Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, from Columbus to Magellan

Random House, 2003 - 696
From one of the greatest historians of the Spanish world, here is a fresh and fascinating account of Spains early conquests in the Americas. Hugh Thomass magisterial narrative of Spain in the New World has all the characteristics of great historical literature: amazing discoveries, ambition, greed, religious fanaticism, court intrigue, and a battle for the soul of humankind.

Hugh Thomas shows Spain at the dawn of the sixteenth century as a world power on the brink of greatness. Her monarchs, Fernando and Isabel, had retaken Granada from Islam, thereby completing restoration of the entire Iberian peninsula to Catholic rule. Flush with success, they agreed to sponsor an obscure Genoese sailors plan to sail west to the Indies, where, legend purported, gold and spices flowed as if they were rivers. For Spain and for the world, this decision to send Christopher Columbus west was epochalthe dividing line between the medieval and the modern.

Spains colonial adventures began inauspiciously: Columbuss meagerly funded expedition cost less than a Spanish princesss recent wedding. In spite of its small scale, it was a mission of astounding scope: to claim for Spain all the wealth of the Indies. The gold alone, thought Columbus, would fund a grand Crusade to reunite Christendom with its holy city, Jerusalem.

The lofty aspirations of the first explorers died hard, as the pursuit of wealth and glory competed with the pursuit of pious impulses. The adventurers from Spain were also, of course, curious about geographical mysteries, and they had a remarkable loyalty to their country. But rather than bridging earth and heaven, Spains many conquests bore a bitter fruit. In their search for gold, Spaniards enslaved Indians from the Bahamas and the South American mainland. The eloquent protests of Bartolom de las Casas, here much discussed, began almost immediately. Columbus and other Spanish explorersCorts, Ponce de León, and Magellan among themcreated an empire for Spain of unsurpassed size and scope. But the door was soon open for other powers, enemies of Spain, to stake their claims.
Great men and women dominate these pages: cardinals and bishops, priors and sailors, landowners and warriors, princes and priests, noblemen and their determined wives.

Rivers of Gold is a great story brilliantly told. More significant, it is an engrossing history with many profoundoften disturbingechoes in the present.



HUGH THOMAS is the author of numerous histories, including The Spanish Civil War, for which he won the Somerset Maugham Award, Conquest, and The Slave Trade. His A History of the World won him the Arts Council Prize for History. Made a Lord in 1981, Lord Thomas was educated at Queens College, Cambridge, and the Sorbonne.