Everything that has happened since the marvelous discovery of the Americas – from the short-lived initial attempts of the Spanish to settle there, right down to the present day – has been so extraordinary that the whole story remains quite incredible to anyone who has not experienced it at first hand. It seems, indeed, to overshadow all the deeds of famous men of the past, no matter how heroic, and to silence all talk of other wonders of the world. Prominent amid the aspects of this story which have caught the imagination are the massacres of innocent peoples, the atrocities committed against them and, among other horrific excesses, the ways in which towns, provinces, and whole kingdoms have been entirely cleared of their native inhabitants.
Brother Bartolomé de Las Casas, or Casaus, came to the Spanish court after he entered the Order, to give our Lord, the Emperor, an eye-witness account of these enormities, not a whisper of which had at that time reached the ears of people here. He also related these same events to several people he met during his visit and they were deeply shocked by what he had to say and listened open-mouthed to his every word; they later begged him and pressed him to set down in writing a short account of some of them, and this he did. Some years later, he observed that not a few of the people involved in this story had become so anaesthetized to human suffering by their own greed and ambition that they had ceased to be men in any meaningful sense of the term and had become, by dint of their own wicked deeds, so totally degenerate and given over to a reprobate mind1 that they could not rest content with their past achievements in the realms of treachery and wickedness (when they honed to perfection the art of cruelty in order to wipe human beings from a large part of the globe), but were now pestering the Crown to grant them official authority and license once again to commit their dreadful deeds, or even (if such a thing were conceivable) to devise yet worse atrocities.
He therefore decided to present this summary of what he had written to His Royal Highness the Prince2 to implore him to do everything in his power to persuade His Majesty to frustrate the plans of these men. It seemed to him a good idea to have the account printed to enable His Highness to read it more easily. This is the background to the following epitome, or Short Account.