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TO THE SOVEREIGN PONTIFF ADRIAN VI FROM THE SAME PETER MARTYR D'ANGHERA OF MILAN
reign: I have dedicated the Fourth Decade of
my Indian history to the Sovereign Pontiff, Leo X., your most gracious brother and cousin.” We have enumerated in that work with great fidelity and absolute integrity the peoples, the islands, the unknown lands discovered in our time in the ocean up to the year 1522, from the Incarnation. Since that epoch other letters have arrived from Fernando Cortes, commander of the Imperial fleet, describing the countries he has brought under Spanish rule.” These letters contain new and extraordinary particulars, astonishing from every point of view. In this Fifth Decade of my commentaries I have reported these particulars with as much precision and
M". HOLY FATHER and most gracious Sovefidelity as I could, carefully observing the chronological order of events. I have dedicated this work to the Sovereign Pontiff Adrian, your predecessor, who died before receiving it. You have inherited his dignity, and you shall likewise inherit my labours, and receive henceforth all I shall write worthy to be preserved in history. It is therefore under your most gracious patronage that I place my work, and I desire that it should appear under such favourable auspices in order that all human beings may know how widely the Christian name has extended since you govern the Catholic world. I hope and desire that the most good and great God may recompense your piety and clemency by the unlimited extension of that name. May you continue as you have begun, to assure perpetual peace amongst Christian princes, especially the Emperor and the Most Christian Kings at variance with him, and to unfurl above heretics the standard of faith which brings salvation, and to transmit to posterity an eternal monument of your glory, which no age may ever forget. Let us return to our subject. At the close of the preceding book we have mentioned the all-powerful King Muteczuma, who from his capital, Temistitan, situated in a salt lake, imposed laws upon a number of towns and vassal kings. Cortes had sent two Spaniards, Montejo and Portocarrero, to the Emperor Charles, resident at that time in the most celebrated town of Spain, Valladolid, to whom they bore gifts as remarkable for their value as for their beauty. I have enumerated them above. Pending the return of his envoys, Cortes, fearing that idleness would demoralise his soldiers, resolved to continue the expedition he had begun. After securing the large city called Potenchan, governed by the cacique Tabasco, as we have related in the preceding book of the Decades, and afterwards named Victoria in honour of the victory won over a multitude of barbarians,
* Although dedicated to Adrian VI., this Decade is addressed to his successor, Clement VII., a natural and posthumous son of Giuliano de' Medici, who had been legitimised by his cousin, Leo X.
* The letters of Cortes to Charles V., known as Cartas de la Relacion, contain the earliest description of Mexican civilisation under Montezuma, when the country was first seen by Europeans. Including the letter of the magistrates of Vera Cruz, these letters number five. The following are the editions in different languages of the entire series: Enrique de Vedia in Ribadeneyra's Biblioteca de Autores Classicas, 1852; Pascual Gayangos, Cartas de Hernan Cortes al Emperador Carlos V.; Désiré Charnay, Lettres de Fernan Cortes à Charles Quint, 1896; Francis MacNutt, Letters of Cortes to Charles V., 1908.
Cortes sailed forty-eight leagues in a westerly direction and founded a colony on the shore, one league distant from another native city, Cempoal, in the neighbourhood of the Rio Grijalva and half a league distant from a small fortress crowning a lofty hill called Chianistam. He named his colony Vera Cruz, since he had landed there in the month of May, on the Feast of the Cross." Cortes next decided to learn something about the great King Muteczuma, of whose power he had heard so much, and of his capital, which was reported to him as being so important. Upon learning his plans, the people of Cempoal, the neighbours and vassals of Muteczuma but likewise his mortal enemies, resolved to seek a conference with the Spanish commander. Just as the Eduins and the Sequanis came weeping to implore Caesar to deliver them from the horrid tyranny of Ariovistus King of the Germans, so did the Cempoalans come to make complaint of Muteczuma. Their complaints were all the more serious, because, without mentioning the other heavy tributes paid by them, they were also obliged to supply slaves, or failing them their own children, to be sacrificed to the gods of the emperor. We have already remarked, and Your Beatitude is not ignorant of the fact, that in these countries human sacrifices are offered; we will later return to this subject at greater length. The Cempoalans promised to give Cortes not only hostages as a guarantee for their loyalty, but also auxiliary warriors to march against their tyrant. Their hope was that, helped by such a powerful God, creator of heaven and earth, such as the Spaniards described theirs to be, and who had permitted them to destroy their former idols, they would deliver their town from the bloody tyranny which oppressed them; and if Cortes would only have pity on their unmerited misfortunes and protect them against the ill-treatment they suffered, they might perhaps win for the entire province freedom, the source of so much good. Nor did they doubt about victory, for they believed that Cortes and his companions were sent from heaven, since they showed themselves gracious to the conquered and formidable to those who repulsed their friendship. They had beheld a small handful of men dare to withstand the warriors of Potenchan. On that day the Spaniards had put to flight forty thousand soldiers, as Your Holiness may perceive from the reports of eyewitnesses and by the letters sent by the chief officers; and they were not more than four hundred foot-soldiers with sixteen horses and a few cannon. It seems opportune to say a few words on the type of people whose suspicious minds treat everything their judgment finds beyond their powers, as a fable. Such people will make gestures of incredulity when they learn that thousands of foes have been scattered by a handful of soldiers. Let us cite two examples, one taken from ancient and one from modern events, which may serve to cut short their pleasantries. Have they not read that Caesar, with an inferior number of troops, conquered the Helvetians and afterwards Ariovistus, with his innumerable hordes of Germans? Do they not know that Xerxes, King of the Persians, is said to have invaded Greece with such a multitude of warriors that when his soldiers, after building their camp, prepared their food, they dried up a river from which they drank, and nevertheless that Themistocles, at the head of only twelve thousand men, so signally defeated them at Salamis that the emperor was barely able to escape with one sole boat? What most helped the Spaniards in our battles with these barbarians were two methods of fighting the latter had never seen or heard of, the mere sight of which put them to flight: in the first place the noise of the cannon, together with the flames and
* The landing took place on April 21st, which was Good Friday, hence the name Vera Cruz, referring to the ceremony of the adoration of the Cross performed throughout Christendom on that day.
sulphurous odours they belohed forth. They believed that our people commanded the thunder and lightning from heaven. In the second place they were almost as much frightened by the horses, for they thought that both man and horse formed but one animal, as is fabulously recounted of the centaurs. Moreover the Spaniards were not always victorious; for they even suffered losses. The barbarians exterminated some of their bands, whom they would not receive as guests; but let us resume the course of the story we abandoned. When the Cempoalans had pronounced their speech it was translated by Geronimo d'Aguilar, the victim of the wreck, who had for seven years been the slave of a cacique, and of whom I spoke at length in a preceding book of my Decades. Cortes then left Vera Cruz leaving there as garrison one hundred and fifty soldiers, and taking with him fifteen horsemen, three hundred foot-soldiers, and four hundred Cempoalan allies. Before starting he ordered all the ships of the expedition to be sunk, giving as a reason that they were unseaworthy." He himself declares that he adopted this measure to cut his men Óff from all hope of retreat, because he wished to found a permanent colony in that country. The majority of his soldiers do not appear to have shared these views. They feared they would meet the same fate that had overtaken many of their companions who had been massacred by the barbarians, for they were not numerous and would have to face an infinite number of warlike and well-armed enemies. Furthermore, the greater part of them were friends and adherents of Diego Velasquez, vice-governor of the island * Several versions of the destruction of the ships exist. That of Cortes will be found in the second of his letters to Charles V. Bernal Diaz in his Historia Verdadera gives a somewhat different account. Both Las Casas and Gomara wrote from hearsay, as did Peter Martyr himself. Consult Orozco y Berra, Conquista de Mexico, tom. iv., cap. viii.; Alaman, Diser
tacione ii.; Prescott's, Conquest of Mexico, tom. i., cap. viii.; MacNutt's Fernando Cortes, cap. iv.