Apologetic History of the Indies
Bartolomé de Las Casas

Apologetic and Summary History Treating the Qualities, Disposition, Description, Skies and Soil of These Lands; and the
Natural Conditions, Governance, Nations, Ways of Life and Customs of the Peoples of These Western and Southern
Indies, Whose Sovereign Realm Belongs to the Monarchs of Castile


The ultimate cause for writing this work was to gain knowledge of all the many nations of this vast new world. They had been
defamed by persons who feared neither God nor the charge, so grievous before divine judgment, of defaming even a single man
and causing him to lose his esteem and honor. From such slander can come great harm and terrible calamity, particularly when
large numbers of men are concerned and, even more so, a whole new world. It has been written that these peoples of the
Indies, lacking human governance and ordered nations, did not have the power of reason to govern themselves -- which was
inferred only from their having been found to be gentle, patient and humble. It has been implied that God became careless in
creating so immense a number of rational souls and let human nature, which He so largely determined and provided for, go
astray in the almost infinitesimal part of the human lineage which they comprise. From this it follows that they have all proven
themselves unsocial and therefore monstrous, contrary to the natural bent of all peoples of the world; and that He did not allow
any other species of corruptible creature to err in this way, excepting a strange and occasional case. In order to demonstrate
the truth, which is the opposite, this book brings together and compiles [certain natural, special and accidental causes which are
specified below in Chapter CCLXIII].... Not only have [the Indians] shown themselves to be very wise peoples and possessed
of lively and marked understanding, prudently governing and providing for their nations (as much as they can be nations, without
faith in or knowledge of the true God) and making them prosper in justice; but they have equalled many diverse nations of the
world, past and present, that have been praised for their governance, politics and customs; and exceed by no small measure the
wisest of all these, such as the Greeks and Romans, in adherence to the rules of natural reason. This advantage and superi ority,
along with everything said above, will appear quite clearly when, if it please God, the peoples are compared one with another.
This history has been written with the aforesaid aim in mind by Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, or Casaus, a monk of the
Dominican Order and sometime bishop of Chiapa, who promises before the divine word that everything said and referred to is
the truth, and that nothing of an untruthful nature appears to the best of his knowledge.


. . . These Indian peoples surpassed the Greeks and Romans in selecting for their gods, not sinful and criminal men noted for
their great baseness, but virtuous ones -- to the extent that virtue exists among people who lack the knowledge of the true God
that is gained by faith.... The following argument can be formed for the proof of the above: The Indian nations seem to show
them selves to be or to have been of better rational judgment and more prudent and upright in what they considered God to be.
For nations which have reached the knowledge that there is a God hold in common the natural concept that God is the best of
all things that can be imagined. Therefore the nation which has elected virtuous men as God or gods, though it might have erred
in not selecting the true God, has a better concept and estimation of God and more natural purity than one which has selected
and accepted for God or gods men known to be sinful and criminal. The latter was the case of the Greek and Roman states,
while the former is that of all these Indian nations.... It seems probable that none of these Indian peoples will be more difficult of
conversion than the ancient idolaters. First, because, as we have proved and are still proving, all these peoples are of good
reason. Second, because they show less duplicity and more simplicity of heart than others. Third, because they are in their
natural persons better adjusted, as has been proved above -- a quality characteristic of men who may more easily be
persuaded of the truth. Fourth, because an infinite number in their midst have already been converted (although some with
certain difficulty, namely, those who worshiped many gods; for it is not possible except by a great miracle for a religion so aged,
mellowed and time-honored to be abandoned suddenly, in a short time or with ease -- as proven by all of the world's past and
ancient idolaters)....


. . . Let us compare [the ancients] with the people of the realms of Peru as concerns women, marriage and chastity. The
[Peruvian] kings honored and favored marriages with their presence and performed them themselves or through their
proconsuls and delegates. They themselves exhorted the newlyweds to live happily, and in this these people were superior to all
nations. They were certainly superior to the Assyrians and Babylonians, . . . even to our own Spaniards of Cantabria, . . . more
especially to the renowned isle of England ... and to many others.... To whom were they not superior in the election and
succession of kings and those who were to govern the country? They always chose the wisest, most virtuous and most worthy
of ruling, those who had subordinated all natural and sensual affection and were free and clean of repugnant ambition and all
private interest.

They were likewise more than moderate in exacting tribute of vassals and, so that the people should not be molested, in levying
the costs of war. Their indus tries existed so that nations might communicate among each other and all live in peace. They had a
frequent and meticulous census of all deaths and births and of the exact number of people in all estates of the realms. All
persons had profes sions, and each one busied himself and worked to gain his necessary livelihood. They possessed abundant
deposits of provisions which met all the necessities of their warriors, reduced the burden and trouble for the subjects and were
distributed in the lean years.... Who of the peoples and kings of the world ever kept the men of their armies under such
discipline that they would not dare to touch even a single fruit hanging over the road from a tree behind a wall. Not the Greeks,
nor Alexander, nor the Romans, nor even our own Christian monarchs. Has anyone read of soldiers who, no matter where they
were marching when not in battle, were as well commanded, trained, sober and orderly as good friars in a procession? They
established order and laws for the obedience which vassals must show toward their immediate lords and for reverence between
each other, the humble to the humble and the mighty to the mighty. The rearing of children, in which parents inculcate the
obedience and faithfulness owed to superiors -- where is it surpassed? . . . Has anyone read of any prince in the world among
the ancient unbelievers of the past or subsequently among Christians, excepting St. Louis of France, who so attentively assisted
and provided for the poor among his vassals -- those not only of his own village or city but of all his large and extensive realms?
They issued public edicts and personal commands to all nobles and provincial governors, of whom there were many, that all
poor, widows and orphans in each province should be provided for from their own royal rents and riches, and that alms should
be given according to the need, poverty and desert of each person. Where and among what people or nation was there a
prince endowed with such piety and beneficence that he never dined unless three or four poor people ate from his plate and at
his table? . . . Then, there is that miracle -- such it may be called for being the most remarkable, singular and skilful construction
of its kind, I believe, in the world -- of the two highways.... across the mountains and along the coast. The finer and more
admirable of these extends for at least six and perhaps eight hundred leagues and is said to reach the provinces of Chile.... In
Spain and Italy I have seen portions of the highway said to have been built by the Romans from Spain to Italy, but it is quite
crude in comparison with the one built by these peoples....


Thus it remains stated, demonstrated and openly concluded . . . throughout this book that all these peoples of the Indies
possessed -- as far as is possible through natural and human means and without the light of faith -- nations, towns, villages and
cities, most fully and abundantly provided for. With a few exceptions in varying degrees they lacked nothing, and some were
endowed in full perfection for political and social life and for attaining and enjoying that civic happiness which in this world any
good, rational, well provided and happy republic wishes to have and enjoy; for all are by nature of very subtle, lively, clear and
most capable understanding. This they received (after the will of God, Who wished to create them in this way) from the
favorable influence of the heavens, the gentle attributes of the regions which God gave them to inhabit, the clement and soft
weather; from the composition of their limbs and internal and external sensory organs; from the quality and sobriety of their diet;
from the fine disposition and healthfulness of the lands, towns and local winds; from their temperance and moderation in food
and drink; from the tranquility, calmness and quiescence of their sensual desires; from their lack of concern and worry over the
worldly matters that stir the passions of the soul, these being joy, love, wrath, grief and the rest; and also, a posteriori, from the
works they accomplished and the effects of these. From all these causes, universal and superior, particular and inferior, natural
and accidental, it followed, first by nature and then by their industry and experience, that they were endowed with the three
types of prudence: the monastic, by which man knows how to rule himself; the economic, which teaches him to rule his house;
and the political, which sets forth and ordains the rule of his cities. As for the divisions of this last type (which presupposes the
first two types of prudence to be perfect) into workers, artisans, warriors, rich men, religion (temples, priests and sacrifices),
judges and magistrates, governors, customs and into everything which concerns acts of understanding and will, they were equal
to many nations of the world outstanding and famous for being politic and reasonable.... We have, then, but slight occasion to
be surprised at defects and uncouth and immoderate customs which we might find among our Indian peoples and to disparage
them for these; for many and perhaps all other peoples of the world have been much more perverse, irrational and corrupted by
depravity, and in their governments and in many virtues and moral qualities much less temperate and orderly. Our own forbears
were much worse, as revealed in irrationality and confused government and in vices and brutish customs throughout the length
and breadth of this our Spain, which has been shown in many places above. Let us, then, finish this book and give immense
thanks to God for having given us enough life, strength and help to see it finished.


There are other unbelievers and barbarians whose lack of faith is different from that of the foregoing; this is, and is called, the
contrary species because of the perverseness shown toward the faith. They have heard the message of the Gospels, refuse to
receive it and resist its preaching -- it being known that they resist through the pure hatred they bear our faith and the name of
Christ. They not only refuse to receive the faith and hear it but battle and persecute it and were they able, they would destroy it
by exalting and spreading their own sect. In these people real faithlessness and its sin achieve their full measure.... EPILOGUE

From the whole discourse concerning barbarians the following differences seem clear. There are four types of barbarian. Three
of them, the first, second, and fourth types, are barbarians secundum quid, which is to say, barbarian in that certain peoples
have or suffer a certain defect or defects in their customs. This is especially so of those who lack our holy faith and applies to all
unbelievers, however intelligent and wise they may be. The first two types may also include Christian nations whenever they
stray from reason because of any cruel, harsh, disorderly and ferocious affairs or the furious impact of fearful ideas; this was
well shown in Castile in 1520 at the time of the Communities 3 . . . Only those barbarians contained in the third species are
called and are simpliciter, properly and strictly, barbarians, because they are very remote from reason, neither living nor
capable of living according to its rules, whether through lack of understanding or from excessive malice and depraved customs.
It has been proved that it is expressly of those and not of the others that the Philosopher speaks in Book 1 of his Politics when
he refers to barbarians.

. . . These peoples of the Indies are not of the first category, because all in that one are accidental and not natural (we will not
explain here what is natural, or nearly so), and such defects cannot by nature befall a whole nation; for it would be a great
monstrosity of human lineage if nature were to err to the extent of making men of one nation furious and foppish, foolish or blind
with passion. We have indicated above at various times that nature cannot, for the most part, make mistakes as far as man is
concerned; these people can, however, fall into this type accidentally like any others by conducting affairs with comparable
disorder. Similarly, these nations do not belong to the third type, as is clear, because they have their kingdoms and kings,
armies, well- ruled and orderly states, houses, treasuries and homes; they live under laws, cedes and ordinances; in
administering justice they prejudice no one. Hence they cannot belong to this type as they are completely the opposite. Nor do
they belong to the second subgroup of the fourth type, for they have never harmed or done evil to the Church. They did not
know or have word that the Church was in the world or what sort of people Christians were until we went seeking them. They
had their lands, provinces, kingdoms and kings -- how distant from ours everyone knows -- each kingdom and province living
among the others in peace. It follows, then, that all these peoples are barbarians in the broad sense, according to some quality;
and the primary one is that they are unbelievers. This is only through their lack of our holy faith, which means a purely negative
faithlessness, caused by mere ignorance, and is not a sin, as has been declared. Hence they belong, on these grounds, in the
fourth category. They can also be included in the second one because of three qualities. One is that they are illiterate, or lack a
written language as did the English. The second is that they are most humble peoples and obey their kings in a strange and
admirable manner. The third is that they do not speak our language well nor understand us; but in this we are as barbarian to
them as they to us. These, then, are the infinite peoples or nations that we call the western and southern Indies, which were
populated for so many thousands of leagues and were discovered by that illustrious Don Christopher Columbus who first broke
the isolation that had for so many thousands of years lain upon the Ocean Sea, of which he was most rightfully the first admiral.


1. [Secundum quid means in some respect. This is in contrast to simpliciter, or absolutely, which is used later on.]

2. [As long as an heir is young, he is in no way different from a slave.]

3. [This refers to an unsuccessful series of outbreaks by the lower classes of the towns, or "Communities," against the nobles
and bourgeoisie. The protest was against the privileges accorded to non-Spaniards in the realm under Emperor Charles V.]

From Apologética historia de las Indias (Madrid, 1909), originally translated for Introduction to Contemporary Civilization
in the West (New York: Columbia University Press, 1946, 1954, 1961).