The Basques: Their Struggle for Independence

By Luis Núñez Astrain; Meic Stephens | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
A STORY WITH A LONG HISTORY

Social phenomena are not produced by chance and the Basque conflict is a social phenomenon, one which has deep roots and a long history. From a brief account of the history of the Basque Country, the reader will gather that, over the centuries, the Basques have resolutely upheld their institutions, their laws and their customs. Although sometimes taking different forms, this tradition has been a constant feature.

In 778 on their way back from attacking the Saracens of Zaragoza and destroying the walls of the town of Pamplona, the troops of Charlemagne passed through the territory of what was to become the Kingdom of Navarra. It was for this reason that the Basques united to punish the mighty aggressor and his army, wiping out his rear-guard at Roncesvalles and killing Roland, the Emperor's lieutenant. The history of the Basques therefore begins with a huge popular rising against an aggressor. The epic poem La Chanson de Roland, the first work of any importance in French literature, wrongly attributes the attack at Roncesvalles to the Saracens, thus beginning a tradition that later official historians were to follow unquestioningly. In these accounts the Basque Country did not exist and, similarly, the historical facts would be turned upside down at the whim of each subsequent invading army.


The Kingdom of Navarra

It might be said, briefly, that in ancient times the Basques had good relations with the Romans, bad ones with the Goths, and good ones with the Arabs. In the chronicles of the Visigoth kings the note 'domuit vascones' ('he conquered the Basques') appears time and time again, a reflection of the longstanding tension between them. The arrival of the Saracens in the Iberian peninsula, in the year 771, took the Vizigoth king Rodrigo by surprise just as he was about to lay

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