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On the Wings of Time:
Rome, the Incas, Spain, and Peru
Sabine MacCormack

Book Description | Reviews | Table of Contents

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Published by Princeton University Press and copyrighted, © 2006, by Princeton University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher, except for reading and browsing via the World Wide Web. Users are not permitted to mount this file on any network servers. Follow links for Class Use and other Permissions. For more information, send e-mail to

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Chapter One

Universals and Particulars: Themes and Persons

EMPIRES LIVE on in memory and history more than other states. The Inca empire that extended along the central Andes of South America has remained present not just to historians but to the people of Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and especially those of Peru for nearly half a millennium after its fall. Why and how the Incas fell prey to the Spanish, and what the consequences were, has been a subject of reflection ever since it happened. In the early seventeenth century, an Andean lord wrote a historical meditation on this topic, short in length but weighty in content. At the center of this work lies the transformantion of Inca into Spanish Peru. The book begins with the earliest human beings in the Andes, goes on to the Inca empire, and continues to the coming of the Spanish in 1532 and the Christianization of the peoples over whom the Incas had ruled, down to the author’s own day. The author’s long name, consisting of Christian, Spanish, and Andean components, reflects the book’s content. He was called Don Joan de Santa Cruz Pachacuti Yamqui Salcamaygua.1 Joan preceded by the title “don” indicating noble birth was his baptismal name, to which he added the Christian epithet “of the Holy Cross.” Yamqui was an Inca royal title, and Pachacuti, meaning “upheaval” or “end of the world,” was the name given to the ruler who had initiated Inca imperial expansion on a grand scale, over two centuries before Don Joan wrote his book.2 Finally, Salcamaygua is a “red flower of the highlands.”3

Don Joan and his forebears came from Guaygua, a couple of days’ journey south of the old Inca capital of Cuzco, in the central highlands of the Andes—the region designated poetically by the “red flower.” Part of the history that Don Joan recorded in his book was about the incorporation of this region into the Inca empire in the time of the Inca Pachacuti.4 From childhood, Don Joan had heard about the “ancient records, histories, customs and legends” of his homeland, and when he had reached adulthood, people were still “constantly talking about them.”5 But just the memory on its own was not sufficient if the events, especially those of the years after the Spanish had come, could not also be explained. Given the cataclysmic nature of what had happened—a change not just of governance, but of language, culture, and religion, not to mention the deaths of countless people—much explanation was called for.

Don Joan was proud to be a Christian, glad to live with the “holy benediction” of the church and “free of the servitude” of the ancient Andean deities. As he looked back over the history of the Incas, and to the times before the Incas, it seemed that traces and tokens of the true Christian religion had been present in the Andes for a very long time. Like several of his contemporaries, Don Joan thought that one of the apostles had reached the Andes and had made a beginning of teaching this true religion.6 So it was that the Incas themselves had worshipped the one and only god and battled against false gods, perceiving in the festivals that they celebrated for the Maker of the world an “image of the true festival” that was to come in eternity.7 And yet, so Don Joan believed, the Incas were also aware that something was as yet missing, without being able to comprehend exactly what it was.

Take the Inca Pachacuti. In his old age, he heard that a ship had come to the Andes “from the other world” and a year later a young man appeared in the main square of Cuzco with a large book. But the Inca paid no attention to the boy and gave the book to an attendant. Whereupon the boy took the book away from the attendant, disappeared round a corner, and was gone. In vain did Pachacuti Inca order that the boy be looked for. No one ever learned who he was, and the aged Inca undertook a six-month fast “without knowing.”8 Some decades later another enigmatic event occurred. A messenger cloaked in black arrived before Pachacuti’s grandson, the Inca Guayna Capac, and gave him a locked box which—so the Maker of the world had instructed— only the Inca was to open. When Guayna Capac did open the box, something like butterflies or little pieces of paper fluttered out of it, scattered, and disappeared. This was the plague of measles that preceded the coming of the Spanish and that killed so many Andean people. Before long, the Inca himself died of it.9

Don Joan wrote in a mixture of Spanish and his native Quechua. His style and outlook reflect that of missionary sermons and Christian teaching.10 Did he perhaps also know the story of the Sibyl and King Tarquin of Rome? The Sibyl had appeared before the king, offering for sale nine books containing the “destinies and remedies” of Rome for 300 gold coins. When the king refused to buy the books, the Sibyl burned three of them, still asking the same price, and when he refused again, she burned another three. Whereupon the king purchased the remainder for the price originally stipulated and the Sibyl disappeared.11 And did Don Joan know the Greek myth about Pandora’s box that was opened unknowingly and contained the ills that ever thereafter befell humankind?12 If he did, this myth would have conveyed an independent Andean meaning to him. For pputi, the Quechua term for box that Don Joan used, is semantically linked to a cluster of terms denoting sadness and affliction.13 At any rate, in both these pairs of stories the explanatory drifts of the Andean and the European versions are closely intertwined.

A century after the arrival of the Spanish, Don Joan like other Andean nobles of his time portrayed his ancestors as having welcomed these newcomers, bearers as he described them of the Christian message. On their side, so Don Joan thought, Andean people were ready for the Gospel, willing and able to worship the true god and to pray to him in their own native Quechua.14 But the presence of the Spanish in the Andes brought with it a host of evil consequences that it was rarely possible to discuss other than indirectly and allusively. Rome’s King Tarquin was left with three of the Sibyl’s nine books, but Pachacuti Inca was left “not knowing.” Yet worse, the gift of the box to Inca Guayna Capac, in which somehow the Maker of all things was involved, turned out to be a purposefully murderous gift of which the Inca had been forewarned but that he could not avert. Before the box arrived, Guayna Capac saw a midnight vision: he felt himself to be surrounded by “millions and millions of people” who were “the souls of the living whom God was showing him, indicating that they all had to die in the pestilence.” These souls, so the Inca understood, “were coming against” him and “were his enemies.”15 Don Joan resorted to the stories about the book and the box of afflictions, charged as they already were with ancient and multiple meanings, to express the fundamental contradiction that pervaded the lives of so many people: on the one hand, the undeniable evil of subjection to alien rulers, and on the other the—to him—equally undeniable good of being gathered into the community of “our holy faith.” In the process of being retold, these ancient stories acquired new dimensions, and they served as a communicative bridge of sorts between Andean people and Spanish newcomers, all of whom Don Joan addressed in his book of historical meditations.16

The Spanish, even those who read rarely or not at all, could be expected to understand such a communication because they were all steeped not just in Christianity but also in remnants of the Greek and especially the Roman past. Many would have heard the Sibyl chant her prophecies about the coming of Christ during the celebration of his Nativity according to the old pre–Tridentine Spanish liturgy.17 From late antiquity onward, through the long sequence of cultural and political upheavals that transformed Roman into early modern Spain, the Greek and Roman past lived on in the present by virtue of ordinary continuities of daily life. The layout of some cities, the design of private and public buildings, the shape and decoration of tools and utensils, the titles and functions of dignitaries, and the content of law all bore traces of Roman and post–Roman antiquity.18 Throughout the Iberian Peninsula, people were walking and riding along the old Roman roads, passing Roman ruins and whatever Roman monuments had withstood the ravages of time. Not infrequently, the traveler would pass a Roman distance marker, and some of these dated back to the time of Christ.19 The figures of classical myth and history continued to occupy poets, storytellers, and artists to such an extent that many of them became familiar friends, speaking from the pages of books, looking out at from tapestries, paintings, and sculptures, and singing in songs both sacred and secular. Planets named after the ancient gods—Venus, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn, along with Sun and Moon were imbued with a divine and personalized energy. They circled the sky and extended their influence over humans and their environment.20 Finally, the political forms, monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, that had engaged the thoughts of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero lived on in the writings of jurists, in legal practice, and in the governance of cities and kingdoms.21

It was not long before this manifold legacy was felt in the Americas as well. Legal and administrative practices that were taken for granted in the Peninsula were imposed on indigenous peoples without further ado and soon became ubiquitous.22 In the Andes as elsewhere, the layout of the cities the Spanish founded, the buildings that indigenous masons and artisans erected in them, the stories the Spanish told, and even the fabric of Christian teaching all bore a stamp of the Greek and most of all the Roman past.23 Representations of Roman deities decorated Andean churches, mythic and historical figures of the Greek and Roman past paraded through the streets during festivals, Latin and sometimes Greek were taught in universities. Public rituals, the arrivals and departures of viceroys and other dignitaries, the accession and funerary ceremonies of the kings of Spain as celebrated in Lima and other Peruvian cities were deeply imbued with Roman gestures and political concepts.24

In short, the classical past in the Andes was a dynamic and far from uniform force that changed over time, as it had done in Spain also. In one sense, throughout the Middle Ages, the figures of classical antiquity were simply absorbed into the fabric of the present. As a result, scholars and historians in fifteenth-century Spain were able to think about knightly honor and military discipline, lived and practiced in their own day, as continuous with, and even as identical to, Roman precedent. Equally, Cicero’s precepts about political friendship as implemented in the late Roman republic were found to be directly relevant to the pursuit of friendship and influence at the court of the Catholic Kings.25

But this was not the whole story. When, in the early fifteenth century, Enrique de Villena produced a prose translation of Vergil’s Aeneid,he made a point of noting that his intention was to convey exactly what Vergil had written, which was not the same thing as what the reader of the translated text might expect.26 There was something strange, something not immediately accessible about Vergil. Similarly, at the end of the fifteenth century, the humanist Antonio Nebrija in the footsteps of Italian humanists wanted to return to the Latin of the ancients: their vocabulary, syntax, and style. This meant that the Latin that was the vernacular of schools and universities, the Latin of medieval theologians, jurists, historians, and poets had to be disowned.27 For what Nebrija, who viewed the Latin of the schools as an aberration, wanted to bring back was the Latin of Cicero and Livy: the language of the Romans themselves. Here again, what the Romans stood for was strange and unfamiliar. It had to be learned with effort. The same was true for the Greeks, once universities in the Peninsula began teaching Greek and printing presses there published Greek texts.28

Altogether, humanistic learning added an entirely new dimension to the meaning of Greece and Rome. The cultivation of classical Latin as distinct from the Latin spoken in schools and universities, the addition of Greek to the repertoire of learned languages, the rediscovery of many Latin and Greek texts, and the scholarly study of ancient monuments and artifacts transformed the old established, easygoing familiarity and intimacy with the ancient world. A great deal now emerged about the Greeks and Romans that seemed strange and required explanation. Rituals and beliefs that had marked the stages of a Roman life from birth to death, the worship of and sacrifice to the pagan gods emerged not just as alien, but as profoundly incompatible with Christian practice. Studied closely, the pagan Romans emerged as utter strangers in the Christian present, and as much more pagan than they had been perceived formerly.29 Similarly, the constitutional significance and functioning of Roman voting assemblies and the nature of Roman military and civilian power emerged as research paths into unknown lands.30 But unlike earlier investigations of Roman law and politics, this new work was not necessarily directed toward practical applications, nor was it necessarily capable of such application. The workings of Roman law in Roman times therefore came to be understood as distinct from its workings within the Roman legal tradition that lived on in the secular and ecclesiastical law of the time.31 As a result, the classical past turned out to be infinitely more distant and harder to understand than it had been previously.32

Familiarity with this past was reestablished on new and different grounds. The attention that was lavished during the fifteenth and subsequent centuries on editing, translating, explaining, and printing Greek and Roman poetry and philosophy, historical and biographical writings transformed historical personages who had lived in the imagination as exemplary figures for so many centuries into human beings who now became intimately knowable.33 The lives, decisions, and actions of Caesar and Pompey, Augustus and Constantine, of Cicero, Vergil, and Livy could be and were questioned, evaluated, and reflected upon. As a result, their errors turned out to be as illuminating as their positive achievements.34 Other mythic and legendary personages appeared in emblem books and treatises of practical advice and also in civic and courtly spectacles.35 All these figures, whether mythic, legendary, or historical, were models and interlocutors regarding thoughts, words, and actions to be imitated and others to be eschewed. Such interlocutors played a role in shaping the narratives of several of the early historians of Spanish Peru, who confronted the forbidding task of describing the course of the invasion and conquest of the empire of the Incas.

The influence of classical traditions from the ancient Mediterranean on the Andes was enormous. More was at issue, however, than mere influence. For just as Don Joan Santa Cruz Pachacuti Yamqui Salcamaygua resorted to strange stories involving an enigmatic book and an ill-fated box to explain what had changed in the Andes with the coming of the Spanish, so the Spanish themselves resorted to ancient historians, geographers, statesmen, and also to the flotsam and jetsam of classical fragments of thought and information, to comprehend and explain the history and government of the Incas. To write, as happened often, that the Incas resembled the Romans in this or that particular did not mean that the Spanish were imposing their own European past on the Andean past and present. The Romans themselves were exceedingly strange and distant. Rather, such comparisons enshrined an effort of conceptualization and understanding. Roman antecedents provided a springboard of cognition into the hitherto unknown Andean past and present. These antecedents when applied in the Andes also enshrined cultural recognition, the perception of shared humanity and historicity. The Spanish were the masters and exponents of the dominant culture in Peru. Their language was the dominant language, and Quechua was an “oppressed language.”36 However inescapable this reality indeed was, Roman and mediterranean antiquity introduced a certain disruption and discontinuity into the mechanics of power. For this antiquity, while itself subject to ongoing reinterpretation, was perennially eluding the grasp of those who were seeking to lay hold of it. Besides, insofar as it provided models of conduct, it set before the eyes of the Spanish a mirror of their own failures and shortcomings.


In 1532, Francisco Pizarro from Trujillo in Spain with his band of followers captured and imprisoned the Inca Atahuallpa, son of Guayna Capac and ruler of an empire that comprised contemporary Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and much of Chile. Some months later, having collected a huge ransom of gold and silver in exchange for a promise of freeing the Inca, the Spaniards executed him and began the conquest of his empire, assisted by some of his discontented subjects. Before long, friction arose among the conquerors. After years of devoted friendship during hard times and while preparing the invasion of the Inca empire, Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro became the bitterest of enemies over the division of treasures and of the gobernaciones, governmental districts of Peru that the Crown had assigned to each of them. In the resulting war that ended in 1538 with the battle of Las Salinas near Cuzco, Diego de Almagro lost his life and his followers lost their privileges. Informed of these upheavals, the emperor Charles V in Spain sent Cristóbal Vaca de Castro to Peru with powers to assume its government, should this be necessary. By the time he arrived, in 1541, Almagro’s son, Diego de Almagro the Younger, and some followers had assassinated Francisco Pizarro, proclaiming him to have been a tyrant. Vaca de Castro, sympathizing with the brothers and adherents of Francisco Pizarro, organized a campaign against the younger Almagro. This ledtothe definitive destruction of the Almagrists. They were defeated in 1542 at the battle of Chupas, about two days’ journey from the Inca ceremonial center and provincial capital of Vilcas, and not far from the newly founded Spanish city of Guamanga. Meanwhile, others among the invaders were fanning out into Upper Peru, Chile, and the Amazon.

Three historians who recorded these events—apparently independently of each other—turned to the Roman civil wars between Caesar and Pompey to make sense of what had happened. They were Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, who had himself taken part in the invasion and conquest of Tierra Firme, the mainland of central America; Agustín de Zárate, controller of the royal finances in Peru; and Pedro Cieza de León, who having watched the treasure of Atahuallpa arrive in Seville in 1534, set out for the Indies, at the tender age of thirteen or fourteen.37

In Spain, during this same period, the missionary and defender of Indian rights Bartolomé de las Casas and the theologians and jurists of the University of Salamanca were pressing Charles V for legislation to protect the conquered populations of the Americas.38 Vasco Núñez Vela, a man devoted heart and soul to the service of his sovereign, was appointed Viceroy of Peru with the charge of implementing these “New Laws.” The conquerors of Peru, correctly fearing that the laws would severely curtail their powers and incomes, rallied behind Francisco Pizarro’s brother Gonzalo, who made war on the Viceroy, killing him in 1546 in the battle of Añaquito not far from the Inca and then Spanish city of Quito in contemporary Ecuador. More was now at issue than simply the New Laws, since Gonzalo Pizarro’s ultimate purpose had expanded to governing Peru as king in virtual independence from Spain.39 In pursuit of that goal he routed those of His Majesty’s supporters who had not gone into hiding at the battle of Guarina in Upper Peru, now Bolivia. Finally, the Crown’s emissary, Pedro de la Gasca, whose intelligence and political acumen were respected, admired, and sometimes dreaded by friend and foe alike, was able to bring the majority of the vezinos, householders of Peru, over to the Crown’s side. This led to the defeat and death of Gonzalo Pizarro in the battle of Xaquixaguna near Cuzco in 1548, and the gradual establishment of regular government in Peru.

Cieza fought under the royal banner at Xaquixaguana, where, during the battle, some of his notebooks were stolen, “about which I was very sad.”40 He repeatedly adduced the governance of the Roman empire by way of contrasting the chaos that swept through Peru in the wake of the Spanish invasion against the more peaceful and prosperous times of the empire of the Incas, which he came to admire increasingly, the more he learned about it. Rome became not only the filter that rendered the Inca achievement intelligible and credible, but also the yardstick whereby Cieza judged the deeds of his own countrymen.

As for Agustín de Zárate, whom Cieza knew and disliked for his cowardice in failing to stand up against the demands of Gonzalo Pizarro, he likewise wrote about the Peruvian civil wars in light of Roman parallels.41 Some twenty years later, another royal official who spent some time in Peru once more reflected on classical antiquity to explain the recent past. This was the notary Diego Fernández from Palencia in Old Castile, hence known as El Palentino. Like Cieza, El Palentino placed his entire historiographical enterprise under the aegis of Roman and other ancient precedent. “The ancient Romans,” he wrote,

were accustomed to erect and consecrate statues of metal and marble to men who had performed distinguished deeds in support of the common good, so as to incite the souls of those who were to come thereafter to great undertakings. And those famous pyramids of Egypt were raised to so great a height for no other reason. But because both statues and pyramids were subject to the sharp tooth of time which consumes and destroys everything, the writing of history was discovered to carry the name of mortals and their works across endless centuries, causing their memory to endure with eternal praise.42

Some twenty years had passed since Cieza and Oviedo died. In their different ways, Cieza, Oviedo, and also Zárate emulated and responded to ancient writers who evoked Roman greatness and exemplarity, among them Livy and the Greek Plutarch, whose biographies of Greek and Roman statesmen and generals were as pleasing to readers as they were instructive. Diego Fernández, followed in the next generation by the royal historian Antonio Herrera, by contrast derived his inspiration from the more somber Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote about the immediate successors of Augustus. In Peru and Spain also, these were more somber years: the age of expansion was over, and the primary task of government was to defend the lands that had been gained and to rule over their peoples with prudence and discretion. Herrera like others of his day described this new outlook as “reason of state.”43

The civil wars between the Spanish invaders of Peru cannot be understood without factoring in the role that Andean people played in them. Although the devastation that the Spanish caused was immense, the battles of conquest and the battles that they fought among each other never involved more than about one thousand of their number, and generally fewer44—but that is without counting the many hundreds and thousands of Andean people who carried baggage, supplied foodstuffs, made weaponry, and served in every conceivable other capacity, including as soldiers. Mortality from warfare and from European diseases was enormous.45

Insofar as normal life continued, it was thanks to those Andean people who survived, raised crops and herds of animals, built the cities that the Spanish founded, and made the tribute payments that the Spanish demanded. Also, although the Spanish took possession of the Inca capital of Cuzco, an Inca state in exile continued at Vilcabamba some 150 miles northwest of Cuzco. This state came to an end when in 1571, the Viceroy Toledo invaded Vilcabamba, and captured and executed its ruler, the Inca Tupa Amaru. Yet, even in the absence of the Incas, Andean administrative practices, methods of organizing labor and of getting jobs done persisted, however much these old established customs were modified by Spanish intervention, whether it was planned and deliberate or unplanned and unintended. Spanish influence was strongest along the Pacific coast, where the ravages of war and disease had been most severe, whereas in the mountainous regions, Andean ways of living and thinking interfaced with Spanish ones. Here, indigenous languages, in particular Quechua and Aymara, continued to be spoken and indigenous concepts of justice and political order continued to apply, in many parts until now.46

In 1567, Juan de Matienzo, who served for eighteen years as a judge on the court of appeals that resided in Chuquisaca in the south of contemporary Bolivia, finished a treatise on how Peru should be governed. Four years later, Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa completed his history of the Incas that was based on oral and documentary testimony supplied to him by the Inca nobles of Cuzco. Matienzo and Sarmiento both decried the Incas as tyrants and advocated the merits of Spanish governance in the Andes, but for different reasons. Sarmiento subscribed to the theory of the Spanish empire as the successor to the empire of Rome. This imperial lineage was, as he saw it, sufficient reason for the conquest of Peru. Matienzo, thinking in legal and administrative more than in historical terms, appealed to Aristotle as precedent for his recommendations about the governance of Peru. He believed that by inculcating among Andean people the interdependent merits of regular—meaning regimented—work and private property, the Viceroyalty could be turned into a flourishing and stable polity.47 In light of this perspective, good government was a government able to provide, or at least willing to aim for, stabilityand a certain degree of prosperity, regardless of just title. What made this enterprise feasible, at least on paper, was, inter alia, the passage of time: a new generation of Andean people was replacing those who had witnessed or participated in “how the Incas governed.”48 If memory was a social and political force, so was forgetting.

Among Sarmiento’s and Matienzo’s contemporaries was the Jesuit José de Acosta, who came to Peru in 1569 and played a crucial role in the establishment of the Jesuit college in Lima and of several other of his order’s houses. Acosta wrote a masterpiece of Jesuit lucidity: his Natural and Moral History of the Indies of 1590 was one of the most frequently reprinted and translated early modern works about the Americas. The title captures the book’s argument which was, in light of Aristotle, Pliny, Ptolemy, and other ancient writers, about nature and environment. The purpose was to describe Peru and Mexico, and then to show how human free will—this being the moral part of the history—had crafted this American nature and environment so as to forge distinct societies, languages, and cultures. The Natural and Moral History was consulted in Europe and the Americas throughout the seventeenth century and provided a model for the researches and writings of Jesuit historians of the Americas down to the Enlightenment. Ignazio Molina, who in the later eighteenth century wrote the “geographical, natural and civil history” of Chile, and his contemporary Juan de Velasco, who wrote an equivalent work about Quito, still followed Acosta’s scheme, even though their scientific orientation differed profoundly from his.49

By the late sixteenth century, a Spanish ruling class had come into existence in the Andes. Although their power by far exceeded that of indigenous lords, curacas, the latter held their own until and a little beyond independence.50 As for the Incas, in what became Peru, no one whether of Andean, Spanish, or creole origin was able to forget them, and they are not forgotten now.51 The Incas had run an empire of many cultures and languages. The Spaniards added a further, albeit unprecedented dimension to this diversity, and Peru remains to this day a country of many cultures.

The legacy of Greece and Rome was part and parcel of the cultural identity of the Spanish and creole elite. But that is far from being the whole story, because then as now no two readers derived the same understanding from the same text, and no two listeners to the same story come away with the same memory of it. Classical texts, images, myths, and histories reached Andean people for the most part indirectly, but whatever the precise link, Andean people did not interpret the content of these traditions as Spaniards would have done. Paradoxically, therefore, classical traditions and ideas arising from them at times became instruments of Andean autonomy. Take the Andean lord Guaman Poma de Ayala from Guamanga, an early contemporary of Don Joan de Santacruz Pachacuti Yamqui, who wrote a history of the Incas and of Peru. Although Guaman Poma probably did not himself read a single Roman or Greek text, he nontheless formulated his views about the origins and development of society, about political legitimacy and the merits and demerits of the Spanish in light of concepts both Greco-Roman and Andean.52 The same is true of another Andean author of the early seventeenth century, who without giving his name recorded the myths and histories that were told by the people who inhabited a cluster of villages in Huarochirí in the Andean foothills south of Lima. This author’s purpose was to emulate the Spanish by recording history in writing, thereby retaining access to the deeds and memories of his people’s forebears. The idea that writing was memory’s most powerful tool in turn had been reiterated and refined over centuries in medieval and early modern Spain, among its exponents being Pedro Cieza de León and El Palentino.53


Studying the impact of the heritage of Greece and Rome in the Andes in the way here outlined is a product of the state of contemporary thinking about the role of Europeans in the Americas. Historians writing in Spain and the Americas during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including indigenous historians, described the deeds of Cortés, Pizarro, and their followers in heroic terms. Subsequent historians during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in particular the Scotsman William Robertson and the North American William Prescott, followed suit.54 In 1892, to mark the fourth centenary of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus, the arrival of Europeans in the New World was celebrated as a unique and positive achievement.55 A century later, things looked rather different because the experience of indigenous peoples, examined in its own right and by those peoples themselves, casts a long shadow on whatever the European achievement might be thought to have been. Demographic research has made clear that warfare and European diseases wiped out entire populations and decimated others.56 Also, it is now evident that the transfer of European plants, animals, technologies, culture, religion, and politics to the Americas was not an unmixed blessing, if a blessing at all.57 In the memories of those indigenous people who survived the decades of invasion and conquest, and also of those who were born in more tranquil times in the later sixteenth century, when social and political order were reemerging, the advent of the Spanish had brought about the end of the world they knew and understood spontaneously, the world of their parents and ancestors.

Increasing awareness of the destructive impact of the European presence in the Americas has led to a shift in perspective that has prioritized indigenous accounts of life before, during, and after the coming of the Spanish. To use Miguel León Portilla’s phrase, “the vision of the vanquished” now matters as much as that of the victors: indeed, for some historians it matters more.58 In 1970, John Hemming published a new history of the “conquest of the Incas” where the dominant vantage point is not that of the Spanish but that of the Incas and their Andean subjects. In this process of changing historiographical orientation, what was formerly described as the Spanish conquest of the Americas is now often termed the Spanish invasion. In the recent Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, the native peoples of South America are consistently described as “invaded societies.”

For the Spanish also, the “discovery” of America brought about a caesura, an incision into their lives, since for better or worse, their land became the center of a world empire. The burden of taxation to defray the ever-increasing costs of imperial defense weighed heavily on Andean people, as it did on the people of Castile.59 Despite protestations to the contrary, we still tend to view these two developments, the American and the Spanish, as distinct and separate. Yet, economic, political, and cultural links between Spain and the American viceroyalties, repeated voyages across the Atlantic, and travel by land and sea up and down the Pacific coast of South America were a fact of daily life.60 Throughout the Andes, indigenous people, European and African newcomers, and creoles lived side by side and in relation to each other, often in close physical proximity, however much they were separated by race, culture, and language. In recent years, we have been encouraged to think of these American societies in terms of mestizaje, of a mingling of races, languages, art forms.61 But mestizaje does not account for everything.

The reason is that different groups had and have their own ways of creating and interpreting meaning, ways that remain distinct. This applies also to how the heritage of Greece and Rome was understood and interpreted. It meant different things to different people, and came to them in different forms. For example, everyone was affected by the legal system, derived from Roman law, that the Spanish brought to the New World. Both in Spain and the Americas, the law treated different groups differently: for instance, in the Andes, creoles had access to the professions, whereas indigenous people by and large did not. Also, the church viewed Spanish Christians differently from Andean ones, admitting the former but usually not the latter to the priesthood and to religious orders.62

Spaniards and creoles who went to school and university studied classical texts, especially Latin ones in the original language.63 For some, albeit a minority, Latin remained the language of choice for learned discourse. Conceptions of earth, nature, and the cosmos were imbued with the ideas of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Pliny, and others, modified and changed though these had been by the emergence on European horizons of an entire new continent. The poetic imagination was deeply tinged in Greek and Roman mythology and imagery.64 Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Pliny along with the Roman architect Vitruvius and his Florentine disciple Leon Battista Alberti had a very practical impact on the Andean world, because they helped to shape precepts as to where and in what manner to found cities. Whether constructed in a new location, like Lima, or within the parameters of existing cities such as Cuzco and Quito, cities in the Viceroyalty enshrined concepts of urban order that were as Greco-Roman and Peninsular as they were Andean.

Equally important, just as Rome and the many cities and towns of the Roman empire and of medieval and early modern Spain had been home, patria, to their inhabitants, so were these Peruvian cities. In this way, Cicero’s notion of a host of settlements, each constituting for its inhabitants a little patria, a patria chica in Spanish parlance, all of them together being contained within the great patria of Rome, found new life in Peru, the general homeland of people living in a multitude of villages, towns, and cities.65 Cicero’s idea could not have taken root in the Andes had it not been for a preexisting concept of Andean space. This space was the empire of the Incas, often described as Tahuantinsuyu, the “Fourfold Domain,” comprising diverse language groups and ethnic polities both great and small, each of which was home for its people in Spanish times just as it had been in the “time of the Inca.”

Yet not all Andean concepts were readily translatable into a Spanish approximation or equivalent. Spanish and creole conceptions of what it was to be human, the idea that each person is constituted of an immortal soul and a mortal body, were anchored in Greek and Roman philosophy, filtered as this conceptualization of human nature had been through centuries of Christian experience in Europe. Spaniards and creoles took such notions to be self-evidently true, whereas Andean people had quite different methods of accounting for the body and the life force in it. Among the first to grasp this point were Pedro Cieza de León and the Dominican friar Domingo de Santo Tomás, who provided Cieza with some of his information and published the first grammar and dictionary of “the general language of the Indians of the Kingdom of Peru,” the language that soon came to be known as Quechua.66

As Fray Domingo had expected, Quechua became the language of evangelization. Among its advocates was Garcilaso Inca de la Vega, the contemporary of Guaman Poma, son of a conquistador and of an Inca royal lady who was a native of Cuzco. Like so many other denizens of societies on the imperial fringe, Garcilaso was drawn away from his patria by both necessity and aspiration, and lived out his adult years in Spain, initially in Montilla near Córdoba and then in Córdoba itself. Garcilaso addressed his Royal Commentaries of the Incas, a work replete with a plethora of classical allusions and citations, to the “Indians, mestizos and creoles of the kingdoms and provinces of the great and most abundant empire of Peru,” and he wrote it as an expression of love for his homeland and so as “to make our patria, people and nation known to the universe.”67

All this in turn conditioned what the past could mean to the present, and what one might understand the history of one’s patria to be: whether it was remembered, narrated in prose, recited in verse and song, or written down in books. For Spaniards in the Americas, none of this meant quite the same as it had done in the Peninsula and Europe. And for indigenous people, still different meanings emerged as they selected and rejected components from what was accessible to them of the unwieldy corpus of classical and Christian traditions that the Spanish in one way or another took for granted.

The impact of Roman, and to some extent of Greek antiquity in the Andes may not be at the top of many people’s minds in contemporary Peru or in any of the other Andean republics. But, despite profound changes brought about first by the Bourbon reforms of the eighteenth century and then by independence in the early ninteenth century, legal traditions and the shape and institutions of Latin American cities retain important Roman components.68 All this and the presence and role of the Catholic Church which itself is, in the last resort, a Roman institution conspire to make for classical traditions in the Andes that are very much alive.69 The pages that follow are about the role of these traditions during the foundational period when an Andean world that was both indigenous and Spanish came into existence, and about the intellectual values and cultural precepts that helped to transform the Inca empire into the country that became known as Peru.

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File created: 8/7/2007

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