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Bartolomé de las Casas (1484 – 1566)

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Presentation on theme: "Bartolomé de las Casas (1484 – 1566)"— Presentation transcript:

1 Bartolomé de las Casas (1484 – 1566)
Dominican friar and social reformer



4 European colonization of the Americas
Colonial expansion had a significant impact on world history: a historical change of geographical space and the beginning of modern age. Colonialism produced a new world system, with the development of mercantilism.

5 Before European ‘conquest’
Maya civilization: established during the Pre-Classic period (c BC to 250 AD). Many Maya cities reached their highest state of development during the Classic period (c. 250 to 900 AD), and continued until the arrival of the Spanish. Geographic area: South Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras, i.e., more than 1,000 km.


7 Aztec Empire: It originated in 1427 as a triple alliance between the city-states Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan, and reached its maximal extent in 1519 just prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors led by Cortés. Cortés managed to topple the Aztec empire by allying with some of the traditional enemies of the Aztecs.

8 Tenochtitlan


10 Inca Empire Inca civilization arose from the highlands of Peru in the early 13th century. Inca Empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbia America. Capital: Cusco ( ). Area of extension: 1438: 800,000 km2 1527: 2,000,000 km2



13 Columbus 4 voyages


15 Portuguese Colonization

16 The Making of Spanish Colonial Empire
Speed Smallness of people and means used (Colombus second voyage: only 1,200 men) The need of workforce (Labour) Colombus himself, to regulate Native American labour, introduced the encomienda (entrust) system.

17 Encomienda the spanish crown granted a person a specified number of natives, who were forced to do hard labour (death if they resisted). instruct them in the Spanish language and in the Catholic faith. Encomienda = slavery.


19 Mining (silver, gold) and the beginning of Atlantic Slave Trade (African Holocaust), which is generally divided in two eras. The First Atlantic system started (on a significant scale) in about 1502 and lasted until 1580 (when Portugal was temporarily united with Spain). It accounted for 3% of all Atlantic slave trade. Primarily for American colonies of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. While the Portuguese traded enslaved people themselves, the Spanish empire relied on the asiento system, awarding merchants (mostly from other countries) the license to trade enslaved people to their colonies. During the first Atlantic system most of these traders were Portuguese, giving them a near-monopoly during the era.



22 Other Major Colonizations
Cuba (1511): Diego de Velazquez de Cuellar Mexico ( ): Hernan Cortes. Only 600 men, 13 horses, and 11 ships (even though Aztec had a regular army and a State organization) Peru (1532-3): Francisco Pizarro, with less than 200 men and 27 horses. Number of Spanish colonists/settlers who lived permanently in the Americas at the end of XVI century: 150,000.



25 Conquest of the Americas
Why so easy? (A historiographical issue) American Natives did not know fire-arms (+ horses, wheel, etc.) Illnesses (i.e., Smallpox) (some historian even use the argument of) Cruelty of “conquistadores” in opposition to the “myth of the peaceful, noble savage” But two decisive factors were: 1) intolerance of native people toward their sovereign; and 2) conflictuality among different indigeneous groups.

26 Life 1484 Born in Sevilla 1498 Began studies
1502 Emigrated (with his father) to Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti). Participated in slave raids and military expeditions 1506 Ordained deacon in Sevilla 1510 Arrival of first Dominicans to Hispaniola

27 1511 Fray Antonio de Montesinos famous homily condemning the encomienda. He also decided to deny slaveowners (among them De las Casas) the right to confession. In 1513, as a chaplain, Las Casas participated in the conquest of Cuba. He later wrote: "I saw cruelty on a scale no living being has ever seen or expects to see." 1514 Conversion: all the actions of the Spanish in the New World had been illegal and a great injustice.

28 1515 Returns to Spain with de Montesinos to meet King Fernando and advocate for indigenous rights.
1516 He wrote Memorial de Remedios para Las Indias (in which he advocated importing slaves from Africa). 1517 became ‘Protector of Indians’, an administrative office of the Spanish colonies, that was responsible for attending to the well being of the native populations.

29 The peasant colonization scheme
The pubblication of the Memorial de Remedios para Las Indias was followed by the proposal to King Charles V of a ‘peasant colonization scheme’ Las Casas suggested a plan where the encomienda would be abolished and Indians would be congregated into self-governing townships to become tribute-paying vassals of the King.

30 He suggested the importation of African slaves.
He also advocated proposed the migration of Spanish peasants to the Indies where they would introduce small scale farming and agriculture, a kind of colonization that didn't rely on resource depletion and Indian labor.

31 The recruitment was difficult
The recruitment was difficult. In the end a much smaller number of peasant families were sent with insufficient provisions and no support. It turned into a disaster. Las Casas was devastated by this failure, and decided instead to undertake a personal venture (Venezuela).

32 (Life again) The Cumaná venture: allowed to establish a settlement in northern Venezuela. Peaceful colonization experiment which failed. This tragic outcome made turn his life in a new direction.


34 1522 Enters the Dominicans.  1523 The Encomienda was abolished, but then reinstituted in 1526 and in 1530 a general ordinance against slavery was reversed. 1527 he began working on his History of the Indies

35 1536 debate with Franciscan orders on the conversion of the Indians (conversion must be voluntary and based on a knowledge and understanding of the Faith). On this issue he wrote Only Way of Conversion,  A work on peaceful evangelization. 1537 Celebrates Pope Paul III’s promulgation of Sublimis Deus, (papal bull that proclaimed the Indians truly human and capable of receiving the gospel).

36 1537 in Guatemala trying to employ his new method of conversion.
1538 in Mexico. 1540 back in Spain with the purpose to continue the struggle against the colonists' mistreatment of the Indians. 1542 writing of "Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias“, later published in 1552.

37 1542 the Emperor signed the “New Laws”: illegal to use Indians as carriers (except where no other transport was available), prohibited all taking of Indians as slaves, gradual abolition of the encomienda system. the reform wes unpopular in the New World: riots against the encomenderos. De las Casas was also not satisfied with the laws as they were not drastic enough.

38 1544 Bishop of Chiapas. He was involved in frequent conflicts with the encomenderos. After a year he had made himself so unpopular among the Spaniards of the area that he had to leave. His last act was writing a manual (confesionario) for the administration of the Sacrament of Confession in his diocese, still refusing absolution to unrepentant encomenderos. 1547 back to Spain

39 1548 the Crown decreed that all copies of Las Casas's confesionario be burnt
Valladolid debate Having resigned the Bishopric of Chiapas, he spent the last part of his life working closely with the imperial court in matters relating to the Indies.

40 1561 he finished his Historia General de las Indias stipulating that it could not be published until after forty years (but it was published in 1875). 1560s years of Spanish Inquisition. He had to keep defending himself against accusations of treason, and also appeared as a witness in the case of the Inquisition against his friend Archbishop de Miranda, falsely accused of heresy. 1566 died in Madrid.

41 Writings 1516 Memorial de Remedios para Las Indias: he advocated importing slaves from Africa to relieve the suffering Indians, a stance he later retracted, becoming an advocate for the Africans in the colonies as well. At the beginning De las Casas's concern was not the existence of slavery, but the end the abuse of the Indians.

42 1552 (1542) A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies
Theodor de Bry ( , Engraver) [La leyenda negra]

43 History of the Indies, work in 3 volumes begun in 1527 where he described the history of the Indies from the arrival of Christopher Columbus. In this book he regretted his advocacy for African slavery: "I soon repented and judged myself guilty of ignorance. I came to realize that black slavery was as unjust as Indian slavery... and I am not sure that my ignorance and good faith would secure me in the eyes of God”.

44 Valladolid debate Discussion of the Valladolid Board concerned the treatment of natives of the ‘New World’. it opposed two main attitudes towards the conquests of the Americas. For De las Casas: dispute with Juan Gines de Sepulveda, a doctor of theology and law. In 1550 Sepulveda wrote Democrates Alter, or on the just causes of War against the Indians, in which he argued that the native people were naturally inferior and were destined to perpetual servitude to Christian Europeans.


46 the debate was theoretical.
Sepúlveda: using Aristotle asserted that the Indians were naturally predisposed to slavery. De las Casas: Aristotle's definition of the "barbarian" and the natural slave did not apply to the Indians, who were fully capable of reason and should be brought to Christianity without force or coercion.

47 Supporters of De las Casas: part of the monarchy, which wanted to control the power of the encomenderos. Supporters of de Sepúlveda: colonists and landowners who benefited from the system.


49 Result of the Debate both parties declared that they had won the debate, but neither received the desired outcome. De las Casas saw no end to Spanish wars of conquest in the New World Sepúlveda did not see the New Laws' restricting the power of the encomienda system.

50 Final Political Considerations
With the destruction of the ‘old’ religious and ritual organization, catholic missionaries had a significant role: gap in spiritual and psychological life. Creation of a political-administrative apparatus (first governors and than viceroys) that slowly substituted the power of conquistadores (which became ‘simple’ encomenderos).

51 Genocide: De las Casas argued that 15 milions of Native American were killed.
In millions people lived in the Americas, while only 10 millions were alive at the middle of the century. Population in Mexico: 25 millions before the “conquista” and only 1 million in 1600.

52 The end of the encomienda system would have been like ordering the destruction of the system on which the whole colonial system was built. De las Casas advocate of a peaceful colonization, though he radicalized his thought in the last period of his life (against the conquest and duty of the restitution). From assimilation to the “relativity of cultures” (in the polemic against Sepulveda).

53 The concept of barbarism and the descovery of the other (see Tzvetan Todorov)
Collective responsability

54 After his death he was seen as a heretical extremist, and some pamphlets against his thought were widely read and published. Black Legend accused of exaggerating the atrocities he described in the Indies Liberation theology

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