Robert Mackenzie.

America. A history

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Meanwhile rumours became current in the camp that Atahualpa had ordered a great rising of his people to destroy the invaders. The Spaniards had been recently joined by Almagro with important reinforcements; but still they were no more than four hundred men, and they were in possession of treasure which exposed them to apprehensions unfelt by the penniless adventurer. It was asserted that a vast army was gathering only a hundred miles away; at length the imaginary force was reported to be within ten miles. The cry arose that the Inca should be brought to trial for his treasonable practices. A court was formed, with Pizarro and Almagro as presiding judges; counsel were named to prosecute and defend; charges were framed,2727
  The prisoner was charged with having usurped the crown and assassinated his brother; with having squandered the revenues of the country; with idolatry and polygamy; with attempting to incite insurrection against the Spaniards.

and the unhappy Inca was placed at the bar. The evidence taken reached the court through the doubtful channel of an Indian interpreter, who, it was believed, sought the destruction of the prisoner. The judges occupied themselves with discussion, not of the guilt of the accused, but of the results which his execution might be expected to produce. Their judgment was death by burning, as befitted an idolater. Aug. 29, 1533 A.D. The whole army claimed a voice in the great decision. A few condemned the proceedings, and urged that the Inca should be sent to Spain to wait the pleasure of the King. But the voice of the larger number confirmed the sentence of the court, and it was intimated to Atahualpa that he must prepare for immediate death. The fallen monarch lost, for a moment, the habitual calmness with which an Indian warrior is accustomed to meet death. With many tears he besought Pizarro to spare him. Even the stern conqueror was moved in view of misery so deep; but he was without power to reverse the doom which his army had spoken. Two hours after sunset, Atahualpa was led forth, with chains on hand and foot. The great square was lighted up by torches, and the Spanish soldiers gathered around the closing scene in the ruin which they had wrought. The Inca was bound to the stake, and rude hands piled high the fagots around him. A friar who had instructed him in Christian doctrine besought him to accept the faith, promising in that event the leniency of death by the cord instead of the flame. Atahualpa accepted the offered grace, and abjured his idolatry. He was instantly baptized under the name of Juan, in honour of John the Baptist, on whose day this conversion was achieved. With his latest breath he implored Pizarro to have pity on his little children.

While he spoke, the string of a cross-bow was tightened around his neck, and, with the rugged soldiers muttering “credos” for the repose of his soul, the last of the Incas submitted to death in its most ignominious form. Next morning they gave him Christian burial in the little wooden church which they had already erected in Cassamarca. His great lords, as we are assured, “received much satisfaction” from the honour thus bestowed upon their unhappy prince.2828
  The gallant De Soto, in later years the discoverer of the Mississippi, was absent from the camp when Atahualpa was put to death. On his return he reproached his chief for the unhappy transaction, and maintained that the Inca had been basely slandered. Pizarro, seemingly penitent, admitted that he had been precipitate.


Sept. 1533 A.D. Almost immediately after these occurrences Pizarro marched southward and possessed himself easily of the Peruvian capital – “the great and holy city of Cusco.” Although the capital had parted with much of its treasure in obedience to the requisition of its captive monarch, there still remained a vast spoil to enrich the plunderers. In especial, mention is made of ten or twelve statues of female figures, of life size, made wholly of fine gold, “beautiful and well-formed as if they had been alive.” The Spaniards appropriated these and much besides. The great Temple of the Sun was speedily rifled; for the piety of the conquerors conspired with their avarice to hasten the downfall of idolatrous edifices. In this temple the embalmed bodies of former Incas, richly adorned, sat on golden thrones beside the golden image of the Sun. The venerated mummies were now stripped and cast aside. The image of the Sun became the prize of a common soldier, by whom it was quickly lost in gambling. Pizarro claimed the land for the Church as well as for the King. He overthrew temples; he cast down idols; he set up crosses on all highways; he erected a Christian place of worship in Cusco.

Cusco was the worthy capital of a great empire. It was of vast extent, and contained a population variously estimated at from two to four hundred thousand persons. The streets crossed regularly at right angles; the houses were built mainly of stone, with light thatched roofs. The numerous palaces2929
  No Inca inhabited the palace of his predecessor; each built for himself.

were of great size, and splendid beyond anything the conquerors had seen in Europe. A mighty fortress, built upon a lofty rock, looked down on the city. It was formed of enormous blocks of stone, fitted with such care that the point of junction could not be discovered. Two streams descending from the mountains flowed through the city in channels lined with masonry. This noble city was the pride of all Peruvians. It was to them all that Jerusalem was to the ancient Jews or Rome to the Romans.

The natives offered no considerable resistance to the entrance of the conquerors. Vast multitudes had gathered out of the neighbouring country. They looked with wonder and with awe upon the terrible strangers who had slain their monarch, who were now marching at their ease through the land, claiming as their own whatever they desired. They heard the heavy tramp of the war-horse and the strange thrilling notes of the trumpet. They saw the mysterious arms before whose destructive power so many of their countrymen had fallen, and the bright mail within whose shelter the Spaniard could slay in safety the undefended Indian. They may well have regarded the fierce bearded warriors as beings of supernatural strength and supernatural wickedness.

But the time came when they could no longer endure the measureless wrongs which had been heaped upon them; when they were impelled to dash themselves against the mailed host of their conquerors and perish under their blows if they could not destroy them. No injury which it was possible for man to inflict upon his fellows had been omitted in their bitter experience. Their King had been betrayed and ignominiously slain; their temples had been profaned and plundered; their possessions had been seized or destroyed; dishonour had been laid upon them in their domestic relations; they themselves had been subjected to compulsory service so ruthlessly enforced that many of them died under the unaccustomed toil. They were now to make one supreme effort to cast off this oppression, which had already gone far to destroy the life of their nation.

Jan. 1535 A.D. Pizarro – raised to the dignity of Marquis – had retired to the coast, where he occupied himself in founding and embellishing the city of Lima. His brother Fernando – a stout-hearted and skilful captain – was left in charge of Cusco. Danger was not apprehended, and the garrison of Cusco was no more than two hundred Spaniards and a thousand native auxiliaries. While the Spaniards enjoyed their lordly repose in the splendid palaces of the fallen monarchy, the Peruvian chiefs organized a formidable revolt. From all the provinces of the empire multitudes of armed natives gathered around Cusco, and took up position on hills where they were safe from the attack of Spanish horsemen. Many of them were armed with lances or axes of copper tempered so that they were scarcely less effective than steel. Every man in all those dusky ranks was prepared to spend his life in the effort to rescue the sacred city from this abhorred invasion. Feb. 1536 A.D. They set fire to the city; they forced their way into the streets, and fought hand to hand with the Spaniards in desperate disregard of the inequality of their arms. They fell slaughtered in thousands; but in six days’ fighting they had gained the fortress and nearly all of the city which the flames had spared. The Spaniards held only the great square and a few of the surrounding houses. Some despaired, and began to urge that they should mount and ride for the coast, forcing their way through the lines of the besiegers. But the stout heart of Fernando Pizarro quailed not in presence of the tremendous danger. In his mind, he told them, there was not and there had not been any fear. If he were left alone he would maintain the defence till he died, rather than have it said that another gained the city and he lost it. The Spaniard of that day was unsurpassed in courage, and his spirit rose to the highest pitch of daring in response to the appeal of a trusted leader. The men laid aside all thought of flight, and addressed themselves to the capture of the great fortress. This strong position was fiercely attacked, and defended with unavailing heroism. Many Spaniards were slain, among whom was Juan, one of the Pizarro brothers, on whose undefended head a great stone inflicted fatal injury. The slaughter of Indians was very great. At length their ammunition failed them – the stones and javelins and arrows with which they maintained the defence were exhausted. Their leader had compelled the admiration of the Spaniards by his heroic bearing throughout the fight. When he had struck his last blow for his ruined country he flung his club among the besiegers, and, casting himself down from the height of the battlement, perished in the fall. “There is not written of any Roman such a deed as he did,” says the Spanish chronicler. May, 1536 A.D. The defence now ceased; the Spaniards forced their way into the fortress, and slaughtered without mercy the fifteen hundred men whom they found there.

For several weeks longer the Indians blockaded Cusco, and the Spaniards were occasionally straitened in regard to supplies; but always at the time of new moon the Indians withdrew for the performance of certain religious ceremonies, and the Spaniards were able then to replenish their exhausted granaries. The siege languished, and finally ceased, but not till the Spaniards had practised for some time the cruel measure of putting to death every Indian woman whom they seized.

But now misery in a new form came upon this unhappy country. Fierce strifes arose among the conquerors themselves. Pizarro had gained higher honours and ampler plunder than had fallen to the share of his partner Almagro, and it does not seem that he was scrupulous in his fulfilment of the contract by whose terms an equal division of spoil was fixed. Almagro appeared on the scene with an overwhelming force, to assert his own rights. For ten or twelve years from this time the history of Peru represents to us a country ungoverned and in confusion; a native population given over to slavery, and wasting under the exactions of ruthless task-masters; fierce wars between the conquerors devastating the land. 1537 A.D. Tranquillity was not restored till a large portion of the native population had perished, and till all the chiefs of this marvellous conquest had died as miserably as the Indians they had destroyed. Almagro entered Cusco, and made prisoners of the two brothers Fernando and Gonzalo Pizarro; whom, however, he soon liberated. 1538 A.D. He, in turn, fell into the hands of Fernando, by whose orders he was brought for trial before a tribunal set up for that occasion in Cusco. He was condemned to die; – partly for his “notorious crimes;” partly because, as the council deemed, his death “would prevent many other deaths.” On the same day the old man, feeble, decrepit, and begging piteously for life, was strangled in prison and afterwards beheaded. Immediately after this occurrence Fernando Pizarro sailed for Spain, where his enemies had gained the ear of the King. Fernando was imprisoned, and was not released for twenty-three years, till his long life of a hundred years was near its close. 1541 A.D. Three years after the death of Almagro, the Marquis Pizarro, now a man of seventy, was set upon in his own house in Lima and murdered by a band of soldiers dissatisfied with the portion of spoil which had fallen to their share. The close of that marvellous career was in strange contrast to its brilliant course. After a stout defence against overwhelming force, a fatal wound in the throat prostrated the brave old man. He asked for a confessor, and received for answer a blow on the face. With his finger he traced the figure of a cross on the ground, and pressed his dying lips on the hallowed symbol. Thus passed the stern conqueror and destroyer of the Peruvian nation. 1548 A.D. A few years after the assassination of the Marquis, his brother Gonzalo was beheaded for having resisted the authority of Spain; and he died so poor, as he himself stated on the scaffold, that even the garments he wore belonged to the executioner who was to cut off his head. The partnership which was formed at Panama a quarter of a century before, had brought wealth and fame, but it conducted those who were chiefly concerned in it to misery and shameful death.

From Peru the tide of Spanish conquest flowed southward to Chili. The river Plate was explored; Buenos Ayres was founded; and communication was opened from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Forty years after the landing of Columbus, the margins of the continent bordering on the sea had been subdued and possessed, and some progress had been made in gaining knowledge of the interior. There had been added to the dominions of Spain vast regions, whose coast-line on the west stretched from Mexico southward for the distance of six thousand miles – regions equal in length to the whole of Africa, and largely exceeding in breadth the whole of the Russian Empire. It has now to be shown how ill-prepared was Spain for this sudden and enormous addition to her responsibilities – how huge have been the evils which her possession of the new continent inflicted upon mankind.


The native populations with which the Spaniards were brought into contact differed widely, in respect of the degree of civilization to which they had attained, from the Indians of the Northern Continent. The first colonists of Virginia, Massachusetts, and the St. Lawrence valley found the soil possessed by fierce tribes, wholly without knowledge of the arts of civilized life. The savages of the north supported themselves almost entirely by the chase, regarding agriculture with contempt; their dwellings were miserable huts; their clothing was the skins of the beasts which they slew; they were without fixed places of abode, and wandered hither and thither in the forest as their hopes of success in hunting directed. They left no traces of their presence on the land which they inhabited – no cleared forest, nor cultivated field, nor fragment of building. They were still savage and debased in a degree almost as extreme as humanity has ever been known to reach.

The inhabitants of the islands where Columbus first landed were the least civilized of the southern races. But the genial conditions of climate under which they lived, and the abundance with which nature surrounded them, seemed to have softened their dispositions and made them gentle and inoffensive and kind. They were scarcely clothed at all, but they lived in well-built villages and cultivated the ground. Their wants were few; and as the spontaneous bounty of nature for the most part supplied these, they spent their days in simple, harmless indolence. Land among them was “as common as the sun and water.” They gave willingly, and without hope of recompense, any of their possessions which visitors desired to obtain. To the pleased eye of Columbus they seemed “to live in the golden world without toil; living in open gardens, not intrenched with dikes, divided by hedges, or defended with walls.”

The natives of Central America were of a fiercer character and more accustomed to war than those of the islands. They had also made greater progress in the arts; and the ornaments of gold which the Spaniards received from them evidenced considerable skill in working the precious metals. They wore mantles of cotton cloth, and must, therefore, have mastered the arts of spinning and weaving. Their achievements in architecture and sculpture still remain to excite the wonder of the antiquary. Here and there, wrapped almost impenetrably in the profuse vegetation of the forest, there have been found ruined cities, once of vast extent. These cities must have been protected by great walls – lofty, massive, skilfully built. They contained temples, carefully plastered and painted; and numerous altars and images, whose rich sculptures still attest the skill of the barbarian artist.

It was, however, in the ancient monarchies of Mexico and Peru that American civilization reached its highest development. The Mexican people lived under a despotic Government; but their rights were secured by a gradation of courts, with judges appointed by the Crown, or in certain cases elected by the people themselves, and holding their offices for life. Evidence was given on oath, and the proceedings of the courts were regularly recorded. A judge who accepted bribes was put to death. The marriage ceremony was surrounded with the sanctions of religion, and divorce was granted only as the result of careful investigation by a tribunal set up for that special business. Slavery existed; but it was not hereditary, and all Mexicans were born free. Taxation was imposed according to fixed rates, and regular accounts were kept by an officer appointed to that service. The Mexicans had made no inconsiderable progress in manufactures. They wove cotton cloths of exceedingly fine texture, and adorned them with an embroidery of feather-work marvellously beautiful. They produced paper from the leaf of the Mexican aloe; they extracted sugar from the stalk of the Indian corn. They made and beautifully embellished vessels of gold and silver; they produced in abundance vessels of crystal and earthenware for domestic use. They had not attained to the use of iron; but they understood how to harden copper with an alloy of tin till it was fitted both for arms and for mechanical tools. Agriculture was their most honourable employment, and was followed by the whole population excepting the nobles and the soldiers. It was prosecuted with reasonable skill – irrigation being practised, land being suffered to lie fallow for the recovery of its exhausted energies; laws being enacted to prevent the destruction of the woods. The better class of dwellings in cities were well-built houses of stone and lime; the streets were solidly paved; public order was maintained by an effective police. Europe was indebted to the Mexicans for its knowledge of the cochineal insect, whose rich crimson was much used for dyeing fine cotton cloths. The Mexicans were without knowledge of the alphabet till the Spaniards brought it; but they practised with much skill an ingenious system of hieroglyphic painting, which served them fairly well for the transmission of intelligence. Montezuma was informed of the coming of the Spaniards by paintings which represented their ships and horses and armour.

Notwithstanding the industrial progress of this remarkable people, their social condition was, in some respects, inexpressibly debased. It was their custom to offer to their gods multitudes of human sacrifices. Their most powerful motive in going to war was to obtain prisoners for this purpose; and the prowess of a warrior was judged by the number of victims whom he had secured and brought to the sacrificing priest. Wealthy Mexicans were accustomed to give banquets, from which they sought to gain social distinction by the culinary skill exercised and the large variety of delicacies presented. One of the dishes on which the cook put forth all his powers was the flesh of a slave slaughtered for the occasion.3030
  In this, however, the Mexicans were not greatly more savage than the Spaniards. After the fall of Mexico, Cortes dismissed his Indian allies with various gifts, among which were many bodies of slain enemies, carefully salted for preservation.

The civilization of the Mexicans was fatally obstructed by their religion. The priesthood was numerous, and possessed of commanding authority. The people regarded the voice of the priest as that of the deity to which he ministered, and they lived under the power of a bloody and degrading superstition. Here, as it has been elsewhere, a religion which in its origin was merely a reflection of the good and the evil existing in the character of the people, stamped divine sanction upon their errors, and thus rendered progress impossible.

For two or three centuries before her fall, Peru had constantly extended her dominion over her less civilized neighbours. Her supremacy was widely recognized, and many of the surrounding tribes were persuaded to accept peacefully the advantages which her strong and mild government afforded. It was her wise policy to admit her new subjects, whether they were gained by negotiation or by force, to an equality of privilege with the rest of the people, and to present inducements which led quickly to the adoption of her own religion and language. By measures such as these the empire was consolidated while it was extended, and its tranquillity was seldom marred by internal discontent. When the Peruvian empire received its sudden death-blow from the Spanish conquerors, it was doing the useful work which England has done in India, and Russia in Central Asia – subjugating the savage nations whose territories lay around and imparting to them the benefits of a civilization higher than their own.

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