In the 8th century, nearly all the Iberian peninsula, which had been under Visigothic rule, was quickly conquered, by Muslims (the Moors), who had crossed over from North Africa, as part of the expansion of the Umayyad empire. Only three small counties in the north kept their independence: Asturias, Navarra and Aragon, which eventually became kingdoms.

Very soon the Muslim emirate split into small kingdoms. Christian and Muslim kingdoms fought and allied among themselves, with the Christians driving the Moorish forces out of the northern most parts of the peninsula within a few decades. The Muslim taifa kings competed in patronage of the arts, and the Jewish population of Iberia set the basis of Sephardic culture. Much of Spain's distinctive art originates from this seven-hundred-year period, and many Arabic words made their way into Spanish and Catalan, and from them to other European languages.

The Moorish capital was Córdoba, in the southern portion of Spain known as Andalucía. During the time of Arab occupation, most of the Iberian peninsula was in relative peace, with large populations of Jews, Christians and Muslims living in close quarters, and at its peak some non-Muslims were apppointed to high offices. At its best it produced great architecture, art, and great Muslim and Jewish scholars played a great part in reviving the study of ancient Greek philosophy, making their own important contributions to it, and becoming one of the most important ways by which these studies were revived in Europe, with historic consequences. However there were also restrictions and imposts on non-Muslims, which tended to grow after the death of Al-Hakam III in 976, and worsened after the fall of Al-Andalus in 1031. Later waves of stricter Muslim groups from north Africa even led to some persecutions of non-Muslims, forcing some (including some Muslim scholars) to seek safety in the then still relatively tolerant city of Toledo after its Christian conquest in 1085.

The long, convoluted period of expansion of the Christian kingdoms, beginning in 722, only eleven years after the Moorish invasion, is called the Reconquista. As early as 739, the northwestern region of Galicia, which hosted one of the most important centres of medieval Christian pilgrimage, Santiago de Compostela, had been liberated from Moorish occupation by forces from neighbouring Asturias. The 1085 conquest of the central city of Toledo had largely brought to an end the reconquest of the northern half of Iberia. The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 heralded the collapse, within a few decades, of the great Moorish strongholds, such as Seville and Córdoba, in the south-west. By the middle of the thirteenth century most of the Iberian peninsula had been reconquered, leaving only Granada as a small tributary state in the south. It ended in 1492, when Isabella and Ferdinand captured the southern city of Granada, the last Moorish city in Spain. The Treaty of Granada guaranteed religious toleration toward Muslims while Jews were expelled that year. A 1499 Muslim uprising was crushed and was followed by the first of the expulsions of Muslims, in 1502, from Isabel's and Ferdinand's new, combined, Christian kingdom. The year 1492 was also marked by the discovery of the New World. The queen and the king funded the trip of Columbus.

 

Until the 15th century, Castile and Léon, Aragon and Navarre were independent states, with independent languages, monarchs, armies and, in the case of Aragon and Castile, two empires: the former with one in the Mediterranean and the latter with a rapidly growing one in the Americas.

By 1512, most of the kingdoms of present-day Spain were politically unified, although not as a modern, centralized state (in contemporary minds, " Spain" was a geographic term meaning Iberian Peninsula, not the present-day state called Spain). The grandson of Isabella and Ferdinand, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor but called in Spain Carlos I, extended his crown to other places in Europe and the rest of the world. The unification of Iberia was complete when Charles V's son, Philip II, became King of Portugal in 1580, as well as of the other Iberian Kingdoms (collectively known as " Spain" at that time).

During the 16th century, under the reigns of Charles V and Philip II, Spain became the most powerful nation in Europe. The Spanish Empire covered most territories of South and Central America, Mexico, some of Eastern Asia (including The Philippines), the Iberian peninsula (including Portugal and its empire from 1580), southern Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands.

It was also the wealthiest nation in Europe, but the uncontrolled influx of goods and minerals from Spain's colonies in the Americas resulted in rampant inflation and economic depression. Religious wars supported by the Spanish crown, especially in the Netherlands, further burdened the empire's economy.

 
     

 

 
Cavalry
Spanish General
The Spanish General rides with a small complement of Caballo Ligero. It is best to keep him from harms way, though he may be able to provide the momentum to turn the tide of battle at the right moment.
Caballo Ligero
Spain had problems maintaining large numbers of heavy cavalry. Although officially the strength of the companies in King’s service should have been in excess of 2000, often there were no more than 1000 or so. In addition, their horses were considered inferior, and the riders preferred lighter equipment as opposed to the heavy cavalry of other countries. To minimize these deficiencies, Spanish rulers used many foreign lancers, mainly from their possessions in Italy and Burgundy, and some from Germany. In addition, to make up the numbers lighter cavalry, contingents of grandees, nobles and prelates were also used. Not quite up to the standards of heavy cavalry in equipment , these were known as the caballo ligero. They often wore only three quarters armour of lighter construction then the proper armour of the heavy man-at-arms, and a lighter lance than what was the norm. They served in Spain, in the New world and in the Italian wars, since the ‘proper’ heavy cavalry was either too expensive, or unavailable, or simply inefficient.

Celadas

As the Moorish threat disappeared after the fall of Granada, so did the famous jinetes cavalry. Celadas were the next step in the evolution of light cavalry. A successor to the famous jinetes, the celadas evolved from the experiences of the Italian wars. Armed with a variety of weapons, including spears, lances, carbines and pistols, celadas would form independent squadrons (unlike jinetes who were assigned as support to heavy cavalry companies) and range far and wide ahead of the army. The adoption of firearms made them much more useful to army commanders.


Lanceros

The lighter cavalry who tended to replace the men-at-arms later in the 16 th century were the lancers. Found in other armies (English demi-lances, for example) they were particularly characteristic of the Spanish, and continued to carry their lances through the first half of the 17th Century (though the lance itself became lighter). They wore three-quarter armour, open helmets, and rode unarmoured horses. Span always had problems in maintaining a large number of heavy cavalry, and their horses were considered inferior to mounts bred in Italy and Germany. The lanceros were a cheap, cost effective way of getting more riders to the battle to do the job of true heavy cavalry.

Up to 1512, most Spanish lighter cavalry were incorporated in the lances of the men-at-arms; they would have operated separately, and thereafter were organized separately, normally in cornets of 100 (up to 500 for a general's cornet), which could be grouped in provisional Trozos of 300 to 600, or in Tercios of 500 or more; these again could be grouped in regiments or brigades.


Infantry
Arcabuceros

At the beginning of the Italian wars, one in every 10 soldiers was armed with some kind of firearm, while every third combatant was a heavy cavalryman. At the end of this, almost half a century long conflict, the ratio was exactly the opposite. The majority of these newly established gunpowder units were arquebusiers.

Arquebus was a mid-sized gun of a matchlock type (i.e. by pressing the firing mechanism a lit match would touch the powder in the touch-hole), with modest range of up 100 meters and quite inaccurate. It was however, cheap, easy to produce in large batches, and simple to train in its use to large armies of draftees. At short range and when fired in volleys, properly protected by pike block, the penetrating power of the lead ball could stop a cavalry charge of even the heavies cavalry. The effect it had on unprotected infantry was simply dreadful. The advent of gunpowder weapons meant that armies became bigger, more professional and able to conduct complex maneuvers. In other words, wars were no longer affairs of honour and chivalry, but a means to an end, and all that mattered was victory.

While these new weapons were easy to use, proper tactics were difficult to master and only permanent professional armies could use these new weapons to its full potential. And Spain was the only state with the kind of financial backing (derived from the New world’s seemingly inexhaustible gold and silver mines) that would permit it to keep its armies permanently employed. The famous tercios were the fear and envy of every ruler in Europe, with the possible exception of the Ottoman Sultan.
Emerging in the early 1530's, these were a new step in infantry organization, for the Spanish or any other European army—the first large permanent infantry units, both administrative and tactical, with territorial titles (the earliest were Lombardy, Naples, and Sicily) and enduring traditions and esprit de corps—they soon acquired nick-names too, such as "The lnvincibles" and "The Immortals". With the earlier Corunelas, they were the ancestors of all later regiments. They were created by amalgamating existing Corunelas in threes (it may be this which gave rise to the name "Tercio", but it is likelier that it came from their resemblance to one of the three battles of earlier armies). This gave an organization of 12 companies of 258 men each, two being of arcabuceros only, the others of both arcabuceros and pikemen, giving a roughly 50:50 ratio of pikes to shot (rather advanced for its time). More arquebusiers were present in Spanish field armies than those of its opponents, giving them more firepower. Arcabuceros were deployed on the wings of a pike block, in mangas, but they could also form behind the block or in front or even serve on a detached duty. Strict discipline, wealth of experience, competent officers and flexible system all combined to make these soldiers the best of their kind in Europe.

Corseletes

The main offensive power of a Renaissance army was its pike block. Similar to Greek phalanx, these masses of men and steel would present a wall of sharp points to an enemy, and slowly, at the push of a pike, would advance forward, literally over the dead bodies of their foes. Unlike classical phalanx, they preferred to form up in large squares, rather than in a line.

Of all the Renaissance armies, the Spanish one was the most feared and respected. Due to a lucky turn of events, Spain was in a possession of a seemingly inexhaustible source of gold and silver with which to pay its soldiers – the New World. And due to the extent of its empire and the self appointed goal of bringing together all of the Catholic countries of Europe under the rule of one noble family, the Habsburgs, Spain was in a state of almost continuous war. This meant that Spanish armies were always fighting, honing their abilities, organization and tactics. Under the leadership of some of the most able generals of the period, Spanish armies attained a remarkable level of professionalism, unmatched until the 18 th century and the first national armies.

In addition to the rather lightly armoured Piqueros, Corseletes were a standard component of any Spanish army during the first half of the 16 th century. They were a more heavily armoured version of basic pike armed infantry. They wore a full cuirass, a helmet and full arm plate. Their role in a battle was to take up position in the front ranks, with lighter units of Piqueros and Picas Secas forming up behind them.


Mosqueteros

Muskets were long-barreled versions of the arquebuses. Longer barrels (up to 1.5 meters) gave them longer reach and higher muzzle velocity, but it also meant lower rate of fire, and much heavier weapons, requiring the use of rest to properly aim the gun. Many soldiers were wary of such cumbersome weapons, and the musket took a long time to be included in the armies of Renaissance. Even then, it was mostly an addition to the already established arquebus, and rarely formed more than 10% of the entire infantry force. At the end of the 16 th century armourers began making improved armourers designed to be shot-proof at extended ranges. The revived heavy cavalry, the cuirassiers, were much more resistant to the arquebus, and the musket finally came into its own. By 17 th century, musketeers formed more than 50% of the infantry.

Even by the standards of the 16 th century, Spanish commanders were very reluctant to include musketeers in their armies, preferring much handier arcabuceros. Consequently, the numbers of mosqueteros remained small. Their improved firepower, however, makes them very useful when facing heavily armoured opponents.


Picas Secas
Pike blocks were an effective way of fighting, but pikes themselves tended to be very long. This made them unwieldy to use, and effective use was only possible in large formations. Since the use of heavy cavalry was in a downward spiral ever since the end of the Italian wars, such long pikes were not necessary. Spaniards therefore developed a shorter pike and armed a proportion of their men with it (for example, during the ill-fated Armada campaign in 1588 they provided 10 000 long and 6000 short pikes for their soldiers). The shorter pike was handier in combat, giving these men better melee value, but also made them more vulnerable to cavalry charges and less capable in defense.

Piqueros

The main offensive power of a Renaissance army was its pike block. Similar to Greek phalanx, these masses of men and steel would present a wall of sharp points to an enemy, and slowly, at the push of a pike, would advance forward, literally over the dead bodies of their foes. Unlike classical phalanx, they preferred to form up in large squares, rather than in a line.

Of all the Renaissance armies, the Spanish one was the most feared and respected. Due to a lucky turn of events, Spain was in a possession of a seemingly inexhaustible source of gold and silver with which to pay its soldiers – the New World. And due to the extent of its empire and the self appointed goal of bringing together all of the Catholic countries of Europe under the rule of one noble family, the Habsburgs, Spain was in a state of almost continuous war. This meant that Spanish armies were always fighting, honing their abilities, organization and tactics. Under the leadership of some of the most able generals of the period, Spanish armies attained a remarkable level of professionalism, unmatched until the 18 th century and the first national armies.

The main punch of these armies was provided by these reliable pikemen, who themselves were a hotchpotch of Spaniards, Italians, Wallons and Germans. Wearing a morion helmet, and with only a breast and backplate for protection, they were the most numerous type of soldiers in their armies, wielding long pikes and the superb Toledo blades with equal skill. These are, simply put, the Spartans of the Renaissance.


Rodeleros

Drawing from the experiences of light Aragonese infantry, during the initial phases of the Italian wars Spain deployed large numbers of sword-and-buckler troops in support of their pike blocks. The initial ratio was 2:2:1 (pikemen:arquebusiers:sword-and-buckler troops). Their role was to rush enemy infantry formations between volleys, and using their superior mobility relative to the pikemen, and their superior armour when compared to the firearm infantry, break up their lines and bring victory at the point of a sword. Using good quality armour, complete with a metal shield, and the finest swords of the era, these soldiers proved their mettle in the vicious fighting of the Italian wars, from which the infantry emerged as the dominant arm of any army, and the Spanish tercios enjoyed the reputation of the best infantry in the world.

By the mid 16 th century, as pike formations became more organized and more flexible, and as arquebuisers improved their rate of fire and range, rodeleros outlived their usefulness. They were subsequently replaced by arquebusiers – after expending their ammo, they would join in the general melee, reflecting the traditional tactics of English longbow archers of almost a century and a half ago.

Mercenary Units
 
Late Heavy Halberdiers

A halberd was a mean looking weapon, ranging in length from 1.8 to 2.5 meters. At the end of it was a combination of a pike, an axe and hammer. Such an elaborate design enabled the wielder to chop, impale or pierce the armour of his opponent, or to hold them at a safe distance.

Historically, the first infantry to start using the halberd on a massive scale were the Swiss. They soon learned however, that while useful and practical in a melee, the halberd armed infantry could not hold against heavy cavalry. In the mid 15 th century, they started using pikes instead of halberd, while at the same time still retaining the halberd for a smaller proportion of their army. This proved a winning combination – the pikemen would attack from the front and pin the enemy formation, while the halberdiers acted as flanking forces, rearguards or grouped around the battle standard.

Unlike their lighter brethren, these soldiers are well armoured. Their role in combat is accordingly modified – instead of acting as a fast flanking force, they are often thrown against the front of a pike block. The idea is that they will disrupt the neat lines of an enemy block, relying on their heavy armour and superior weapon handling, making it that much easier for the follow up force of pikemen to rout the enemy from the field.


Late Light Halberdiers

A halberd was a mean looking weapon, ranging in length from 1.8 to 2.5 meters. At the end of it was a combination of a pike, an axe and hammer. Such an elaborate design enabled the wielder to chop, impale or pierce the armour of his opponent, or to hold them at a safe distance.

Historically, the first infantry to start using the halberd on a massive scale were the Swiss. They soon learned however, that while useful and practical in a melee, the halberd armed infantry could not hold against heavy cavalry. In the mid 15 th century, they started using pikes instead of halberd, while at the same time still retaining the halberd for a smaller proportion of their army. This proved a winning combination – the pikemen would attack from the front and pin the enemy formation, while the halberdiers acted as flanking forces, rearguards or grouped around the battle standard.

Light halberdiers, as their name suggest, wear no armour except the heavily padded clothing characteristic of the Renaissance (which could take the edge of sword cuts), and rely on speed to get into the thick of things.