Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Dogs in the Margin of a Medieval Jewish Manuscript

Haggadah of Barcelona, c. 1340

There is a page of the mid-fourteenth century Haggadah of Barcelona, presently on display in the Prado Museum in Madrid, which depicts a section of the Passover Seder, Ha lachma anya (“This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt”).  The original Aramaic text, the catalog of the exhibit explains, was composed after the destruction of the great temple of Jerusalem, perhaps as late as the sixth century CE.

The exhibit at the Prado, The Lost Mirror: Jews and Conversos in Medieval Spain (El espejo perdido. Judíos y Conversos en la España Medieval) seeks to bring a reckoning to the Spanish treatment of the Jews in medieval Spain, culminating in their expulsion in 1492, the same year Columbus began his first voyage across the Atlantic. Multiple viewpoints are given of this troubled history in the exhibit, presented in a stunning catalog, which can be ordered from the museum (available in Spanish and English). 

Conversions from Judaism to Christianity were extensive after pogroms in 1391, but doubts about the sincerity of the conversions led to the Spanish Inquisition of 1478. Whether the primary motive for this persecution was religious—because converts continued to conduct Jewish rituals in secret—or ethnic—because it did not matter to the Inquisitors that many converts had genuinely adopted Catholicism—continues to be a matter of contentious debate. If the persecution was based on ethnic intolerance, then the Inquisition prefigures the Holocaust, where Christian conversions were ignored in the selection of Jews for extermination. See Netanyahu (2001).

Haggadah of Barcelona, detail of central panel

The exhibit focuses on interactions between Christians, Jews, and conversos. The catalog of the exhibit notes that the language of Ha lachma anya is an implicit response” to Christ’s words at the Last Supper, “Take this and eat; this is my body.” Matthew 26:26 (New English Bible translation). Both passages involved redemption, but the Jewish perspective concerns a redemption from slavery in Egypt while the Christian perspective is a redemption from sin through Christ. 

The central panel of the displayed page from the Barcelona Haggadah shows two moments in the seder ritual: (1) when the head of the family divides the matzo into two portions, wrapping the largest portion, the afikomen, in cloth, and (2) when the mother, at the other end of the table, hides the afikomen under the table. The afikomen will be found by the children, who are seated between their parents, at the end of the meal but always before midnight, the time when God killed the firstborn of the Egyptians and saved the Israelites. 

The catalog notes that the afikomen bears parallels to the host of the Eucharist and is disturbingly similar to an antiquated ritual of the medieval Catholic Church. In that ritual, two hosts were made from one on Holy Thursday. One was used immediately for the Eucharist, but the other was carried in procession to a chapel where it was placed inside a ciborium, which could take several forms but was most commonly a cup. On Good Friday, this saved host was removed, covered with cloth and buried in a ritual called the depositio. On Easter Sunday, it was taken back to the altar in a ritual called the elevatio. The catalog notes that in the rituals of both religions, the unleavened bread, in the form of the afikomen or the consecrated host, becomes a substitute for the sacrificial lamb. For Judaism, the symbolism of the lamb derives from sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem prior to its destruction in AD 70. In Christian tradition, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God occurs with the crucifixion of Jesus. Whether the ritual of hiding or burying unleavened bread for a short period began in Judaism or in Christianity remains uncertain. In any case, the catalog notes that a ritual polemic existed between the two religions. This dialogue may have begun in the Near East in the period as Christianity separated itself from its parent religion. 

Haggadah of Barcelona, detail of upper margin
The exhibit catalog observes that though there may have been hostility between the Christian and Jewish communities, and some of this may be apparent in the conflicts that underlie the imagery of the Haggadah, there were other non-polemical elements in the artistry of the Haggadah.  Although not specifically discussed by the catalog, what caught my eye was the imagery of the margins of the page showing the afikomen ritual, which shows animals involved in playing and hunting. These images are surprising as they are similar to much marginal decoration of the Middle Ages and would not be out of place surrounding a Christian, philosophical, or classical text. 

Livre du gouvernment des rois, detail, Morgan Library

At the top, something of a joke is presented by the hare blowing a horn to summon a flummoxed dog to the hunt. Margin art in which roles of dogs and prey are reversed or confused are a feature in medieval margin illustration. See, for instance, the top margin of a frontispiece of a French manuscript, Livre du gouvernment des rois, in the Morgan Library, where a dog duels with a rabbit.  (See discussion of Caviness (2001) at Figure 3.1.)

The bottom margin of the page from the Barcelona Haggadah shows more realistic hunting tableaux, with a greyhound (lebrel) chasing a hare on the left. The hound clearly has a collar and ears that have not been cropped and that flow with the wind of the dog’s fast pace.  The grey animal to the right may be a wolf as there appears to be no collar, and may be barking at a Dachshund or terrier or perhaps at the huntsman blowing a horn. The huntsman carries a pole from which is suspended an animal, perhaps a coney.  The lebrel may be a smaller type of sighthound such as a galgo. If the animal I have designated a wolf wore a collar, I would label it an alano but I do not think the slight darkening at the neck is meant to indicate a collar. 

Haggadah of Barcelona, detail of lower margin

The hound chasing the hare was one of the most common marginal motifs in medieval books and occurred even in texts where the only illustrations were on a frontispiece. Hunting scenes were, according to Camille (2002), evidence of a healthy manorial economy and reminded large landowners of their right to enclose their forest preserves for private hunting. Although the illustrations on the afikomen page may not reflect a hunting proclivity of the original owner of the document, it does indicate that certain decorative themes would be used by the wealthier members of medieval society, regardless of religious disposition.  


Camille, Michael (1992). Image on the Edge: The Margins in Medieval Art. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Caviness, Madeline H. (2001). Reframing Medieval Art: Difference, Margins, Boundaries, posted by the Tufts Archival Research Center

Molina Figueras, Joan et al. (2023). Es Espeo Perdido: Judíos y Conversos en la España Medieval. Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado.

Netanyahu, Benzion (2001). The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain, 2d. ed.  New York: New York Review Books. Note: the author was the father of the current Prime Minister of Israel.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

The Dog at the Feet of Archbishop Tenorio

Fig. 1. Tomb of Archbishop Pedro Tenorio (d. 1399) (taken by the author, October 2016).

Pedro Tenorio, born about 1328, was  archbishop of Toledo from 1377 until his death in 1399. His tomb is in the Capilla de San Blas (chapel of Saint Blaise) in the cathedral of Toledo, where his marble effigy lies recumbant in the vestments of his office, at his feet a dog. The dog looks adoringly towards his master. The tomb was carved in the workshop of Ferrand Gonzalez, a painter and sculptor, who was responsible for other tombs with similar features, including many with dogs lying in the same position and attitude. The archbishop was heavily involved in the design of the Capilla de San Blas and it is likely that he wanted the accompaniment of a hunting dog at his final resting place. (Figures 1 and 3 show the dog of Archbishop Tenorio from different angles.)

Fig. 2. Amadis, dog of Lorenzo Suarez.
Architectural discussions of the chapel and the tomb refer to the dog as a lebrel, a greyhound or sighthound (Franco Mata, 1991; Perez Higuera, 1978). The dogs of the tombs carved in the workshop of Ferrand Gonzalez generally have wide and ornate collars. In two of the tombs attributed to Ferrand Gonzalez, the collars of the dogs contain their names. (Figure 2 shows a dog at the feet of Lorenzo Suarez de Figueroa, another tomb carved by Ferrand Gonzalez, with the dog's name on the back of the collar. Courtesy Jose Luis Filpo Caban, Wikimedia Commons, 2017). For tombs of ladies, the dogs at their feet, or at their sides, are small lapdogs.. The collars of lapdogs are often decorated with bells (Figure 4, tomb of Leonor Guzman de Castilla. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

The dog at the archbishop’s feet is not the only dog in the Capilla de San Blas. On the ceiling, one panel, perhaps painted by Ferrand Gonzalez, depicts the adoration of the shepherds. In the painting, a dog rests curled up on the ground in a nook below the box in which the swaddled Christ child looks upon his visitors (Fig. 5. Ceiling panel in Capilla de San Blas, Wikimedia Commons). The dog does not have cropped ears as do the dogs of the tombs and could be either a hunting or guarding type. (Curiously, many centuries later, the architect Antoni Guadi, would have a Catalan sheep dog accompany the shepherds visiting the manger on the Nativity Façade of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.)

The dogs could be lebreles, but probably not in the most narrow sense. Alberto Salas (1950), in his description of the dogs of the Spanish conquest, noted that alanos were sometimes classified as lebreles. There were regional and probably temporal variations in terms for hunting dogs, so it must be kept in mind that the dog at the feet of the archbishop was carved at the end of the fourteenth century and one must know something about the hunting culture of that period to understand why such dogs were a common architectural feature.

Fig. 3. Tomb of Archbishop Tenorio (detail).
The hunts of the pontifical court of Toledo were elaborate affairs involving the archbishop and his entourage, which included crossbowmen, various professional hunters, falconers, and sometimes minstrels, drummers, and trumpeters. The overall supervision of the hunt fell upon an important official, the montero mayor, chief hunter. Hunting parties were largely unrestricted in where they could hunt, ranging freely across estates and through cities and towns where they could demand that the corregidores (mayors) provide lodging free of charge and provisions at moderate prices. Among the dogs they brought were not only lebreles, but also sabuesos (similar to bloodhounds), and ventores (sometimes described as crosses of sabuesos and mastins). The ladies might have their lapdogs. Such parties hunted deer and rousted birds. This was burdensome to the communities through which the entourage passed as indicated by a petition of seven villages within the archbishopric of Toledo asking that, because of the impositions of the archbishop's frequent hunting parties, the villages should be relieved of los pechos de Hermandad (the tax of St. Hermandad), the funds of which were used to suppress robbers and keep the roads secure (Ortega Cervigon, 2003).

Correspondence of Archbishop Tenorio refers to his alanos, which were highly prized. In June 1291, King Juan 1 of Aragon wrote to him, requesting that he send two alanos and an alana (presumably so that the king could breed them himself). Records also survive of the salaries of the archbishop’s mojos de alanos “alano boys” (Canas Galvez 2010, 2020). John Cummins (2003) noted that a ruler from a slightly earlier period, Alfonso XI of Castile (1311-1350), was particularly fond of alanos and wrote extensively about them in a hunting treatise (while barely mentioning lebreles), but a miniature showing him on his throne suggests that he kept a favored lebrel, "perhaps as a graceful presence rather than as a hunting dog."

Fig. 4. Tomb of Leonor de Castilla (detail).
The ears of the hunting dogs carved by Ferrand Gonzalez, to the extent I have been able to find pictorial evidence, are cropped. (Franco Mata and Perez Higuera do not completely agree on the list of tombs sculpted by Ferrand Gonzalez). A manuscript in the British Museum (Almazán 1936) states that the ears of alanos should be cropped on the tenth day after they open their eyes, but the ears of lebreles should be left alone. 

Funerary sculptures of dogs in the late middle ages should probably not be expected to reflect a precise reality of the subjects. The bulbous heads and thick bodies of the dogs carved by Ferrand Gonzalez may reflect artistic objectives that compromised realism. We must also acknowledge the greater variation in types prior to modern breeding practices. Despite these caveats, the dog at the feet of the archbishop, and the other dogs sculpted by Ferrand Gonzalez appear to be alanos, bulkier than the swiftest lebreles and more useful in a fight against a boar, though less likely to catch up with a deer or a rabbit. 

In a paper published in 2022, I argued that the dogs that Columbus brought to the Hispaniola on his second voyage were lebreles, as indicated by most contemporary or near-contemporary sources, not mastines (mastiffs), as sometimes stated by more recent historians. This was a specific instance of the transfer of dogs from the Old World to the New, but to provide a thorough analysis of dogs brought by European migrations and to know what was expected of them in the new environment, one must consider their original function and appearance. Thus, it would be necessary to investigate how these dogs were used in Europe for hunting, herding, and decorating the boudoir, for which there would be many variations across the Spanish, French, English, Dutch, Russian, and other cultures that sent dogs to the Americas.  Hopefully there is some doctoral student, perhaps in a combined history and art program, working on this.  


Almazán, Duque de (2005. 1936). Tratado de montería del siglo XV: Manuscrito del Museo Británico [1936]. Facsimile edition. Madrid: Editorial Maxtor.

Cañas Gálvez, Francisco de Paula (2020). Los Últimos Años del Pontificado de Pedro Tenorio: Contextos Politicos, Ámbitos de Actuacion, Muerte y Testamento de un Primado Toledano (1393-†1399). Hispania Sacra, 72(145), 151-176 (2020).

--- (2010). La cámara de Juan II: Vida privada, ceremonia y lujo en la Corte de Castilla a mediados del siglo XV. Evolucion Estructura de la Casa Real de Castilla, vol. 1, 81-195.

Cummins, John (2003). The art of medieval hunting: the hound and the hawk. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Fig. 5. Adoracion de pastores, Capilla de San Blas
Ensminger, John (2022). From hunters to hell hounds: the dogs of Columbus and transformations of the human-canine relationship in the early Spanish Caribbean. Colonial Latin American Review, 31(3), 354-380.  

Franco Mata, Angela (1991)., El Sepulcro de don Pedro Suarez III (s XIV) y el taller toledano de Ferrand Gonzalez, Boletin del Museo Arqueologico Nacional, vol. IX, no. 1.

Montoya, María Isabel (1990). Léxico de libro de la montería de Alfonso XI. Granada: Universidad de Granada.

Ortega Cervigon (2003) La funcionalidad política de la nobleza castellana: el oficio de Montero Mayor durante el siglo XV

Perez Higuera, T. (1978) Ferrand Gonzalez y los sepulcros del taller toledano (1385-1410). Boletin del Seminario de Arte y Arqueologia, Universidad del Valladolid, vol. 44, 129-142. 

Salas, Alberto Mario (1950). Las armas de la conquista. Buenos Aires: Emecé.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

April 29, 2020

April 29, 2020, was perhaps the worst day of my life.

Chloe was scheduled to die.

I had made an appointment for her to be euthanized by our veterinarian, Dr. R, who had been treating Chloe for most of her life. Chloe trusted her.

COVID hit Rhinebeck and most of the United States in early March of 2020. The veterinary practice in which Dr. R worked now prohibited pet owners from coming into the facility with their pets. The usual procedure was for owners to call from the parking lot to say they were outside. One of the vet techs would find you, ask the purpose of the visit, and take the animal inside. The vet called you after your pet had been evaluated. Any decisions regarding treatment were made over the phone.

Euthanasia was different, of course. No conversation would generally be needed, but I had told Dr. R that I wanted to be with Chloe when she died. Dr. R was okay with that, but she said that each veterinarian in the animal hospital could, at least for the moment, decide whether to allow an exception to the usual euthanasia protocol. This mattered because Dr. R was working every other week as part of the practice's COVID staffing pattern and if Chloe began to have more pain than she or we could bear and we needed to schedule quickly I might not be able to get an appointment on short notice. I was also concerned that if Dr. R herself got COVID I might not be able to be with Chloe during the procedure at all. I did not know most vets in the practice and some might not want to deal with a potentially hysterical owner.

Chloe had been sick for a long time. She had Cushing’s disease and the symptoms had been getting worse for more than a year. She had two cancerous lumps in her throat and one on her liver. The ones in her throat made it hard for her to swallow. She was a standard size labradoodle who had been 52 pounds at a good weight. By April 2020 she weighed only 37 pounds. Sometimes when I walked her she could not go more than a few hundred feet and I had to carry her back to our home. It was not difficult. With so little muscle tissue it was like lifting a bag of bones. Sometimes the pain contorted her face, unmistakable as crying.

Courtesy John Eastcott

Most of our friends and my wife felt that it was time. Dr. R felt that it was time. 

Yet she would rally. There were mornings when we would walk around the circle of our neighborhood and prance for a while as she once had. She would sniff her human and canine friends and even drop a few inches into the play stance. It was as if she wanted the other dogs to know she was still one of them, still part of the neighborhood pack. She would watch other dogs play and make slight gestures as if remembering what it was like to run without cares. But she knew her own limitations. After a minute she would look at me. She wanted to go home and lie down. Things might be different tomorrow. She would soon run and pounce again, chase a ball, bark at a squirrel.

Most dogs after puppyhood stand while eating, but Chloe ate lying on her stomach, her food bowl between her paws. This continued most of her life. Only when she started to get sick, at about twelve years old, did she begin to eat standing up. Perhaps it was the cancer in her throat, a standing position making it easier to get the food past the irritating lumps as they began to grow. Dr. R said that the tumors were deep, not just on the surface, and reached into major veins and arteries and likely into the spinal column. Surgery might provide temporary relief but not for long and in any case would not be a cure. The only thing we could do was to make her as comfortable as possible. There was no hope. It was just a question of time. She was in hospice. Joan and I would wake to hear her gasping and coughing and Joan would look at me. How much longer was I going to make Chloe live?

I had made one earlier euthanasia appointment but had canceled. When I made the appointment for April 29, Dr. R told me that I could still cancel at any time, even when we got to the animal hospital. “But it is time,” she emphasized. She said this again during an appointment several days before the final one. Joan begged me to listen to her.

“She’s ready,” Joan assured me.

But I wasn’t. I could not let go.

I was lucky that on the morning of the procedure I was able to reach my friend Gene in Cincinnati, the only person I really trusted to tell me if I was doing the right thing. I do not remember if I asked or he answered that specific question, but he did tell me what I could do to make Chloe’s last moments as pleasant as they could be. He said I should keep physical contact and that I should talk to her through the procedure. Even when she lost sight she might still hear and smell me, and she could feel my touch.

When we arrived at the animal hospital, the vet tech came out and led us around to the back of the facility. He said that we could do it outside. There was a park bench in an area that could be seen from the backs of several houses. Someone was mowing a lawn and I rejected the idea because I did not want to talk to her over the mower.

The animal hospital has a room, far from the waiting room and the examination rooms, really a large closet in a storage area, where there was a metal laboratory table and three chairs. Joan and I waited there while they put the needles in place in another part of the facility. It took about five minutes. When Chloe was brought into the room, there was a green elastic band around her leg where the needles were inserted, the caps sticking out. She was on a leash but loose in the room for the moment. She pranced as if she were young again. She knew that something was different. She knew that this was not an ordinary visit to the veterinary hospital. I am aware of the debates, and the research, concerning what animals know about death. She knew something was going to happen that was different than anything that had happened to her before.

She was not ready, I sometimes believe. Sometimes I tell myself she was ambivalent about what was coming. I still feel guilty that I did not stop the procedure. It seemed as if she was telling me she was still alive and wanted to stay alive.

Dr. R entered the room and told us what would happen. We had been told it all before but it was more real with the chemical containers, the towels, the tubes, the medical smells, the band on Chloe’s leg.

Chloe stood passively as the vet tech picked her up. She did not struggle against his gentle cradling of her emaciated body as he lowered her onto the table. .

“I’ll be working on this end,” said Dr. R. “You have that end.”

Chloe’s head and chest were in front of me. She was looking at me. She was afraid but she was not fighting either me or the doctor, who was connecting the caps above the needles to the tubes that would bring a series of fluids into her veins.

Joan could not take it anymore. She was crying, sobbing. I was crying. The vet tech who was helping the doctor was crying. Joan left the room. The vet tech finished his responsibilities and also left.

Dr. R said she would first sedate Chloe and that she would slowly go to sleep.

“I want to talk to her,” I said.

Dr. R nodded. I began to speak.

“Remember when we went to the hospitals. Remember how the people would smile when you entered the room. They were always so happy to see you. Sometimes they would cry when they saw you. They would talk about their own dogs. They would ask about you. They would not look at me but only at you, always at you.”

Such things I said. She was still conscious. She was looking into my eyes. I was crying. Her face was calm. She was quiet.

I talked about the hospitals, the schools, the libraries that we had visited for ten years as a therapy dog team. When a friend was dying in a hospital in New Jersey, I had brought her with me because it had happened so quickly there was no one we could leave her with. I had presented her credentials and given them a copy of my book about therapy dogs and they instantly enrolled us in their therapy dog program so that we could take her to the room where our friend was lying.

I had taken her to a special school in Lake Katrine, New York, for many years and I reminded Chloe about the children she had visited. Perhaps I reminded her of the time a boy had clamped a hand on her back and squeezed so hard that she yelped. I had to brace her head and calm her while two teachers gradually persuaded the boy to release his tugging grip. She never tried to bite him.

I remembered many other things and kept talking. She was no longer looking at me, or at anything. Her eyes were not moving but I saw slight shifts in her ears so I hoped she was hearing me, smelling me, feeling me.

It had been difficult for her to get certified as a therapy dog. She flunked the first time we tried. One part of the test requires that the dog be led past a hot dog on the ground. The dog must leave the hot dog alone on the command to “Leave it!” That did not happen.

We worked for six months on that. I would put down hot dogs, then give her other treats she liked even better if she left the hot dog alone. Eventually she became dependable at this. You cannot use treats during a certification test, but on our second try she walked past the hot dog without incident. Of course she then expected a treat, but it was too late. She had passed. We became a therapy dog team and worked in New York and Arizona. Joan and I were snowbirds to Phoenix, Arizona, where we had a house in which we spent nine winters. Arizona was where we met Dennis and Carol, whose West Highland Terrier became Chloe’s best friend during the winters.

Chloe was a natural therapy dog. One of the first trainers I knew, Liz, gave me the idea. She said that Chloe liked people and was entertaining because she was "a little goofy." People were never afraid of her, even people who didn’t like dogs. She would be great with children. I called several hospitals to find out what would be needed and then contacted one of the national therapy dog organizations. We began taking basic and then more advanced obedience classes in Phoenix and New York. 
We joined the Ulster Dog Training Club in Woodstock, New York. The president of the club was Fran, who one day asked me to write a page or two about the difference between service dogs and therapy dogs because several members of the club were considering training their dogs to be therapy dogs and wanted to know if they could then take them into restaurants and other places with no-pets signs.. That started my career in writing about dogs.

So I was talking to Chloe about the people who had meant the most to her in her life.

“She’s gone.”

I had to step out of my memories with Chloe and come back into the room. I looked at the doctor.

“She’s gone,” Dr. R repeated.

I breathed, then sobbed. 

“She was special,” Dr. R said. 


"Very special."  


Friday, January 20, 2023

Was the Battle of Vega Real Really a Battle, or Just the Beginning of a Spanish Rampage?

There is something uncomfortable about the Battle of Vega Real. If one accepts the accounts of Bartolomé de las Casas and Ferdinand Columbus, it should be listed as the first major battle between Europeans and Indigenous Americans, with the victory going to the former while sending the latter into ignominious defeat and wretched subservience. Yet the nearly mythological descriptions of the battle, with two hundred twenty Spaniards defeating a hundred thousand Tainos seems so exaggerated as to make one wonder if it is even possible to discover what really happened on the plain of Vega Real in March 1495. The fact Columbus had twenty men on horse, twenty dogs, and European weapons hardly seems enough to overcome the odds, unless one assumes, as las Casas and F. Columbus both do, that there was some aboriginal incomprehension about what they were encountering in arms, animals, and men, some cowardice bred of the shock of the unknown that infected an immense gathering of people who had come from all over the island of Hispaniola and confounded their ability to respond effectively. 

In response to my article about the dogs Columbus used at the Battle of Vega Real, I received some emails from readers who questioned why they had not heard more the battle itself, let alone the horses and dogs that seemed a factor in the Spanish victory. “A battle that supposedly involved 100,000 indigenous men in 1495 would seem to have been a very important battle. Why haven’t I heard of it?” Something of the same question was in the back of my mind from the very beginning of my research into the battle. Let me see if I can add some perspective to this very valid question.

What Did Warfare Mean to the Indigenous of Hispaniola?

Given that the Battle of Vega Real was one of the first military encounters between the Indigenous and the Spanish, we must consider what warfare meant to the Indigenous of Hispaniola in 1495. Herrera’s frontispiece, reproduced in the prior blog and my article, portrays two armies at the beginning of a field battle, each on one side of the battlefield, weapons raised, dogs being released, cavalry entering from the side. Would the forces gathered by Caonabo or his brother be organized this way, as if they fought under the same rules of engagement as a European army?   

The illustrator of the frontispiece of the 1601 edition of Herrera’s Historia natural does show another encounter where there was not such a structure to a battle, the attack on Navidad when Columbus was back in Spain after his first voyage. In fact, the illustrator includes two separate panels, one showing the fortress before Columbus left Hispaniola, and one showing it under attack as he returns on his second voyage (the destruction of Navidad and Columbus's return were not simultaneous but the inclusion of ships of the return fleet made the composition more dramatic). See Figure 1. 

Figure 1. Two panels from Historia general, Herrera y Tordesillas 1601, showing (left) the founding of Navidad and (right) its destruction. The left caption translates: The Admiral says goodbye to King Guacanagari, building La Navidad. The wrecked Santa Maria, from whose timbers the fortress of Navidad was built, is shown partially sunken in the water beside the fortress.  Guacanagari, who controlled the area of the construction, is being carried by his subjects while Columbus surveys the area. The right caption translates: The Admiral returned and found the tower of Navidad burned and the Castilians murdered. The Indigenous are shown attacking with arrows and fire.

As to the Battle of Vega Real in 1495, Ferdinand Columbus states that his father, understanding the Indigenous character and habits, intended to attack the diverse multitude scattered throughout the countryside, assaltar da diverse parti quella moltitudine, sparsa per le campagne (Historie del S.D. Fernando Colombo, 1571, 123; Columbus and Keen 1984, 149, whose translation is less of a literal transliteration than mine).  Figueredo (2006) describes the Tainos as giving battle “guided by strategic designs that demanded rigid organization.” Yet Caribbean warfare was also said to be “noisy and showy with skirmishes lasting entire days” where “a melee of personal insults, challenges and combats was the norm” (Glazier 1978).

Thus, an alternative conception of the encounter at Vega Real might be that the Indigenous gathering on the plain did not array themselves against the forces of Columbus, perhaps expecting a period of shouting and threats before arms were picked up. Perhaps they thought their overwhelming numbers would demonstrate their resolve and force Columbus to retreat. Or perhaps many of them were just in their houses and going about their lives, as they had at other times that Columbus and his subordinates had marched through Vega Real.

Were There Military Encounters Between Europeans and Indigenous in 1494 Before the Battle of Vega Real?

It has already been mentioned that when Columbus returned to Hispaniola in his second voyage, he found that Navidad had been destroyed and the men he left there had been killed. He was told that some of the Spaniards had fought and killed each other and the rest had been killed by the cacique Caonabo (Las Casas 1875, vol. 2, lib. 1, cap. 86, 13; Columbus and Keen 1984, 119), who would continue to be the primary Taino leader opposing Columbus during the second voyage. 

Ferdinand Columbus records what appear to have been relatively minor skirmishes in 1494 around the fortresses built for gold mining operations (Columbus and Keen 1984, 129; Wilson 1990, “The First Skirmishes," 82-84). See Figure 2, showing how the Indigenous were supposed to happily engage in mining and panning gold for the Spanish. They were not, however, particularly happy and manifested their displeasure quickly. An attack on the fortress at Magdelena in late 1494 brought a response that resulted in the capture of 1,600 Indigenous in the Macoris area, 550 of whom were sent to Spain as slaves in caravels that departed from Hispaniola on February 17, 1495 (Morison 1963, 226, translating the letter of Michele de Cuneo; Anderson-Cordova 2017, 31). Thus, there was a period where Spanish groups building fortresses were attacked, but the resistance seems to have been rapid, spontaneous, and not the collective effort of a group of caciques, as may have happened in March 1495.  

Figure 2. Oviedo y Valdés, Historia general, recto of leaf 66, Indigenous mining and panning for gold. JCB Accession No. 01632, Juan de Junta, 1547, Salamanca.

Was the Taino Force at Vega Much Less than 100,000, Say Just 5,000?

The number of Indigenous fighters that Columbus encountered at Vega Real, said to be 100,000 by both Las Casas and F. Columbus, is often doubted and sometimes even summarily rejected. Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas (1549-1625), writing about a century after the battle, takes the number given by the earlier sources, but rather than simply repeating that there were 100,000 Indigenous on the plain, he hedges, saying that the natives seemed to amount to one hundred thousand, todo el parecio ser de cien mil hombres (Historia general, vol. 1, Decada I, lib. 2, cap. 17, 77; Parry and Keith 1984, 201). This suggests that a sixteenth-century historian was already uncomfortable with the size that Las Casas and F. Columbus had given the Taino force. 

Kathleen Deagan and José María Cruxent (2002, 61), in their brilliant description of the settlement at La Isabela, state that the Taino caciques organized an insurrection, “allegedly planning to march against La Isabela with a force more than five thousand strong,” thus ignoring the number of combatants given by Las Casas, F. Columbus, and, grudgingly, Herrera. A footnote in their book indicates that they have taken the more credible number from Pietro Martire d’Anghiera’s De Orbe Novo (Parry and Keith, 1984, 208-210), which describes the force encountered in the Cibao by Alonso de Ojeda as “about 5000 men [cinco mil hombres armados á su manera], equipped in their fashion, that is to say, naked, armed with arrows without iron points, clubs, and spears.” (There is probably a textual error in the 1892 edition of Martire, Fuentes historicas sobre Colon y América, which reads, at 221, unos mil armadas instead of unos cinco mil armados).  Martire’s description of Ojeda does not mention the Battle of Vega Real but I do believe Deagan and Cruxent have correctly correlated the passage in Martire with events that were either part of the Battle of Vega Real or that followed immediately after it, but I would have liked to see further comment on this substitution of numbers. Shoring up the accounts of Las Casas and F. Columbus by finding correlations in the accounts of early chroniclers of the conquest who do not specifically mention a battle at Vega Real produces a more credible description of the battle, but such jerry rigging simultaneously demonstrates that there is no single early account that is entirely credible. This, among other reasons that will be discussed below, probably results in historians shying away from paying too much attention Vega Real and makes some of them reluctant to anoint the battle as the first major conflict between Europeans and the Indigenous. 

Was the Population of Hispaniola Sufficient for an Army of 100,000 Indigenous Even to Be Possible?  

Before accepting the reduced size of Columbus’s opponents at Vega Real, it might be appropriate to ask whether it would have even been possible for any group of caciques to gather 100,000 people at the Vega Real in 1495. Michele de Cuneo, in a letter written in 1494, wrote that the cacique Caonabo could field 50,000 men (Parry and Keith 1984, 89, translating from the Italian, homini L mila; Cuneo, Lettera [1495] 1893, 99), although this reference is not mentioned in connection with a specific battle.

A preliminary question concerns whether the population of the island in 1495 was sufficient for such a sizeable force to be possible.  One of the first anthropologists to estimate populations of the Caribbean was Alfred Kroeber (1934), who placed the population of the West Indies at 200,000, meaning the population of Hispaniola could not have fielded a force of 100,000.  Angel Rosenblat (1967) put the population of Hispaniola in 1492 at between 100,000 and 120,000, also too small.  

Kroeber was attacked for his estimates. Francis Jennings (1975, 18-19) described him as a “dissident scholar” who “emphatically rejected the notion that the natives of North America could be considered capable of so ordering their societies and technologies as to increase their populations beyond a static and sparsely distributed token representation.” William Denevan (1996) said that Kroeber’s estimates were the result of “antithetical conceptions of the quality and capacity of aboriginal cultures everywhere in the Americas.” 

Tink Tinker and Mark Freeland (2008) estimated that the population of Hispaniola in 1492 was just shy of eight million (7,975,000 to be precise) but accepted that Las Casas was correct in arguing for a precipitous decline under early Spanish rule, going down to 3,770,000 by 1496, with only 500,000 surviving by 1500 and 60,000 by 1507.  Their numbers thus allow for fielding a considerable force in 1495, but probably not a few years later.  

Samuel Wilson (1997) finds the number 100,000 implausible, though he accepts that 15,000 men could have been raised in 1497 (Stone 1990, 97-102). He makes the important observation that famine and epidemics had even five years after contact considerably reduced the population of the island.

As I noted in my paper, recent genetics research (Fernandes et al. 2020) has estimated that the pre-contact population of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico combined could have been at most 80,000 people. Various assumptions are made in the calculation of population sizes using genetic analysis, but if this research is upheld, a lower number than some of those proposed will likely have to be accepted and the estimates of Kroeber and Rosenblat may be judged not so far off after all.   

If Las Casas and F. Columbus Exaggerated the Number of Indigenous at Vega Real, Why Did They Do So?

Juan Friede and Benjamin Keen (1971) summarize some of the reasons for exaggeration of population estimates in sixteenth-century accounts (I add numerals in brackets):

[1] The conquistadors wished to stress the heroism of their feats; [2] the clergy sought to enhance the importance of their missionary and evangelizing work; [3] pro-Indian polemicists wished to present a somber picture of the activities of the conquistadors; [4] enthusiasts of the Indians’ past were eager to idealize or hyperbolically exalt that past; and [5] obsessive Hispanophiles wanted to present the Indian as a biologically and culturally inferior being.

Las Casas could have exaggerated for reasons (2) and (3), F. Columbus for (1), and modern commentators who uncritically accept the numbers of earlier accounts may belong in (3) through (5), though laziness in questioning earlier accounts may not implicate any serious bias due to any of these reasons. 

How Many Allies Did Columbus Bring to Vega Real?

Two hundred twenty men against 5,000, accepting an adjustment to the numbers of Las Casas and F. Columbus, is still a significant discrepancy and it would seem that even a terrified mass of 5,000 Indigenous fighters could get off enough arrows to finish off a few hundred men, horses, and dogs.  As I mentioned in my paper, the size of Guacanagari’s force allied with Columbus becomes, therefore, a significant factor. F. Columbus assigns no number to the allied force, saying only that Guacanagari was eager to oppress his enemies, Guacaanagari molto disderoso di opprimere I suoi nimici (F. Columbus, Historie del S.D. Fernando Colombo, 1571, 123; Columbus and Keen 1992, 148). Las Casas realizes that the size of Guacanagari’s force would be relevant, but parenthetically apologizes that he could not find the number of his vassals, (no pude saber qué gente llevó de Guerra, de sus vasallos). (Las Casas, 1875, vol. 2, lib. 1, cap. 104, 97).

Here again, some creativity is required to estimate the size of Guacanagari’s contribution in men. I noted in my paper that Erin Stone (2021) takes the number of 3,000, citing Sauer (1966, 89, who only refers to "Guacanagari of Marien and his men"). The number is, however, quite credible as it is used by Martire for the indigenous allied force later used by Bartolomé Columbus against Guarionex (1892, vol. 1, Decada 1, lib. 7, cap. 1, p. 284).

Who Led the Indigenous Forces against Columbus at Vega Real?

The frontispiece panel of the 1601 edition of Antonio de Herrera’s Historia general depicts Columbus facing Guarionex, their respective armies behind them. Were the Battle of Vega Real such a clearcut European-style engagement, one would expect accounts to identify the two commanding generals that faced each other in March 1495.  This is not the case, however, and it is doubtful that we can ever be certain who led the Indigenous forces, or whether they were even under the command of a single individual.   

Las Casas does not specifically name a commander for the Indigenous forces, though in the chapter that describes the battle he does refer to Guatiguana, Cacique of Magdelana, who had earlier killed ten Spaniards, 10 cristianos (Las Casas, 1875, vol. 2, lib. 1, cap. 104, 98). Wilson (1990, 89-90) notes that Samuel Eliot Morison, in Admiral of the Ocean Sea, preferred Guatiguaná as the leader of the resistance, a possibility Wilson does not reject though he also accepts the possibility that the leaders were “notorious and nameless brothers of Caonabo.” The latter would be the current author’s choice, should he be entitled to have an opinion on this. Wilson, correctly in my opinion, states that although Guarionex is “consistently considered by all of the chroniclers to have been the most powerful cacique in the Vega, [he] is not mentioned at all and seems not to have been involved.” Since Fray Ramón Pané was sent by Columbus to live among the people of Guarionex in 1495, it is unlikely this would have worked very well had Columbus and Guarionex been so hostile to each other in March 1495 (Pané 1999, xxi). It could not be ruled out that one of the caciques subordinate to Guarionex might have been important at Vega Real (Kulstad 2008, 39, discussing Maniocatex, more often spelled Manicaotex).

Ferdinand Columbus indicates that Caonabo, frequently described as one of the most powerful caciques of the island, was taken alive at the battle, along with his wives and children, e preso vivo Caunabo, principal Cacique di tutti loro, insieme co’ suoi figliuoli, & con le sue donne (F. Columbus, Historie, 1571, 123). It perhaps should be noted that Keen, in translating the passage, adds a footnote stating the F. Columbus was in error in that “Caonabó neither participated in nor was made prisoner in this battle, but was captured by Hojeda by a ruse.” (See Tyler 1988, 164, summarizing the three most common narratives of how Caonabo was captured.) 

As noted above, Deagan and Cruxent cite Martire to give the number of Columbus’s opponents at Vega Real as 5,000.  Let us look at Martire’s chronicle more closely.  He notes that Columbus had left Hispaniola in 1494 to try to reach the Far East, which he believed to be close, but after some exploration returned only to learn that Caonabo was besieging Alonso de Ojeda at the blockhouse of Santo Tomás. Martire says Caonabo would not have begun such a siege had he known that Columbus himself was coming with imposing reinforcements, no habían levantado el sitio hasta que vieron que venía el mismo Almirante con gran escuadrón (Martire 1892, vol. 1, Decada 1, lib. 4, cap. 1, 208; Parry and Keith 1984, vol..2, 208). Martire says that Caonabo was encouraged by other caciques to expel the Spanish. Caonabo then left with a large force, probably to attack Columbus, but Ojeda separated the cacique from his men  and brought him to Columbus, where he was seized and put in irons, fué preso y encadenado (Martire, 210; Parry and Keith, 209).

Martire continues that, after the capture of Caonabo, Columbus resolved to march throughout the whole island, determinó recorrer las isla (Martire 1892, cap. 2, 211; Parry and Keith 1984, 209). After a long passage concerning the Spanish search for gold in Hispaniola, Martire returns to the events concerning Caonabo, now in irons. Martire states that Caonabo pleaded with Columbus to protect his territory, which was being ravaged by his native enemies in his absence. His real purpose, however, was to lay a trap for Columbus because Caonabo’s brother had assembled five thousand men to attack the Spanish. Ojeda, however, decided to go on the attack rather than wait to be attacked and, finding the ground well adapted for cavalry maneuvers, his horsemen rode down the enemy, who died if they remained in place. Only those who abandoned their houses for the mountains and rough cliffs survived, abandonando sus casas se refugiaron en las montañas y en ásperos riscos (Martire 1892, cap. 4, 222; Parry and Keith 1984, 211). 

This passage from Martire, which I believe ends with a description of an encounter that was either part of the Battle of Vega Real or followed soon after, does not conform with Las Casas or F. Columbus in that Columbus himself is not present, but it agrees with them in stating that cavalry was essential in the victory, though dogs are not mentioned. It may also give a clue about the type of fighting that was occurring at this time in that the natives that awaited the battle in their houses were killed, whereas those who fled might survive. Does this mean that some of the “battles” described involved not an open field of battle but something closer to the attacks of the U.S. Army against defenseless villages in the nineteenth century plains warfare? Perhaps David Traboulay (1994, 26) is correct in arguing that when Columbus, his brother Bartholomé, and Ojeda "took a series of military expeditions all over the island," they were specifically attacking villages that could not pay the tribute Columbus was imposing.

Oviedo (1851, vol. 1, lib. 3, cap. 1, 59) also describes Caonabo’s siege of Santo Tomás, in territory under his control, which involved assembling archers to attack the fort and burn it. Ojeda, as in Martire’s account, captured Caonabo, but Caonabo’s brother, who was well respected by the Indigenous (hombre de mucho esfuerço quisto de los Indios) then gathered a force of seven thousand men, most of them archers, and began fighting to free his brother.  Oviedo also describes the panic that men on horseback caused among the Indigenous.  Ojeda received an additional three hundred men from Bartolomé Columbus and captured Caonabo’s brother. Later, according to Oviedo, the focus of the opposition to the Spanish shifted to Guarionex, who was able to gather fifteen thousand men (Oviedo 1851, cap. 2, 60), whom Bartolomé Columbus attacked in a night battle in which he captured Guarionex in 1497 (Wilson 1990, 98).

Can the Accounts of Martire and Oviedo Be Correlated with Those of Las Casas and F. Columbus?

Samuel Wilson (1990, 90) argued that the Battle of Vega Real “was such a rout that Martyr does not even mention it.” Martire did, however, mention Columbus’s desire to march across the island and also described actions conducted by Columbus’s subordinates that may well have been part of the overall plan that probably began with the Battle of Vega Real. It is not clear to me why Martire would not want to mention a rout, as Wilson argues. Another possible explanation is that perhaps the initial attack of Columbus and Guacanagari and their forces was not a battle where their enemies were engaged and soundly defeated on a battlefield, but rather a rampage through the villages and fields of the northern Vega Real with only gradually developing resistance from the inhabitants.  Perhaps the soldiers from whom Las Casas and F. Columbus received their information had altered memory in such a way as to make the encounters into a single battle of which they could be proud, rather than a rampage that Oviedo and Martire preferred to ignore.   

Carl Sauer (1966, 88-89) takes his summary description primarily from F. Columbus, but curiously adds, “This was no proud conquest, nor was it called such. The easy submission was entitled ‘pacification.’” This would be a questionable judgment if one were to focus on the accounts of Las Casas and F. Columbus, which were described as victories against considerable odds, but it is more easily accepted if passages from Oviedo and Martire that probably relate to the same period are allowed to add a caution as to how confined geographically or limited temporally the battle was. It might be expected that Martire would have incorporated the account of F. Columbus, given that he knew Fernando as a boy at the royal court and probably tutored him. (Perez Fernandez and Wilson-Lee 2021, 8).

Obviously, the inability to identify a single or specific set of leaders of the Indigenous at Vega Real makes it difficult to imagine the battle, and the problems in correlating the accounts of Las Casas and F. Columbus with accounts of probably the same period by Martire and Oviedo, undermine any faith that a definitive history of the conflicts of 1495 is even possible.

Where Did the Battle of Vega Real Occur?

Another problem concerns the location of the battle. Ferdinand Columbus says that Columbus encountered the scattered Indian horde two days’ march from Isabela, due gionate lungi dalla Isabella (Historie 1571, 123; Columbus and Keen 1984, 149, at least in the 1992 edition, incorrectly translates as a ten days’ march). Las Casas says that the Columbus’s march from La Isabela was ten leagues, diez leguas, from La Isabela (Las Casas, vol. 2, lib. 1, cap. 104, 97).

If one is to argue that the events around a siege of Santo Tomás described by Martire and Oviedo contain some of the circumstances that are attributed to the Battle of Vega Real, then it is to be noted that this would require some interval for the theater of war to move south.  According to the letter of Michele de Cuneo, who was at the fortress at Santo Tomás when it was built was built, it was about 27 leagues from La Isabela and only about two leagues from where Caonabo lived (Parry and Keith 1984, 88-92, translation of the letter).

That the Spanish would want to fight within an easy distance of a fortress is not in doubt. Martire (Decada 1, lib. 4, cap. 2, p 212-13) says a number of refuges, número los refugios, were added so that they could be reached quickly in case some violence from the islanders might threaten the Spanish, por si acaso alguna vez les amenazaba alguna violencia de los insulares. This would indicate that having encountered hostility, groups of Spanish men might need a place where they could shelter and perhaps force some acceptable sense of engagement on the natives, rather than just enduring sporadic and random attacks.

The frontispiece of Antonio de Herrera’s 1601 edition of Historia general depicts an attempt by los yndios to destroy la Cruz de la Vega, which is being defended by Bartolomé Colon, referred to in the caption as el Adelantado, a title given him by his brother Christopher. Whether this was part of the Battle of Vega Real or totally unrelated has long been a subject of historical dispute. A particularly detailed paper by Apolinair Tejera (1945) includes careful analysis of relevant passages in Oviedo and Herrera, which refer to crosses erected at fortresses in Hispaniola with little commentary. Those early accounts were expanded novelistically, and with significant spiritual elements, by later writers.  

Apolinair Tejera concluded that Herrera’s reference to a “miracle of the Holy Cross of the Conception of La Vega” was not dated by him, and could not be, and that the exaggerated incident of Santo Cerro must have occurred long after the bloody disaster of Vega Real (el exajerado incidente del Santo Cerro debió ocurrir much después del sangriento desastre de la Vega Real).  It is curious, however, that the illustrator of Herrera's book included dogs in that battle, just as he had in his depiction of the Battle of Vega Real, though the Spanish forces in the fight over the cross were under Columbus's brother, rather than Columbus. Floyd (1973) accepts Tejera as correctly separating the incident of the cross from the Battle of Vega Real. See Figure 3.

Figure 3. A frontispiece panel of the 1601 edition of Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas’ Historia general (vol. 1) shows a battle in defense of a cross. The caption translates: The Indians try to tear down and burn the Cross of La Vega and the Adelantado [Bartolomé Columbus] fights with them and defeats them, los indios procuran derribar y quemar la Cruz de la Vega y el Adelantado pelea con ellos y los vence. Some authors have argued this was part of the Battle of Vega Real. Detail, John Carter Brown Library, JCB B601 H564h.

One recent researcher  (Stone 2021, 376) argues that upon reaching the plain of Vega Real, Columbus and Guacanagari “set up a small palisade atop present-day Santo Cerro, a mountain that overlooks the entire Cibao valley located in Guarionex’s cacicazgo.” After a day of fighting, the Spaniards retreated to Santo Cerro.  Waking the next morning, however, they were surprised to discover that the opposition forces had disappeared in the night. This perspective on the battle conflicts with accounts that  the Tainos were put to flight after the attack of the horses and dogs.  It also seems to accept that what is generally called the Battle of Vega Real could as easily be called the Battle of Santo Cerro.  Kulstad (2008, 41) notes that those who distinguish the battles of Vega Real and Santo Cerro usually point out that Santo Cerro was further from Isabela than Las Casas and F. Columbus would place the battle. I do not think Stone adequately addresses this difficulty. Guitar (2001) also connects Santo Cerro to Vega Real but provides few references.

How Much Do We Know about the Battle of Vega Real?

The progression of events during 1495 was, I believe, something like the following:

Angered by Spanish incursions into his territory and that of other caciques, but seeing that isolated attacks against the Spanish only led to defeats, Caonabo begins to assemble a force, which numbers 5,000 or more, to push the Spanish back and perhaps to remove them from Hispaniola altogether. Guarionex may have encouraged Caonabo to revolt, and may have been pulling strings to get other caciques to cooperate with Caonabo, but he probably did not take any battle leadership role until after 1495. 

Columbus returns from his explorations of the Cuba and other islands in 1494 and determines that threats to mining operations and Caonabo’s gathering of an army require a coordinated response led by him. Caonabo is captured by Ojeda, either by a ruse or in a skirmish. It is not impossible that F. Columbus appropriately connects his capture to the first major fighting in Vega Real. Ojeda takes Caonabo to La Isabela, where he is kept in chains pending being sent back to Spain. A brother of Caonabo gathers a large force, or supplements the force Caonabo has already assembled, now amounting to about 7,000 men dedicated to freeing Caonabo and continuing his crusade against the Spanish.

Beginning at the northern end of the plain of Vega Real, but perhaps continuing near one of the defensive fortresses, Columbus, supported by perhaps 3,000 men under his ally Guacanagari, uses cavalry and dogs and greatly shocks the Indigenous inhabitants. Caonabo’s brother and other caciques are taken prisoner at Vega Real or in subsequent actions.  Columbus’s victory is followed by additional battles and skirmishes led by Alonso de Ojeda and Bartolomé Columbus, using portions of Columbus’s army. Some battles occur near the defensive fortresses.  

The encounter at Vega Real as presented by Las Casas and F. Columbus and as depicted in the frontispiece of Herrera’s Historia general of 1601, was a classic European battle.  Although a great number of Indigenous people had gathered at Vega Real, they may not have been organized as an army prepared for battle but rather have been more of an intertribal gathering, assembled to air their grievances and reach a consensus on what to do about the Spanish. They were, in any case, unprepared to respond to the organized force that began to move through them and their villages before they could even understand what they were facing. Guacanagari would have understood that the forces of Caonabo or his brother were not expecting what Columbus was about to deliver, and he could have calculated how to support Columbus, making his army a significant part of the blow that Columbus landed at Vega Real. He was assuring his own survival and probably seeking the best treatment possible for his people.  

Columbus was determined to pacify the island, but he is only mentioned as participating in the first battle that occurred after he entered the Vega Real. He could have easily returned to La Isabela after his initial victory and left the mopping up to Alonso de Ojeda and his brother, which explains what Martire and Oviedo were describing. The entire island was not pacified, but the area under Caonabo’s control probably was. Guarionex was able to mount significant resistance in 1497 (Wilson 1990, 75, 78), but was also defeated and had to flee. Columbus would have continued to enjoy the support of Guacanagari but may have by then also incorporated some remnants of the forces of other defeated caciques as well. 

Does this perspective of the battle alter any of my findings or opinions with regard to the use of dogs at Vega Real? Probably not. The dogs could have been chasing people who were already panic-stricken and might have had to bite them more at the side than at the front to bring them down. The dogs might be less apt to encounter weapons from people who were fleeing rather than going into battle, and the dogs may not have been as easily hit by arrows since they would not have been moving before a backdrop of armed Spaniards.  They would have been just as useful in these circumstances.  

I do invite comments to this blog and particularly references to additional sources. Should you not wish to comment publicly, please email me at


Anderson-Córdova, K. F. (2017). Surviving Spanish conquest: Indian fight, flight, and cultural transformation in Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. The University of Alabama Press.

Columbus, F. [Fernando Colombo] (1671). Historie de S.D. Fernando Colombo: Nelle quali s'ha particolare, & vera relatione della vits, & de' fatti dell' Ammiraglio D. Christophero Colombo. Venice: Appresso Francesco de' Fraceschi Sanese.

Columbus, F., & Keen, B. (1992). The life of the admiral Christopher Columbus by His Son Ferdinand. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. 

de Cuneo, M. (1893). Lettera. Savona, 15-28 ottobre 1495. In Raccolta di documenti e study pubblicati dalla R. Commissione colombiana, pel quarto centenario dalla scoperta dell’ America (Vol. 2, p. 99). Ministero della pubblica istruxione, 1892-96.

Deagan, K. A., & Cruxent, J. M. (2002). Columbus’s outpost among the Taínos: Spain and America at La Isabela, 1493-1498. Yale University Press.

Denevan, Wi. (1996). Carl Sauer and Native American Population Size. Latin American Geography, 86(3), 385–397. Figueredo, A. (1978). The Virgin Islands as an Historical Frontier Between the Tainos and the Caribs. Revista/Review Interamericana, 8(3), 393–399.

Ensminger, J. (2022). From hunters to hell hounds: the dogs of Columbus and transformations of the human-canine relationship in the early Spanish Caribbean. Colonial Latin American Review, 31(3), 354-380.

Figueredo, A. (1978). The Virgin Islands as an historical frontier between the Tainos and the Caribs. Revista/Review Interamericana, 8(3), 393-399.

Floyd, T. S. (1973). The Columbus dynasty in the Caribbean, 1492-1526 (1st ed.). University of New Mexico Press.

Friede, J., & Keen, B. (Eds.). (1971). Bartolomé de las Casas in history: Toward an understanding of the man and his work. Northern Illinois University Press.

Glazier, S. (n.d.). Trade and Warfare in Protohistoric Trinidad. In Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress for the Study of Pre-Columbian Cultures of the Lesser Antilles (pp. 279–283). Centre de Recherches Caraibes.

Guitar, L. (2001). What really happened at Santo Cerro? Origin of the legend of the Virgin de las Mercedes. Caribbean Amerindian Centrelink, Feb. 18.

Heiser, C. B. (1973). Seed to civilization: The story of man’s food. W. H. Freeman.

Herrera y Tordesillas, A. de. (1601). Historia general de los hechos de los castellanos en las Islas y Tierra Firme del mar Oceano (Vol. 1–4). Imprenta de la Real Academia de la Historia.

Hervella, M., San-Juan-Nó, A., Aldasoro-Zabala, A., Mariezkurrena, K., Altuna, J., & de-la-Rua, C. (2022). The domestic dog that lived 17,000 years ago in the Lower Magdalenian of Erralla site (Basque Country): A radiometric and genetic analysis. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 46, 103706.

Hoffecker, J. F., V.V. Pitulko, & E.Y. Pavlova. (2022). Beringia and teh Settlement of the Western Hemisphere. Bulletin of the St. Petersburg Department of History, 67(1).

Inigo Abbad y Lasierra. (1866). Historia Geografica, Civil y Natural. Imprenta y Libreria de Acosta.

Jennings, F. (1975). The invasion of America: Indians, colonialism, and the cant of conquest. Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture by the University of North Carolina Press.

Jennings, F. (1976). The invasion of America: Indians, colonialism, and the cant of conquest. Norton.

Kroeber, A. L. (1934). Native American Population. American Anthropologist, 36(1), 1–25.

Kulstad, P. (2008). Concepcion de la Vega 1495-1564: a preliminary look at lifeways in the Americas' first boom town. M.A. thesis, University of Florida. 

Kulstad González, P. (2020). Hispaniola—Hell or home?: Decolonizing grand narratives about intercultural interactions at Concepción de la Vega (1494-1564). Sidestone Press.

Las Casas, Bartolomé de. 1875–1876. Historia de las Indias. 5 vols. Madrid: Miguel Ginesta.

Martire d’Anghiera, P. (1892). Fuentes históricos sobre Colón y América (Vol. 1). Imprenta de la S.E. de San Francisco de Sales.

Morison, S.E. (1942). Admiral of the ocean sea: a life of Christopher Columbus. Boston: Little, Brown &  Co.

Morison, S. E.  (1963). Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. The Heritage Press.

Oviedo y Valdés, Gonzalo Fernández de. 1851–1855. Historia general y natural de las Indias
[1535]. 4 vols. Madrid: Real Academia de la Historia.

Pané, F. R. (1999). An Account of the Antiquities of the Indians. Duke University Press.

Parry, J. H., & Keith, R. G. (Eds.). (1984). New iberian world: A documentary history of the discovery and settlement of Latin America to the early 17th century (1st ed, Vol. 2). Times Books : Hector & Rose.

Perez Fernandez, Jose Maria, and Wilson-Lee, Edward (2021). Hernando Colon's New World of Books: Toward a Cartography of Knowledge. New Haven: Yale University Press.  

Rosenblat, A. (1967). La Poblacion de America en 1492: Viejos y nuevos calculos. Colegio de Mexico.

Sauer, C. O. (1966). The Early Spanish Main. Cambridge University Press.

Stone, E. W. (2021). The Conquest of Española as a “Structure of Conjuncture.” Ethnohistory, 68(3), 363–383.

Sued Badillo, J. (Ed.). (2007). General history of the Caribbean. Volume I, Autochthonous societies. Palgrave Macmillan : UNESCO Pub.

Tejera, A. (n.d.). La Cruz del Santo Cerro and the Battle of Vega Real. Boletin Del Archivo General de La Nacion (Santa Dominga), 8(40–41), 101–119.

Tinker, Ti., & Freeland, M. (2008). Thief, Slave Trader, Murderer: Christopher Columbus and Caribbean Population Decline. Wicazo Sa Review, 23(1).

Traboulay, David M. (1994). Columbus and Las Casas: The Conquest and Christianization of America, 1492-1566. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America.

Tyler, S. L. (1988). Two worlds: The Indian encounter with the European, 1492-1509. University of Utah Press.

Wilson, S. (1997). Surviving European Conquest in the Caribbean. Revista de Arqueologia Americana, 12, 141–160.

Wilson, S. M. (1990). Hispaniola: Caribbean chiefdoms in the age of Columbus. University of Alabama Press.