Could Spain have completed the reconquista by taking North Africa

greatstreetwarrior

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
3,871
Because this region was culturally part of the Spanish sphere of influence. Would it have been better if they tried it rather than far away Americas which eventually did not hold with them in the long run and by the 19th century left (before the peak colonial era). Wouldnt North Africa not have been easier to hold and longer and also culturally Hispanified quickly and re established Christianity over Islam in North Africa permanently thus reducing possible Ottoman sphere of influence. I know they went to Americas but would this have worked out better and could they have taken these lands and held them together.
 

Baldtastic

Ad Honorem
Aug 2009
5,483
Londinium
Because this region was culturally part of the Spanish sphere of influence. Would it have been better if they tried it rather than far away Americas which eventually did not hold with them in the long run and by the 19th century left (before the peak colonial era). Wouldnt North Africa not have been easier to hold and longer and also culturally Hispanified quickly and re established Christianity over Islam in North Africa permanently thus reducing possible Ottoman sphere of influence. I know they went to Americas but would this have worked out better and could they have taken these lands and held them together.
More money (gold) in the Americas, it was also like the space race of its time so there was much more prestige in gaining territory in the Americas than N.Africa. Perhaps more importantly, a driver for expansion in the new world was to make sure no-one else expanded there.

N.Africa was part of Islam's sphere of influence since the conquests so it might have proved a uniting force for the Islamic world. For a majority of time, north Africa was either directly administered by a large Caliphate or under is protection.

They also would eventually extend into southern Italy so would have the naval reach within the med.

And, again, most importantly there was more money to be made and more prestige available in the Americas.

I'm not even sure they had the man power to garrison and run such a huge geographical area; the tribes in the Americas were much more primitive than populations in n.Africa so were easier to conquer and control.
 
Feb 2015
640
washington
Highly unlikely. Even after the victory of Lepanto the Ottomans were still able to recapture Tunis in 1574. Any gains Spain made would be temporary at best. The ottomans had the superior demographic and military resources to control the Mediterranean while Spain also had to contend with France and England.
 

Frank81

Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
5,136
Canary Islands-Spain
Because this region was culturally part of the Spanish sphere of influence. Would it have been better if they tried it rather than far away Americas which eventually did not hold with them in the long run and by the 19th century left (before the peak colonial era). Wouldnt North Africa not have been easier to hold and longer and also culturally Hispanified quickly and re established Christianity over Islam in North Africa permanently thus reducing possible Ottoman sphere of influence. I know they went to Americas but would this have worked out better and could they have taken these lands and held them together.

Congrats greatstreewarrior, this is the great WHAT IF of Spanish history.

Just after the fall of Granada, the Catholic Kings started to plan a full scale invasion of North Africa. The idea was to keep the process in the same way as Reconquista, colonizing and evangelizing the new areas. The Italian affairs and the first news coming from America distracted Spanish attention for a moment, but soon the plans for Africa were recovered. When Isabel was about to die, she specifically ordered its sucessors to concentrate in Africa:

Isabel's testament

E ruego e mando a la dicha prinçesa mi hija, e al dicho prinçipe su marido, que como catolicos prinçipes, tengan mucho cuidado de las cosas de la honrra de Dios e de su sancta fe, zelando e procurando la guarda e defension e enxalçamiento della pues por ella somos obligados a poner las personas e vidas e lo que touieremos cada que fuere menester e que sean muy obedientes a los mandamientos de la sancta madre Iglesia e protectores e defensores della como son obligados. E que no çesen en la conquista de Africa e de pugnar por la fe contra los ynfieles

= "and they must not stop the conquest of Africa, and fighting for the faith against the infidels".

So soon huge military preparations took place in Spain. In 1508, Portuguese garrisons in Morocco were rescued by a Castillian fleet, which also occupied the "Peñón de Vélez de La Gomera", in 1509 Oran was conquered. In 1510, Algiers and Tunis were vassalized, Béjaia conquered, and Tripoli, capital of modern Libya, conquered as well. The expedition, led by Pedro Navarro, failed in Djerba, at the cost of 7,000 KIA.

This final failure put a temporal stop to the expansion. Even though, from the Atlantic to Libya, the Spanish armies had created the beachheads they needed for a further expansion.

It never took place. The European and American affairs absorved all the strengths, and Spain was limited to a deffensive war for twenty years. Renewed efforts were carried after 1535, until 1574, but never again with the same ambition of the Catholic Kings. The involvement in Tunisia was one very important, the Spanish troops fighting as far as Kairwan, the idea was to control the key central Mediterranean area, far from Reconquista style affairs. The final siege at La Goleta-Tunis, probably the most vicious (and less known) siege of the 16th century, put an end to these efforst. The actions to expand Spanish influence in western North Africa were succesful until a devastating defeat at Mostaganem checked it (1558), and were totally reversed after Alcazarquivir.

At every time, plans in North Africa were delayed by more urgent needs in Europe and the New World, so that Maghrebian theater was relegated to a third position: too much efforts, too little gains. By 1650, the Spanish position in the Maghreb was relictic.
 
Last edited:
Aug 2014
1,832
Huntington Beach CA
There was a big difference between Spain and the Mahgreb, I think. (We need more data about the religious make-up of Muslim Spain during the Reconquista to be sure). Spain always had a large Christian population. Even under the Caliphs and even under the Almoravids and Almohads, Christians and Jews were tolerated as dhimmi "protected persons" as long as they paid the jizya surtax for "protection". Which made them cash cows for Muslim authorities just as Christians were in the Balkans under the Ottomans. The Muslim Sultans were not terribly eager to see dhimmi become Muslims because once they did, their taxes went down.
Which made the Reconquista relatively easy since the Christian kings were liberating a Christian population just as was the case in the Balkans during the 19th Century.
This was not true of the Mahgreb, where with the exception of a few Jews, the population was all Muslim and had been since at least 1000. And Muslims did not convert easily to Christianity. But they did rebel--repeatedly against the Spanish. The Spanish faced unremitting guerilla warfare once they ventured outside of the major cities they conquered. And unlike the New World, in North Africa, the Spanish did not have disease to do most of the conquering for them.
How difficult Muslims were for Spanish to deal with can be illustrated by two facts. 1. Spain expelled it's own Muslims, the Moriscos in the 16th Century. The other fact is something I read in a book about slavery in early 19th Century Argentina and Chile: Even brought to the New World as slaves, Muslims were nothing but trouble. Then as now, Muslims believe that dying in battle against infidels who would conquer them brings them to Paradise as shaheed. Apparently, all of the slave revolts in the Spanish and Portuguese New World were led by Muslims. It got to the point that Spanish and Portuguese slave traders refused to buy African Muslims as slaves when they were offered them. So depopulating the Mahgreb by carrying it's people off to slavery in the New World was not feasiible--especially when those people were still bringing Africans across the Sahara that the Spanish could buy from them.
The only way the Spanish could have taken and held North Africa would have been wholesale genocide.Which the Ottomans would have fought a jihad to stop (and fight a jihad to rescue the Muslims of North Africa from the Christian Spaniards they did). And that would have required the kind of iron discipline that the Mongols displayed in their conquests. The Spanish Conquistadores were many things but they were not Mongols. (They did not have the numbers under arms that the Mongols had for one thing even when they weren't distracted by wars in Europe and the New World). And even the Mongols, when it came to actually settling down to rule Muslims found it expedient to convert to Islam.
In short, because of the problems involved in conquering and ruling over Muslims, the conquest of North Africa was not feasible until Europe pulled completely ahead of the Islamic world in technology and organisation in the 19th Century.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,327
SoCal
Because this region was culturally part of the Spanish sphere of influence. Would it have been better if they tried it rather than far away Americas which eventually did not hold with them in the long run and by the 19th century left (before the peak colonial era). Wouldnt North Africa not have been easier to hold and longer and also culturally Hispanified quickly and re established Christianity over Islam in North Africa permanently thus reducing possible Ottoman sphere of influence. I know they went to Americas but would this have worked out better and could they have taken these lands and held them together.
I would think that a Spanish conquest of North Africa, if initially successful, would have been about as long-lasting as the Crusader states were. After all, Spain would have continuously needed to resupply its African garrisons by sea whereas the Muslim forces nearby would have been able to supply their own forces by land.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,327
SoCal
Congrats greatstreewarrior, this is the great WHAT IF of Spanish history.

Just after the fall of Granada, the Catholic Kings started to plan a full scale invasion of North Africa. The idea was to keep the process in the same way as Reconquista, colonizing and evangelizing the new areas. The Italian affairs and the first news coming from America distracted Spanish attention for a moment, but soon the plans for Africa were recovered. When Isabel was about to die, she specifically ordered its sucessors to concentrate in Africa:

Isabel's testament




= "and they must not stop the conquest of Africa, and fighting for the faith against the infidels".

So soon huge military preparations took place in Spain. In 1508, Portuguese garrisons in Morocco were rescued by a Castillian fleet, which also occupied the "Peñón de Vélez de La Gomera", in 1509 Oran was conquered. In 1510, Algiers and Tunis were vassalized, Béjaia conquered, and Tripoli, capital of modern Libya, conquered as well. The expedition, led by Pedro Navarro, failed in Djerba, at the cost of 7,000 KIA.

This final failure put a temporal stop to the expansion. Even though, from the Atlantic to Libya, the Spanish armies had created the beachheads they needed for a further expansion.

It never took place. The European and American affairs absorved all the strengths, and Spain was limited to a deffensive war for twenty years. Renewed efforts were carried after 1535, until 1574, but never again with the same ambition of the Catholic Kings. The involvement in Tunisia was one very important, the Spanish troops fighting as far as Kairwan, the idea was to control the key central Mediterranean area, far from Reconquista style affairs. The final siege at La Goleta-Tunis, probably the most vicious (and less known) siege of the 16th century, put an end to these efforst. The actions to expand Spanish influence in western North Africa were succesful until a devastating defeat at Mostaganem checked it (1558), and were totally reversed after Alcazarquivir.

At every time, plans in North Africa were delayed by more urgent needs in Europe and the New World, so that Maghrebian theater was relegated to a third position: too much efforts, too little gains. By 1650, the Spanish position in the Maghreb was relictic.
Frankly, I wonder if Spanish policy towards North Africa in the 1500s and beyond would have been more aggressive if the House of Trastamara would have survived. Indeed, Prince John's premature death in 1497 ensured that the House of Trastamara would soon disappear. :(
 

kandal

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,815
USA
I doubt Spain was strong enough to continue the reconquest into North Africa. For example, Portugal tried it a bit in Morocco and failed.

With time, Spain gained strength and conquered a major part of Morocco, and made it a colony. Also the whole North Africa became a colony of Europeans.
 

WeisSaul

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,836
New Amsterdam
I could see Morocco being held on to given the proximity and the security of the Atlas Mountains. The place is pretty isolated from the rest of North Africa I think.

Any process of rechristianization and latinization would be a long one requiring centuries of rule, some kind of Christian equivalent of Jizya (incentivizing conversion) and a mass immigration of many Europeans and probably the deportation of quite a few Muslims.

Perhaps the Irish would be willing to contribute some demographic manpower given their dire circumstance. The Spanish historically only let Castillians migrate to the Americas (no Italians, Aragonese, or Catalans) so perhaps those other groups would be of use in settling North Africa as well.

Cyrenaica and Egypt would likely remain Muslim.
 
Aug 2014
1,832
Huntington Beach CA
Frankly, I wonder if Spanish policy towards North Africa in the 1500s and beyond would have been more aggressive if the House of Trastamara would have survived. Indeed, Prince John's premature death in 1497 ensured that the House of Trastamara would soon disappear. :(
Good point! Charles V's priorities were all in the Holy Roman Empire. Spain by this time DID have the New World as another distraction too, though THAT conquest was achieved with a minimum of manpower both because of disease and the difficulty of transporting very many people that far with the tonnage Spain had available. Morocco might have been doable because the Ottomans could not get beyond the Strait of Gibraltar. It might have taken real genocide to take and hold Morocco. And a lot would depend on whether the Berbers would submit to the Spanish and convert to Catholicism. Conquering the plains of Morocco is one thing. Subduing the Atlas Mountains quite another.