New Spain – Old Horrors

The plunder of the Americas

Jesus Never Existed – The Christianization of the Americas

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Kenneth Humphreys



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"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

– Voltaire




16th century Crime scene

Arriving Spaniards greet the locals (Duran Codex).

In one generation the Spaniards conquered more territory than had Rome in 500 years – a vast domain extending from California to Tierra del Fuego.

Unlike the Spanish, of course, Rome chose to keep most of the conquered peoples alive.






The Americas – a prize beyond the dreams of avarice.

At the time of contact the Aztec empire had a population of 25 million; Spain a population of 8 million.







New World, Old Crimes

The floating city of Tenochtitlán, in the 16th century one of the six largest cities in the world. Even Cortés was moved to describe as a 'shimmering jewel'.

He destroyed it anyway.


The advanced botanical knowledge that native Americans used in trance ceremonies was regarded as a "tool of the devil" by the Christian invaders.

Yet it was native familiarity with such substances as the bark of the Cinchona tree (which contains quinine) which provided a preventive of malaria for the Europeans.

But what else was lost?




'Divine Inca' Atahuallpa sent to Christ

In 1533 the Inca king was robbed, forcibly baptized and then murdered by Pizarro. Such practice was the modus operanti of the Christian conquerors of the New World.

– Garcilaso de la Vega, Royal Commentaries c1609.







Garden of Eden?

"The Indian loved to go about naked and they held money and property as no value … they had no sense of shame … they had no feeling of guilt."

– Simpson, 46.

The friars did their Christian best for the natives, insisting on the wearing of trousers.







Lost World

Extensive remains of Paquimé (aka Casas Grandes).

From the 12th to the 15th century, along the river valleys of northern Mexico and extending into New Mexico and Arizona, was a vibrant culture trading luxury items such as shells, copper, macaws and pottery which originated in Mesoamerica.

The culture vanished at the time of the Spanish Conquest, European diseases almost certainly the cause.






Inca noble warily accepts the faith of the invader.







Potosi – Mountain Mary of  Death

Overjoyed with the discovery of a huge silver-rich mountain ("Monte Rico") the avaricious Spanish identified the mountain with the Blessed Virgin Mary herself!

Potosi was Spain's largest mine for centuries.

Hundreds of thousands of enslaved miners, sedated on alcohol and coca, lived, worked and died inside the Virgin Goddess.

Still, their deaths were not in vain. Think of all those silver candelabra illuminating the shrines of gentle Jesus.







Winged Mary of Quito

Quito was the northern capital of the Inca, conquered by the Spanish in 1534 and becoming a major centre for enforced conversion of the locals.

No surprises, then, that the 9th Bishop of Quito, Salvador de Ribera, attested in official documents to the miraculous statue-building activity of none other than St Francis of Assisi and three archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael!






Fort Jesus

Franciscan mission, San Estevan, New Mexico.

Such missions resembled fortresses – and for good reason. The locals fiercely resisted forced conversion to Catholicism.






The plunder of the empires of the Americas was to good purpose – it allowed Spain to finance religious persecution in Europe for over a century. Spanish wars of  conquest included laying waste much of the Netherlands and a disastrous attempt to invade England. By destroying diverse cultures in the New World the Christian conquerors were able not only to eradicate civilizations more ancient than their own but also were able to senselessly erase a vibrant artistic legacy and even scientific knowledge. In their stead the Christian adventurers imposed a racist tyranny and an alien god. Millions were enslaved but their short and brutalized lives had at least known Jesus.

Wasn't that worth a little suffering?

World's Collide: "Reconquista" to "Conquista"

Aztec Eagle Knight (National Museum, Mexico).

A warrior aristocrat, much like his Spanish counterpart. Shared the same conviction of a divine mission to rule the world.

Unfortunately for the Aztecs their military technology simply did not match that of the invaders and their "flower war" culture aimed at capturing sacrificial victims not genocide.

Christian knight – the Conquistador.

700 years of warfare had produced a warrior culture contemptuous of other ways of life.

The final conquest of Iberia left a hard core of professional soldiers without employment – but then the "Indies" beckoned.

Equipped with "Toledo steel" (developed by the Moors), in ships (based on Islamic designs) and mounted on Andalusian horses (bred by the Arabs), these avaricious brigands would commit any atrocity in the pursuit of gold.

Priests were with them, every step of the way.

Before the Conquest

Long before the Iberian tribes learned civilization from the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, ancestors of the Aztecs – Olmecs and Toltecs – were building great cities of stone. While the forebears of the Spanish knights cowered in the mountains of the Astorias and most of Spain flourished under the Moors, the Maya civilization of Central America entered its classic period. Two hundred years before Colombus showed up in the Caribbean Mayan traders were colonizing the islands.


Aztec doctor (Codex Florentino).
Boys taken to Aztec school or 'Calmecac' (Codex Florentino).

Aztec floating gardens or chinampas produced maize, beans and other crops to feed the growing metropolis.

Inca road, with central water channel.

Over 14,000 miles of Inca road, much of it clinging to mountains at high altitude, linked peoples all the way from equatorial Quito to the southern deserts of Chile.

Ciezo de Leon, an early chronicler of the Spanish conquest, reported "everywhere it was clean swept and kept free of rubbish, with lodgings, storehouses, temples to the sun, and posts along the way."


Inca terraced gardens – vastly superior to the barren land of Estremadura where Pizarro recruited his desperados. Beyond the promises of easy wealth was the enticement of "easy women". Indian girls were made available without the constraints of Christian marriage, many transported to Europe where they would be sold as prostitutes.


Superb Aztec gold work– almost all went into the Spanish melting pot. For the natives of the Americas gold had aesthetic rather than monetary value.

Aztec turquoise mosaic serpent. Idolatry?

Artisans of the Devil?

Entrance to Machu Picchu. Expert stone work of the Inca continue to fascinate.


Dissolute Pope parcels out the Whole World

"Wherever Christians have passed, conquering and discovering, it seems as though a fire has gone, consuming everything."

– Pedro de Cieza de León (c. 1550, Crónica del Peru, Primera Parte, 2.66)

No sooner had the Americas been discovered than Alexander VI, the notorious Spanish Borgia Pope, divided all "heathen lands" from pole to pole between the Christian kingdoms of Spain and Portugal. The Papal Bull Inter Caetera, issued on May 4 1493, charged his Castilian cronies with a special mission:

"Moreover we command you in virtue of holy obedience that, employing all due diligence in the premises, as you also promise – nor do we doubt your compliance therein in accordance with your loyalty and royal greatness of spirit – you should appoint to the aforesaid mainlands and islands worthy, God-fearing, learned, skilled, and experienced men, in order to instruct the aforesaid inhabitants and residents in the Catholic faith and train them in good morals."

A year later (1494) the Treaty of Tordesillas placated a disgruntled Portugal by moving the demarcation line further west, rewarding Portugal with Brazil. But in 1580 Philip II of Spain also became king of Portugal, making the papal global carve-up somewhat academic and Spanish claims to the Americas total. No other nation had a permanent settlement on the shores of the New World to contest the claim.

Ignorant of such distant power broking were perhaps a hundred million indigenous natives of the Americas, blissfully unaware of the unholy crusade about to brutally sweep away their world forever. Across the ocean the cohorts of Christ, having reduced Europe by the carnage of religious warfare, were about to dip their hands in blood in a New World.


The Indies: Christian enthusiasm for "Enjoyment"

"Your Highnesses will win these lands, which are an Other World, and where Christianity will have so much enjoyment, and our faith in time so great an increase."

– Colombus to his patrons Ferdinand and Isabella, 1498 (Morrison, et al, p22)

1492 Colombus lands on the island of Hispaniola in the Indies. He trades glass beads for gold and leaves a small settlement.

1493 Colombus's second fleet of 17 ships reconnoiters Jamaica and southern Cuba.

1498 Colombus, with colonists emptied from Spanish prisons, makes landfall at Trinidad. The Hispaniola colony is relocated on the south coast at San Domingo by his brother Bartholomew.

1514 Panfilo de Narvaez conquers Cuba. The priest Bartolomeo de las Casas records a catalogue of Spanish torture and barbarity.

1500-1520 Conquest of Greater Antilles is complete.

Within a generation the Caribs and Arawaks, a native population of perhaps 250,000, forced into slave labour in the gold mines, were virtually wiped out. To take their place, beginning in 1510, slaves were brought in from Guinea in West Africa. But disappointment with the lack of gold prompted the Spanish to introduce sugar cultivation. Harsh, labour-intensive plantation agriculture, pioneered by the Portuguese in Sâo Tomé, was now established in the Americas. The conquistadors themselves, warriors not farmers, moved on, to cause ever greater ruin.


Slash and Burn

Having exhausted the Caribbean Islands of a limited quantity of pearls and gold and eradicated the entire native population, the Spanish conquistadors assaulted the mainland.

In their wake, the islands of the Indies were left to be exploited by a colonial elite. Plantations were worked by brutalised slaves imported from African. The sugar crop was sold in European markets.

English colonies copied Spanish plantation-style agriculture, first in the Lesser Antilles and then in Virginia.


"Pizarro replied that they had come ... to let them know that the idols they worshipped were false, and that to save their souls they had to become Christians and believe in the God the Spanish worshipped."

 – Michael Wood, Conquistadors, p120



Terror tactics compensated for the small numbers of the conquistadors.


Shock and Awe

Cholula pyramid, now sporting a Catholic church on the platform that once held an Aztec temple.

Cholula, with a population of 100,000, was the second city of the Aztec empire. It had thrived for more than a millennium.

In 1519, Cortés chose Cholula to demonstrate his Christian credentials. He massacred several thousand unarmed members of the Aztec nobility in the central plaza and then burned down much of the city.

What a guy!

Weapons of Mass Destruction

The arquebus – a primitive, bulky gun – and the crossbow were more than sufficient to terrorize the lightly armed American aboriginals.

Thrown to the Dogs

War dogs provided an especially frightening tool of war. Greyhounds and mastiffs were used most commonly, kitted out in their own quilted armour. The dogs were often trained to attack their victims in the abdomen and genitals. They were fed human body parts to encourage their killer instinct.


Germ warfare

Aztec doctor confounded by unknown disease (Florentine codex, c 1570)

Smallpox was especially catastrophic for the natives of the Americas.

The smallpox pandemic began in Hispaniola in December 1518. It spread to Mexico in 1520, along the Caribbean coast 1525-7, and reached Peru by 1527. The following year Wayna Capac, "Unique Inca" and paternalistic ruler of his bronze age empire, dies of the pox.

The Indians were vulnerable to a whole range European diseases: smallpox, diphtheria, influenza, cholera and measles among them.



Cultural Genocide

The first thing Catholic priests did upon discovering Mayan and Aztec books was to burn them. The priests declared that the codices were "written by the devil."

The Church took over Indian "re-education", with different monastic orders colonizing specific localities. The orders offered ambitious young men a colonial career whilst maintaining a semblance of "mission" and civilization.

"Eradication of idolatry" meant the wholesale destruction of entire cultures.

Pity about the genocide.


Central America: The Lure of Gold

1502 - 1504 On his fourth voyage Colombus explores the Central American coastline and encounters Maya traders at Bay Island in the Gulf of Honduras. In 1508 the first two Spaniards go ashore in Yucatan. In 1507 "America" appears on European maps for the first time.

1510 A settlement is established on the isthmus of Panama. In 1511 several shipwrecked sailors are taken prisoner by the Maya. In 1513 Balboa crosses the isthmus of Panama and reaches the Pacific.

1517 From Cuba, Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba explores the Yucatan coast. The following year Juan de Grijalua explores the coast of Mexico.

1519 From Cuba, Hernan Cortés lands at Veracruz. He rejects envoys with gifts from Moctezuma II and advances on the high plateau of Tlaxcala. At Cholula Cortès massacres the local chiefs. With the help of native allies Cortes reaches Tenochtitlán and takes Moctezuma hostage. Cortes wrecks the great pyramid before withdrawing.

1521 After a 93-day siege Cortes takes and destroys Tenochtitlán.

1528 Francisco de Montejo lands in Yucatan. He wages a 14-year struggle with the Maya before establishing his capital at Merida.

1542 Pedro de Alvarado takes the Mayan kingdoms of Cakchiquel and Quiche.

1543 Spain institutes annual treasure convoys.

1697 Martin de Ursua inflicts final defeat of Maya at Tayasal.


South America: Peruvian empire for pious gangsters

1526 Francisco Pizarro, already enriched by slave-holdings in Panama, leads mercenaries into Colombia. Their terror tactics are unflinchingly cruel but to little avail and the expedition has to be rescued.

1529 Charles V of Spain grants a licence to Pizarro to "discover and conquer Peru." When the invasion begins in 1532 the Inca empire, weakened by disease, is also wracked by civil war. The "Unique Inca" Atahuallpa is captured, forcibly baptized and garrotted.

1535 The Pizarro brothers establish a coastal capital of Lima and begin shipping gold back to Spain. Rivalry with fellow Spaniard Almagro leads Pizarro to execute his former companion. Almagro's son takes his revenge by murdering Pizarro.

1536 Great Inca revolt is followed by resistance in Vilcabamba until 1572 when the last Inca, Tupac Amoru, is captured and executed.


Enslavement: "Slavery is God's mercy" says Christian saint

"Because of the sin of the first man, the penalty of servitude was inflicted by God on the human race; to those unsuitable for liberty he has mercifully accorded servitude."

– Saint Isidore of Seville
(Pierre Bonnassie,
From Slavery to Feudalism in South-western Europe, 1991, p57)


The system of 'encomienda' gave Spanish settlers the right to an Indian's labour in exchange for his "care and religious instruction."

Thus, conversion to Catholicism went hand-in-hand with enslavement and early death.

The conquistadors and their descendants used up the indigenous people as slave labour in the gold mines of Mexico and the silver mines of Peru. As a result, the plantations of the Spanish/Portuguese empires had to import of six and a half million African slaves. As many again were required in other parts of the Americas. (For numbers see Thomas, p805).


Estimates of the pre-Colombian population of the Americas vary but possibly stood at 100 million – one fifth of humanity in 1492. Unlike the Hollywood myth, most lived in towns and villages and were not nomadic hunters. Between 1500 and 1600 the population of the Americas halved. In Mexico alone, it has been estimated that the pre-conquest population of around 25 million people was reduced within eighty years to about l.3 million, European diseases largely to blame. It was an horrendous demographic disaster.

"Within decades of Colombus's landfall, most of these people were dead and their world barbarously sacked by Europeans."

– R. Wright, Stolen Continents, p4.


Regret? Death bed remorse

"We found those realms in such good order that there was not a thief or a vicious man, nor an adulteress, nor were they an immoral people, being content and honest in their labour...

We have destroyed by our evil behaviour such a government as was enjoyed by these natives... Owing to the bad example we have set them in all things, that these natives from doing no evil have turned into people who can do no good...

There is no more I can do to alleviate these injustices than by my words ... in which I beg God to pardon me..."

– Masio Serra de Leguizamon
, the last of the Conquistadors
Cuzco, 18 September 1589 (Wood, p274)


Voice of the Dead

"You tell me then that I must perish
like the flowers that I cherish.
Nothing remaining of my name,
nothing remembered of my fame?
But the gardens I planted still are young –
The songs I sang will still be sung!"
Huexotzin, Prince of Texcoco, c 1484 
(G. Jennings, Aztec)


Michael Wood, Conquistadors (BBC, 2001)
Ronald Wright, Stolen Continents – The Indian Story (John Murray, 1992)
Richard Hart, From Occupation to Independence (University of the West Indies, 1998)
Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade – The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade (Picador, 1997)
Divine, Breen, et al, America – Past and Present (Longman, 1998)
Noam Chomsky, Year 501 - The Conquest Continues (Verso, 1993


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