Spanish Empire Timeline



Like Portugal, Spain was already exploring and settling new lands in the fifteenth century. Although the Spanish empire expanded in both the west and the east, the empire’s largest impact is found in the Americas. Due to the discovery of precious metals in their American colonies, Spain very quickly attained an immeasurable wealth. Their expansion in the Americas was driven both by economic concerns and their need to spread Christianity, which unfortunately resulted in the total devastation of the Aztec and Inca empires – but not their populations – in Mexico and Peru respectively. 


1492:Christopher Columbus is the first European in the Americas since Viking times, landing in the Bahamas and Cuba

1493:Pope Alexander VI divides the zones of exploration and conquest between the Portuguese and Spanish Empires by creating a north-south line just west of the Cape Verde Islands. According to this model, Spain would be entitled to all of the New World (the Americas), while Portugal would be allotted Africa and almost all of Asia. 

1494:The prior model for dividing the world between the Portuguese and Spanish empires was not accepted, and the Treaty of Tordesillas established a new demarcation line that was shifted further west, granting Portugal access to part of present-day Brazil. 

1496:The first Spanish colony is secured at Santo Domingo. Hispaniola (now Dominican Republic).

1513:Spanish explorers reach Pacific coast and claim the ocean for the king of Spain.

1515:The conquest of Cuba is completed and the town of Havana is established.

1519:Hernán Cortés reaches the coast of Mexico accompanied by a Spanish army comprised of hundreds of men. The Aztec ruler Moctezuma II (Montezuma) welcomes Cortés to Tenochtitlan, believing he has good intentions upon his arrival.

1520:Cortés loses control in Mexico and flees in 1520.

1521:Cortés recaptures Mexico and it falls under Spanish control.

1530:After reaching the Peruvian coast in 1531, Francisco Pizarro enters Inca territory with an army.

1532:The Spanish begin a devastating massacre at the Inca court. The Inca leader, Atahualpa, buys his freedom and safety by giving the Spanish conquistadores large quantities of gold and silver. Despite this, Atahualpa is executed the next year.

1533:The Spanish capture and sack the Inca capital of Cuzco. This is followed by a year-long battle between the Inca and the Spaniards. The Spanish ultimately win full control over Peru, although there remain pockets of resistance well into the 1570s.

1537-1543:Spain begins to explore highland Colombia (today parts of Colombia and Venezuela).

1542:New laws are passed in Spain in an effort to protect the indigenous peoples living on Spanish American lands. These laws are largely unsuccessful.

1545:Silver is discovered at the hill of Potosí located in modern-day Bolivia. Mines are established and terrible working conditions ensure for the indigenous peoples who are made to work in the mines. The precious metals mined here are shipped in enormous quantities back to Europe.

1556:Charles V abdicates his throne. Control of Spain and the Netherlands falls to his son, Phillip II, and his brother Ferdinand becomes the Holy Roman Emperor.

1571:The Philippines, named after Philip II, are established as a Spanish colony, with a governor general based in Manila.

1605:Spain expels all Muslims (Moriscos) from their territories.

1697:Spain cedes the western half of Hispaniola to Francein the Treaty of Rijswijk. France names this new colony Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti).

1701:After the last Habsburg king of Spain dies in 1700, the War of the Spanish Succession ensues between the Austrian and French claimants to the Spanish throne. The war ends in 1713 with the first Bourbon monarch, Philip V, on the throne.

1714:The Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium) are transferred to Austria as part of the aftermath of the War of Succession.

1740:Ecuador, Venezuela, and Colombia become the Spanish viceroyalty of New Granada with Bogotá as the capital.

1776:Spanish America is administered as four viceroyalties: New Spain (Mexico), New Granada, Peru, and La Plata (Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Uruguay). Chile is a Captaincy-General.

1809:Bolivia becomes the first American province to rebel against the Spanish authorities.

1810:This is a year of immense changes for the Spanish empire as numerous colonies rebel and revolt in a fight for independence. Venezuela wins control from the Spanish with the help of Simón Bolívar. Argentina sets up its own autonomous government in opposition to Spanish control, and Uruguay begins its long struggle for independence. Spanish officials are expelled from Bogotá, and rebellion against Spanish officials occurs in Mexico. In addition, Chile begins four years of independence with relatively little trouble.

1811:Paraguay and Colombia declare independence.

1812:Spain regains their control of Venezuela. The next year, Spanish forces are defeated in Venezuela again.

1815:The independence movement in Mexico is stifled when the Spanish capture and kill its leader; Jose Maria Morelos.

1816:Argentina formally declares independence.

1821:Mexico wins permanent independence from Spain.

1823:Guatemala declares independence.

1825: The last Spanish stronghold in continental America – upper Peru (future Bolivia) –  is liberated. The Spanish continue to hold onto Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

1868:Uprisings occur in Cuba and Puerto Rico over Spanish control in these areas.

1884:Spain begins its colonization of the Western Sahara.

1898:The Philippines declare independence from Spain. In this year the Spanish American War ends with the Treaty of Paris, which cedes Cuba and Puerto Rico to the United States. In addition, the Philippines are sold to the United States.

1912:Spain controls northern Morocco and France controls southern Morocco. North and south Morocco gain independence from both colonial powers in 1956.

1968:Spanish Guinea becomes an independent republic as Equatorial Guinea.