Las Casas, Bartolomé de

Las Casas, Bartolomé de

(bärtōlōmā` dā läs kä`säs), 1474–1566, Spanish missionary and historian, called the apostle of the Indies. He went to Hispaniola with his father in 1502, and eight years later he was ordained a priest. In 1514 he began to work for the improvement of conditions among the indigenous population, especially for the abolition of their slavery and of the forced labor of the encomiendaencomienda
[Span. encomendar=to entrust], system of tributory labor established in Spanish America. Developed as a means of securing an adequate and cheap labor supply, the encomienda was first used over the conquered Moors of Spain.
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. He devoted the rest of his life to that cause, going to Spain to urge the government to action, converting uncivilized tribes, and striving to break the power of Spanish landholders over native laborers. He tried unsuccessfully to establish a model colony for people of indigenous descent (1520–21), went to Peru with a royal cedula prohibiting native enslavement, worked among the native people of Guatemala, and for a brief time (1544–47) was bishop of Chiapa. In his concern to help the indigenous people of South America he endorsed the proposal to import African slaves, but repented his action almost immediately. Chiefly through his agency, humanitarian laws, called the New Laws, were adopted (1542) to protect the indigenous people in Spanish colonies, although later alterations, notably those of Pedro de la GascaGasca, Pedro de la
, c.1485–1567?, Spanish colonial administrator. A priest as well as a lawyer, he was selected by Charles V to end the anarchy prevailing in Peru. He arrived in 1547 after the death of the viceroy Blasco Núñez Vela.
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, rendered them almost ineffective. The writings of Las Casas contain good anthropological and historical material. He spent much of his time writing the monumental Historia de las Indias (1875–76); for selections in English translation, see Tears of the Indians (ed. by John Phillips, 1953) and Devastation of the Indies (1974).


See biographies by H. R. Wagner (1967), and J. Friede and B. Keen, ed. (1971).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Las Casas, Bartolomé de


Born 1474 in Seville; died July 31, 1566, in Madrid. Spanish humanist, historian, and publicist.

Las Casas graduated from the University of Salamanca. He began his missionary work in Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, and Guatemala in 1502. Las Casas was a bishop in Mexico between 1544 and 1550 and returned to Spain in 1551. He spoke out in defense of the oppressed Indians, exposing the cruelties of the Conquista and calling for an end to slavery. He wrote several works on the history and ethnography of Central and South America, which are valuable sources on the history of the discovery of America and its seizure by Spain.


Bartolome de Las-Kasas. Moscow, 1966. (Bibliography, pp. 221–27.)
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.