Romans in a New World

Classical Models in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America
David A. Lupher
Explores the impact the discovery of the New World had upon Europeans' perceptions of their identity and place in history


The ancient Romans haunted the Spanish conquest of the New World, often as passionately rejected models. While the conquistadors challenged the reputation of Romans for incomparable military genius and daring, they also considered Rome an exemplar of imperialistic motives and behavior fit for Christians to follow and as a yardstick against which to measure the cultural level of the natives of the New World. Meanwhile, Spanish critics of the conquest launched a concerted assault upon these prominent uses of ancient Rome as a model.

This debate inspired many Spaniards to reflect on their own ancestry and ethnic identity, as the Spanish treatment of New World natives awakened slumbering memories of the Romans' treatment of the Iberian tribes—whom modern Spaniards were increasingly embracing as their truest ancestors. At the same time, growing awareness of the cultural practices, especially religious rituals, of American natives framed a new perspective on the pre-Christian ancestors of modern Europeans, and the survival of "pagan" customs among modern Europeans themselves.

While many recent studies have emphasized the distortions which the classical tradition imposed on Europeans' first perceptions of the New World, David Lupher explores the ways that the contemplation of ancient texts and cultures also enlightened and focused colonial discourse. Romans in a New World illuminates the seductive mirage of the Roman Empire in the sixteenth-century Spanish imagination and demonstrates how this numinous template guided conquistadors to interpret their experience of America and their own behavior on American soil.

David A. Lupher is Professor of Classics at the University of Puget Sound.

Praise / Awards

  • "Romans in a New World contains the most lucid and straightforward account of the complex uses of 'Rome' and the Roman model in the Spanish colonization of the New World."
    —Patricia Seed, Professor of History, University of California Irvine
  • "This monumental work . . . begs for superlatives. It is sprawling and sweeping, yet disciplined and consequential, elegantly written and enormously erudite, but approachable and relevant. David A. Lupher's thrust is clear. He means to portray these past scholars' often negative views about the impact of Spain on American cultures by comparing that impact to what the Roman conquest had done to Iberia's own pre-Latin culture a millennium and a half earlier. Thus Lupher's work is ultimately as much about an emerging Spanish identity in Europe as it is about the creation of America's own native and Creole identities."
    —Richard C. Trexler, American Historical Review
  • ". . . original and highly productive. . . . Not since J. H. Elliott's too brief but sagacious analysis of the mindset of Cortes have we had such a revealing look at where the Spanish, as one says in California today, 'were coming from'. Well researched, straightforwardly written, this book is well worth reading slowly and carefully. It contributes to history of colonization and control and to the history of education and the history of religion."
    Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance
  • "Lupher has written a complex work of wide learning and profound scholarship, a substantial contribution not only to the study of Spanish and Latin American intellectual history but to the reception of the classics, above all to understanding the remarkably complex and changing image of Rome in early modern Europe. . . . Would that we all had the courage to embark on such complex and difficult new fields; would that we all had the patience, ability, and intelligence to master them as well as Lupher has. This is one of the most sustained and intelligent pieces of serious scholarship and interpretation that I have read in a long time."
    —James Zetzel, Bryn Mawr Classical Review
  • "Lupher provides a rich introduction to sixteenth century Spanish writers to whom ancient Roman echoes were second nature. . . . Romans in a New World will serve as a valuable resource for undergraduate courses on the classical tradition or on Roman culture and its aftermath. For teachers at any level, the book adds a dimension to the array of reasons for the study of Greco-Roman civilization. It yields an excursion across the southern border and a glimpse of the influential role played there historically by Rome. For this reason alone, it will amply justify the attention of Latinists and classicists in the English speaking world."
    Classical Outlook
  • "Lupher offers a thoroughly fresh and surprising reading of familiar authors....He achieves this by pairing these known authors with many others who wrote in Latin and whose works 'Latin' Americanists seldom read....The result is a learned treatise on how ancient Rome became a model against which conquistadors compared their exploits, jurists and theologians weighed imperial claims to sovereignty, missionaries evaluated the piety and intelligence of their Amerindian charges, and intellectuals assessed the very nature of 'Spanish' identity....This book...calls into question John H. Elliott's decades-old thesis on the 'blunted' impact of the New World in early modern European consciousness."
    —Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Hispanic American Historical Review
  • "This is fine and careful study: deeply learned and beautifully written. "
    International History Review
  • " original and exciting contribution to our understanding of the history of Spain's conquest and colonization of America. . . a rich work of scholarship, which provides new insights, from a fresh perspective, on how early modern Europeans saw themselves and the 'Other'."
    —J. H. Elliott, New York Review of Books
  • "[This] study will prove to be a fundamental point of reference for anyone considering the classical tradition in this sphere."
    Renaissance Quarterly
  • ". . . essential reading for those who would understand the political language and culture of the early modern transatlantic world. The complex paths that Lupher traveled to unravel remote references are unequaled in the literature. It is cogent, thorough, and convincing—a major work of intellectual history."
    Society for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies Bulletin

Look Inside

Copyright © 2003, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6.0 x 9.0.
  • 448pp.
  • none.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2006
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03178-8

Add to Cart
  • $30.95 U.S.