Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest

Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest

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Here is an intriguing exploration of the ways in which the history of the Spanish Conquest has been misread and passed down to become popular knowledge of these events. The book offers a fresh account of the activities of the best-known conquistadors and explorers, including Columbus, Cortes, and Pizarro. Using a wide array of sources, historian Matthew Restall highlights seven key myths, uncovering the source of the inaccuracies and exploding the fallacies and misconceptions behind each myth. This vividly written and authoritative book shows, for instance, that native Americans did not take the conquistadors for gods and that small numbers of vastly outnumbered Spaniards did not bring down great empires with stunning rapidity. We discover that Columbus was correctly seen in his lifetime-and for decades after-as a briefly fortunate but unexceptional participant in efforts involving many southern Europeans. It was only much later that Columbus was portrayed as a great man who fought against the ignorance of his age to discover the new world. Restall also shows that the Spanish Conquest relied heavily on black and native allies, who provided many thousands of fighters, vastly outnumbering the conquistadors. In fact, the native perception of the Conquest differed sharply from the Spanish version-they saw it as a native civil war in which the Spaniards played an important but secondary role. The Conquest, Restall shows, was more complex-and more fascinating-than conventional histories have portrayed it. Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest offers a richer and more nuanced account of a key event in the history of the Americas.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 240 pages
  • 159 x 246.4 x 23.6mm | 553.39g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • numerous halftones
  • 0195160770
  • 9780195160772

Review quote

... brief, provocative, original and readable; an able, revisionist study that displays an admirable command of the wealth of source material written not only by Spaniards but also by indigenous peoples throughout the colonial period ... excellent. Fernando Cervantes, Times Literary Supplementshow more

About Matthew Restall

Matthew Restall is Professor of Latin American History, Women's Studies, and Anthropology, and Director of Latin American Studies at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of five books, including Maya Conquistador and The Maya World. He lives in State College, Pennsylvania.show more

Review Text

Provocative if dry essay in New World historiography, gainsaying a large body of received wisdom. Over the last half-century, many writers on the Spanish conquest of the Americas have confronted such thorny problems as the Black Legend and the demography of the pre-Columbian hemisphere, dispelling once-prevailing notions about, for example, why Coronado found so few Indians on his trip across the Great Plains and why Montezuma's Mexico fell so quickly to Cortez and company. But many of those notions remain, writes Restall (History/Penn. State Univ.), even in such contemporary texts as the supposedly iconoclastic works of Tzvetan Todorov and Kirkpatrick Sale. Using the word loosely enough to give folklorists fits, Restall brands as "myth" the idea, for instance, that a mere handful of conquistadors took down Mexico and Peru, and the concomitant canard that the Indians thought that the Spanish were strange gods from across the sea. The Spanish were indeed few, he acknowledges, but backed by great numbers of Indian allies and, more to the point, by non-Spanish conquistadors, particularly black Africans like Juan Garc'a, who hauled a comfortable amount of gold to Spain from Peru and lived well thereafter. "There was no apotheosis," he adds, "no 'belief that the Spaniards are gods,' and no resulting native paralysis." Some of these myths, Restall holds, came from the pens of Columbus and certain of his contemporaries, who had an understandable interest in promoting themselves as lone heroes; others came from the likes of Washington Irving, whose romantic views of Columbus the visionary entered the historical record in the 19th century and have been hard to root out ever since. Restall's alternative history of the Conquest emphasizes the multiethnic nature of the newcomers and the practicality of those who ceded land and wealth to them. For specialists, mainly, though useful to those interested in how empires-and myths-are made. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

368 ratings
3.79 out of 5 stars
5 24% (87)
4 42% (153)
3 27% (101)
2 6% (21)
1 2% (6)
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