Financial History Issue 118 (Summer 2016) | Page 12


Conquistadorial Entrepreneurship : Risk Bearers with Harquebuses

By Brian Grinder and Dan Cooper
Spanish conquistadors , according to popular lore , were professional soldiers in the service of the king of Spain . These legendary figures conquered Central and South America by the authority of the pope , in the name of the king . Military discipline , along with superior technology , allowed them to subdue Aztec and Incan civilizations with relative ease . Thus , a few hundred well-trained Spanish conquistadors were able to defeat thousands of indigenous warriors and acquire vast areas of land and oceans of gold for the king of Spain .
But the conquistadors were not professional soldiers . In his book , Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest , Matthew Restall describes this popular view as the “ myth of the king ’ s army .” He argues that at the beginning of Spain ’ s South American expansion , the military revolution that would help create the professional soldier was “ still in its genesis .”
According to Latin American historian James Lockhart , the conquistadors “ semi-deliberately ” chose not to apply the term “ soldier ” to themselves because : “ It implied a person who was being paid a salary and therefore was another person ’ s direct dependent , with little claim to direct rewards .” Lockhart points out that the members of the early expeditions were not paid ; instead , they were partners in a joint enterprise and expected to share in the profits . According to Lockhart , early conquistadors preferred the term Compañero , which means partner or companion , to describe themselves .
In an extensive analysis , Lockhart identifies the occupations of 47 of the founders of Panama ( no such data exists for the men who accompanied Pizarro to Peru ). Only three were engaged in military-type occupations , while 28 % were described by Lockhart as “ merchants , managers and entrepreneurs ,” 26 % were clerks or notaries and the remaining 40 % were
described as artisans , which included tailors , carpenters , seamen , stonemasons , barbers and trumpeters . Although they were well armed , they were not a professional army .
Conquistator Francisco Pizarro
Historians of the Spanish conquest of South America widely agree that the conquistadors were of an entrepreneurial , rather than a military , bent . For instance , Matthew Restall asserts :
To some extent , all participants were investors in commercial ventures that carried high risks but potentially the highest of returns . Spaniards called these ventures “ companies .” While powerful patrons played important investment roles , it was the captains who primarily funded companies and expected to reap the greatest rewards . As the governor of Panama , Pedrarias de Avila , told King Charles of early Conquest expeditions into Nicaragua and Colombia , “ it was done without touching your majesty ’ s royal treasury .” The spirit of commercialism thus infused conquest expeditions from start to finish , with participants selling services and trading goods with each other throughout the endeavor . The conquerors were , in other words , armed entrepreneurs .”
In his book , The Last Days of the Incas , Kim MacQuarrie echoes Restall :
The leaders of most conquest expeditions , beginning in the 1520s , actually formed a company that was normally drawn up as a contract and was duly notarized . The participants thus became partners in the company and were the equivalent of shareholders . Unlike companies dedicated to providing services or manufactured goods , however , it was understood from the outset that the conquest company ’ s economic plan was predicated upon murder , torture and plunder . Conquistadors thus were not paid soldier-emissaries of a distant Spanish king , but were actually autonomous participants in a new kind of capitalist venture ; in short , they were armed entrepreneurs .
Hugh Thomas writes , “ In Peru , the allocation of gold and silver continued . Many poor conquistadors became newlyrich entrepreneurs overnight . Thus , in Cuzco in March 1534 , a quantity of silver estimated to be four times what had been distributed in Cajamarca was allocated by Pizarro with the help of Valverde , according to their judgment of each soldier ’ s merits , extra shares being given to those who seemed to deserve it .”
Finally , Rafael Varón Gabai notes of Francisco Pizarro : “… the outstanding position achieved by Peru ’ s future conqueror was a result of his entrepreneurial and political ability .”
While historians agree about the entrepreneurial nature of the conquistadors , are their counterparts in the field of entrepreneurship of the same mind ? Would a conquistador fit today ’ s definition of an entrepreneur ?
10 FINANCIAL HISTORY | Summer 2016 | www . MoAF . org