The term “Sepharad” has been in use since the eighth century in reference to Spain and the Spanish Jews, and, by extension, has been applied to all the Jews in the communities around the Mediterranean.
Little is known of the Spanish-Jewish communities before the eighth century. During the Roman Empire Jews were considered foreigners, or non-Romans. Under the reign of the Visigoth kings, who were ethnically Aryans, the Jews were tolerated and many lived as farmers.
In 586 King Recaredo converted to Christianity, and the Jews in Spain subsequently endured nearly a century of persecutions and forced conversions.
When Arabs arrived on the Penninsula in 711 Jews allied themselves with them. The Arab forces were in dire need of faithful allies since they were few in numbers. It was actually in the interest of both communities to get along, especially after a large number of Jews from the Maghreb joined the ranks of the Moors and the Jews of the Sepharad.
The importance of this Jewish minority is reflected in the naming of several “Jewish cities” including the southern city of Granada, Tarragona, and Lucena. As urban settlements began to develop there was a growing need for shopkeepers and administrators, functions Arabs and Berbers greatly disliked.