Francisco Pizarro and his men rode through desert and into the Andes and found Atahualpa and an army of 80,000 Inca soldiers at Cajamarca. Atahualpa had just crushed the forces of his half-brother Huáscar and was returning, jubilant and victorious, to his home city of Quito. The Spaniards invited Atahualpa to a meeting the next day in Cajamarca’s square and planned a bold ambush. Firing their arquebuses and charging with their horses and lances, the Spaniards sparked a massive panic, killed at least 7,000 Inca soldiers, and took Atahualpa hostage. The Inca offered to pay a ransom that, when melted down six months later, amounted to an astounding 6,100 kilograms of 22-karat gold and 11,820 kilograms of good silver. The Spaniards executed Atahualpa anyway.
The Spaniards achieved their successes over far superior Inca forces not only because of their guns, dynamite, steel, and horses but also because Pizarro understood how to play Inca politics. After Atahualpa’s death, the Spaniards befriended Manco Inca, another son of Huayna Cápac, and declared him the new leader of the Inca empire. Manco Inca did not remain a docile puppet for long, however, after the Spaniards sacked Cusco for all of its gold and raped the wives of Inca nobles. After the gold was gone, Francisco Pizarro left Cusco and headed for the coast to found Lima, which would soon become the capital of the newly declared Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru.
By 1536 Manco Inca had launched a rebellion and laid siege to Cusco with an estimated army of 100,000 soldiers. Against overwhelming odds, the Spaniards routed the Inca from their fortress of Sacsayhuamán during a week of constant fighting. Manco Inca repelled an army of Spaniards at Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley before retreating to the jungle of Vilcabamba. For the next 35 years, the Inca would use this jungle stronghold to continue their resistance against the Spaniards until the last Inca leader, Túpac Amaru, was captured and executed in 1572.
Just after the Inca rebellion, the Spaniards themselves erupted into civil war after differences arose between Francisco Pizarro and his junior partner, Diego de Almagro. After a series of bloody clashes, Pizarro’s forces won out over the almagrista faction in 1538, and Pizarro shocked the king in Spain by executing Almagro. A few years later, Pizarro himself was murdered by a group of almagristas that included Almagro’s son.
Three Centuries of Viceroyalty
Cusco became a center of religious art during the viceroyalty but otherwise fell out of the spotlight after the conquest as the Spaniards turned their attention to mines. In a cynical use of Inca tradition for Spanish ends, Viceroy Francisco de Toledo in 1574 legalized the Inca’s old labor scheme of mita in order to force huge numbers of Indians to work at the Potosí silver mine, in present-day Bolivia, and the Santa Bárbara mercury mine near Huancavelica. Far from home, thousands of Indians perished while working in virtual slavery at these mines.
Indians in other parts of Peru were not being treated much better. Some were forced to relocate to reducciones or new settlements that allowed the Spaniards to better tax the Indians and convert them to Christianity. Rich farmland was divided into encomiendas and all the Indians living on it became slaves to the Spanish owner, known as the encomendero. Other times Indians were herded into sweatshops (obrajes), where they made textiles and other objects for export under prisonlike conditions.
Given the abuse, it is not surprising that an uprising spread across Peru in the late 18th century. The leader of the 1780–1781 revolt was Túpac Amaru II, who claimed to be a direct descendant of the last Inca, Túpac Amaru. After a year-long rebellion, the Spaniards finished off Túpac Amaru II as they had his ancestor two centuries before: He was garroted in Cusco’s main square, and then his body was ripped apart by teams of horses pulling in opposite directions.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition