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Atahualpa (Atawallpa) was the last ruler of the Inca Empire. The troubled Incas had suffered six years of damaging civil war and Atahualpa was only just enjoying his ascendancy to the throne when the Spanish arrived to turn the Inca world upside down.

Further weakened by European-introduced diseases, which wiped out millions, the Incas could do nothing against the better-armed invaders, even if there were only 168 of them. The Conquistadors were utterly ruthless and they would stop at nothing to gain the fabulous riches of the Americas' largest-ever empire.

Civil War & Succession

Atahualpa's father Wayna Qhapaq died in 1528 of smallpox, the most distinguished victim of the epidemic of European diseases which had spread from central America even faster than the foreign invaders themselves could manage. This epidemic killed a staggering 65-90% of the native population. When Wayna Qhapaq died without choosing a second heir (his first choice Ninan Cuyuchi also died of smallpox) Atahualpa battled for the throne with his half-brother Waskar (or Huascar) in a hugely damaging civil war which the Spanish would be only too glad to take advantage of when they arrived on Inca territory in 1532. Atahualpa was based in the northern capital at Quito while Waskar was at Cuzco. After diplomatic relations soured between the two brothers, open warfare broke out in the north. There followed a series of battles costly to both sides until, after six years of fighting, Atahualpa finally prevailed.

Atahualpa's reign may have been brief but, as the Sapa ('Unique') Inca, he lived a life of extreme luxury.

Atahualpa's reign may have been brief but, as the Sapa ('Unique') Inca, he lived a life of extreme luxury. Drinking from gold cups, wearing silver-soled sandals and treated as a manifestation of the Sun god Inti on earth, Atahualpa was the head of the largest and richest empire the Americas had ever seen. His taste for opulence was chronicled by the Spanish who said that he once ordered a cloak made only from bat skins. As the Inca king, he had the right to wear even more gold jewellery than the already over-laden nobility. His regalia included a feather headband (Ilauto), a golden mace (champi), and king-size golden ear-spools. The monarch travelled on a gold and silver litter further embellished with parrot feathers. He was fed food by a servant, and anything the royal person touched was collected and burnt in an annual ceremony to ward off witchcraft. If ever there was a pampered ruler it was the Sapa Inca of ancient Peru.

Pizarro Arrives

On Friday, 15th of November, 1532 the 168-man force of Spaniards led by Francisco Pizarro approached the Inca town of Cajamarca in the highlands of Peru. Pizzaro sent word that he wished to meet the Inca king, there enjoying the local springs and basking in his recent victory over Waskar. Atahualpa agreed to finally meet the much-rumoured bearded white men who were known to have been fighting their way from the coast for some time. Confidently surrounded by his 80,000 strong army Atahualpa seems not to have seen any threat from such a small enemy force and he made Pizarro wait until the next day. Then, seated on a low wooden throne and accompanied by all his wives and nobles, the Inca ruler finally came face to face with these curious visitors from another world.

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Atahualpa is Captured

The first formal meeting between Pizarro and Atahualpa involved a few speeches, a drink together while they watched some Spanish horsemanship and not much else. Both sides went away planning to capture or kill the other party at the first available opportunity. The very next day Pizarro, using the conveniently labyrinth-like architecture of the Inca town to his advantage, set his men in ambush to await Atahualpa's arrival in the main square. When the royal troop arrived Pizarro fired his small canons and then his men, wearing armour, attacked on horseback.

In the ensuing battle, where firearms were mismatched against spears, arrows, slings, and clubs, 7,000 Incas were killed against zero Spanish losses. Atahualpa was hit a blow on the head and captured alive. Either held for ransom by Pizarro or even offering a ransom himself, Atahualpa's safe return to his people would only happen if a room measuring 6.2 x 4.8 metres were filled with all the treasures the Incas could provide up to a height of 2.5 m. This was done and the chamber was piled high with gold objects from jewellery to idols. The room was then filled twice again with silver objects. The whole task took eight months and the value today of the accumulated treasures would have been well over $50 million. Meanwhile, Atahualpa continued to run his empire from captivity and Pizarro sent exploratory expeditions to Cuzco and awaited reinforcements from Panama. Then, having got his ransom, Pizarro summarily tried and executed Atahualpa anyway, on the 26th of July 1533. The Inca king was originally sentenced to death by burning at the stake but, after the monarch agreed to be baptized, this was commuted to death by strangulation.

Some of Pizarro's men thought this was the worst possible response but the wily Spanish leader had seen just how subservient the Incas were to their king, even when he was held captive by the enemy. As one Miguel de Estete described the king receiving visitors during his captivity,

When they arrived before him, they did him great reverence, kissing his feet and hands. He received them without looking at them. It is remarkable to record the dignity of Atahualpa and the great obedience they all accorded him (D'Altroy, 93).

As a living god, Pizarro perhaps knew that only the king's death could bring about the total defeat of the Incas. Indeed, even in death the Inca king exerted an influence over his people for the severed head of Atahualpa gave birth to the enduring Inkarri legend. For the Incas believed that one day the head would grow a new body and their ruler would return, defeat the Spanish, and restore the natural order of things.

The Collapse of the Inca Empire

One of the reasons the Inca empire collapsed so swiftly following Atahualpa's death, perhaps in less than 40 years, was the fact that it was founded on, and maintained by, force, and the ruling Incas (only 40,000) were very often unpopular with their subjects (10,000,000 of them), especially in the northern territories. This was not least because the Incas extracted heavy tribute from conquered peoples – both in kind and labour - and loyal Inca subjects were forced on these communities to better integrate them into the empire. The Inca Empire, in fact, had still not reached a stage of consolidated maturity – it had only just reached its greatest extent a few years before.

It was a combination of factors then, a veritable perfect storm of rebellion, disease, and invasion, which brought the downfall of Atahualpa and the mighty Inca Empire. In addition, the Inca mode of warfare was highly ritualized where such things as deceit, ambush, and subterfuge were unknown. Inca warriors were highly dependent on their officers, and if these fell in battle, a whole army could quickly collapse in panicked retreat. These factors and the superior weaponry of the Europeans meant the Incas had very little chance of defending a huge empire already difficult to manage.


Pizarro received criticism from the Spanish king Carlos I for treating a foreign sovereign so shabbily, and his attempts to install a puppet ruler – Thupa Wallpa, the younger brother of Waskar - failed to restore any sort of political order. The Spanish soon found out that the vast geographical spread of their new empire and its inherent difficulties in communication and control (even if their predecessors had built an excellent road system) meant that they faced the same management problems as the Incas. Added to this was the massive population decline following epidemics and communities still resentful of outside rule. For those local tribes, a change in rulers, unfortunately, brought no respite from a rapacious overlord, once again, eager to steal their wealth and impose on them a foreign religion.


Atahualpa, whose name means "virile-sweet," was a son of the emperor Huayna Capac, last of the family of Incas to rule an undivided empire which extended from present-day southern Colombia through Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia into northwestern Argentina and northern Chile. At Huayna Capac's death (ca. 1528) in Quito, this vast territory was divided between two of his sons: Huáscar, who won the imperial throne in the capital city of Cuzco to the south, and his half-brother Atahualpa, who gained the northern portion of the kingdom, with its center in the city of Quito.

The division led to civil war between the half-brothers, reaching a peak in 1532 with the defeat and imprisonment of Huáscar. At this point the Spaniards entered Peru. Francisco Pizarro and about 180 men reached Atahualpa's base at Cajamarca in November 1532. The confrontation between the Spanish conquistador and the Inca, who had thousands of troops camped nearby, took place in the main square of the town. The Inca rejected the call of Pizarro's emissary, the priest Valverde, to swear obedience to the king of Spain and to acknowledge Christianity as the true religion, and he threw to the ground the breviary that was proffered. Pizarro then ordered his strategically placed troops to attack the soldiers with Atahualpa the Peruvians were routed and the Inca seized by the Spaniards.

The capture of the head of the monolithic Peruvian state was the key to the subsequent Spanish conquest of the Inca empire. Atahualpa offered to purchase his freedom by filling the large cell in which he was imprisoned with objects of gold. The Spaniards took the treasure and declared that Atahualpa had fulfilled his agreement. But they refused to release him from their "protective custody," since Pizarro feared for the safety of his vastly outnumbered and isolated troops.

Spanish accusations that Atahualpa was plotting against them and that, as was apparently the fact, he had successfully ordered, from prison, the assassination of Huáscar, gave Pizarro the excuse for placing Atahualpa on trial. The sentence that he be burned to death was changed to execution by strangulation when the Inca agreed to accept Christianity and be baptized. Atahualpa was garroted by the Spaniards on Aug. 29, 1533, leaving the leaderless empire open to complete subjugation by the European invaders.

Atahualpa and Pizarro

Francisco Pizarro and his band of Spaniards had been exploring the western coast of South America for two years: they were following reports of a powerful, wealthy empire high in the frosty Andes Mountains. They moved inland and made their way to the town of Cajamarca in November of 1532. They were fortunate: Atahualpa, Emperor of the Inca was there. He had just defeated his brother Huáscar in a civil war over who would rule the kingdom. When a band of 160 foreigners showed up on his doorstep, Atahualpa was not afraid: he was surrounded by an army of thousands of men, most of them war veterans, who were fiercely loyal to him.

The Dramatic Life and Death of Atahualpa, the Last Emperor of the Inca Empire

The Inca ruler, Atahualpa, is one of the key figures in the history of the European colonialization of South America. As the last emperor of the largest empire in pre-Columbian Empire, Atahualpa was an immensely powerful leader. In 1532, however, Atahualpa was taken captive by a small Spanish force of 200 men under the conquistador Francisco Pizarro at Cajamarca. The capture of the most powerful ruler in South America paved the way for the Spanish colonization of South America. To understand the situation of the Inca Empire in 1532, one has to go back several years.

Portrait of Atahualpa, Fourteenth Inca. Brooklyn Museum ( Wikimedia Commons )

In 1526 or 1527, the Inca ruler, Huayna Capac (“the young mighty one”), had died, possibly due to an infectious disease brought to the New World by the Europeans. The crisis was exacerbated when Huayna Capac’s designated heir, Ninan Cuyuchi, died as well. The death of these two men split the empire into two, divided between two of Huayna’s other sons. In the north, Atahualpa ruled his part of the empire from Quito (where his mother was a princess), whilst his half-brother, Huascar, controlled the south from the empire’s capital of Cusco.

Turmoil struck with Inca ruler Huayna Capac died ( Wikimedia Commons )

This arrangement, however, did not last for long, and a bloody civil war broke out within five years of Huayna Capac’s death. At one point of the civil war, Huascar managed to capture and imprison Atahualpa, though he managed to escape. Atahualpa then began marching south against Huascar, where he defeated his rival’s forces, and slaughtered his followers along the way. At Cajamarca, Atahualpa set up his camp, where he planned his final attack on Huascar. At the Battle of Quipaipan, Atahualpa inflicted a crushing defeat on Huascar, and captured his enemy as well. He then invited the other leading leaders of the empire to Cusco to partition the empire again between Huascar and himself. This was a ruse, however, and Atahualpa killed them all when they had arrived in the capital so as to eliminate any threats to his throne.

Atahualpa could not have foreseen an even greater threat that arrived just a few months after his triumph in the Inca civil war – conquistador Francisco Pizarro.

Although Francisco Pizarro had arrived in Peru in early 1531, it was only about a year and a half later that he began his march to Cusco. With just 200 men, it was extremely audacious on Pizarro’s part to march directly into the heart of the Inca Empire. With 80,000 men at his command, Atahualpa did not view Pizarro and the Spanish as a threat.

Pizarro and his followers in Lima in 1535 ( Wikipedia)

Atahualpa underestimated his opponent, however, and accepted an invitation from Pizarro to attend a feast at Cajamarca. Atahualpa also decided to leave his warriors in the mountains and travel to Cajamarca with just 5,000 unarmed retainers. In the meantime, the Spanish made preparations to trap the unsuspecting Atahualpa. When the Inca ruler arrived at Cajamarca, he was met by Vicente de Valverde, a friar accompanying the conquistadors. Valverde attempted to convert Atahualpa to Christianity, and urged him to accept the Spanish monarch, Charles V, as sovereign. This greatly angered Atahualpa, who refused the friar’s demands. At Valverde’s signal, Pizarro’s men opened fire at the Incas.

Inca-Spanish confrontation in Cajamarca, with Emperor Atahuallpa in the center ( Wikimedia Commons )

In just one hour, 5,000 Incas were slaughtered by the Spanish. The only injury sustained on the Spanish side was Pizarro himself, who was cut on his hand as he rescued Atahualpa from death and captured him, knowing that the Inca ruler was more valuable alive than dead. A living Atahualpa was the only guarantee for the Spanish that the 80,000 Inca warriors would not come crashing down on them from the mountains.

Even as a prisoner, Atahualpa was still the ruler of his Empire and yielded great power. He sent an order to have Huascar, who was under heavy guard at Andamarca, to be executed, as he found out that the Spanish were considering placing him on the throne. The Spanish also caught wind of a rumor that one of Atahualpa’s generals was marching to Cajamarca with a mighty army at Atahualpa’s behest to rescue him. On the charges of stirring up rebellion, Atahualpa was sentenced to burn at the stake in 1533, as befitting a heathen. Atahualpa was horrified, since the Inca believed that the soul would not be able to go on to the afterlife if the body were burned. He offered to fill a large room once with gold and twice with silver within two months, most likely in an attempt to avoid being killed. However, his offer was refused. Atahualpa converted to Roman Catholicism before his death, in order to avoid being burnt at the stake. He was baptized and given the name Francisco Atahualpa. In accordance with his request, he was strangled with a garrote on 26 July 1533. He was given a Christian burial.

It is said that Atahualpa’s loyal followers exhumed his body, mummified it, and buried it secretly somewhere in the north of his empire. As for the large hoard of treasure that was amassed by his followers to pay (unsuccessfully) for his release, it has never been found. The search of Atahualpa’s riches has since become one of the world's greatest historical treasure hunts, inspiring many expeditions, none of which have ever been successful – yet.

Top image: The Funeral of Atahualpa by Luis Montero ( Wikimedia Commons )

8. Albert Einstein

We mostly remember this pioneer in the field of physics further along in his life, after his work – that included such high points as the General Theory of Relativity – had revolutionized our understanding of matter, time, and energy. After all, we’ve all seen images of him with unkempt white hair. In the early days, while he was still working on his landmark papers, he did a thing that would seem quietly depraved even by the standards of a list about incestuous marriages.

In 1903, Einstein married fellow physics professor Mileva Maric (at a time when female physics students were rare enough that she was the only one in her class). They’d had a daughter out of wedlock the year before after a long romantic correspondence beginning in 1897. Still, by 1912, Einstein strayed in a rather unusual direction towards his cousin Elsa, even though he’d only recently learned of her existence. In 1919 Einstein belatedly divorced his first wife, even though he’d moved in with Elsa in 1917 while Elsa was still living with her two daughters from a marriage that had ended in divorce. To add yet another scandalous layer to the situation, in 1918, Einstein considering ending his relationship with Elsa in favor of Elsa’s daughter Ilse . As if to complete some sort of twisted extramarital-affair-themed game of Bingo, Ilse was at the time working as Einstein’s secretary. It’s something to bear in mind next time you see one of his inspirational quotes posted somewhere online.

Caught By Invaders

After the end of the war, Atahualpa received news that invaders wanted to enter his land. After a confirmation that they weren&rsquot a threat, he gave them a chance to explore his territory. Note that these were Spanish explorer with Francisco Pizarro being their leader. They settled for a while in his camp since they were over two hundred of them. Little did he know that death was a stone&rsquos throw away. Within seconds a day arrived where thousands of his men were killed since they were all unarmed. It is now famously called as the Cajamarca war. His certainty once again got him into trouble.

For this reason, Atahualpa was captured and imprisoned. He offered a room full of silver and gold for his release, but his recommendation fell in the deaf ear. That is how Francisco claimed the Incan land as part of Spain after killing Atahualpa in July 1533 in Cajamarca, Peru.


Why Famous: Atahualpa was born son of the Emperor Huayana Capac and although not his legitimate heir was perhaps the favorite. The Emperor's death in about 1527 led to a civil war between Atahualpa and his half brother Huáscar. The war did much to weaken the wealthy, populous Inca state before Atahuapla and his generals prevailed in 1532, capturing Huáscar and the capital of Curzo.

Atahualpa was then unexpectedly captured by Francisco Pizarro and a small group of his men. Atahualpa thought he was attending a feast in his honor but walked straight into a trap and his men were slaughtered by cannons and guns that were then unknown by the Incas.

Atahualpa offered to fill a room full of gold for his ransom and gold flowed in across the kingdom to be melted down. The conquistadors didn't keep their word and the last Inca Emperor, deemed too dangerous to let live, was executed several months later. His late conversion to Catholicism allowed him to escape being burnt in a pyre, horrific to the Inca who believed their soul could not ascend to the afterlife through flames.

Birthplace: Kingdom of Quito, Inca Empire

Died: July 26, 1533
Cause of Death: Executed by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Atahualpa chose to be strangled with a garrote.


Atahuallpa or Atawallpa (c. 1502 – 1533) was the 13th and last sovereign emperor of the Tahuantinsuyo, or Inca empire. He became emperor after defeating his younger half-brother Huáscar in a civil war that followed the death of their father, Inca Huayna Capac, from an infectious disease (maybe malaria or smallpox). During the civil war, the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro arrived and captured Atahuallpa, and used him to control the Inca empire. Eventually, the Spanish executed Atahuallpa. So ended the Inca Empire (although several weak puppet successors followed him.)

On the death of their father, the Emperor Huayna Capac, and their older brother, Ninan Cuyochi, who had been the heir, the empire was divided between the two surviving brothers, Huáscar and Atahualpa. Huascar got the major part of it with the capital Cusco, and Atahualpa the northern parts, including Quito (now the capital of Ecuador). For a couple of years, the two brothers reigned without problems. But Huascar demanded that Atahuallpa swear an oath to him. Atahuallpa refused, and the civil war began.

The final battle took place at Quipaipan, where Huascar was captured. Atahuallpa was resting in the city of Cajamarca in the Andes with his army of 80,000 troops on his way to the south and Cusco to claim his throne.

By this time the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro had established the city of Piura, the first Spanish settlement in Peru on July of 1532. After two months on the march, Pizarro had arrived at Cajamarca with just 168 men under his command and sent Hernando de Soto, friar Vicente de Valverde and native interpreter Felipillo to speak with Atahuallpa about the Spanish presence.

The Spanish envoys returned to Pizarro, who prepared a surprise attack against Atahuallpa's army in what became the Battle of Cajamarca on November 16, 1532.

According to Spanish law the Spanish officially declared war on the Inca people. When Atahuallpa coldly asked the priest Valverde by what authority he and his people could say such things, Valverde offered him a Bible, saying that the authority came from the words in it. He examined it and then asked why did it not speak to him. He then threw it to the ground. That gave the Spaniards the excuse they needed to wage war on the Incas. They opened fire, and over the course of 2 hours more than two thousand Inca soldiers were killed. The Spanish then imprisoned Atahuallpa in the Temple of the Sun.

Atahuallpa still could not believe the Spanish intended to take control of his kingdom. He thought that if he gave them the gold and silver they sought they would leave. In exchange for his release, he agreed to fill a large room with gold and promised the Spanish twice that amount in silver. Although he was stunned by the offer, Pizarro had no intention of releasing the Inca because he needed the ruler's influence over the native people to maintain order in the surrounding country.

But then Pizarro decided to have him executed because he feared he could be freed by an Inca General. Pizarro staged a mock trial and found Atahuallpa guilty of revolting against the Spanish and murdering Huáscar, his own brother. Atahuallpa was sentenced to execution by burning. He was horrified, since the Inca believed that the soul would not be able to go on to the afterlife if the body were burned. Friar Vicente de Valverde, who had earlier offered the Bible to Atahuallpa, intervened again, telling Atahuallpa that if he agreed to convert to Christianity he would convince the rest to commute the sentence. Atahualpa agreed to be baptized into the Christian faith. He was given the name Juan Santos Atahualpa and then was strangled with a garrote instead of being burned. Atahuallpa died on August 29, 1533. Atahuallpa was succeeded by his brother, the puppet Inca Tupac Huallpa, and later by another brother Manco Inca Yupanqui.

History & Culture

Hernando de Soto was born around 1500 in the Extermadura region of Spain. De Soto was the second born son to a minor country noble or Hidalgo. He would learn in his youth the skills of horsemanship, reading, writing, and armed combat, but due to the laws of inheritance he would have to look outside of his estate for wealth and glory. At the age of 14, Hernando de Soto would leave Extermadura for Seville and enlist in an expedition set for the New World. He would arrive in present day Panama at the colony of Darien founded by his childhood hero Alviar Nunez de Balboa. De Soto would serve Balboa and the governor Pedrarias Davila as soldier of horse, where he would quickly distinguish himself.

Pedrarias named El Furor Domini the scourge of God by his men would quickly strike out and eliminate many of his chief rivals within the colonial government, including Balboa his Son-in-Law. He would wage a brutal conquest over the native people of Central America conquering Panama and Nicaragua. De Soto would carefully navigate the time of political upheaval and executions and would rise to a position of prominence in the colonial government under Pedrarias. De Soto would game wealth and fame due to his partnerships with several men. Entering into a compania or partnership with Hernan Ponce de Leon, and Francisco Companon, De Soto would make a decent fortune ranching horses and trading and shipping Indian slaves.

Atahualpa's capture at the battle of Cajamarca.

A Chance for Immortality

In 1530 on a failed expedition into South America, a down on his luck conquistador named Francisco Pizarro stumbled upon evidence of a rich and culturally advanced society in Peru called the Inca. Pizarro would fail in his petition to Pedrarias to lead expedition of conquest into Peru. Pizarro would call on Hernando de Soto and Hernan Ponce de Leon to lend horse cavalry and ships for the expedition as well as influence on Pedrarias to approve the expedition. In exchange for his services, De Soto would be named second-in-command of the expedition and receive a lion's share of the spoils of conquest.

The largest obstacle would prove to be De Soto's old mentor Pedrarias, who would stand firm on his decision to not allow the expedition. De Soto would attempt a coup to unseat Pedrarias's power and would be thrown in prison and possibly executed. Fortunately for De Soto, Pedrarias would die in March of 1531, freeing De Soto and Ponce to outfit Pizarro's expedition. In 1532 Pizarro and De Soto would lead 300 soldiers into Peru to conquer an empire of millions. The Spanish would find that the Inca empire was experiencing a bloody civil war between two brothers, Atahualpa and Huascar, in which Atahualpa would win and become the Sapa Inca Emperor.

Showing contempt for the Spanish, Atahualpa would meet with Pizarro at the Inca town of Cajamarca. Atahualpa would come unarmed and ultimately be captured by Pizarro in a bloody takeover. Atahaulpa and De Soto would become friends during the Inca Emperor's captivity passing time playing chess and teaching him Spanish. Pizarro would offer Atahualpa a chance at freedom for a great ransom in which the Inca Emperor would fill three rooms with gold, silver and precious gems totaling over 90 million dollars in today's money. For his troubles, Atahualpa would be tried and executed by Pizarro. De Soto would disagree with Pizarro's decision and be sent away to put down a false rebellion during Atahualpa’s trial conducted by Pizarro.

De Soto would bitterly leave the expedition in 1535 after being denied governorship of the city of Cuzco. He would then travel to Spain and marry Donna Isabellade Bombadilla, a daughter of his old mentor, Pedrarias.

In 1537 Hernando de Soto would meet with the Emperor Charles V and impress him with his tales from the Indies. Charles would later approve De Soto's request to govern and conquer a portion of the New world, a place named La Florida. De Soto would depart Spain in September 1537 to travel to Cuba where he would claim his title of Governor and begin forming his expedition to La Florida.

In May 1539 De Soto would depart Havana and sail for a selected bay on Florida's west coast to begin the expedition that would cost him his fortune and his life.

The last days of the Incas

Huayna Cápac had never known a fever like it. Nor had his people, many of whom were suffering just as badly. He didn’t have long to contemplate his condition, though. He died swiftly. The disease – almost certainly smallpox, brought to South America by European voyagers – wasn’t discriminatory. It struck all levels of society.

Until his death around 1528, Huayna Cápac had been the 11th supreme ruler, the Sapa Inca, of the Inca Empire, a civilisation described by historian Jago Cooper as “the greatest pre-Colombian empire in the Americas – a land of desert temples, of palaces in the clouds, of cities hidden deep in the forests”.

Stretching along, and inland from, the Pacific coast of South America, at its height the empire included at least parts of present-day Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The Incas were a resourceful people.

To help bind this empire and its population together, they created a vast road network totalling 40,000 kilometres. These roads transformed the concept of food distribution furthermore, the food being distributed had benefitted greatly from the adoption of some revolutionary agricultural methods. And this deep connection to agriculture was one of the tenets of their worship of Inti, the Sun God – the deity who guided much of Inca life.

Only a century before Huayna Cápac’s death, the Incas had been an inconsequential mountain tribe in possession of a limited amount of land. Over the intervening years, the empire had expanded rather rapidly, particularly under the rule of both his father and grandfather. To a large extent, the expansion hadn’t been achieved through military might. Instead, Huayna Cápac sought to assimilate the region’s various tribes. Cooperation and diplomacy were his main tools. And he was rather successful in deploying them too, earning the devout respect of much of the Inca population.

There had been many losses in the north of the empire, though, as the Sapa Inca tried to extend his lands still further. For 17 long years, Ecuadorian natives had fought against these incursions, stretching Inca resources and manpower to the limit. It was perhaps a sign that the empire was getting too great to handle.

Anarchy reigns

Huayna Cápac’s death left a power vacuum. Primogeniture was not the established process the firstborn didn’t automatically ascend to the top job. The only conditions for succession were that the new leader be of royal blood and fit to rule. The previous ruler usually named his successor, or the position was filled by the most capable offspring, not necessarily the oldest.

This system almost invariably led to full-on power struggles, and this is what occurred after Huayna Cápac’s demise. The constitutional crisis was only compounded by the fact that the empire had grown so large that finding a single figure that the whole and varied population could faithfully support wasnow difficult to the point of impossible. As a result, some commentators believe that, on his deathbed, Huayna Cápac effectively split the empire in half by naming two successors.

Power wasn’t to be shared, though. The struggle to be the next ruler of the entire empire led to a vicious civil war contested by two of Huayna Cápac’s sons, half-brothers Huáscar and Atahualpa. Huáscar had the support of much of the empire, including the nobles in the capital, Cuzco. Atahualpa, however, had on his side the substantial and experienced armies that he and his father had been fighting alongside in the north.

That military experience would tell. After three long years of battles along the spine of the Andes, Atahualpa was gaining the upper hand. Huáscar’s militia had tried to invade Quito, but were forced south back to the capital. When Atahualpa’s soldiers massacred thousands of Huáscar’s faithful supporters in Cuzco, the result seemed a formality. By 1532, the younger halfbrother was seen as the undoubted successor. But he had little time to bask in the sunlight of his victory.

Foreign influence

Huayna Cápac had still been alive when Spanish feet first touched Inca soil. Around 1527, notable conquistadors Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro had landed at the Peruvian town of Tumbes. He had been informed about their presence, but was destined never to meet a European. He encountered the smallpox epidemic before he encountered the Spaniards.

The Spanish had been in full expansion mode for several decades. Since Christopher Columbus had established a settlement for the Spanish crown on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, a legion of conquistadors began a land grab in the Americas. Particularly successful was the overthrow of the Aztecs in Mexico by Hernán Cortés. The nature of that civilisation’s removal would offer inspiration to Pizarro as he ventured further south.

In 1532, he made his third voyage to South America, this time emboldened by the licence issued by the queen of Spain to conquer Peru in the name of his homeland. His timing – landing very shortly after Atahualpa’s victory over Huáscar – was accidental but immaculate. Had he arrived a year earlier, hopes of overpowering the everpopular Huayna Cápac would have been slim. Had he landed a year later, the new regime under Atahualpa would have had time to make progress in unifying the disparate empire. As it was, Pizarro and his men encountered a land in disarray.

Pizarro’s men numbered only in the region of 170 soldiers, a modest force with which to undermine and conquer a huge, sprawling empire. Aside from their diminutive number, outwardly they didn’t look the most dynamic army either, appearing battle-weary after campaigns in the Caribbean. But these were among Spain’s foremost soldiers a unit under the command of one of its sharpest minds.

The effects of the bitter civil war were conspicuous. One of Pizarro’s generals, Hernando de Soto, reported the town of Cajas to be “in considerable ruins from the fighting that Atahualpa had waged. In the hills were the bodies of many Indians hanging from trees because they had not agreed to surrender”.

As well as being a formidable military commander, Pizarro also possessed a key political brain. He understood howa divided population could be taken advantage of. His compatriot Cortés had manipulated rival groups in Mexico a dozen years earlier. Pizarro firmly believed that history could repeat itself here in the Andes.

Culture clash

At first, Atahualpa regarded the presence of these 170 strangers with mild curiosity at best. Such a small force couldn’t be regarded as a remotely serious threat. He did, though, send an envoy to investigate and observe these mysterious interlopers. This envoy, an Inca noble, spent two days among the Spaniards, examining their horses and their swords, and confirming the size of this ragged band.

His report didn’t unduly worry Atahualpa, who allowed the Spaniards to head away from the coast and into the mountains. Not everyone in Atahualpa’s camp was in agreement with this policy. During lengthy discussions about it at council, some members expressed a preference to attack the invaders at once, to neutralise the threat straight away. Instead, they were permitted to head towards the town of Cajamarca, where they might be later seized.

Unbeknownst to Atahualpa – who, until then, believed himself to be the ruler of the known world – these strangers represented the vanguard of the Spanish empire. They were deeply experienced soldiers scything their way through the metaphorical undergrowth to clear a path for control and colonisation, as well as grabbing as much gold for the Spanish crown as possible.

By Friday 15 November 1532, Pizarro and his men descended into the town of Cajamarca. They made the main square their base, settling in a series of barns, or kallankas, around the perimeter. These kallankas were long buildings with multiple doors that led onto the square, and usually housed visitors who’d come to Cajamarca for ceremonies or festivals. They were also used for sheltering soldiers. Pizarro was merely upholding the tradition.

Master builders

The Incas continue to be revered for their buildings. A popular method of construction was that of ‘pillow-faced’ architecture, where sanded and shaped stones would interlock without need for mortar. This technique was often adopted for temples and palaces – structures that were to last for centuries, if not in perpetuity. The royal estate of Machu Picchu boasts arguably the finest examples of the method, the durability of which was required in such a seismically sensitive landscape.

These earthquake-proof buildings were built to last. Innovative Inca engineering was also demonstrated with the construction of a 40,000km road network. Based on a north-south main road off which other roads branched, it attempted to link up this long, stretched-out empire.

Camp intrigues

Pizarro sent de Soto and around 15 horsemen to visit Atahualpa, whose camp was now comparatively nearby. His instruction was to invite the Sapa Inca to visit Pizarro down in the town. When the cautious de Soto rode into the camp, his passage was silently observed by the massed ranks of the Inca army. When he reached Atahualpa, surrounded by all his women and many chiefs, the invitation fell on deaf ears. There was no reaction. It was only when another of Pizarro’s generals – his brother Hernando – stepped forward that Atahualpa engaged with the Spanish party.

He invited them to dismount their horses and dine with him. They declined. He offered a drink instead. They feared being poisoned, but Atahualpa imbibed too, while assuring them that he would travel to Cajamarca the following day to meet with Pizarro.

If de Soto had been nervous when visiting Atahualpa’s camp, the entire brigade was jittering that night. Sleep came fitfully, if at all. One of the conquistadors, Cristóbal de Mena, later reported that “there was no distinction between great and small, or between foot-soldiers and horsemen. Everyone performed sentry rounds fully armed that night. So also did the good old Governor, who went about encouraging the men. On that day, all were knights.”

The nerves were understandable. This was a sticky situation. “The Spaniards now realised, for the first time, the sophistication of the empire they had penetrated,” wrote Inca historian John Hemming. “They found themselves isolated from the sea by days of marching over difficult mountains. They were in the midst of a victorious army in full battle order, which Soto and Hernando Pizarro estimated at 40,000 effectives.” The two generals had been economical with the truth they actually believed the Inca army to be double that size. “They had no reason to hope for a friendly reception of any long duration.”

Beheading the empire

The Spaniards might have been edgy and possibly desperate, but they did have plans, tactics that had previously enjoyed success during Spain’s incursions in the Caribbean. One option was simply to attack the Incas from the off, to not wait for any provocation. Another option involved kidnapping Atahualpa imprisoning the head of state had proved an effective exercise in Mexico.

The next morning, Atahualpa was in no rush to make his audience with the Spanish. It was a comparatively short distance to the town from the plain on which he was camped, but no move was made before lunchtime. By late afternoon, with the Sun low in the sky, he was still half a mile from the square and chose to make camp instead. The Spaniards grew even more anxious. Fearing an attack under cover of darkness, Pizarro despatched a messenger to urge Atahualpa to attend, issuing a promise that no harm would come to him. He agreed.

Leaving most of his armed soldiers on the plain, Atahualpa, dressed in his finery, was carried into Cajamarca, accompanied by around 5,000 men, who were largely unarmed, save for small battleaxes and slings. Arriving in the square, not a Spaniard was to be seen. The first to break cover was Friar Vincente de Valverde. Aided by a translator, he began to tell Atahualpa about how he’d been sent to introduce his religion to the Sapa Inca. What Valverde was actually doing was delivering the Requerimiento, a declaration required by Spain’s Royal Council before any conflict involving bloodshed.

The nature of time

In the Western world, time is a linear concept, where the past, the present and the future exist one after the other. We live in the present, while the past can’t be revisited and the future has yet to reveal itself. The Incas treated time much differently, seeing all three as occurring simultaneously, running in parallel.

Rather than occupying a line, the Incas saw the three realms – or pacha – stacked on top of each other. The hanan pacha was the upper realm, which represented the heavens and the future. The kay pacha was the physical world currently occupied, one that could be impacted by what was above or below it. At the bottom was the ukhupacha, representing the inner world – what had already been experienced internally. In direct contrast to the Western perception of time, the hanan pacha and the ukhupacha – the future and the past – were able to impact on and affect what was happening in the present.

When Atahualpa examined a Bible that Valverde had handed him and then threw it to the ground, the priest ran back towards the particular kallanka where Pizarro was waiting. “Come out! Come out, Christians!” he yelled. “Come at these enemy dogs who reject the things of God.”

On Pizarro’s signal, the doors to all the kallankas were thrust open and the square fired on by cannon. Sixty or so Spanish soldiers charged on horseback at the defenceless Incas, many of whom fled on their heels. It took just two hours for the Governor’s small brigade to vanquish Atahualpa’s men. Atahualpa himself later admitted he lost 7,000 soldiers that afternoon. Not a single Spaniard died.

Atahualpa was able to make this admission because Pizarro had spared him his life, following through with the kidnap plan. He was hustled away to the Temple of the Sun on the town’s outskirts, whereupon he was dressed in local clothing and, remarkably, had a bed made up for him in Pizarro’s own quarters.

Atahualpa was shell-shocked by the experience. The intelligence he had received – that the Spanish were illprepared and far from studious in their ways – hadn’t been correct. As John Hemming observed, Atahualpa “could not conceive that, with the odds so completely in his favour, the Spaniards would be the first to attack. Nor could he imagine that an attack would come without warning or provocation, before he had even held his meeting with Governor Pizarro.”

He wasn’t the only surprised individual that evening. The Spanish were equally gobsmacked that their half-baked, potentially fatal plan had worked

The Spanish Conquest

Prior to Francisco Pizarro’s successful removal of Atahualpa in 1532, the Spanish had already made substantial territorial gains in the Americas. Sailing under the flag of Spain, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus had, in the late 15th century, founded a settlement in present-day Haiti, while the first permanent Spanish settlement on mainland South America was established in 1515 in what is now Venezuela.

Between 1519 and 1521, Hernán Cortés led the conquest of the Aztec empire. The swift control that Cortés exerted over Mexico would, in many ways, act as the blueprint for the overthrow of the Incas. Following Cortés’s efficient removal of the Aztecs from power, one of his most trusted men, Pedro de Alvarado, subsequently led the conquest of much of Central America, including Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. This he achieved by means that were often brutal.

A few years after Atahualpa’s death and the securing of Inca lands for the Spanish empire, the conquest moved into the territory north of the Andes, into present-day Colombia and Venezuela. There was also a push to colonise down to the southern tip of the continent, in the process assimilating the lands that now constitute Argentina and Paraguay.

Brave new world

Despite his captivity, Atahualpa remained sharp of mind. The following day, the Spaniards raided his camp, where his soldiers meekly surrendered on his say-so. The conquistadors returned to Cajamarca with plentiful treasure and Atahualpa noted how this appeared to be their primary focus. He could see an escape route and made them an offer: he would give them a room filled with gold, and two more with silver, in return for his life.

It was an attractive ransom, but one that would take a few months to fulfil, for the precious metals to be gathered from across the empire, including being liberated from places of worship.

During this time of captivity, Atahualpa remained Sapa Inca, but the orders he issued to his people were made in the context of being held hostage. One bad order and his life was over. The Spaniards were effectively becoming legitimised in the eyes of the Inca people via their incarcerated leader. Pizarro’s decision to take Atahualpa alive was thoroughly vindicated.

Atahualpa was looking forward to enjoying his empire once the ransom was met, his release confirmed, and these gold-diggers had left his lands. He even secretly ordered the killing of the captive Huáscar by one of his halfbrother’s escorts to ensure his future rule be as smooth as possible. But the Spanish double-crossed him again.

Pizarro was concerned that, were Atahualpa to be released, there was no guarantee that he and his men would get out alive. After all, there were many mountains between Cajamarca and the Pacific Ocean to negotiate. So the decision was made to execute Atahualpa.

After the most perfunctory of trials (one of the charges was the murder of Huáscar), he was found guilty and condemned to be burned at the stake. Accepting his fate, Atahualpa made one last deal. As the Inca belief was that the next life could only be reached if the body was intact, he proposed converting to Christianity in return for not being burned alive. He was garrotted instead, but not before Valverde had baptised him.

Moments before his execution, Atahualpa was given the Christian name of Francisco, the same as that of his great adversary, Pizarro – the man who ended Inca rule and changed the destiny of South America forever.

After Atahualpa

Following Atahualpa’s trial and execution in late July of 1533, the Spanish installed another son of Huayna Cápac, Manco Inca Yupanqui, as Sapa Inca. Initially, he was something of a puppet, acquiescing to the conquistadors’ motives and methods. When Diego de Almagro, the Spaniard who had accompanied Francisco Pizarro on his first visit to South America, tried to claim Cuzco for himself, Manco seized the chance to advance the Inca cause by taking advantage of the in-fighting among the conquistadors. He captured Cuzco in 1536, before the Spanish regrouped and re-exerted their control of the city.

Retreating to the mountains, Manco set up a small Inca state, which he and his successors ruled for more than three decades. When Manco’s son Túpac Amaru was executed by the Spanish in 1572, the final Inca stronghold was extinguished.

That the Spanish had been able to conquer the vast and sophisticated Inca Empire was partly due to the smallpox epidemic that spread viciously across the domain. The irony was that one of the Incas’ lasting achievements – the extensive road network, much of which still exists – provided the conditions for the easy transportation of the disease.

The Spanish also had a definite military advantage, which saw them make rapid advances across the entire Inca Empire. Not only was their weaponry more sophisticated and more brutal, but their use of horses overwhelmed the native population. The historian Jago Cooper has referred to the animals as “the tanks of the Conquest”.

Nige Tassel writes about sport and popular culture as both a journalist and author.

Closing Thoughts on Paititi

If Paititi does in fact exist, its location would be somewhere in between Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. However, this area is dense with thick jungle and is home to both potentially undiscovered Incan ruins as well as hidden drug cartels hoping not to be found. With such dangers, it still pushes adventurers and archaeologists alike to find Paititi.

What makes Paititi so attractive is its ever-changing descriptions being just as mysterious as its elusive locations. Is the hunt for this lost city warranted?

Given the history of almost 500 years of shifting definitions and places, how can anyone be sure it truly exists? Because if one believes in it enough, it can come true.

Top image: The golden city of Paititi is hidden in the dense Peruvian jungle. Source: Mars Lewis / Adobe stock.

Watch the video: HISTORIA DEL INCA ATAHUALPA Atahualpa el ultimo inca