. 400's The Visigoths took Spain from the Romans.
711-718 The Muslims conquered almost all Spain.
1000's Christian kingdoms began to drive the Muslims from Spain.
1479 The kingdoms of Aragon and Castile united, bringing almost all of what is now Spain under one rule.
1492 Spanish forces conquered Granada, the last center of Muslim control in Spain. Christopher Columbus sailed to America and claimed it for Spain.
1512 King Ferdinand V seized the Kingdom of Navarre, completing the unification of what is now Spain.
1556-1598 The Spanish Empire reached its height during the reign of Philip II.
1588 The English navy defeated the Spanish Armada.
1808 Napoleon's armies seized Madrid.
1808-1814 Spanish, Portuguese, and English forces drove the French from Spain during the Peninsular War.
1810-1825 All Spain's American colonies except Cuba and Puerto Rico revolted and declared their independence. By this time, Spain had lost almost all its empire.
1898 Spain lost Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines in the Spanish-American War.
1931 King Alfonso XIII fled the country and Spain became a democratic republic.
1936-1939 The Spanish Civil War was fought. It brought General Francisco Franco to power as dictator of Spain.
1950's and 1960's Spain achieved one of the highest rates of economic growth in the world.
1975 Franco died. Spaniards began setting up a new, democratic government to replace his dictatorship.
1978 Spaniards approved a new Constitution based on democratic principles.
1982 Spain joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
1986 Spain joined the European Community, an economic organization that became the basis of the European Union.