Spania (Latin: Provincia Spaniae) was a province of the Byzantine
Empire from 552 until 624 in the south of the
Iberian Peninsula and
the Balearic Islands. It was established by the Emperor
Justinian I in
an effort to restore the western provinces of the Empire.
2 Conquest and foundation
3 Extent and geography
4.1 Secular government
4.2 Ecclesiastical government
6 Decline and Visigothic conquest
In 409 the Vandals,
Suevi and Alans, who had broken through the Roman
border defences on the
Rhine two years before, crossed the Pyrenees
into the Iberian peninsula. Nevertheless, effective Roman rule was
maintained over most areas through the death of Emperor
461. The Visigoths, vassals of the Roman Empire who had settled in
Aquitaine by imperial invitation (416), increasingly filled the vacuum
left as the
Vandals moved into Africa. In 468 they attacked and
defeated the Suevi, who had occupied Roman
Gallaecia were threatening
to expand. A large scale migration of the
Visigoths into Iberia began
in 494 under Alaric II, and their overlordship of most of the eastern
and central peninsula was established by 476. The
Visigoths ended the
Roman administration in
Spain in 473, but they did not replace it with
a provincial administration of their own until the early 6th century.
Conquest and foundation
In 534, Roman general
Belisarius re-established the Byzantine province
Mauretania with the conquest of the
Vandal Kingdom in northern
Africa. Despite his efforts, the Vandal king
Gelimer had been unable
to effect an alliance with the Gothic king Theudis, who probably took
the opportunity of the collapse of Vandal authority to conquer Ceuta
(Septem) across the Straits of
Gibraltar in 533, possibly to keep it
out of Byzantine hands. This citadel was nevertheless seized the
following year by an expedition dispatched by Belisarius.
was briefly recaptured by the
Visigoths in 540) became a part of
Mauretania. It was an important base for reconnaissance of
the years leading up to the peninsula's invasion by Justinian's forces
In 550, in the reign of Agila I,
Spain was troubled by a series of
revolts, two of which were serious. The citizens of Córdoba rebelled
against Gothic or Arian rule and Agila was roundly defeated, his son
killed, and the royal treasure lost. He himself retreated to
Mérida. The date of the other major revolt cannot be arrived at
precisely. Either at the commencement of his reign (549) or as late as
551, a nobleman named
Athanagild took Seville, capital of Baetica, and
presumed to rule as king in opposition to Agila. Exactly who
approached the Byzantines for assistance and when is also disputed;
the primary sources are divided. Even the name of the general of
the Byzantine army is disputed. Although
Jordanes wrote that the
Patrician Liberius was its commander:
He [Theudis] was succeeded by Agila, who holds the kingdom to the
Athanagild has rebelled against him and is even now
provoking the might of the Roman Empire. So Liberius the Patrician is
on the way with an army to oppose him.
James J. O'Donnell, in his biography of Liberius, casts doubt on this
statement, since the patrician was an octogenarian at the time, and
Procopius reports he had returned to
Constantinople when the
Hispania and could not have led the invasion.
O'Donnell states that "
Jordanes may have heard that Liberius' name was
being mentioned for commander of the Spanish expedition, but, in the
end, the fact of his relief from command of the forces in Sicily makes
the story of his voyage to
However, according to Isidore of
Seville in his History of the Goths,
it was Athanagild, in autumn of 551 or winter of 552, who begged
Justinian for help. The army was probably sent in 552 and made
landfall in June or July. Roman forces landed probably at the mouth of
Guadalete or perhaps
Málaga and joined with
Athanagild to defeat
Agila as he marched south from Mérida towards
Seville in August or
September 552. The war dragged on for two more years. Liberius
Constantinople by May 553 and it is likely that a
Byzantine force from Italy, which had only recently been pacified
after the Gothic War, landed at Cartagena in early March 555 and
marched inland to Baza (Basti) in order to join up with their
compatriots near Seville. Their landing at Cartagena was violent. The
native population, which included the family of Leander of Seville,
was well disposed to the
Visigoths and the Byzantine government of the
city was forced to suppress their freedoms, an oppression which lasted
decades into their occupation. Leander and most of his family fled and
his writings preserve the strong anti-Byzantine sentiment.
In late March 555, the supporters of Agila, in fear of the recent
Byzantine successes, turned and assassinated him, making Athanagild
the king of the Goths. Quickly the new king tried to rid
Spain of the
Byzantines, but failed. The Byzantines occupied many coastal cities in
Baetica and this region was to remain a Byzantine province until its
reconquest by the
Visigoths barely seventy years later.
Byzantine Empire at its greatest extent under Justinian I.
Justinian's inherited empire in red with his conquests, including
Spania, in orange. It is the westernmost province.
Extent and geography
The Byzantine province of
Spania never extended very far inland and
received relatively little attention from East Roman authorities,
probably because it was designed as a defensive bulwark against a
Gothic invasion of Africa, which would have been an unnecessary
distraction at a time when the Persian Empire was a larger threat in
the East. The most important cities of Byzantine
Málaga and Cartagena, the probable landing sites of the Byzantine
army, which was renamed from Carthago Nova to Carthago Spartaria. It
is unknown which of those two cities was the provincial capital, but
it was almost certainly one of them. The cities were the centres of
Byzantine power and while a few were retaken by Agila, the ones which
were retained were a bulwark against Visigothic attempts at
reconquest. The Goths easily ravaged the countryside of
were inept at sieges and the fortified towns were safe centres of
Spania at its greatest extent, with cities indicated and lost
There are few cities which can be confidently considered to have been
under Byzantine government in the period. The city of Medina Sidonia
(Asidona) was held until 572, when it was reconquered by Leovigild.
Gisgonza (also Gigonza, ancient Sagontia) was also held until the
Witteric (603–610) and it indicates that the south of the
Baetica was completely Byzantine from
Málaga to the mouth
of the Guadalete. In the province of Carthaginiensis, wherein lay
Cartagena and of which it was capital, the city of Baza was also
Byzantine and it probably resisted the inroads of
Leovigild into that
territory in 570, though it was Visigothic by 589.
Among the cities which have been disputed as being Byzantine, Córdoba
is the greatest. Some historians have suspected it of being the first
capital of the province of
Spania and ascribed the cities of Ecija
(Astigi), Cabra (Egabra),
Guadix (Acci), and
Granada (Illiberris) to
the Byzantines on this basis, but there is no positive evidence in the
sources of Roman rule in any of these cities. Córdoba was in a state
of rebellion, briefly joined by
Seville from 566–567, until
Leovigild put it down in 572. It may have had a local government
during this period, or may have recognised Byzantine suzerainty.
Aside from the southern parts of the provinces of
Carthaginiensis (the southern Levante), the Byzantines also held Ceuta
across from the
Gibraltar and the Balearic Islands, which had fallen
to them along with the rest of the Vandal kingdom. Ceuta, though it
had been Visigothic and was destined to be associated with the Iberian
peninsula for its subsequent history, was attached to the province of
Mauretania Secunda. The Balearics with
Baetica and Carthaginiensis
formed the new province of Spania. By the year 600
Spania had dwindled
to little more than
Málaga and Cartagena and the Balearics; it
extended no further north than the Sierra Nevada. George of Cyprus
recorded only one civitas (city, people) in the province: the
"Mesopotamians", though the meaning of this is uncertain.
The Lápida de Comenciolo, an inscription from Cartagena recording the
patriciate of Comenciolus
The chief administrative official in
Spania was the magister militum
Spaniae, meaning "master of the military of Spain." The magister
militum governed civil and military affairs in the province and was
subordinate only to the Emperor. Typically the magister was a member
of the highest aristocratic class and bore the rank of patrician. The
office, though it only appears in records for the first time in 589,
was probably a creation of Justinian, as was the mint, which issued
provincial currency until the end of the province (c. 625).
There were five known magistri in the history of the province, though
this certainly does not represent the whole. Two are passingly
mentioned by Isidore as successive governors in the time of Suinthila,
but he omits their names. The first known governor, Comenciolus
(possibly Comentiolus), repaired the gates of Cartagena in lieu of the
"barbarians" (i.e. the Visigoths) and left an inscription (dated 1
September 589) in the city which survives to this day. It is in
Latin and may reflect the continued use of Latin as the administrative
language of the province. (It does not, however, imply that Cartagena
was the capital of Spania.) Around 600 there was a governor named
Comitiolus who bore the rank of gloriosus, the highest rank after that
of emperor. The patrician and magister Caesarius made a peace treaty
Sisebut in 614 and conferred with the emperor Heraclius, who was
more concerned with matters in Mesopotamia.
The border between
Visigothic kingdom was not closed.
Travel between the border for personal and mercantile reasons was
allowed and the two regions experienced prolonged periods of peace.
The ease of traversing the frontier was noted by the exiled Leander,
whose brother more than once crossed it without hindrance. The border
had been determined by a treaty (pacta) between
Justinian I, but the date of the treaty is still debated. It may have
been part of the initial conditions of Byzantine assistance in 551 or
552 or it may have been a product of the war between Goth and Roman in
555 or later. It was certainly signed before Justinian's death in 565.
The legitimacy of the pacta was recognised as late as the 7th century,
which accounts for the ease of travel and trade.
The province of
Spania was predominantly Latin Christian, while the
Byzantine governors were the same, though many were Eastern
Christians. Despite this, the relationship between subject and ruler
and between church and state seems to have been no better than in
Arian Visigothic Spain. The church of
Spania was also less independent
Papacy than the Gothic church, which was composed largely of
Hispano-Romans. The two churches were separate. No clerics of one ever
attended councils of the other. Indeed, no provincial council ever met
in Spania. The theological controversies of each, however, were
shared: the one stirred up by Vincent of Zaragoza's conversion to
Arianism sparked a response from the bishop of Málaga.
Byzantine oil lamp from Cartagena
Gregory the Great interfered successfully in the various bishoprics of
the province more than any pope ever did in the Visigothic kingdom. He
came to the defence of the property of two deposed bishops and lorded
it over the magister militum Comitiolus, whom he accused of
interfering in ecclesiastical affairs. He implicitly accused
Licinianus of Cartagena of ordaining ignoramuses to the priesthood,
but Licinianus simply replied that to not do so would leave the
diocese of the province empty: a sad commentary on the state of
clerical education in Spania.
The architectural and artistic style prevalent in
Spania was not that
of Byzantium proper but rather the Byzantinist styles of northern
Africa. Two churches, one at
Algezares south of
Murcia and that of San
Pedro de Alcántara near Málaga, have been excavated and studied
archaeologically. Only in the
Balearic Islands did the style of Greece
and Thrace take a foothold. And though Byzantine stylistic markers are
present throughout Spain, in the Gothic regions they do not share
connections with the African styles prevalent in Spania.
In the vicinity of Cartagena, pottery has been discovered bearing
distinctively African amphorae that further testify to the close ties
between the provinces of
Mauretania Secunda. Cartagena has
in recent years been excavated quite thoroughly and a housing complex
probably created for Byzantine soldiers occupying the city
discovered. Many artefacts of the Byzantine presence can be seen
in the Museo Arqueológico de Cartagena. Nevertheless, the city, like
Spain at that time was much diminished in population and area
under the Byzantine government.
Decline and Visigothic conquest
Spania in 586 after the conquests of
Leovigild (with dates of conquest
In the reigns of
Athanagild and Leovigild, the Byzantines were unable
to push their offensive forward and the
Visigoths made some successful
pushes back. Around 570,
Leovigild ravaged Bastetania (Bastitania or
Bastania, the region of Baza) and took
Medina Sidonia through the
treachery of an insider named Framidaneus (possibly a Goth). He may
have taken Baza and he certainly raided into the environs of Málaga,
defeating a relief army sent from there. He took many cities and
fortresses in the
Guadalquivir valley and defeated a large army of
rustici (rustics), according to John of Biclarum, who may have been
referring to an army of bandits called
Bagaudae who had established
themselves in the disputed buffer zone between Gothic and Roman
control. In 577 in Orospeda, a region under Byzantine control,
Leovigild defeated more rustici rebellantes, probably Bagaudae. After
two seasons of campaigning against the Romans, however, Leovigild
concentrated his military efforts elsewhere.
During the rule of Reccared, the Byzantines again took the offensive
and probably even regained or gained ground.
Reccared recognised the
legitimacy of the Byzantine frontier and wrote to Pope Gregory
requesting a copy be sent from the Emperor Maurice. Gregory simply
replied that the text of the treaty had been lost in a fire during
Justinian's reign and warned
Reccared that he would not want it found
because it would have probably granted the Byzantines more territory
than they actually then possessed (August 599). Leovigild's gains
against the Roman government were greater than the Roman reconquests
of Reccared's reign; the Byzantine province of
Spania was in decline.
Among later kings,
Witteric campaigned frequently against Spania,
though his generals were more successful than he. The latter captured
the small town of Gisgonza.
Gundemar moved the primatial see of
Carthaginiensis from Byzantine Cartagena to Visigothic Toledo in 610
and campaigned against
Spania in 611, but to no effect.
than any king before him became the scourge of the Byzantines in
Spain. In 614 and 615, he carried out two massive expeditions against
them and conquered
Málaga before 619, when its bishop appears at the
Second Council of Seville. He conquered as far as the Mediterranean
coast and razed many cities to the ground, enough even to catch the
attention of the Frankish chronicler Fredegar:
. . . et plures civitates ab imperio Romano Sisebodus litore maris
abstulit et usque fundamentum destruxit.
. . . king Sisbodus took many cities from the Roman empire along the
coast, destroying them and reducing them to rubble.
Sisebut probably also razed Cartagena, which was so completely
desolated that it never reappeared in Visigothic Spain. Because the
Goths were unable to undertake decent sieges, they were forced to
reduce the defences of all fortified places they took in order to
prevent later armies from using them against them. Because Cartagena
was destroyed but
Málaga was spared, it has been inferred that the
former fell first while the Byzantine presence was still large enough
to constitute a threat.
Málaga fell some time after when the
Byzantines were so reduced as to no longer form a danger to Visigothic
hegemony over the whole peninsula.
In 621, the Byzantines still held a few towns, but
them shortly and by 624 the entire province of
Spania was in
Visigothic hands save the Balearic Islands, which were an economic
backwater in the 7th century. Like the Sardinian giudicati and Corsica
in that period, the Balearics were only nominally Byzantine. They were
finally separated from the Empire by the
Saracen incursions of the 8th
through 10th centuries.
Sometime during the joint reign of
Egica and Wittiza, a Byzantine
fleet raided the coasts of southern
Spain and was driven off by a
local count named Theudimer. The dating of this event is disputed: it
may have occurred as part of Leontios' expedition to relieve Carthage,
under assault by the Arabs, in 697; perhaps later, around 702; or
perhaps late in Wittiza's reign. What is almost universally accepted
is that it was an isolated incident connected with other military
activities (probably against the
Arabs or Berbers) and not an attempt
to reestablish the lost province of Spania. As Professor Thompson
states, "We know nothing whatever of the context of this strange
Fredegar; John Michael Wallace-Hadrill, trans. (1960). The Fourth Book
of the Chronicle of
Fredegar with its Continuations. Connecticut:
Jordanes; Charles C. Mierow, trans. The Origin and Deeds of the
Bachrach, B. S. (1973). "A Reassessment of Visigothic Jewish Policy,
589–711". The American Historical Review. 78 (1): 11–34.
Collins, R. (2004). Visigothic Spain, 409–711. Oxford:
Grierson, Philip (1955). "Una ceca bizantina en españa". Numario
Hispánico. 4 (8): 305–14.
Helal Ouriachen, El Housin (2009). La ciudad bética durante la
Antigüedad Tardía: Persistencias y mutaciones locales en relación
con la realidad urbana del Mediterraneo y del Atlántico. Granada:
Universidad de Granada.
Thompson, E. A. (1969). The Goths in Spain. Oxford: Clarendon. Cf. the
appendix "The Byzantine Province", pp. 320–34.
Vallejo Girvés, Margarita (2012).
Hispania y Bizancio: Una relación
desconocida. Madrid: Akal.
Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. (1967). The Barbarian West, 400–1000 (3rd
ed.). London: Hutchison.
Wood, Jamie (2010). "Defending Byzantine Spain: Frontiers and
Diplomacy". Early Medieval Europe. 18 (3): 292–319.
^ Dates vary. Some (Collins) put the date of landing as early as 551,
other (Wallace-Hadrill) as late as 554. The conquest of the last
vestiges of the province has been dated to 625 (Collins) or 629 (W-H).
^ Michael Kulikowski, Late Roman
Spain and its Cities (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).
^ Thompson, p. 16. The Byzantines attacked on Sunday, while the Goths
had laid down their arms to honour the Sabbath.
^ Isidore of Seville, History of the Goths, translation by Guido
Donini and Gordon B. Ford, Isidore of Seville's History of the Goths,
Vandals, and Suevi, 2nd revised ed. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1970),
chapter 47, pp. 21f.
^ Collins, pp. 47–49.
^ Jordanes, Getica, translated by Charles Christopher Mierow, The
Gothic History of Jordanes, 1915 (Cambridge: Speculum Historiale,
1966), LVIII, 303, p. 138.
^ O'Donnell, "Liberius the Patrician", Traditio 37 (1981), p. 67.
^ Thompson, p. 325, based on Isidore.
^ Collins, p. 49.
^ Long misidentified as Sigüenza.
^ Collins, p. 49, considers it unlikely that Córdoba could have been
in revolt for so long without coming under Byzantine rule. Thompson,
p. 322, sees the lack of primary evidence for Byzantine government in
any of the aforementioned cities as conclusive that the Byzantines
never could have held Córdoba directly.
^ Thompson, p. 331. The gate was augmented with towers, porticoes, and
a vaulted chamber.
^ Thompson, p. 330.
^ Collins, pp. 219–20.
^ Collins, pp. 52–55.
^ Fredegar, IV, vii.
^ Thompson, p. 249.
Late Roman provinces (4th–7th centuries AD)
As found in the Notitia Dignitatum. Provincial administration reformed
and dioceses established by Diocletian, c. 293. Permanent
praetorian prefectures established after the death of Constantine I.
Empire permanently partitioned after 395. Exarchates of Ravenna and
Africa established after 584. After massive territorial losses in the
7th century, the remaining provinces were superseded by the theme
system in c. 640–660, although in Asia Minor and parts of
Greece they survived under the themes until the early 9th century.
Western Empire (395–476)
Diocese of Gaul
Alpes Poeninae et Graiae
Diocese of Vienne1
Diocese of Spain
Diocese of the Britains
Diocese of Suburbicarian Italy
Apulia et Calabria
Lucania et Bruttii
Tuscia et Umbria
Diocese of Annonarian Italy
Liguria et Aemilia
Venetia et Istria
Diocese of Africa2
Africa proconsularis (Zeugitana)
Diocese of Pannonia3
Eastern Empire (395–c. 640)
Diocese of Dacia
Diocese of Macedonia
Macedonia II Salutaris
of the East
Diocese of Thrace5
Diocese of Asia5
Diocese of Pontus5
Armenia III (536)
Armenia IV (536)
Galatia II Salutaris5
Diocese of the East5
Palaestina III Salutaris
Phoenice II Libanensis
Syria II Salutaris
Diocese of Egypt5
Quaestura exercitus (536)
1 Later the Septem Provinciae
2 Re-established after reconquest by the Eastern Empire in 534 as
the separate Prefecture of Africa
3 Later the Diocese of Illyricum
4 Placed under the
Quaestura exercitus in 536
5 Affected (i.e. boundaries modified, abolished or renamed) by
Justinian I's administrative reorganization in 534–536
Spain in the Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
Kingdom of the Suebi
Province of Spania
Duchy of Cantabria
Duchy of Vasconia
Caliphate of Córdoba
Emirate of Granada
Kingdom of Asturias
Kingdom of Asturias → Kingdom of León
Kingdom of Galicia
County of Castile
Kingdom of Castile
Kingdom of Castile →
Crown of Castile
Crown of Castile (Castile-León)
Marca Hispanica →
County of Barcelona
County of Barcelona → Principality of Catalonia
Kingdom of Viguera
Kingdom of Pamplona
Kingdom of Pamplona → Kingdom of Navarre
County of Aragon
County of Aragon →
Kingdom of Aragon
Kingdom of Aragon → Crown of Aragon
Kingdom of Majorca
Kingdom of Valencia
Monarchs of al-Andalus
Monarchs of Aragon
Monarchs of Asturias
Monarchs of Barcelona
Monarchs of Castile
Monarchs of Galicia
Monarchs of Granada
Monarchs of León
Monarchs of Majorca
Monarchs of Navarre
Monarchs of Valencia
Coordinates: 36°43′00″N 4°25′00″W / 36.7167°N