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Follow these instructions:
1) Introduction. Your introductory paragraph must include a clear thesis = your
basic answers to the essay questions. A thesis states an argument that will be
explained and defended in the body of your paper. Your
introduction should also describe the topic of your paper and the regions of
the world your sources come from.
2) Quotes. Include ONE brief quote from EACH primary source document that
supports your thesis. Quote should be no longer than one sentence. Explain
each quote in your own words. DO NOT quote from the editor’s
introduction to the primary source. (In the book, this is the section in italics
after the title)
3) Citations. When first discussing a document, state the document title (NOT
number) and author (if given). At the end of each quote, include the page
number the quote is from like so: (p. 24). No bibliography is needed.
4) Historical context. When discussing each primary source, you should briefly
provide relevant historical background using information given in lecture and
in the introduction to that primary source.
Minimum: 2 complete pages of writing (measured from the start of your first
paragraph to end of your last paragraph)
Maximum: approximately 3 pages of writing (3.5 pages is okay)
• 12 Times Roman Font
• 1” margins (all around)
• Only give your name and question number answered at the top corner
You will write a 2-3 page interpretive essay based on documents from your
book, Modern Empires: A Reader or Online Documents.
Answer the question. Defend and explain your answer using ALL the indicated
documents as evidence to support your argument. Read and follow Paper
1. Analyze and compare why different nations pursued imperial
conquest using documents: Ch. 1: Doc 5, Ch 1: Doc 8, Ch. 1: Doc 11, Ch.
2: Doc 1. How did these nations justify imperialism and what benefits did
they hope to gain from it? Do you think they shared common motives for
imperialism, or were there significant differences? Explain.
Doc 5 – Sultan Selim of Ottoman Empire, Letter to Shah Ismail (1514)
Though born after the fall of Constantinople, Sultan Selim (c. 1465-70–1520)
was pivotal in the expansion of the Ottoman empire by tripling its size. Selim
came to power by overthrowing his father and killing his brothers and
nephews, who might have contested his rule. Meanwhile, from their base in
Persia (present-day Iran), the Safavids were external competitors to the
Ottomans, who previously had mostly concentrated on taking lands in the
Balkans and eastern Europe. Persian culture and the Persian system of
bureaucratic rule were imitated across Central and West Asia. In this letter,
the Sunni Muslim Selim warns his competi- tor, Shah Ismail, whose country
had gone over to the Shi’ia form of Islam, that he is about to attack Persia.
What followed the defiant response from Shah Ismail was the Battle of
Caldiran, in which the Ottomans crushed the Safavids. As a result, the
Ottomans began their march through the Middle East, taking the vast
Egyptian territories, including the holy places of Mecca and Medina, and
gaining the wealth necessary to imperial rule. (DO NOT COPY)
The Supreme Being who is at once the sovereign arbiter of the destinies of
men and the source of all light and knowledge, declares in the holy book2 that
the true faith is that of the Muslims, and that whoever professes another
religion, far from being hearkened to and saved, will on the contrary be cast
out among the rejected on the great day of the Last Judgment; He says
further, this God of truth, that His designs and decrees are unalterable, that all
human acts are perforce reported to Him, and that he who abandons the good
way will be condemned to hell-fire and eternal torments. Place yourself, O
Prince, among the true believers, those who walk in the path of salvation, and
who turn aside with care from vice and infidelity. . . .
I, sovereign chief of the Ottomans, master of the heroes of the age; . . . I, the
exterminator of idolators, destroyer of the enemies of the true faith, the terror
of the tyrants and pharaohs of the age; I, before whom proud and unjust kings
have humbled themselves, and whose hand breaks the strongest sceptres; I,
the great Sultan-Khan, son of Sultan Bayezid-Khan, son of Sultan
Muhammad-Khan, son of Sultan Murad-Khan, I address myself graciously to
you, Emir Ismail, chief of the troops of Persia, comparable in tyranny to Sohak
and Afrasiab,3 and pre- destined to perish . . . in order to make known to you
that the works emanating from the Almighty are not the fragile products of
caprice or folly, but make up an infinity of mysteries impenetrable to the
human mind. The Lord Himself says in his holy book: “We have not created
the heavens and the earth in order to play a game” [Quran, 21:16]. Man, who
is the noblest of the creatures and the summary of the marvels of God, is in
consequence on earth the living image of the Creator. It is He who has set up
Caliphs4 on earth, because, joining faculties of soul with perfection of body,
man is the only being who can comprehend the attributes of the divinity and
adore its sublime beauties; but he possesses this rare intelligence, he attains
this divine knowledge only in our religion and by observing the precepts of the
prince of prophets . . . the right arm of the God of Mercy [Muhammad]; it is
then only by practicing the true religion that man will prosper in this world and
merit eternal life in the other. As to you, Emir Ismail, such a recompense will
not be your lot; because you have denied the sanctity of the divine laws;
because you have deserted the path of salvation and the sacred
commandments; because you have impaired the purity of the dogmas of
Islam; because you have dishonored, soiled, and destroyed the altars of the
Lord, usurped the sceptre of the East by unlawful and tyrannical means;
because coming forth from the dust, you have raised yourself by odious
devices to a place shining with splendor and magnificence; because you have
opened to Muslims the gates of tyranny and oppression; because you have
joined iniquity, perjury, and blasphemy to your sectarian impiety; because
under the cloak of the hypocrite, you have sowed everywhere trouble and
sedition; because you have raised the standard of irreligion and heresy;
because yielding to the impulse of your evil passions, and giving yourself up
without rein to the most infamous disorders, you have dared to throw off the
control of Muslim laws and to permit lust and rape, the massacre of the most
virtuous and respectable men, the destruction of pulpits and temples, the
profanation of tombs, the ill- treatment of the ulama, the doctors and emirs5
descended from the Prophet, the
repudiation of the Quran, the cursing of the legitimate Caliphs.6 Now as the
first duty of a Muslim and above all of a pious prince is to obey the
commandment, “O, you faithful who believe, be the executors of the decrees
of God!” the ulama and our doctors have pronounced sentence of death
against you, perjurer and blasphemer, and have imposed on every Muslim the
sacred obligation to arm in defense of religion and destroy heresy and impiety
in your person and that of all your partisans.
Animated by the spirit of this fatwa,7 conforming to the Quran, the code of
divine laws, and wishing on one side to strengthen Islam, on the other to
liberate the lands and peoples who writhe under your yoke, we have resolved
to lay aside our imperial robes in order to put on the shield and coat of mail
[armor], to raise our ever victorious banner, to assemble our invincible armies,
to take up the gauntlet of the avenger, to march with our soldiers, whose
sword strikes mortal blows, and whose point will pierce the enemy even to the
constel- lation of Sagittarius. In pursuit of this noble resolution, we have
entered upon the campaign, and guided by the hand of the Almighty, we hope
soon to strike down your tyrannous arm, blow away the clouds of glory and
grandeur which trouble your head and cause your fatal blindness, release
from your despotism your trembling subjects, smother you in the end in the
very mass of flames which your infernal jinn8 raises everywhere along your
passage, accomplishing in this way on you the maxim which says: “He who
sows discord can only reap evils and afflictions.” However, anxious to conform
to the spirit of the law of the Prophet, we come, before commencing war, to
set out before you the words of the Quran, in place of the sword, and to exhort
you to embrace the true faith; this is why we address this letter to you. . . .
We urge you to look into yourself, to renounce your errors, and to march
towards the good with a firm and courageous step; we ask further that you
give up possession of the territory violently seized from our state and to which
you have only illegitimate pretensions, that you deliver it back into the hands
of our lieutenants and officers; and if you value your safety and repose, this
should be done without delay.
But if, to your misfortune, you persist in your past conduct, puffed up with the
idea of your power and your foolish bravado, you wish to pursue the course of
your iniquities, you will see in a few days your plains covered with our tents
and inundated with our battalions. Then prodigies of valor will be done, and
we shall see the decrees of the Almighty, Who is the God of Armies, and
sovereign judge of the actions of men, accomplished. For the rest, victory to
him who follows the path of salvation!
DOC 8 – ZAHIR AL-DIN BABUR, MEMOIRS OF BABUR OR THE
The first of the Mughal emperors, Babur (1483–1530) became leader of the
region of Ferghana in central Asia at the age of twelve on the death of his
father. Though a descendant of both Ghengis Kahn and Tamerlane, he faced
challenges to his leader- ship from the competing groups fighting one another
in the region. Defeats never crushed his powerful ambition to be a conqueror
however. In his teens and twenties, he overtook Samarkand, Kabul, and other
important cities, but also lost them in fierce battles with rivals. Finally in 1525,
he began his push into South Asia, driving to acquire its agricultural and other
wealth as had many tribal and nomadic leaders before him. As a result of the
stream of migrations and conquerors, the subcontinent became a mixture of
cultures and customs from across Asia. More than a military leader alone,
Babur wrote poetry, adopted Persian culture and helped it thrive, and filled his
memoirs with self-reflection and observations of the lands and peoples he had
conquered—like a true imperialist. Under the leadership of his descendants,
the Mughal Empire began its impressive rise. To whom or what does Babur
attribute his victories? (DO NOT COPY)
Sultan Ibrahim’s army was estimated at one hundred thousand. He and his
commanders were said to have nearly a thousand elephants. Moreover, he
possessed the treasury left over from two generations of his fathers. The
custom in Hindustan is to hire liege men for money before major battles. Such
people are called badhandi. If Sultan Ibrahim had had a mind to, he could
have hired one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand troops. Thank
God he was able neither to satisfy his warriors nor to part with his treasury.
How was he to please his men when his nature was so overwhelmingly
dominated by miserliness? He him- self was an inexperienced young man
who craved beyond all things the acquisition of money—neither his oncoming
nor his stand was calculated to have a good end, and neither his march nor
his fighting was energetic.
The Battle of Panipat
On Friday the eight of Rajab [April 20] news came at dawn from the scouts
that the enemy was coming in battle array. We put on our armor, armed
ourselves, and got to horse.
The sun was one lance high when battle was enjoined. The fighting continued
until midday. At noon the enemy was overcome and vanquished to the delight
of our friends. By God’s grace and generosity such a difficult action was made
easy for us, and such a numerous army was ground into the dust in half a
day. Five or six thousand men were killed in one place near Ibrahim. All told,
the dead of this battle were estimated at between fifteen and sixteen
thousand. Later, when we came to Agra, we learned from reports by the
people of Hindustan that forty to fifty thousand men had died in the battle.
With the enemy defeated and felled we proceeded. Along the way, the men
began to capture the fallen commanders and Afghans and bring them in.
Droves of elephants were caught and presented by the elephant keepers.
Thinking that Ibrahim may have escaped, we assigned Qïsïmtay Mirza, Baba
Chuhra, and Böchkä’s troops from the royal tabin to pursue him behind the
enemy lines and move with all speed to Agra. Crossing through the midst of
Ibrahim’s camp, we inspected the tents and pavilions and then camped beside
a still river. It was midafternoon when Tahir the Axman, Khalifa’s brother-inlaw, discovered Sultan Ibrahim’s body amidst many corpses and brought in
That very day we assigned Humayun Mirza, Khwaja Kalan, Muhammadi,
Shah-Mansur Barlas, Yunus Ali, Abdullah, and Wali Khazin to proceed swiftly
and unencumbered, get hold of Agra, and confiscate the treasury. We
appointed Mahdi Khwaja, Muhammad-Sultan Mirza, Adil Sultan, SultanJunayd Barlas, and Qutlugh-Qadam to separate themselves from the
baggage and ride fast, enter the Delhi fortress, and guard the treasuries.
Babur Enters Delhi
On, Tuesday, after two bivouacs, I circumambulated Shaykh Nizam Awliya’s
tomb and camped beside the Jumna directly opposite Delhi. That evening I
toured the Delhi fortress, where I spent the night; the next morning,
Wednesday, I circum- ambulated Khwaja Qutbuddin’s tomb and toured Sultan
Ghiyasuddin Balban’s and Sultan Alauddin Khalji’s tombs, buildings, and
minaret, the Shamsi pool, the Khass pool, and Sultan Bahlul’s and Sultan
Iskandar’s tombs and gardens. After the tour I returned to the camp, got on a
boat, and drank spirits.
I made Wali Qïzïl the provost of Delhi; I made Dost the divan of the province
of Delhi; and I had the treasuries there sealed and turned over to them for
On Thursday we marched out and camped beside the Jumna directly opposite
On Friday we stayed in camp. Mawalana Mahmud, Shaykh Zayn, and some
others went to perform the Friday prayer in Delhi and read the proclamation in
my name. Having distributed some money to the poor and unfortunate, they
returned to camp.
On Saturday the army proceeded by forced march toward Agra. I went for a
tour of Tughluqabad and returned to camp.
On Friday the twenty-second of Rajab [May 4] we stopped in Sulayman
Farmuli’s quarters in the suburbs of Agra. Since this site was far from the
fortress, we moved the next mornings to Jalal Khan Jighat’s palace. Humayun
had gone on ahead, but the men inside the fortress made excuses to keep
him out. When they noticed how unruly the people were, they maintained
watch over the exit, afraid someone might pilfer the treasury, until we should
The ancestors of Bikramajit the Hindu, the rajah of Gwalior, had been ruling
Gwalior for more than a hundred years. Iskandar stayed in Agra for several
years planning the taking of Gwalior. Afterward, during Ibrahim’s time, A‘zamHumayun Sarwani had kept up serious fighting for a period of time. Finally [in
1518] walior was taken by truce, and the rajah was given Shamsabad.
Bikramajit died and went to hell when Sultan Ibrahim was defeated. His sons
and clan were in Agra. When Humayun got to Agra, the people of Bikramajit’s
clan were think- ing of fleeing, but the men Humayun had stationed there
seized them and held them under guard. Humayun did not let them be
plundered, and by their own agreement they presented Humayun with many
jewels and gems, among which was a famous diamond Sultan Alauddin had
acquired. It is well known that a gem merchant once assessed its worth at the
whole world’s expenditure for half a day. It must weigh eight mithcals. When I
came, Humayun presented it to me, but I gave it right back to him.
One of the knowledgeable people from among the soldiers in the fortress was
Malikdad of Kara. Another was Malli Surduk, and another Firoz Khan of
Mewat. They had engaged in some dishonesty and were sent to be executed.
When Malik- dad of Kara was taken out for execution, some people pleaded
on his behalf. With the coming and going it was four or five days before a
decision could be made. We showed him great favor and granted his wishes,
exempting all his possessions, Ibrahim’s mother and her retinue were granted
a one-crore estate in cash, and she was taken out of Agra with her baggage
and settled a league downstream.
On Wednesday afternoon the twenty-eighth of Rajab [May 10], I entered Agra
and camped in Sultan Ibrahim’s quarters.
From the year 910 [1504–05], when Kabul was conquered, until this date I
had craved Hindustan. Sometimes because my begs had poor opinions, and
sometimes because my brothers lacked cooperation, the Hindustan campaign
had not been possible and the realm had not been conquered. Finally all such
impediments had been removed. None of my little begs and officers was able
any longer to speak out in opposition to my purpose. In 925  we led the
army and took Bajaur by force in two or three gharis, massacred the people,
and came to Bhera. The people of Bhera paid ransom to keep their property
from being plun- dered and pillaged, and we took four hundred thousand
shahrkhis worth of cash and goods, distributed it to the army according to the
number of liege men, and returned to Kabul.
From that date until 932 [1525–26], we led the army to Hindustan five times
within seven or eight years. The fifth time, God through his great grace vanquished and reduced a foe like Sultan Ibrahim and made possible for us a
realm like Hindustan.
. . . Never before had I had such an army on a Hinsutan campaign. What with
liege men, merchants, servants, and all those with the army, twelve thousand
per- sons were registered. The provinces that belonged to me were
Badakhshan, Konduz, Kabul, and Kandahar, but no substantial assistance
was forthcoming from them— in fact, since some of them were so close to the
enemy, it was necessary to send much assistance there. Moreover, the whole
of Transoxiana was in the hands of an old enemy, the Uzbek khans and
princes, who had nearly one hundred thousand soldiers. The kingdom of
Hindustan, from Bhera to Bihar, was under the control of Afghans, whose
padishah was Sultan Ibrahim. By land calculation he should have had an army
five hundred thousand. However, just then the amirs of Purab were in
rebellion, and his standing army was estimated at one hundred thousand. He
and his commanders were said to have one thousand elephants. In such a
state of affairs and with such strength, we put our trust in God, turned our
backs on one hundred thousand old Uzbek enemies, and faced a ruler with a
huge army and vast realm like Sultan Ibrahim. In recognition of our trust, God
did not let our pains and diffi- culties go for naught and defeated such a
powerful opponent and conquered a vast kingdom like Hindustan. We do not
consider this good fortune to have emanated from our own strength and force
but from God’s pure loving-kindness; we do not think that this felicity is from
our endeavor but from God’s generosity and favor.
Description of Hindustan
. . . Fifth was Nusrat Shah in Bengal. His father became padishah in Bengal
and was a sayyid known as Sultan Alauddin.
Nusrat Shah ruled by hereditary succession. There is an amazing custom
born in Bengal: rule is seldom achieved by hereditary succession. Instead,
there is a specific royal throne, and each of the amirs, viziers, or officeholders
has an estab- lished place. It is that throne that is of importance to the people
of Bengal. For every place, a group of obedient servants is established. When
the ruler desires to dismiss anyone, all the obedient servants then belong to
whomever he puts in that person’s place. The royal throne, however, has a
peculiarity: anyone who succeeds in killing the king and sitting on the throne
becomes the king. Amirs, viziers, soldiers, and civilians all submit to him, and
he becomes the padishah and ruler like the former ruler. The people of Bengal
say, “We are the legal property of the throne, and we obey anyone who is on
it.” For instance, before Nusrat Shah’s father, Sultan Alauddin, an Abyssinian
killed the king, took the throne, and reigned for a time. The Abyssinian was
killed by Sultan Alauddin, who then became king. Sultan Alauddin’s son has
now become king by hereditary succession. Another custom in Bengal is that
it is considered disgraceful for anyone who becomes king to spend the
treasuries of former kings. Whoever becomes king must accumulate a new
treasury, which is a source of pride for the people. In addition, the salaries and
stipends of all the institutions of the rulers, treasury, military, and civilian are
absolutely fixed from long ago and cannot be spent anywhere else.
The five great Muslim padishahs with vast realms and huge armies are the
five who have been mentioned.
Of the infidels, the greater in domain and army is the rajah of Vijayanagar.
The other is Rana Sanga, who had recently grown so great by his audacity
and sword. His original province was Chitor. When the sultans of Mandu grew
weak, he seized many provinces belonging to Mandu, such as Ranthambhor,
Sarangpur, Bhilsan, and Chanderi. Chanderi had been in the daru’l-harb for
some years and held by Sanga’s highest-ranking officer, Medini Rao, with four
or five thousand infidels, but in 934 , through the grace of God, I took it
by force within a ghari or two, massacred the infidels, and brought it into the
bosom of Islam, as will be mentioned.
All around Hindustan are many rays and rajahs. Some are obedient to Islam,
while others, because they are so far away and their places impregnable, do
not render obedience to Muslim rulers.
DOC 11 – BERNARDINO DE SAHAGUN, FLORENTINE CODEX: GENERAL
HISTORY OF THE THINGS IN SPAIN (1545)
The Aztec Empire was both limited in size and highly organized, its society
struc- tured around waging war as a noble, essential duty to maintain the
universe. Equipped with neither horses nor gunpowder weaponry, the Aztec
army was a disci- plined and greatly feared fighting force whose goals were
both to collect tribute and to capture warriors alive to sacrifice ceremonially
during one of the eighteen important moments in the calendar. Sacrifice was
central to the Aztecs and other groups in the region as it was in fact to
Christianity. The common idea was that the gods had sacrificed themselves
for humans and that to keep the universe functioning human blood needed to
be sacrificed as well. In fact, Aztec society as a whole emphasized sacrifice of
animals, goods, food, and even oneself as important to entering the House of
the Sun. Given the centrality of sacrifice, impeccable military organization was
a major concern of the Aztec empire. (DO NOT COPY)
The ruler was known as the lord of men. His charge was war. Hence, he
determined, disposed, and arranged how the war would be made. First he
commanded masters of the youths and seasoned warriors to scan the
[enemy] city and to study all the roads—where [they were] difficult, where
entry could be made through them. This done, the ruler first determined, by
means of a painted [plan], how was placed the city which they were to
destroy. Then the chief noted all the roads— where [they were] difficult, and in
what places entry could be made.
Then he summoned the general and the commanding general, and the brave
warriors, and he commanded them how they were to take the road, what
places the warriors were to enter, for how many days they would march, and
how they would arrange the battle. And he commanded that these would
announce war and send forth all the men dexterous in war to be arrayed, and
to be supplied with provisions for war and insignia.
The ruler then consulted with all the majordomos. . . . He ordered them to take
out all their [goods held in] storage, the tributes, costly articles—insignia of
gold, and with quetzal feathers, and all the shields of great price.
And when the majordomos had delivered all the costly devices, the ruler then
adorned and presented with insignia all the princes who were already able in
war, and all the brave warriors, the men [at arms], the seasoned warriors, the
fearless warriors, the Otomí, and the noblemen who dwelt in the young men’s
And when it had come to pass that the ruler adorned them, when he had done
this to the brave warriors, then the ruler ordered all the majordomos to bear
their goods, all the costly devices, and all the valuable capes there to battle,
that the ruler might offer and endow with favors all the [other] rulers, and the
noble- men, and the brave warriors, the men [at arms] who were about to go
to war, who were to be extended as if made into a wall of men dexterous with
arms. And the ruler forthwith called upon the rulers of Texcoco and Tlacopan
and the rulers in the swamp lands, and notified them to proclaim war in order
to destroy a [certain] city. He presented them all with costly capes, and he
gave them all insignia of great price. Then he also ordered the common folk to
rise to go forth to war. Before them would go marching the brave warriors, the
men [at arms], the lord general, and the commanding general.
The lords of the sun, it was said, took charge and directed in war. All the
priests, the keepers of the gods, took the lead; they bore their gods upon their
backs, and, by the space of one day, marched ahead of all the brave warriors
and the seasoned warriors. These also marched one day ahead of all the men
of Acol- huacan, who likewise marched one day ahead of all the Tepaneca,
who similarly marched one day ahead of the men of Xilotepec; and these also
marched one day ahead of all the so-called Quaquata. In like manner the
[men of] other cities were disposed. They followed the road slowly and
And when the warlike lands were reached, the brave warrior generals and
commanding generals then showed the others the way and arranged them in
order. No one might break ranks or crowd in among the others; they would
then and there slay or beat whoever would bring confusion or crowd in among
the others. All the warriors were extended there, until the moment that
Yacauitztli, [god of] the night, would descend—that darkness would fall. And
when they already were to rise against the city to destroy it, first was awaited
tensely the moment when fire flared up—when the priests brought [new] fire—
and for the blowing of shell trumpets, when the priests blew them.
And when the fire flared up, then as one arose all the warriors. War cries were
raised; there was fighting. They shot fiery arrows into the temples.
And when they first took captive, one fated to die, forthwith they slew him
there before the gods; they slashed his breast open with a flint knife.
And when the city had been overcome, thereupon were counted as many
captives as there were, and as many Mexicans and Tlatilulcans as had died.
Then they apprised the ruler that they had been orphaned for the sake of
Uitzilopochtli; that men had been taken captive and been slain. And the ruler
then commanded the high judges to go to tell and inform all the homes of
those who had gone to die in war, that there might be weeping in the homes
of those who had gone to war to die. And they informed those in the homes of
as many as had gone to take cap- tives in war that they received honors there
because of their valor. And they were rewarded according to their merits; the
ruler accorded favors to all—costly capes, breech clouts, chocolate, food, and
devices, and lip rods and ear plugs. Even more did the ruler accord favors to
the princes if they had taken captives. He gave them the offices of stewards,
and all wealth without price—honor, fame, renown.
And if some had done wrong in battle, they then and there slew them on the
battlefield; they beat them, they stoned them.
And if several claimed one captive, and one man said, “He is my captive,” and
another man also said, “He is my captive”: if no man verified it, and also if no
one saw how they had taken the captive, the lord of the sun decided between
them. If neither had an advantage of the two who claimed the captive, then
those who had taken four captives, the masters of the captives, decided that
to neither one would the captive belong. He was dedicated to the Uitzcalco
[or] they left him to the tribal temple, the house of the devil.
And when the city which they had destroyed was attained, at once was set the
tribute, the impost. [To the ruler who had conquered them] they gave that
which was there made. And likewise, forthwith a steward was placed in office,
who would watch over and levy the tribute.
DOC 1 CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, LETTER TO THE KING AND QUEEN
OF SPAIN (1494)
Christopher Columbus, an unemployed but experienced sailor from Genoa,
succeeded in gaining the backing of Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and
Isabella for a voyage across the Atlantic to the “Indies.” Instead, he landed in
the Caribbean islands, ulti- mately making four voyages to the region and
setting Spain on the path to empire in the Western Hemisphere. Columbus’s
letters to their majesties were masterpieces, always focused on the massive
treasure to be collected of which there was actually very little at first. In
European eyes, Caribbean island people only wanted worthless trifles,
accepting bits of broken glass, scraps of leather, and trinkets such as beads;
in exchange they gave “a piece of gold weighing two and a half castellanos
and others received even more for things of even less value.”1 The letters
were full of advice for expansion and colonization as well as visions of the
glory shining on the Spanish monarchy and the Catholic Church. At the time,
Columbus’s descriptions were full of exaggeration, which ultimately proved
prophetic. The global expansion of the Spanish empire and with it the
development of a global bureaucracy were underway. Great wealth ultimately
followed. (DO NOT COPY)
Most high and Mighty Sovereigns, In obedience to your highnesses’
commands, and with submission to superior judgment, I will say whatever
occurs to me in reference to the colonization and commerce of the Island of
Espanola, and of the other islands, both those already discovered and those
that may be discovered hereafter.
In the first place, as regards the Island of Espanola: Inasmuch as the number
of colonists who desire to go thither amounts to two thousand, owing to the
land being safer and better for farming and trading, and because it will serve
as a place to which they can return and from which they can carry on trade
with the neigh- boring islands:
[1.] That in the said island there shall be founded three or four towns, situated
in the most convenient places, and that the settlers who are there be assigned
to the aforesaid places and towns.
[2.] That for the better and more speedy colonization of the said island, no one
shall have liberty to collect gold in it except those who have taken out colonists’ papers, and have built houses for their abode, in the town in which they
are, that they may live united and in greater safety.
[3.] That each town shall have its alcalde [Mayor] . . . and its notary public, as
is the use and custom in Castile.
[4.] That there shall be a church, and parish priests or friars to administer the
sacraments, to perform divine worship, and for the conversion of the Indians.
[5.] That none of the colonists shall go to seek gold without a license from the
governor or alcalde of the town where he lives; and that he must first take
oath to return to the place whence he sets out, for the purpose of registering
faithfully all the gold he may have found, and to return once a month, or once
a week, as the time may have been set for him, to render account and show
the quantity of said gold; and that this shall be written down by the notary
before the alcalde, or, if it seems better, that a friar or priest, deputed for the
purpose, shall be also present.
[6.] That all the gold thus brought in shall be smelted immediately, and
stamped with some mark that shall distinguish each town; and that the portion
which belongs to your highnesses shall be weighed, and given and consigned
to each alcalde in his own town, and registered by the above-mentioned priest
or friar, so that it shall not pass through the hands of only one person, and
there shall he no opportunity to conceal the truth.
[7.] That all gold that may be found without the mark of one of the said towns
in the possession of any one who has once registered in accordance with the
above order shall be taken as forfeited, and that the accuser shall have one
portion of it and your highnesses the other.
[8.] That one per centum of all the gold that may be found shall be set aside
for building churches and adorning the same, and for the support of the
priests or friars belonging to them; and, if it should be thought proper to pay
any thing to the alcaldes or notaries for their services, or for ensuring the
faithful perforce of their duties, that this amount shall be sent to the governor
or treasurer who may be appointed there by your highnesses.
[9.] As regards the division of the gold, and the share that ought to be
reserved for your highnesses, this, in my opinion, must be left to the aforesaid
governor and treasurer, because it will have to be greater or less according to
the quantity of gold that may be found. Or, should it seem preferable, your
highnesses might, for the space of one year, take one half, and the collector
the other, and a better arrangement for the division be made afterward.
[10.] That if the said alcaldes or notaries shall commit or be privy to any fraud,
punishment shall be provided, and the same for the colonists who shall not
have declared all the gold they have.
[11.] That in the said island there shall be a treasurer, with a clerk to assist
him, who shall receive all the gold belonging to your highnesses, and the
alcaldes and notaries of the towns shall each keep a record of what they
deliver to the said treasurer.
[12.] As, in the eagerness to get gold, every one will wish, naturally, to engage
in its search in preference to any other employment, it seems to me that the
privi- lege of going to look for gold ought to be withheld during some portion of
each year, that there may be opportunity to have the other business
necessary for the island performed.
[13.] In regard to the discovery of new countries, I think permission should be
granted to all that wish to go, and more liberality used in the matter of the fifth,
making the tax easier, in some fair way, in order that many may be disposed
to go on voyages.
I will now give my opinion about ships going to the said Island of Espanola,
and the order that should be maintained; and that is, that the said ships
should only be allowed to discharge in one or two ports designated for the
purpose, and should register there whatever cargo they bring or unload; and
when the time for their departure comes, that they should sail from these
same ports, and register all the cargo they take in, that nothing may be
• In reference to the transportation of gold from the island to Castile, that all of
it should be taken on board the ship, both that belonging to your highnesses
and the property of every one else; that it should all be placed in one chest
with two locks, with their keys, and that the master of the vessel keep one key
and some person selected by the governor and treasurer the other; that there
should come with the gold, for a testimony, a list of all that has been put into
the said chest, properly marked, so that each owner may receive his own; and
that, for the faithful performance of this duty, if any gold whatsoever is found
outside of the said chest in any way, be it little or much, it shall be forfeited to
• That all the ships that come from the said island shall be obliged to make
their proper discharge in the port of Cadiz, and that no person shall disembark
or other person be permitted to go on board until the ship has been visited by
the person or persons deputed for that purpose, in the said city, by your
highnesses, to whom the master shall show all that he carries, and exhibit the
manifest of all the cargo, it may be seen and examined if the said ship brings
any thing hidden and not known at the time of lading.
• That the chest in which the said gold has been carried shall be opened in the
presence of the magistrates of the said city of Cadiz, and of the person
deputed for that purpose by your highnesses, and his own property be given
to each owner. I beg your highnesses to hold me in your protection; and I remain, praying our
Lord God for your highnesses’ lives and the increase of much greater States.
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