16th Century Spanish Tents

Sleeping Quarters on the Coronado Expedition

Tents were a necessary part of the Coronado expedition, providing shelter to the explorers throughout the journey. When the explorers assembled in Compostela, the dwellings they found were referred to as rudimentary in shape and structure. Not to mention that there were not nearly enough dwellings for all those assembled—nor could they take them when they left. Explorers were required to pack and carry transportable dwellings to protect them from inclement weather and provide them a place to seek cover at night, even while awaiting orders in Compostela. Tents also provided areas of respite during downtime. A larger version of a tent, known as a pavilion, provided premium quarters for elite travelers and meeting spots for strategizing next steps.

Finding images of Spanish tents is rather difficult. Five centuries is a long time for anything to withstand the rigors of time and cotton is not exactly a hearty material. Additionally, artists were not lining up to paint, sketch or sculpt a common item like a tent. However, from the artifacts that have been preserved, as well as paintings that depict tents in the background or as part of the scenery, we can create a picture of what a 16th century Spanish tent might have looked like.

Image Source: British Library
Image Source: Bibliotheque National de France, Paris

The structure of one of the most common tents — a spoke and wheel roof with a central pole, canvas roof and walls and cables — allowed it to be set up quickly, taken down easily, and transported in convenient pieces. Other tent shapes included one we might all recognize, the simple triangle. Some unfortunate souls did not even have that luxury, sleeping instead under the stars … or the rain.

Arquebus/ Gun

The gun that was used during the Coronado expedition by the soldiers, this certain weapon had two different firing systems.

Image result for arquebus in mexico  1540


The weapon was used in longer range combat by foot soldiers against hostile enemies on the expedition.

This item was brought by the Spaniards to Mexico. This gun had two different firing methods. The first method being mechanical, it had a small string that was soaked in salt pyrites and dried. Then when lit the weapon would fire. The second would be wheel lock, a wheel inside the gun would be sprung at a fast pace, igniting the pyrites. This made a spark which fired the gun. Most of these guns were made with a metal barrel and a wooden butt. The gun itself was 2.8 ft. long. There are many of this guns available in museums and since parts of the guns were found on Coronado dig sites, researchers believe they were used on the expedition.


Serven, James E. “THE GUN—AN INSTRUMENT OF DESTINY IN ARIZONA.” Arizoniana 5, no. 3 (1964): 14-28. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41700721.

Obsidian Edge Sword

The obsidian edge sword was a weapon used mostly by the Indian people during the Coronado expedition.

Image result for obsidian edged sword mexico 1540


The sword was known to be very effective in close combat due to the razor sharp blades on each side. It was used whenever combat had risen on their expedition against the other people they came across. Originating in Mexico around the time of the Aztecs, but was used by many groups around Mexico. It was known to be so sharp it could decapitate enemies, and their horses in seconds. It was made with a large piece of wood carved into a bat like form at 3.5 feet. Then 8 to 10 pieces of obsidian material was hammered into each side, until there was no way of removing them. By knowing most Indians groups used this weapon during the time of the 1500’s, we are well aware that they were brought with them on the expedition.


Flint, Richard. The Latest Word from 1540: People, Places, and Portrayals of the Coronado Expedition. Albuquerque, NM: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2011.

“Richard Flint.” Archaeology Southwest. Accessed March 05, 2019. https://www.archaeologysouthwest.org/team/richard-flint/.

Raven. “This Aztec Sword With Obsidian Blades Was So Sharp, You Could Decapitate A Horse With It.” Disclose.tv. April 24, 2018. Accessed March 05, 2019. https://www.disclose.tv/this-aztec-sword-with-obsidian-blades-was-so-sharp-you-could-decapitate-a-horse-with-it-315329.

Antependium/Altar Frontal

The antependium/altar frontal is a decorative textile that covers the front of the altar during Catholic Mass.

The example in the featured photo (above) is embroidered with gold, silver, silver-gilt and silk threads on applied pieces of silk. Scenes of the Baptism of Christ by St John and the Virgin and Child with the infant St John are depicted (Victoria and Albert Museum).

The altar represents Christ and the antependium is His clothing, so the materials used to create them are usually chosen by color according to the liturgical calendar and make the altar central to celebrations of Mass. The green antependium and chasuble in the photo below reflects ordinary time in the liturgical calendar; this is when there is regular Mass, but it is not a High Holy Day.

Priest celebrating Mass wearing chasuble coordinated to the antependium.

Antependium are often coordinated with the chasuble of the Mass celebrant, as above, so there could be many different patterns, colors and designs that would coordinate with the specific celebration.

Vestments, including antependium and chasuble, would be carried by the clergy traveling with Coronado’s Expedition.  The antependium would allow them to turn a makeshift surface, such that they could find while traveling, into a proper altar representative of Christ as the center of the celebration of Mass.


Altar Frontal (Spain), 16th century; silk, metallic thread, garnets; H x W x D: 97.8 x 265.7 cm (38 1/2 in. x 8 ft. 8 5/8 in.); 1937-31-1.  Retrieved March 20, 2019 from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Textiles Department,  http://cprhw.tt/o/2C29D/.

Altar Frontal (Spain), 1530; Embroidered silk velvet with gold, silver, silver-gilt and silk threads; T.141-1969.  Retrieved April 23, 2019 from Victoria and Albert Museum, Textiles and Fashion Collection,  https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O93215/altar-frontal-unknown/.

Catholic calendar 1550. (nd). Universalis Publishing. Retrieved March 28, 2019 from  http://universalis.com/calendar.htm.

Dipippo, Gregory. (4 August 2016), The History, Development and Symbolism of the Antependium, Altar Frontal or “Pallium Altaris”. New Liturgical Movement. Retrieved April 29, 2019 from http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2016/08/the-history-development-and-symbolism.html#.XNrUrI5KjIU

Schulte, A.J. (1907). Altar Frontal. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved March 28, 2019 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01353b.htm.

Chasuble/Outer Vestment of Clergy

The chasuble is part of the vestments worn by clergy during Mass.

The chasuble is a square or circular piece of cloth with a hole in the center where one slips the garment over one’s head to wear it. The garment requires a blessing by a priest before serving as an outer vestment worn to cover one from shoulders to knees while celebrating Catholic Mass.

Spanish 16th-17th Century chasuble with silk and metal thread on silk.

The style of chasuble worn by the Spanish clergy in the 16th Century is referred to as the French type and was characterized by fabric made stiff with lining and heavy embroidery, often with gold thread, sometimes adorned with precious gems. There was usually a cross on the back and a pillar in front and was representative of charity by symbolizing the yoke of Christ.

The chasuble is the final piece of the priest’s vestments.

The chasuble is the final element of the celebrant’s clothing that vests him as the representation of Christ during Mass. The different elements of the vestments are: amice, a white linen cloth covering the neck and shoulders; alb, a white linen robe; girdle or cincture, white cord at the waist; maniple, cloth hung over the left arm; stole, cloth hanging around the neck, crossing over the chest; and the chasuble, outer robe.

There are different colors of chasubles worn for different Catholic celebrations such as Easter, Christmas and various events on the liturgical calendar.

Black chasuble worn during Mass on Good Friday, reflecting the somberness of the occasion.

A chasuble would have been among the belongings of the members of the clergy who traveled with Coronado’s Expedition so that they could celebrate Mass along the journey.


Catholic News Herald. (2 June 2016). What are the traditional Latin Mass vestments? Retrieved April 23, 2019 from https://catholicnewsherald.com/faith/111-news/vesting/92-what-are-the-traditional-latin-mass-vestments

Chasuble (Spain), 16th–17th century; linen, wool; H x W: 214.4 x 67.9 cm (7 ft. 7/16 in. x 26 3/4 in.); 1947-46-2. Retrieved March 20, 2019 from Cooper Hewitt, Textiles Department, http://cprhw.tt/o/2Dn5c/.

Chasuble (Spain), 16th–17th century; silk and metal thread on silk; Accession Number 48.187.691; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York. Retrieved April 23, 2019 from The Met, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/227385?&searchField=All&sortBy=Relevance&where=Spain&what=Chasubles&ft=*&offset=0&rpp=80&pos=9.

Chasuble (Spain), 16th–17th century; stamped wool velvet; Accession Number 14.134.6a; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York. Retrieved April 23, 2019 from The Met,  https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/219724?&searchField=All&sortBy=Relevance&what=Chasubles&ft=*&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=7.

Thurston, H. (1908). Chasuble.  The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved March 28, 2019 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03639a.htm

Narrative: Tack Up Horse Task


As a part of the game, the player is tasked to tack up his horse to earn experience points. On the way to the barn, we get a glimpse of the army and Indian camps and how differently they are supplied. We see the locations and different roles of Europeans of various ranks, African servants, and natives. We see the different types of horses, tack, and decoration indicating the status of their owner as the player learns to place each piece of tack on the horse.

Knowledge Objectives

  • Become familiar with pieces of 16th century horse tack
  • Learn that the 16th century Spanish military were not uniform in dress or equipment and that status was indicated by type of horse, decoration on tack, coat of arms on saddle blankets/barding, and by who was tacking up the horse (i.e. upper level officers would have had servants to do this for them)
  • See that different positions and roles were accorded based on social status
  • Earn experience points in game

Primary Actors

  • Game player is a Spanish cavalry man
  • Extras: There are African servants working in the army camp and the tack room and indios amigos in their own camp and caring for the livestock. A 12-yr-old Indian boy opens and closes the paddock gate as cavalry men come to fetch their horses. Cavalry men and servants are tacking up horses at the fence.

Setting: Weather, Time of Day, and Soundscape

It is a sunny morning with only a few small clouds, about 9:20am. The sun has been up for two hours, and it has warmed the air to a comfortable 70°F (21°C). By the time of the muster, it will be a warm 80°F (27°C).

Compostela lies in a grassy, semi-tropical valley with clumps of deciduous and palm trees, bordered on the northeast and southwest edges by wooded mountains. A stream runs along its southern edge, dotted with trees. White-tailed deer, wild pigs, wolves, and jaguarundi roam the valley from dusk until just after dawn, but retreat to the trees during the daytime.

The men have finished breakfast and are preparing for the muster and for the start of the expedition tomorrow. From the center of camp, we can hear the clanking of dishes and pots as the servants clear away the last of breakfast. The player hears his own footsteps on the dry ground as he walks. Passing each tent, he hears the rising then fading of excited but indistinct conversations, preparations, and laughter within. In the Indian camp, a mother calls to her children who are chasing each other toward town. Clank, clank, clank echoes from the barn where the blacksmiths are busy with last-minute shoeing. Approaching the paddock, the calls of the indios amigos who have taken the sheep and cattle out to graze can be heard over the contented munching of hundreds of horses and pigs in the paddock. The stream babbles over stones, and a slight breeze rustles the grass and trees where a dove calls to its mate. The cavalry men and officers’ servants talk softly to their mounts to calm them while they are being groomed and saddled.

Image and Soundscape Bank

Compostela Town Layout

Task Sequence

  1. [6 min] Walk from camp to the barn [—> 1]. In the army tent camp, the soldiers are excitedly getting ready for the big day, putting on their best clothes, shining their boots, then layering on what armor they have, all while excitedly imagining the journey ahead and boasting of their coming exploits. The officers’ servants are helping them get ready while they ponder the logistics of moving so large a force through unknown terrain, wondering whether they will have enough supplies and whether there really is gold. A couple of young cavalry men say good morning as you pass. In the Indian camp, blankets are folded up for the day, while the men paint bright colors on their faces, bodies, and quilted armor. A young boy waves shyly as you pass. Walk into the tack room to pick up your tack (saddle, bridle, breast and haunch straps, blanket, brush, and lead). Give your name to the servant who will find it for you.
  2. [3 min] Carry tack to paddock and set on fence [—> 2]. Taking lead rope, go to paddock gate and whistle for your horse [—> 3]. From the horse’s left side, attach lead rope to halter and lead him out of paddock. Tie him to the fence just to the right of tack [—> 4].
  3. [5 min] Starting behind the horse’s head on left side, brush with direction of hair down neck, chest, shoulders, back, sides, belly and legs to remove any dirt, smooth hairs, and add shine. Brush out tail. Repeat on right side. Gently brush head. While brushing your horse, you see another cavalry man saddling his to your right. He has been on other expeditions and has a bright red saddle blanket with his coat of arms and matching breast/haunch straps and reins. To your left, an African servant is tacking up the captain’s horse, a beautiful Andalusian stallion. It wears decorative barding with crests for his family and Spain. His saddle is covered in red velvet and his bridle is plated with silver.
  4. [30 seconds] From the horse’s left side, center the saddle blanket on the horse’s back where the saddle will sit. The front edge should cover the withers (top crest of shoulders between neck and back). Smooth fabric so that there are no wrinkles to irritate the horse’s back.
  5. [2 min] Lay the stirrups and girth over the seat of the simple leather estradiota saddle so that there are no dangling straps. Hold saddle with left hand under pommel (front rim) and right hand under cantle (back rim). From horse’s left side, smoothly lift saddle and gently place on horse’s back with pommel just behind withers. Saddle blanket should show evenly around saddle. If necessary, lift saddle to re-position – do not slide saddle or blanket as this could cause wrinkles. From the horse’s left side, reach under the horse to pull the girth to the left side across the rib cage four finger breadths behind the front legs. Buckle girth snugly without stretching or pinching the horse’s skin. Carefully remove stirrups from seat of saddle so that they hang down the sides of horse without thwacking his sides.
  6. [3 min] Buckle the breast strap to the front of the saddle on each side of the horse and the haunch strap to the back of the saddle on each side of the horse, making sure they are not so tight that they restrict movement, but not dangling.
  7. [2 min] From left side, remove the halter from horse’s head and buckle loosely around upper neck. Holding leather bridle headstall in right hand and guiding the Moorish bit with left hand, open the horse’s mouth by placing finger of left hand into the corner of the horse’s mouth. Gently place the bit into the space between his front and back teeth without bumping his teeth or lips while simultaneously placing chin ring under chin and lifting headstall over the horse’s ears. Buckle the throatlatch so that it is not too tight when the horse arches his neck, but not so loose that it is flapping. Place the reins over the neck.

New World Spanish Tack and Riding Styles in the 16th Century

Saddles and bridles allow a rider to more easily mount, stay securely seated, and control the horse. They may also be decorative, especially in parades or for nobility, or they may be armor-reinforced for battle. The bridle consists of straps that usually hold a metal bit in the horse’s mouth, resting in the natural gap between its front and rear teeth, and reins that allow the rider to control the pressure and leverage on the bit. Saddles are comprised of a supporting structure (the tree), a seat for the rider with raised front and back rims to hold the rider in (the pommel and cantle), stirrups for the rider’s feet, one or more girths to secure the saddle to the horse, skirting around the seat, and connectors for optional breast and haunch straps, plate armor, or heraldic padded barding. The saddle may provide padding in the seat and leg areas for rider comfort and support, as well as underneath to protect the horse’s back. A padded saddle blanket, often colorful and decorative, is used under the saddle. High pommels and cantles of military saddles would have been plated with steel for the rider’s protection. In sixteenth century New Spain, there were different types of saddles and bridles used depending on the type of horse, its training, the activity being performed, and the style of riding.

De la brida style riding was typical of heavily armored cavalry and jousting. The rider sat deeply seated in a saddle with high pommel and cantle that wrapped around him and often had two girths, mounted at the front and center of the saddle, and a breast strap to hold the saddle against impact. The stirrups were long and mounted near the front of the saddle. The bridle could have one or two sets of reins attached to the top and bottom of the bit. This combination favored a charging attack and allowed the rider to brace himself with feet forward against the stirrups and back against the cantle to apply maximum force with his lance. The de la gineta riding style was adopted from the Moors, and used a balanced, centered seat with one girth at the front of the saddle and a shorter stirrup mounted more under the rider, allowing the rider more control of the horse with his legs. The bit was high-centered with a steel ring that wrapped under the horse’s chin and long shanks for leverage. This style allowed for quick changes of direction and flexibility for bull fighting or shooting. A hybrid style became very popular in the Spanish colonies, de la estradiota. This saddle was lighter weight with lower, less restrictive pommel and cantle, but still front-mounted long stirrups. A Spanish caballero would have been expected to be an expert horseman having mastered all styles of riding.

The Coronado Expedition Muster Roll states that Coronado brought both de la brida and de la gineta tack. In his narrative of the Coronado expedition, A. Grove Day paints a picture of the skilled caballeros mounted on prancing Andalusians, with “lances erect, swords and bucklers at side, and bright saddle blankets and bards flowing to earth.”


“A La Brida” and “A La Gineta.” Different Riding Techniques in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.” The Works of Chivalry. May 26, 2016. Accessed March 29, 2019. http://worksofchivalry.com/a-la-brida-and-a-la-gineta-different-riding-techniques-in-the-late-middle-ages-and-the-renaissance/. [Essay comparing riding styles of the Middle Ages and Renaissance]

Bennett, Deb. Conquerors: The Roots of New World Horsemanship. Solvang, CA: Amigo Publications, 1998. [Horse keeping, its equipment and riding styles in Europe, Asia, and the New World]

Day, A. Grove. Coronado’s Quest: The Discovery of the Southwestern States. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1940. [Narration of Coronado Expedition]

“Emperor Charles V at Mühlberg – The Collection.” Emperor Charles V at Mühlberg – The Collection – Museo Nacional Del Prado. Accessed March 29, 2019. https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/emperor-charles-v-at-muhlberg/e7c91aaa-b849-478c-a857-0bb58a6b6729?searchMeta=charles v at muhlberg. [Titian’s painting, Emperor Charles V at Muhlberg, 1548]

Flint, Richard, and Shirley Cushing Flint. Documents of the Coronado Expedition: 1539-1542: “They Were Not Familiar with His Majesty, nor Did They Wish to Be His Subjects”. Dallas: Southern Methodist Univ. Press, 2005. [Annotated transcriptions of original Spanish documents from The Coronado Expedition with English translations]

Pyhrr, Stuart W., Donald J. LaRocca, and Dirk H. Breiding. The Armored Horse in Europe: 1480-1620. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005. [Pieces of European horse armor in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, their purpose, context, and decoration]

Spanish Horses in the New World

Official documents, historical artwork, the fossil record, and the reaction of the encountered indigenous peoples confirm that Columbus and the 16th century Spanish explorers brought the first horses to the Americas since the Ice Age. The first of these came on Columbus’ second voyage in 1493. Once here, the Spanish established breeding operations to supply the colonies with quality horses for transportation, farming, and conquest.

The Spanish brought several related types of horses to the New World for colonists and explorers including the Andalusian, the Jennet, the Spanish Barb, and the Sorraia, sturdy, athletic, small- to medium-sized horses with stamina and a smooth “gaited” ride that embodied the best traits of their Spanish and Moorish ancestors. The Spanish Barb and Sorraia were excellent all-around horses ideal for riding or packing, sure-footed in rugged terrain, and hardy in harsh conditions because they tolerated heat, insects, drought, humidity, and scarcity of food. The Jennet was a palfrey, a smooth-gaited horse for riding long distances, suitable for nobility or ladies. Andalusian stallions were strongly-built chargers, prized by royalty and nobility for their advantage in battle while conveying privileged social status. Their thickly-arched crests, long, full, wavy manes and tails, highly-carried head and feet, smooth ambling gait, and haute ecole dressage maneuvers were the height of style while helping protect their riders in battle. They took years to train completely in the Spanish riding style and were limited in availability, thus very expensive.

Spanish horses came in all the basic coat colors of black, brown, bay, chestnut, and gray, but some also carried the cream dilution gene producing Queen Isabella’s favored palomino, cremello, and buckskin, the dun gene producing yellow dun, red dun, and grullo/grulla, as well as patterns including pinto, roan, and leopard complex/Appaloosa.

Most American breeds have some influx of Spanish blood, but the Carolina Marsh Tacky, Florida Cracker, Paso Fino, Peruvian Paso, Galiceno, and Criollo breeds are are directly descended from these early Spanish imports and retain many characteristics of their appearance, hardiness, and movement.


Day, A. Grove. Coronado’s Quest: The Discovery of the Southwestern States. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1940.

Flint, Richard, and Shirley Cushing Flint. Documents of the Coronado Expedition: 1539-1542: “They Were Not Familiar with His Majesty, nor Did They Wish to Be His Subjects”. Dallas: Southern Methodist Univ. Press, 2005. [Annotated transcriptions of original Spanish documents from The Coronado Expedition with English translations]

Hendricks, Bonnie L., and Anthony A. Dent. International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007.

UC Davis Veterinary Medicine. “Introduction to Coat Color Genetics.” Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. Accessed May 13, 2019. http://www.vgl.ucdavis.edu/services/coatcolor.php.