The Conquest of the Last Maya Kingdom

The Conquest of the Last Maya Kingdom

The Conquest of the Last Maya Kingdom

The Conquest of the Last Maya Kingdom

Synopsis

On March 13, 1697, Spanish troops from Yucatan attacked and occupied Nojpeten, the capital of the Maya people known as Itzas, the inhabitants of the last unconquered native New World kingdom. This political and ritual center -- located on a small island in a lake in the tropical forests of northern Guatemala -- was densely covered with temples, royal palaces, and thatched houses, and its capture represented a decisive moment in the final chapter of the Spanish conquest of the Mayas.

The capture of Nojpeten climaxed more than two years of preparation by the Spaniards, after efforts by the military forces and Franciscan missionaries to negotiate a peaceful surrender with the Itzas had been rejected by the Itza ruling council and its ruler Ajaw Kan Ek'. The conquest, far from being final, initiated years of continued struggle between Yucatecan and Guatemalan Spaniards and native Maya groups for control over the surrounding forests. Despite protracted resistance from the native inhabitants, thousands of them were forced to move into mission towns, though in 1704 the Mayas staged an abortive and bloody rebellion that threatened to recapture Nojpeten from the Spaniards.

The first complete account of the conquest of the Itzas to appear since 1701, this book details the layers of political intrigue and action that characterized every aspect of the conquest and its aftermath. The author critically reexamines the extensive documentation left by the Spaniards, presenting much new information on Maya political and social organization and Spanish military and diplomatic strategy.

This is not only one of the most detailed studies of any Spanish conquest in the Americas but also one of the mostcomprehensive reconstructions of an independent Maya kingdom in the history of Maya studies. In presenting the story of the Itzas, the author also reveals much about neighboring lowland Maya groups with whom the Itzas intera

Excerpt

On March 13, 1697, Spanish troops from Yucatán attacked and occupied Nojpeten, the small island capital of the Maya people known as Itzas, the last unconquered native New World kingdom. The capture of this small island in the tropical forests of northern Guatemala, densely covered with whitewashed temples, royal palaces, and thatched houses, turned out to be the decisive moment in the final chapter of Spain's conquest of the Mayas. Climaxing more than two years of intensive preparations and failed negotiations, the moment only inaugurated several more years of struggle between Spaniards and Mayas for control over the vast tropical forests of what is now the central area of the Department of Petén, Guatemala (map 1).

The Itzas had dominated much of the lowland tropical forests around Lago Petén Itzá since at least the mid-fifteenth century, when their ancestors, it was said, migrated there from Chich'en Itza in northern Yucatán. Their immediate neighbors, known as the Kowojs, were said to have migrated from Mayapan to Petén at the time of the Spanish conquest of Yucatán, probably during the 1530s. The remoteness of these groups and the physical inhospitality of the land had undoubtedly contributed to Spain's failure to pursue their conquest during the century and a half following the relatively late final conquest of Yucatán in 1544. No less significant had been the Spaniards' fear of the Itzas, whose reputation as fierce warriors who sacrificed their enemies gave pause to military conquerors and missionaries alike.

In this book I examine with a critical eye the events that preceded and followed the 1697 conquest of the Itza capital of Nojpeten and surrounding regions, focusing on the short time between 1695 and 1704. During those years the Spanish Basque military man Martín de Ursúa y Arizmendi, commanding an army of Yucatecan soldiers, planned and executed the attack on the Itza capital. Despite protractedresistance from . . .

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