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Castilla del Oro

Castilla del Oro

Castilla del Oro, the name given by a royal decree of 27 July 1513 to Pedro Arias ("Pedrarias") de Ávila as governor and captain-general, to "land which until now has been called Tierra Firme, [which] we now order be called Castilla del Oro." The name applies to a long stretch of mainland running west from the Peninsula of Paría in Venezuela past the Colombian port cities of Santa Marta and Cartagena into the Gulf of Darién and beyond to that part of Panama known in the early sixteenth century as Veragua.

Even by the rapacious standards of the day, the utter ruin wrought by Pedrarias was remarkable for its swiftness and brutality. The conqueror enlisted under his command such an assortment of wrongdoers that King Ferdinand II wrote to Pedrarias expressing concern, correctly but in vain, about "the quality of the men who have gone with you, soldiers who have been in Italy, [ones] accustomed to very great vices, so that you will have some difficulties." Pedrarias and his men looted and enslaved, torched people as well as property, threw native rulers who could not furnish quantities of gold quickly enough to killer dogs, and generally behaved with such demonic abandon that one official informed the Crown that "the land has become so aroused and alarmed by the grave indignities, killings, brutal robbery, and the burning of settlements that all the Castilians maintain themselves only like birds of prey and all the land is lost and desolate." The excesses committed by Pedrarias were never forgotten, even by chroniclers writing decades after his death.

See alsoÁvila, Pedro Arias de; Ferdinand II of Aragon; Las Casas, Bartolomé de.


Carl O. Sauer, The Early Spanish Main (1966; 2d ed. 1992), tells the sorry tale of Castilla del Oro in all its squalor and sadness. The region's demise also figures in the sixteenth-century account of Bartolomé De Las Casas, History of the Indies (1971), translated and edited by Andrée M. Collard.

Additional Bibliography

Mena García, María del Carmen. Sevilla y las flotas de Indias: La gran armada de Castilla del Oro (1513–1514). Sevilla, Spain: Universidad de Sevilla, Secretariado de Publicaciones, 1998.

                                 W. George Lovell

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