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European Kingdoms

Aquitani Tribes


Incorporating Vasconia, Gascony, & Basque Country

Today's Basques of northern Spain have their historical origins in the tribes of the Aquitani. Akin in some ways to the pre-Roman Iberian tribes, they straddled the Pyrenees by the later centuries BC. The prevailing language for the Aquitani tribes themselves, from at least the late pre-historic period to the arrival of the Romans, was an early form of the pre-Indo-European Basque language, with the result that the Aquitani are sometimes referred to as proto-Basques.

One reason for the language of the Aquitani being important is because Basque is now the last surviving non-Indo-European language in Western Europe, and one which has had some effect on the languages around it, including Spanish and, to a lesser extent, French. Prior to the twentieth century the Basques were frequently linked with the Iberians, but this theory was fully abandoned following the release of work by Bosch-Gimpera in 1925, and then even more so thanks to Caro Baroja, as confirmed by Gerhard Bähr.

Today's Basques who have descended from the tribe of the Vascones live farther to the west than did their ancestors of the Roman period, in the region known as Pais Vasco (Euskadi), but it is the Vascones language which has been adjudged to be the basis of the modern Basque language. Major Basque-dominated cities include Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Vitoria-Gasteiz.

The mainstream view today is that Vascones territory shows signs of archaeological continuity since the Aurignacian period. Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza states: '...the Basques once inhabited a much larger territory than today... During the last Palaeolithic period the Basque region extended over almost the entire area [in which] ancient cave paintings have been found.

[Clues show] that Basque descends from a language [which was] spoken 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, during the first occupation of [modern] France by [Homo sapiens]... The artists [in] these caves would have spoken a language of the first, pre-agricultural Europeans, from which modern Basque is derived'.

According to Francisco Villar Liébana, the Basque language only began to spread outwards into today's Basque Country once the Romans secured control of Iberia and Gaul, and especially during the confused and chaotic fifth and sixth centuries AD. An analysis of local place names supports the idea that there was a late infiltration of population from Aquitani lands into the Basque Country. This would easily explain the almost complete absence of ancient, Vascones-based place names.

Between the third to twelfth centuries, and thanks to the Vascones, the Aquitani region was better known as Wasconia or Vasconia, a toponym which provided the name of Gascony in south-western France. Relatively autonomous under Roman dominion and after the formation of Novempopulania, the Basque desire for autonomy resurfaced under the Visigoths and the Franks with the creation, under guardianship, of the duchy of Vasconia (early Gascony, within the greater duchy of Aquitaine), or in association with the Vascons and Vasconia.

Today's Basques call themselves Eskualdunak, meaning 'those who possess the Eskuar', with Eskuara (or Euskera, Euskara, or even Uskara) being the language of the Basques. The Basque homeland is referred to as Euskal Herria.

Pyrenees National Park in France

(Information by Peter Kessler, Trish Wilson, and John De Cleene, with additional information from Diccionario vasco–español–francés, Resurreción María Azkue (two-volume, trilingual dictionary, 1905), from Hauta-lanerako euskal hiztegia, Ibon Sarasola (Gipuzkoako Kutxa, 1990), from Mini hiztegia euskara-euskara, Ibon Sarasola (Lur, Editorial S, 1996), from Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400-1000, Roger Collins (Palgrave Macmillan, 1983), from Alphonso and Spain (Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, Cambridge (England), 1910), from Poland: A Historical Atlas, Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski (Dorset Press, 1987), from Spain: A History, Raymond Carr (Oxford University Press, 2000), from Times Atlas of World History, Geoffrey Barraclough (Ed, Maplewood, New Jersey, 1979), and from External Links: the Etymological Dictionary of Basque, R L Trask (available in PDF format via the Etymological Dictionary, Max Wheeler (Ed, PDF), and Buber.net, and Aquitania (University of California), and Hand of Irulegi (The Guardian), and Picasso's Guernica still screams the truth about war (The Guardian), and Medieval art in Spain's Basque Country (EL PAÍS).)


The situation in Aquitainia in the first half of the sixth century is unclear. The Visigoths may have retained portions of it after being thrown out of Toulouse by the Franks. They have probably battled against Frankish vassals to see who could secure the region.

In the end it is the Franks who win, with now-Frankish Aquitaine first being confirmed as a possession in this year when a duke is appointed to govern it. Gascony is seemingly part of this domain, although it may not yet be under full control.

Map of Western Europe at the death of Clovis in AD 511
The founder of the Merovingian Frankish kingdom was Clovis, who followed an aggressive policy of conquest to build up the kingdom over much of modern France, but his death in 511 saw his realm chopped up into several smaller kingdoms (click or tap on map to view full sized)


The independent Autrigones state is conquered by its Varduli neighbours. Ultimately whatever is left of it is destroyed or absorbed by the Vascones. This period is poorly-known and little documented by what remains of the civilised world, although the Vascones seem largely to have abandoned their towns in favour of a wilder lifestyle.


According to the historian, Adolf Schulten, the main Vascones base had been in the valley of the Ebro. It is from here that they apparently begin to spread across northern Iberia and then across the Pyrenees into Aquitaine in this year, extending as far northwards as the River Garonne, and giving their name to the region in the form of La Gascuña (Vasconia or Guasconia), or Gascony.


A separate duchy is created in Gascony, probably out of Aquitaine's territory. This duchy of 'Vasconia' has at its core the former tribal Vascones people who continually exhibit a desire for autonomy.

612 - 631

The Visigoth kings Sisebut (612-621) and Suinthila (621-631) campaign against the Basques. Some Basques migrate into southern Aquitaine, which is part of the Frankish kingdom.

Coin of Charibert II
Two sides of a coin which was issued during the relatively brief reign of Charibert II of Aquitaine - a younger son of Chlothar II by his junior wife, Sichilde - who died mysteriously in 632, very soon to be followed by his infant son, Chilperic


Dagobert I swiftly secures Neustria from his base in Austrasia on his father's death, preventing his half-brother Charibert II from gaining it. Instead, Charibert is given Aquitaine, which includes Agen, Cahors, Perigueux, and Saintes. In addition to this he already holds possessions in Gascony. Charibert is the first known ruler in Aquitaine since 592, and the region's first king.


Dagobert I of the Franks leads an invasion force into Zaragoza (Saragossa) in the Vascones territory of Iberia to support Sisenand of the Visigoths in his revolt against King Swintilla. The combined resistance against Swintilla is successful.

635 - 636

Perhaps having seen enough of the Vascones in 632 to understand what opposition he might be facing, Dagobert I of the Franks now invades Vasconia. In 636 he seeks the oath of loyalty from those Vascones who are in the service of the Saxon duke of Bordeaux, Aighina.

Roman bridge at Albi
Toulouse was a Roman city until AD 418, but even a century and-a-half of barbarian rule would not have erased the very strong Roman appearance of the city, with a similar effect being visible in nearby Albi, pictured here

653 - 658

After Recdeswinth succeeds Chindaswind (Chindasuinth) as Visigothic king, Froila, a would-be usurper in north-eastern Iberia, challenges Recdeswinth's ability to rule despite the king's earlier association as joint ruler.

Froila's rebellion lasts four years. He seeks the help of the Basques who, in 654, ravage the Ebro valley. By 658, they have expanded towards the south-west of the Pyrenees to occupy Navarre and the eastern half of the northern coast of Iberia, territory which had belonged to the Visigothic kingdom.


Once again, the situation in the south of Francia is uncertain at this time. Felix becomes duke of Aquitaine in 660, but it is not certain that he succeeds the previous duke or whether there is a break. Felix may be in the service of the Franks, but he may also be independent.

The Aquitani of Vasconia may be his subjects, but they may equally be his allies. His territory encompasses Bordeaux, Narbonensis (including Toulouse), Novempopulania, and Vasconia (of the Vascones), but does not reach as far north as the Loire.

Pyrenees National Park
The Pyrenees National Park on the French side of the western-central Pyrenees reveals a level of lush terrain and grazing opportunities which can surprise anyone who thinks of the range as being pure, uninhabitable mountains

710 - 711

Ceuta, and the Pillars of Hercules, which until very recently had fallen under the control of the Eastern Roman empire via Carthage, are apparently turned over to the Islamic empire by 'Count Julian', as the empire prepares its invasion of Visigothic Iberia. King Roderic is campaigning against the Basques when he hears the news, and is forced to break off.

711 - 718

The Visigoth kingdom is overrun by the Moorish Islamic invasion of the Umayyads, at the battles of Jerez de la Frontera and Ecija. Cordova is captured (711), as is Seville and Toledo (712). The Battle of Segoyuela sees Saragossa captured (in 713, capital of the Vascones), and Valencia falls (714).

Following the defeat of King Roderic, the Visigothic Count Theodemir (or Tudmir), takes control of south-eastern Iberia and reaches an agreement with the invaders. Thanks to this, Christians are largely unmolested, and other parts of Iberia soon capitulate on the same basis. Umayyad Iberia now includes much of the peninsula's population under its sway.

In opposition to this occupation, the small Asturian kingdom is founded in the unconquered and mountainous north-west soon afterwards (718), to which the Basques are appended, although the extent of their territory is not known.

Map of the Visigoth & Suevi kingdoms in AD 470
In AD 469/470 the Visigoths expanded their kingdom to its largest extent, reaching Nantes in the north and Cadiz in the south, but it was not to last - with the accession of Clovis of the Salian Franks, the Visigoths had found an implacable opponent (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.737 - 740

The pocket state of Navarre is founded no later than AD 737 as a Frankish march county up alongside the western Pyrenees. It is isolated from early contact with the Islamic invaders, especially after the Umayyad governor of Pamplona is kicked out around 740.

768 - 769

After leading an abortive uprising against increasingly powerful Carolingian rule in Francia, Hunald II flees to Gascony and seeks protection from Lupus II. Although Lupus is opposed to the young Frankish kings, Charlemagne and Carloman, he is also opposed to Hunald's family, so Lupus hands him over.

768 - 781?

Lupus II

Duke of Gascony.

778 - 781

It is unclear whether Lupus II is able to extend his authority from Gascony to also govern Aquitaine, but he certainly opposes the direct Carolingian rule by Charlemagne which commences in 778. Possibly against the wishes of Lupus, the duchy of Aquitaine is governed by minor members of the Carolingian dynasty as the junior 'Kingdom of Aquitaine'.

Saint-Etienne Cathedral, Limoges
Under the Carolingian kings of Aquitaine, Limoges became much more important, serving as one of several capitals in the north of Aquitaine

801 - 812

Sancho Lopiz

Duke of Gascony.


After Louis I, king of Aquitaine, suppresses a revolt in Pamplona, he creates the marcher county of Aragon in the valley of the River Aragon and as the first count he selects the Basque noble, Asnar Galíndez, the dominant commander of the Aragonese.


Following the death of Count Borrell of Osona, overlord of Andorra, Osona is granted to Rampon, count of Barcelona, while Borrell's lesser territories of Urgel (which includes Andorra) and Cerdanya pass to the Basque noble, Aznar I Galíndez of Aragon, following his overthrow and exile from that county.


Before his death, Louis 'the Pious', who is also duke of Alemannia, promulgates the Ordinatio Imperii in 817, proclaiming, despite the ancient Frankish custom of dividing territory between surviving sons, that his eldest son, Lothar, will be sole beneficiary of the imperial dignity and sole inheritor of the empire.

By means of this he hopes to avoid the fragmentation of territory which so weakened the Merovingians. The new idea proves too much, provoking rebellions and rivalries between all four of Louis' sons which last until after the king's death.

One of the sons, Pepin of Aquitaine, has already predeceased his father, while Enneco (Inigo) Arista takes the opportunity to found the independent kingdom of Pamplona.

Map of the Frankish empire at the Treaty of Verdun AD 843
King Louis 'the Pious' of the Frankish empire attempted to leave the empire intact for his eldest son, Lothar, but the others rebelled at the idea. The treaty of Verdun in AD 843 confirmed the official division of the empire between Charlemagne's three surviving grandsons (click or tap on map to view full sized)


The boundaries are drawn between Navarre and the county of Castile. What is to become the Basque Country now falls within Navarre. The twelfth century reign of Sancho VII 'the Strong' will be the last in four hundred years of Basque monarchies which had begun with that of Eneko de Aritza of Pamplona in 840.


Having conquered the Iberian part of Navarre, King Ferdinand V of Aragon makes peace with Louis XII of France and in the treaty agrees to respect the sovereignty of what is now French Navarre.

Under the statutes of Navarre which are registered in the cortes of Burgos, the statutory system of the 'independent' Basque regions now begins to develop. Basque assertions of autonomy are based on these agreements.


The Basques surrender following the First Carlist War in Spain and are promised that their statutes will be respected. Nevertheless, the Basque judiciary and legislature are abolished.

Spain's American colonies declare independence in 1811
Thanks to France's occupation of Spain during the Napoleonic Wars, Spain's colonies in the Americas quickly took the opportunity to declare their independence


After four years, the Third Carlist War has seen Carlist forces capture much of Spain amid promises of a return to the old rule. These promises fail to be realised and, after a vigorous campaign by Alfonso XII, Charles (VII) goes into voluntary exile on 27 February 1876.

The Carlists also lay claim to be the rightful heirs of the French throne after 1883, while the defeated Basques suffer the imposition of the 'Law of Abolition of the Statutes' which removes any remaining autonomy for them. Basques are subject to taxation and compulsory service in the Spanish army. These measures lead to the rise of the Basque nationalist movement.

1931 - 1932

The 'Second Spanish Republic' grants autonomy to Catalonia. A referendum on Basque autonomy is soundly defeated by the nationalists in 1932, but a second referendum is overwhelmingly approved later that year, and the Basques of two provinces are granted autonomy.

General Franco
General Franco led a coup which triggered the Spanish Civil War, and three years of some of the most bitter fighting ever seen in a European conflict


The republican Popular Front government defeats the right wing National Front in elections in 1936, forming the new government. In July, General Francisco Franco and a combination of monarchists and conservatives initiate a coup d'etat which triggers the Spanish Civil War.

The Basques set up a short-lived independent republic of their own in Spain. The nationalist army and the German Condor Legion, which is practicing blitzkrieg ('lightning war') tactics, push back the Basque defences.


On 26 April 1937, the German Condor Legion bombs Guernica, the first time in history that a city is destroyed by aerial bombardment. On 18 June, Bilbao falls, and the northern front collapses. In August, the Spanish nationalists capture Santander, putting an end to the brief period of Basque independence.

A Basque government-in-exile is set up in Paris and will last until 1979. In the meantime, two surges of exiles, one in 1936 and one in 1937, sends Basques to Belgium, the UK, Switzerland, the USSR, France, Denmark, and Catalonia. In a third exodus, some 150,000 Basques leave Catalonia for France and then for the United States of America.

Guernica, by Picasso
In 1937 the Nazi German air force bombed the ancient city of Guernica in the hills of Spain's Basque region on behalf of the fascist side in the Spanish civil war, and with the attack taking more than sixteen hundred lives


Basque political parties form a coalition which coordinates with the government-in-exile to work toward independence. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union alters American emphasis so that it focuses on anti-communism rather than anti-fascism, which weakens the Basque cause against Spain's General Franco.


Basque nationalist groups merge to form ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, meaning 'Basque Homeland and Liberty'), which becomes the primary Basque liberation organisation. This will eventually be branded a terrorist organisation by many governments, especially after 1963 when Marxist ideas seem prevalent within ETA.


ETA begins to employ violent tactics to achieve its aims. A member opens fire on the Guarda Civil at a roadblock. Murders, kidnappings, torture, and other violent activities follow over the next years, part of a worldwide surge in terrorism-related acts.

Medieval women
Depictions of women inside the Church of the Assumption in Alaiza, not part of the official story which ignored the role played by women of the era, such as in the construction and management of churches which were built in the Romanesque style

1977 - 1978

The first democratic elections are held in the Basque Country in 1977. The elections exclude Navarre. In the following year a majority of Basques vote 'no' or abstain in a referendum on supporting the Spanish constitution.


The modern Basque Country is confirmed in terms of its constituent parts on 1 January 2017. The 'Northern Basque Country' (otherwise known as 'French Basque Country') forms the western part of the French department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques.

The larger and more heavily Basque-dominated 'Southern Basque Country' (or 'Hegoalde' in Basque, meaning 'the southern part') lies fully within Spain. This is frequently referred to as 'Spanish Basque Country' (País Vasco español in Spanish), although a strongly-centralist Spanish government refuses to allow too much in the way of autonomy in case it threatens the country's somewhat strained national unity.

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