Popular accounts of the European invasion of the Inca Empire emphasize a single event—Francisco Pizarro’s capture of the Inca warlord Atahuallpa at Cajamarca on November 16, 1532—as a definitive moment of conquest. Historical and archaeological scholarship tells a more complicated story. Recent studies of the Incas have shown their empire to be less powerful than once believed, relying on the cooperation of powerful men and women whose personal and family interests did not always align with the policies of the state. When the ruler Huayna Capac died suddenly in a pandemic that swept through the central Andes, the ensuing sovereign crisis intensified factionalism and provincial resistance, culminating in a devastating civil war in which Atahuallpa and his army of frontier veterans triumphed. After unsuccessful voyages of exploration, Pizarro and his men entered Inca territory in this uncertain atmosphere, intent on plundering and colonizing the Andes. Encouraged by provincial lords, they sought out Atahuallpa, captured him, and held him for ransom. With the most powerful Inca lord a prisoner, Andean elites quickly pivoted to formulate new tactics for gaining or holding onto power. For several years, the invaders looked less like conquerors and more like Inca allies or subjects who quickly grafted themselves onto existing power structures. Although there was fierce resistance to Spanish plundering in the mid-1530s, Pizarro and his companions survived because of their alliances with Inca nobles and other Andean elites, who accepted the status of a subject nobility. As Spanish monarchs claimed Inca sovereignty, the imperial titles (Inca and Coya) became entwined with the Spanish nobility, but the legacy of the Inca continued to inspire ordinary Andean people to resist Spanish colonial rule.
The Fall of the Inca Empire
R. Alan Covey
The Pizarro Clan
Susan Elizabeth Ramirez
This essay focuses on the principal Pizarro family members who played active roles in the exploration, invasion, and colonization of the Andes. Francisco Pizarro served as leader until his assassination by Diego de Almagro partisans in 1541. Juan fought against stout native resistance until he was fatally injured during the siege of Cuzco. Gonzalo led the forces against the New Laws and their implementation by the first viceroy, Blasco Núñez Vela. After the viceroy and his forces were defeated and he was executed, Gonzalo ruled the Andes until Licenciado Pedro de la Gasca arrived to reestablish crown hegemony. Royalist and Gonzalo’s rebel forces clashed. Gonzalo’s defeat cost him his life. Hernando, long the de facto patriarch of the family, emerged as the defender of family interests. He married his niece, the mestiza daughter of Francisco; consolidated their holdings, selling assets at risk of confiscation in Peru; and reinvested the proceeds in safer products in Spain. His manipulations and planning allowed him to establish an endowment that assured the survival of the family into the 20th century.
The Conquests of Peru
Between 1472 and 1572, the conquests of Peru were many: by the Inca, who in the 15th century spread from their southern Andean heartland in Cusco to build an empire that stretched from what is now southern Colombia to northern Chile and Argentina; by the Spanish conquistadors under the leadership of Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro, who reached down from Panama in search of the rumored wealth of the kingdom of “Birú” and fatefully encountered the aspirant Inca emperor Atahualpa at Cajamarca in November of 1532; by the Spanish crown, which intervened after the revolt of Atahualpa’s brother Manco Inca in 1536 and the rebellion of the conquistadors in the 1540s; and by the Inca’s former subjects, the Spaniards’ Indian allies, and their mestizo sons, who ended independent Inca resistance by helping to capture Atahualpa’s nephew in the Vilcabamba valley in 1572. This essay sketches the century-long arc of those many conquests, which together yielded a historical entity not quite like any other in the early modern world, let alone Americas: a composite Spanish-Indian kingdom whose incredible wealth lay not just in the gold and silver that its mines and burials produced but in the network of subjects and laborers that drew both the Inca and their Habsburg successors on to further conquests than was wise.