Spanish Empire

The Spanish Empire is a name that has been designated to all the territories that were conquered and ruled by Spain as a result of the exploration and colonial expansion that had its beginnings in the fifteenth century. This expansion made Spain the first transcontinental superpower during the 16th and 17th centuries and helped shape most of the modern world. Built on military power and naval ingenuity and maintained by trade and mining of precious metals such as gold and silver, this period is appropriately known as Spain's Golden Age.

Spanish Empire
  • Establishment date: 17/04/1492
  • When it ended: 1975
  • Capital city: Madrid, Valladolid
  • Religion: Catholic religion
  • Government: Monarchy

What was the Spanish Empire?

Spanish Empire is the set of territories governed by Spain's dynasties during the 16th and 19th centuries, which began with Christopher Columbus' travels to new lands and which had important repercussions in Europe, mainly in the conquered territories.


The Spanish Empire in America was born as a result of Christopher Columbus travels and his discovery of a New World for the Castile Crown. The kings understood the importance of these territories and promoted new journeys along the coast, the interior of the new continent and the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

They needed a great political organization as the territories were extensive and the Council of the Indies was created which advised the king regarding the government and justice of the overseas territories. In America, the most important institutions of government were the viceroyalties, the audiences and the councils.

Origin of the Spanish Empire

The process that led to the formation of the Spanish Empire has its origin in the Reconquest, the crusades undertaken by Christian kingdoms in the north of the Iberian Peninsula against the Muslims who had invaded from North Africa. It was the marriage of Isabel I of Castile and Ferdinand V of Aragon in 1469 and the resulting union of their separate Iberian kingdoms that marked the beginning of Spain’s overseas empire. Several main reasons may explain Spain’s expansion abroad.


The Spanish Empire went through a series of situations until it managed to establish itself and gain strength, these stages were the following:


It reached its peak between the 16th century and the first half of the 17th century thanks to the discovery of America in 1492. Charles I inherited the Castilian Crown in the Iberian Peninsula and all the territories in America, the possessions of the Crown of Aragon; the lands of the Habsburgs in Austria becoming the emperor of the Sacred Empire; in addition to the Netherlands; it conquered Tunisia and was at war with France for the region of Lombardy.

Crisis and fall of the Spanish Empire

During the 16th century, the first symptoms of Spain’s decadence occurred as a result of the insurrection in the Netherlands, the failure of Spanish policy in the Mediterranean and the increase in incursions by pirates.


The main causes were the Bourbon reforms, mainly the commercial laws that allowed to decrease the Spanish possessions that had achieved through monopoly. These measures achieved free trade with Spain and between the same colonies.

There were also losses in the colonial market because the merchants of Cadiz blocked the expansion of shipbuilding and the colony focused its economy on agriculture and livestock. The French invasion of Spain, the battle of Cartagena de India’s, the confrontation of Spain and Portugal and the seven-year War also influenced the fall.

Finally, the creation of independence movements within the American governments, the discontent of the Creoles, the creation of the mestizo race, the growth of the economic autonomy of the American colonies and the independence ideas that emerged with the French revolution.


The main consequences were the economic problems because the war expenses had to be paid. Land was mortgaged and the economic future of the kingdom was compromised to finally declare bankruptcy.


The main characteristics of the Spanish Empire were:


The Spanish Empire was located throughout almost the entire American continent, from the United States, through Mexico, Central America and most of South America.


The Spaniards were able to spread their discovery in an incredible way throughout the territory that was located between the southwest of the United States, down to Mexico and throughout Central America, through South America to North America, including Alaska and British Columbia. All these territories came to comprise approximately 20 million kilometers of territory, where most were in the Americas.

Political and social organization of the Spanish Empire

This organization was distributed in institutions that controlled the territory dominated by the Spanish Empire and were the following:


The economy of the Spanish Empire was based on forced labor, they practiced barter or looting, and they took possession of precious metals on American soil, where they hired miners to extract it, mainly silver. Agriculture was an important part of their economy to supply the external demand, and the demand of the mines. Corn, beans, cocoa, cassava, potatoes, tomatoes, sugar cane, etc. were cultivated.

Cultural manifestations of the Spanish Empire

Customs and traditions

Some customs and traditions of the time were:


The main religion was Catholicism, although there was a great Muslim and Jewish influence in the region. As Christianity gained strength, Jews were expelled from Spanish territory and also Muslims, leaving Christianity as the only dominant religion.


While Spain was conquering kingdoms in the interior of the country, people were starving to death. Among its food shortage were foods such as rams, splashes and lentils. Dishes appeared to take advantage of everything edible. Among them, the rotten pot, a culinary invention from the 16th century that consisted of adding numerous ingredients to a broth base.


The main contributions of the Spanish Empire were the following:

Importance of Spanish Empire

The Spanish Empire was very important because it was one of the most important powers, achieving an enormous territorial expansion. In addition, it was thanks to this empire that it was possible to discover America and its peoples.

Colonies of the Spanish Empire

Written by Gabriela Briceño V.

How to cite this article?

Briceño V., Gabriela. (2019). Spanish Empire. Recovered on 23 February, 2024, de Euston96: https://www.euston96.com/en/spanish-empire/

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