[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Haga clic aquí para una página en Español.]

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 1

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of Chile

Luis Galdames

translated and edited by Isaac Joslin Cox
Russell & Russell
New York 1964

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 3

 p19  Chapter II
The Spaniards

The Discovery of America

During the latter part of the fifteenth century the two nations which occupied the extreme southwest of Europe — Spain and Portugal — were engaged in a great enterprise — that of finding a maritime passage to India and neighboring countries. The regions of Asia and Oceania were much coveted because they produced articles of great value: spices (such as nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon, pepper, cloves), pearls, diamonds, and ivory; and from China, adjacent to India, perfumes, porcelains, and silks were obtained.

Before this period Europe had carried on commerce with the Indies by way of exceedingly long and dangerous routes. Numerous caravans of merchants crossed the Mediterranean or the Bosporus and, passing armed through Syria, Mesopotamia, and Iran, or through Asia Minor, Armenia, and Caspian Turkestan, succeeded in descending the valleys of the Ganges and the Indus. Others crossed the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf in sailboats and, after touching at the shores of the Indian Ocean, continued toward the marvelous Orient.

It is easy to imagine the sacrifice and risk that those caravans of adventurers endured on so long a voyage, and easy also to calculate at what a great price they sold the products they brought into Europe. But at the end of the fifteenth century no one was able to use these routes because the Turks had made themselves masters of western Asia and of Egypt and were hostile toward Christians who ventured through their dominions.1

Such being the situation, with the European people lacking the valuable articles of the Indies — as all the eastern part of Asia was called at that time — it requires little reflection to see how profitable it would be to reëstablish this commerce. Portugal was the first to undertake the enterprise, and from the middle of the fifteenth century this project attracted the major attention of its kings. The western coast of Africa was selected as the route,  p20 for it was necessary to go around that continent in order to reach the desired Indies.

Many mariners were sacrificed on these expeditions; but from year to year advance was made along the route sought. A Portuguese, Bartolomé Diaz, had already reached the southern end of Africa (the Cape of Good Hope) in 1488, and it seemed certain that Portugal was very near to attaining its goal when a poor mariner, a native of Genoa, presented himself at the court of Spain and proposed to the sovereigns the same plan of finding the Indies, but by a route quite opposite to that which the Portuguese were following. This mariner was Christopher Columbus. His project was founded on a scientific truth up to that time generally unknown — the rotundity of the earth — and it consisted in going to the Indies by sailing westward over the Atlantic Ocean.​2 But Columbus did not foresee the possibility of encountering en route distinct regions that would impede his passage, because he supposed the earth to be much smaller than it really is.

When he arrived in Spain no one was thinking of embarking on voyages of discovery. All the resources of the country were concentrated on a national war. The attempt was being made to oust the Moors or Mohammedans from the last stronghold they held on the Peninsula, after having occupied it for eight centuries — the kingdom of Granada.

The Catholic rulers, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, were so preoccupied with the war that they had no desire even to hear about the project, the consummation of which was offered to them. But the wise men of the court studied it and decided that it could not be realized. When, however, Granada was taken by the Spaniards and when the war was thereby concluded, Isabella of Castile accepted the propositions of Columbus and lent him funds for manning three ships.​3 In these he sailed westward from the little port of Palos at the beginning of August 1492. After many sufferings, on the twelfth of October of the same year, the squadron touched an island of the Bahama Archipelago which its commander called San Salvador. Then, changing his course toward the south, he coasted among the Greater Antilles,  p21 disembarked on them, and finally began the return journey to Spain in order to give an account of his discovery. He firmly believed that he had found the Indies, and everyone else believed the same.

Three more voyages by the intrepid explorer, in which he discovered the rest of the Antilles, the northern coast of South America, and the coast of Central America, simply confirmed him in his first idea. He died in 1506 still persisting in his error. Meanwhile, a Portuguese, Vasco da Gama, during his voyages and eight years before his death had reached India in 1498, after going around Africa by way of its western and eastern coasts. The voyages to the country discovered by Columbus did not cease, however. All of the explorers thought they had come to the Indies, until two of them demonstrated that these lands were in reality a great continent. These men were Amerigo Vespucci and Vasco Núñez de Balboa.

The former was a native of Florence, Italy. A mariner like Columbus, he made four voyages to the recently discovered regions. He explored the northern and eastern coast of South America, as far as Puerto Santo in Brazil.​4 He afterward published a narrative of his voyages and a rough geographical draft of the regions over which he had travelled, and in this narrative he was the first to maintain that the discovered territories were not the Indies but another continent. This opinion was based on the fact that the products of these territories differed from those of India. The other discoverer, Balboa, at the head of the government of Panama,​5 started from the Gulf of Darién, crossed the isthmus, and discovered an immense ocean which, from the direction in which it extended, he named the South Sea. This was in 1513.

From then on it could not be doubted that what Columbus discovered was not the Indies but a continent of whose existence the rest of the world had been ignorant. Spain called it the Indias Occidentales (West Indies), in contrast to the others, and its inhabits, indios (Indians). But men of learning in Europe afterward gave it the name of Land of Americus, or simply America, from the fact that a German geographer, who published in Latin a description of these regions based on the narrative of  p22 Vespucci, placed at the foot of the corresponding map two words which constituted its baptism: Americi Terra (Land of America).6

Discovery of the Strait of Magellan

The Spaniards looked with displeasure on the discovery the new continent. They wished for only the Indies, with their spices, their diamonds, their ivory, porcelains and perfumes. The Portuguese had already succeeded in reaching the Indies and, when the Spaniards saw rival boats return to Lisbon laden with riches from the Orient, their ambition was redoubled because of their envy. America, in their opinion, was worth very little compared with the Indies, to which it was necessary to go in order to compete with the Portuguese for the commercial monopoly of all their products.

It would be exceedingly easy to realize such an ambition today; by sailing in the same direction around Africa as did the Portuguese, not only any country, but any individual, would be able to reach it. But it was impossible for the Spaniards to go to the Indies by that route.

The Catholic countries of Europe considered the pope the sole proprietor of the regions where infidel and barbarian peoples lived. The kings of Portugal had obtained the express concession from the pope over all the lands which they might discover and conquer on their voyages to the east. When Columbus and his companions found new lands by sailing in an opposite direction the sovereigns of Spain asked for and obtained a similar grant from another pope; but the latter, in order to avoid conflicts, was careful to fix a limit between both concessions. The limit was soon modified by a common accord between the two nations thus benefited (by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494) and, as agreed upon, definitely remained as follows: an imaginary line (meridian) that cut the planet from pole to pole, 370 leagues west of the Azores. The regions discovered, or to be discovered, west of that line should belong to Spain; those to the east, to Portugal.7

The Spaniards, then, did not have any other way of reaching the coveted Indies except by passing through some part of America and keeping on to the westward. Some passage must exist between  p23 the Atlantic Ocean and the recently discovered "Southern Sea." The Spaniards now devoted themselves to finding this probable strait which might unite the two oceans. The first expedition failed. A famous mariner of Castile named Juan Díaz de Solís commanded it. Skirting the coast of South America, he came to the estuary of La Plata, which he thought an arm of the sea and therefore called Mar Dulce (Fresh-water Sea). Believing that the passage he sought went through here, he entered this estuary and landed on an island, where the Indians attacked him, took him prisoner, with many of his party, and killed all whom they captured. Those who escaped returned to Spain to give an account of the disaster.

Four years after this event, in 1519, a new expedition left Spain with the same object as that of Solís. A Portuguese named Ferdinand Magellan commanded it. With five ships, following the same route pursued by Solís, he reached the estuary of La Plata, or Mar Dulce. Recognizing it for what it was — not an arm of the sea but a river — he approached the coast more to the south and was detained in the Bay of San Julián during the winter months of 1520. It was here that the sight of some tall muscular natives who walked around wrapped in skins made Magellan and his companions think they were a race of giants. Because they wore leather sandals, they left large tracks on the sand. The men, therefore, called them Patagones or patones (clumsy-footed) and the region they inhabited, Patagonia. Advancing toward the south, they rounded Cape Virgins and Dungeness and finally, on March 1, 1520, entered the strait. On the day he discovered it, Magellan bestowed upon it the name Todos los Santos (All Saints), but posterity has justly given it the name of its discoverer.8

Magellan realized that he was in the southernmost part of the continent and that the region he saw toward the south must be  p24 an island. He named it Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) because of the lighted fires which he saw on it from afar. Arriving at the extremity of Brunswick Peninsula, he rounded Cape Froward and continued northward until he emerged into the open sea, which he called "Pacific" because of its tranquil waters. Thus the southern part of our country was discovered.

Believing that the ocean was much smaller than it is, Magellan decided to follow the route to the west until he should completely cross it and arrive at the Indies. The scarcity of provisions at first, and later their absolute failure, made this passage extremely painful. The greater part of the crew died from hunger and thirst, and those who survived were compelled to eat the rats and the leather on their ships.

After some months the surviving portion of the expedition reached the Philippine Islands. Magellan and his companions landed on one of them in order to obtain food. Attacked by the Indians, the Portuguese commander fell dead with some of his men. The pilot, [Juan] Sebastián de Elcano, with only one ship (the Victoria), continued westward; he passed by the rich "Archipelago of the Spices" and in front of the continental Indies, and, after traversing the Indian Ocean and rounding Africa, reached Spain in September, 1522.

Of the two hundred and fifty men who composed the expedition, fifty had returned to Spain in a ship which was separated from the fleet in the strait; and, of the rest, only eighteen returned, so emaciated and thin that no one would have recognized them, if they had not identified themselves. But they had succeeded in discovering the strait which united the two great oceans; they had reached the Indies, just as Columbus had thought, by sailing westward; and they had, for the first time, circumnavigated the earth, thus proving its sphericity. The glory of these discoveries belonged principally to Spain.

The Conquest of Peru (1532‑1533)

At the time that Ferdinand Magellan discovered the strait which bears his name, none of the countries of South America bordering on the Pacific knew of the Spaniards. On the other hand, the islands of the Antilles and the adjacent regions, washed by the same sea from Mexico to Venezuela, were already active centers of conquest. Not many years were to pass, however, before the regions bordering on the Pacific also were traversed by Spaniards and conquered for their kings.

On the Isthmus of Panama a colony had been founded shortly  p25 after the discovery of the so‑called South Sea. This was the point of departure for those who undertook the discovery and conquest of the Incan Empire. Here also the first reports of its existence were received. After some explorations, which confirmed the information relating to the wealth of that empire, three men of the city of Panama formed an association to undertake its conquest. The priest of the colony, Fernando de Luque, and two Spanish adventurers, Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro, were associated in the enterprise. The first risked only his capital; the other two, their lives.

In 1532 Pizarro, with fewer than two hundred men, in a surprise attack seized the person of the Inca in the city of Cajamarca in the north of Peru. This ruler, called Atahualpa, had just obtained the throne after a bloody civil war against his brother, Huáscar. Through the captivity of the Inca and his execution soon after, the conquest of the whole empire was completed. A year later Pizarro and Almagro entered Cuzco, the capital city. The northern and the central part of the empire were thus subjected to the conquerors, and, if the south — Bolivia, Tucumán, and Chile — did not also render obedience to them, it was not because the conquerors lacked the spirit to rule the entire country, but because they did not yet have either the time or the forces for the necessary scouting.

Very soon, however, they had all that was necessary. At the report of a new conquest, a great mass of adventurers landed in Peru. So much gold had been taken from the Incan treasury that the empire was everywhere reputed to be a country of fabulous riches. One can understand that there were many who desired to make their fortunes here. The two conquering chiefs, already enormously enriched, were anxious to divide authority in the conquered territories, just as they had divided the Incan treasure. The other associate, Luque, could take nothing, because he was already dead when the riches were found.

Pizarro was the leader of the enterprise and ought, by rights, to be the governor of the conquered empire. Almagro also wished to have his own domain and communicated his desire to the king. The latter thought this a just request, and divided administration of the territory. That of Pizarro was called New Castile and extended from a point near the line of the equator, two hundred and seventy leagues to the southward, reckoned along the coast. That of Almagro was called New Toledo and extended from the limit of Pizarro's grant two hundred leagues farther to the south, reckoned in the same way as the former. The eastern limits were  p26 not defined but might extend as far as the shores of the Atlantic, since no one yet knew the breadth of the continent.

The conquering leaders disputed hotly for the possession of Cuzco, the richest city, each one claiming that it lay within his domain; but finally they agreed that, until the king should settle the conflict, Almagro should leave to conquer a country to the southward, which the Peruvian Indians said was very rich in gold and which was undoubtedly within his New Toledo. This country was none other than Chile.

The First Spanish Expedition to Chile

In reality the Peruvian Indians who exaggerated the wealth of Chile lied knowingly, with the deliberate purpose of ridding their country of the greatest possible number of Spaniards. They secretly planned a general uprising for the purpose of restoring the native monarchy in the person of Inca Manco,​9 a prisoner of the Spaniards in Cuzco. Excited by their good reports, Almagro prepared for his campaign into Chile. He spent on his equipment all the gold and silver that belonged to his share of Atahualpa's treasury, an immense fortune of a million and a half Spanish pesos, equivalent today to more than thirty million pesos of Chilean money.​10 Horses, weapons, equipment, and outfit for the campaign had reached fabulous prices in Peru because they were scarce, and those who could buy them had to have plenty of money. Even so, Almagro could equip five hundred Spaniards, to whom he added thousands of auxiliary Indians (yanaconas, as they were called) to carry the provisions.

The army set out on the march in the middle of the year 1535. This great mob of expeditionaries not only bore weapons of war against the Indians but also weapons to fight against nature — picks, axes, shovels, and other implements. The route followed  p27 on leaving Cuzco, was the Bolivian plateau amid the ranges of the Andes. After some weeks of travel they crossed the high plateau of Collao, bordering on Lake Titicaca, continued to the east of the Desaguadero River, which carries the waters from Lake Titicaca to Poopó and, at the end of a long trail in the midst of lonely mountains, they halted in Tupiza. It was now four months since they had left Cuzco and they had travelled a third of the route, but this part was the most hospitable. Wherever they passed, however, they devastated the fields and crops of the defenseless Indians and forced them to enlist in their ranks as yanaconas. This meant they would be treated worse than beasts. Fastened together in files by chains about their necks, they proceeded in separate groups, bearing provisions for the campaign or carrying on stretchers the Spanish soldiers and their horses when these became tired on the march.

After a long rest in Tupiza they struck their tents and advanced southward until confronted by the San Francisco Pass, where they had to ascend the Puna de Atacama, some thirteen thousand feet high. Amidst untold suffering they had crossed burning deserts, high mountains, and swollen rivers. But the worst part of the route still remained, the crossing of the Puna. Because of the altitude, the cold during the night is so unbearable in these regions that water freezes, and in the daytime strong winds from the west beat in the face of travelers. There is almost no vegetation, and the ground, formed of sharp shifting pebbles, draws blood even from the hoofs of animals. The soroche or puna, a suffocating sickness produced by the rarity of the air, causes nausea and painful convulsions.

In this heartbreaking region, the dead bodies of some ten thousand Indians were left. Most of the horses also perished, and, if many of the Spaniards did not meet with the same fate, it was only because of the special care they bestowed upon themselves. There were few, however, who escaped severe bruises. Numerous flocks of condors and vultures surrounded the expedition and carried off, almost before they fell, the corpses of the Indians and of the beasts of burden.

At last, however, the expedition was able to cross the Cordillera and descend to Copiapó. The soldiers reached there in such a wretched condition that they looked like an army of specters. But, after all, they were now in Chile. In spite of the feeble appearance of the strangers, the Indians were greatly amazed at beholding these rare foreigners, white, bearded, and mounted on animals  p28 of a kind they did not know and so dextrous that rider and beast seemed like one person. So imposing was the invading host that they never tried to resist it; on the contrary, they helped it with whatever they possessed. This was in the early months of 1536. For some weeks Almagro and his men remained there, resting from the fatigues and sufferings of the journey. Then they advanced southward and, crossing by slow marches the valleys of Huasco and Coquimbo, established their general headquarters in Aconcagua.

On leaving Cuzco, Almagro had prepared and left ships in Callao to bring him provisions. Sailing with difficulty, only one arrived at its destination with provisions for the army and equipment for the animals. The Santiaguillo, as the ship was called, had navigated along our whole northern coast and seems to have unloaded its cargo in the cove of Los Vilos and then continued its exploration of the coast as far as the Bay of Valparaiso.

After renewing the shoes of his horses and arranging the equipment for the campaign, the commander of the exploring expedition thought the moment had arrived to begin the examination of the territory. He sent four exploring parties in as many different directions. The most important was the one that crossed the country as far as the banks of the Maule River and returned bringing lamentable reports. These explorations were carried out during the most severe months in Chile, June to August, and it seems that the winter of 1536 was exceedingly severe because the Spaniards then saw only swollen rivers and swamps, impassable under very heavy rains. The inhabitants lived in extreme poverty; they wore almost no clothes, their food was scarce, and their shelter consisted of some miserable huts of branches and straw. Worst of all, gold was nowhere to be found. Impressed by what they saw, the explorers concluded that Chile must be uninhabitable; and, although Almagro seems not entirely to have shared the same opinion, his officers induced him to return. They coveted gold above everything else and they found none in this country, while Peru abounded in the precious metal. On the other hand, Almagro had spent all that he possessed without profit, and it was necessary for him to go back to Peru to repair his fortunes. The return was immediately decided upon, and Copiapó was designated as a general concentration point toward which all were to travel.

The Spaniards did not fail on this occasion to commit every possible atrocity against the defenseless Indians whom they thought they were leaving forever. Fastening them in great droves with  p29 chains and thongs around their necks, they loaded upon them all of their food and clothing. They scarcely covered the naked bodies of their captives; they gave them only a little parched corn to eat and forced them to walk long journeys without stopping. If one became ill, they did not release him from the chain; his companions had to drag him along. If he died, they cut off his head rather than detach the chain.

At the end of 1536 all the exploring parties assembled at Copiapó. They now decided to make the march through the desert of Atacama, a much less painful route than that over the Cordillera. In the first months of 1537 all were in Arequipa. The energetic commander was now approaching the end of his career, where a disastrous fate awaited him. On returning to Peru it was found that the country had risen in rebellion and that Cuzco was in the possession of the brothers of Francisco Pizarro, but besieged by rebel Indians under the command of the Inca Manco. Almagro, after one battle, made him raise the siege but, in order to make the Pizarros deliver up the city to him, he had to go to war against them. One of these, Hernando, hated him exceedingly, and, when he took them prisoner after a brief fight, the other escaped while Almagro at once gave Hernando his liberty, under oath not to return and take up arms against him. Hernando failed to keep his oath; aided secretly by Francisco Pizarro, who lived in Lima, he organized an army, and advanced against Cuzco. The battle, fought on the plains of Salinas in view of the city, went against Almagro. The conqueror started proceedings against his rival and condemned him to death without allowing him any appeal. Almagro was executed at once in his dungeon and his body decapitated on the principal plaza of Cuzco.

For a few years more, however, civil war continued. Almagro's captains took his sons for their chief, whom they called Almagro, el mozo, and their enemies dubbed that faction "men of Chile," a burlesque nickname because it recorded a failure.

The Formation of the Spanish Nationality

In the years during which Chile was abandoned by its discoverers, all the countries where the Spanish language is spoken today, from Mexico to Argentina, had been widely occupied by the Spaniards. In this way Spain, through its dependencies, now possessed the most extensive territory that any nation of the earth had yet ruled and was, at the same time, one of the most cultured and influential countries of Europe. Spain was a monarchy that had to its credit more than ten centuries of existence  p30 and had been organized as such by the purest branch of the Germanic race — the Goths. However, these were not the first who had populated the Iberian Peninsula. When they conquered it in the fifth century of our era, a numerous population made up of various elements was distributed over it.11

First of all, in the extreme north near the sea and in the mountain spurs which unite the Cantabrians with the Pyrenees lived the Basques. Distributed through the Peninsula and thoroughly intermingled were the Iberians and Celts (Celto-Iberians). The Greeks and Phoenicians had left perceptible traces of their existence on the coasts of the south and east and even in an interior region of Andalusia. Finally, the Romans, who ruled them all, had founded many settlements in different parts of the country. As the principal language spoken was that of the last-named or Latin, the people who occupied the Peninsula previous to the coming of the Goths have generally been called by the common name, Latins. This does not include the Basques, whose origin is unknown.

As the Gothic monarchy was thus composed of variety of ethnic elements, the Goths predominated by force rather than by culture. Once both races were in contact, the Goths ended by adopting almost all the laws of the Latins, many of their customs and even their language, although the last was modified considerably by their own. At the end of the sixth century they were also converted to Christianity.

During the first three centuries of their dominion in the Peninsula, their progress was slow because, always addicted to war, they did not know how to exploit the natural wealth of the country. The Spanish territory is, moreover, largely unproductive. The central region, or the two Castiles, was and is difficult to cultivate and has a dry and irregular climate. The outlying zones of less extreme temperature, although warm in the south and with regular and even abundant rains in the north, had fine lands that are today very rich; but then, in order to make them productive, it was necessary to open roads, canals, and wells, and even to drain swamps. All of this work required great concentration of activity and the semibarbaric Goths were in no condition to  p31 undertake it. To this should be added the fact that the work of irrigation in Spain has always presented difficulties. The country is a very mountainous plateau and the rivers that cross it in the greater part of their courses run at a considerable depth below the common level.

Because of all these circumstances most of the people in Spain during this period were poor and ignorant; but, in the centuries that followed, different racial elements were added to those already existing. First came the Arabs in the eighth century. They entered for the purpose of conquest, after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, following the conquest of all of North Africa. Only the northern region of Spain, included between the Cantabrians and the sea, escaped conquest at their hands. Later the Moors also established themselves in the Peninsula. They were Mohammedans like the Arabs, but natives of North Africa. Finally, many Jews settled there peacefully.12

These three peoples (Arabs, Moors, and Jews) notably transformed the Gothic and Latin civilization which prevailed at their arrival. They were, in the main, agricultural and industrial, rather than warlike, peoples. Under them agriculture made advances of great importance. They cultivated almost all the productive land that they conquered. Among the plants introduced by them into Spain were rice, hemp, the palm, sugar cane, and cotton. The Arabs especially were more noteworthy than the others in this kind of activity. They established also many factories for the making of carpets, gauze, muslins, steel weapons, paper, leather, and other manufactured articles. After the Arabs the Moors kept up this agricultural and industrial progress. Commerce also received a tremendous impetus, thanks particularly to the enterprising spirit of the Jews.

Almost all the sciences from philosophy to mathematics and medicine, and almost all the arts, especially architecture, were cultivated among the Mohammedans.​13 They founded several notable universities in Spain, among which that of Córdoba surpassed  p32 others, and many schools. They built wonderful edifices like the Alhambra of Granada, and finally, thanks to such great efforts, after eight centuries of contact with their invaders the Spaniards found themselves more civilized than all the neighboring peoples.

Never, however, did the Spaniard tolerate with good grace the dominance of the Mohammedan in the Peninsula. From the beginning of the eighth century to the fifteenth, constant warfare was carried on by the Spaniards against the Arabs and the Moors. A handful of Gothic patriots who opposed foreign domination took refuge in the Asturias, and that fragment of soil, never overrun by the invaders, served as a place of refuge for the warriors who began the reconquest of Spain.

This struggle partook of a double character, national and at the same time religious — a war of the invaded against the invaders, of Christians against Mohammedans — and it lasted for the same eight centuries that the Moorish and Arabian domination continued. While there was a spot of land or a city anywhere on the Peninsula under the Mohammedan banner, the Spaniards never laid down their arms. During this long struggle they founded various kingdoms, among which the most important were Aragon and Castile.

In the last third of the fifteenth century the king of Aragon, Don Ferdinand, and the queen of Castile, Doña Isabella, married and formed a single realm of their kingdoms, and put forth greater effort to eject the Moors from their last stronghold, Granada. At the beginning of 1492 this enterprise achieved special success, and the sovereigns could congratulate themselves upon having completed the Christianizing of the whole Iberian Peninsula. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, all this, with the single exception of Portugal, formed only one kingdom — Spain.

But those two monarchs, who for their religious piety were called the Catholic kings, were not satisfied with this and wished all their subjects, without exception, to profess the same faith. With this end in view, the same year in which they conquered Granada they expelled from Spain the Jews, a peaceful and industrious race, and deprived the subjected Moors of the public worship of their religion and antagonized them so much that hundreds of thousands also left the country. In addition, they established a tribunal known as the Inquisition, which was to persecute all those charged with not practicing the Catholic doctrine faithfully. This was such a terrible tribunal that in the first sixteen years of its  p33 existence it ordered hanged and even burnt alive about eighty thousand persons.14

The prestige of the sovereigns was enormously increased by the discovery of America. This, as is known, was believed to be the rich Indies. All regarded this act as a reward given by God to the final victors over the Mohammedans and the implacable persecutors of heretics. The power of the Spanish sovereigns grew so strong because of this prestige that they exercised absolute authority. Before this time rich men, the masters of great estates who constituted the Spanish nobility, acted on their own properties as if they were petty kings, disobeyed royal orders, and revolted against the sovereigns. Now things changed; the Catholic kings imposed their authority on them, and those who did not accept it with good grace paid for their temerity with their lives. The monarchs became absolute.

When the Catholic kings died, a grandson succeeded them, who was even more powerful than they. Besides being king of Spain, he was emperor of Germany and master of many other dominions. This ruler, who in Spain was called Carlos I, and as emperor was called Charles V — a name by which he is generally known in history — tightened even more the reins of absolute monarchy and governed until the middle of the sixteenth century. During this last period Spain constituted a united and powerful nation, notwithstanding the varied elements which entered into the composition of its race.

The Character and Culture of the Spanish People in the sixteenth century

The constant strife in the midst of which the Spanish nation was developed, the warlike and aggressive habits of the Gothic element, and the difficult conditions of labor in a great part of the Peninsula imprinted a special stamp on the character of the Spanish people. Of course, these circumstances made them long-suffering and stimulated their natural valor, and at the same time imbued them with a marked spirit of adventure. The frequent plundering of the fields during invasions and the pastoral life pursued by the greater part of the people, with the necessary moving of their flocks from place to place in order to be free from persecution and hunger, helped very clearly to develop this spirit  p34 — a spirit which more closely affected the Spaniards who emigrated to America, because almost all of them came from the Castiles, where the barrenness of the fields and the irregularity of the climate helped to emphasize this natural characteristic here more than in any other section of the Peninsula.

Another distinctive feature of the Spanish character was the unsurpassed fidelity, a kind of idolatry, which Spaniards professed for their kings. Since during so many centuries the latter had guided them to victory for religion and for country, the people felt that their sovereigns had the right to exact the greatest sacrifice for them. The king was sacred, a representative of God on earth.

But nothing better distinguished a Spaniard from individuals of any other nationality than his extreme religiosity. He saw the hand of God everywhere, even intervening in his least acts. During his battles he believed that he had the aid of the Virgin, of the saints, and especially of the Apostle St. James,​a the patron of his armies. These he imaged in shining visions, trooping with him to battle and annihilating in an instant the enemies of his faith and of his race. The Spaniard's religious exclusiveness also made him intolerant and fanatical. His excessive preoccupation with supernatural intervention engendered in him many superstitions. He believed in sorcerers, spirits, demons, and other supernatural beings. Wars, pestilence, famine, hunger, earthquakes, which frequently attacked his country, were stimulating reasons for this disposition of his mind.

But there was no quality more powerful than his own ignorance. Even when Spain became a civilized nation, its culture was not general; only the higher classes of society, in which the higher and the lower nobility figured, possessed culture in proportion to their resources. The lower classes, farmers and villagers, were all rude people, lacking the most elementary education. But such was the case in the rest of Europe.

The firstcomers to America were certainly not of the highest nobility; these only came afterward as governors. The lower nobility (hidalgos) also came at first in small numbers. The majority of the discoverers and conquerors came from the lower class and were completely unlettered. In them the spirit of adventure was much more developed because of the very precarious condition of their existence. All, however, were tenacious, valorous, arrogant men, faithful to their king and scrupulous in observing the practices of their religion. But their fanaticism, their superstition, their cruelty, and their greed formed a combination of  p35 faults which in no little degree dimmed their character.

In spite of such defects, their degree of culture was much higher than that of the Indians of America, even the most advanced, and they presented a wonderful contrast to them. White — some with red hair and light eyes — with long beards, they were usually rather stout, of vigorous muscular strength, dextrous in the management of the horse; well clothed, and better armed, these conquerors necessarily were aware of their own superiority to the barbarous and unorganized tribes that peopled the new territories.

The clothing of the Spanish soldier was simple. It consisted only of short pantaloons reaching to the knees, where they were tied with a cord; a top coat belted at the waist; sandal-shaped shoes with soles of leather; and sometimes wool stockings covering the leg and joined at the knee to the pantaloon. Some, better clothed, used a kind of gaiter buttoned in front which was called a buskin, and on the calves of the legs jambes of leather, like our leggings. The Spanish soldier covered his head with a casque or helmet of steel, which protected him from the blows of his enemies. It was padded inside and provided with straps, which hung down both cheeks and, uniting under the beard, left merely the front of the face free. Commanders and officers were accustomed to use this same helmet with a wire cover which permitted them to see and breathe only through convenient openings.

But greater than the difference between the Spanish and the Indian clothing was the difference between their weapons. The conquering soldier used defensive and offensive weapons. The defensive arms were the casque already mentioned: the coat of mail or cuirass of steel, or simply of leather, which was belted in at the breast and shoulder; the shield or buckler of leather, oval-shaped, which was attached to the left arm in order to ward off the enemies' blows. The offensive weapons were, in the first place, the harquebus (equivalent to our musket), which was loaded with powder and projectiles of lead or pebbles through the muzzle and was fired with a fuse applied to a special vent that opened where the barrel joined the stock. Then there was the short sword with a sheath ordinarily of leather, like the bayonet of today.

The infantry used these arms. The cavalry­man carried, besides a sword, a lance or pike of wood from ten to twelve feet long, with a point of steel. Attached to the saddle of the rider and to the breast of the horse with strong cords, this was a terrible weapon in a well ordered charge. The soldier also added to his armament a battleaxe or war club tipped with a ball of steel set with spikes. There were a few pieces of artillery or culverins, very heavy and  p36 fitted on wheels, which completed the war equipment of a good army. These culverins were charged with great difficulty, because their projectiles were commonly of stone. It was precisely these cannon and harquebuses, and firearms in general that caused most terror to the Indians; but the horse was the most effective aid to the invaders.

The superiority of the Spanish civilization over the American was thus shown principally in better and heavier offensive equipment. Each Spaniard equaled at least one hundred natives in battle, and that superiority had consequences other than military. The Spaniards brought to America all their ideas, their beliefs, their arts, their customs — in a word, all their civilization — and this, together with the power of their arms, triumphed over the native barbarism. They brought with them, moreover, a political organization and a social discipline much more advanced than any on this continent, and these they also imposed with strong hand and steadfast will.

The Author's Notes:

1 For a contrary opinion, see Albert H. Lybyer, "The Influence of the Ottoman Turks upon the Routes of Oriental Trade," in Annual Report of the American Historical Association, I (1914), 127‑133; and in English Historical Review, XXX (October, 1915), 577‑588.

[decorative delimiter]

2 For a discussion of the purpose of Columbus, see Cecil Jane, "The Objective of Columbus," in Select Documents Illustrating the Four Voyages of Columbus, I, xiii‑cxxii, "Publications of the Hakluyt Society" (2d series, London, 1929), Vol. LXV.

[decorative delimiter]

3 See Robert Bigelow Merriman, The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire in the Old World and the New (4 vols. Vol. I and II, New York, 1918, Vol. III, 1925; Vol. IV, 1934), II, 194, 195.

[decorative delimiter]

4 Whether Vespucci actually made all the voyages for which he put forth claims is still a moot question. On the tendency of present-day belief, see Edward Gaylord Bourne, Spain in America (New York and London, 1904), p103.

[decorative delimiter]

5 Balboa was the leader of the colony at Darién, but technically a rebel and usurper. — Ibid., pp108‑122.

[decorative delimiter]

6 For the name of America see Bourne, "The Naming of America," in The American Historical Review, X (1905), 41‑51; and his Spain in America, pp90‑102; but in fact it is by no means settled that Vespucci's first name has anything to do with it, and several alternate theories make a decent showing. See my note to Amelia in Umbria (itself a very weak theory), especially the offsite link I give there; and the seductively simple theory of Alexander Del Mar (Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, XIII.5, Sept. 1911).

[decorative delimiter]

7 Idem, "The Demarcation Line of Pope Alexander VI," in Essays in Historical Criticism (London, 1901), pp193‑217.

[decorative delimiter]

8 The numerous narratives of Magellan's voyage are based upon the text of Antonio Pigafetta. A translation of this by Lord Stanley of Alderley was published as Vol. LII of the Hakluyt Society publications under the title The First Voyage Around the World by Magellan (London, 1871). On page eight of this translation, Pigafetta says, "They made a stay in this strait from the 21st of October to the 26th of November, with makes thirty-six days of the said year 1520." A more recent scholar­ly publication is Antonio Pigafetta's Magellan's Voyage Around the World (Cleveland, 1906), translated and edited from the Ambrosian manuscript by the late Dr. James A. Robertson, in two volumes of text and an index volume. In Vol. I, p65, of this edition occurs the first intimation of the presence of this strait on October 21, 1520. The strait was given the name "All Saints" (p240) on November 1, but later received that of the explorer.

[decorative delimiter]

9 Manco Capac II (d. 1563?), put in power by Pizarro, who sought to rule through him, after the execution of Atahualpa, aided Almagro in his expedition to Chile and in 1535 escaped from captivity and supposedly was later assassinated. — José Espasa, Enciclopedia universal ilustrada (70 vols. Madrid and Barcelona, 1905‑1930; appendices, 1930‑1933; supplement, 1934), XXXII, 702; Manuel de Mendiburu, Diccionario histórico-biográfico del Perú (8 vols. Lima, 1874‑1887), V, 127‑134.

[decorative delimiter]

10 The peso in Chile during the national period varied in value from thirty-five to forty-five English pence until the era of paper money following the War of the Pacific. See Daniel Martner, Estudio de política comercial chilena e historia económica nacional,º Vol. II, passim; and Frank W. Fetter, Monetary Inflation in Chile. Galdames reckons the Spanish peso as equal to twenty-four Chilean pesos of six pence. See n. 11, p25.

[decorative delimiter]

11 A useful account of the development of Spain up to the seventeenth century, based on the well-known work of Rafael Altamira is C. E. Chapman's History of Spain New York, 1918), chaps. i‑xxi. Briefer accounts are to be found in Merriman, op. cit., Vols. III; and Mary W. Williams, The Peoples and Politics of Latin America, chap. iii.

[decorative delimiter]

12 The Jews were there before the Arabs and seem to have contributed to the ease with which the latter overran Spain. See R. Dykes Shaw, "The Fall of the Visigothic Power in Spain," in English Historical Review, XXI (April, 1906), 209‑228, especially p214.

[decorative delimiter]

13 See Edgar Allison Peers, Spain (London, 1929‑1930), pp38, 39; and H. D. Sedgewick, Spain (Boston, 1926), pp28‑42, 47. For a contrary view see Louis Bertrand and Sir Charles Petrie, The History of Spain (London, 1934), pp82‑94.

[decorative delimiter]

14 This number is greatly exaggerated. See Henry Charles Lea, History of the Inquisition of Spain (4 vols., New York and London. Vols. I and II, 1906; Vols. III and IV, 1907), IV, 516‑528.

Thayer's Note:

a In Spanish: Santiago.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 21 Oct 09