The Valiant Ladies of Potosí

Mining in Potosí, an engraving from Theodoor de Bry in Historia Americae sive Novi Orbis, 1596

When the Spanish “discovered” South America, they were thrilled to find a plethora of precious metals to take.  The heart of the silver boom was the town of Potosí, in what is now Bolivia.  At the time it was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru and was known as Alto Peru.  There was so much money there that the theory is that the mint mark of Potosí, which was the letters “PTSI” all written over each other, is the origin of the dollar sign.  The very name meant money, and a common Spanish expression is “vale un Potosí”, which is literally translated to “to be worth a Potosí” and means “to be of great value”.  However, with great wealth comes opportunity and unfortunately opportunistic people.  Native South Americans were used as forced labor in the mines for Spanish robber barons who came for the money.  Miners, who actually go paid, blew what salary they had on drinks, loose women and carousing.  Bandits were everywhere and crime was rampant.  It was so bad that the town council wouldn’t meet unless they had chain mail shirts on.  Enter in the mix of obscene wealth, screaming poverty and rank crime, Ana Lezama de Urinza and Dona Eustaquia de Sonza.

The two women were as different as they could be.  Ana was born on the streets and grew up as an orphan.  The fact she lived meant she was tough as nails.  Eustaquia lived in a beautiful villa overlooking the city with every possible comfort.  It’s not recorded how they met, but they became unlikely friends.  So close that Ana was adopted into Eustaquia’s family at the age of 12.  They were taught the skills needed for young noble women at the time-  dancing, needlework, cooking and running of a great household.  However, these two little Arya Starks were completely uninterested in all of this.  They paid much more attention to Eustaquia’s brother’s fencing lessons.  No matter what they were doing, the made sure to observe his lessons and try out the moves when no one was looking.  Sadly, Eustaquia’s brother died young, but the two girls had shown so much promise they received their own tutor and were working on swordplay, riding and firearms training.  Beats the heck out of needlepoint.

“Chronica del Peru” by Pedro de Lieca

Despite their training, Ana and Eustaquia were extremely sheltered.  It was no proper for a lady to be roaming the streets let alone in a town as dangerous as Potosí.  However, they were bored with their secluded life and came up with a plan to sneak out.  Disguising themselves as caballeros, they induced a servant to help them sneak out.  This became a habit, and the two young women got into the inevitable scrap.  In one of their most famous street duels, it was the two of them against four bandits.  Ana had fallen from a wound, and Eustaquia was guarding her from all comers.  Then Ana “rose to her feet like a lioness and, recognizing the man who had wounded her, said, ‘Monster, now I will revenge myself!”  The proceeded to open a can of whipass on him.  At the end of the fight, both women were wounded but made it home.  By this time, the women had found that their friendship had deepened into a romantic relationship.  The two lovers quit searching for fights and went full on vigilante on the mean streets of Potosí and beyond.  They spent five years touring Peru drinking, fighting bulls, playing cards and handing out their own brand of justice at the point of a sword.  They were known as “The Valiant Peruvian Ladies of Potosí”.

Eventually, they returned to Potosí as Eustaquia’s father died leaving her as sole heir.  They settled into the cushy villa, but did not give up their wild life.  Unfortunately, their life together ended a few years later when Ana succumbed to wounds she received in a bullfight.  Eustaquia did not live much longer, dying of a broken heart four months later.

Although their life was short, their legend lives on.


Treaty of Tordesillas

Map showing the line of demarcation between Spanish and Portuguese territory, as first defined by Pope Alexander VI (1493) and later revised by the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). Spain won control of lands discovered west of the line, while Portugal gained rights to new lands to the east.
Map showing the line of demarcation between Spanish and Portuguese territory, as first defined by Pope Alexander VI (1493) and later revised by the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). Spain won control of lands discovered west of the line, while Portugal gained rights to new lands to the east.

So if you watched the US presidential debate last night, you would have heard one of the candidates make mention that the Iran arms deal is the “worst in history”.  This got me thinking.  No matter what your political persuasion, I think we can all agree this is hyperbole.  All of history is a very, very long time and there have been some ridiculously bad deals signed.  One that comes to mind is the Treaty of Tordesillas.

In the 15th century, both Spain and Portugal were two of the world’s superpowers.  Both countries were sending out explorers and divvying up the New World (that’s another set of terrible treaties that we will address in subsequent posts).  When Columbus returned from his voyage in 1493, the Catholic Kings of Spain, Isabella and Ferdinand, petitioned the Pope to support their claims in the New World.  Luckily for them, the current pope was Spanish born as well as highly amenable to bribes.  Alexander VI, nee Rodrigo Borgia, was quite happy to issue bulls setting up a line of demarcation from pole to pole about 230 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands.  Spain got everything west of the line and Portugal got everything east of it.  Sounds fair right?  Not so much.

The line that was drawn gave all of Central America and the majority of South America to Spain.  King John II of Portugal recognized this was a complete disaster for his country.  The way the line was drawn, Portugal would not even have sufficient room at sea for their African voyages.  The two parties met at Tordesillas, in northwest Spain, to try to hammer out a compromise.  However, even the compromise was horrible for Portugal.  The line moved to 1,185 miles west of the Cape Verde Island.  This allowed Portugal to claim the coast of Brazil, but that was about it.  This new version of the line was sanctioned by Pope Julius II in 1506.  Another problem was this treaty omitted any other European powers.  By this time both France and England were interested in grabbing a piece of the New World, especially after they saw the gold and silver flowing in from Central and South America.  However, per the Treaty of Tordesillas no one but Spain and Portugal were allowed.  Conveniently, everyone else simply ignored this treaty.  England became Protestant anyway, so they got the doubly sweet deal of thumbing their nose at the Pope while exploring the New World.

The line was adjusted a few more times- once at the Treaty of Zaragoza in 1529 and again at the Treaty of San Ildefonzo in 1777.  In the Treaty of San Ildefonzo, Spain ceded territories in Brazil, mainly in the Amazon Basin, to Portugal in return for Uruguay.  However because of the original treaty, Portugal was limited to one colony- Brazil.  Once Brazil gain its independence in 1820, Portugal rapidly lost its place on the world stage.  A raw deal for the country who started the Age of Exploration.


Sources available on request

Manco Inca Yupanqui

Photo- Manco Inca - Artist Unknown
Photo- Manco Inca – Artist Unknown

The Inca had a great empire in what is now Peru, parts of Ecuador, western and south central Bolivia, northwest Argentina, north and Chile and a small part of southern Colombia.  They were the Roman Empires of the Americas.  However, they when the Spanish explorers first encountered them the Inca were coming off a debilitating civil war and in the middle of a smallpox epidemic.  160 Spanish Conquistadors arrived in Peru with Francisco Pizarro, and they took full advantage of the destabilizing political situation.

The civil war was between two brothers who both claimed the throne-  Atahuallpa and Huascar.  The war was only ended when Atahuallpa killed his brother, however, the kingdom was left weakened.  Pizarro appeared and Atahuallpa was carried to him on a golden throne lined with parakeet feathers wearing a necklace of large green emeralds and gold ornaments in his hair.  The wealth hungry Spanish were immediately interested.  The priests in Pizarro’s party tried to convert Atahuallpa to Christianity and the accept the King of Spain as the ruler of the Inca.  Atahuallpa refused.  He was the emperor of the Inca and had just fought his own brother to get there, now a bunch of strangers wanted him to give that up?  I imagine some choice Incan words were also shared.  The Spanish did not take kindly to this, and the Emperor was taken prisoner.  Realizing the Spanish were money hungry, Atahuallpa tried to bribe his way to freedom.  He promised them a room full of silver and gold.  They agreed, but when they got the goods Pizarro had Atahuallpa strangled.  So much for bribery.

After Atahuallpa’s murder, Pizarro had his younger brother , Tupac Huallpa, upon Atahualpa’s death, but he died shortly thereafter of smallpox.  They moved on to the next brother, Manco, and had him crowned as the Spanish’s puppet emperor and went about their business of making the Inca slaves and taking as much wealth as they could carry.  Manco was not treated well by his captors, who were rough men and did not respect any natives.  Pizarro’s brothers tortured him for the location of more wealth, and even kidnapped and raped both Manco’s wife and sister.  Manco tried to escape, but was captured and beaten, urinated on, and imprisoned in chains.  Really nice guys.  Knowing his captors hunger for gold, in 1536 Manco promised to show the Spanish where a solid gold statue of his father was located.  Manco got away and looked for ways to get back his empire.

In May of 1536, Manco led a massive army of 100,000 native warriors in a siege of Cuzco.  The Spanish only survived by occupying the nearby fortress of Sachsaywaman.  He did accomplish killing Juan Pizarro, one of the men who raped his wife and sister.  Pizarro sent reinforcements from Lima, but Manco had a plan for them.  Quizu Yupanqui, Manco’s general, ambushed the Spanish in a gorge and crushed them with rock slides.  Yupanqui was on a role and took out a second Spanish column a few weeks later and marched on Lima.  However, a surprise cavalry attack saved Lima before it could fall to the Inca.  Manco and his army were forced to fall back.

Manco set up an capital in exile in Vilcabamba in the Amazon jungle, and led guerilla attacks on the Spanish.  In 1539, Gonzalo Pizarro was sent to attack Vilcabamba, but sent two of Manco’s brothers ahead to negotiate.  Manco was having none of it, and sent his brothers’ heads back to the Spanish.  The Spanish attacked, and the Inca forces held them off with captured guns.  However, they were not proficient in using the guns and the Spanish got the upper hand.  Manco escaped Vilcabamba across a river, but his wife was left behind and was executed by the Spanish.  On the run and soaking wet, Manco Inca was still defiant and proud.  Surrounded by his warriors, he walked back to the river bank and shouted at the Spanish chasing him, “I am Manco Inca!  I am Manco Inca!”  Then he disappeared into the jungle.

The rebellions continued until Manco was assassinated by the Spanish in 1544.  He was succeeded by his son Sayri Tupaq.


Sources available on request

The Role of Religion in Empire Building

English and Indians Meeting at Jamestown in 1607 Photo Credit-
English and Indians Meeting at Jamestown in 1607 Photo Credit-

Although Empires began and subsequently expanded for a variety of reasons, religion and culture played an important part, both as a catalyst and subsequently in the shaping of newly established Empires regardless of the initial motive for conquer. Examples of trade, security, lack of resources in the core nation, financial gain, religion and exploration demonstrate this, from various periods of their history covering expansion in similar areas, I will show how these motives affected the conquered nations as well as the settlers and associated parties involved. I have chosen to concentrate on non-contiguous Empires for my examples.

Spain’s successful overthrowing of their Moorish conquerors from the eleventh century onwards gave them a special sense of themselves as being on a divine mission which gave them the notion that they were from a religious perspective morally justified in their later actions in South America. It is claimed by some historians that during this period of reconquest, Spain, driven by her desire to capture the Canary Islands and rid their prospective Empire of Muslims and Jews, that those indigenous peoples in areas of conquest were given an ultimatum of Christian conversion or slavery.

It is possible that the British Empire started life as the desire to imitate Spain’s success in finding precious metals in the Americas. Religious justification lent weight to this need after the Reformation when it was argued that England had a religious duty to build a Protestant Empire to match the ‘Popish’ Empires of the Spanish and Portuguese. There are further examples we can see from Hernan Cortes’ journey through the Aztec nation of Mexica with several references to his Catholic beliefs as the correct ones, and corresponding documentary evidence highlighting the Mexica tribes as Heathens worshipping false Gods and so forth.

Contrary to this view, however, Portugal was far from feeling a desire to spread the Catholic faith, and instead was driven to expand their territory overseas purely as they lacked sufficient land within their home nation to provide enough natural resources to sustain its economy. They were unable to expand contiguously as they bordered with Spain to the East, therefore the only option available to them was maritime expansion, from the coast at Lisbon. Portugal, was the first country to ‘establish… global European empire’ and over what appear as three main periods of Imperial expansion, demonstrated several of the thematic factors depending on the area they were colonising at the time. During their early exploration of the South Atlantic Ocean they passed around the southern coast of Africa, past India and towards Asia, establishing a lucrative sea route to the Far East, alternative to the land route that was inaccessible to them. However, although religion did not appear to be a defining factor in their need for expansion, upon reaching Goa, it is seen that Albuquerque encouraged Portuguese soldiers and sailors to settle there and marry local Indian Women, uniting the Christian and Hindu populations against their Muslim enemy.

Shortly thereafter, they conquered Brazil although initially as they did not share the success of the Spaniards in sourcing gold, they did not consider this to be significant. It was only during the later growth and initial trade monopoly of the sugar industry that Portugal was able to establish from Brazil, and as a solution to the failure of the Brazilian natives to cope with the strain of working on the plantations that their very profitable African Slave trade began, and Brazil became their most important Imperial commodity.

This in turn led them to concentrate on colonising their territories in Africa and Asia. Here, financial gain and religion played a large part. They had discovered gold in Africa, established sugar plantation on the western islands around the coast, and beaten the Muslims on their own ground capturing Cueta in the process. Their other aim was then to find the legendary Christian king Prester John who would help them spread the word of God outside of Europe. Historians argue that this quest was ideologically of the utmost importance to their crusading ambition of bringing Catholic Christianity to the heathen.

Hernan Cortez meeting the Aztec king in Tenochtitlan. - f Photo Credit-
Hernan Cortez meeting the Aztec king in Tenochtitlan. – f Photo Credit-

It also seems to suggest that this religious dedication ultimately contributed to the downfall of Portugal in India, when the Dutch VOC, who were comparatively completely uninterested in spreading their own Calvinist religious views, were able to make subsequent changes in the established trading systems which were linked to the maximisation of their own profits to the detriment of the profits of the Portuguese, eventually causing them to lose their trade to the Dutch.

If we compare this with the British Empire’s expansion into India, which could be said was ultimately one of the two major successful colonisations of the Empire, the initial reasons for such was simply to establish a share in the trade possibilities the country generated. In the later part of India’s Imperial link with England, many Indians adopted various aspects of the British culture, such as western dress, religious conversion and higher education amongst other things. They saw it as in their best interests to westernise themselves as much as they could, as it gave them a degree of elitism over fellow natives, socially. There were instances of inter-racial marriages and relationships.

England’s expansion into North America such as that of in Newfoundland from 1584 was initially also to establish small seasonal enclaves, for the purpose of supplying the fish trade, and trading for luxury items such as furs, to take home and sell for a profit. Interaction with the local populations, if there were any, seemed to be restricted to ensuring they had lodgings and provisions. We can see from this example that provision of resources and financial gain were the important factors. We could argue against this example being part of Imperial expansion for the reason that the fishermen involved were not staking a claim on the land territory for England.

Shortly afterwards were failed attempts to colonise both Florida and Roanoke Island, the latter leading to the infamous ‘Lost Colony’. Theories have long since been offered that when the assistance from Britain failed to arrive, the remaining colonists established a relationship, and later integrated, with the local native population. Subsequent meetings were recalled with Native Americans of the area who not only presented with grey and blue eyes, and some with blonde hair, but were able to speak English, had English surnames and were aware of the Christian faith.

Successful English settlement of North America became more widespread and permanent at the beginning of the seventeenth century when the Virginia company established a colony in Jamestown, although even those initial attempts at colonisation of Jamestown almost failed as the settlers, who were not accustomed to hard labour were too busy trying to find gold instead of planting their crops and building shelter.

The Jamestown colonists were followed closely by dissenters to the Church of England who made their voyages to escape religious persecution and helped establish the first permanent settler colonies in Plymouth for the purpose of being free to follow their beliefs. Whilst the ships they sailed on were hired and financed by English investors, to whom the colonists were contracted as employees for seven years. Their purpose was to establish a more permanent trade supply of fish, tobacco and other profitable items from North America, and to explore the country further for purposes of increased expansion. It was religion that made this possible as they were the only groups whose desire to establish their own faith over-rode the reluctance to make the journey due to the lack of success previous colonists had encountered.

The Pilgrim fathers as they would come to be known as, landed in New England in 1620. The settlers themselves were allegedly motivated by a desire to escape religious restrictions imposed on them in the Core nation. The idea was to populate these colonies with self-sufficient groups. However, the investment motivation behind the attempts to establish these initial settlements was for purposes of privateering. That the colonists would be able to confront Spanish ships and steal their cargoes of precious metals for the Crown. It was a purely financial motivation for those organising the venture.



12042940_174150246260399_1698946658522043453_n“When there’s no more room in Hell the dead will walk the earth” – Dawn of the Dead

Whats more terrifying than imagining the dead coming back to life?

In truth they are fictional undead creatures created through the reanimation of human corpses. Zombies are most commonly found in horror and fantasy genre works. They are mindless creatures whose only desire is to eat the living. What could be frightening than that right? Actually there are legends about real zombies in Haiti (another post). The term comes from Haitian folklore where a zombie is a dead body animated by magic. Modern depictions of zombies do not necessarily involve magic but invoke other methods such as viruses. They also can only be destroyed by damaging the brain.

The English word “zombie” is first recorded in 1819, in a history of Brazil by the poet Robert Southey, in the form of “zombi”. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the origin of the word as West African, and compares it to the Kongo words nzambi (god) and zumbi (fetish).

There are so many novels about them, ranging from Richard Matheson and H. P. Lovecraft to even Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein drawing on European folklore of the undead. George A. Romero’s movies seem to have made them even more popular. The “zombie apocalypse” concept, in which the civilized world is brought down by a zombie infestation, became a staple of the modern zombie genre.

Now Zombies are everywhere tv (one of my favorite tv shows), film, books, etc. We can’t get enough Zombies!