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The Basques are an indigenous people who inhabit parts of both Spain and France. Today, the Basque Country, or Euskal Herria, is composed of seven provinces which are arranged in three district parts. Three provinces in Spain: Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Araba - compose the Basque Autonomous Community. The historically Basque province of Navarre forms its own community in Spain. The last three provinces: Zuberoa, Lapurdi, and Behe-Nafarroa - lie on the French side of the border.

The main sources for the early history of the Basques are the classical writers, especially Strabo, who in the 1st century AD reports that the north of modern-day Navarre and Aragon were inhabited by a people known as the Vascones (this is not the area of the modern-day autonomous community of the Basque Country (here "the present Basque Country"), but an area immediately east of it). Although the word Vascones is clearly related to the modern word "Basque", we do not know for sure if the Vascones were indeed the ancestors of the modern Basques, or whether they spoke an old form of the Basque language. Surviving place names and a few personal names tend to suggest they spoke old Basque, but we cannot be sure.

On the territory of the present Basque Country lived three different peoples: the Vardulli, the Caristi, and the Autrigones. Nobody knows if these three peoples were related to the Vascones, or if they spoke a language related to old Basque, as they have left no written records. Some researchers, based on the meager historical evidence we possess, think that they were Celtiberian peoples, speaking languages not related to old Basque, but we cannot be sure. In fact, the place where a Basque-related language is the best attested is Gascony, in the southwest of France, where the local Aquitanians spoke a language which is proven beyond doubt to be akin to Basque.

Later in the period of the Roman Empire, the Vascones seem to have moved west into what is the present Basque Country (while some also clearly stayed in Navarre), either absorbing or displacing the Vardulli, Caristi, and Autrigones, and from this emerged the Basque nation.

It is widely believed that the Basques have occupied a single region of Europe longer than any other identifiable ethnic group. There is also considerable evidence that the Basque language was once spoken over a much wider area than the modern day Basque country. The Middle Ages and the Reconquista extended the Basque territory beyond the limits of the Roman age.

The only archeological evidence for an invasion of the Basque Country dates some 40,000 years ago when Cro-Magnon people first arrived in Europe and superseded Homo neanderthalensis. It is possible that the ancestors of the Basques first arrived in Europe at this time, but the archeological evidence is shaky. Another possibility is that a precursor of the Basque language may have arrived with the advance of agriculture, some 6,000 years ago.

It is quite likely that the Basques arrived before the Indo-Europeans and thus that they are the oldest continuously surviving people inhabiting a particular location in Europe. It is believed that they have lived in or near their present location for thousands of years, a relatively small group of people surviving when many others were overwhelmed by invaders. A number of early Basque writers sought to explain this, in keeping with the academic fashion of their time, through speculation about racial superiority, but the endurance of the Basques can also be explained by good fortune: they happened to be in the right place over and over again.

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia