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When the conquistadores arrived in America, the territory of current Spain was divided into multiple crowns/kingdoms but it wasn't what we know today as Spain. I understand at that moment the territory was ruled by the crown of Castile and Aragon but still, each kingdom was working as an independent state.

So my question is why did Hernan Cortes name the territory in America "New Spain" if there wasn't an "Old Spain" to begin with?

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    Spain as the territory of the Iberian Peninsula was called Espanna/Spanya/Spania since the 12th century, as you can read in the Crónica de San Juan de la Peña and in the works of Bernat Desclot and Ramon Muntaner. And that without considering the Visigothis use of Hispania for the name of their domains. Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 16:58
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    Documenting preliminary research will improve both the probability of an answer and the quality of the answer(s) What's wrong with the answer in Wikipedia (referenced above by C. Martin). This is an example of an interesting historical blind spot - modern national identities obscure the complexity of pre-modern intermingling of ethnic, governmental and proto-state identities. The terms we use today "Spain" can have quite different meanings as we go back in time.
    – MCW
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 17:00
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    @CarlosMartin, not to mention it also being the name of the Roman province, which is an important factor in nomenclature there. In fact, across Europe there’s several states that hark back to the names of Roman provinces in their names: not only Spain, but Britain and Italy as well. Not to mention (in many languages), the names of Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Palestine:
    – user22453
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 18:36
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    Related Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 18:58
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    I feel the underlying misunderstanding here is that "regions of the world" and "government" (and, relatedly, nationality) were not always as tightly linked as they are now. Spain as a geographical region existed long before Spain as a national country.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 8:13

1 Answer 1

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‘Spain’ in the sense of ‘Hispania’, alluding to the Roman province, certainly existed as a concept at the time, even if the Kingdom didn’t (yet). Indeed, there’s several medieval Kings in the Iberian peninsula who used the title ‘Imperator totius Hispaniae’ (ie, ‘Emperor of all Spain’).

See, for example, the epitaph of Ferdinand I of Leon, who died in 1103:

H. E. TUMULATUS FERNANDUS MAGNUS REX TOTIUS HISPANIAE. FILIUS SANCTII REGIS PIRENAEORUM ET TOLOSAE. ISTA TRANSTULIT CORPORA. SANCTORUM IN LEGIONE BEATI ISIDORI ARCHIEPISCOPI AB HISPALI VICENTIIMARTYRIS AB ABELA. ET FECIT ECCLESIAM HANC LAPIDEAM. QUAE OLIM FUERAT LUTEA, HIC PRAELIANDO FECIT SIBI TRIBUTARIOS OMNES SARRACENOS HISPANIAE ET CEPIT COLIMBRIAM, LAMEGO, VESEO, ET ALIAS. ISTE VI CEPIT REGNA GARSIAE ET VEREMUDI. OBIIT VI K. JANUARII. ERA MCIII.

Translated:

Here is buried Ferdinand the Great, king of all Spain, son of Sancho king of the Pyrenees and Toulouse. He transferred to León the holy bodies of Saint Isidore archbishop, from Seville, and of Vicente martyr, from Avila, and built this church of stone, which in another time was of mud. He made his tributaries, with arms, all the Saracens of Spain. He seized Coimbra, Lamego, Viseo and other places. He took by force the kingdoms of Garcia and Vermudo. He died on December 27, (the year) 1103.

Another example, Ferdinand III of Castile, who died in 1292 and is buried in Seville's Cathedral; note how "ESPAÑA" is already written in its modern form, not in Latin:

enter image description here

AQVI YAZE EL MVY ONDRADO HERNANDO, SEÑOR DE CASTIELLA E DE TOLEDO, E DE LEON, E DE GALICIA, DE SEVILLA, DE CORDOVA, DE MVRCIA, DE IHAEN, EL QVE CONQVISSO TODA ESPAÑA, EL MAS LEAL, EL MAS VERDADERO, EL MAS FRANCO, EL MAS ESFORZADO, EL MAS APVESTO, EL MAS GRANADO, EL MAS ZOFRIDO, EL MAS HOMILDOSO, EL QVE MAS TEMIE A DIOS, EL QVE MAS LE FACIE SERVICIO, EL QVE QVEBRANTO E DESTRVYO A TODOS SVS ENEMIGOS, EL QVE ALZO, E ONDRO TODOS SVS AMIGOS, E CONQVISSO LA CIVDAD DE SEVILLA, QVE ES CABEZA DE TODA ESPAÑA, E PASSO EN EL POSTRIMERO DIA DE MAYO, EN LA ERA DE MIL E CC. E NOVAENTA

Translated:

Here lies the most noble Ferdinand, lord of Castile and of Toledo, and of Leon, and of Galicia, of Seville, of Cordoba, of Murcia, of Jaen, the one who conquered all Spain, the most loyal, the most true, the most frank, the most hardworking, the most handsome, the most distinguished, the most suffered, the most humble, the one who feared God most, who did Him most service, who broke and destroyed all his enemies, who raised up, and honored all his friends, and conquered the city of Seville, which is the head of all Spain, and passed on the last day of May, in the year of one thousand and two hundred and ninety.

So Spain being a concept in the 1500s shouldn’t be all that surprising.

In exactly the same way ‘Britain’ (ie, Britannia), and ‘Italy’ were also concepts, even though a Kingdom of Great Britain wouldn’t exist until 1707, and a unified Kingdom of Italy encompassing the entire peninsula wouldn’t exist until 1861/70.

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    "[A] unified Kingdom of Italy encompassing the entire peninsula wouldn’t exist until 1861/70." -- that is not exactly true. The Ostrogothic Kingdom was called Regnum Italiae, and it included the whole peninsula.
    – Riwen
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 8:34
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    @Riwen there also were the medieval kingdom of Italy (later part of the HRE, then defunct) and the Napoleonic kingdom of Italy, even though neither controlled the entire peninsula. The related concept did definitely exist. Similarly, the medieval kingdom of Germany, which just got subsumed into the HRE.
    – Chieron
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 13:00
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    Would Emperor Charles V (for whom Cortes was working) have been styled "King of Spain" at the time, or would he have been known to his contemporaries as King of Castile and King of Aragon distinctly? (His Wikipedia page styles him as "King of Spain", but I can't tell if that's an anachronism.) -- I think implicit in the question is why Cortes chose "New Spain" rather than, e.g., "New Castile".
    – R.M.
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 18:58
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    @JulioBastida they called themselves castellanos, gallegos, etc. But during the 13th-15th centuries, both Castille and Aragon annexed several other kingdoms and, for example, the King of Castille was automatically the King of Leon, the King of Navarre, the King of Galicia and several other kingdoms that had to share a king. With the marriage of the Catholic Monarchs in 1469, the kingdoms of Castille and Aragon got joined under the name of Kings of Spain. Only on paper: their grandson, Carlos I (V for most of the world) had to be recognized as King of Castille and after that, King of Aragon. Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 6:24
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    @CarlosMartin Until the first Bourbon dissolved the Cortes de Aragón, centralized everything (like in France) and created the red-yellow flag inspired by the Aragonese Senyera to compensate the Crown of Aragón for its loss of power. Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 6:33

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