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Marranos or 'secret Jews' were Sephardic Jews, or Jewish people living in the Iberian peninsula, forced to convert to Catholicism-Christianity or be expelled from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon (Spain). This designation officially began in 1492 with the Castilian Alhambra Decree, reversing protections in the Treaty of Granada (1491), and used for conversos, or ' confirmed converts', at first. However, soon Marranos was used for people that continued to practice Judaism secretly, crypto-Jews preserving their Jewish identity, 'the secret Jews' or judíos escondidos. In Hebrew, forced converts were known as Anusim, which means unwilling ones, though the term would also include those who did not retain their Judaism.

Marrano in 15th century Spanish first meant pig, from the ritual prohibition against eating pork, practiced by both Jews and Muslims. During the Spanish Inquisition Marrano acquired the pejorative meanings: "filthy-pig" (sucio); swine (sin escrúpulos); and "filthy-dirty". In contemporary Spanish the word is no longer associated with Jews. In contemporary Portuguese the word refers only to crypto-Jews, with marrão meaning the animal pig or swine.



Under state pressure in the late 15th century, an estimated 100,000–200,000 Jews in the Iberian Peninsula converted to Christianity. (The numbers who converted and those who migrated from the area have been issues of debate by historians.) The converts were known as conversos. They were also called Cristianos nuevos and Cristãos novos (new Christians) in Spain and Portugal, respectively. (Within Jewish tradition there was sympathy for forced converts and an assumption they would prefer to practice their original faith.) A disputed recent genetic study on the male Y chromosome conducted by the University of Leeds in 2008 appears to support the idea that the number of forced conversions were significantly underestimated, estimating that 20% of the male Iberian population have some Sephardim ancestry. These percentages are believed to represent the proportions of the respective populations at the time of mass conversions in the 14th and 15th centuries.[1] Nevertheless, the Sephardic result is in contradiction or not replicated in all the body of genetic studies done in Iberia,[2][3][4][5][6] and has been later questioned by the authors themselves[7][8][9][10] and by Stephen Oppenheimer who estimates that much earlier migrations, 5000 to 10,000 years ago from the Eastern Mediterranean might also have accounted for the Sephardic estimates: "They are really assuming that they are looking at his migration of Jewish immigrants, but the same lineages could have been introduced in the Neolithic".[11] The same authors in a October 2008 study also attributed most of those same lineages in Iberia and the Balearic Islands as of Phoenician origin.[6]

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