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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > The majority of Conquistadors were sword and buckler men? Reply to topic
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James Martin




Location: Hutto, TX
Joined: 12 Jul 2006

Posts: 26

PostPosted: Fri 21 Dec, 2007 9:21 am    Post subject: The majority of Conquistadors were sword and buckler men?         Reply with quote

Hello guys let me thank you in advance for reading my long post. I have been lurking on this board for a long, long time. While I enjoy all arms and armor, I have been trying to get a grasp on the weapons and accoutrements of the Conquistadors. This is because my grandfather by 14 generations, Hernan Martin, was a blacksmith in Cortez's expedition so I am trying to connect with my family history. I have been reading Bernal Diaz's "Conquest of New Spain" and its a great book but unfortunately there is not much description of the arms and armor of the Conquistadors. My heart sank when I read the forward and the translator said the he "threw out the tedious lists of arms, equipment, and horses" in the account which is exactly what I wanted! The other day I came across this wikipedia entry here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodeleros

And it says that: "The majority of Cortez's troops during his campaigns in the New World were rodeleros: in 1520, over 1000 of his 1300 men were so equipped, and in 1521 he had 700 rodeleros, but only 118 arquebusiers and Crossbowmen.Bernal Diaz, the author of an account of Cortez' conquest of the Aztecs, served as a rodelero under Cortez."

I'm wondering how true this statement is and if anyone has any particular insight into this topic? For some reason I had the impression that they were not as "uniform" in their weapons. I had imagined alot of them to carry broadswords, and axes etc. I don't want to say they were a Rag-Tag group because they were obviously hardened veterans and professional fighters. Bernal Diaz said that many of them participated in "The Italian Wars" whatever that is. Also since I believe each soldier outfitted themselves (I could be wrong on this) I don't see how this could be the case that they all choose sword and bucklers. On the other hand, from what I understand the Rodelero (Sword and Buckler Man) was very popular at the time so maybe everyone was a sword and buckler soldier and carried what they were used to fighting with. I am certainly curious where the entry gets the evidence to claim this assertion. The entry lists a book called "Art of War in the Sixteenth Century" by someone called Oman. There is a book called "History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century" by Charles Oman, but they want $200 for it on Amazon! http://www.amazon.com/History-Sixteenth-Green...1853673846 Maybe I can find a library copy.

Finally, I have yet to purchase a sword due to lack of funds. I am wanting to eventually create a collection of the arms and armor that the conquistadors might have carried. My dream is to display this stuff proudly in my home and use it as a tool to teach my children of our families history. But I only want functional items no wallhangars. I came across "The sword of Oran" lately and noticed that sadly, it is discontinued and on closeout. I fear I may have to whip out the credit card and buy this one quickly before it is gone. Here is the sword in question: http://www.reliks.com/merchant.ihtml?pid=2416 So my real question is, in this forum's opinion, would it have been likely that a sword like this was carried by the Conquistadors?
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Fri 21 Dec, 2007 9:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David Counts is selling his Oman book for $50 here:

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=11824

-Sean

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Phil D.




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PostPosted: Sat 22 Dec, 2007 6:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi James,
Here a few swords that you may be interested in.They are produced by Del Tin.A little more expensive than Windlass but well worth it.

http://www.arts-swords.com/item/DT-DT5164.asp

http://www.arts-swords.com/item/DT-DT6150.asp

http://www.arts-swords.com/item/DT-DT5160.asp

"A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world." -- Louis Pasteur

"A gentleman should never leave the house without a sharp knife, a good watch, and great hat."
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Roger Hooper




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PostPosted: Wed 26 Dec, 2007 10:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here are two more sideswords of a type used by conquistadors:

From Darkwood Armory, pictured below. Go to http://www.darkwoodarmory.com/swords.shtml and scroll down. Their swords typically come blunt, but you may be able to get them to sharpen it.

Also Arms and Armor make a great version that does cost more - http://www.arms-n-armor.com/rapier212.html



 Attachment: 20.16 KB
darkwoodside.jpg
Darkwood Armory Sidesword
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Leonardo Daneluz




Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
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PostPosted: Wed 26 Dec, 2007 11:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Roger:

You really need to find a copy of "Las Armas de la Conquista" by Alberto Salas. Last edition by "Plus Ultra" in Buenos Aires by 1986.
The book is obviously in spanish but deals with every weapon from swords to arrows, dogs to religion. It quotes the sources literally and compares them to find the most thruthful. Salas is not an expert in weapons so, instead of imply obviate the original listing, copies it entirely and let the reader make his own opinion.
In that way we read that Pizarro went to war with 4 swords: "sword and dagger at the belt, a shortbroad ("anchicorta") sword in the saddle and a long squarish sword only capable of thrusts in the hand". From there you can easily find that he used common civilian sword and dagger, a short broadsword and an estoc in hand.
And, yes, the equipment was provided by the soldier and very heterogeneous. The only clear distinction was horses. You also can find prices: 8 measures of gold for a sword , 4000 for a war horse (that expensive).
Regards
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James Martin




Location: Hutto, TX
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PostPosted: Thu 27 Dec, 2007 6:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean:
Thank you for mentioning that book was for sale here. I am going to get it.

Roger and Phil:
Thanks so much for showing me those other swords. I will add them to my list!

Leonardo:
That book sounds exactly like what I need! I do not read spanish myself but my dad certainly does and he has just as much interest in this. I will find it and I'm sure he will be happy to translate. Thank you.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Dec, 2007 12:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hmm...the WIkipedia article on the rodeleros is somewhat mistaken in that the rodeleros were sword-and-target men, not sword-and-buckler men--at least if we want to follow the conventions of 16th-century martial terminology. Their shields were quite large and attached to the forearm rather than being wielded in a fist grip like a proper buckler. Strangely enough, I have a recollection of editing just that Wikipedia article some time ago and correcting the misconception, but now it has reverted back to its old state!

Most military historians now think that the majority of conquistadors were, indeed, rodeleros. This had to do with a number of factors. One was the fact that most of tehse conquistadors were gentlemen of some social standing but no money, and many of them were soldiers who became unemployed when their employers laid them off after the signing of this peace treaty or that. These middle- and upper-class people were more familiar with swords and swordsmanship than soldiers of lesser status or wealth. The uniformity in their equipment would have had much to do with the fact that they carried over these equipment from these previous wars, especially the Italian Wars. Seriously, you should open the WIkipedia page on that colorful series of wars--it's a very interesting subject to say the least. The Spanish seemed to have relied heavily on light infantry like the rodeleros in the earlier years of these wars, but as time passed their force composition tended to include fewer and fewer rodeleros and it is possible that the rodeleros who got laid off chose to go to a place where they could be useful to God, King, and Country--namely, the New World. This is not the only possible theory and (I think) its historical validity has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt, but at least it nicely explains why the rodeleros were so overwhelmingly prevalent among the conquistador forces.
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James Martin




Location: Hutto, TX
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PostPosted: Fri 28 Dec, 2007 5:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
Hmm...the WIkipedia article on the rodeleros is somewhat mistaken in that the rodeleros were sword-and-target men, not sword-and-buckler men--at least if we want to follow the conventions of 16th-century martial terminology. Their shields were quite large and attached to the forearm rather than being wielded in a fist grip like a proper buckler. Strangely enough, I have a recollection of editing just that Wikipedia article some time ago and correcting the misconception, but now it has reverted back to its old state!

Most military historians now think that the majority of conquistadors were, indeed, rodeleros. This had to do with a number of factors. One was the fact that most of tehse conquistadors were gentlemen of some social standing but no money, and many of them were soldiers who became unemployed when their employers laid them off after the signing of this peace treaty or that. These middle- and upper-class people were more familiar with swords and swordsmanship than soldiers of lesser status or wealth. The uniformity in their equipment would have had much to do with the fact that they carried over these equipment from these previous wars, especially the Italian Wars. Seriously, you should open the WIkipedia page on that colorful series of wars--it's a very interesting subject to say the least. The Spanish seemed to have relied heavily on light infantry like the rodeleros in the earlier years of these wars, but as time passed their force composition tended to include fewer and fewer rodeleros and it is possible that the rodeleros who got laid off chose to go to a place where they could be useful to God, King, and Country--namely, the New World. This is not the only possible theory and (I think) its historical validity has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt, but at least it nicely explains why the rodeleros were so overwhelmingly prevalent among the conquistador forces.


Oh thank you, thank you, thank you. All info is greatly appreciated. So the shields they would have been using were actually much larger? They were called targets and not bucklers. Was the term buckler from a different time period? I know that Bernal Diaz was exactly as you described the conquistadors. He had some social standing in Spanish society but he was out of work as well and and was happy to be recruited by Cortez. I am going to have to do some reading on the Italian Wars for sure.
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Leonardo Daneluz




Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
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PostPosted: Fri 28 Dec, 2007 6:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

"Rodeleros" as a company never existed. In isolated situations some spanish soldiers have used "rodelas" but it was never common. There were two actions documented by Macchiavelli where spanish soldiers used rodelas, but otherwise only officers used them in battle as regular equipment.

There is no reference to rodeleros in any contemporary source of the Conquista. As far I know, at least.

In conclusion: It´s a myth.
You´ll find interesting this discussion in spanish:
http://www.esgrimaantigua.com/forum/viewtopic...=rodeleros
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Leonardo Daneluz




Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
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PostPosted: Fri 28 Dec, 2007 6:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
Most military historians now think that the majority of conquistadors were, indeed, rodeleros. This had to do with a number of factors. One was the fact that most of tehse conquistadors were gentlemen of some social standing but no money, .



Which military historians? Excuse me for being harsh but why they "think" and not simply "read"? The Conquista is well documented by contemporary sources.


Make a short search about the names of the older families of latin america. They aren´t nobles, mostly not even "hidalgos". A lot of basque people (usually of the poorer condition).
Some high ranking officers were minor nobles (Cortës) or bastards (Pizarro, almagro), that´s all. Pizarro was even illiterate.
You should know that "minor noble" in english books refers mostly to "hidalgo" which doesn´t really mean "noble". Most conquistadores weren´t even hidalgos.
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Dec, 2007 8:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It was commonly held that a man could raise his social status by emigrating to new lands being conquered, be he a Spaniard or Portuguese moving to Latin America, or an Englishman to India. As Leonardo suggests, most of the Conquistadores were of fairly humble social status. Cortez himself was more of the anomaly, in that he was a trained lawyer, and thus had access to the corridors of power in Cuba. Most of the soldiers, such as Bernal Díaz del Castillo, weren't nearly so high, though his uncles had fought, and won their share of glory, in the Reconquista. They had a name which might be remembered by someone important perhaps, but not much else.

Bernal Díaz implies that there were fairly high numbers of rolederos, and the illustrations of the Aztecas drawn somewhat later also show what looks to be a majority of rolederos, but there were also fairly high numbers of men with pole-arms, crossbows and arquebuses. Panfilio Narváez had his eye put out by one of Cortez's pikemen in the skirmish between the two groups of Spaniards in Mexico (Narváez having been sent by the Governor of Cuba to arrest Cortez and his men), so obviously there were at least some of those sorts of men present as well. Sadly, though it's possible that they exist, there aren't the cool muster reports for Cortez and Pedro Alvarado that there were for some of the later expeditions, such as for Francisco Vasquez de Coronado or Don Juan de Oñate, which give a fairly good accounting of the arms and armour brought along by each soldier in the expedition.

For sources, first of course is Bernal Diáz del Castillo's True History of the Conquest of New Spain, written by a man there, sword in hand on the ground with Cortez.

Also see The Broken Spears, a compendium of Aztec sources edited by Miguel Léon-Portilla.

Excellent translations of the muster rolls of the expeditions into the present US South West, along with almost all of the other pertinent official documents having to do with both expeditions are available in larger libraries, in a series edited by George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey, published by the University of New Mexico Press. Narratives of the Coronado Expedition 1540-1542, and Don Juan de Oñate, Colonizer of New Mexico 1595-1628 are both excellent sources for detailed information on the arms, armour and equipment carried by the participants. A bit late for what you are looking at, but also good information for what the Spaniards learned worked, rather than simply what they brought with them from Europe.

I also heartily second the suggestion that you pick up a copy of Sir Charles WC Oman's History of the Art of War in the 16th Century for some excellent background. His earlier work, History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages also gives some good background to the Reconquista, as does a newer book by Bert Hall, Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe. You'll get a much better understanding of the why's and wherefore's of the Spaniards after reading some of these books.

Good luck!

Cheers,

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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E.B. Erickson
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PostPosted: Fri 28 Dec, 2007 6:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another useful book is Petersen's "Arms and Armor in Colonial America". In it there are several photos of mannequins in the Real Ameria outfiitted as they would have been during the time period of the Conquistadores. There's also info on swords, etc. that would ahve been used.

There's usually a copy floating around on eBay.

--ElJay
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James Martin




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PostPosted: Mon 31 Dec, 2007 9:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Leonardo thanks for the perspective, it is much appreciated. I will get my dad to read the info in that link.

Gordon and Sean: Thanks for the all the book references. I think this thread has just filled up all my reading time for the coming year! I am also interested in the Onate expedition because Hernan Martin's son, Hernan Martin Serrano was a sargento (i think thats right) in Onate's party so I got two conquistadors in my family.

E.B that book is also going on the list. The illustrations will help alot.

So getting back to the shields, what would be a good example of a typical shield carried by a rodelero? Were they similar to what I think of as a buckler (small and round) or were they larger like Lafayette suggested?

Thanks guys for putting me in the right direction.
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Mon 31 Dec, 2007 10:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James;

Both Coronado and Oñate's muster rolls state that there are both adarga's and steel targets listed as being carried. My suspicion is that the adarga is more likely to be carried by a mounted man, the target by an infantryman. (The adarga was used by Spanish/Iberian light cavalrymen from the Middle Ages to at least 1821 (on the Northern Frontier of New Spain, at least), and probably later by Mexican Presidial troopers, so there's plenty of evidence for their use. It's certainly more identified in the popular mind with "Spaniards" than a target would be too, so there's that aspect.

Very interesting that you're descended from Hernán Martín Serraño. When a group I am with did a program for the National Park Service and New Mexico Parks Department in 1992 for the Columbian Quincentennial, a friend of mine portrayed Hernán Martín (we all picked characters from the muster rolls to portray, I portrayed Captain Marcos Farfan de los Godos). I'll have to see if I can dig up any of the photo's from that trip for you.

Here's a small article on a minor expedition that the two of them engaged in during their first year in New Mexico:

http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~wew/Tattershall-tb/farfan.htm

Cheers!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/


Last edited by Gordon Frye on Mon 31 Dec, 2007 10:24 am; edited 1 time in total
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James Martin




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PostPosted: Mon 31 Dec, 2007 11:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gordon Frye wrote:
James;

Both Coronado and Oñate's muster rolls state that there are both adarga's and steel targets listed as being carried. My suspicion is that the adarga is more likely to be carried by a mounted man, the target by an infantryman. (The adarga was used by Spanish/Iberian light cavalrymen from the Middle Ages to at least 1821 (on the Northern Frontier of New Spain, at least), and probably later by Mexican Presidial troopers, so there's plenty of evidence for their use. It's certainly more identified in the popular mind with "Spaniards" than a target would be too, so there's that aspect.

Very interesting that you're descended from Hernán Martín Serraño. When a group I am with did a program for the National Park Service and New Mexico Parks Department in 1992 for the Columbian Quincentennial, a friend of mine portrayed Hernán Martín (we all picked characters from the muster rolls to portray, I portrayed Captain Marcos Farfan de los Godos). I'll have to see if I can dig up any of the photo's from that trip for you.

Here's a small article on a minor expedition that the two of them engaged in during their first year in New Mexico:

http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~wew/Tattershall-tb/farfan.htm

Cheers!

Gordon


Wow. Just wow. I am speechless. You have no idea how happy I am to see his name mentioned in a real historical document. This Juan de los Caballeros, did he write about the expedition? Is this story part of a larger narrative? You are now on my short list of people to bug about this subject. I hope you dont mind the mass pm's that you will be receiving from me in the future when I can get my hands on some reading material. Someone portrayed my ancestor? How cool is that!? Yes please send my pics! Me and my father would love to see.

Oh yeah and Happy New Year.
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Tue 01 Jan, 2008 9:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James;

I contacted the fellow who portrayed you in our program, and he's tickled that you turned up. We knew that his descendents were in the area, but of course had no way of figuring out who, or contacting them, so this is pretty nifty.

The best source of info on Don Juan de Oñate and his expedition is again in George Hammond and Agapito Rey's two- volume tome "Don Juan de Oñate, Colonizer of New Mexico". I KNOW that the library at the University of New Mexico has copies, since they published it, but most major unveristy libraries will have a copy too. That's where I found the one I used (and I think I just about wore out, too! What a treasure-trove of information!) I'll have to dig up my notes on the subject, but I know I kept copious ones, so I should be able to supply you with at least some info on sergento Hernán.

Sadly, I don't have any further info on Don Juan de los Caballeros. No doubt an interesting fellow, too.

Feel free to PM me. I love yacking about this sort of thing!

Cheers!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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James Arlen Gillaspie
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PostPosted: Tue 01 Jan, 2008 6:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In the library at Northern Arizona University was a copy of Peterson's book, Arms and Armor in Colonial America, in which a particular scholar who had apparently donated the book to the library had written some notes concerning the personnel and equipment of the Cortez expedition. The notes, which were detailed, portrayed a rather motley crew, one or two of whom were armed with great swords, and one was a woman! Yes, she was a mercenary, not a campfollower. I seem to remember her as being armed with target and sword. I wish I had photocopied those pages.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Thu 03 Jan, 2008 10:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I might have exaggerated the prevalence of gentlemen status, but it should be noted that prior service as officers or NCO(-equivalent)s in the Italian Wars would be consistent with the use of swords and shields when they went over to the New World. After all, the idea of volunteering for the conquest of New Spain would have borne many similarities to the call for gentlemen volunteers to serve in a forlorn hope during the Italian Wars--and these forlorn hopes, due to the nature of their assignment, tended to have a much higher percentage of sword-and-target men than usual even well into the 17th century. Not to mention that anyone who has read Bernal Diaz del Castillo couldn't help but notice the number of times he thanked Spanish swords and swordsmanship for their survival in the face of furious native attacks.
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Leonardo Daneluz




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PostPosted: Fri 04 Jan, 2008 2:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Swords and swordmanship, yes. Sword and shield, definitely no. The idea one gets by reading the sources is that spanish soldiers were very versatile and used all the weapons they could bring to the new world, and even those of the americans which seemed useful (like cotton armor).
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Fri 04 Jan, 2008 2:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would imagine storing enough powder and shot at sea to furnish a large force of them for conquest overseas would be...well, not happening.

M.

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