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  • Spain's Men of the Sea: Daily Life on the Indies Fleets in the Sixteenth Century
  • Céline Dauverd
Spain's Men of the Sea: Daily Life on the Indies Fleets in the Sixteenth Century. By Pablo E. Pérez-Mallaína. Translated by Carla Rahn Phillips. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. 289 pp. $19.95 (paper).

This lively account of daily life in the Spanish Indies fleet provides a refreshing insight into the mariners' contribution to the Columbian exchange. The author's aim is to depict that "mariners' deeds displayed Spanish power as a vital force of the sixteenth-century world" (p. 113). The men of the Carrera de Indias are a wonderful case of cross-cultural interaction between the New World and the Old. The lack of general problematique is compensated by the book's organization into many little themes that seek to portray the sailors' daily activities and tribulations.

This monograph is divided into six sections. The first part describes the point of departure of the Carrera de Indias: Seville. The hustle-buzzing port city was the nerve of Castilian economic activity and presented as "the first America" (p. 27). The author describes the physical environment of Andalusía and the conditions that allowed Seville [End Page 103] to prime over the transatlantic trade. The second part looks at the social condition of seafarers. It investigates the hierarchy prevalent among people of the sea such as sailors, captains, pilots, and ship lords. It also details the type of people attracted to such an activity: mostly marginalized men in search of the Eldorado, and poor Andalusians. The third part analyzes daily life on the ships. Using anecdotes to illustrate his account, the author displays the sailors' concerns about wages, technology, space, clothes, sleep, and food. The fourth part deals with daily life and death on the Carrera de Indias. It investigates themes such as entertainment, homosexuality, epidemics, storms, and corsairs. The fifth part recounts conflicts among mariners. It details punishments, violence, salaries, mutinies, desertions, and delinquency. Oftentimes, conflicts that emerged on board the ships had repercussions on land. The last part conveys the mental horizons of the maritime community. This most enticing chapter relates sailors' religiosity, jargon, national communities, literacy, celestial navigation, and superstition. Pérez-Mallaína adroitly exhibits that Renaissance mariners' mental world was fast evolving, both intellectually and geographically. Consequently, their mobility destroyed the mental barriers separating people.

The interest in the Spanish transatlantic routes, port life, and maritime traffic evidently builds on the research provided by Pierre and Huguette Chaunu on Séville et l'Atlantique, 1504–1650 (1955). Pérez-Mallaína reveals the global connection of the Spanish navy, not only with the New World but back in Europe. He contextualizes his account with comparison with the British navy, French laws, Philippine mariners, and Catalans' Consulat del Mar. He depicts the heavy hand of the Casa de Contratación for laws and wages but also for economic and imperialistic claims. As for transatlantic trade, the work emphasizes the magnitude of trade items such as gold, silver, and spices, but also what permitted the prolongation of commercial exchanges such as winds, contraband, maritime technology, and sailors' economic needs. Overall, Pérez-Mallaína shows more interest for the repercussions of long-distance trade on the daily lives of Spanish seafarers. In fact, he explains that "Spain was not a republic of merchants in the sixteenth century" (p. 196).

Interaction between the sailors and their surrounding European environment prevails over that with their newly encountered societies. The families' exposure to the sailors' lives is scrutinized through wives' dowries, inheritances claims, appeals to the king, and kin's wills. These reveal that to be a man of the sea, even a pilot or ship lord, did not [End Page 104] carry respect. Although it did not convey social status, navy recruitment was high. The last decade of the sixteenth century, an average of 150 ships departed from Spain to the New World. These expeditions necessitated between seven thousand and nine thousand crew men per year. Most of the crewmembers hailed from Andalusía and Cantabría, the two Iberian regions with...


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