Main Inca Page

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Care to express an opinion on a current or past historical event?

Need to ask a question from our many visitors?

Just visit our Message Board and leave your message.

Message Board

Weekly Poll

History Of The Conquest Of Peru

Introduction. View Of The Civilization Of The Incas.

Author:      Prescott, William H.


Part VI



     Very different was the policy pursued by the two races in their military

career.  The Aztecs, animated by the most ferocious spirit, carried on a war

of extermination, signalizing their triumphs by the sacrifice of hecatombs of

captives; while the Incas, although they pursued the game of conquest with

equal pertinacity, preferred a milder policy, substituting negotiation and

intrigue for violence, and dealt with their antagonists so that their future

resources should not be crippled, and that they should come as friends, not as

foes, into the bosom of the empire.


     Their policy toward the conquered forms a contrast no less striking to

that pursued by the Aztecs.  The Mexican vassals were ground by excessive

imposts and military conscriptions.  No regard was had to their welfare, and

the only limit to oppression was the power of endurance.  They were overawed

by fortresses and armed garrisons, and were made to feel every hour that they

were not part and parcel of the nation, but held only in subjugation as a

conquered people.  The Incas, on the other hand, admitted their new subjects

at once to all the rights enjoyed by the rest of the community; and, though

they made them conform to the established laws and usages of the empire, they

watched over their personal security and comfort with a sort of parental

solicitude.  The motley population, thus bound together by common interest,

was animated by a common feeling of loyalty, which gave greater strength and

stability to the empire, as it became more and more widely extended; while the

various tribes who successively came under the Mexican sceptre, being held

together only by the pressure of external force, were ready to fall asunder

the moment that that force was withdrawn.  The policy of the two nations

displayed the principle of fear as contrasted with the principle of love.


     The characteristic features of their religious systems had as little

resemblance to each other.  The whole Aztec pantheon partook more or less of

the sanguinary spirit of the terrible war-god who presided over it, and their

frivolous ceremonial almost always terminated with human sacrifice and

cannibal orgies.  But the rites of the Peruvians were of a more innocent cast,

as they tended to a more spiritual worship.  For the worship of the Creator is

most nearly approached by that of the heavenly bodies, which, as they revolve

in their bright orbits, seem to be the most glorious symbols of his

beneficence and power.


     In the minuter mechanical arts, both showed considerable skill; but in

the construction of important public works, of roads, aqueducts, canals, and

in agriculture in all its details, the Peruvians were much superior.  Strange

that they should have fallen so far below their rivals in their efforts after

a higher intellectual culture, in astronomical science, more especially, and

in the art of communicating thought by visible symbols.  When we consider the

greater refinement of the Incas, their inferiority to the Aztecs in these

particulars can be explained only by the fact, that the latter in all

probability were indebted for their science to the race who preceded them in

the land, - that shadowy race whose origin and whose end are alike veiled

from the eye of the inquirer, but who possibly may have sought a refuge from

their ferocious invaders in those regions of Central America the

architectural remains of which now supply us with the most pleasing monuments

of Indian civilization.  It is with this more polished race, to whom the

Peruvians seem to have borne some resemblance in their mental and moral

organization, that they should be compared.  Had the empire of the Incas been

permitted to extend itself with the rapid strides with which it was advancing

at the period of the Spanish conquest, the two races might have come into

conflict, or, perhaps, into alliance with one another.


     The Mexicans and Peruvians, so different in the character of their

peculiar civilization, were, it seems probable, ignorant of each other's

existence; and it may appear singular, that, during the simultaneous

continuance of their empires, some of the seeds of science and of art, which

pass so imperceptibly from one people to another, should not have found their

way across the interval which separated the two nations.  They furnish an

interesting example of the opposite directions which the human mind may take

in its struggle to emerge from darkness into the light of civilization.


     A closer resemblance - as I have more than once taken occasion to notice

- may be found between the Peruvian institutions and some of the despotic

governments of Eastern Asia; those governments where despotism appears in its

more mitigated form, and the whole people, under the patriarchal sway of its

sovereign, seem to be gathered together like the members of one vast family.

Such were the Chinese, for example, whom the Peruvians resembled in their

implicit obedience to authority, their mild yet somewhat stubborn temper,

their solicitude for forms, their reverence for ancient usage, their skill

in the minuter manufactures, their imitative rather than inventive cast of

mind, and their invincible patience, which serves instead of a more

adventurous spirit for the execution of difficult undertakings. ^34


[Footnote 34: Count Carli has amused himself with tracing out the different

points of resemblance between the Chinese and the Peruvians.  The emperor of

China was styled the son of Heaven or of the Sun.  He also held a plough once

a year in presence of his people, to show his respect for agriculture.  And

the solstices and equinoxes were noted, to determine the periods of their

religious festivals.  The coincidences are curious.  Lettres Americaines,

tom. II. pp. 7, 8.]


     A still closer analogy may be found with the natives of Hindostan in

their division into castes, their worship of the heavenly bodies and the

elements of nature, and their acquaintance with the scientific principles of

husbandry.  To the ancient Egyptians, also, they bore considerable

resemblance in the same particulars, as well as in those ideas of a future

existence which led them to attach so much importance to the permanent

preservation of the body.


     But we shall look in vain in the history of the East for a parallel to

the absolute control exercised by the Incas over their subjects.  In the

East, this was founded on physical power, - on the external resources of the

government.  The authority of the Inca might be compared with that of the

Pope in the day of his might, when Christendom trembled at the thunders of

the Vatican, and the successor of St. Peter set his foot on the necks of

princes.  But the authority of the Pope was founded on opinion.  His temporal

power was nothing.  The empire of the Incas rested on both.  It was a

theocracy more potent in its operation than that of the Jews; for, though the

sanction of the law might be as great among the latter, the law was expounded

by a human lawgiver, the servant and representative of Divinity.  But the

Inca was both the lawgiver and the law.  He was not merely the representative

of Divinity, or, like the Pope, its vicegerent, but he was Divinity itself.

The violation of his ordinance was sacrilege.  Never was there a scheme of

government enforced by such terrible sanctions, or which bore so oppressively

on the subjects of it.  For it reached not only to the visible acts, but to

the private conduct, the words, the very thoughts, of its vassals.


     It added not a little to the efficacy of the government, that, below the

sovereign, there was an order of hereditary nobles of the same divine original

with himself, who, placed far below himself, were still immeasurably above the

rest of the community, not merely by descent, but, as it would seem, by their

intellectual nature.  These were the exclusive depositaries of power, and, as

their long hereditary training made them familiar with their vocation, and

secured them implicit deference from the multitude, they became the prompt and

well-practised agents for carrying out the executive measures of the

administration.  All that occurred throughout the wide extent of his empire -

such was the perfect system of communication - passed in review, as it were,

before the eyes of the monarch, and a thousand hands, armed with irresistible

authority, stood ready in every quarter to do his bidding.  Was it not, as we

have said, the most oppressive, though the mildest, of despotisms?


     It was the mildest, from the very circumstance, that the transcendent

rank of the sovereign, and the humble, nay, superstitious, devotion to his

will made it superfluous to assert this will by acts of violence or rigor. The

great mass of the people may have appeared to his eyes as but little removed

above the condition of the brute, formed to minister to his pleasures.  But,

from their very helplessness, he regarded them with feelings of commiseration,

like those which a kind master might feel for the poor animals committed to

his charge, or - to do justice to the beneficent character attributed to many

of the Incas - that a parent might feel for his young and impotent offspring.

The laws were carefully directed to their preservation and personal comfort.

The people were not allowed to be employed on works pernicious to their

health, nor to pine - a sad contrast to their subsequent destiny - under the

imposition of tasks too heavy for their powers.  They were never made the

victims of public or private extortion; and a benevolent forecast watched

carefully over their necessities, and provided for their relief in seasons of

infirmity, and for their sustenance in health.  The government of the Incas,

however arbitrary in form, was in its spirit truly patriarchal.


     Yet in this there was nothing cheering to the dignity of human nature.

What the people had was conceded as a boon, not as a right.  When a nation

was brought under the sceptre of the Incas, it resigned every personal right,

even the rights dearest to humanity.  Under this extraordinary polity, a

people advanced in many of the social refinements, well skilled in

manufactures and agriculture, were unacquainted, as we have seen, with money.

They had nothing that deserved to be called property.  They could follow no

craft, could engage in no labor, no amusement, but such as was specially

provided by law.  They could not change their residence or their dress

without a license from the government.  They could not even exercise the

freedom which is conceded to the most abject in other countries, that of

selecting their own wives.  The imperative spirit of despotism would not

allow them to be happy or miserable in any way but that established by law.

The power of free agency - the inestimable and inborn right of every human

being - was annihilated in Peru.


     The astonishing mechanism of the Peruvian polity could have resulted

only from the combined authority of opinion and positive power in the ruler

to an extent unprecedented in the history of man.  Yet that it should have

so successfully gone into operation, and so long endured, in opposition to

the taste, the prejudices, and the very principles of our nature, is a strong

proof of a generally wise and temperate administration of the government.


     The policy habitually pursued by the Incas for the prevention of evils

that might have disturbed the order of things is well exemplified in their

provisions against poverty and idleness.  In these they rightly discerned the

two great causes of disaffection in a populous community.  The industry of

the people was secured not only by their compulsory occupations at home, but

by their employment on those great public works which covered every part of

the country, and which still bear testimony in their decay to their primitive

grandeur.  Yet it may well astonish us to find, that the natural difficulty

of these undertakings, sufficiently great in itself, considering the

imperfection of their tools and machinery, was inconceivably enhanced by the

politic contrivance of government.  The royal edifices of Quito, we are

assured by the Spanish conquerors, were constructed of huge masses of stone,

many of which were carried all the way along the mountain roads from Cuzco,

a distance of several hundred leagues. ^35 The great square of the capital was

filled to a considerable depth with mould brought with incredible labor up

the steep slopes of the Cordilleras from the distant shores of the Pacific

Ocean. ^36 Labor was regarded not only as a means, but as an end, by the

Peruvian law.


[Footnote 35: "Era muy principal intento que la gente no holgase, que dava

causa a que despues que los Ingas estuvieron en paz hacer traer de Quito al

Cuzco piedra que venia de provincia en provincia para hacer casas para si o

pa el Sol en gran cantidad, y del Cuzco llevalla a Quito pa el mismo efecto,

. . . . . y asi destas cosas hacian los Ingas muchas de poco provecho y de

escesivo travajo en que traian ocupadas las provincias ordinariamte, y en fin

el travajo era causa de su conservacion." Ondegardo, Rel. Prim., Ms. - Also

Antig. y Monumentos del Peru, Ms.]


[Footnote 36: This was literally gold dust; for Ondegardo states, that, when

governor of Cuzco, he caused great quantities of gold vessels and ornaments

to be disinterred from the sand in which they had been secreted by the

natives.  "Que toda aquella plaza del Cuzco le sacaron la tierra propia, y

se llevo a otras partes por cosa de gran estima, e la hincheron de arena de

la costa de la mar, como hasta dos palmos y medio en algunas partes, mas

sembraron por toda ella muchos vasos de oro e plata, y hovejuelas y

hombrecillos pequenos de lo mismo, lo cual se ha sacado en mucha cantidad,

que todo lo hemos visto; desta arena estaba toda la plaza, quando yo fui a

governar aquella Ciudad; e si fue verdad que aquella se trajo de ellos,

afirman e tienen puestos en sus registros, paresceme que sea ansi, que toda

la tierra junta tubo necesidad de entender en ello, por que la plaza es

grande, y no tiene numero las cargas que en ella entraron; y la costa por lo

mas cerca esta mas de nobenta leguas a lo que creo, y cierto yo me satisfice,

porque todos dicen, que aquel genero de arena, no lo hay hasta la costa."

Rel. Seg., Ms]


     With their manifold provisions against poverty the reader has already

been made acquainted.  They were so perfect, that, in their wide extent of

territory, - much of it smitten with the curse of barrenness, - no man,

however humble, suffered from the want of food and clothing.  Famine, so

common a scourge in every other American nation, so common at that period in

every country of civilized Europe, was an evil unknown in the dominions of

the Incas.


     The most enlightened of the Spaniards who first visited Peru, struck

with the general appearance of plenty and prosperity, and with the

astonishing order with which every thing throughout the country was

regulated, are loud in their expressions of admiration.  No better

government, in their opinion, could have been devised for the people.

Contented with their condition, and free from vice, to borrow the language

of an eminent authority of that early day, the mild and docile character of

the Peruvians would have well fitted them to receive the teachings of

Christianity, had the love of conversion, instead of gold, animated the

breasts of the Conquerors. ^37 And a philosopher of a later time, warmed by

the contemplation of the picture - which his own fancy had colored - of

public prosperity and private happiness under the rule of the Incas,

pronounces "the moral man in Peru far superior to the European." ^38


[Footnote 37: "Y si Dios permitiera que tubieran quien con celo de

Cristiandad, y no con ramo de codicia, en lo pasado, les dieran entera

noticia de nuestra sagrada Religion, era gente en que bien imprimiera, segun

vemos por lo que ahora con la buena orden que hay se obra." Sarmiento,

Relacion, Ms., cap. 22.


     But the most emphatic testimony to the merits of the people is that

afforded by Mancio Sierra Lejesema, the last survivor of the early Spanish

Conquerors, who settled in Peru.  In the preamble to his testament, made, as

he states, to relieve his conscience, at the time of his death, he declares

that the whole population, under the Incas, was distinguished by sobriety and

industry; that such things as robbery and theft were unknown; that, far from

licentiousness, there was not even a prostitute in the country; and that

every thing was conducted with the greatest order, and entire submission to

authority.  The panegyric is somewhat too unqualified for a whole nation, and

may lead one to suspect that the stings of remorse for his own treatment of

the natives goaded the dying veteran into a higher estimate of their deserts

than was strictly warranted by facts.  Yet this testimony by such a man at

such a time is too remarkable, as well as too honorable to the Peruvians, to

be passed over in silence by the historian; and I have transferred the

document in the original to Appendix, No. 4.]


[Footnote 38: "Sans doute l'homme moral du Perou etoit infiniment plus

perfectionne que l'Europeen." Carli, Lettres Americaines, tom. I. p. 215.]


     Yet such results are scarcely reconcilable with the theory of the

government I have attempted to analyze.  Where there is no free agency, there

can be no morality.  Where there is no temptation, there can be little claim

to virtue.  Where the routine is rigorously prescribed by law, the law, and

not the man, must have the credit of the conduct.  If that government is the

best, which is felt the least, which encroaches on the natural liberty of the

subject only so far as is essential to civil subordination, then of all

governments devised by man the Peruvian has the least real claim to our



     It is not easy to comprehend the genius and the full import of

institutions so opposite to those of our own free republic, where every man,

however humble his condition, may aspire to the highest honors of the state, -

may select his own career, and carve out his fortune in his own way; where the

light of knowledge, instead of being concentrated on a chosen few, is shed

abroad like the light of day, and suffered to fall equally on the poor and the

rich; where the collision of man with man wakens a generous emulation that

calls out latent talent and tasks the energies to the utmost; where

consciousness of independence gives a feeling of self-reliance unknown to the

timid subjects of a despotism; where, in short, the government is made for

man, - not as in Peru, where man seemed to be made only for the government.

The New World is the theatre on which these two political systems, so opposite

in their character, have been carried into operation.  The empire of the Incas

has passed away and left no trace.  The other great experiment is still going

on, - the experiment which is to solve the problem, so long contested in the

Old World, of the capacity of man for self-government.  Alas for humanity, if

it should fail!


     The testimony of the Spanish conquerors is not uniform in respect to the

favorable influence exerted by the Peruvian institutions on the character of

the people.  Drinking and dancing are said to have been the pleasures to which

they were immoderately addicted.  Like the slaves and serfs in other lands,

whose position excluded them from more serious and ennobling occupations, they

found a substitute in frivolous or sensual indulgence. Lazy, luxurious, and

licentious, are the epithets bestowed on them by one of those who saw them at

the Conquest, but whose pen was not too friendly to the Indian. ^39 Yet the

spirit of independence could hardly be strong in a people who had no interest

in the soil, no personal rights to defend; and the facility with which they

yielded to the Spanish invader - after every allowance for their comparative

inferiority - argues a deplorable destitution of that patriotic feeling which

holds life as little in comparison with freedom.


[Footnote 39: "Heran muy dados a la lujuria y al bever, tenian acceso carnal

con las hermanas y las mugeres de sus padres como no fuesen sus mismas madres,

y aun algunos avia que con ellas mismas lo hacian y ansi mismo con sus hijas.

Estando borrachos tocavan algunos en el pecado nefando, emborrachavanse muy a

menudo, y estando borrachos todo lo que el demonio les traia a la voluntad

hacian Heran estos orejones muy soberbios y presuntuosos.

. . . . . Tenian otras muchas maldades que por ser muchas no las digo." Pedro

Pizarro, Descub. y Conq., Ms.


     These random aspersions of the hard conqueror show too gross an ignorance

of the institutions of the people to merit much confidence as to what is said

of their character.]


     But we must not judge too hardly of the unfortunate native, because he

quailed before the civilization of the European.  We must not be insensible to

the really great results that were achieved by the government of the Incas.

We must not forget, that, under their rule, the meanest of the people enjoyed

a far greater degree of personal comfort, at least, a greater exemption from

physical suffering, than was possessed by similar classes in other nations on

the American continent, - greater, probably, than was possessed by these

classes in most of the countries of feudal Europe.  Under their sceptre, the

higher orders of the state had made advances in many of the arts that belong

to a cultivated community.  The foundations of a regular government were laid,

which, in an age of rapine, secured to its subjects the inestimable blessings

of tranquillity and safety.  By the well-sustained policy of the Incas, the

rude tribes of the forest were gradually drawn from their fastnesses, and

gathered within the folds of civilization; and of these materials was

constructed a flourishing and populous empire, such as was to be found in no

other quarter of the American continent.  The defects of this government were

those of over-refinement in legislation, - the last defects to have been

looked for, certainly, in the American aborigines.


     Note.  I have not thought it necessary to swell this Introduction by an

inquiry into the origin of Peruvian civilization, like that appended to the

history of the Mexican.  The Peruvian history doubtless suggests analogies

with more than one nation in the East, some of which have been briefly

adverted to in the preceding pages; although these analogies are adduced there

not as evidence of a common origin, but as showing the coincidences which

might naturally spring up among different nations under the same phase of

civilization.  Such coincidences are neither so numerous nor so striking as

those afforded by the Aztec history.  The correspondence presented by the

astronomical science of the Mexicans is alone of more importance than all the

rest.  Yet the light of analogy, afforded by the institutions of the Incas,

seems to point, as far as it goes, towards the same direction; and as the

investigation could present but little substantially to confirm, and still

less to confute, the views taken in the former disquisition, I have not

thought it best to fatigue the reader with it.


     Two of the prominent authorities on whom I have relied in this

Introductory portion of the work, are Juan de Sarmiento and the Licentiate

Ondegardo.  Of the former I have been able to collect no information beyond

what is afforded by his own writings.  In the title prefixed to his

manuscript, he is styled President of the Council of the Indies, a post of

high authority, which infers a weight of character in the party, and means of

information, that entitle his opinions on colonial topics to great deference.


     These means of information were much enlarged by Sarmiento's visit to the

colonies, during the administration of Gasca.  Having conceived the design of

compiling a history of the ancient Peruvian institutions, he visited Cuzco, as

he tells us, in 1550, and there drew from the natives themselves the materials

for his narrative.  His position gave him access to the most authentic sources

of knowledge, and from the lips of the Inca nobles, the best instructed of the

conquered race, he gathered the traditions of their national history and

institutions.  The quipus formed, as we have seen, an imperfect system of

mnemonics, requiring constant attention, and much inferior to the Mexican

hieroglyphics.  It was only by diligent instruction that they were made

available to historical purposes; and this instruction was so far neglected

after the Conquest, that the ancient annals of the country would have perished

with the generation which was the sole depositary of them, had it not been for

the efforts of a few intelligent scholars, like Sarmiento, who saw the

importance, at this critical period, of cultivating an intercourse with the

natives, and drawing from them their hidden stores of information.


     To give still further authenticity to his work, Sarmiento travelled over

the country, examined the principal objects of interest with his own eyes, and

thus verified the accounts of the natives as far as possible by personal

observation.  The result of these labors was his work entitled, "Relacion de

la sucesion y govierno de las Yngas Senores naturales que fueron de las

Provincias del Peru y otras cosas tocantes a aquel Reyno, para el Iltmo. Senor

Dn Juan Sarmiento, Presidente del Consejo R1 de Indias."


     It is divided into chapters, and embraces about four hundred folio pages

in manuscript.  The introductory portion of the work is occupied with the

traditionary tales of the origin and early period of the Incas; teeming, as

usual, in the antiquities of a barbarous people, with legendary fables of the

most wild and monstrous character.  Yet these puerile conceptions afford an

inexhaustible mine for the labors of the antiquarian, who endeavours to

unravel the allegorical web which a cunning priesthood had devised as

symbolical of those mysteries of creation that it was beyond their power to

comprehend.  But Sarmiento happily confines himself to the mere statement of

traditional fables, without the chimerical ambition to explain them.


     From this region of romance, Sarmiento passes to the institutions of the

Peruvians, describes their ancient polity, their religion, their progress in

the arts, especially agriculture; and presents, in short, an elaborate picture

of the civilization which they reached under the Inca dynasty.  This part of

his work, resting, as it does, on the best authority, confirmed in many

instances by his own observation, is of unquestionable value, and is written

with an apparent respect for truth, that engages the confidence of the reader.

The concluding portion of the manuscript is occupied with the civil history of

the country.  The reigns of the early Incas, which lie beyond the sober

province of history, he despatches with commendable brevity. But on the three

last reigns, and fortunately of the greatest princes who occupied the Peruvian

throne, he is more diffuse.  This was comparatively firm ground for the

chronicler, for the events were too recent to be obscured by the vulgar

legends that gather like moss round every incident of the older time.  His

account stops with the Spanish invasion; for this story, Sarmiento felt, might

be safely left to his contemporaries who acted a part in it, but whose taste

and education had qualified them but indifferently for exploring the

antiquities and social institutions of the natives.


     Sarmiento's work is composed in a simple, perspicuous style, without that

ambition of rhetorical display too common with his countrymen.  He writes with

honest candor, and while he does ample justice to the merits and capacity of

the conquered races, he notices with indignation the atrocities of the

Spaniards and the demoralizing tendency of the Conquest.  It may be thought,

indeed, that he forms too high an estimate of the attainments of the nation

under the Incas.  And it is not improbable, that, astonished by the vestiges

it afforded of an original civilization, he became enamoured of his subject,

and thus exhibited it in colors somewhat too glowing to the eye of the

European.  But this was an amiable failing, not too largely shared by the

stern Conquerors, who subverted the institutions of the country, and saw

little to admire in it, save its gold.  It must be further admitted, that

Sarmiento has no design to impose on his reader, and that he is careful to

distinguish between what he reports on hearsay, and what on personal

experience.  The Father of History himself does not discriminate between these

two things more carefully.


     Neither is the Spanish historian to be altogether vindicated from the

superstition which belongs to his time; and we often find him referring to the

immediate interposition of Satan those effects which might quite as well be

charged on the perverseness of man.  But this was common to the age, and to

the wisest men in it; and it is too much to demand of a man to be wiser than

his generation.  It is sufficient praise of Sarmiento, that, in an age when

superstition was too often allied with fanaticism, he seems to have had no

tincture of bigotry in his nature.  His heart opens with benevolent fulness to

the unfortunate native; and his language, while it is not kindled into the

religious glow of the missionary, is warmed by a generous ray of philanthropy

that embraces the conquered, no less than the conquerors, as his brethren.


     Notwithstanding the great value of Sarmiento's work for the information

it affords of Peru under the Incas, it is but little known, has been rarely

consulted by historians, and still remains among the unpublished manuscripts

which lie, like uncoined bullion, in the secret chambers of the Escurial.


     The other authority to whom I have alluded, the Licentiate Polo de

Ondegardo, was a highly respectable jurist, whose name appears frequently in

the affairs of Peru.  I find no account of the period when he first came into

the country.  But he was there on the arrival of Gasca, and resided at Lima

under the usurpation of Gonzalo Pizarro.  When the artful Cepeda endeavoured

to secure the signatures of the inhabitants to the instrument proclaiming the

sovereignty of his chief, we find Ondegardo taking the lead among those of his

profession in resisting it.  On Gasca's arrival, he consented to take a

commission in his army.  At the close of the rebellion he was made corregidor

of La Plata, and subsequently of Cuzco, in which honorable station he seems to

have remained several years.  In the exercise of his magisterial functions, he

was brought into familiar intercourse with the natives, and had ample

opportunity for studying their laws and ancient customs.  He conducted himself

with such prudence and moderation, that he seems to have won the confidence

not only of his countrymen but of the Indians; while the administration was

careful to profit by his large experience in devising measures for the better

government of the colony.


     The Relaciones, so often cited in this History, were prepared at the

suggestion of the viceroys, the first being addressed to the Marques de

Canete, in 1561, and the second, ten years later, to the Conde de Nieva.  The

two cover about as much ground as Sarmiento's manuscript; and the second

memorial, written so long after the first, may be thought to intimate the

advancing age of the author, in the greater carelessness and diffuseness of

the composition.


     As these documents are in the nature of answers to the interrogatories

propounded by government, the range of topics might seem to be limited within

narrower bounds than the modern historian would desire.  These queries,

indeed, had particular reference to the revenues, tributes, - the financial

administration, in short, of the Incas; and on these obscure topics the

communication of Ondegardo is particularly full.  But the enlightened

curiosity of government embraced a far wider range; and the answers

necessarily implied an acquaintance with the domestic policy of the Incas,

with their laws, social habits, their religion, science, and arts, in short,

with all that make up the elements of civilization.  Ondegardo's memoirs,

therefore, cover the whole ground of inquiry for the philosophic historian.


     In the management of these various subjects, Ondegardo displays both

acuteness and erudition.  He never shrinks from the discussion, however

difficult; and while he gives his conclusions with an air of modesty, it is

evident that he feels conscious of having derived his information through the

most authentic channels.  He rejects the fabulous with disdain; decides on the

probabilities of such facts as he relates, and candidly exposes the deficiency

of evidence.  Far from displaying the simple enthusiasm of the well-meaning

but credulous missionary, he proceeds with the cool and cautious step of a

lawyer accustomed to the conflict of testimony and the uncertainty of oral

tradition.  This circumspect manner of proceeding, and the temperate character

of his judgments, entitle Ondegardo to much higher consideration as an

authority than most of his countrymen who have treated of Indian antiquities.


     There runs through his writings a vein of humanity, shown particularly in

his tenderness to the unfortunate natives, to whose ancient civilization he

does entire, but not extravagant, justice; while, like Sarmiento, he

fearlessly denounces the excesses of his own countrymen, and admits the dark

reproach they had brought on the honor of the nation.  But while this censure

forms the strongest ground for condemnation of the Conquerors, since it comes

from the lips of a Spaniard like themselves, it proves, also, that Spain in

this age of violence could send forth from her bosom wise and good men who

refused to make common cause with the licentious rabble around them.  Indeed,

proof enough is given in these very memorials of the unceasing efforts of the

colonial government, from the good viceroy Mendoza downwards, to secure

protection and the benefit of a mild legislation to the unfortunate natives.

But the iron Conquerors, and the colonist whose heart softened only to the

touch of gold, presented a formidable barrier to improvement.


     Ondegardo's writings are honorably distinguished by freedom from that

superstition which is the debasing characteristic of the times; a superstition

shown in the easy credit given to the marvellous, and this equally whether in

heathen or in Christian story; for in the former the eye of credulity could

discern as readily the direct interposition of Satan, as in the latter the

hand of the Almighty.  It is this ready belief in a spiritual agency, whether

for good or for evil, which forms one of the most prominent features in the

writings of the sixteenth century.  Nothing could be more repugnant to the

true spirit of philosophical inquiry, or more irreconcilable with rational

criticism.  Far from betraying such weakness, Ondegardo writes in a direct and

business-like manner, estimating things for what they are worth by the plain

rule of common-sense.  He keeps the main object of his argument ever in view,

without allowing himself, like the garrulous chroniclers of the period, to be

led astray into a thousand rambling episodes that bewilder the reader and lead

to nothing.


     Ondegardo's memoirs deal not only with the antiquities of the nation, but

with its actual condition, and with the best means for redressing the manifold

evils to which it was subjected under the stern rule of its conquerors.  His

suggestions are replete with wisdom, and a merciful policy, that would

reconcile the interests of government with the prosperity and happiness of its

humblest vassal.  Thus, while his contemporaries gathered light from his

suggestions as to the present condition of affairs, the historian of later

times is no less indebted to him for information in respect to the past.  His

manuscript was freely consulted by Herrera, and the reader, as he peruses the

pages of the learned historian of the Indies, is unconsciously enjoying the

benefit of the researches of Ondegardo.  His valuable Relaciones thus had

their uses for future generations, though they have never been admitted to the

honors of the press.  The copy in my possession, like that of Sarmiento's

manuscript, for which I am indebted to that industrious bibliographer, Mr.

Rich, formed part of the magnificent collection of Lord Kingsborough, - a name

ever to be held in honor by the scholar for his indefatigable efforts to

illustrate the antiquities of America.


     Ondegardo's manuscripts, it should be remarked, do not bear his

signature.  But they contain allusions to several actions of the writer's

life, which identify them, beyond any reasonable doubt, as his production. In

the archives of Simancas is a duplicate copy of the first memorial, Relacion

Primera, though, like the one in the Escurial, without its author's name.

Munoz assigns it to the pen of Gabriel de Rojas, a distinguished cavalier of

the Conquest.  This is clearly an error; for the author of the manuscript

identifies himself with Ondegardo, by declaring, in his reply to the fifth

interrogatory, that he was the person who discovered the mummies of the Incas

in Cuzco; an act expressly referred, both by Acosta and Garcilasso, to the

Licentiate Polo de Ondegardo, when corregidor of that city. - Should the

savans of Madrid hereafter embrace among the publications of valuable

manuscripts these Relaciones, they should be careful not to be led into an

error here, by the authority of a critic like Munoz, whose criticism is rarely

at fault.

World History Project