CONQUEST OF THE INCA
Francisco Pizarro and other Spanish conquistadors came upon the Inca Empire in 1532. At the time it was one of the largest empires in the world. The Inca civilization arose from the highlands of Peru sometime in the early 13th century. The empire included the territory between the Pacific coast and the Amazon River basin and stretched from Ecuador to northern Chile. In total, the Inca Empire included a diverse population with many different groups of people and contained a population in the millions.
Pizarro was a Spanish conquistador during the Age of Exploration who followed in the footsteps of earlier explorers, such as: Christopher Columbus and Hernan Cortes. He first left Spain for the New World in 1509 and would set sail on a number of expeditions to take control of land within the Americas. For example, he was given permission by the Spanish Queen to take control of Peru in 1532. He went on to battle with the Inca people who were living in the area which is modern-day Peru. Pizarro and his men were clever, and had modern weapons; as a result they were able to strategically take control of the Inca land.
In 1532, accompanied by his brothers, and 168 Spanish soldiers, Francisco Pizarro overthrew the Inca leader Atahualpa and conquered Peru, which ended the reign of the Inca Empire. Three years later, he founded the new capital city of Lima, which still exists today. The Inca conquest is one of the biggest conquests of the time, and is also the one that Pizarro is most well known for. The conquest was one of the most important campaigns of the Spanish colonization of the Americas because it led to a number of other spin off conquests that resulted in the campaigns into modern day places like Chile and Colombia. The Inca conquest has been compared to that of Cortes’ and the Aztecs. In fact, Pizarro was inspired by the earlier actions of Cortes and had even read Cortes’ account of his conquest of the Aztecs. However, Pizarro had fewer men and much less resources and as a result, Pizarro’s conquest of the Inca’s has been said to have been one of the most improbable military victories in recorded history.
The conquest of the Inca Empire unfolded as a series of major events. First, European diseases had spread throughout the region of the Inca Empire in the years before Pizarro first encountered the civilization. Earlier explorers to the area had unknowingly transmitted their diseases to the native peoples and this had a profound effect on the overall Inca Empire. The Inca Empire that Pizarro eventually encountered was weakened drastically by the spread of these diseases which also helped lead to a civil war. Arguably, this aided Pizarro’s conquest of the empire because it was in a weakened state and more easily conquerable.
Similar to Hernan Cortes’ earlier conquest of the Aztecs, Pizarro benefited from confusion on the part of the native people. When Pizarro first entered their territory, the Inca were not sure whether he and the other Spanish conquistadors were gods or not. The advanced weapons and strange clothing of the Spanish caused some Incans to question if they were gods of the people. While the Inca ultimately did not consider the Spanish explorers to be gods, the confusion helped Pizarro to establish himself in the region and prevented the Inca from pushing him and other conquistadors out of the area sooner.
The Inca were led by Atahualpa who ruled over the Inca people as an emperor. When Pizarro and his 168 men first encountered the Inca, Atahualpa sent an Inca warrior to meet the conquistadors and to act as an interpreter. The Incan warrior returned to tell Atahualpa that the Spanish were evil men and appeared to want to take everything for themselves. As such, the warrior suggested that Atahualpa trap the Spanish in their camp and burn them to death. Instead, Atahualpa agreed to meet with Francisco Pizarro’s brother, Hernando, and his fellow conquistador Hernando de Soto. Both men denied that they were enslaved native peoples and suggested that they are in the region to bring the word of god to the Incan people. As a result, the Spanish agree to meet with Atahualpa the next day at the city of Cajamarca.
The next day, Atahualpa arrived with over 6,000 followers who were unarmed. The Spanish conquistadors arrive fully armed with their weapons. A Spanish friar approached Atahualpa and offered him a bible, to which Atahualpa refused and protested against. The Spanish friar responded by urging the conquistadors to begin attacking the Incan people, which they did. Since the Incan’s were unarmed, the Spanish attack was a complete massacre with over 2,000 of the Incan people dying as a result. The Spanish gunfire and cavalry charges stunned the Incan people and allowed the outnumbered Spanish to dominate the situation. The end result was the capture of Atahualpa by Pizarro.
The capture of Atahualpa would prove to be extremely beneficial to the Spanish and Pizarro. Pizarro would use Atahualpa to control the Incan people and remaining resistance against the Spanish in the region. For example, soon after capture, Pizarro forced Atahualpa to order his military leaders to back down and to not fight against the Spanish. This was important for Pizarro as he was heavily outnumbered in the region and was afraid of an Incan attack.
In exchange for his freedom Atahualpa promised Pizarro a room filled with gold and silver. Pizarro, at first, agreed to the request and the Spanish conquistadors oversaw the Incan people gathering trinkets of gold and silver from across the Incan Empire. By May of 1533, the Incans had collected the amount promised by Atahualpa and the Spanish began to melt it down in order to prepare it for shipment out of the Incan territory. Having received their gold and silver, the Spanish were faced with the issue of what to do with Atahualpa. In general, there was a disagreement among the conquistadors with some wanting him to be returned to Spain and others calling for his death. In the end, he was baptized as a Christian and killed by strangulation.
Following the death of Atahualpa, the Incan Empire effectively collapsed under the pressure of the Spanish conquistadors. There were other Incan rulers who were either controlled by the Spanish or unable to properly fight against them. It took several more years to finalize the conquest of the Incan Empire but essentially, with the death of Atahualpa the Incan Empire had lost its ability to combat the Spanish, and the remaining Incan warriors loyal to Atahualpa were quickly defeated by Spanish forces.