SPAIN'S MEN OF THE SEA by Pablo E. Pérez-Mallaína


Daily Life on the Indies Fleets in the Sixteenth Century
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The boomtown Spanish seaport of Seville in the 16th century is the subject of this colorful study. Seville attracted adventurers, shipbuilders, tradesmen, and mariners from Iberia and elsewhere to exploit the known Atlantic route to the New World often favored by fair winds and currents. PÇrez-Malla°na (American History/Univ. of Seville), served ably by translator Phillips, writes of a nautical world energized by tales of newfound —Indies— riches. And there needed to be some payoff for fortune-seekers. Seamen faced months or years away from home, along with vermin-ridden, highly cramped quarters (typically, 1.5 square meters of space per mariner); terrifying storms on vast oceans; poor pay that encouraged smuggling, stealing, and small-scale trade practiced upon returning gold- and silver-laden ships; possible shipwreck; accidents and pirate attacks; fires at sea; and unemployment between voyages. Crews occupied the lower rung of society and ranged in age from 8 to 28. Some of the literate made officer rank; lower nobility and men from ship-owning families succeeded their fathers in a display of ongoing nepotism. PÇrez-Malla°na argues that despite their many hardships, men escaped gratefully to sea whenever survival on land turned doubtful, exhilarated by courting risk, by the lure of riches waiting in America and other temptations. The sea also looked more promising to the oppressed, the rejected, and the persecuted. Ironically, PÇrez-Malla°na reports that the seaman of Spain had more rights than the English sailor of a later period. He could successfully sue his superiors for justice. The author states that these hardy Spanish mariners made possible Spain’s New World empire. The book opens up a raucous and rollicking past world, extracting touching human notes from very old historical documents. (b&w and color illustrations)

Pub Date: June 12th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8018-5746-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Johns Hopkins Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1998