León was founded in the 1st century BC by the Roman legion Legio VI Victrix, which served under Caesar Augustus during the Cantabrian Wars (29-19 BC), the final stage of the Roman conquest of Hispania. In the year 74 AD, the Legio VII Gemina —recruited from the Hispanics by Galba in 69 AD— settled in a permanent military camp that was the origin of the city. Its modern name, León, is derived from the city's Latin name Castra Legionis.
The Romans established the site of the city to protect the recently conquered territories of northwestern Hispania from the Astures and Cantabri, and to secure the transport of gold extracted in the province —especially in the huge nearby mines of Las Médulas— that was taken to Rome through Asturica Augusta (modern-day Astorga).
Tacitus calls the legion Galbiana, to distinguish it from the old Legio VII Claudia, but this appellation is not found on any inscriptions. It appears to have received the appellation of Gemina on account of its amalgamation by Vespasian with one of the German legions, probably the Legio I Germanica. Its full name was Legio VII Gemina Felix. After serving in Pannonia, and in the civil wars, it was settled by Vespasian in Hispania Tarraconensis, to supply the place of the Legio VI Victrix and Legio X Gemina, two of the three legions ordinarily stationed in the province, but which had been withdrawn to Germany.
That its regular winter quarters, under later emperors, were at León, we learn from the Itinerary, Ptolemy, and the
Notitiae Imperii, as well as from a few inscriptions; but there are numerous inscriptions to prove that a strong detachment of it was stationed at Tarraco (modern Tarragona), the chief city of the province.
Gardens of Plaza de San Marcos
Kingdom of León
The post-Roman history of the city is largely the history of the Kingdom of León. The station of the legion in the territory of the Astures grew into an important city, which resisted the attacks of the Visigoths until AD 586, when it was taken by Leovigild; and it was one of the few cities which the Visigoths allowed to retain their fortifications.
During the Umayyad conquest of Hispania, in 715 Tariq advanced from the area of La Rioja towards Astorga and León. The same fortress, which the Romans had built to protect the plain from the incursions of the mountaineers, became the advanced post which covered the mountain, as the last refuge of Cisastur Tribes. However, there is no notice of resistance whatsoever. An attempt was made by the invaders to settle the strongholds with Berbers came in a military capacity, but the scheme was abandoned when the Berbers of northern Iberia rebelled against the Arabs and gave up their positions to join the revolt around 740.
Towards the year 846, a group of Mozarabs (Christians who did not flee from the Muslims and lived under the Muslim regime) tried to repopulate the city, but a Muslim attack prevented that initiative. In the year 856, under the Christian king Ordoño I, another attempt at repopulation was made and was successful. Alfonso III of León and García I of León made León city the capital of the Kingdom of León and the most important of the Christian cities in Iberia.
The Kingdom of León started as an independent Kingdom in 910 when the seat of Asturias moved to León, but there was no such thing as an official name change.
Sacked by Almanzor in about 987, the city was reconstructed and repopulated by Alfonso V, whose Decree of 1017 regulated its economic life, including the functioning of its markets. León was a way-station for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago leading to Santiago de Compostela. With Alfonso V of León the city had the "Fueru de Llión", an important letter of privileges.
The Kingdom of León conquered the Leonese Extremadura under Alfonso IX. After his death his son Fernando III, already king of Castile, joined both crowns in 1230. His son, Alfonso X divided the kingdom again in his testament, but it was not accepted by the King of Castile, who rejoined both crowns. From 1296 to 1301, León was an independent kingdom again, and from then until 1833, when Spain was divided into regions and provinces, the Kingdom of León kept itself as a Spanish Crown territory, whose capital city was León apart from a short period, during which French troops invaded the Kingdom when it was Carracedo.
First democratic Parliament in 1188
In 1188, Alfonso IX of León joined in the city of León all the three states becoming the city in the first European Parliament, developing laws that protected the people.
Suburbs for traders and artisans sprang up, who, after the 13th century, began to influence the municipal government. During the early Middle Ages, the livestock industry produced a period of prosperity for the city.
In the 16th century, economic and demographic decline set in and continued until the 19th century. In July 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, León joined the war against the Republicans.
During the 1960s, León experienced much growth due to in-migration from the rural zones of the province.
In 1983 León was added to the neighbouring region of Castile, to form the Autonomous Community of Castile and León. A popular and local political movement was opposed to being ruled from Madrid. Consequently, León is the centre of a peaceful political movement for Leonese autonomy. Some of the Leonese people support the idea of creating a Leonese autonomous community formed by the provinces of Salamanca, León and Zamora, which have traditionally composed the Leonese Region.
The Palacio de los Guzmanes
, the provincial parliament (Diputación) in the capital