Empires: Anthony Pagden

hi anthony

thank you very much for speaking with us. there are a great many
things you’ve written about that are of interest to me and the film.
it has been a great pleasure for me to have immersed myself in your
writing, as I have been able to.

one way to approach our dialogue is this idea of the ‘west’s
perceptions of itself”. perhaps you speaking to the topics outlined
below will help us unravel the framework that gives articulation to
how we are speaking to our contemporary moment.

one of the things that interest me is the language we use to describe
and figure our history, our sciences, our politics. this is something
you address in your book, ‘The Languages of Political Theory in
Early-Modern Europe,’ in fact in all your works. i read in one review
this line, ‘Anthony Pagden’s works are dedicated to tracing the
philosophical and theological roots of Western notions of ‘others’.’

this line of yours is key, i think, ‘Yet what the early-modern
imperial experience meant to these cultures is an unignorable
historical question which lies at the heart of the west’s perceptions
of itself, of history, and of human development.’ and this notion from
a review i read, ‘The construction of ‘others’ is, rather, a product
of how certain conceptual issues were handled… the conceptual
difficulties emerged not because the cultures that Europe encountered
were so different, but because they were similar.’

perhaps how we frame the other is how we frame ourselves and it is
this perspective that is ours that i would like to get to by way of
you telling us about certain of your books. what follows is not so
much questions as it is a framework for you to speak with us.

thank you for generously spending time with us.

marc lafia

you can simply scan the outline list (which refers to your books) to
know what i would like you to speak tot. it is admittedly long but
let’s see how far we can get.

if you like we can start with ‘the fall of natural man,’ and ‘european
encounters with the new world’ which may give us a sense of the
european perspective that encountered the new world. but let’s start
with what you project as an historian has been, your methodology. your

The Fall of natural man
-In an earlier study, The Fall of Natural Man (Cambridge, 1986), he
showed how the works of three Spanish thinkers, writing between 1512
and 1724, established a way to understand the American Indians that
was later applied to all other non-Western cultures.
-A few, like Bartolome de Las Casas in the 16th century, were
passionate in their defence of the native peoples of the Americas
against the realities of colonisation, enslavement, disease, war and
the extinction of their cultures: the conduct of the coloniser, they
contended, had called into question the legitimacy of European
civilisation and fatally undermined the contemporary moral case for
-Bartoleme de las Casas debate with Sepulveda,(why did the Spanish put
this on as a public debate? -Aristotle’s doctrine of the natural
slave, Roman Empire as precedent and not precedent. Erasmus asked in
1517, if the Ancients, whose wisdom was the basis of knowledge, had
been ignorant of the New World, what other flaws might not exist in
their legacy?)
– ‘principle of attachment’, the failure to see the native peoples in
their own terms.

European Encounters with the New World
-In European Encounters with the New World he tries to prove that the
writings of Columbus, La Casas, Diderot, Herder and Humboldt have
shaped not only anthropology but our understanding of mankind as a
-Europeans, Pagden suggests, were less concerned with the New World as
it was than with how its existence could be squared with existing
western traditions and political and religious ambitions. They remade
the New World in the image of the Old.
-The Europeans feared the people they met in the New World also
because their culture touched directly upon recognisable areas of
European ethical life.
-Yet what the early-modern imperial experience meant to these cultures
is an unignorable historical question which lies at the heart of the
west’s perceptions of itself, of history, and of human development.
-The Enlightenment gave no hope that alien cultures could ever be
understood on their own terms unless the observer ‘went native’ or the
Other became domesticated. In both cases, the alternative to
incommensurability was absorption.
-The problem of incommensurability was never overcome.

The idea of Europe
-lands of the rising sun lands of the setting sun – europe asia africa
from the beginning intertwined
-Europe as well as an idea, a construction having emerged from and
within asia and africa (libya) europeans needed the great commercial
networks that they built

The Languages of Political Theory in Early-Modern Europe
-political philosophy was like moral philosophy, a form of knowledge,
an episteme. it was concerned with the understanding the
interpretation of the law of nature
-Aristotelianism and the natural law; the language of classical
republicanism; the language of commerce and the commercial society;
and the language of a science of politics.
-As Pagden shows, eighteenth-century theories of language formed part
of the Enlightenment’s larger enterprise of conjectural history, which
charted humanity’s progress from savagism to civility.
-how did we get from classic republicanism to the man whose activities
most benefit society is the luxurious man of otium not the virtuous
man of negotium
-how would describe the language of political theory today

Modern Democracy
-If in the end, however, Fukuyama turns out to be right, then it is
likely to be the institutions of modern democracy that will have to
give way to some newer kind of political organisation capable of
sustaining what the ancients called “the best possible life” in a
world without the nation-state
-As Machivelli noted the power of the roman republic had derived from
the opposition between the senate and the plebians and not from the
exercise of a common will, as so many had supposed.’

Nature, natural state
-can you talk to us how in political thought about the idea of a
nature, how a natural state was thought about and conceived
-the debate whether civilization fulfils, or, indeed, corrupts human nature.)
-perhaps speak to the context in which Rousseau challenged the
classical (Aristotelian) and Renaissance (scholastic or Christian
humanist) assumption that man is only man because he is both rational
and social.
-Three centuries later, the device of the noble savage became a means
of criticising European values: his innocence as against Old World
artifice, his purity as against decadence

Nature today
-is the thought today that there is no more nature as an outside, that
we’ve come to dominate it and now must manage it with our
technologies. with this said maybe you can tell us something about how
man’s conception of nature informed and informs his political and
spiritual sense of himself. the sacred and poetic as against perhaps
the technological and instrumental

Ancient | Modern
-broadly speaking, what changed in man’ conception of himself.

-it seems and perhaps i am not reading this correctly but there is no
empire today. it’s commerce. we spoke with michael hardt and his book
’empire’. is there something useful in he and negri’s conception? i
certainly see china as a nation state holding close to its nationhood
and finding it efficacious.

Non-linear history informed by new understanding of complexity
-does such an approach yield new insights, new ways to think history.

Reading the moment
-The political cosmology that emerged during the 16th and 17th
centuries, when Europe first came across different cultures, is very
much with us today. The modern demographical descriptions may appear
more complex, more sophisticated, more enlightened then their pre-
modern counterparts, but a close reading reveals the complexity and
sophistication to be an illusion. Our concerns today may be different,
but, suggests Pagden, the political cosmology within which we operate
is still the same. The West still thinks in terms of good and bad
-perhaps are mis-recognizing the contemporary moment as much as the
europeans were in their encounter with the new world.
-Western culture does not always respond to, or engage with, the
presence on this planet of so many diverse non-European cultures.
Instead it ‘creates’ them – as though giving birth to new life forms –
by seeing its own self-image in others.
-is it possibly today that we in the west are mis-recognizing, even
unable to see for example china in a sense. even though we have the
languages of sciences, technologies, businesses, is it possible that
these do not give us proper description
– perhaps in the similar way that the ‘europeans’ could not read the
new world or rather could read it from the bible and aristotle trying
to make this new world fit their expectations, imaginations and their
desires we are blind the emerging order of the world today

‘It is the great virtue of Pagden’s courageous and highly original
book that by presenting the historical alternatives so even-handedly,
he can give no easy or uplifting recommendations for our own cultural
predicaments’. from European-New World Encounters, European
Encounters with the New World: From Renaissance to Romanticism by
Anthony Pagden. review by David Armitage in Cambridge Quarterly 1993

Additional Notes

The Languages of Political Theory in Early-Modern Europe
‘The collection brings together a number of essays by a distinguished
group of international scholars, on the four dominant languages in use
in Europe between the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the
nineteenth century. They are: the language of political
Aristotelianism and the natural law; the language of classical
republicanism; the language of commerce and the commercial society;
and the language of a science of politics.
-from aristotle and aquinas natural jurisprudence
-political sciences were constructed on the basis of a rational
understanding of man’s moral potentialities. political philosophy was
like moral philosophy, a form of knowledge, an episteme. it was
concerned with the understanding the interpretation of the law of
first principles were a consensual knowledge ‘that thing on which all
men are in agreement;’
– it could be made identical with men’s interest on the same
understanding, that is, self-evidently, what god must have intended
for man.
-to live essentially private lives and to defend their common interest
-in order to leave the state of nature they had given up natural
liberty yet they still retained against their leaders natural rights
-given the enormous variety of natural customs the different registers
in which we speak about the political there could be no certain moral
knowledge what was right was what was useful
-the role played by language in a understanding of social and political life.
that ideas can only be studied in their ‘concrete contexts’ their
‘procedures aims and vocabularies.’
from ‘the languages of political theory in modern europe’
-science vs practical understanding in jurisprudence
civic humanism
-only possible to live a truly civil life under a republican government
living and living well – active participation in the affairs of the state
in otiium a pater patrie a single strong and just leader takes upon
himself the burdens of vita activa
in negotium the entire citizen body engages in active political life
utopia is a society in which literally nothing is private
humanist ethic required the eradication of any purely private
existence and the ultimate abolition of property
classical republicanism required active service to the community
contract society (interesting to contrast this with postscript for
control society)
we need a religion whose interest are wholly identified with civil society
a republic hides itself under a monarchy
-The language of political economy
-this fourth stage of commercial society introduces the concept of
unintended consequence where the pursuit of one’s private interest
might bring inadvertent public goods.
-the man whose activities most benefit society is luxurious man of
otium not the virtuous man of negotium

The concept of a political ˜language’
– of a discourse composed of shared vocabularies, idioms and
rhetorical strategies, which has been widely influential on recent
work in the history of political thought. The collection brings
together a number of essays by a distinguished group of international
scholars, on the four dominant languages in use in Europe between the
end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century.
They are: the language of political Aristotelianism and the natural
law; the language of classical republicanism; the language of commerce
and the commercial society; and the language of a science of politics.
Each author has chosen a single aspect of his or her language,
sometimes the work of a single author, in one case the history of a
single team, and shown how it determined the shape and development of
that language, and the extent to which each language was a response to
the challenge of other modes of discourse.’

-So let me begin by saying that an empire is an extensive state in
which one ethnic or tribal group, by one means or another, rules over
several others– roughly what the 21rst-century Roman historian Tacitus
meant when he spoke of the Roman world as an “immense body of empire”
-All empires inevitably involve the exercise of imperium, or sovereign
authority, usually acquired by force. Few empires have survived for
long without suppressing
opposition, and probably all were initially created to supply the
metropolis with goods it could not otherwise acquire.
-War and conquest would have achieved very little if that is all there
had been. To survive for long, all empires have had to win over their
conquered populations. The Romans learned this very early in their
history.5 “An empire,” declared the historian Livy at the end of the
½rst century b.c., “remains powerful so long as its subjects rejoice
in it.”
-The historian Tacitus acidly commented that in adopting baths,
porticos, and banquets, all the unwitting Britons had done was to
describe as “humanity” what was in reality “an aspect of their
-Ultimately, however, Rome’s greatest attraction was citizenship–a
concept that, in its recognizably modern form, the Romans invented and
that, ever since the early days of the Republic, had been the main
ideological prop of the Roman world.
-Yet the idea of empire based upon universal citizenship created a
paradox. If all the inhabitants of the empire were indeed fellow
citizens, then a new kind of society, universal and cosmopolitan,
would have had to come into being to accommodate them.
-But in the eighteenth century, things did not look quite so
harmonious. Instead of one world community, the European overseas
powers had created what the French philosopher and economist the
Marquis de Mirabeau described in 1758 as “a new and monstrous system”
that vainly attempted to combine three distinct types of political
association (or, as he called them, esprits): domination, commerce,
and settlement. The inevitable conflict that had arisen between these
had thrown all the European powers into crisis.
-Summarizing English justifications for colonization Anthony Pagden
concludes: “Confusedly at first and then with religious and invariably
self-righteous zeal, they abandoned the vision of El Dorado and
Spanish-style kingdoms overseas for that of ‘colonies’ and
‘plantations;’ places that is, which would be sources not of human or
mineral but of agricultural and commercial wealth.”10 In this
conception, trade rather than written constitutions or legislative
assemblies would harmonize relations between colony and metropole and
the internal governance of the colonies themselves was a matter of
secondary concern.
-‘The course of civilization, like that of empire and the sun itself,
moves inexorably from east to west.’ – why was that? and are we
going all the way round now back to asia and – if so why is that?
(this is something i pose more as something to think about than to
state as an argument)
-For such a difficult subject, Pagden does a good job of creating a
readable book detailing the rise and fall of European Empires. From
Alexander the Great, and the Roman Empire to the decline of the
British Empire, Pagden details the rise of these empires and why they
fell. In the end, it was the weakness of the colonizers along with the
rise of nationalism which spurred the end of all empires. Pagden also
details that some of the early empires were not racially divided, but
with the rise of science and some of the new European nation states,
racism along with slavery reared its ugly head.

Empire’s new nationalist calculus
-In the new nationalist calculus, the more of this earth you could
take away, the greater you became. By 1899, imperialism had indeed
become, as Curzon remarked, “the faith of a nation.”
-Nationalist imperialism, however, brought to the fore a question that
had remained unanswered for a long time: in the modern world what,
precisely, was the nature of empire? Ever since 1648, the modern
nation-state has been one in which imperium has been regarded as
indivisible. The monarchs of Europe had spent centuries wresting
authority from nobles, bishops, towns, guilds, military orders, and
any number of quasi-independent, quasi-sovereign bodies.
Indivisibility had been one of the shibboleths of prerevolutionary
Europe, and one which the French Revolution had gone on to place at
the center of the conception of the modern state. The modern person is
a rights-bearing individual, but–as the 1791 Déclaration des droits de
l’homme et du citoyen had made clear–he or she is so only by virtue of
being a citizen of a single indivisible state. Such a strong notion of
sovereignty could apply, however, only within Europe. In the world
beyond, things were very different. It had been impossible for any
empire to thrive without sharing power with either local settler
elites or with local inhabitants. As Henry Maine, a renowned jurist,
historian, and legal member of the viceroy’s council in India, had
declared in 1887, “Sovereignty has always been regarded as divisible
in international law.”
-Is then the United States really an empire? I think if we look at the
history of the European empires, the answer must be no. It is often
assumed that because America possesses the military capability to
become an empire, any overseas interest it does have must necessarily
be imperial.20 But if military muscle had been all that was required
to make an empire, neither Rome nor Britain–to name only two–would
have been one. Contrary to the popular image, most empires were, in
fact, for most of their histories, fragile structures, always
dependent on their subject peoples for survival. Universal citizenship
was not created out of generosity. It was created out of need.

Empire America
-Despite allusions to the Pax Americana, twenty first-century America
bears not the slightest resemblance to ancient Rome. Unlike all
previous European empires,
It has no signifcant overseas settler populations in any of its formal
dependencies and no obvious desire to acquire any. It does not
conceive its hegemony
beyond its borders as constituting a form of citizenship. It exercises
no direct rule anywhere outside these areas; and it has always
attempted to extricate itself as swiftly as possible from anything
that looks as if it were about to develop into even indirect rule.

Commerce has finally replaced conquest
-In the end, perhaps, what Smith, Constant, and Schumpeter prophesied
has come to pass: commerce has finally replacedconquest. True, it is
commerce stripped of all its eighteenth-century attributes of
benevolence, but it is commerce nonetheless. The long-term political
objectives of the United States, which have varied little from
administration to administration, have been to sustain and, where
necessary, to create a world of democracies bound inexorably together
by international trade. And the political forms best suited to
international commerce are federations (such as the European Union)
and trading partnerships (the oecd or nafta), not empires.

Empires were not, nor had ever been, merely means to economic ends
-For, in theory at least, commerce created a relationship between
peoples that did not involve dependency of any kind and that, most
importantly, avoided any use of force. In these new commercialized
societies, the various peoples of the world would swap new
technologies and basic scienti½c and cultural skills as readily as
they would swap foodstuffs.
-But this vision never materialized because, as Smith fully
recognized, the European empires were not, nor had ever been, merely
means to economic ends; they were also matters of international
-Hume’s skepticism proved all too accurate. It was in the long run
more profitable, as both the British and the Dutch discovered in Asia,
to exercise direct control over the sources of supply through conquest
than it was to trade with them.

The Fall of Natural Man
This book gives a new interpretation of the reception of the new world
by the old. It is the first in-depth study of the pre-Enlightenment
methods by which Europeans attempted to describe and classify the
American Indian and his society. Between 1512 and 1724 a simple
determinist view of human society was replaced by a more sophisticated
relativist approach. Anthony Pagden uses new methods of technical
analysis, already developed in philosophy and anthropology, to examine
four groups of writers who analysed Indian culture: the
sixteenth-century theologian, Francisco de Vitoria, and his followers;
the ‘champion of the Indians’ Bartolomé de Las Casas; and the Jesuit
historians José de Acosta and Joseph François Lafitau. Dr Pagden
explains the sources for their theories and how these conditioned
their observations. He also examines for the first time the key terms
in each writer’s vocabulary – words such as ‘barbarian’ and ‘civil’ –
and the assumptions that lay beneath them.

Rule of the New World
-The use of the history of the Roman empire in the arguments about the
Spanish conquests in America is the topic of David Lupher’s highly
erudite and original Romans in a New World. Classical Models in
Sixteenth-Century Spanish America. Very persuasively, Lupher maintains
that apart from Aristotle’s doctrine of the natural slave, which has
received significant scholarly attention,3 there was another classical
tradition, the history of ancient Rome, that held the participants in
the debate about the legal and moral justification of the Spanish
empire of the Indies in a tight grip, giving rise to a very rich and
often paradoxical literature.
It was through this manner of comparison that sixteenth-century
Spaniards discussed their polity’s conduct in the Indies. When the
Spanish started to build up their vast empire in Central and South
America, they saw themselves confronted with a series of normative
issues both of a legal and a moral nature. First there was the
question of what kind of rules would govern the distribution among the
expanding European powers of the territories newly discovered or yet
to be discovered. Second there arose the further question about the
rules that governed the relations between the expanding Spanish empire
and the newly acquired territories and peoples— what status did the
autochthonous American population have vis-à-vis the Spanish crown and
how could the acquisition of huge parts of the Americas be justified?
Famously, these questions concerning the justification of Spanish rule
over the Indies provoked an unprecedented controversy in Spain,
culminating in the Spanish crown’s staging of a debate in Valladolid
in 1550– 51 between Bartolomé de las Casas, a Dominican fiercely
critical of Spain’s rule in the Indies, and the apologetic
pro-imperial humanist Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda. Both before and after
Valladolid, the controversy about the justness of the Spanish empire
in the Indies was conducted with reference to classical, chiefly
Roman, history.

Non-linear history
-Does cause and effect what was the basis of natural law – change with
complexity and non-linear thinking – that is when or understanding of
causa changes does our way of conducting scholarship?

-one should look from europe for asia, africa and america are depicted
in their relation to europe. europe is the rubric, the initial code.
*if things are moving east – how are going to re-orient ourselves.
-europe with its commericial society and rule of law not despots was a
high achievement that others would want and need to pass through or
evolve to.

The Idea of Europe
Asia, Asu—”lands of the rising sun.”
They themselves were wealthy—far wealthier than the impoverished
Greeks—and they could be immensely refined. They were also fierce and
savage, formidable opponents on the battlefield, something all Greeks
admired. Yet for all this they were, above all else, slavish and
servile. They lived in awe of their rulers, whom they looked upon not
as mere men like themselves, but as gods.
“lands of the setting sun”
The peoples who inhabited this region were also varied and frequently
divided, but they, too, shared something in common: they loved freedom
above life, and they lived under the rule of laws, not men, much less
The current, conventional division of all of Asia into Near, Middle,
and Far East is a nineteenth-century usage whose focal point was
British India. What was Near or Middle lay between Europe and India,
what was Far lay beyond.1 For the inhabitants of the region, however,
this classification clearly
had no meaning whatsoever. In the eighteenth century, a relatively new
term, “Orient,” came into use to describe everywhere from the shores
of the eastern Mediterranean to the China Sea. This, too, was given,
by many Westerners, a shared if not single identity.
Far from presenting a challenge to the cultural assumptions of the
West, China, and to some degree Japan, were for long believed to share
-Therefore, Karlsson suggests that Greek and Roman civilisations can
best be described as “Mediterranean cultures” because of their centres
in Asia Minor, Africa and the Middle East.
-Europe as well as an idea, a construction having emerged from and
within asia and africa (libya) europeans needed the great commercial
networks that they built)
-Furthermore, it is not sensible to carry the same conviction about
the pre-eminent place of Christianity in European projects into
subsequent centuries. One of the main rationales that drove the
Enlightenment philosophers to the rediscovery of Greco-Roman antiquity
to formulate a new and secular European identity was their opposition
to the dominance of the medieval Christian Church.

European exceptionalism.
-‘i am not endorsing european exceptionalism. all people of the world
are the combination, dispersal and recombination through warfare and
the pursuit of subsistence of myriad diverse groups of people’

‘Modern democracy that will have to give way.’ (from a post of
yours on open democracy)
-The values of the Roman world of the 2nd century were like the values
of the Enlightenment, conceived as universal: the rule of law,
citizenship based upon a common human identity, irrespective of race
or creed. For the historical origins of modern secular liberal
democracy lie not, as Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington suppose, in
Christianity, but in what Christianity borrowed from the ancient
world. And it was because the values and the kind of scientific
inquires they made possible were ancient and secular in origin that it
was, in the end, possible to detach them from Christian theology – and
the church…
-Is there really any such thing as a “genuine political community” in
any modern liberal democracy? Is not, in the end, the whole point of
modern, as opposed to ancient democracy (as the French liberal
Benjamin Constant pointed out at the beginning of the 19th century),
that modern democracies have made it possible for private citizens to
be just that – private? Communities may be necessary for some. But
“political communities” sounds ominously like collective farms,
Calvinist covenants and their like.
-If in the end, however, Fukuyama turns out to be right, then it is
likely to be the institutions of modern democracy that will have to
give way to some newer kind of political organisation capable of
sustaining what the ancients called “the best possible life” in a
world without the nation-state. And History may, in fact, as History
so often does, be about to begin all over again.
Anthony Pagden

An increasingly united world
-The boundaries that once existed between peoples are steadily
dissolving; ancient divisions between tribes and families, villages
and parishes, even between nations, are everywhere disintegrating. The
nation-state, with which most of the peoples of the Western world have
since the seventeenth century, may yet have a long time to live.

-Doña Marina (La Malinche) …Pocahontas …Sacagawea—their names live
on in historical memory because these women bridged the indigenous
American and European worlds, opening the way for the cultural
encounters, collisions, and fusions that shaped the social and even
physical landscape of the modern Americas. But these famous
individuals were only a few of the many thousands of people who,
intentionally or otherwise, served as “go-betweens” as Europeans
explored and colonized the New World.
-In this innovative history, Alida Metcalf thoroughly investigates the
many roles played by go-betweens in the colonization of
sixteenth-century Brazil. She finds that many individuals created
physical links among Europe, Africa, and Brazil—explorers, traders,
settlers, and slaves circulated goods, plants, animals, and diseases.
Intercultural liaisons produced mixed-race children. At the cultural
level, Jesuit priests and African slaves infused native Brazilian
traditions with their own religious practices, while translators
became influential go-betweens, negotiating the terms of trade,
interaction, and exchange. Most powerful of all, as Metcalf shows,
were those go-betweens who interpreted or represented new lands and
peoples through writings, maps, religion, and the oral tradition.
Metcalf’s convincing demonstration that colonization is always
mediated by third parties has relevance far beyond the Brazilian case,
even as it opens a revealing new window on the first century of
Brazilian history.

Civilizing globalization”
-in the context of proposals for reforming the international financial
architecture, focusing in particular on the development of universal
standards for good financial governance.’ from paper

What the New World meant to the Old
-So far there has been no theoretically informed and
historicallygrounded account of what the New World meant to the Old in
the early-modern period. Not, that is, until Anthony Pagden’s European
Encounters with the New World.
-Less easily accommodated were the practices of the native peoples.
They could only be understood if they were redescribed in terms
recognisable to Europeans by what Pagden calls the ‘principle of
attachment’, which at once assimilated them to alien categories and
deprived them of any meaning for their actors. The failure to see the
native peoples in their own terms left them vulnerable to European
assessments of their capacity for civilisation, their cultural
autonomy and even their humanity. When no effort could be made to
overcome alienness, such incommensurability became the excuse for
-After 1492, the ethnography of the humanoid other proved an even more
central fact of life, and the migrations of microbes, plants and
animals, and cultural inventions would transform the history of
disease, food consumption, land use, and production techniques.
-Sigmund Freud’s famous observation that the bitterest of all human
conflicts spring from what he called the “narcissism of small
differences”: we hate and fear those whom we most resemble, far more
than those from whom we are alien and remote.

Reading Columbus
-Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes, lovers and
promoters of the Holy Christian Faith, and enemies of the false
doctrine of Mahomet and of all idolatries and heresies, you thought of
sending me, Christóbal Colón, to the said regions of India to see the
said princes and the peoples and the lands, and the characteristics of
the lands and of everything, and to see how their conversion to our
Holy Faith might be undertaken. And you commanded that I should not go
to the East by land, by which way it is customary to go, but by the
route to the West, by which route we do not know for certain that
anyone has previously passed.
-Generally, in whatever lands I traveled, they believed and believe
that I, together with these ships and people, came from heaven, and
they greeted me with such veneration. And today, this very day, they
are of the same mind, nor have they strayed from it, despite all the
contact they [the Spaniards at La Navidad] may have had with them. And
then upon arriving at whatever settlement, the men, women, and
children go from house to house calling out,”Come, come and see the
people from heaven!”
-throughout Las Casas’s works, most clearly and profusely in the
Historia de las Indias , his history of the early decades of Spanish
colonization in the New World. Much of Las Casas’s history of the
first decade, devoted to Columbus’s voyages, was composed through the
paraphrase or outright quotation of the Admiral’s writings. Indeed,
his principal “primary” source is the Diario , his own version of
Columbus’s diario of the first voyage; almost the entire Diario is
paraphrased or quoted in the Historia .
– They saw many kinds of trees and plants and fragrant flowers;
they saw birds of many kinds, different from those of Spain, except
partridges and nightingales, which sang, and geese, for of these there
are a great many there. Four-footed beasts they did not see, except
dogs that did not bark. The earth was very fertile and planted with
those mañes and bean varieties very different from ours, and with that
same millet. And they saw a large quantity of cotton collected and
spun and worked; in a single house they had seen more than five
hundred arrobas ; and that one might get there each year four thousand
quintales [of it]. The Admiral says that it seemed to him that they
did not sow it and that it produces fruit [i.e., cotton] all year. It
is very fine and has a large boll. Everything that those people have,
he says, they would give for a very paltry price, and that they would
give a large basket of cotton for the tip of a lacing or anything else
given to them. They are people, says the Admiral, quite lacking in
evil and not warlike; [and] all of them, men and women, [are] naked as
their mothers bore them. It is true that the women wear a thing of
cotton only so big as to cover their genitals and no more. And they
are very respectful and not very black, less so than Canarians. I
truly believe, most Serene Princes, (the Admiral says here), that,
given devout religious persons knowing thoroughly the language that
they use, soon all of them would become Christian. And so I hope in
Our Lord that Your Highnesses, with much diligence, will decide to
send such persons in order to bring to the Church such great nations
and to convert them, just as you have destroyed those that did not
want to confess the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and that
after your days (for all of us are mortal) you will leave your
kingdoms in a tranquil state, free of heresy and evil, and will be
well received before the Eternal Creator, may it please Whom to give
you long life and great increase of your kingdoms and dominions and
the will and disposition to increase the Holy Christian Religion, as
up to now you have done, amen. Today I pulled the ship off the beach
and made ready to leave on Thursday, in the name of God, and to go to
the southeast to seek gold and spices and to explore land. All these
are the Admiral’s words. He intended to leave on Thursday, but because
a contrary wind came up he could not leave until the twelfth of

The Roman and Spanish Empires and Their Discontents
-Yet the comparison with the ancient world, both of words and deeds,
did not just
serve to satisfy the topos of “besting the ancients,” nor the growing
“Creole patriotism”
of men like Díaz or Oviedo; it also served justificatory purposes.
Both Díaz and Oviedo
saw an analogy between the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521 and the fall
of Jerusalem in 70.
In a way clearly influenced by the Christian Iberian Orosius’
early-fifth-century universal
history, Historiae adversum paganos, which rendered the destruction of Jerusalem
by Titus as a divinely ordained vengeance for the blood of Jesus
Christ (Orosius 7, 3, 8),
the conquistadors recording the destruction of Tenochtitlan were eager
to “don the
shining armor of divine agents,” thereby justifying the conquest by
reference to the obstinate
resistance of both Jews and Mexica to accept Christianity. Lupher shows that
Bernal Díaz even suggested that the Mexican indigenous population was
not only analogous
to, but in fact descended from the Jews expelled in 70 from Jerusalem, something
he inferred from golden objects the Spanish retrieved from Yucatán in
1517 which were
said to be “the work of the Jews whom Titus and Vespasian exiled from
Jerusalem and
had cast forth onto the sea in boats that had come to port in that
land” (40). This allowed
for the conquest of Tenochtitlan to be classified within sacred
history, alongside the conquest
of Jerusalem and the more recent reconquest of Spain; “the Spaniards projected
themselves,” in Lupher’s words (41), “as simultaneously super-Romans
and latter-day Crusaders.”

Ius erat in armis: The Roman and Spanish Empires
and Their Discontents
David Lupher, Romans in a New World. Classical Models in
Sixteenth-Century Spanish America
(Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2003), VI + 440 pp.

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