Like much of the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula, it was colonized by Ancient Greeks, who chose to settle in Roses. Both Greeks and Carthaginians interacted with the main Iberian population. After the Carthaginian defeat, it became, along with the rest of Hispania, a part of the Roman Empire, Tarraco being one of the main Roman posts in the Iberian Peninsula and the capital of the province of Tarraconensis.
The Visigoths ruled after the Western Roman Empire's collapse near the end of the 5th century. Moorish Al-Andalus gained control in the early 8th century, after conquering the Visigothic kingdom in 711–718. After the defeat of Emir Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqiwas's troops at Tours in 732, the Franks gradually gained control of the former Visigoth territories north of the Pyrenees, which had been captured by the Muslims or had become allied with them, in what is today Catalonia under French administration. In 795, Charlemagne created what came to be known as the Marca Hispanica, a buffer zone beyond the province of Septimania, made up of locally administered separate petty kingdoms which served as a defensive barrier between the Umayyad of Al-Andalus and the Frankish Kingdom.
A distinctive Catalan culture started to develop in the Middle Ages stemming from a number of these petty kingdoms organized as small counties throughout the northernmost part of Catalonia. The counts of Barcelona were Frankish vassals nominated by the Carolingian emperor then the king of the Franks, to whom they were feudatories (801–987). During the 9th century, Wifred the Hairy, Count of Barcelona, made its title hereditary and founded the dynasty of the House of Barcelona, which ruled Catalonia until the death of Martin I, its last member, in 1410.
In 987 Count Borrell II did not recognise the Frankish king Hugh Capet and his new dynasty, effectively taking Barcelona out of Frankish rule. During the 9th and 10th centuries, the counties increasingly became a society of aloers, peasant proprietors of small, family-based farms, who lived by subsistence agriculture and owed no formal feudal allegiance. At the start of 11th century the Catalan Counties suffer an important process of feudalisation, as the miles formed links of vassalage over this previously independent peasantry. The middle years of the century were characterized by virulent class warfare. Seigniorial violence was unleashed against the peasants, utilizing new military tactics, based on contracting well armed mercenary soldiers mounted on horses. By the end of the century, most of the aloers had been converted into vassals. During the regency of countess Ermesinde of Carcassonne the disintegration of central power was evident. The response of the Catholic Church to the feudal violence was the establishment of the sagreres around churches and the movement of Peace and Truce of God. The first assembly of Peace and Truce was presided by Abbot Oliba in Toulouges, Roussillon in 1027.
In 1137 Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona, married Petronilla of Aragon, establishing the dynastic union of the County of Barcelona and its dominions with the Kingdom of Aragon, which was to create the Crown of Aragon. The reign of Ramon Berenguer IV saw the Catalan conquest of Lleida and Tortosa.
The Battle of Muret (12 September 1213) and the unexpected defeat of King Peter of Aragon and his vassals and allies, the counts of Toulouse, Comminges and Foix, resulted in the fading of the strong human, cultural and economic ties existing between the ancient territories of Catalonia and the Languedoc.
In the Treaty of Corbeil, 1258, James I of Aragon, descendant of Sunifred and Bello of Carcassonne and therefore heir of the House of Barcelona, relinquished his family rights and dominions in the Languedoc and recognized the Capetian king of France Louis IX as heir of the Carolingian Dynasty. In return, the king of France formally renounced his nominal feudal lordship over all the Catalan counties. This treaty turned the de facto independence of the Catalan counties into a full de jure, but meant the irremediable separation between the people of Catalonia and the Languedoc.
As a coastal territory within the Crown of Aragon and with the increasing importance of the port of Barcelona, Catalonia became the main centre of the Crown's maritime power, helping to expand its influence and power by conquest and trade into Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Sardinia and Sicily.
Catalan constitutions (1283–1716) and the 15th century
1702 compilation of Catalan Constitutions
At the same time, the Principality of Catalonia developed a complex institutional and political system based in the concept of pact between the estates of the realm and the king. The laws (called constitutions) had to be approved in the General Court of Catalonia, one of the first parliamentary bodies of Europe that banned the royal power to create legislation unilaterally (since 1283). The first Catalan constitutions are of the ones from the Catalan Courts (Corts) of Barcelona from 1283. The last ones were promulgated by the Courts of 1705–1706, presided by the disputed king Charles III. The compilations of the Constitutions and other rights of Catalonia followed the Roman tradition of the Codex. This constitutions developed an advanced compilation of rights for the whole citizens of the Principality and limited the power of the kings.
The General Court of Catalonia (or Catalan Courts), dating from the 11th century, is one of the first parliaments in continental Europe. The Courts were composed by the three estates of the realm and were presided by the king of Aragon. The current Parliament of Catalonia is considered the symbolic and historic successor of this institution.
In order to recapt general taxes, the Courts of 1359 established a permanent representation of deputies, called Deputation of the General (in Catalan: Diputació del General) and later usually known as Generalitat, which gained an important political power during the next centuries.
The Principality saw a prosperous period during the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th. The population increased; Catalan language and culture expanded into the islands of the Western Mediterranean. The reign of Peter III of Aragon ("the Great") included the conquest of Sicily and the successful defense against a French crusade; his son and successor Alfonso III ("the Generous") conquered Menorca; and Peter's second son James II conquered Sardinia; Catalonia was the center of the empire. The Catalan Company, mercenaries led by Roger de Flor and formed by Almogavar veterans of the War of the Sicilian Vespers, were hired by the Byzantine Empire to fought the Turks, defeating them in several battles. After the assassination of Roger de Flor by orders of the emperor's son Michael Palaiologos (1305), the Company took revenge sacking Byzantine territory, and they founded the duchies of Athens and Neopatras in the name of the King of Aragon. Catalan rule over the Greek lands lasted until 1390.
This territorial expansion was accompanied by a great development of the Catalan trade, centered in Barcelona, creating an extensive trade network across the Mediterranean which competed with those of the maritime republics of Genoa and Venice. In this line, institutions were created that would give legal protection to merchants, such as the Consulate of the Sea and the Book of the Consulate of the Sea, one of the first compilations of maritime law.
The second quarter of the 14th century saw crucial changes for Catalonia, marked by a succession of natural catastrophes, demographic crises, stagnation and decline in the Catalan economy, and the rise of social tensions. The domains of the Aragonese Crown were severely affected by the Black Death pandemic and by later outbreaks of the plague. Between 1347 and 1497 Catalonia lost 37 percent of its population.
In 1410, King Martin I died without surviving descendants. Under the Compromise of Caspe, Ferdinand from the Castilian House of Trastámara received the Crown of Aragon as Ferdinand I of Aragon. During the reign of John II, social and political tensions caused the Catalan Civil War (1462–1472). From 1493 France formally annexed the counties of Roussillon and Cerdagne, which it had occupied during the conflict. Under his son, Ferdinand II, recovered without war the northern Catalan counties and the Constitució de l'Observança (1481) was approved, establishing the submission of royal power to the laws approved in the Catalan Courts. After decades of conflict, the peasants of remença (a mode of serfdom) were liberated from the majority of feudal abuses by the Sentencia Arbitral de Guadalupe (1486), in exchange for a payment.
Catalonia during the early modern period
The Catalan's Revolt "Corpus of Blood" (7 June 1640)
Pau Claris, President of the Generalitat during the Catalan Revolt
The color shading shows the division between the Principality of Catalonia (present-Spain) and the counties of Roussillon and Cerdagne (present-France) divided in 1659
The marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon (1469) unified two of the three major Christian kingdoms in the Iberian peninsula, while the Kingdom of Navarre was incorporated later following Ferdinand II's 1512 invasion of the Basque kingdom.
This resulted in the reinforcement of the concept of Spain, which was already present in the mind of these kings, made up by the former Crown of Aragon, Castile, and a Navarre annexed to Castile (1515). In 1492, the last remaining portion of Al-Andalus around Granada was conquered and the Spanish conquest of the Americas began. Political power began to shift away from Aragon toward Castile and, subsequently, from Castile to the Spanish Empire, which engaged in frequent warfare in Europe striving for world domination. In 1516 Charles I of Spain became the first king to rule the Crowns of Castile and Aragon simultaneously by his own right. Following the death of his paternal (House of Habsburg) grandfather, Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, he was also elected Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1519. The reign of Charles V was a relative harmonious period, during which Catalonia generally accepted the new structure of Spain, despite its own marginalization.
For an extended period, Catalonia, as part of the late Crown of Aragon, continued to retain its own laws and constitutions but these gradually eroded in the course of the transition from a contractual territory to a centralized dominions and the king's struggle to get from the territories as much of the power as possible until they were finally suppressed as a result of the War of the Spanish Succession defeat.
Over the next two centuries, Catalonia was generally on the losing side of a series of wars that led steadily to more centralization of power in Spain. Despite this fact, between the 16th and 18th centuries, the role of the political community in local affairs and the general government of the country was increased, while the royal powers remained relatively restricted, specially after the two last Courts (1701–1702 and 1705–1706). Tensions between the constitutional Catalan institutions and the gradually more centralized Monarchy, alongside other factors such as the economic crisis, the presence of soldiers and the peasants' revolts caused different conflicts, such as the Catalan Revolt, also called Reapers' War (1640–1652), in the context of the Franco-Spanish War, in which Catalonia, led by the president of the Generalitat, Pau Claris, declared itself an independent republic under French protection in 1641, and later again as a principality of the Monarchy of France, but the Catalans were finally defeated and reincorporated into the Crown of Spain in 1652.
In 1659, after the Treaty of the Pyrenees signed by Philip IV of Spain, the comarques (counties) of Roussillon, Conflent, Vallespir and part of la Cerdanya, now known as French Cerdagne, were ceded to France. In recent times, this area has come to be known by nationalist political parties in Catalonia as Northern Catalonia (Roussillon in French), part of the Catalan-spoken territories known as Catalan Countries.
Catalan institutions were suppressed in this part of the territory and public use of Catalan language was prohibited. Currently, this region is administratively part of French Départment of Pyrénées-Orientales.
In the last decades of the 17th century during the reign of Spain's last Habsburg king, Charles II, despite intermittent conflict between Spain and France, the population increased to approximately 500.000 inhabitants and the Catalan economy recovered. This economic growth was boosted by the export of wine to England and the Dutch Republic, this countries were involved in the Nine Years' War against France, as a consequence, there weren't able to trade with French wine. This new trade caused many Catalans to look to England and, especially, the Netherlands as political and economic models for Catalonia.
At the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, in which the Catalans and its army, alongside the other realms of the Crown of Aragon, supported the unsuccessful claim of the Archduke Charles of Austria as Charles III of Spain, the victorious Bourbon Duke of Anjou, now Philip V, occupied the capital of Catalonia after a long siege on 11 September 1714 and in 1716 signed the Nueva Planta decrees, which abolished the Crown of Aragon and all remaining Catalan institutions and laws (except the civil law) and prohibited the administrative use of Catalan language.
After Nueva Planta
Fall of Barcelona, 11 September 1714
So late as in the 18th and 19th centuries, despite the military occupation, the imposition of high new taxes and the political economy of the House of Bourbon, the Catalonia under Spanish administration (now as a province) continued the process of proto-industrialization, relatively helped at the end of the century from the beginning of open commerce to America and protectionist policies enacted by the Spanish government (although the policy of Spanish government during those times changed many times between free trade and protectionism), consolidating the new economic growth model that was taking place in Catalonia since the end of the 17th century, becoming a center of Spain's industrialization; to this day it remains one of the most industrialized parts of Spain, along with Madrid and the . In 1834, by decree of minister Javier de Burgos, all of Spain was organized into provinces, included Catalonia, which was divided in four provinces without a common administration.
On several occasions during the first third of the 20th century, Catalonia gained and lost varying degrees of autonomy, recovering, after the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931, the Generalitat as an institution of self-government, but as in most regions of Spain, Catalan autonomy and culture were crushed to an unprecedented degree after the defeat of the Second Spanish Republic (founded in 1931) in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) which brought Francisco Franco to power. Public use of the Catalan language was again banned after a brief period of general recuperation.
The Franco era ended with Franco's death in 1975; in the subsequent Spanish transition to democracy, Catalonia recovered political and cultural autonomy. It became one of the autonomous communities of Spain. In comparison, "Northern Catalonia" in France has no autonomy.