Saturday, January 24, 2015
"We came to serve God and to get rich, as all men wish to do." - Bernal Diaz del Castillo
When asked by a priest as to his motivation for conquering the Inca Empire, and when he intended to begin the work of converting his vanquished subjects to Roman Catholicism, the infamous Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro is said to have responded: "I have not come here for such reasons. I have come to take away their gold." The early conquest and colonisation of the Americas is widely held to have been a largely Spanish enterprise, with intrepid explorers seeking to carve out mini-principalities of their own by supplying the Emperor with gold pillaged from the native inhabitants, while hordes of passionate friars descended upon the unsuspecting natives, variously trying to shield them from the avarice of their Spanish compatriots, convert them to Christianity, by means of persuasion or force.
What is not broadly known however, is the presence of particular personages of Greek origin among the conquistadors who conquered the Americas. Their presence should not surprise us, given that many of the Greek islands, which produced talented seafarers, were at the time under Venetian rule and that Greek seamen were a major export throughout the Mediterranean, yet it is remarkable nonetheless.
It is in this context that we should view the surprising career of a particular Cretan who was a giant in stature, Petros Kritikos, or as he was known in Spanish, Pedro de Candia. Born in Crete in 1485, he became a Spanish conquistador, Grandee of Spain, Admiral of the Spanish Armada of the Southern Seas as recorded in the Spanish Colonial Registry of the "El Libro de Indias", and between 1534 to 1535, as Don Pedro de Candia, was appointed the second Alcalde, or mayor of Cuzco, under the Spanish Crown, by the Queen of Spain herself.
Pedro de Candia's early career mirrors that of many Greek seafarers born in the Venetian colony known as the Kingdom of Candia. Exploiting his mother's connections, he was able to leave Crete and enter service under the crown of Aragon. As such, he became a condottieri or mercenary in Italy, and was trained in the art of contemporary warfare. On the Italian peninsula, he fought in battles against the Ottomans who were attacking and occupying various coastal cities for brief periods of time, before transferring to the Iberian peninsula to serve the Spanish King.
Before long, de Candia established a reputation as a specialist in the use of firearms of artillery and was recruited by Governor Pedro de los Rios, as a valuable addition to his retinue in the ever expanding Spanish colonies in the Americas. Arriving in Mexico, de Candia became known for his incredible strength and endurance. He played a leading role in expeditions to explore Panama in 1527, Colombia and Ecuador, 1528 and Peru in 1530.
Accompanying Diego de Almagro and Francisco Pizarro during their first explorations along the coasts of Peru, he assumed command of the Spanish artillery when a landing was effected at Tacamez. Famously, he was also one of the thirteen men that remained in the islands of San Cristobal with Pizarro, where he almost perished after the rest of Pizarro's band deserted them and during subsequent explorations of the Peruvian ports he undertook to go in person to the Indian towns and investigate their condition. A skilled map-maker, he returned from the city of Tumbez, with a detailed map drawn on canvas.
Present during the defeat and imprisonment of the Inca emperor Atahualpa, he received a large share of the ransom paid him, consisting of the filling of a large room once with gold and twice with silver. Suitably enriched and skilled in the art of the courtier, Pedro de Candia was able to create a favourable impression upon the Spanish court when he returned to Spain with Pizarro in order to present the conquest of the Incas and Pizarro's conduct in the best possible light. It was at this point that he was confirmed Admiral of the Spanish Armada and found a suitable wife, in one of the daughters of the Count of Benavente, a member of the Spanish nobility. His descendants were to become members of both the Italian and Spanish nobility, with land holdings in Europe and the Americas.
Returning to Peru, Pedro de Candia inevitably embroiled himself in the turf war between Pizarro and his erstwhile companion Diego Almagro, making arms and ammunition for Pizarro. After the defeat of Almagro at the battle of Las Salinas, de Candia undertook the conquest of Ambaya beyond the Andes, as he beloved that beyond this region lay the fabled realm of Eldorado. He was unsuccessful and was arrested by Hernando Pizarro, the brother of Francisco. Disgusted at his treatment, and deserted by his old friends, he then joined the followers of Almagro and, with the aid of sixteen other Greek conquistadors, attesting to a sizeable presence of his compatriots in the region, he cast the guns that were taken by Almagro to the battle of Chupas, where de Candia had decided to support the local natives. He performed so badly in the battle that Almagro suspected treason and ordered him to be killed after attacking him with his own hands.
As mentioned above, de Candia was not the sole Greek to join the conquistadors. The life of his associate, Jorge Griego (George the Greek), is equally absorbing. Born in Greece in 1504, he moved to Spain and from there travelled to Panama in 1527, following Pedro de Candia. In the service of Pizarro, he participated in the battle of Cajamarca in 1532 against the Incas and received a large share of Atahulapa's treasure. Jorge later became a resident in the city of Jajua in Peru and was given land and the servitude of a number of the native inhabitants. He achieved greater fame, in 1545 when the forces of Viceroy Blasco Nunez Vela pushed outside the limits of Peru and had no one to manufacture gunpowder. Jorge Griego, though completely lacking experience, applied himself to the task, later going on to make large quantities of gunpowder during the war against Pizarro.
Having made enough money from his conquistadorial pursuits to retire comfortably Jorge Griego eventually left from Peru and returning to Spain, settled in Seville.
Finally, mention should be made of Doroteo Teodoro, who accompanied the Narvaez expedition to Florida in 1527. Lost in the swamps of the Mississippi Delta, Teodoro was ingeniously able to make pitch from pine trees in order to coat the boats needed for the stranded party to escape. Eventually, facing an Indian attack, Teodoro deserted the expedition, only to resurface many years later as the advisor to Tuscaloosa, leader of the Athachi of southwest Alabama. In his role as advisor, he was able to warn his chief not to trust the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, and with good reason, as de Soto detained him and attacked his people.
Uniquely, in the personages of de Candia and Teodoro, we find would be conquistadores ultimately identifying with the dispossessed or threatened natives of the Americas and actively advocating their interests. Is this a diachronic vein of the freedom loving quality of the Greek that has been struck in the most improbable place in the mines of history? The last word of course, belongs in the modern era to Trevor Richardson, he of Dystopia Boy fame, whose words surely would have struck a chord with his Greek conquistadors, so many centuries ago, had they been into that sort of thing:
"Listen in close, Wall Street Conquistadors, you're spreading like vapor up through people's floors, you're moving en masse under the cracks of our doors and grabbing our children to work in your stores, feeding the needy to make them your whores, but you need to remember the grave you're digging is yours."
Hasta la próxima semana, a la libertad!
First published in NKEE on Saturday 24 January 2015