1 Romans 1: 28: ‘And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind.’ The phrase is used twice more later in the work (see below, pp. 69 and 74)

2 In this Synopsis Las Casas refers to Emperor Charles V (abdicated 1556) as ‘His Majesty’ and to his son and heir, the future Philip II, to whom the work is dedicated in the Prologue, as ‘His Highness’

3 Proverbs 20:8

4 See Introduction, pp. xviii–xxx

5 The reference is to the Bulls of Donation of 1493 by the terms of which Pope Alexander VI conceded to Ferdinand and Isabella sovereignty over the Americas in exchange for an obligation to convert their inhabitants to Christianity. See Introduction, p. xvi

6 Juan Martínez de Silíceo, a rare bird indeed in mid-sixteenth-century Spain. The son of a rural labourer, he rose to be a philosophy professor at the university of Salamanca, tutor-confessor to Prince Philip, bishop of Cartagena (1540), and archbishop of Toledo (1546)

7 This would appear to be a reference to Philip's visit to the Netherlands in 1549, the last time he was ever to leave the Iberian Peninsula

8 The Short Account was written in 1542; see Introduction, p. xv

9 The island of Hispaniola, comprising today Haiti and the Dominican Republic, is, at its most extensive, some 400 miles from west to east and covers an area of nearly 30,000 square miles. The Spanish league (legua) was calculated as one twenty-fifth of a degree of latitude measured on the earth's surface, or about 2.6 miles (compare the ‘maritime’ or ‘mariners’ league equal to three minutes or one twentieth of a degree of latitude). In the absence of reliable means of measuring distances accurately, a day's journey on horseback was often calculated, whatever the terrain, at seven leguas (Hernán Cortés, Letters from Mexico, translated by Anthony Pagden (London: OUP, 1972, 2nd ed., New Haven and London: Yale U.P., 1986, p. 529)

10 ‘Hammock’ (hamaca in Spanish) is one of a dozen or so words common to a great number of European languages – among them potato, tomato, hurricane – which derive from the Taíno language of Santo Domingo

11 The maximum east–west extent of Cuba is approximately 700 miles; the distance from Valladolid to Rome some 750

12 The Royal Gardens (Huerta del Rey) were an extensive pleasure ground lying outside the Seville city walls

13 On this expedition, mounted by Pedro de Isla, who would later become a Franciscan friar, see Las Casas, History of the Indies, book II, chapter 45

14 Guarionex; see below, p. 19

15 See Las Casas, History of the Indies, book III, chapter 1

16 The three principal rivers of Spain

17 Columbus called the region ‘Cipango’ in the belief that it was Japan; see his History of the Indies, book I, chapter 60

18 In Las Casas's account – the only one we have – this Guarionex was one of four kings on the island, all of whom perished, together with Francisco Bobadilla and Francisco Roldán, in the shipwreck described below, p. 20. The others were ‘Caonabó’, ‘Behechio’, and ‘Higuanama’; see Las Casas, History of the Indies, book II, chapter 5

19 The castilian was a gold coin worth some 480 maravedís and weighing 1.6 ounces

20 The population of Seville has been estimated at between sixty and seventy thousand in 1500 and approximately one hundred thousand in 1565

21 Francisco Roldán, one of the companions of Columbus

22 Mayonabex. On his death, see Las Casas, History of the Indies, book I, chapter 123

23 In 1502

24 The term used by Las Casas for a loaf of bread (hogaza) normally referred at this time to the largest of loaves in common use, round in shape and weighing more than two pounds. By this calculation, the Great Nugget would have weighed over three hundredweight (but see Introduction, pp. xxxi–xxxii)

25 Christopher Columbus

26 Columbus's flagship, the Santa Maria, was lost on Christmas Day 1492

27 On the capture of Caonabó by Alonso de Hojeda and his subsequent loss at sea, see Las Casas, History of the Indies, book I, chapter 102

28 See above, p. 18, n. 18

29 Presumably Nicolás de Ovando (1451–1511), who was made governor of the Americas in 1501 and reached Hispaniola in April of the following year. According to his own account, Las Casas arrived in the Antilles in the same fleet; see Introduction, p. xix. Here, as throughout the Short Account, Las Casas refrains from identifying individuals by name (see Introduction, p. xl). For an exception see below, p. 77, n. 97

30 See above, p. 18, n. 18. In book I of his History of the Indies, chapter 100, Las Casas refers to Higuanama as a ‘king’ but in book II, chapter 8, calls her ‘an old and great queen’

31 Figures for the pre-contact population of the Antilles are necessarily wildly approximate. The highest is about eight million; the lowest – and, because it is based on the potential agricultural yield of the land, the most reliable – is around half a million. The total population of the islands when the Short Account was written did not exceed three hundred thousand. By the middle of the seventeeth century, the Arawak were virtually extinct.

32 The arroba, in origin an Arabic term, was widely used throughout the Spanish empire as a measure, both of weight (roughly 25 pounds) and of dry capacity (roughly 15 litres), though its precise value varied regionally

33 This is a pious exaggeration. Yet it was Queen Isabella (died Medina del Campo, Old Castile, 26 November 1504) who, in 1495, had prevented Columbus from selling Amerindians as slaves and who, in 1501, instructed Ovando that she wished the inhabitants of Hispaniola ‘to be well treated as our subjects and our vassals’; see Anthony Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man: The American Indians and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology, second edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 41–2

34 These expeditions of Juan Ponce de León to Puerto Rico and Juan de Esquivel to Jamaica are discussed at greater length in Las Casas, History of the Indies, book II, chapters 46–55

35 Spanish mastiffs proved one of the most feared and most effective weapons of the conquest. The only dogs known to the indigenous inhabitants of the Antilles were the ancestors of the modern Chihuahua, very small and edible

36 See above, p. 11. The Cuba expedition was under the command of Diego Velázquez; see Introduction, p. xxi

37 The Arawak term cacique simply designated a tribal leader, but it came to be used by the Spanish administration all over the Americas to describe Amerindian chieftains who were believed to be inferior in rank to ‘kings’ and ‘princes’ (principales) and who were frequently employed as tax-gatherers

38 Details of this story may be found in Las Casas, History of the Indies, book 111, chapters 21 and 25

39 Pánfilo de Narváez (?1480–1528). He had participated with Diego Velázquez in the conquest of Cuba and in 1520 led an army to Mexico in an unsuccessful attempt to wrest control of the country from Hernán Cortés (see below, p. 48). In 1527 he captained an ill-fated expedition to Florida and the following year was the first European to land on the coast of what is today Texas

40 Details of the massacre of Caonao are given at greater length in Las Casas, History of the Indies, book 111, chapters 29–30

41 Pedro Arias de Ávila, or Pedrarias Dávila; see Cortés, Letters from Mexico, pp. 513–14. The Mainland (Tierra Firme) was the name given to northern South America and southern Central America, and was the area referred to by the English as the ‘Spanish Main’

42 Matthew 28:19, a text much cited in justification of missionary work

43 The legislation referred to is the Requerimiento of 1513; see Introduction, pp. xxiv–xxv

44 Fray Juan Cabedo (or Quevedo); see Las Casas, History of the Indies, book 111, chapter 59

45 Las Casas may have intended a pun here with the Spanish word ira (‘anger’): ‘You murder anger’

46 In the History of the Indies, book 11, chapter 120, the land is variously given as ‘Pariza’, ‘Paris’ and ‘Pariba’, and its cacique as Cutara

47 The numerical inconsistency is in the original

48 Pedrarias Dávila; see above p. 31, n. 41

49 The county of Roussillon, astride the Eastern Pyrenees with its capital at Perpignan

50 The Spanish term carga, generally denoting the maximum quantity a single man could carry at any one time, was also used more narrowly in Castile as a measure of cereals, equal to four fanegas or just over six bushels

51 See above, p. 24, n. 32

52 See Introduction, p. xx

53 Legally, all Amerindians were subjects of the Crown of Castile and enjoyed equal rights with all other subjects of the Crown. Making war on Amerindians, said the great theologian Francisco de Vitoria, was like making war on the inhabitants of Seville; see Introduction, p. xx, and Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man, pp. 29–33

54 Francisco Hernández de Córdoba led the first expedition to Mexico in 1517; he was followed by Juan de Grijalva in 1518. Both of these, however, were trading expeditions and neither had formal leave to settle. The first fully equipped military venture was that led by Cortés which left Cuba on 18 November 1519

55 See Introduction, p. xxxix

56 This was Cortés's most spectacular and widely reported massacre. Cholula was a wealthy town on the major Central America trade-route; it was also the cult-centre of Quetzalcoátl, the Mexican deity with whom Cortés is supposed to have been confused. Cortés gave the number of dead as three thousand, but another witness, Vázquez de Tapia, claimed the death-toll was ten times higher. The precise figures are irrecoverable; see Cortés, Letters from Mexico, pp. 465–6

57 Cúe (or quu) was simply the Mexican (Nahuátl) word for a temple

58 There is little substance to this account, as Mexican temples were built of stone and thus could not be destroyed by fire. For the name and title of the Mexican chieftain, normally known in English as Montezuma (from the common Spanish form of his name, Moctezuma), see Cortés, Letters from Mexico, p. 460

59 A traditional Spanish ballad:

            Mira Nero de Tarpeya, a Roma cómo se ardia
            gritos dan niños y viejos, y él de nada se dolia

60 For Cortés's account of the attacks mounted against his men in Tepeaca ‘from strong and dangerous positions’ – which, for reasons he does not explain, led to the attackers' neither ‘killing nor wounding a single Spaniard’ – see Letters from Mexico, pp. 145–8

61 The proper name for the city which Las Casas calls ‘Mexico’ was Temixtitán or Tenochtitlán

62 Montezuma's brother Cuitlahuac (Cuetravacin) was lord of Yztapalapa, a city through which Cortés had passed on his journey from Cholula. See Cortés's account of this episode in Letters from Mexico, pp. 83–4.

63 By Cortés's own account, Montezuma was not seized until more than a week later (Letters from Mexico, pp. 88–90)

64 The commander was Cortés, the captain Pánfilo de Narváez. On this expedition and the reasons behind the Narváez expedition, see the essay by J.H. Elliott, ‘Cortés, Velázquez, and Charles V’, in Letters from Mexico, pp. xi–xxxvii (xxiii–xxvi)

65 The captain left in charge was Pedro de Alvarado, a veteran of Juan de Grijalva's expedition and effectively second-in-command to Cortés; see J.E. Kelly, Pedro de Alvarado, conquistador (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1932; reissue Washington, etc.: Kennikat Press, 1971). Cortés's claim that he left Mexico City garrisoned by ‘five hundred men’ (Letters from Mexico, p. 119) is at odds with eye-witness accounts which put the number at about one hundred and twenty, many of them sick and wounded

66 For a previous reference to areitos, see above p. 28

67 Santiago, the name of Saint James of Compostela, was traditionally used by the Spanish as a battle-cry, the legend being that he appeared in person, mounted on a white charger, at the battle of Clavijo against the Moors which supposedly took place in the year 822

68 On the site of Tenochtitlán and Cortés's retreat on what became known as the ‘Black Night’ (noche triste), see his Letters from Mexico, pp. 131–8

69 Las Casas is here conflating two events: the retreat which took place in 1520 and the siege of the city by Cortés the following year

70 Variously ‘Tatutepeque’, ‘Tuchitebeque’, ‘Tututepec’, or ‘Tuxtepeque’

71 Or ‘Ipilcingo’

72 Also known as ‘Colimán’ or ‘Alimán’

73 Las Casas calls the Pacific ‘the southern shore’ and the Atlantic ‘the northern shore’ (e.g. below, p. 63)

74 The overland expedition to Guatemala was under the command of Pedro de Alvarado (see above, p. 49, n. 65), the fleet headed for Honduras under that of Cristóbal de Olid. Alvarado's own account of the conquest of Guatemala is contained in his two surviving letters to Cortés, reproduced in English translation in Patricia de Fuentes, The Conquistadores (New York: Orion Press, 1963), pp. 182–96, and used extensively by Las Casas in compiling the present account

75 For an account of Olid's drumhead court-marshal and execution at the hands of Francisco de Las Casas and Gil González Dávila, see Cortés, Letters from Mexico, p. 412 and Robert S. Chamberlain, The Conquest and Colonization of Honduras, 1502–1550 (Washington D.C.: Carnegie Institute, 1953), pp. 11–14

76 Las Casas is presumably alluding to his journey through the area in 1540 on his way to take ship for Europe

77 Utatlán (or Uclalán), known to its original inhabitants as Gumarkaaj and capital of the Quiché kingdom, stood near the modern town of Santa Cruz de Quiché. The chief mentioned here was Tecum Uman, later assassinated by Alvarado

78 Pedro de Alvarado took three of his brothers on the Guatemala expedition: Gonzalo, Gómez and Jorge; see Kelly, Pedro de Alvarado, pp. 121–55

79 Las Casas gives this as ‘Cuzcatán’

80 Possibly Antigua, which was hit by a hurricane in September 1541

81 The imperial Spanish quintal weighed one hundred pounds

82 Las Casas here uses the term ‘cannon’ to invoke an image of the artillery trains of European armies. Alvarado would have had only a few mortars

83 The first expedition was to Peru in 1534; the second, which was to have sailed under Alvarado to the Spice Islands in 1541, never got off the ground

84 Alvarado was killed in a skirmish in Nochistlán in July 1541

85 Beltrán Nuño de Guzmán. For an account of Nuño in English, characterizing him as ‘a natural gangster’, see J.H. Parry, The Audiencia of New Galicia in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948; reprinted 1968), pp. 19–26

86 The Audiencias, or Chanceries, were royal courts of justice, normally presided over by a high-ranking churchman but staffed by qualified lawyers. The first such body was established in Castile in the mid-fifteenth century. In the New World, the Audiencias had far greater authority than in mainland Spain and were intimately involved in the government of the colony in question. The magistrates (oidores) in this first Audiencia of New Spain, presided over by Nuño de Guzmán, were Paredes, Francisco Maldonado, Matienzo and Delgadillo

87 The first Franciscans, known as ‘the Twelve’, arrived in 1524. The oidores of the second Audiencia, convened under the presidency of Francisco Ramírez de Fuenleal, bishop of Santo Domingo, were Vasco de Quiroga (the first bishop of Michoacán), Alonso Maldonado, Juan de Salmerón and Francisco de Ceynos; see Arthur S. Aiton, Antonio de Mendoza, First Viceroy of New Spain (Durham North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1927), p. 58

88 The lord of the independent Tarascan state of Michoacán was known as the cazonci, or catzontzin

89 The Spanish term is visitador, literally, ‘visitor’

90 See above, p. 3, note 1

91 Zechariah 11: 4–5

92 Francisco de Montejo (?1479–1553), who had been one of Cortés's companions in 1519 and conquered much of the Yucatán Peninsula between 1526 and 1537. His son, also named Francisco, founded the city of Mérida there in 1542

93 See above, p. 24, note 32

94 See above, p. 3, note 1

95 Jacobo de Tastera (or Testera), O.S.F., was a personal friend of Las Casas

96 Antonio de Mendoza, who did not in fact arrive in Mexico until late 1535

97 This is one of the very few occasions in the Short Account on which Las Casas names one of the ‘blackguards’ he is attacking. However, the name is too common for any identification to be possible

98 Santa Marta was founded by Rodrigo de Bastidas in 1525 in what is now the Republic of Colombia

99 Alonso de Hojeda, Diego de Nicuesa, Vasco de Balboa, Pedrarias Dávila, García de Lerma, Pedro Fernández de Lugo, Alonso Luis de Lugo, etc. The ‘principle’ of which Las Casas speaks is set out on p. 25, above

100 This is a reference to his History of the Indies; see Introduction, pp. xvii–xviii

101 Fray Juan Fernández de Ángulo. The practice of elevating members of the regular clergy to colonial bishoprics had grown up during the reign of Charles V

102 The Emperor Charles V was normally addressed as ‘Cæsar’

103 Many of the journeys described took place at high altitude

104 Among those active in this region were Juan de la Cosa, Cristóbal Guerra, Alonso de Hojeda and Diego de Nicuesa

105 What Las Casas terms the ‘Pearl Coast’ and the ‘Paria Coast’ refer together to what is today known as the Paria Peninsula, in northeast Venezuela. The pearl-fishing was conducted in the waters around the Isla Margarita (literally, ‘Pearl Island’)

106 Juan Bono. Las Casas, History of the Indies, book 111, chapter 91, says no more than that Bono was a Basque, remarking sourly that he was as good (bono) as the negro Juan Blanco – a famous pirate and despoiler of the Amerindians – was white (blanco)

107 See Las Casas, History of the Indies, book 111, chapters 4 and 39. Francisco Hernández de Córdoba O.P. was one of the companions of Antonio Montesinos (see Introduction, pp. xx–xxi); Juan Garcés, like Las Casas himself, had been an encomendero before his conversion to the Amerindian cause.

108 There is a more detailed account of this episode in Las Casas, History of the Indies, book 111, chapter 33

109 This occurred during the abortive attempt by Francisco de Soto to colonize Cumaná in January 1522

110 See Las Casas, History of the Indies, book 111, chapter 159

111 The modern town of Higuerote lies to the south of Codera Point (Cabo Codera) and some sixty miles east of Caracas. The discrepancy in the spelling is in the original

112 See Las Casas, History of the Indies, book 111, chapter 166

113 The making of flour from the roots of the cassava (caçabí, in Old Spanish), widely grown throughout the region, was a complex process involving the removal of poisonous juices

114 The deal, signed in the spring of 1528 (not 1526) with the Welser banking house of Augsburg, was to have important implications for the slave trade. Welser agents in Venezuela included Heinrich Ehiger, Hieronymus Sieler, Ambrosius Eingher (or Alfinger), Georg Spier and Nikolaus Federmann

115 The Spanish term employed by Las Casas, luterano (strictly speaking, ‘Lutheran’), was widely used, both in Europe and the New World, to indicate any deviant from the prevailing Catholic religious orthodoxy

116 See above, p. 24, note 32

117 The pun in Spanish is: ‘animales o alemanes’ (animals or Germans)

118 Probably Ponce de León and Pánfilo de Narváez. See above, pp. 29 and 48

119 Hernando de Soto, who died in the area in 1542 or 1543

120 See above, p. 25

121 The region, discovered in 1515 by Díaz de Solís, was the object of expeditions by, among others, Sebastian Cabot, Pedro de Mendoza, Martínez de Irala, Juan de Ayolas and Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca

122 Francisco Pizarro

123 The island, given by Las Casas as ‘Pugna’, lies off the coast of Ecuador in the Gulf of Guayaquil

124 In northwest Peru, Las Casas giving this as ‘Tumbala’, possibly as a result of confusion with the name of the cacique of Puná

125 Consistently called by Las Casas ‘Atabaliba’

126 Fray Marcos's accusations were originally made in a letter to the bishop of Mexico, the Franciscan Juan de Zumárraga

127 It is not clear whether this figure is meant to indicate two million castilians (see above, p. 19, note 19) or a similar number of pesos

128 A people of southern central Ecuador

129 This is probably the person the royal chronicler Antonio de Herrera calls ‘Zope-Zopahua’. He had, in fact, been leader of the opposition to Sebastián de Benalcázar in the Quito region

130 Benalcázar was the conqueror of Nicaragua and one of the members of Pizarro's first expedition

131 Las Casas gives this as ‘Andón’

132 This is a reference to the revolt of 1537–8 led by the Inca Tupac Amaru; see below, p. 115

133 The text gives ‘Elingue’

134 The reference would appear to be to the puppet ruler of Cuzco who led an unsuccessful revolt against the Spaniards in 1537–8

135 Jiménez de Quesada. Other pioneers in the area included Nikolaus Federmann and Sebastián de Benalcázar

136 See Introduction, p. xx

137 Las Casas gives his name as ‘Bogotá’

138 See above, p. 25

139 Las Casas did not in fact arrive in the Antilles until 1502

140 These are the famous ‘New Laws’; see Introduction, p. xxvii

141 The reference is to the civil war between the followers of the Pizarro brothers and those of one of Pizarro's former captains, Diego de Almagro. It lasted from 1537 until 1548 and nearly destroyed the colony