Marca Hispanica

Last updated
The Spanish March and surrounding regions. Marca Hispanica Longnon 806.png
The Spanish March and surrounding regions.

The Marca Hispanica (Spanish : Marca Hispánica, Catalan : Marca Hispànica, Aragonese and Occitan : Marca Hispanica, Basque : Hispaniako Marka, French : Marche d'Espagne), also known as the March of Barcelona[ citation needed ], was a military buffer zone beyond the former province of Septimania, created by Charlemagne in 795 as a defensive barrier between the Umayyad Moors of Al-Andalus and the Frankish Carolingian Empire (Duchy of Gascony, the Duchy of Aquitaine and Carolingian Septimania).

Spanish language Romance language

Spanish or Castilian is a Romance language that originated in the Castile region of Spain and today has hundreds of millions of native speakers in the Americas and Spain. It is a global language and the world's second-most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese.

Catalan language Romance language

Catalan is a Western Romance language derived from Vulgar Latin and named after the medieval Principality of Catalonia, in northeastern modern Spain. It is the only official language of Andorra, and a co-official language of the Spanish autonomous communities of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Valencia. It also has semi-official status in the Italian commune of Alghero. It is also spoken in the eastern strip of Aragon, in some villages of Region of Murcia called Carche and in the Pyrénées-Orientales department of France. These territories are often called Països Catalans or "Catalan Countries".

Aragonese language Romance language

Aragonese is a Romance language spoken in several dialects by 10,000 to 30,000 people in the Pyrenees valleys of Aragon, Spain, primarily in the comarcas of Somontano de Barbastro, Jacetania, Alto Gállego, Sobrarbe, and Ribagorza/Ribagorça. It is the only modern language which survived from medieval Navarro-Aragonese in a form distinctly different from Spanish.


In its broader meaning, Marca Hispanica sometimes refers to a group of early Iberian and trans-Pyrenean lordships or counts coming under Frankish rule. As time passed, these lordships merged or gained independence from Frankish imperial rule. [1]

Geographical context

The area broadly corresponds to eastern regions between the Pyrenees and the Ebro River. The local population of the March was diverse. It included Basques in its north-western valleys, Jews [2] , and a large Occitano-Romance-speaking Iberian population practising Visigothic traditions and law (Occitans and Catalans), all of them under the influence of Al-Andalus culture, since their lords had vowed allegiance to Cordovan rulers until Pepin's conquest of Andalusian Septimania (759). The Pyrenean valleys started to switch loyalties after 785 (Girona, Ribagorza, etc.) with the construction and garrisoning by counts loyal to the Carolingians of new outposts and fortresses on bordering areas.

Pyrenees Range of mountains in southwest Europe

The Pyrenees is a range of mountains in southwest Europe that forms a natural border between Spain and France. Reaching a height of 3,404 metres (11,168 ft) altitude at the peak of Aneto, the range separates the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of continental Europe, and extends for about 491 km (305 mi) from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Basques are an indigenous ethnic group characterised by the Basque language, a common culture and shared genetic ancestry to the ancient Vascones and Aquitanians. Basques are indigenous to and primarily inhabit an area traditionally known as the Basque Country, a region that is located around the western end of the Pyrenees on the coast of the Bay of Biscay and straddles parts of north-central Spain and south-western France.

Jews ancient nation and ethnoreligious group from the Levant

Jews or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and a nation, originating from the Israelites and Hebrews of historical Israel and Judah. Jewish ethnicity, nationhood, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish people, while its observance varies from strict observance to complete nonobservance.

The territory changed with the fortunes of the Empires and the feudal ambitions of those, whether the Counts or Walis, appointed to administer the counties. Eventually the rulers and people of the March became autonomous and claimed independence. Out of the welter of counties in the region emerged the Principality of Catalonia composed by a myriad of counties with the County of Barcelona as their main power centre.

<i>Wāli</i> administrative title that was used during the Caliphate and Ottoman Empire to designate governors of administrative divisions

Wāli or vali is an administrative title that was used during the Caliphate and Ottoman Empire to designate governors of administrative divisions. It is still in use in some countries influenced by Arab or Muslim culture. The division that a Wāli governs is called Wilayah, or, in the case of Ottoman Turkey, "Vilayet".

Principality of Catalonia principality in the northeastern Iberian Peninsula between the 12th century and 1714

The Principality of Catalonia was a medieval and early modern political entity in the northeastern Iberian Peninsula. During most of its history it was in dynastic union with the Kingdom of Aragon, constituting together the Crown of Aragon. Between the 13th and the 18th centuries it was bordered by the Kingdom of Aragon to the west, the Kingdom of Valencia to the south, the Kingdom of France and the feudal lordship of Andorra to the north and by the Mediterranean sea to the east. The term "Principality of Catalonia" remained in use until the Second Spanish Republic, when its use declined because of its historical relation to the monarchy. Today, the term Principat (Principality) is used primarily to refer to the autonomous community of Catalonia in Spain, as distinct from the other Catalan Countries. and usually including the historical region of Roussillon in southern France.

Counties that at various times formed part of the March included: Ribagorza (initially including Pallars), Urgell, Cerdanya, Perelada, Empúries, Besalú, Ausona (Osona), Barcelona, Girona (March of Hispania) and, Conflent, Roussillon, Vallespir and Fenollet (March of Gothia). The nominal boundaries of Gothia and the Hispanic Marches vary in time, not without confusion. While Navarre and Aragon have sometimes been depicted within the Marca Hispanica, they were not part of it, but they came under the Carolingian area of influence between 794 and 806 within the Basque (rendered also as "Gascon") marches, or Duchy of Vasconia.

The County of Pallars or Pallás was a de facto independent petty state, nominally within the Carolingian Empire and then West Francia during the ninth and tenth centuries, perhaps one of the Catalan counties, originally part of the Marca Hispanica in the ninth century. It was coterminous with the upper Noguera Pallaresa valley from the crest of the Pyrenees to the village of Tremp, comprising the Vall d'Àneu, Vall de Cardós, Vall Ferrera, the right bank of the Noguera Ribagorçana, and the valley of the Flamicell. It roughly corresponded with the historic region of Catalonia called Pallars. Its chief city was Sort.

Urgell Comarca in Catalonia, Spain

Modern-day Urgell, also known as Baix Urgell, is a comarca (county) in Catalonia, Spain, forming only a borderland portion of the region historically known as Urgell, one of the Catalan counties.

Cerdanya Natural region

Cerdanya or often La Cerdanya, is a natural comarca and historical region of the eastern Pyrenees divided between France and Spain. Historically it was one of the counties of Catalonia.


Marca Hispanica and Gothia Eastern Pyrenees under the Carolingians.jpg
Marca Hispanica and Gothia

The Marca Hispanica resulted from the expansion south of the Frankish realm from their heartland in Neustria and Austrasia starting with Charles Martel in 732 and after various decades fighting between the Franks and Umayyads (Saraceni) in the Iberian Peninsula.

Umayyad Caliphate Second caliphate

The Umayyad Caliphate, also spelt Omayyad, was the second of the four major caliphates established after the death of Muhammad. The caliphate was ruled by the Umayyad dynasty, hailing from Mecca. The third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, was a member of the Umayyad clan. The family established dynastic, hereditary rule with Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan, long-time governor of Syria, who became the sixth Caliph after the end of the First Muslim Civil War in 661. After Mu'awiyah's death in 680, conflicts over the succession resulted in a Second Civil War and power eventually fell into the hands of Marwan I from another branch of the clan. Syria remained the Umayyads' main power base thereafter, and Damascus was their capital.

Iberian Peninsula Peninsula located in southwest Europe

The Iberian Peninsula, also known as Iberia, is located in the southwest corner of Europe. The peninsula is principally divided between Spain and Portugal, comprising most of their territory. It also includes Andorra, small areas of France, and the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. With an area of approximately 596,740 square kilometres (230,400 sq mi)), it is both the second largest European peninsula by area, after the Scandinavian Peninsula, and by population, after the Balkan Peninsula.

The Muslim invasion reached the Pyrenees in the Iberian Peninsula. In 719 the forces of Al-Samh ibn Malik surged up the east coast, overwhelming the remaining Visigoth province of Septimania and establishing a fortified base at Narbonne. Control was secured by offering the local population generous terms, inter-marriage between ruling families or treaties. Further Umayyad expansion was halted on Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlanis defeat at the Battle of Toulouse. Wālis were installed in Girona and Barcelona.

The Muslim forces however continued to raid their Gallic neighbours to the north, reaching as far as Autun. Peace was signed in 730 between the victor at Toulouse, the Duke of Aquitaine, and 'Uthman ibn Naissa (Munuza), a Berber rebel lord stationed in Cerdanya (maybe current-day Catalonia), a region that could act as a buffer state against Umayyad expansionism. The peace treaty was sealed with the marriage of the Duke’s daughter to Munuza. However, Munuza was defeated by a Umayyad military expedition (731) and another period of Muslim expansion commenced.

Aquitaine (including the Duchy of Vasconia) pledged formal allegiance to the Frankish leaders several times (Odo in 732, Hunald in 736 after being defeated), but remained actually independent. In 737 Charles led an expedition to the Lower Rhone and Septimania, possibly seeing that the Umayyad thrust was threatening his grip on Burgundy (subdued in 736), but did not manage to subjugate and keep the region.

Both Aquitaine and Septimania were still out of central Frankish control after Charles's death, but Pepin the Short was determined to subdue southern Gaul. In 759, after conquering Septimania from the Umayyad, the Carolingian king focused all his might in crushing Aquitanian resistance to central Frankish power. After a ruthless war of 8 years, Aquitainian independence came to an end. Toulouse was now under the grip of the new Carolingian king Charlemagne and access to Andalusian Hispania was open for him, despite sporadic rebellions in Vasconia during the next two decades (Basques subdued in 790 by Charlemagne's new loyal strongman in Toulouse William of Gellone).

Pepin's son, Charlemagne, fulfilled the Carolingian goal of extending the defensive boundaries of the empire beyond Septimania, creating a strong barrier state between the Umayyad Emirate/Caliphate of Iberia and the Frankish Empire, besides tightening control over the Duchy of Vasconia by establishing the Kingdom of Aquitaine ruled by his son Louis the Pious in 781.


The Franks created the Marca Hispanica by conquering former north-eastern territory of the Visigothic kingdom of Hispania, which had been conquered by the Muslims.

The first county to be conquered was Roussillon (with Vallespir) in around 760. In 785 the county of Girona (with Besalú) to the south of the Pyrenees was taken. Ribagorza and Pallars were linked to Toulouse and were added to this county around 790. Urgell and Cerdanya were added in 798. The first records of the county of Empúries (with Perelada) are from 812 but the county was probably under Frankish control before 800.

After a series of struggles the County of Barcelona (with Ausona) was taken by Frankish forces in 801. A number of castles were established in Aragón between 798 and 802 (appointment of Count Aureolus). After subduing the Basques to the north of the Pyrenees (790), Frankish overlordship expanded to the upper Ebro (794) and Pamplona (798), when Alphonse II of Asturias came also under Charlemagne's influence. Sobrarbe was not incorporated into the March, as it appears later in history and was probably within the area of influence of the County of Aragon.

The death of Charlemagne (814) was followed by a scene of open revolt and Carolingian setbacks around the Pyrenees. After defeat in Pancorbo, Pamplona, led by the native Basque lord Eneko Arista, detached (817) and Aragón ensued (820). The named Catalan counties - territories used by the Moors to enter and overrun Septimania in 719 - became in fact, a natural extension of the March of Gothia ruled by Catalans and Toulousains under the Carolingian Empire.


The local population of the Marches was diverse. The majority were Basques and Hispano-Romans (Goths). But there also were Muslims, and Jews from Septimania who repopulated the Frankish conquered easternmost territories of present-day North Spain and South France. The area changed with the fortunes of the empires and the feudal ambitions of the counts appointed to administrate the counties. As Frankish imperial power waned, the rulers of the March of Hispania became independent fiefs. The region would later become part of Catalonia.

Charlemagne's son Louis took Barcelona from its Moorish ruler in 801, thus securing Frankish power in the borderland between the Franks and the Moors. The Counts of Barcelona then became the principal representatives of Frankish authority in the Spanish March. The March included various outlying smaller territories, each ruled by a lesser miles with his armed retainers and who theoretically owed allegiance through the Count to the Emperor.

The rulers were called counts; when they governed several counties they often took the name duke (Dux Gothiae). When the county formed the border with the Muslim Kingdom, the Frankish title marquis (Marquis de Gothie) was chosen. [3] Besides, certain counts aspired to the Frankish title "Prince of Gothia". A margrave or Marcgravi is a Graf ("duke") of the March. The first Toulousains and Catalan lords who held the title of Counts of Barcelona, Bernard of Septimania, Humfrid, Bernard of Gothia, Borrell II and Ramon Borrell carried these titles.

In the early 9th century, Charlemagne began issuing a new kind of land grant, the aprisio , which reallocated land previously held by the imperial crown fisc in deserted or abandoned areas. This included special rights and immunities that allowed considerable independence from the imperial control. Historians have interpreted the aprisio both as an early form of feudalism and in economic and military terms as a mechanism to entice settlers to a depopulated border region. Such self-sufficient landholders would aid the Counts in providing armed men to defend the Frankish frontier. Aprisio grants (the first ones were in Septimania) were given personally by the Carolingian king, so that they reinforced loyalty to central power, to counterbalance the local power exercised by the Marcher Counts. [4]

However poor communications and a distant central power allowed basic feudal entities to develop often self-sufficient and heavily agrarian. Each was ruled by a small hereditary military elite. These developments in the territories that later would become Catalonia followed similar patterns in other borderlands and Marches. For example, the first Count of Barcelona Bera was appointed by the King in 801, however subsequently strong heirs of Counts were able to inherit the title such as Sunifred, fl. 844–848. This gradually became custom until Countship became hereditary (for Wifred the Hairy in 897). The County became de facto independent under count Borrell II, when he ceased to request royal charters after the kings Lothair and Hugh Capet failed to assist him in the defense of the County against Muslim leader al-Mansur, [5] although the change of dynasty may have played a part in that decision.

The early history of Andorra in the Pyrenees provides a fairly typical example of a lordship of the region, and is the only modern survivor of the Spanish March that has not been incorporated into either France or Spain.

Related Research Articles

Aquitaine Region of France

Aquitaine, archaic Guyenne/Guienne, is a historical region of France and a former administrative region of the country. Since 1 January 2016 it has been part of the region Nouvelle-Aquitaine. It is situated in the south-western part of Metropolitan France, along the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyrenees mountain range on the border with Spain. It is composed of the five departments of Dordogne, Lot-et-Garonne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Landes and Gironde. In the Middle Ages, Aquitaine was a kingdom and a duchy, whose boundaries fluctuated considerably.

Roussillon Historical province in Pyrénées-Orientales, France

Roussillon is one of the historical counties of the former Principality of Catalonia, corresponding roughly to the present-day southern French département of Pyrénées-Orientales save Fenouillèdes. It may also refer to Northern Catalonia or French Catalonia, the first used by Catalan-speakers and the second used by French-speakers. A 1998 survey found that 34% of respondents stated they speak Catalan, and a further 21% understand it.

County of Toulouse countship

The County of Toulouse was a territory in southern France consisting of the city of Toulouse and its environs, ruled by the Count of Toulouse from the late 9th century until the late 13th century.

Septimania Historical region in France

Septimania is a historical region in modern-day south of France. It referred to the western part of the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis that passed to the control of the Visigoths in 462, when Septimania was ceded to their king, Theodoric II. Under the Visigoths it was known as simply Gallia or Narbonensis. Septimania territory roughly corresponds with the former administrative region of Languedoc-Roussillon that merged into the new administrative region of Occitanie. Septimania passed briefly to the Emirate of Córdoba, which had been expanding from the south during the eighth century before its subsequent conquest by the Franks, who by the end of the ninth century termed it Gothia or the Gothic March.

Duchy of Aquitaine Medieval duchy in southern France

The Duchy of Aquitaine was a historical fiefdom in western, central and southern areas of present-day France to the south of the Loire River, although its extent, as well as its name, fluctuated greatly over the centuries, at times comprising much of what is now southwestern France (Gascony) and central France.

Battle of Roncevaux Pass

The Battle of Roncevaux Pass in 778 saw a large force of Basques ambush a part of Charlemagne's army in Roncevaux Pass, a high mountain pass in the Pyrenees on the present border between France and Spain, after his invasion of the Iberian Peninsula.

Odo the Great, was the Duke of Aquitaine by 700. His territory included the Vasconia in the south-west of Gaul and the Duchy of Aquitaine, a realm extending from the Loire to the Pyrenees, with the capital in Toulouse. He fought the Carolingian Franks and made alliances with the Moors to combat them. He retained this domain until his abdication in 735. He is remembered for defeating the Umayyads in 721 as they advanced down the Garonne through Aquitaine. He was the first to defeat them decisively in Western Europe. The feat earned him the epithet "The Great".

County of Roussillon former country

The County of Roussillon was one of the Catalan counties in the Marca Hispanica during the Middle Ages. The rulers of the county were the Counts of Roussillon, whose interests lay both north and south of the Pyrenees.

County of Barcelona countship

The County of Barcelona was originally a frontier region under the rule of the Carolingian dynasty. By the end of the 10th century, the Counts of Barcelona were de facto independent, hereditary rulers in constant warfare with the Islamic Caliphate of Córdoba and its successor states. The counts, through marriage alliances and treaties, acquired the other Catalan counties and extended their influence along Occitania. In 1164, the count of Barcelona, Alphons I, inherited the Kingdom of Aragon. Thenceforward, the history of the county of Barcelona is subsumed within that of the Crown of Aragon, but the city of Barcelona remained preeminent within it.

Humfrid was the Count of Barcelona, Girona, Empúries, Roussillon, and Narbonne from 858 to 864. He also bore the title Margrave of Gothia, as he held several frontier counties.

Catalan counties countship

The Catalan counties were the administrative Christian divisions of the eastern Carolingian Marca Hispanica and southernmost part of the March of Gothia in the Pyrenees created after its Frankish quick counter conquest.

Duchy of Gascony

The Duchy of Gascony or Duchy of Vasconia was a duchy in present southwestern France and northeastern Spain, part corresponding to the modern region of Gascony after 824. The Duchy of Gascony, then known as Wasconia, was originally a Frankish march formed to hold sway over the Basques (Vascones). However, the Duchy went through different periods, from its early years with its distinctively Basque element to the merger in personal union with the Duchy of Aquitaine to the later period as a dependency of the Plantagenet kings of England.

County of Vasconia Citerior

The County of Vasconia Citerior was a medieval domain attested as of 824. It may have comprised the lands between the western Pyrenees and the river Adour.

The title Prince of Gothia or Prince of the Goths was a title of nobility, sometimes assumed by its holder as a sign of supremacy in the region of Gothia and sometimes bestowed by the sovereign of West Francia to the principal nobleman in the south of the realm, in the ninth and tenth centuries. Sometimes hereditary and sometimes not, the title has been rendered in English as Dukeof Septimania or Dukeof Gothia. A similar or the same "office" was often held with the title comes marcæ Hispanicæ: "Count of the Spanish March." The title was also a chronicler's device and, as presented in some chronicles, may never have been used in any official capacity.

Septimania was the western region of the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis that passed under the control of the Visigoths in 462. It passed briefly to the Emirate of Córdoba in the eighth century before its reconquest by the Franks, who by the end of the ninth century termed it Gothia. This article presents a timeline of its history.

Umayyad invasion of Gaul conquest of Septimania and Aquitaine

The Umayyad invasion of Gaul in 720 followed immediately on the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. During the 8th century, Umayyad armies conquered the region of Septimania, the last remnant of the Visigothic Kingdom.

Wilfred or Wifred, called the Hairy, was Count of Urgell, Cerdanya, Barcelona, Girona, Besalú and Ausona. On his death in 897, his son, Wilfred Borrell, inherited these Catalan counties.

Siege of Narbonne (752–59)

The Siege of Narbonne took place between 752 and 759 led by Pepin the Short against the Umayyad stronghold defended by an Andalusian garrison and its Gothic and Gallo-Roman inhabitants. The siege remained as a key battlefield in the context of the Carolingian expedition south to Provence and Septimania starting in 752. The region was up to that point in the hands of Andalusian military commanders and the local nobility of Gothic and Gallo-Roman stock, who had concluded different military and political arrangements to oppose the expanding Frankish rule. Umayyad rule collapsed by 750, and Umayyad territories in Europe were ruled autonomously by Yusuf ibn 'Abd al-Rahman al-Fihri and his supporters.

The Battle of Roncevaux Pass was a battle in which a combined Basque-Qasawi Muslim army defeated a Carolingian military expedition in 824. The battle took place only 46 years after the first Battle of Roncevaux Pass (778) in a confrontation showing similar features: a Basque force engaging from the mountains a northbound expedition led by the Franks, and the same geographical setting.


  2. On the Role of the Jews in the Establishment of the Spanish March (768-814) : STUDIES IN THE HISTORY, LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE OF. / Bachrach, Bernard S.
  4. Chandler, Cullen J. (2002). "Between Court and Counts: Carolingian Catalonia and the aprisio grant, 778-987". Early Medieval Europe. 11: 19–44. doi:10.1111/1468-0254.00099.
  5. Reuter, Timothy; MacKitterick, Rosamond, eds. (1995). The New Cambridge Medieval History III: c. 900 – c. 1024. Cambridge University Press. pp. 390–391. ISBN   978-0-521-36447-8.