Conquistadors, the never to be forgotten military cultivated under the rule of a fanatical Portuguese Queen, Isabella, and her less fanatical Spanish husband, Ferdinand, had developed fighting skills empassioned by the Monarchs’ religious fervour to ‘cleanse’ the Iberian Peninsula of all peoples found to be of non-Catholic faith. When Colombus set off to find India, he found the New World instead and so native people were called Indians. The war crazed gangs of Conquistadores were sent in the ships following the sailings of Colombus, to support the work of the Franciscan friars in their efforts to convert the Indians to Catholicism. They also ensured they could bring back all the gold, silver and others precious items which would create the wealthiest country in the world for the next century.
Empty coffers, due to fighting endless wars, had left the Queen Isabella and husband Ferdinand exposed to enemies beyond their borders. If those enemies were not Catholics, then all the more reason to be rid of them! This would provide a circular argument to maintain a war footing for the spiritual reward in the after life. The Inquisition had been instigated by Queen Isabella just prior to Colombus setting sail. The idea of converting non believers through any means gave the Inquisitor General full range of his sadistic tendencies. The conquistadores saw themselves as supporting the conversion process wherever they found non believers. Franciscan friars accompanied them to use their techniques to persuade and ‘enlighten’ the non believers.
It is widely believed that during Christopher Columbus’ first expedition to the New World, San Salvador Island was the first land he sighted and visited on 12 October 1492; he named it San Salvador after Christ the Saviour. Columbus’ records indicate that the native Lucayan inhabitants of the territory, who called their island Guanahani, were “sweet and gentle”. Every culture he and others he brought with him, did not appreciate those people in their own right. They were merely observed as ‘simple’, ‘heathens’ and maybe sources of wealth which could be stolen and taken back to Spain. Another Island nearby was Haiti, which he named Hispaniola. I have written earlier blogs about the different cultures on these two islands of the indigenous and fascinating populations.
So it was that not only were the ships coming into the Caribbean and then sailing to release explorers and conquistadores to the lands of South America, but they also brought with them their culture, fervent religion, livestock and military experience.
Amongst the weapons they brought were their dogs.
This next extract is from ‘Dogs of the Conquistadors’
Posted on January 12, 2019
Image of dogs brought by the conquistadors.
When Christopher Columbus returned to the New World in 1493, Don Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca, in charge of supplying the expedition, included 20 mastiffs and greyhounds as weapons. The Spanish destroyed the Guanches of the Canary Islands by use of war dogs. Later the dogs fought the Moors. The mastiffs, which could weigh as much as 250 pounds and stand three feet high at the shoulder, were brute attackers, while the greyhounds were speedy and made lightning-quick strikes, often trying to disembowel their opponent. In May 1494 the Jamaican natives did not look friendly, so Columbus ordered an attack. One war dog caused absolute terror, so Columbus in his journal wrote that one dog was worth 10 soldiers against Indians. During the Haiti campaign, opposed by a huge native force, all 20 dogs fought at the Battle of Vega Real in March 1495. Alonso de Ojeda, who had fought with them against the Moors, commanded the dogs. He released the dogs shouting, “Tomalos!” (basically, “Sic ’em!”). An observer said that in one hour, each dog had torn apart at least a hundred natives. The island was taken largely by terror of the dogs. Later conquistadores including Ponce de Leon, Balboa, Velasquez, Cortes, De Soto, Toledo, Coronado, and Pizarro all used war dogs.
Some Spaniards started a cruel practice called “la monteria infernal” (“the hellish hunting”) or “dogging,” setting the dogs on the chiefs or other important people in tribes. When their leaders were torn to shreds, the tribes often surrendered. To increase the ferocity of attacks, some conquistadores fed the dogs on the flesh of natives. One Portuguese fellow “had the quarters of Indians hanging on a porch to feed his dogs with.” The dog Amigo helped in the conquest of Mexico. Bruto, belonging to Hernando de Soto, assisted in the conquest of Florida. When Bruto died, the Spaniards kept it secret, because the natives feared him so much.”
This technique for using dogs in war had been common throughout Europe since hundreds of years before Christianity emerged as a reason for war.
The dogs used by Roman soldiers were probably a similar breed used by the Spanish and Portuguese. The Molossian.
Image of Molossian war dog with Roman soldier
“Most scholars agree that the Molossus originated with the Molossis people in the mountainous regions of north west Ancient Greece and southern Albania. The Molossians were renowned for their vicious hounds, which were used by Molossian shepherds of Epirus in the mountains of northwestern Greece to guard their flocks. The poet Grattius, a contemporary of Ovid, writes “…when serious work has come, when bravery must be shown, and the impetuous War-god calls in the utmost hazard, then you could not but admire the renowned Molossians so much.” Ref: Grattius, Cynegeticon, 179ff
Image of Spaniards overwhelming the native population.
There were millions of natives living in these lands, so removed from all the battles fought in mainland Europe. This would be like the arrival of the Hounds of Hell unleashed with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The First Horseman
“And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.” – Revelation 6:2