Nomadism and Just War in Fray Guillermo de Santa María’s Guerra de los Chichimecas (México 1575 – Zirosto 1580)

Rubén A. Sánchez-Godoy
Dedman College / Southern Methodist University

Volume 5, 2014

In his essay “North America’s First Frontier” (1982), Phillip W. Powell argues that the end of the war that Spanish authorities and colonizers declared between 1550 and 1590 on indigenous groups that inhabited the region of Zacatecas in New Spain marked “the first failure of sedentary peoples to cope with the warfare of primitive and nomadic and semi-nomadic New World Indians” (14). After several attempts to defeat and subjugate these indigenous groups using war and enslavement as their main strategies, Spanish authorities had to change tactics and use a gift–giving diplomacy to reach peace. According to Powell, the ability of Chichimecas to attack in the plains and hide in the mountains, assault the convoys that transported silver from Zacatecas to Mexico, and appropriate strategies and weapons employed initially by the Spaniards, obliged Spanish authorities to change their strategy of colonization from war to diplomacy.

Powell states that, in addition to the ability of the nomadic groups in Zacatecas to avoid subjugation, the work of the Dominican Friars was relevant in this change of strategy. Inspired by Antonio de Montesinos and Bartolomé de las Casas, these friars challenged the point of view that saw the war on Chichimecas as necessary and justified (19). Following Powell’s argument, more recently Augusto Carrillo Cázares (2000) has explored the theological and ethical discussions held by religious authorities and missionaries in New Spain during the Chichimeca War. Whereas initially most of them supported the use of force in the colonization of that region, either sending missionaries with the military expeditions or justifying the use of force in those expeditions, during the 1570s they held a complex debate about the legitimacy of the war and the enslavement of indigenous population in Zacatecas. In that debate, while Franciscans, Augustinians, and Jesuits supported war as an acceptable way to pacify the region, Dominican friars strongly criticized that policy as an unacceptable aggression against indigenous populations (Carrillo Cázares 2000, I: 223-45). After several discussions, by the end of the 1580s religious authorities concluded during the Concilio tercero provincial mexicano that war, even just war, should be avoided as much as possible because “el hacer la guerra al enemigo deve [sic] ser el último medio de que se ha de usar por los grandes males e inconvenientes que consigo trae la guerra por justa que sea.” (Carrillo Cázares 2007: 283, emphasis added).

Unknowingly, the Concilio assumed a position that an Augustine friar, Fray Guillermo de Santa María (1510?-1585), had suggested a few years earlier. Between 1575 and 1580 he wrote a reflection about the Chichimeca war based on his long experience as a missionary in the region. In his text, Guerra de los Chichimecas, he offered an early depiction of the nomadic groups in Zacatecas, examined the suitability of the medieval and early modern arguments on just war in the context of Zacatecas, and proposed a solution for the conflict.[1] He considered that the peaceful reduction to sedentary and Christian life of most of these nomadic groups, and the use of war as a punishment only in extreme cases of rebellion, were the best strategies to end the conflict and avoid the extermination of the indigenous population. Even though he was an Augustine friar, his reflections were closer to the Dominican point of view in the sense that he criticized the way in which the war had been conducted by Spanish authorities and encouraged a peaceful Christianization.

Santa María’s text did not have any significant reception among his contemporaries or during the colonial period. However, since its recovery in 1870 (Carrillo Cázares, “Crítica textual” 65-66), scholars have recognized in Santa María’s text, first, a rich and early source of ethnographic information about the nomadic groups in the northern frontier of New Spain and their resilience against Spanish domination (Trimborn 149-150; Powell 1969: 108-9); second, an innovative reflection regarding the ethical questions involved in the Chichimeca war (Carrillo Cázares 2000, I: 267-68); and more recently, the introduction of an early representation of the nomadic groups in Zacatecas as savages (Tomé Martín 57). In all these approaches, the tensions between just war and nomadism appear, in turn, as sources of tension in Santa María’s exposition.

Therefore, I would like to propose a reading of Santa María’s text as a reflection that explores this tension and, more specifically, the confrontation between a sedentary way of life that Spanish colonizers tried to impose during the second half of the sixteenth century through just war, and a nomadic way of life that precedes and challenges persistently the advance of Spanish colonization. I will argue that it is possible to recognize and differentiate in Fray Guillermo de Santa María’s Guerra de los Chichimecas (México 1575- Zirosto 1580) two levels of discourse. On one level, Santa María’s text discusses the legitimacy of the war that Spanish authorities in New Spain declared against the Chichimecas that lived in Zacatecas. Santa María proposes a justification of this war as well as a critique of the way in which it was carried out by Spanish authorities. On another level, Santa María’s text introduces several references to the nomadic condition of most of the indigenous groups in the region of Zacatecas and emphasizes the challenges that this condition brings against the Spanish projects of colonization and Christianization in the region. In this sense, even though the text is organized around the subject of just war, nomadism persistently appears not only as an obstacle for Spanish attempts to appropriate and exploit land in Zacatecas, but also as a way of life that challenges previous justifications of war. Therefore, what appears initially as a reflection on just war becomes a consideration of nomadism as a challenge to the ideals of Spanish colonization in New Spain. In other words, using just war as the central focus of his exposition, he proposes a reflection that focuses in the way in which Spaniards, on one hand, and indigenous groups, on the other, try to appropriate and inhabit the land in Zacatecas.

In this sense, it is possible read Santa María’s text in connection with two conceptual reflections on nomos – as a set of rules that define the distribution of territory – proposed by Carl Schmitt in The Nomos of the Earth (1950) and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in Nomadology: The War Machine (1986).[2] In spite of the significant differences between these authors, they agree in the relevance of territory in order to understand the political. According to Gavin Rae: “the notion of the political emanating from the Schmitt-Deleuze encounter reveals that it refers to a constantly changing pre-individual, socio-linguistic constellation that is intimately connected to continuously changing territorial boundaries which are determined and defended by violence and, increasingly, pre-individual regimes of signification that seek to give meaning to state violence and boundaries” (3). However, while Schmitt focuses on nomos as the foundational act of appropriation of the land defining a specific epoch, Deleuze and Guattari – against Schmitt – focus on nomos as the persistent possibility of transformation of all territorial boundaries and, therefore, on the precarious character of any foundational act. Interestingly, it is possible to find resonances with each of these two divergent conceptions of nomos in Santa María’s text.

On the one hand, Guerra de los Chichimecas resonates with the approach that Carl Schmitt proposes in The Nomos of the Earth for Francisco de Vitoria’s exposition of the titles that legitimize Spanish dominion over the indigenous people in the New World and, more specifically, with the reasons that he proposes to justify war against them. On the other hand, Santa María’s text resonates with the characterization that Deleuze and Guattari propose in Nomadology of nomadism as a way of life that challenges the state apparatus, and particularly, with the idea that nomadism produces a nomos that differs radically from the sedentary conception of nomos proposed by Schmitt.

It is not my purpose, however, to reduce Santa María’s text to these conceptual approaches. Instead, I would like to show that his account of the Chichimeca war problematizes some of the ideas proposed by these authors by presenting two arguments. First, even though he accepts, as does Vitoria, that there are reasons that justify Spanish and Christian rule over Zacatecas, he considers that the challenges that the nomadic groups in Zacatecas represent against that rule are significant, understandable, and in some cases even legitimate, because they emerge not only against the distribution of the land and its resources but mostly against the unfair enslavement of a peaceful people. For that reason, he considers that previous approaches to just war in the New World were not sufficient for understanding what was happening in Zacatecas, nor the Spanish attempts to reduce the indigenous population to serfdom. Second, even though it could be said that Santa María would agree with Deleuze and Guattari that nomadism challenges and overcomes the relationship that sedentary life establishes with the land, he considers nomadism to be more than a way of life that precedes the sedentary rule of the land. In his view, nomadism in Zacatecas is also the consequence of Spanish colonization. It appears, then, as a dynamic strategy of resilience that emerges on the borders of that colonization and not merely as a previous way of life in relationship with the Spanish projects of colonization.

I will develop my argument in two parts. In the next section, I will briefly discuss Schmitt and Deleuze and Guattari’s approaches to the concept of nomos and will focus on the differences between these authors regarding their conceptions of sedentary and nomadic ways of inhabiting the land, and the role of war in their arguments. Then, in the second section, after contextualizing the circumstances in which Santa María’s text is written, I will discuss the argument that he proposes about just war in Zacatecas and will argue that even though he subscribes to the legitimacy of a defensive and offensive war against the Chichimecas his exposition recognizes that nomadism shows the limitations of the reflections on just war proposed during the first half of the sixteenth century. In other words, Santa María’s conviction in the legitimacy of the Spanish and Christian enterprise in the New World is not an impediment for him to recognize the injustice of the war against the Chichimecas regarding the increasing enslavement of indigenous combatants and, particularly, the use of deceptive strategies to capture them, arguing that their nomadic condition is a justification.

Santa María’s approach to just war allows us to recognize an innovation in relation with the previous reflections on just war. This innovation consists in his depiction of the Chichimecas as outsiders who paradoxically are deeply attached to the borders of Spanish colonial expansion in the northern frontier of New Spain. Therefore, it is possible to argue that in Santa María’s text, nomadism is the other unavoidable side of Spanish expansion in that region.[3]


In The Nomos of the Earth (1950), Schmitt defines nomos as: “the immediate form in which the political and social order of a people becomes spatially visible –the initial measure and division of pasture land, i.e., the land-appropriation as well as the concrete order contained in it and following from it” (70). This definition of nomos, proposed by Schmitt in the fourth corollary that precedes his main exposition, is extremely generic in that it seems to apply to the normative relationship that any people establish with the land at any time and place. However, Schmitt advances a more precise definition of this concept in the fifth corollary of his text when he states that the nomos is a foundational act that defines an epoch: “for us, nomos is a matter of the fundamental process of apportioning space that is essential to every historical epoch –a matter of the structure-determining convergence of order and orientation in the cohabitation of peoples on this now scientifically surveyed planet” (78). In other words, nomos does not designate any act of appropriation of the land performed by any people at any time or place. Instead, it designates a foundational act of appropriation of the land that defines an epoch, to the point that “all subsequent regulations of a written and unwritten kind derive their power from the inner measure of an original, constitutive act of spatial ordering” (78). To Schmitt, nomos defines an epoch as a particular way of organizing social space as dominion.

In this sense, it is possible to argue that for Schmitt, even though all people establish a relationship with the land, not all people define autonomously the nomos that determines this relationship. However, this does not mean that people who have been forced to live according to a nomos imposed by others are condemned to accept that nomos unquestioningly. Schmitt considers that “all subsequent developments are either results of, and expansions on this act or else distributions –either continuation of the same basis or a disintegration of and departure from the constitutive act of the spatial order established by land-appropriation, the founding of cities, or colonization” (78, emphasis added). Even though Schmitt states that the range of possibilities for development of the foundational nomos is extremely diverse, he circumscribes these possibilities to three acts that belong to the realm of sedentary life: “the land-appropriation, the founding of cities, or the colonization.” His reflections on nomos are deeply related to the development of a sedentary way of life that implies the implantation of an agrarian order, the intensive exploitation of land resources, the establishment of urban settlements, and the expansion of territorial domain. The nomos discussed by Schmitt finds its roots in the sedentary way of life and its attempt to internalize and regulate external forces and movements through a foundational act that makes history. Sedentary nomos emerges when a group appropriates the land through the foundation of a settlement that works as an axis for the people and resources on that land.

Based on this characterization of nomos as a foundational act that establishes a new spatial and sedentary order, Schmitt discusses the early justifications of what he considers to be the most revolutionary act of appropriation of the land in the history of the world: the appropriation of the land in the New World (The Nomos 101-125). Even though Schmitt does not make this statement so emphatically in The Nomos of the Earth, in Land and Sea–an essay first published in 1942 and revised for a second edition in 1954–he declares:

Many other examples from history may be given, but all dim before the most thorough transformation of the planetary outlook and its consequences in all the known history of the world. It took place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the age of the discovery of the Americas and of the first voyage round the world in a sailing ship. It was then that a new world was born, in the most challenging sense of these words. The global conscience of the Western and Central European, and ultimately, of the whole mankind was overhauled from top to bottom. It was the first, complete, space revolution on a planetary scale, in the true meaning of these words.


Peter Sloterdijk (2007) has commented on Schmitt’s understanding of the European conquest of the New World as a foundational event, pointing out the connection of this event to the advance of navigation and cartography as representations of the earth as a globe whose axis is Europe. According to Sloterdijk, “según el modo de pensar europeo, [los nuevos territorios] sólo podían, de iure, pasar a la soberanía de los nuevos señores cuando se hubieran convertido en magnitudes localizadas, registradas, delimitadas y denominadas” (127). In the case of New Spain, it is enough to remember that Philip II enacted in 1577 a “Cédula, instrucción y memoria para la formación de las relaciones y descripciones de los pueblos de Indias” that produced an early cartography of the territories in New Spain that included Chichimeca territories (López Guzmán).

Schmitt’s exposition mostly explores Francisco de Vitoria’s discussion of the legitimacy of the Spanish presence in the so-called New World and the justice of the war on indigenous groups. He considers that Vitoria’s innovation lies in his use of the medieval tradition to demonstrate that the presence of Spain in the New World is justified not by the existence of a difference of nature between Christian Europeans and indigenous populations, or even by the discovery, but by the missionary mandate that, on one hand, authorizes Christians to dwell, trade, and evangelize in the New World, and, on the other, justifies war if indigenous people were to impede or reject the work of the Christian missionaries (The Nomos 111). In his exposition, Schmitt centers on Vitoria’s use of the political medieval tradition in order to understand and incorporate the New World in the concept of the respublica Christiana of the medieval period (The Nomos 113).

Given this definition of the nomos in the New World as expansion of the spatial order that defined the medieval respublica Christiana, just war acquires a key function as justification for the violence related to conquest. Following Vitoria, Schmitt insists that the most important element in the definition of just war in the conquest of the New World is the cause of that war.[4] This cause was the rejection by the non-Christians of the missionary mandate:

It should be remembered that Vitoria’s doctrine of just war is argued on the basis of the missionary mandate issued by a potestas spiritualis that was not only institutionally stable, but intellectually self-evident. The right of liberum commercium and the jus peregrinandi [right to travel] were to facilitate the work of Christian missions and the execution of the papal missionary mandate.

(The Nomos 120)

At this point, it is important to note that Schmitt proposes a reading of Vitoria that mixes different aspects of the Dominican’s argument. Schmitt puts together two different titles that Vitoria proposes in order to legitimize the dominion of the Spaniards over the indigenous: natural partnership and communication, and the missionary mandate (On the American Indians. Question 3, Articles 1-2: 277-86), giving primacy to the second title—the missionary mandate—over natural partnership and communication. In fact, Vitoria argues that the first title “comes from the law of nations (ius gentium)” and does not involve in any way the announcement of the gospel to the barbarians. In contrast, Schmitt transforms the first title into a preamble for the second one. That is, Schmitt argues that Vitoria uses the missionary mandate as a way to justify war on the indigenous population. This is not necessarily incorrect. Vitoria, in fact, includes in his discussion just war as a consequence of the rejection of these titles by the so-called barbarians. However, these titles are not per se a reason for just war. In his treatise On the Law of War (1539), Vitoria declares that the only reason that justifies war is the rejection by other parties of the harm inflicted upon Spaniards (Question 1, Article 3: 303-4). The reasons that move Schmitt to propose his particular reading of Vitoria are difficult to establish. However, it is possible to argue that these reasons are not based merely on Vitoria’s texts but on the fact that most of the argumentations employed by the Spanish expeditions to justify their actions and just war on the indigenous population were based on the missionary mandate, rather than on the natural partnership and communication between human beings. On this point, Schmitt seems to be more attentive to the history of the conquest than to Vitoria’s argumentation.

Beyond all the nuances and calls for moderation in the practice of just war proposed by Vitoria in his reflections (On the Law of War, Question 3: 314-27), the imbrication between the missionary mandate, just war, and the legitimacy of appropriating the land—“intellectually self-evident” for Vitoria—was the basis of Spanish expansion in the New World as the most extended doctrine that legitimized the use of violence against indigenous populations during the sixteenth century. In fact, Schmitt claims that the connection between the missionary mandate, just war, and the appropriation of the land supports the idea that violence against indigenous groups was an act of punitive justice, that is, a just war (The Nomos 123-4). This punitive justice, holy and violent as it was, produced the appropriation of the land under Spanish and Christian rule that superseded all previous native arrangements. Supported by the missionary mandate, just war established the sedentary nomos of the land in the New World during the sixteenth century and allowed the incorporation of territory, its resources and populations, into Spanish-Christian rule. As I will discuss in the next section, Santa María believes in the legitimate causes to declare both defensive and offensive just war on indigenous populations in Zacatecas (§§ 41-49: 223). In fact, he introduces his text explicitly as a reflection on the war against the Chichimecas that examines “la justificación de la guerra que se les ha hecho y se les hace” (§ 1: 205). However, he will show the limits of Vitoria’s approach in order to understand what is happening in Zacatecas.

In strong contrast with Schmitt’s conception of nomos as sedentary appropriation of the space, Deleuze and Guattari propose the existence of two kinds of spaces: “striated space” and “smooth space.” These two kinds of spaces are related to two different ways of inhabiting the land. The first one is related to sedentary life and, therefore, the establishment of settlements that are the basis for the development of the state apparatus. Schmittian nomos produces “striated space.” The second one, in contrast, is related to nomadic life and, in consequence, to the persistent avoidance of the state as a way to rule the space exhibited by certain groups that produce a war machine that challenges the state apparatus. Whereas “striated space” is the realm of identity, “smooth space” is the realm of singularity. Therefore, we have two different kinds of movements depending of the kind of space each way of life is producing. Deleuze and Guattari describe this distinction between these two movements in the following terms:

Even though the nomadic trajectory may follow trails or customary routes, it does not fulfill the function of the sedentary road, which is to parcel out a closed space to people, assigning each person a share and regulating the communication between shares. The nomadic trajectory does the opposite, it distributes people (or animals) in an open space, one that is indefinite and non-communicating. The nomos came to designate the law, but it was originally because it was distribution. It is a very special kind of distribution, one without division into shares, in a space without borders or enclosure. The nomos is the consistency of a fuzzy aggregate: it is in this sense that it stands in opposition to the law or the polis, as the backcountry, a mountainside or the vague expanse around the city.


In addition to the tension that Deleuze and Guattari identify between a sedentary way to inhabit the space and a nomadic one, they introduce the concept of nomos to describe the way in which nomadic groups understand space. According to them, nomos designates a conception of space that does not attempt to appropriate the land or implant settlements, even though this nomos can take advantage of those settlements. In nomadic space, freedom of movement and organization has priority over the appropriation of a specific parcel of space; and in war, strategy has priority over the number of combatants (62-75). This nomos, then, exhibits a dynamic ability to play with space while taking advantage of its irregularities, in order to develop a strategy of attack and defense against capture in the realm of the state. According to Deleuze and Guattari, the nomad establishes the first nomos of the land as a way to avoid a state apparatus that looks for the internalization and regularization of all external movement. This apparatus attempts “to reproduce itself, remaining identical and easily recognizable within the limits of its poles, always seeking for recognition” (Deleuze and Guattari 16).[5]

In contrast, a nomadic nomos produces a war machine that challenges the state apparatus by introducing alternative trajectories and strategies that confront the latter’s power: “the war machine was the invention of the nomad, because it is in its essence the constitutive element of the smooth space, the occupation of this space, displacement within this space, and the corresponding composition of people: this is its sole and veritable positive object (nomos)” (Deleuze and Guattari 111). The historical relevance that Schmitt gives to the modern European nomos in relation to the New World contrasts with Deleuze and Guattari’s emphasis on the geographical character of the nomadic nomos: “It is true that the nomads have no history; they only have geography. And the defeat of the nomads was such, so complete, that history is one with the triumph of the states” (73).

The introduction of the expression “war machine” establishes an additional contrast between Schmitt and Deleuze and Guattari. Whereas Schmitt, in his discussion of Vitoria’s arguments, considers war to be a consequence of the missionary mandate or, more exactly, a punishment for the rejection of Spanish and Christian rule, Deleuze and Guattari consider war to be a consequence of the confrontation of nomadic life with the state apparatus. In other words, whereas Schmitt sees in just war a mechanism of the state to maintain or reestablish its domain and identity over territory, Deleuze and Guattari see war as the result of the confrontation with the state, resulting from a way of life that generates new possibilities of composition for the human beings that inhabit a space. In that sense, Deleuze and Guattari contend that war is not the main object of the war machine. Instead, the object of this nomadic machine—its nomos—is first of all the production of new possibilities of life and, then, the battle with the state that opposes such production: “the war machine is that nomad invention which does not in fact have war as its primary object, but as its second-order, supplementary or synthetic objective, in the sense that it is determined in such way as to destroy the State-form and city-form with which it collides” (Deleuze and Guattari 113). War becomes the main and unique object of the war machine when the state apparatus appropriates it as a way to protect itself. When that happens, the war machine becomes a military force. In that sense—once again, against Schmitt—they argue that just war is the appropriation of elements of the nomadic war machine, but not the appropriation of the nomadic war machine itself. This war machine remains a threatening exteriority for the state apparatus, even within the state apparatus.

Santa María’s text maintains resonances with both the sedentary nomos, as discussed by Schmitt, and the nomadic nomos, as discussed by Deleuze and Guattari. It is possible to argue that the Spanish colonizers tried to produce a “striated space”. In that space, silver mines, presidios, and roads worked as settlements that regulated the exploitation of the land and allowed them to acquire control over native populations. In contrast, indigenous nomadic groups tried to produce a “smooth space” that allowed them to move between Spanish settlements and the mountains, forests, and ravines in order to protect their way of life, taking advantage even of the infrastructure and commodities introduced by Spanish colonizers. In that sense, Santa María’s attempt to justify war against the Chichimecas on the basis of the right of Spanish Christians to rule the land of Zacatecas and Christianize its population situates his reflections within the tradition of a sedentary nomos. However, his recognition of the ability of the Chichimecas to challenge Spanish rule and take advantage of territory, and even of Spanish strategies of war, leads his reflections toward the nomadic nomos.

Santa María is not fully committed to either one of these sides. As I previously suggested, his justification of war does not have the formal consistency and certitude exhibited by Vitoria and even Schmitt. The tone of his exposition is more problematic. In addition, his recognition of the nomadic condition of the Chichimecas is far from echoing the exaltation of nomadic life offered by Deleuze and Guattari. Santa María is somewhere in the middle, or perhaps in another place. In the next section I will explore his approach to just war in Zacatecas, and to the nomadic life of the Chichimecas, in order to point out the singularity of his reflections.


As I stated in the previous section, Fray Guillermo de Santa María’s (1510?-1585) Guerra de los Chichimecas (México 1575-Zirosto 1580) proposes a reflection on the legitimacy of the war that Spanish authorities in New Spain declared during the second half of the sixteenth century against indigenous groups that inhabited the region of Zacatecas. Several of these groups challenged the Spanish attempts of colonization that began in the 1540s, the main purposes of which were the exploitation of silver mines and the introduction of cattle, as well as the pacification and Christianization of the indigenous population in the region (Powell 1969 and 1982). Santa María explains that there was an initial peaceful relationship between indigenous groups and the Spanish colonizers and missionaries during the 1540s (§§28-32: 219-220). However, at the beginning of the 1550s:

Los chichimecas que estaban por acá poblados entre los españoles, casi a un tiempo o poco más los unos que los otros, empezaron a hacer daños y saltear y robar por los caminos, y a dar en estancias y pueblos y quemarlos, y matar la gente que podían, y ansí hicieron mucho daño antes de que se les resistiese.

(§33: 220)

Santa María enumerates some of the attacks that indigenous groups such as Zacatecas, Guachichiles, and Guamares organized against the Spanish settlements and convoys that extracted and transported silver from Zacatecas to Mexico. These attacks involved the stealing of commodities and the killing of Spanish colonizers, their indigenous allies, and some African slaves (§§33-38: 221-2). In response to these attacks, from 1560 to 1580 authorities in

New Spain waged a “guerra a fuego y sangre” against the Chichimecas, in which it sent military expeditions to the region not only to capture the leaders of uprisings but also to construct presidios to protect the settlements and convoys, and to enslave indigenous combatants (§§ 39-40: 222; Powell, Soldiers 103-78). In Santa María’s words, the purpose of the war against the Chichimecas was “asegurar los caminos y castigar sus culpas” (§25: 218).

By the end of the 1570s, when Santa María was writing the final version of his text (Santa María, Texto Menor §23: 202; Carrillo Cázares, “Crítica textual” 61-63), the conflict escalated, provoking Spanish civil and religious authorities to express their concerns and discuss the best strategies to pacify the region and handle the enslavement of the indigenous combatants (Powell, Soldiers 172-78; Carrillo Cázares, El debate I 223-24). At that moment, Santa María had already spent twenty-five years in the region of Zacatecas (1550-1575) Christianizing several indigenous groups until the Augustine friars, his religious community, closed the convent in which he lived as a consequence of an indigenous attack (Carrillo Cázares, “Noticia del autor” 85-89). However, Santa María remained committed to the Chichimeca cause and wrote his opinion while he was living in the monastery of the Augustine Friars in Zirosto, Michoacán, far away from the zone of conflict. A few years later, Santa María was sent to another convent located approximately one hundred miles northeast of Zirosto, in Guango—current Villa Morelos—, to work once again on the Christianization of the Chichimecas until his death in 1585, after barely surviving another indigenous attack (Carrillo Cázares, “Noticia del autor” 91-92).

Adding his long experience as a missionary in the region to his knowledge of the medieval and early modern traditions on just war, Santa María proposed an alternative understanding of the conflict. He suggested the peaceful reduction of the indigenous population to settlements in the plains as a means of facilitating their Christianization: “Poblarlos en tierra llana, doctrinarlos en la ley de Dios y buenas costumbres, dándoles todos los medios posibles para que consigan este fin” (§78: 239). He addressed his opinion (parecer) to the superior of his religious order in New Spain, Fray Alonso de Alvarado. By doing this, he was probably trying to assure that the viceroy of New Spain at the time, Martín Enríquez de Almanza, take notice of his reflections via his religious superior (Santa María, Texto menor 197; Carrillo Cázares, “Descripción del Tratado” 41-2).[6]

Despite his defense of the Spanish and Christian presence in Zacatecas, Santa María’s opinion offers a wide and even critical view of the conflict. It depicts indigenous groups in Zacatecas in their complexity and differences (§§ 1-18: 205-11), summarizes previous doctrines on just war to support his opinion (§§ 19-24: 211-7), discusses the specific reasons that persuaded the Spanish authorities to declare war against the Chichimecas in the northern region of New Spain (§§ 25-50: 217-24), points out the poor results that this war produced at the moment in which he was writing (§§ 51-6: 224-5), criticizes the increased enslavement of indigenous combatants and the tricks used by Spanish combatants to capture them (§§ 51-75: 224-37), and finally, explores the possibility of a peaceful solution to the conflict (§§ 76-80: 238-40). By doing this, the text offers a singular appropriation of medieval and early modern arguments on just war in the context of New Spain. This appropriation implies the adjustment of these arguments to the specific situation of Zacatecas, as well as a consideration of nomadism as the main challenge to Spanish efforts to acquire control over the territory and its population.

The subject that fosters the tension between just war and nomadism in Santa María’s text is the land. In other words, Santa María’s opinion discusses the confrontation between two ways of conceiving of the land. While the Spanish authorities sought to acquire control over land by mining silver, introducing cattle, and Christianizing its native populations (§§ 28-9: 219), the indigenous groups in Zacatecas fought to maintain their freedom and social organization using the land as part of a strategy that involved attacking on the plains, and hiding in unreachable mountains, forests, and valleys (§§ 11-2: 209; § 68: 232).

The definition that Santa María offers at the very beginning of his text of the origin of the word ‘chichimeca’ establishes the tone of his whole depiction of these indigenous populations and their relationship to the land: “Este nombre chichimeca es genérico, puesto por los mexicanos en ignominia a todos los indios que andan vagos, sin tener casa ni sementera, los cuales se podrían bien comparar con los alárabes” (§ 2: 205, emphasis added). Santa María will expand this characterization of the Chichimecas as nomads, depicting several aspects of their life and, particularly, their preparedness for war (§§ 2-18: 205-11). I will return to that depiction shortly. For now, I only want to emphasize the passage in which Santa María most clearly points out their strategy of war against Spanish combatants. Speaking about the way in which the Chichimecas attack the Spanish settlements, he states:

Los más acometimientos que hacen [los chichimecas] es de sobresalto, estando escondidos, y salen de repente, y ansí los toman desapercibidos y descuidados [a los españoles], o a prima noche o de madrugada, cuando ellos entienden los hallarán más descuidados. Y cuando hallan resistencia, aunque sea poca, siempre, o las más de las veces, huyen. Estas maneras de acometer, han ellos aprendido de nosotros, porque como nunca con ellos se ha podido pelear en guerra descubierta, porque luego huyen a la sierra y se esconden en ella, y allí nunca se han osado empeñolar, y ansí siempre se ha procurado tomarlos descuidados, espiándoles y caminando toda la noche hasta el alba dar en ellos, lo cual se ha hecho y se hace con bastante trabajo a causa de la aspereza de las sierras y quebradas y arcabucos donde se ponen.

(§§ 11-2: 209, emphasis added)

This passage presents two groups that fight each other using the same strategy: attacking by surprise and then taking flight. Interestingly, Santa María declares that indigenous combatants have learned this strategy from the Spanish: “estas maneras de acometer han ellos aprendido de nosotros”. He likely means that Spanish soldiers had attacked Chichimeca camps by surprise before Chichimeca warriors attacked them, so the indigenous warriors were already vigilant and prepared for unexpected Spanish attacks. However, what is clear in the passage is that, once the conflict began, Chichimeca warriors quickly took advantage of the steep terrain to protect themselves from the Spanish in a back and forth movement between the plains and the mountains that was not possible for the Spanish: “allí nunca se han osado empeñolar”. So even though both groups were in the same territory using similar strategies of attack, the territory has a different meaning for each one of the groups: it was an advantage for the Chichimeca combatants, a disadvantage for the Spanish.

After Santa María describes the conditions of combat, he addresses the main subject of his text, that is, the justification of the war on the Chichimecas. According to him, both defensive and offensive war against them are justified because they have attacked several times the Spanish settlements in the region of Zacatecas, and have prevented the Christian missionaries from doing their job. After exposing the principles of just war in general and enumerating the attacks perpetrated by the Chichimecas against Spanish settlements (§§ 19-40: 211-22), Santa María declares:

De lo dicho se colige y se ven las causas justas que hay y ha habido para traer guerra con estos chichimecas, que a mi ver no pueden ser más justas ni justificadas. La primera es por defender, y obviar sus daños, quemas, muertes y robos, y ansí en cuanto a esto, es bello defensivo. Las demás causas de guerra ofensiva son: por castigarlos como apóstatas rebeldes, que se bautizaron, dieron el nombre a la fe y aun ahora usan y tienen los nombres de cristianos, la obediencia al rey, y recibieron el ser ministros de su justicia, y alzados como andan usan las varas de alguaciles. Ítem como contra sacrílegos, que han muerto frailes, clérigos y herido muchas personas eclesiásticas, derribado iglesias, quemándolas, usando mal los vasos y ornamentos sagrados. Ítem como incendiarios que han quemado y destruido pueblos, casas y estancias con homicidios. Ítem como contra ladrones salteadores en los caminos, hechos con homicidios. Ítem como contra abigeos robadores de ganado, que esto ha sido general en todos ellos, y se mantienen y han mantenido de ellos.

(§§ 41-47: 223)

The heterogeneous list of crimes or faults committed by Chichimecas that Santa María proposes shows that, in his view, nomadism is deeply linked to the advance of Spanish colonization in the northern part of New Spain, transforming its strategies of war in accordance with that advance. However, it is important to note that Santa María begins his list with words such as “apóstatas” and “sacrílegos”. It seems that he looks to depict the Chichimecas not as foreign or external heathens, but as internal traitors. Very early in the process of colonization, several Chichimeca groups accepted baptism and Spanish rule (Powell, Soldiers 7-8). Nevertheless, once they figured out the implications of their incorporation to Christianity and Spain, many of them chose to return to their nomadic life, thereby challenging Spanish rule in the region.[7] Santa María considers it unacceptable that baptized indigenous people would take advantage of their contact with Christianity in order to empower themselves as leaders of the uprisings: “alzados como andan usan de las varas de alguaciles” (§ 43: 223).

Santa María bases most of his argument on the tradition that Schmitt discusses in the first two chapters of his Nomos of the Earth. Following Aquinas’ argumentation, he believes that just war implies the existence of a just cause, the authority of a prince, and a right intention (§ 19: 211-12). More specifically, he argues, as does Vitoria (On the Law of War Question 1, Article 3, § 13: 303-04), that the barbarians’ attacks and the harm inflicted by them on Christians constitute a legitimate reason to declare both defensive and offensive war on them (§§ 20-24: 212-17). But mostly, he believes that the Spanish and Christian expansion toward the northern frontier of New Spain is a legitimate enterprise that should be accepted in the name of all indigenous populations becoming sedentary. In that sense, Santa María declares that, after they had noticed the silver deposits and the need for a road for the convoys, “los españoles vieron la tierra desembarazada y apta para estancias, porque ellos [los chichimecas] no siembran ni las cultivan, empezaron a poblar de estancias de ganado” (§ 28: 219). After the Spanish colonizers consolidated their settlements, they began to promote, through Franciscan missionaries, sedentism among the indigenous population in the region: “Y ansí se iban reduciendo a pueblos, o entre sí mismos se juntaban en rancherías en tierras llanas, sin meterse en las sierras como ahora están” (§ 29: 219). In Santa María’s view, the establishment of Spanish settlements introduces an order and distribution of the land that becomes normative for all who live in it.

As Vitoria, who declares that peaceful Christians have both “the right to travel and dwell in those countries” (On the American Indians, Question 3, Article 1, § 1: 278) and “the right to preach and announce the Gospel in the lands of the barbarians” (Question 3, Article 2, § 9: 284), Santa María believes in the legitimacy of the Spanish and Christian enterprise in the New World and, particularly, in the existence of a just cause for the war against the Chichimecas as a way to punish them for the harms that they have inflicted on the Spanish Christians and, therefore, on their right to travel, reside, trade, and Christianize in the New World (Vitoria, On the Law of War Question 1, Article 3, § 13: 303-4; Santa Maria §§ 42-8: 223). Vitoria and Santa María consider the “missionary mandate” (Schmitt, The Nomos 111) to be a principle that supports both the appropriation of the land and the war against the indigenous people as punishment for their faults against the Christians.

However, as Carrillo Cázares has noted, Santa María introduces elements that Vitoria does not take into consideration (“Introducción” 34). Santa María seems to recognize the distance between his reflection and previous ones about the same subject when he states that a reflection on the war against indigenous people in the Indies is different from a reflection on the war against the Chichimecas:

Conviene tratar en particular de la guerra con los indios, la cual dividiremos en dos partes, que la una será conquista, población, y pacificación y conversión de ellos, como se he hecho en todas las indias, y esta parte dejo de tratar por ser larga, para escribirlo en otra parte que tenga más comodidad. Y la otra será la que particularmente se ha hecho contra estos chichimecas por asegurar los caminos y castigar sus culpas.

(§ 25: 217-8)

Unfortunately, he does not discuss the elements of that difference. He only announces that he will develop his general reflections on war against the indigenous population in the Indies (“todas las Indias”) in a text that either he did not write or that is lost. In this passage, he also declares that his ideas on Chichimeca war are more specific and focused on the reasons that induced Spanish authorities to declare it. However, it is possible to propose that the difference between Vitoria and Santa María lies in the way in which each of them discusses the problem of just war and, particularly, the aspects of this problem that each of them addresses in their reflections. While Vitoria (and Schmitt) focuses on just war as a discourse that legitimizes the use of violence as part of the appropriation of the land in the New World, Santa María focuses on just war as a discourse that allows for a weighing of the way in which Spanish authorities and colonizers have confronted the nomadic Chichimecas in the northern frontier of New Spain.

At the beginning of his “reflection” On the American Indians, Vitoria argues that his thoughts on the conquest of the New World are relevant, because “when we hear subsequently of bloody massacres and of innocent individuals pillaged of their possessions and dominions, there are grounds for doubting the justice of what has been done” (Introduction 238). Vitoria gives notice of the violence of the conquest and has concerns about its use as part of a Christian enterprise in the New World. In spite of this, Schmitt considers that Vitoria’s knowledge about what is happening in the Indies does not determine significantly his argumentative structure. For Schmitt, Vitoria proposes a “scholastic ahistorical approach” that is based on the medieval ideal of the “respublica Christiana” (The Nomos 107-8). In Schmitt’s words, “Not even the emergence of a new continent and a new world led [Vitoria] to adopt historical arguments based either on a Christian view of history or on the ideas of a humanitarian-civilizing philosophy of history. The lack of any historical concept at such a crucial time had to lead to a suspension and displacement of the predominant Eurocentric view of the world and of history in the respublica Christiana of the middle Ages” (The Nomos 108). According to Schmitt Vitoria is more interested in the coherence of his arguments with the medieval tradition of political thought, than in the applicability of his arguments to the events that are the subject of his reflections.

In contrast, Santa María’s reflections are deeply rooted in the specific circumstances of Zacatecas and the particular problems involved in Spanish expansion in the northern frontier of New Spain. Even though Santa María introduces into his arguments abundant references to the medieval and early modern Christian tradition on just war—in particular to Gratian’s Decretum, Aquinas, Soto, and, obviously, Vitoria—he continually adjusts the arguments offered by this tradition to the war against the Chichimeca groups. So rather than resort to a deductive exposition based on principles, Santa María proposes an exposition that alternates conceptual and narrative passages in order to offer an understanding of what is happening in the region of Zacatecas and, more specifically, of the challenges introduced by nomadism to Spanish colonization and to previous considerations on just war. This attention to the relationship between just war and nomadism allows us to relate Santa María’s text to Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas on nomadism. It is possible to argue that beyond describing nomadism as a problem that justifies just war, Santa María’s text indicates nomadism as an anomaly, a difference that overcomes the Iberian discourse on just war.

The option for a more constructive discussion of the war against the Chichimecas emerges from the beginning of Santa María’s exposition. Unlike Vitoria, who begins his reflection On the Law of War by discussing what he considers to be “the most salient propositions on the topic”, on the basis of an examination of the Christian tradition (Introduction 295), Santa María introduces his opinion sentencing that “para escrebir esta guerra de los chichimecas me pareció primero tratar algunas cosas de sus costumbres y manera de vivir para que sabido mejor, se vea y entienda la justificación de la Guerra que se les ha hecho y hace” (205). He considers that in order to understand the problem of just war against the Chichimecas, it is necessary to first discuss their customs and way of life as a set of native and mostly nomadic groups that challenge Spanish and Christian rule in the region of Zacatecas. He spends the first part of his text (§§ 2-18: 205-11) describing the Chichimecas and their way of life. In that long characterization, Santa María emphasizes the diversity of these nomadic groups.

Estos chichimecas se dividen en muchas naciones y parcialidades y en diversas lenguas, y siempre han traído y traen guerras sobre bien livianas causas, aunque algunas veces se confederan y hacen amigos para hacerse más fuertes contra otros enemigos y después se tornan a enemistar; y esto les acontece muchas veces, y aún entre una misma lengua y parcialidad, que sobre el partir un hurto o presa o caza, que ellos hayan hecho de común, pelean y se apartan unos de otros, porque no les da pena el dejar su casa, pueblo, ni sementera, pues no lo tienen, antes les es más cómodo vivir solos de por sí, como animales o aves de rapiña, que no se juntan unos con otros para mejor mantenerse y hallar su comida, y ansí estos nunca se juntarían si la necesidad de la guerra no les compeliese a vivir juntos.

(§ 3: 205-6)

Santa María emphasizes two aspects in the nomadic condition of the Chichimecas: they have no ties to any particular portion of land, and the main motivation for them to get together is war. In terms of Deleuze and Guattari, Santa María ties nomadic life to a predisposition for battle that articulates all of their social activities. Within the description that Santa María offers of the Chichimeca groups (§§ 2-18: 205-11) he discusses, first, their differences in terms of language, territory, and relationship with Spanish settlers; second, their ability to establish and transform alliances against their enemies and, in particular, the Spanish authorities and colonizers; third, the contrast between their fierce and cruel character as warriors and their complex social and familial organization, and finally, the way in which they have learned to use the mountains as protection against their domination. Beyond his declared purpose to depict the Chichimecas as cruel barbarians, Santa María’s text presents war as part of a complex social life. In this sense, and just as Deleuze and Guattari see it, nomadism does not appear as a form of primitivism but as a way of life that articulates an accurate knowledge of the land, a careful distribution of social roles, and an outstanding ability to use and adapt war skills: “pues tratando en general de los ritos y costumbres de todos estos chichimecas, los cuales son bien de notar, por tener como tienen en todo depravada la naturaleza humana, y tan apartados de las costumbres y común vivir de todos los hombres, que no dejan de poner harta admiración en cómo vivan y se conserven, y críen a sus hijos con tal modo de vivir”(§ 8: 208). This depiction of the Chichimecas as nomads for whom war is the main reason for their social organization shows that Santa María considers that nomadic life is, if not a cause, a very favorable condition for the emergence of a war between Chichimecas and Christians.

Once he has depicted the Chichimecas as a set of nomadic indigenous groups organized around war, Santa María summarizes the medieval and early modern doctrine of just war (§§ 19-24: 211-7). As I previously noted, he immediately emphasizes the need for a specific reflection on just war in Zacatecas because, while the war on “todas las Indias” focuses on “conquista, población, y pacificación y conversión,” the war against the Chichimecas focuses on “asegurar los caminos y castigar sus culpas” (§ 25: 217-8). Their nomadism and interaction with the Spanish settlements placed them in a sort of criminal condition deserving of punishment. On the basis of this particular status, Santa María returns to his narrative to discuss the legitimacy of war against peaceful Chichimecas on one side, and hostile ones on the other (§§ 26: 218-9¸ and §§ 27-40: 219-22).

He proposes his distinction between peaceful and hostile Chichimecas mostly on the basis of his experience in the field as a missionary, using as criterion for the distinction the relationship that each group maintains with the Spanish colonizers and missionaries. He distinguishes four big groups: The Pamis, who are the friendliest because they are close to the Spanish settlements, are mixed with other peaceful groups, and have already been indoctrinated (§ 4: 206). In contrast the Uamares, “la nación más valiente y belicosa” (§ 5: 206), and the Guachichiles, “la más gente de todos los chichimecas y los que más daños han hecho” (§ 6: 206), are the most aggressive because they are “gente de menos doctrina y más apartada” (Texto menor § 5-6: 198; § 5-6: 207-8). Finally, the Zacatecas are aggressive because they have confronted Spanish attempts to exploit silver in the region since the 1540s (§ 7: 208). Sedentary nomos works in Santa María’s text as criterion for characterizing the Chichimeca groups.

On the basis of his previous exposition, he concludes that war on peaceful Chichimecas is not only unjustified but also a reason for scandal and mistrust within the indigenous population: “y ahora están [los chichimecas pacíficos] tan escandalizados y escarmentados, que será harto dificultoso el poderlos asentar, si no es a ejemplo de estos otros de guerra, sus vecinos, viéndolos quietos y asentados” (§ 26: 218). In contrast, war against the hostile Chichimecas is justified by their attacks against the Christians. Even though Santa María briefly recognizes that they began their attacks after Spanish explorers enslaved some of them (§ 27: 219), he quickly refocuses his narrative on the attacks and the harms inflicted by Chichimecas in order to justify the war against them (§§ 28-40: 219-22).

At this point, it could be possible to think that Santa María’s argument is arriving at a conclusion. Based on concepts proposed by the medieval and early modern traditions of just war (§§ 19-25: 211-7), and on a narrative that summarizes the conflict between Chichimecas and Spaniards (§§ 28-40: 219-22), Santa María has established both the injustice and justice of the war against the Chichimecas (§§ 26-27: 218-9; §§ 41-7: 223). In his view, there are just causes for that war, and authorities in New Spain, after examining them, have rightfully authorized it. In that sense, Santa María agrees with the opinion expressed by the theological meeting held in 1569 in Mexico, that the war against the Chichimecas that attacked Christians was justified (§§ 48-9: 223-4). Their nomadic condition and their attacks on Spanish settlements justify both defensive and offensive war on them. Therefore, two of the three requirements to consider a war as just (just cause and authority) have been fulfilled. However, when Santa María discusses the third factor to consider a war just (the right intention) his argument moves in a new direction and acquires a more critical tone. Even though he believes that both the King and the Viceroy in New Spain had the right intention to declare war, because they were looking for “el bien de paz, seguridad en los caminos y quietud y conversión de los indios chichimecas a Dios nuestro señor y a su santa fe, y apartarlos de tan mal vivir y modo de él” (§ 50: 224), he denounces the manner in which the war has been carried out on the field, because it contradicts those right intentions.

This contradictory situation is due to the kind of compensation that soldiers receive for participating in war against the Chichimecas. Given that most of these combatants do not receive a salary from the Spanish crown, they take as compensation the forced labor of the indigenous people that they capture in combat and, mostly, their price as slaves. In Santa María’s words, the first reason that has corrupted the right intention of the Spanish has been “el haber señalado el servicio de estos chichimecas por premio y salario a la gente de guerra que contra ellos pelea sin darles otro sueldo” (§ 51: 224). As a consequence, the main purpose of the Spanish expeditions has not been the capture of the groups that have attacked the Spanish settlements but the capture and enslavement of peaceful Chichimecas that are not involved in the conflict through the use of ruses. Santa María emphasizes:

Y este inconveniente ha traído el mayor que en esta guerra ha habido, y más dañoso a las conciencias de los que la han tratado, y es que como los que hacen daños temen y andan siempre sobre aviso, son pocos los que se pueden prender, y ansí se van y han ido a buscar los descuidados a tierra adentro, que ningún daño han hecho ni tienen qué temer.

(§§ 52: 224)

Santa María’s text acquires an evident Lascasian tone. Like Bartolomé de Las Casas, Santa María considers that it is avarice (“codicia”), and not the search for peace, that motivates the Spanish to go after the indigenous population. However, Santa María adds an additional problem related to this way of conducting war. The enslavement of peaceful indigenous people results in the captives being separated from their families: “nunca se asientan y siempre procuran huirse y vuelven peores” (§ 55: 225). Nomadism reappears now as a consequence of the unjust captivity suffered by peaceful Chichimecas.

At this point, Santa María’s text is beyond Vitoria’s realm of argumentation. He is confronting a problem, which emerged as part of the colonial expansion of Spain in the New World during the sixteenth century, that Vitoria would not have been in a condition to examine given the early moment in which he writes (1539) and the formal character—a scholastic, ahistorical approach in Schmitt’s words—of his exposition. In the third Question of On the Law of War, Vitoria offers some remarks on this issue. These brief notes focus on the legitimacy of the enslavement of innocent people. According to him, the enslavement of heathen women and children is justifiable during a just war. However, enslavement of innocent Christians is unacceptable. In certain circumstances and during a limited amount of time, they can be captured not as permanent slaves but “only to hold them to ransom” (Article 3: 318). In the moment in which Santa María is writing (1575-80), in contrast, the situation has dramatically changed. Las Casas has been engaged in a long battle against indigenous oppression, and the Spanish Crown has banned the enslavement of the indigenous population under any circumstances.[8] Nonetheless, Spanish colonizers in New Spain proposed new reasons to justify the enslavement of the indigenous population by using as a main argument their participation in war.

The use of war as justification for the enslavement of indigenous people at a moment in which that activity has been clearly banned by the Spanish crown would seem strange. However, in 1569 Philip II enacted a law that allowed the enslavement of some indigenous groups in the Caribbean, arguing that their attacks on Christians and their cannibalism were sufficient justification (Recopilación Tomo I, Título II, Ley 13: 226). In the case of Zacatecas, the escalation of the conflict allowed the consolidation of a rhetoric that promoted the enslavement of the Chichimecas as a legitimate activity, depicting them as barbarians who represented an imminent menace for Spanish colonization (Powell, Soldiers: 111-5).[9] As pointed out by Powell, “the Chichimeca War was a breakdown of the ideals of the New Laws, but it was not a break with tradition in the New World” (Soldiers 111). Whereas the Spanish Crown banned indigenous slavery in any form, Spanish colonizers in New Spain proposed new ways of justifying the continuation of indigenous serfdom. During the years in which Santa María wrote his text, the policy of “guerra a fuego y a sangre” against the Chichimecas, along with the demand for a labor force in the silver mines, produced an increase in the enslavement of indigenous populations that colonizers tried to justify as a punishment for their attacks against the Spanish settlements, and as a way to confront their nomadic condition itself.[10] Their skills in war, their fierce resilience to avoid being captured and enslaved, and their capacity to create social relationships without occupying a unique settlement transformed the Chichimecas, at the level of religious and political rhetoric, into a threat to Spanish colonization and, at the level of military expansion, into plunder for Spanish combatants. In other words, the Chichimeca war introduced what could be characterized in Agamben’s terminology as a “state of exception” in relation to the legislation enacted by the Spanish crown against indigenous slavery. As a reaction to the nomad anomaly and its war machine, Spanish authorities in New Spain allowed the reintroduction of indigenous slavery as a legitimate activity. Santa María considers that this tolerance of indigenous slavery transformed the whole purpose of the war. Enslavement of peaceful Chichimecas became the main interest of Spanish soldiers and according to the author, these soldiers “se van y han ido a buscar los descuidados las tierra adentro, que ningún daño han hecho ni tiene qué temer” (§ 52: 224).

In that context, Santa María introduces the second part of his reflection. He considers that the problem of just war is no longer the legitimacy of the presence of Spaniards and Christians in the New World—that he considers legitimate—but the enslavement of the indigenous population by using deception as the main strategy. His position regarding these matters is clear. There is no way to justify the enslavement of the indigenous population in Zacatecas (§ 66-7: 232). On one hand, peaceful Chichimecas are not enslaved fairly because they have not inflicted any harm on the Spanish (§§ 26-7: 218-9). On the other hand, Chichimeca warriors could be punished or arrested for a while, but not enslaved even for a limited amount of time because, first, many of them were already Christians (§ 59: 227) and, second, Spanish legislation—particularly the New Laws of 1542—explicitly prohibited the enslavement of indigenous people under any circumstances, forced servitude (even if it was temporary), and the selling of indigenous people as slaves (§§ 60-3: 229-32).

Furthermore, Santa María considers that the use of some deception as a strategy to capture and enslave Chichimecas is unacceptable. He concedes that the strategy employed by the Chichimecas, which involves attacking on the plains and hiding in the mountains, implies that Spanish combatants use some strategies in order to protect themselves and take their adversaries by surprise (§ 68-71: 232-3). However, what he finds unacceptable is to invite the Chichimecas to come to the plains to attend mass or receive Christian indoctrination, and then capture them by surprise during these events (§ 72: 234); or to attract them with promises of forgiveness if they live peacefully on the plains, and then capture and sell them as slaves without fulfilling any of these promises (§ 73: 234-6). At this point, Santa María radicalizes his position against indigenous slavery and the use of deceptive strategies for capturing them, declaring that nobody who has been unfairly enslaved is required to live under serfdom against his or her will. Therefore, he considers that it is not against justice to escape from serfdom or to encourage somebody to do so: “Y ansí resulta que si lícitamente y sin pecado se puede huir, que se le puede aconsejar, y metiéndose entre los suyos, ha conseguido libertad, mayormente si los suyos están en guerra” (§ 75: 237). At this point of Santa María’s reflection, nomadism is neither a condition that precedes Spanish colonization nor a consequence of an unfair enslavement. It is a way of returning to freedom that is allowed and recommended by Christian doctrine. When just war becomes a mercenary war founded on the profit obtained through unjust enslavements the return to nomadism is not only fair. It is strongly recommended.

To conclude his reflections, Santa Maria reiterates his proposal for a peaceful reduction of the Chichimecas to sedentary life. On the basis of his knowledge of the doctrine of just war and his experience on the ground, he has shown that during the war against the Chichimecas the search for peace had been replaced by a search for profit that would produce the extermination of the Chichimecas and the depopulation of the land (§ 76: 238). In that context, Santa María believes that his proposal could find some echo. However, he recognizes that what he says might appear insufficient and unachievable given the nomadic character of the Chichimecas. In order to make his proposal plausible, he introduces the following animal comparison to describe them:

Lo que a esto tengo que responder es que un halcón y un león y otros animales y aves de rapiña y silvestres son más vagos y brutos en su natural y nunca acostumbrados a servir ni a obedecer a otro, y con maña se amansan y se muestran a servir y dar contento y provecho a los hombres que han trabajado con ellos en amansarlos. Y cuando lo dicho no aprovechare, tornarles a hacer guerra, castigándoles más ásperamente, hasta conseguir el mismo fin. Que ansí lo demuestra el maestro Soto en el lib. 4 De justitia et jure, q. 2, a. 2, donde dice estas palabras: que podemos repeler por la fuerza a aquellos que, como fieras, andan errantes sin tener respecto ninguno a las leyes del pacto, sino que invaden lo ajeno por donde quiera que pasan. Porque por la manera que ahora se lleva, jamás se conseguirá el fin de aquietarlos y asentarlos, puesto que con justicia se puedan hacer esclavos, por serles menos dañoso y pena más piadosa que matarlos o mancarlos, porque la mayor parte se huyen y vuelven peores y más ladinos, y la tierra es larga, donde siempre hallarán gente con quien juntarse para hacer daño.

(§ 80: 239-40, emphasis added)

This comparison touches upon almost all the elements of the modern colonial rhetoric according to which Christianization and civilization are anthropological machines that domesticate the animal (Agamben 37). Santa María contemplates both peaceful and violent possibilities for what he considers to be an unavoidable process of reduction of the animal to sedentary life. In this case, the animal is the nomad, and his or her unacceptable way of life paradoxically shows the limits and the excesses of colonial expansion. Even though Santa María’s rhetoric tries to provide an argument in favor of the inclusion of that animal in the sedentary nomos of the land, his discourse ends by emphasizing the critical character of its presence as an expression of an alternative relation with the land. In that sense, in his Guerra de los Chichimecas, Fray Guillermo de Santa María has been able to recognize that the nomad is more than a primitive figure that precedes the sedentary appropriation of the land.

In accordance with Deleuze and Guattari’s approach to nomadism, and beyond his own attempt to justify war on indigenous groups in Zacatecas, he recognizes that nomadism coexists but overcomes the sedentary nomos that Spaniards—and earlier the Mexicas—tried to introduce in the northern frontier of New Spain. Yet, he introduces an interesting variation in relation to the theoretical approaches proposed by Schmitt and Deleuze and Guattari when he shows that the nomad emerges as an agent that operates persistently in the margins of exclusion, violence, and de-humanization promoted by sedentary life. Even though a significant part of Santa María’s text focuses on the justification of just war, when it comes to the way in which this war has been actually conducted, and to the consequences that the conflict has produced in term of the displacement of the indigenous population in the region, Santa María’s text acquires a different tone. It exposes the violence of the sedentary nomos of the land, an aspect that Schmitt does not include in his reflections on the appropriation of the land in the New World, and that Deleuze and Guattari only discuss in speculative terms.

Fray Guillermo de Santa María’s account of the Chichimeca war finds its conceptual place in the complex interaction between the sedentary nomos discussed by Schmitt on the basis of his reading of Vitoria, and the nomadic nomos explored by Deleuze and Guattari. In terms of sedentary nomos, Santa María’s text defends the legitimacy of the just war on the indigenous population in Zacatecas, but criticizes the way in which it has been conducted, and proposes a peaceful reduction (reducción) of nomads to sedentary life as the best resolution for the conflict. The domestication of the savage animal—that sooner or later gets tamed—becomes the metaphor that emblematizes the Christianization of the barbarian as the ultimate goal that legitimates the presence of Spanish empire in the New World. In that sense, Santa María remains in the realm of the sedentary nomos while including a consideration of the transformations in the population, a dimension that is absent in Vitoria and Schmitt’s reflections.

On the other hand, in terms of nomadic nomos, Santa María’s text portrays a way of life that challenged Spanish attempts to appropriate and exploit the land. The nomadic way of life became a real frontier, a barrier—the first one in North America, according to Powell—to Spanish colonial expansion in the New World. This frontier should not be understood as a geographical limit, but as the result of a confrontation with indigenous groups that found in nomadism the possibility of avoiding subjugation to Spanish rule. It was not the land itself, but a nomadic nomos, that made it virtually impossible for the Spaniards to appropriate Zacatecas and its native populations. The domestication of the “savage animal” returns now not as a promise that legitimates the presence of the Christians in the New World, but as the metaphor of a precarious and violent enterprise in a large and foreign land that offers continued opportunities to resistance: “la tierra es larga, donde siempre hallarán gente con quien juntarse para hacer daño” (§ 80: 239-40).

And yet, unlike Deleuze and Guattari, Santa María does not believe in the primacy of the nomadic nomos over sedentary life. He describes that way of life as barbaric and morally unacceptable; in other words, as an anomaly produced by the absence of Christianity or the failure of Christianization. However, his exploration and even fascination with the nomads in Zacatecas and their way of life, as well as his disappointment with the way the war against them had been conducted, place him—against his initial intention—on the side of the nomadic nomos. That nomadic nomos, perceptible at the edges of the sedentary nomos as an anomaly, shows the precarious nature of any settlement, the continuous possibility of subversion of any order, and mostly, the violence necessary for the establishment of a sedentary order. From that point of view, the nomad is no longer the savage animal to be domesticated. It is the man, woman, or child who became a wanderer due to the violence and injustice emerging from the sedentary nomos.


01. Santa María did not assign a title to his manuscript. Librarians and editors have titled it in different ways. In this essay, I will follow the title assigned by Carrillo Cázares in his edition of what he calls the texto mayor of the manuscript: Guerra de los chichimecas (2003). For the history of the manuscript and its authorship, see Carrillo Cázares, “Crítica textual.”

02. Nomadology: The Machine of War is actually chapter 12 of A Thousand Plateaus, first published in French in 1980. This chapter was first published in English in 1986 as an independent book.

03. It is important to emphasize that this article does not focus on nomadism in general or even on the history of nomadic groups that inhabited the northern frontier of New Spain during the second half of the sixteenth century. It focuses instead on nomadism as a way of life, which Santa María’s text discusses as part of an examination of the legitimacy of the war that Spanish authorities declared against the Chichimecas. In her article “Los chichimecas: ¿nómadas o sedentarios?” Marie-Areti Hers (2008) explores the difficulties related to defining the nomadic condition of the Chichimecas in historical terms. Using as a main source the passages in the Florentine Codex dedicated to Chichimecas (Book X, Chapter 29), she argues that the history of the northern nomads is unavoidably related to the way in which Sahagún’s informants tried to recover the northern beginnings of mexicas in order to propose alternatives to the Spanish conquest (56). Proposing a more radical argument, Pedro Tomé Martín argues in “La invención del desierto (y los salvajes chichimecas)” that the characterization of the Chichimeca as savage nomads articulated the interests of the early Spanish colonizers, the previous conceptions held by the mexicas about the northern indigenous groups, and the writing of sixteenth-century chroniclers.

04. According to Aquinas, the three elements that define a war as just are: the authority of the prince to declare it, the existence of a legitimate cause, and the right intention of both the prince and the combatants (Summa Theologica, Secunda Secundae Partis, Question 40).

05. Based on the French anthropologist and ethnologist Pierre Clastres, Deleuze and Guattari contend that the confrontation between the nomadic war machine and the state apparatus overcomes the limits of modernity. “We are compelled to say that there has always been a state quite perfect, quite complete. The more discoveries archeologists make, the more empires they uncover. The hypothesis of the Urstaat seems to be verified: ‘the State clearly dates back to the most remote ages of humanity.’ … But of greater importance is the inverse hypothesis: The state itself has always been in a relation with an outside, and is inconceivable independent of that relationship” (15).

06. As noted by Carrillo Cázares in his exhaustive and documented studies of the juridical debates held in New Spain during the sixteenth century about the Chichimeca war (1998, 2000), Santa María’s opinion was not the only reflection on this conflict. Between 1569 and 1574, the Viceroy Martín Enríquez de Almanza convened four theological meetings (“juntas teológicas”) whose main purpose was to discuss the legitimacy of the war against the Chichimecas and the enslavement of indigenous prisoners (Carrillo Cázares, Vol. I: 223-45). According to Carrillo Cázares, Santa María might have had knowledge of the conclusions of these meetings and might have been interested in participating in the discussion by offering his opinion in writing (“Descripción del tratado”: 42; Santa María § 48: 223). In 1585, the archbishop of Mexico, Pedro Moya de Contreras, convened the Concilio Tercero Mexicano and put forward the war against the Chichimecas as a pressing matter to be considered. Even though Santa María’s analysis was not taken in consideration by the participants in this Concilio—not even by the Augustine friars (El debate Vol. I: 355-6)—Carrillo Cázares believes that Santa Maria’s opinion is “uno de los planteamientos más completos que se hicieron sobre la cuestión de la guerra chichimeca y su solución a fondo, precisamente en el sentido en que se resolvió en la consulta del Concilio Tercero Mexicano” (El debate Vol. I: 268).

07. The most documented case of a Chichimeca chieftain that returned to the nomadic life after being Christianized was Francisco Tenamaztle, a relevant figure in the war of Mixtón (León Portilla). Even though Santa María makes reference in his text to this war (§27: 219), he does not mention Tenamaztle. 

08. The Leyes Nuevas (1542) declare: “Ítem: ordenamos y mandamos que de aquí adelante, por ninguna causa de guerra ni otra alguna, aunque sea so título de rebelión, ni por rescate ni otra manera, no se pueda hacer esclavo indio alguno, y queremos que sean tratados como vasallos nuestros de la corona [real] de Castilla, pues lo son” (emphasis added). However, the Leyes Nuevas are not the only legislation against the enslavement of the indigenous population promulgated during the first half of the sixteenth century. Since 1526 through 1548 the Spanish Crown enacted several laws banning specifically the enslavement of indigenous population (Recopilación de Leyes de los Reinos de Indias. Tomo I, Título II, Ley Primera: 224-8). 

09. In a document signed by the ranchers in the region in 1582 the depiction of Chichimecas as cannibals appears as one of the justifications for the war against them, punishment and deportation to Mexico of their leaders, and enslavement of the remaining captives (“Estancieros” 645-51). Even though Santa María knows that some Chichimeca groups use parts of the living bodies of their enemies as ornament and material for their weapons, he never depicts them as cannibals (§ 10: 208-9).

10. In the document signed by ranchers in 1582, as well as in a Relación written by the bishop of Michoacán, Juan de Medina Rincón, in the same year, the Chichimecas are depicted as nomads whose existence and way of life are an imminent threat to the Spanish settlements (Meina Rincón 640-5).

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