When I think of the Inca civilization, I’m often in awe of both its achievements as well as its downfall. I’ve been amazed that such a complex civilization fell so swiftly to the Spanish in a matter of a few years. What are some of the root causes? What can we learn from such episodes in human history? Why is it important to study the Last Days of the Inca? Similar worries, battles and decisions facing Inca leaders can be seen today. Building and maintaining buy-in on a central vision is absolutely essential and more importantly, unknown threats to our civilization exist.
The Inca Empire, which was one of the largest and most advanced empires in the pre-Columbian Americas, was defeated by a small group of Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro in the 1530s. The fall of the Inca Empire marked the end of a significant era in South American history and had a profound impact on the indigenous peoples of the region.
Who Was Francisco Pizarro?
Francisco Pizarro was a Spanish conquistador and explorer who is best known for leading the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire in the 16th century. He was born in the 1470s in the region of Extremadura, Spain, and began his career as a soldier and explorer in the early 1500s. He joined an expedition led by Diego de Almagro in 1524 to explore the territories of present-day Panama, and in 1526 he joined another expedition led by Hernán Cortés in Mexico. In 1530, Pizarro led a group of 170 men, including Hernán and his brothers, on an expedition to conquer the Inca Empire in present-day Peru. He captured and executed the Inca emperor Atahualpa, and over the next few years, he and his men established control over much of the empire. Pizarro governed the newly founded city of Lima, the capital of the Spanish colony, until his death in 1541.
Atahualpa was the last Inca emperor of the Inca Empire before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. He was the son of the Inca emperor Huayna Capac and his principal wife, Coya Mama Rahua Ocllo. He became the emperor in 1532 after his half-brother Huascar was captured and killed in a civil war. At the time of the Spanish arrival, Atahualpa was staying in the city of Cajamarca, where he was conducting a military campaign against his brother. Francisco Pizarro and his men captured Atahualpa in the famous “Cajamarca incident” where the Spanish used their firearms and cavalry to defeat the Inca army, and held Atahualpa for ransom. The Inca Empire paid a huge ransom for his release, but Pizarro killed Atahualpa anyway, after he suspected the emperor was planning to rebel against the Spanish. Atahualpa’s death marked the end of the Inca Empire and the beginning of Spanish rule in Peru.
Why did the Inca Fall so Quickly to the Spanish?
One reason is that the Inca Empire was in the midst of a civil war at the time of the Spanish arrival. The empire was divided between two brothers, Atahualpa and Huascar, who were fighting for the right to be emperor. This internal conflict weakened the Inca Empire and made it more vulnerable to the Spanish conquest.
Another reason is that the Inca Empire was not familiar with the type of warfare practiced by the Spanish. The Inca army was primarily composed of soldiers who fought with traditional weapons such as clubs, slings, and bows, while the Spanish had firearms, armor, and horses. The Inca were not prepared to fight against these new weapons and tactics, which gave the Spanish a significant advantage in battle.
Additionally, the Inca Empire did not have a strong navy, which made it difficult for them to defend their coastal regions against the Spanish. The Spanish were able to land their ships and disembark their troops without much resistance.
What was the Cajamarca Incident?
The Cajamarca incident refers to the capture of Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor, by the Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro in 1532. The incident took place in the city of Cajamarca, where Atahualpa was staying at the time. Pizarro and his men, numbering around 180, had entered the Inca Empire with the goal of conquering it and had met Atahualpa’s much larger army in the city.
Pizarro, using the element of surprise, lured Atahualpa and his entourage of thousands into the central square of Cajamarca by offering them gifts and showing them a display of horses and firearms. Once the Inca were in the square, Pizarro’s men attacked and captured Atahualpa and many of his followers, while many of Atahualpa’s army were killed. The Spanish were outnumbered but had the advantage of firearms and horses, which gave them an edge over the Inca army.
The Cajamarca incident is considered a pivotal moment in the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire and the beginning of the end for the Inca civilization. Pizarro’s capture of Atahualpa allowed the Spanish to gain control of the Inca Empire and its vast resources.
Why would some communities align themselves with the Spanish against the Inca?
Some communities aligned with Pizarro and the Spanish to defeat the Inca Empire for a variety of reasons.
One reason is that the Inca Empire had a policy of relocating people from different regions of the empire to different parts of the empire, to reduce the potential for rebellion and to spread the Inca culture. This policy of forced relocation caused resentment among the population and created a sense of loyalty to their own region rather than the empire as a whole.
Another reason is that the Inca Empire was in the process of expanding and conquering other communities, which created resentment and hostility among these communities. They saw the Spanish as a potential way to stop the Inca expansion and end their rule.
Additionally, the Inca Empire had a complex and rigid social hierarchy, which created resentment among those who were not part of the elite class. The Inca elite lived in luxury, while the common people lived in poverty, this created a sense of injustice and a desire for change.
Often, we tend to look at historical events through generalizations. The fall of the Inca, while swift, was not entirely due to an external power conquering the community. Instead, the Inca exhibited some traits of rigid political hierarchies, fast expansion and centralized power. Sound familiar to some countries to today?
We stand to learn so much from the Last Days of the Inca. Check out the book here.