Indian auxiliaries

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Tlaxcalan auxiliaries assist the Spanish in Guatemala, as depicted in the 16th century Lienzo de Tlaxcala Lienzo de Tlaxcala Iximche.gif
Tlaxcalan auxiliaries assist the Spanish in Guatemala, as depicted in the 16th century Lienzo de Tlaxcala

Indian auxiliaries or indios auxiliares is the term used in old Spanish chronicles and historical texts for the indigenous peoples who were integrated into the armies of the Spanish conquistadors with the purpose of supporting their advance and combat operations during the Conquest of America. They acted as guides, translators, or porters and in this role were also called yanakuna , particularly within the old Inca Empire and Chile. The term was also used for formations composed of indigenous warriors or Indios amigos (friendly Indians), which they used for reconnaissance, combat, and as reserve in battle. The auxiliary Indians remained in use after the conquest, during some revolts, in border zones and permanent military areas, as in Chile in the Arauco War.



The formations of auxiliary Indians arose commonly from alliances established by the Spaniards, exploiting ethnic and tribal antagonisms that they found during their occupation of the territory they were attempting to conquer. Hernán Cortés was one of the first captains who was known to strengthen his columns with these natives. Commonly after the conquest these auxiliary Indians were divided among the settlers of the territories already conquered. They often constituted the most numerous group of the conquerors' followers:

Fall of Tenochtitlan

During Hernán Cortés' campaign against the Aztecs from 1519 to 1521, he supplemented his meagre force of Spanish soldiers (numbering some 1,300) with hundreds of thousands of native auxiliaries, from various states such as Tlaxcala. During the final siege of the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan Cortés, according to the account of one of his soldiers, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, had some 200,000 Tlaxcallan and other native auxiliaries, while the Aztec warriors drawn from the numerous cities surrounding Lake Xochimilco in the Valley of Mexico numbered more than 300,000.


The expedition of Pedro de Alvarado to Guatemala was composed of 480 Spaniards and thousands of auxiliary Indians from Tlaxcala, Cholula and other cities in central Mexico. [1] In Guatemala the Spanish routinely fielded indigenous allies; at first these were Nahua brought from the recently conquered Mexico, later they also included Maya. It is estimated that for every Spaniard on the field of battle, there were at least 10 native auxiliaries. Sometimes there were as many as 30 indigenous warriors for every Spaniard, and it was the participation of these Mesoamerican allies that was particularly decisive. [2] Some newly conquered Maya groups remained loyal to the Spanish once they had submitted to the conquest, such as the Tz'utujil and the K'iche' of Quetzaltenango, and provided them with warriors to assist further conquest. [3]

In 1524, fresh from his victory over the Tz'utujil, Pedro de Alvarado led his army against the non-Maya Xinca of the Guatemalan Pacific lowlands. [4] At this point Alvarado's force consisted of 250 Spanish infantry accompanied by 6,000 indigenous allies, mostly Kaqchikel and Cholutec. [5]

The Mam fortress of Zaculeu was attacked by Gonzalo de Alvarado y Contreras, brother of Pedro de Alvarado, [6] in 1525, with 40 Spanish cavalry and 80 Spanish infantry, [7] and some 2,000 Mexican and K'iche' allies. [8] When the Spanish besieged the Ixil city of Nebaj in 1530, their indigenous allies managed to scale the walls, penetrate the stronghold and set it on fire. Many defending Ixil warriors withdrew to fight the fire, which allowed the Spanish to storm the entrance and break the defences. [9]

Peru and Chile

Colonial Period after the Conquest

After the initial conquest, most of these allies were considered less necessary and, sometimes, a liability. At times they were needed for defense of the extended Spanish Empire. They were incorporated into the military forces of the Empire, forming their own units, organised along European models under their own names, such as Compañías de Indios Nobles ("Companies of Noble Indians"). The necessity of defence came from either European threats like the Caribbean buccaneers and pirates or American threats such as the Chichimeca, Apache or Comanche tribes or the protracted Arauco war. These units fought in the independence wars. [10] [ page needed ]

See also


  1. Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 763. Lovell 2005, p. 58. Matthew 2012, pp. 78-79.
  2. Restall and Asselbergs 2007, p. 16.
  3. Carmack 2001, pp. 39–40.
  4. Letona Zuleta et al., p. 5.
  5. Letona Zuleta et al., p. 6.
  6. Gall 1967, p.39.
  7. Lovell 2005, p. 61.
  8. Carmack 2001, p. 39.
  9. Lovell 2005, p. 65.
  10. Martínez Laínez and Carlos Canales 2009.

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Martínez Laínez, Fernando; Carlos Canales (2009). Banderas Lejanas: La exploración, conquista, y defensa por España del territorio de los actuales Estados Unidos[Distant Flags: The exploration, conquest, and defence of the modern territory of the United States by Spain] (in Spanish). Madrid, Spain. ISBN   9788441421196. OCLC   428447626.
Matthew, Laura E. (2012). Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala(hardback)|format= requires |url= (help). First Peoples. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN   978-0-8078-3537-1. OCLC   752286995.
Restall, Matthew; Florine Asselbergs (2007). Invading Guatemala: Spanish, Nahua, and Maya Accounts of the Conquest Wars. University Park, Pennsylvania, US: Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN   978-0-271-02758-6. OCLC   165478850.
Ruiz-Esquide Figueroa, Andrea (1993). Los indios amigos en la frontera araucana (PDF). Colección Sociedad y cultura (in Spanish). 4. Santiago, Chile: Dirección de Bibliotecas, Archivos y Museos: Centro de Investigaciones Diego Barros Arana. ISBN   956-244-013-3. OCLC   30918538.
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Further reading

Matthew, Laura E.; Michel R. Oudijk, eds. (2007). Indian Conquistadors: Indigenous Allies in the Conquest of Mesoamerica. Norman: University of Oklahoma. ISBN   978-0806138541.