Is Catalonia a nation? Part 1

Photos were made during my travels in Catalonia

Catalan fight for independence

This series of articles is not “for” or “against” the independence of Catalonia. What I want is to run through the facts and leave that decision to you. Iberian peninsula has a very rich history and it is not a surprise that a region like Catalonia has all the reasons to claim their rights for independence, but it is important to keep in mind that Spain is formed from many ancient kingdoms and in the end, there is no good or bad, everyone is just playing a game for their own benefit.

What defines a nation?

The most used law dictionary in the US ‘Black’s Law Dictionary’ states:
“A people, or aggregation of men, existing in the form of an organized jural society, inhabiting a distinct portion of the earth, speaking the same language, using the same customs, possessing historic continuity, and distinguished from other like groups by their racial origin and characteristics, and generally, but not necessarily, living under the same government and sovereignty.”

Origins of Catalan Language

206 BC during the Second Punic War, the Roman Republic seized the Carthaginian territories in the south and east of the Iberian Peninsula. After that Roman republic gradually extended and in 19 BC Augustus, the first Roman emperor annexed the whole Hispania to the Roman Empire. Hispania was the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula. It was divided into three regions and the northern territory was called Hispania Tarraconensis. It is often disputed whether it is more like Ibero-Romance or Gallo-Romance languages, however, Catalan language, just like Castilian Spanish or Occitan language from southern France, developed from the Vulgar Latin spoken in the Roman Empire.

Catalan genetic ancestry

To this day, Jewish and North African ancestry of the people living in the Catalonia and Basque regions remains relatively low compared to the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. It might seem self-evident as North Africans invaded the
Iberian Peninsula from the south and north remained less touched by their culture, but in fact, the southernmost region of Spain — Andalusia has relatively low North African population as well. This is due to various relocations of the Moriscos (North African descents who converted to Christianity) from their homeland. Many of them were expelled to the northwest, where we can find higher North African ancestry based on genes. It is harder to find the reason for the Jewish population, but Catalonia, Gascony, and NE Castile have lower ancestry compared to other regions in the Iberian Peninsula.

Catalan history

Marca Hispanica

After decades of fighting between Frankish Empire and expanding Umayyad Caliphate, in 795 CE Charlemagne establishes the Marca Hispanica, a military buffer zone between the two powers. The city of Barcelona was conquered by the Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious in 801 and the county of Barcelona remained incorporated into the Frankish Empire even after the death of Charlemagne in 814, when the region falls into a scene of revolts. In 817, Pamplona, led by Basque lord Eneko Arista detaches from the Marca Hispanica and soon was followed by Aragon (820).

The first Count of Barcelona

In 801 Bera was declared the first Count of the Barcelona and remained such until 820 when he was exiled for trying to adapt peaceful policies with Muslim ruled An-Andalus. Even though after that the rule of the County of Barcelona went to the Frankish nobles, it didn’t take long for the local nobility to regain trust of the King and Sunifred I was declared the Count of Barcelona in 844. His son Wilfred the Hairy was the last ruler of the region appointed by the Frankish King.

Origins of Catalonia flag

The Senyera, a yellow flag with four red stripes on it, used not only in Catalonia, but in many regions including Valencia, Aragon and Balearic Islands. A legend tells that in a battle with Moors, the Count of the Barcelona, Wilfred the Hairy, was deadly wounded and in his deathbed, he asked his ally Frankish King, the son of Louis the Pious, Charles the Bald for a coat of arms. The King then put four of his fingers into the Count’s open wound and drew four stripes on a golden shield.

The Estelada

The flag for Catalonia independence movement is basically the Senyera with a blue triangle and a single star on it.

De facto Independence of County of Barcelona

With years the Counts of Barcelona had strengthened their authority and distanced themselves from Frankish influence. In 985 Muslims of Al-Andalus attack and burn Barcelona. The Count of Barcelona, Borrell II takes refuge in Monserrat mountains, where he waits for help from the Frankish king, which never comes. In 988 when the Carolingian dynasty was replaced by the Capetian dynasty, Borrell II never went to swear for allegiance to the new Frankish king. This is considered de facto independence of the County of Barcelona.

De jure Independence of County of Barcelona

In 1258 Louis IX of France and James I of Aragon signs the treaty of Corbeil. By it, former Frankish kingdom, now France, abandon their ancient claims to Catalonia and Roussillon. In exchange Crown of Aragon (Catalan-Aragonese kingdom) renounces it claims to territories in the south of France.


Author: Mantas Ališauskas
Photography: Mantas Ališauskas
Design: Mantas Ališauskas
Blog: Connecting the Dots




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Alis Monte

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