Versión en Español


Introducción de Herbert Klein y John Jay TePaske al volumen 2 titulado The Royal Treasuries of the Spanish Empire in America, Volume 2. Upper Peru(Bolivia). Publicados por Duke University Press, Durham, N.C. en 1982. (Reproducido con autorización de los autores).




Development of the Royal Treasury System (Real Hacienda) in Upper Peru.


Spanish expansion into Upper (present-day Bolivia) followed quickly upon the heels of the Spanish conquest of Peru, gaining special momentum after the discovery of the silver mountain at Potosí in 1545. Earlier in the century, as a way of establishing fiscal and administrative control over newly conquered areas and of overseeing collection and disbursement of royal revenues, Charles V had found royal treasures (cajas) extremely useful. 1 Not surprisingly, therefore, he had royal treasury officials functioning at Potosí as early as 1550 to insure himself his rightful share of the taxes imposed on the rich lodes of silver extracted from the cerro de Potosí was the richest mine in the Indies in the sixteenth century. As new strike were made in the Potosí area at Las Salinas de Garcia Mendoza, Tatasi, Ocuri, Chacoya, Tomahavi, Esmoraca, Esmocuco, and San Antonio del Nuevo Mundo, the caja of Potosí became even more indispensable for the crown as the clearing house for royal silver taxes. Potosí thus became and persisted as the focal point of the royal treasury system in Upper Peru, the most important caja of the region. 2 As the production and export of silver increased and Potosí´s ties with Lima and Spain grew stronger, a new caja was established on the coast at Arica in 1587. 3 Initialy, this caja had little importance.

The south Peruvian Spanish City of Arequipa and the port of Quilca Sixty miles away on the Pacific Coast had become the exchange points for Upper Peruvian silver and European goods coming from Lima, also for the transfer to Upper Peru of the mercury being mined at Huancalvelica. 4

At the opening of the seventeenth century, however, when it became clear that Arica was a more convenient entrepot that Arequipa, this caja assumed a new importance as a treasury district, although its status was always closely tied to conditions at Potosí. As mining production dropped at Potosí, Arica floundered; as increasing amounts of bullion began flowing eastward from Potosí to the Río de la Plata region in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Arica virtually lost in the raison d´etre. In fact, sometime in the early eighteenth century, the caja moved inland for a time to Tacna, which was more defensible and less vulnerable to attack from the sea by enemy corsairs. In 1774 or 1775, however, the caja moved back once again to its proper place on the coast, where it functioned until the end of the colonial period. 5

The seventeenth century saw the addition of four new cajas in Upper Peru: Oruro, La Paz, Carangas, and Chucuito. The pattern here was much the same as is was in other parts of the Spanish, empire in America, where new treasuries arose in productive mining areas, major ports, administrative-market centers, important defensive outposts, and densely populated Indian areas. As might be expected for the silver producing region, three of the four new cajas were set up in mining centers. The first, Oruro, situated about 220 kilometers northwest of Potosí, began operation in 1607 in the make of rich silver strikes and quickly became the second most important treasury of Upper Peru. 6  In the 1650s the mines of Carangas and Chucuito began producing enough silver to become official treasury districts as well, although never as important as Potosí or Oruro. Located about 350 kilometers directly west of La Plata (present-day Sucre) close to the present Chile-Bolivia border, the caja of Carangas produced its first accounts in 1652. A second caja district arose in Chucuito in 1658 largely because of the silver deposits discovered at the mines of San Antonio de Esquilache about fifty kilometres southwest of Puno. 7

The date for the establishment of the caja of La Paz is difficult to determine. Its first extant account appeared in 1624, but probably the treasury came into existence earlier. 8  Situated on the altiplano four hundred kilometers northwest of Potosí, La Paz, was important as a market center with a large Indian population, as the site of a bishopric established in 1609, and as the halfway point between Cuzco and Potosí. Unlike the mining cajas which relied primarily upon income from mining taxes, the La Paz treasury depended instead upon tribute, tithes, sales taxes, and other sorts of commercial and agricultural impost levied on the white, Indian, and mestizo population. By the end of the seventeenth century, therefore, six cajas districts dotes Upper Peru: four in the mining areas of Potosí, Oruro, Carangas, and Chucuito and two in the commercial-market centers of Arica and La Paz.

Over a century passed before the crown expanded the treasury system in Upper Peru. Unlike Lower Peru where Philip V established a number of new cajas at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Upper Peru saw no changes until the 1770s when a wave of reform swept though the region. One of the first changes for the real hacienda in Upper Peru was creation of the sew cajas of Cochamamba and Charcas in March, 1773. Hitherto, both had been subsumed within the Potosí treasury, but in 1773 each area got its own set of royal treasury officials and new status as a separate treasury district. Located 260 kilometers due north of Potosí in a fertile valley, Cochabamba was like La Paz, an agricultural-market center with a heavy concentration of Indians and mestizos in the district. Charcas or La Paz had gained distinction as the seat of an audiencia, established in 1559, and also of an archbishopric, erected in 1611, 9  but for some reason—most probably the proximity of Potosí only eighty kilometers away—Charcas never became a separate caja, despite its eminence as a religious administrative center. In 1773, however, Charcas finally became a treasury district in its own right, achieving the fiscal independence from Potosí which it had lacked during most of the colonial period.

One last caja district was created in Upper-Peru in 1789—Santa Cruz de la Sierra but was never significant and apparently functioned as a sub-treasury of Cochabamba. Situates about 350 kilometers east of Cochabamba in the lowland jungle, Santa Cruz was important as a bishopric, created in 1605, 10  and as a mission outpost for the Jesuits operating in the Chiquitos region. Establishment of the bishopric, however, was obviously more for the prestige it gave the church in this thinly populated, un-Hispanicized infidel region than for the need of a bishop to perform diocesan responsibilities. Ultimately, the same was true for the caja of Santa Cruz, which gave new status to the region but little else. In fact, the caja seems to have lasted only a short time until 1802 when it evidently closed down after only fourteen years of operation. 11

Changes in the size of the revenues collected in the treasuries of Upper Peru reflected developments in the region. Not surprisingly, Potosí was the most important treasury throughout the colonial period. Even with the decline in mining production in the seventeen and eighteenth century, Potosí remained preeminent. In the early seventeenth century silver strikes vaulted Oruro into second place while La Paz was third. At mid-century these rankings had not change: Potosí was still first, Oruro second, La Paz third, and the new cajas of Chucuito and Carangas fourth and fifth respectively. Although the opening of the eighteenth century found income into the Potosí treasury less than half of what in had been in 1600, that caja still ranked first. Oruru was still second, although pressed by La Paz, which was producing almost as much tax revenue. Although production of silver fell as Chucuito, it still managed to hold fourth place, while Carangas was last.  Fifty years later there were few changes, except for a widening gap between second-place Oruro and third-place La Paz and reappearance of the accounts for the caja of Arica, which surpassed Carangas in revenues generated.

Rankings at the opening of the nineteenth century, however, reveal some surprising changes in Upper Peru. Potosí still produced the most income (approximately 650,000 pesos annually) but only a bit more than second-place La Paz (about 580,000 pesos). Chucuito  had risen to third place, Charcas to fourth, Cochabamba to fifth, with Oruro falling to sixth, producing only a bit more in tax monies than seventh-place Arica. Despite a gradual rise in income from mid-century, Carangas ranked eighth, and the tiny caja of Santa Cruz de la Sierra last. The most obvious changes were the rise in importance of La Paz and Chucuito and the sudden demise of Oruro. This first phenomenon can be explained by the rapid increase in the Indian population of Upper Peru in the last half of the eighteenth century and the ability of Spanish officials to levy new taxes and tribute on these Indians, despite serious revolts in both the Chucuito and La Paz areas in the 1780s. For Oruro the drop in silver production was primarily responsible for the decrease in revenues, combined with the fact that the Oruro caja collected tribute in only two districts, Oruro and Paria. Important also was the increased in the type and variety of taxes being imposed in Upper Peru, as the various cajas, especially those in mining areas, relied less on silver taxes and more on other imposts for their income.

Ties binding the various cajas of Upper Peru together or to cajas in other parts of Spanish South America changed dramatically during the colonial period. For the first two hundred years to 1750, the treasuries of Upper Peru maintained strong links with Lima and Lower Peru and were dominated by the matrix treasury of Lima. The cajas of Arica, Carangas, Chucuito, La Paz, Oruro, and Potosí all sent surplus revenues to the City Kings to be disbursed by the viceroy and his aides, who remitted the monies to Castile or allocated them for imperial defense, the pious and educational work of the clergy, or the salaries of imperial bureaucrats in Lima and elsewhere. In fact, until about 1700 revenues from Upper Peru and the various cajas of Lower Peru provided Lima with over half of its total annual income. After 1700, however, the pattern changed somewhat. Most important, the cajas of Upper Peru simply produced less tax revenue and sent less to Lima. Silver production had drooped al over the region, and after cajas officials paid salaries and expenses in their districts, little remained for shipment to Lima. Also, the initial destination for remissions of surplus revenues out of Upper Peru changed. Prior to 1700 all surplus revenues went first to Lima, from which they were then disbursed for viceregal needs or sent on to Castile. After 1700, however, these surplus revenues often went directly to areas where they were needed rather than to Lima first, most particularly too Huancavelica for repair and refurbishing of the mercury mines and to Chile for the military subsidies (situados) of Santiago, Concepción, and Valdivia. Thus, although the cajas of Upper Peru still maintained their ties with Lima in the early eighteenth century, these ties grew weaker and more tenuous as the century wore on.

The most significant change in the relationships between the cajas occurred in the 1760s when the focus for the treasuries of Upper Peru shifted away from Lima and the Pacific Coast to Buenos Aires and the Atlantic, a change that greatly affected the role of the caja of Potosí. Prior to the 1760s surplus revenues from the various treasuries of Upper Peru went directly to Lima, Huancavelica, or Chile without being funnelled trough Potosí. As Buenos Aires became more important, however, Potosí became the transfer point for all surplus revenues emanating from the treasuries of Upper Peru. The caja, of Potosí was transformed, in effect, into to intermediate matrix treasury for the surplus tax monies of Carangas, Charcas, Cochamamba, Chucuito, La Paz, and Oruro, monies which ultimately found their way to the Río de la Plata. On the Pacific coast Arica remained closely tied to Lima, but otherwise the cajas of Upper Peru became a major source for the development, defense, and maintenance of the Buenos Aires region in the last half of the eighteenth century. In Lima, meanwhile, the viceroy could no longer rely on royal tax monies from Upper Peru and had to look to other sources for support and maintenance of the viceroyalty. 12

Royal Accounts as an Historical Source


The royal accounts in this volume constitute a vital source for understanding the economy and society of Upper Peru and for determination of Spanish imperial policies during the colonial epoch. The account summaries (sumarios) come from the ledgers kept by accountants (contadores), who served in the cajas of Upper Peru. The accountant normally kept two kinds of accounts, the libro manual and the libro mayor. The libro manual was a day book in which he listed daily tax collections and disbursements, in effect keeping a day-by-day record of the royal caja. In the libro mayor the accountant kept his ledger sections or ramos. For example, all tribute collected was posted in the mayor in the ramo of tributeos, sales taxes in the ramo of alcabalas, import-export taxes in the ramo of almojarifazgos, etc. Expenditures were posted in the same way. Then, at the end of an account period—until 1765 in most cajas of Upper Peru an accounting year ran from May I to April 30—the accountant closed his books by adding the entries for each ramo together and summarizing all the totals at the end of the libro mayor, the sumarios, also called tanteos or relaciones juradas. This summary thus listed all revenues and expenditures by ramo whith a total for each one. The extant summaries of the accounts for the nine treasuries of Uper Peru are containes in this volume.

Entries on the cargo or income side of the accounts reveal a great deal about economic activity in each caja district. For example, income items listed taxes on gold and silver production (1.5% y quinto de plata, 1.5% y diezmos de plata, etc.) and minting and assay taxes (senoreage and ensaye). Sales tax collections (alcabalas of all sorts) reflected commercial activity in the treasury district. Port taxes (almojarifazgos) for Arica, when the caja was not functioning inland at Tacna, provided an index to traffic in this coastal port. Ecclesiastical officeholders paid a salary tax and a subsidy to the crown including the media anata eclesiástica, mesada eclesiástica, and subsidio eclesiástico. The church hierarchy bore other tax burdens as well by contributing portions of income from major and minor ecclesiastical benefices (vacantes mayores and vacantes menores), income from the sale of liquid wealth of a bishop who had left office (espoleos), and two.ninths of one-half of the tithe reserved as crown income (novenos). Toward the end of eighteenth century, bishoprics contributed fixed assessments to the crow for support of the Real Orden de Carlos III, referred to also as the pension carolina. Payment for the sale, renunciation, or rental of civil offices (oficios  vendibles y renunciables) by royal treasury officials, members of the cabildo (regidores), public scribes (escribanos), and other lesser servants was another source of income as was the tax of a half-year´s salary for the first year I office (media anata) levied on virtually all royal officials.

Revenues from a host of other sources helped fill the royal exchequer in Upper Peru. A myriad of royal monopolies provided funds for most royal cajas. These included such things as alum (alumbre), snow (nieve), playing cards (naipes), copper (cobre), cock-fighting (juego de gallos), bull fighting (plaza de toros) stamped legal paper (papel sellado), salt (sal and salinas), lotteries (loterías), leather (cordobanes), tobacco (tabaco), and the all-important mercury (azogue) used in the amalgamation of silver. The sale of indulgences (bulas de santa cruzada and bulas cuadragesimales) was another lucrative source of income as were monies paid for legalization and sale of land titles (composición de tierras), taxes on foreign residents (composición de extranjeros), and store licenses (pulperías). Indians were exempt from many taxes, but they paid tribute (tributes) and other assessments such as the tómin de hospital, medio real de hospital, or contribución de hospital to support Indian hospitals in the region. At the end of the eighteenth century it was common also for assessments to be made on the salaries of civil, military, or ecclesiastical officials for pensions for widows, orphans, and retirees (montepío de ministros, montepío de oficinas, montepío de inválidos, montepío military, etc.) Extraordinario was another category reserved for income from sources for which there was no ramo. For the cajas of México and Lima these were very large sums, but for Upper Peru the monies collected in any caja for extraordinario were not significant.

Entries on the income side of the edger were not always revenues, but sometimes included only temporally infusions of money into the royal caja, which was not treasury income at all. Sometimes these were sums left over from the previous year or years—existencia or alcances de cuentas; sometimes these were met; sometimes these were loans set down as préstamos,préstamos patrióticos, emprestitos, suplementos de real hacienda, and imposiciones de capitales.  Sometimes accountants listed as income debts still owing but as yet uncollected: debido de cobrar, debido de cobrar años anteriores, debido de cobrar esta cuenta, etc. Sometimes monies entered the treasury only briefly for exchange into coins, and in such cases equal amounts were usually listed on the data or expenditure side of the ledger. For Potosí in the seventeenth century the most common of these was reales labrados de barras.

On the data or expenditure side entries are as revealing as those on the income side. Expenditures included salaries of all public officials serving in the caja district such as the oidores and alcaldes del crimen of the royal audiencia at La Plata, regidores, royal treasury officials, porters, guards, and a host of other civil officials assigned to Upper Peru. The summaries also included expenses of these same officials for pen, paper, and ink (gastos del escritorio or gastos de real hacienda) as well as the rental or repair or the quarters they used (alquiler de casas reales or reparos de casas reales). Salaries and expenses for military and naval purposes fell under such categories as war (guerra), military salaries (sueldos militares), militia support (milicias), regular troops (tropa arreglada), arms (sala de armas), and similar items. Also included were remissions to other treasuries such as Lima, Huancavelica, Chile, and Buenos Aires.

Treasury support for religious, charitable, and educational activity also appeared in the accounts, but in smaller sums than defense. These included funds allocated to the cleargy for parish or mission work (sínodos, sínodos de doctrinas, sínodos de misiones, limosnas del vino y aceite, mercedes y situaciones, etc.) Sometimes officials serving in Upper Peru whose families remained in Span provided them a regular income with a salary assessment called asignaciones para España. Widows, orphans, retirees, and invalids received support from the montepíos, inválidos, and other pension funds. In some cases, particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, royal revenues, even those from Upper Peru, went for pious woks in Spain such as the palace of San Lorenzo del Escorial, San Isidro de Madrid, or the building of the Palacio del Oriente in Madrid in the early eighteenth century.

In most cases expenditures from a specific ramo normally indicated the costs of collection for that ramo. For example, in most cases the listening of alcabala expenditures indicates costs of collecting that tax. But this was not always true. In some cases alcabala entries on the data side signified what was spent from that ramo for salaries, war expenses, and general expenditures from the royal caja. The same was true oftentimes for tribute and other large ramos. Sometimes, therefore, expenditures may not be for costs of collection at all, simply what was expended from particular ramos for the needs of the caja district. After 1786, however, the expenditures for salaries were generally listed specifically within categories—civil, military, and ecclesiastical—or as sueldos y pensiones.

Another problem sometimes arises over the vagaries of accounting methods which differed from treasury to treasury and accountant to accountant. Some record keepers, for example, listed only net income on the cargo side, only the sum remaining after all expenses and salaries had been paid from a certain ramo. Sometimes also, accountants ignored the carry-over categories such as existencia and listed monies collected in previous years as current income for each ramo. Sometimes too, names of entries were shifted into different categories. After 1787, for example, the entry for sales taxes (alcabalas) completely disappears from the Potosí accounts. As aduana or customs house income, it was included in the entry venido de fuera (coming from other cajas), just as if it were surplus income from some other treasury destined for Potosí. The collection for sales taxes that year, therefore, is lost in the aggregate figure for venido de afuera. A problem also in determining both income and disbursements was the common practice of lumping the both all together in one category, real hacienda, an aggregate sum for both revenues and expenditures, particularly in the seventeenth century. The only recourse for determining specific sources of income of disbursements in such cases is to consult the ramo of real hacienda for the individual account.

Double-entry bookkeeping began in Upper Peru in 1787 and initially caused chaos among imperial record keepers until the system became standardized about 1790 or 1791. 13  One innovation brought in with the advent of the double-entry method was the addition of a new ramo, real hacienda en común. For the accountants of Upper Peru, the ramo meant different things. To some, it was a category representing sums available for disbursement after expenses were paid from each ramo. In other words, if income from mining taxes was 100,000 pesos and disbursements were 50,000 pesos, the 50,000 pesos would be placed also in the ramo of real hacienda en común. All such sums were then added together and appeared in the summary as that category. On the data side real hacienda en común consisted of the total of disbursements for which there were no ramos on the cargo side or disbursements which exceeded expenditures on the data side. For example, treasury officials´salaries (sueldos de real hacienda) had no entry on the income side of the ledger and were placed in the data entries twice, once as sueldos de real hacienda and again in the real hacienda en común category. In some treasuries, however, real hacienda en común served either as the catch-all ramo like extraordinario in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century or as a carry-over category such as existencia.

Closely tied to the establishment of double-entry bookkeeping was the breakdown of the ramos within each account into three divisions—ramos of the royal treasury (ramos de real hacienda), special ramos (ramos particulares), and assigned ramos (ramos agenos). These distinctions prevailed through much of the eighteenth century, but were more clearly differentiated by colonial accountants after the advent of the double-entry system in 1787 or 1788. Ramos de real hacienda were the major sources of income for imperial used in Upper Peru and were mining taxes, tribute, sales taxes, sales revenues from some royal monopolies, import-export taxes, some fines, and other general royal exactions. Revenues from this ramo supported royal officials in Upper Peru, paid the expenses of the bureaucracy, supported some mission and charitable work, and maintained the military in time of war or rebellion. Ramos particulares, labelled also second-class ramos, consisted of taxes allocated by the crown for specific purposes, revenues which could not be used as general operating funds by royal treasury officials. In Potosí and elsewhere, these included such taxes as the media anata eclesiástica, mesada eclesiástica, vacantes mayores, vacantes menores, mercury sales from Almadén, revenues from the sale of playing cards and tobacco, and discounts from soldiers salaries used to support those incapacitated or retired (inválidos). The third category of ramos agenos was for revenues allocated for specific purposes either in Spain, Peru, or Upper Peru. Among these were the Royal Order of Charles III assessed on each Upper Peruvian bishopric, the sales of the liquid wealth of a retiring or deceased prelate, the payment of the tómin for the Indian hospitals of Upper Peru, pension funds, and a senoreage tax of one real on each mark of silver (real en marco de minería), set aside exclusively for the promotion and development of mining. In theory and by law, revenues from ramos particulares and ramos agenos could not be used to bail out the treasury districts of the viceroyalty when funds were exhausted in the ramo de real hacienda: they were assigned specifically to the crown or to certain institutions, individuals, or purposes. In actually, however, they were often shifted into the ramo de real hacienda when the need arose, at first as loans and then as permanent contributions to the royal treasury, particularly in the early nineteenth century when a greater need arose to cover mounting imperial expenses incurred during the wars independence.

The accounts for Upper Peru in this volume in some cases are virtually complete, in fact remarkably so; in other cases there are considerable gaps. Royal accountants in Upper Peru normally kept three sets of their libros mayores and libros manuales; one to be retained in the seat of the royal treasury, one to be sent to the Tribunal de Cuentas, the viceregal auditing  bureau in Lima; and third for the Contaduría Mayor of the Council of the Indies in Spain. Thus, at one time or another, three sets of accounts should have existed. For Potosí this was indeed the cases, and the series for this important mining center are remarkably complete. In fact for the Potosí accounts which run from 1560 to 1823, only twenty accounts are missing. Some of the extant accounts do not have expenditure listings, but there are accounts for all but twenty years. This series is so complete, largely because of the work of Professor Peter Bakewell, who in many cases piece together the accounts uncovered in the Potosí archives by using the libros manuales or list of daily income and expenditures as his source. He is actually responsible for providing about a third of the Potosí accounts, most of those for the first half of the seventeenth century. For the other cajas, however, greater gaps exist, primarily for the seventeenth century, where there are similar lacunas for the Peruvian accounts. Some may yet turn up in the Argentine, Bolivian, Chilean, Peruvian, or Spanish repositories, but some have undoubtedly been lost forever. Still, the records which are extant provide a wonderfully rich source for the reconstruction of the fiscal structure of Upper Peru.

Money of Account


Colonial accountants and their aides in Upper Peru kept their accounts in a variety of monies. Unlike Mexico where the peso de ocho (peso of eight reales) was the standard accounting unit for the entire colonial period, Upper Peruvian accountants used the peso de ocho, peso ensayado, peso del oro, peso ensayado de 12 ½ reales, and peso corriente. In most cases, however, except for Potosí to ca. 1580 when the peso corriente was a common account listing, pesos ensayados and pesos de ocho were the most common unit employed in the caja ledgers. The La Paz accounts used the peso del oro a bit at the opening of the eighteenth century, but as a general rune pesos ensayados, in the seventeenth century and pesos de ocho in the eighteenth century predominated, and by 1743 pesos de ocho were the common accounting unit for all cajas of Upper Peru. In Spain and the Indies maravedís were standard units for accountants. Monies shipped and the Indies to Spain, for example, were always listed at Sevilla or Cádiz in maravedís to enable peninsulars to convert the value of colonial coins or bullion into units of currency used in Spain. In the Indies throughout the colonial period a peso de ocho was 272 maravedís and a peso ensayado normally 450 maravedís, although toward the end of the seventeenth century peso ensayados of 12 ½ reales circulated in Peru and Upper Peru and appeared in the accounts. For the first decades of the Potosí ledgers pesos corrientes were common. These were worth 400 maravedís to 1574 but dropped in value to 288 maravedís by the end of the century. 14  For conversion, there fore eight reales equalled one peso de ocho of 272 maravedís; one real contained 34 maravedís. One peso ensayado equalled 450 maravedís or 1.6544 pesos de ocho. Pesos del oro appear in the La Paz accounts from 1689 to 1721. A peso of gold od 22 ½ quilates during this period valued 850 maravedís or 3.125 pesos de ocho, although the value of gold pesos varied greatly from region to region. For the accounts in these volumes different types of monies of accounts have all been converted to one of the three currencies. For the late seventeenth century, however, it is difficult to know  at times if the accountants were using pesos ensayados of 12 ½ reales or of 450 maravedís. Since pesos of 450 maravedís were far more common, however, all accounts are assumed to be of 450 maravedís. In terms of fineness of gold and silver coins, the crown tampered surprisingly little whith the value or content of colonial monies. In fact, royal officials in Spain never devalued the peso ensayado or peso de ocho in the Indies, and both remained at 450 and 272 maravedís respectively. The crown did, however, debase silver specie but not until the eighteenth century, after keeping the fineness of a peso de ocho for over two centuries (1525-1728) at 25.561 grams of fine silver. Cheating, mistakes in weighing or assay, clipping, and other problems surrounding the minting and circulation of money caused a wide variance in the fineness of coins coming from certain colonial mints, but by law the amount of fine silver in a peso de ocho was precisely established, and to 1728 this was 25.561 grams of fine silver. In 1728, however, Philip V ordered the first debasement or the peso de ocho to 24.809 grams. From 1772-1786 its fineness was reduced further to 24.433 grams, and after 1786 to the end of the colonial period in 1825 to 24.245 grams. Thus, from 1728 the silver content of a peso de ocho decreased by about 1.3 grams or about four percent. 15

Methods Used to Compile the Accounts


The account summaries in this volume were compiled by a team of researchers working with documents found in the Archivo General de Indias In Sevilla, the Biblioteca Nacional and Archivo Macional del Perú in Lima, Archivo General de la Nación in Buenos Aires, and the Archivo Histórico de Potosí in Potosí. Stanting in Spain, this team first examined all bundles of documents (legajos) with any prospect of containing an account summary, those with summaries were microfilmed, or in some cases copied by hand if they were kept in double-entry style or badly smeared. The resulting material was then coded in the following way.  Each tax entry in each summary was assigned a code number, differentiated in a separate codebook into cargo (income) and data (outgo) categories. Income from alcabalas reales, for example, became 19c, outgo from the same ramo 13d; for tributos reales 8845C indicated cargo and 8844D data. Ultimately the codebook grew to some 8,000 separate income and outgo tax entries for the sixty-seven cajas for which data were collected. Coding sheets also listed the location of the document and the bundle number, inclusive dates of the account summary (month and year), a tax code number of the entry followed by a C or D for cargo or data, the amount of the entry in pesos de ocho, pesos ensayados, and pesos del oro, depending upon the account unit used by the royal account, and a grouped tax code, which assigned over 8,000 account entries to one of forty-four tax or expenditure categories. Computes cards were then punched from these sheets and summaries reproduced in machine-readable form on computes printouts, including also a computes total (total computado) to aid in the checking process. Each printout was then compared with the copyflow reproduction of the original for errors. Mistakes were noted, new cards punched to replace those with errors, and a new printout produced. The same process was then repeated four or five times until the computer summary conformed exactly to the original account.

The account summaries in this volume are thus exact replicas of the original accounts with only a few minor changes. First, the original accounts were in pesos, tómines (reales), and granos with eight tómines equalling one peso and twelve granos one tómin. The printed accounts, however, were rounded off the nearest peso, eliminating the tómines and granos. For example, of a entry appeared in the original account as 16 pesos 5 tómines 6 granos, it would appear as 17 pesos in the computer summary. If an entry was 26 pesos 3 tómnes 8 granos, it would be listed in the printout as 26 pesos. Entries of four or more tómines were rounded off to the next peso, explaining in part the small discrepancies between the accountants’ original totals and the computer totals. Second, to assist the researcher, entries have been placed in alphabetical order; the originals were not in that form. Third, wherever possible, entries have been standardized. Although this was not always possible, it occurred whenever it was most obvious. For example, new indulgences providing the crown with income in the late eighteenth century were called bulas cuadragesimales but sometimes were referred to as bulas de carne, since they provided exemptions from the prohibition on eating meat during Lent. Bulas de carne are always listed in these accounts as bulas cuadragesimales. A fourth change was necessitated because of programming restrictions limiting the length of character entries which create the need for abbreviations. A list of abbreviations follows this introduction. A fifth difference was the need, in a few cases, to aggregate certain entries. Sometimes account summaries listed the individual salaries of each official and soldier within a caja district. In such cases salaries were aggregated into their more general categories. A final innovation was to add a computer total (total computado) for every account a both the income and outgo sides of the ledger. Where the computer totals and the accountants’ totals do not agree or could not be reconciled, the differences have remained. Where there is no accountant’s total, the account summary is incomplete for some reason. Basically, however, the summaries are in their rawest form as originally set down by the accountant and his aides in the royal caja district.

Besides the entries and amount of revenue or disbursement, the printed summaries provide other information. In the upper left-hand corner of each account are numbers or letters preceded by a, S, L, B, or P. An S indicates the original account is located in Sevilla in the Archivo General de Indias, an L that it is in the Archivo Nacional del Perú or the Biblioteca Nacional de Lima, a B that it is in Archivo General de la Nación in Buenos Aires, and a P that it reposes in the Archivo Histórico de Potosí. Thus, p249 indicates that the account is found in Potosí and numbered 249 in one of the sections of that archive. For documents in Sevilla, the letter S comes first and is followed by the legajo number. To ca. 1760 the summaries come from the Contaduría Section of the Archivo de Indias; after ca, 1760 they may be found either in the Audiencia of Charcas or Audiencia of Lima Sections of that same archive. The accounts for Upper Peru are found in various Contaduría legajos numbered between1795-1850, and after the mid-eighteenth century in Audiencia of Charcas, legajos 627-671 and Audiencia of Lima, legajos 1301 and 1415. For Potosí the accounts provided by Peter Bakewell for the first half of the seventeenth century are from the Cajas Reales Section, legajos 100-376, of the Archivo Histórico de Potosí. For the cajas of Arica, Cochabamba, La Paz, Oruro, and Santa Cruz de l Sierra scattered accounts come from Section 13 of the Archivo General de la Nación in Buenos Aires and the Real Hacienda Section of the Archivo Nacional del Perú, moth the catalogued and uncatalogued sections.

Also included in the printed summaries are the inclusive dates for the accounts, rounded of to the nearest month. Although they were kept by calendar year in Potosí and the Upper Peru after 1770, the accounting year in Upper Peru normally ran from the first of May to the thirtieth of April for most of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. If an account was for an irregular period, however, it was rounded off to the nearest month. If it ran for the fifteen or more days a month, that account was listed as being for a whole month. If it ran less than fifteen days, it was not included as part of the account period. Thus as account which ran from May 17, 1685 to May 4, 1688, reads 6/1685-4/1688; one which ran from May 12, 1590 to May 28, 1592, reads 5/1590-5/1592

In conclusion this volume is part of larger project to compile and publish the account summaries for five regions of the Spanish empire in America: Mexico, Peru, Upper Peru (Bolivia), Chile, and the Río de la Plata (Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay). For Mexico three volumes of account summaries for the twenty-three cajas of Mexico have been published by the Secretaría de Hacienda in Mexico City. At the same time, for those who wish to use these data in machine-readable form, the accounts are available in various data banks throughout the United States. These repositories are Duke University, Columbia University, University of Wisconsin—Madison, University of Florida, and the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan. We view these accounts as fundamental for the understanding of the developments of the Spanish empire in America over time and space and of the regional economies within that vast structure. These data should also significantly increase our understanding of the world economy and the world economic system in the early modern period.



A number of institutions and individuals made possible the compilation of these accounts. We would like to thank both the Social Science Research Council and Banco de España whose grants made possible a portion of the research. So too did financial support from the Duke University Research Council. Earlier grants from the Tinker Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Philosophical Society to compile the royal accounts for the other areas of the Spanish Indies established the basic methods and techniques used for compilation of the cartas cuentas of colonial Ecuador reproduced in this volume. In Sevilla Dr. Rosario Parra, Director of the Archivo de Indias, and her staff, as always, cooperated in the work of compilation and photocopying of the accounts. Also in Sevilla Dr. G. Douglas Inglis provided computer assistance, while Señor Francisco Sánchez Rico (Sánchez to AGI investigators) helped to check and recheck accounts which were smeared of difficult to read. In the Unites States Gary Grady devised the time-saving software for the checking and collating the computer printouts with the original accounts and helped to prepare the accounts summaries for publication. Always helpmates, Dorothy Sapp and Thelma Kithcart prepared the manuscript to the Duke University Press. So too did Alan Tuttle of the National Humanities Center. Most of all, we wish to thank Dr. Kenneth J. Andrien of Ohio State University for his help throughout the project. He not only willingly shared with us the accounts he had compiled for early eighteenth-century Quito, but he also poured over early account printouts to point out errors and omissions. The errors that remain, however, are our responsibility.

Álvaro Jara, Universidad de Chile
John Jay TePaske, Duke University



1. For a brief discussion of the royal treasury system, the role of royal treasury officials, and other general details of the function and place of the royal treasury in Peru, see the Introduction to John J. TePaske and Herbert S. Klein, The Royal Treasuries of the Spanish Empire in America: Peru (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1982).Continuar leyendo

2. Peter J. Bakewell, “Registered Silver Production in the Potosí District, 1550-1735,” Jahrbuch fÜr Geschichte von Staat, Wirtscaft und Gesekkschaft Lateinamerikas, 12 (1975): 86-87.Continuar leyendo

3. For any caja the actual date of establishment on the data at which it began functioning is difficult to determine. For the purpose of this volume, we assume that the caja began functioning close to the time that the first account appeared, unless we have firmer evidence on the date of founding or the time in which a treasury began operating. For the cajas of Potosí an Oruro, Peter J. Bakewell has established the dates 1550 and 1607 respectively as the years they began operation. Kendall W. Brown has established the date 1587 for the caja of Arica. See Kendall W. Brown, The Economic and Fiscal Structure of Eighteenth-Century Arequipa (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms, 1979), p. 17. Continuar leyendo

4. Ibid., p. 7.Continuar leyendo

5. Ibid., p. 17. The evidence seems strong that the caja of Africa may have ceases operation entirely during certain periods. The only extant account for this treasury in the seventeenth century is for 1634. One account was uncovered for 1736-37, but the there is a gap of more than twenty years until 1759. Possibly Arica was like the caja of Campeche in New Spain which functioned only sporadically until the eighteenth century.Continuar leyendo

6. Bakewell, “Registered Silver Production in the Potosí District,” p. 90. The first account for the caja of Oruro in this volume is for 1609. Professor Bakewell indicates that the first account appeared in 1607.Continuar leyendo

7. Cosme Bueno, Geografía del Peru Virreinal (Siglo XVIII) (Lima, 1951), p. 125.Continuar leyendo

8. In the 1970s William Jowdy, then a graduate student in history at the University of Michigan, was developing a dissertation topic on the Indians of the La Paz region in the late sixteenth century. In his research he uncovered a great deal on the tribute payments of these Indians, indicating that La Paz may well have had a caja prior to 1624, although he may well have obtained his figures from the Potosí accounts which served as the clearing house for most surplus tribute collected in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in Upper Peru.Continuar leyendo

9. Cosme Bueno, Geografía, pp. 16, 18Continuar leyendo

10. Ibid., p. 18. Continuar leyendo

11. The relative importance of Santa Cruz can be seen from the amount of tribute sent to the caja of Potosí in 1751 that year total remissions from Santa Cruz to Potosí amounted to 2,900 pesos; those from Cochabamba were 22,300 pesos, over seven times as much as that remitted from Santa Cruz de la Sierra.Continuar leyendo

12. On this change of focus from Lima to Buenos Aires, see Guillermo Céspedes del Castillo, Lima y Buenos Aires; repercusiones económicas y políticas de la creación de Virreinato del Plata (Sevilla: Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos, 1947) and Hebert s. Klein, “Structure and Profitability of Royal Finances in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1790, “Hispanc American Historical Review 53 (August, 1973): 440-469.Continuar leyendo

13. Pedro Santos Martínez, “Reforma a la contabilidad colonial en el siglo XVIII (El método de partido doble), “Anuario de Estudios Americanos 17 (1960). 525-536.Continuar leyendo

14. Bakewell, “Registered Silver Production in the Potosí District,” pp. 72-74.Continuar leyendo

15. Of the many articles on colonial coinage, the two most valuable are by Humberto Burzio, “El ‘peso de plata’ hispanoamericano, “Historia (Buenos Aires) 3 (1958: 9-24; and “El ‘peso de oro’ hispanoamericano, “Historia (Buenos Aires) 4 (1956). 21-52.Continuar leyendo