The Basque culture is considered to be the very oldest culture in Europe. The Basque language certainly predates anything remotely Indo-European, and any Celtophile may be distressed to discover that they predate the Celts by hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. The Basques have remained intact in their country in and around the Pyrenees for thousands of years, and they've withstood migrations and invasions of Celts, Romans, Germanic tribes, Arabs, and Fascists, just to name a few. They've given us so much -- the beret, cake, the bayonette, the pimento, and many other things.
Unfortunately, this nation has no borders, it exists on the border of Spain and France, and they've suffered for this, especialy in the past two centuries. In Spain, efforts have been made to restore much of the original autonomy, though Navarre, the greatest of the Basque Kingdoms, is now all but assimilated. This is great, but little can be done to make up for the ruthless rule of Francisco Franco, who opressed the Basques for forty years due to their anti-Fascist and deeply religious position in the Spanish Civil War. He even allowed Hitler to 'test' his Luftwaffe on the Basque Country, destroying two major cities, including the fabled Guernica. And while Spain's recent efforts should be commended, France has done little to ease up on the forced assimilatory practices that they've enforced since the French Revolution, resulting in a very tiny population of French Basque-speakers. Similar linguistic opression in France has resulted in the extinction and near extinction of other minority languages in France, most notably Occitan/Provençal.
Here is a list of some Basques, those from the Basque country and their ethnic descendants, who have affected the world:
- Juan Sebastián Elcano(Elkano) -- the first person to circumnavigate the globe, he took over Magellan's expedition after Magellan himself was killed in the Philippines.
- Miguel de Unamuno -- writer and philosopher, one of the predecessors of existentialist philosophy at the beginning of the 20th Century.
- Ignatius of Loyola -- a very important Catholic saint and founder of the Society of Jesus in 1540, the Jesuits, who were perhaps the most important and powerful order of priests throughout much of the Age of Exploration, and are today known for their efforts in the fields of philosophy and education. St. Ignatius Loyola is perhaps one of the two most famous of all Basques
- Francis Xavier -- another Catholic saint, he was perhaps the second of the two most famous Basques. He was a contemporary of Ignatius Loyola and one of the original Jesuits. He was a prominent theologian, and was responsible for spreading Christianity in the East Indies, ultimately bringing Christianity to Japan, which would lead to complications and war under the Tokugawa Dynasty, eventually to the complete closing of the country. He was also perhaps the first Westerner to write academically about Japanese language and culture.
- Dolores Ibarurri -- 'La Pasionaria,' important European political theorist, feminist, communist, passionate anti-fascist, a political and humanist jack-of-all-trades in a Europe that was on the brink of hell. She was important in the establishment of the short-lived Second Republic, the government that existed after the monarchy lost most of its power and before Francisco Franco took over after the Spanish Civil War. She lived in exile in the Soviet Union for the next 38 years.
- Novelists Pío Baroja y Nessi, Robert Laxalt and Bernardo Atxaga, and historian Esteban de Garibay
- Simon Bolívar -- This freedom fighter, for whom the nation of Bolivia is named, was of Basque descent. His efforts resulted in the freedom of many nations in Central and South America. In Latin America, he is seen as a sort of George Washington figure.
- Louis Daguerre -- The inventor of photography (daguerrotypography) was of Basque descent
- Urdaneta and Legazpi -- These explorers pioneered the Spanish route across the Pacific from Mexico to the Philippines.
- Artists: Composers J. C. Arriaga, Jesús Guridi , and Maurice Ravel...violinist Pablo Sarasate, and sculptor Eduardo Txillida
- Athletes: Cyclist Miguel Idurain, golfer José María Olazabal, tennis players Jean Borotra and Nathalie Tauziat, not to mention countless French and Spanish soccer and rugby players.
- It should be noted that the vast majority of the men who served on Chirstopher Columbus' ships were Basques. There's also a theory that the Basques landed in Canada even before the Vikings did. Truth or myth, it comes from the fact that in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, the Basques were very well known as more than able whalers and sailors, braving the Bay of Biscay and the Northern Atlantic Ocean.