• A. Jorge Aguilera López

The Greek conquistador Alejandro Maurocéfalo

AGI, Filipinas, 339, lib. 2. ff. 46r - 48r

I hereby give and appoint and grant to you, to the said Alejándro Maurocéfalo, a coat of arms: in an azure [blue] field, and in it an or [yellow] ship with its sails in argent [white] and at the bottom of the shield some sea waves of argent and azure; and the head of the shield, which is a third of it, a gules [red] field, and on it an armed arm in argent with a sword in hand, argent the blade and or the trim (…). So that you have it as your coat of arms, and the same for your children and descendants.

The image and quote correspond to a document dated in Madrid on 14 February 1594. In it the King Philip II granted that coat of arms to Alejándro Maurocéfalo, born around 1524 in Patras, a city located in the Peloponnese (Greece). Why did the king not only ennobled but also granted a monthly "pension" to the mentioned Maurocéfalo? The same document (six pages long) tells us why. This is a summary:

He entered the service of the king around 1554 and took part in different expeditions in the West Indies, participating among other things in the founding of St. Augustine (Florida) in 1565 (the oldest city in present-day USA). He went and served in Cuba and in New Spain and then joined Legazpi in the conquest of the Philippines (1568). «There, leading twenty-five soldiers, you were one of the first to set foot in those new lands». He fought against the Portuguese on the island of Cebu, where he also captured the local petty king. «Navigating those seas, you defeated (…) a Chinese ship and were one of the captains who helped win the first battles in the Kingdom of Brunei» (1578).[1] After his adventures in Southeast Asia, he returned to Mexico. Later, he decided to return to Greece, more specifically to the island of Zakynthos where his family had settled. There he married and stayed for a time, later rejoining the active service of the king. It is for all these reasons that both the Council of the Indies and Philip II decided to grant the coat of arms and the pension requested by Maurocéfalo.

In any case, the adventures of this Greek conquistador did not end here. Thanks to Floristán Imízcoz, we know that he was serving in Sicily, occasionally going to Zakynthos to see his family (and reporting from there the actions of the Ottoman navy). He went to the court of King Philip III (1602) where he requested the title of "Don", which was granted to him and all his legitimate descendants. He apparently died from a plague in Zakynthos in 1617 (he was about 93 yo).[2] Undoubtedly, he had a rather epic life and worthy of a good Hollywood blockbuster.

[1] If you want to know more about this episode: [2] Floristán Imízcoz, J. M. (2015) “Alejandro Maurocéfalo, conquistador en Florida y Filipinas: privilegios concedidos por Felipe II (14.II.1594) y Felipe III (8.III.1603)”, in Ángel y Espinós, Floristán Imízcoz, García Romero, López Salvá (eds.), Ὑγίεια καὶ γέλως. Homenaje a Ignacio Rodríguez Alfageme, pp. 253-263. Floristán Imízcoz is Professor of Classical Greek at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) and expert in Hellenism during Turcocracy. I personally recommend to read his works on his Academia profile.

Tags: #Greece #Florida #Philippines #Asia #America #conquistador #PhilipII #16th

  • Aguilera López, A. J. (2020) "The Greek conquistador Alejandro Maurocéfalo", in Rowing through History [online].

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