Ethnic Groups in Spain

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  • 0:04 Spanish Ethnic Groups
  • 3:03 Castilian
  • 3:49 Basque
  • 5:29 Catalan
  • 6:11 Galician
  • 6:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Linda Brown

Linda teaches French at SIT Graduate Institute and Brattleboro Area Middle School. She has a BA in French and a master's in Experiential Education.

This lesson provides a brief overview of the origins and languages of the four major ethnic groups present in Spain: Basque, Galician, Castilian, and Catalan.

Spanish Ethnic Groups

Tired of serving up the same old Melting Pot? Delight your guests with this recipe for los grupos étnicos de España. Its robust Mediterranean flavors, balanced with hints of Northern European and Germanic descent, are sure to please! This recipe serves roughly 43.5 million people.

The following are our ''ingredients'' for the Spanish ethnicity dish, if you will. And please note: Before assembling ingredients, turn the oven back 5,000 years or more.


  • Iberians (indigenous or emigrating)
  • Basques (preferably pure-blooded)
  • Northern European Celts
  • Phoenicians, or Mediterranean Levante
  • Greeks
  • Romans
  • Germanic Visigoths
  • North African Moors

For added spice, add a pinch of each of the following:

  • Andalusian
  • Gitanos
  • Magyars
  • Jews

  1. Line the Iberian Peninsula with a layer of Iberians and Basques, avoiding as much as possible that the two mix together.
  2. Gradually pour in an invasion of Celts. The Basques will have a tendency to resist mixing. Allow them to separate and settle into the far northern region. Concentrate on the Iberians; they are more pliable.
  3. Liberally pepper the peninsula with Phoenicians and Greeks. Once they are thoroughly mixed in, knead in a hefty portion of conquering Romans and a sprinkling of Visigoth invaders.
  4. Let simmer several hundred years. Check on the Basques periodically. They should continue to resist the introduction of outsiders into their culture. Do not be alarmed if some migrate to southwestern France.
  5. Once the mix starts to resemble Spain (in around 711 CE on our timeline/oven), inundate the peninsula with hearty North African Moors. Allow this new ethnic group to rule for at least 700 years.
  6. Eventually Spain will unify under a common nationality, but, if the mix has been done properly, several distinct ethnic groups should rise to the surface and remain there.
  7. The population will gradually migrate toward urban centers, the coast, and outlying islands, causing a diffusion of ethnic characteristics. This is normal.

A Little More Detail

So now that we've gotten that creative but overall pretty helpful analogy out of the way, we should probably explain with a little more detail what we're talking about, right?

First of all, what do we mean when we say ethnic group or ethnicity? Well, an ethnic group is a community or group made up of people who share a common history, distinctive culture, and language. Spain, the third-largest country in Europe, has a majority of its 43,484,000 citizens belonging to four major ethnic groups: Basque, Galician, Castilian, and Catalan. Other ethnic minorities exist as well: Andalusian, Gitanos, Levante, Magyars, and Jews.


Castile is located in central Spain, on a plateau that covers roughly 60 percent of the country's total area. The Castilians have been a politically dominant force in Spain for the past 700 years. Castilians are believed to make up three-fourths of the Spanish population. Original inhabitants of Castile were indigenous Iberians and Celts, who were later conquered by the Romans and the Moors.

Castilian Language

While several distinct languages exist in Spain, Castilian (Castillano) is the nation's official language. Utilized in government, media, and education, it is the language that the rest of the world identifies as Spanish.

There is a strong literary heritage in Castile, which includes but is not limited to Don Quixote, the seventeenth-century classic written by Miguel de Cervantes.


The Basques are a single ethnic group that inhabit two countries: northwest Spain and southwest France. The Basques are considered to be the oldest ethnic group in Europe. It is believed that they inhabited the southwestern area of the European continent more than 5,000 years ago. Fiercely independent, the Basques have successfully fought off invasions by the Arabs, French, Romans, Spaniards, and Visigoths. Eventually conquered by the Spanish, they nonetheless won the right to self-government.

The Basques have been repressed throughout history, most recently under the regime of Francisco Franco (1939 - 1975). During that time their culture and language were prohibited. The Basque people responded by forming resistance groups such as the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) - Basque Homeland and Liberty. Seeking political independence, the ETA carried out terrorist acts in Spain during the 1970s and '80s.

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