Pizarro & the Fall of the Inca Empire

Pizarro & the Conquistadores

Francisco Pizarro led a small group of Spanish adventurers eager to find gold. In 1528 CE, the expedition's pilot captured a raft full of treasure. Pizarro used the discovery to secure the right from King Charles V to be governor of any new territory discovered. With a force of 168 men, 27 cavalry horses, artillery, and one friar, Pizarro headed for the Andes.

Pizarro discovered storehouses and well-built roads, signs of a prosperous civilization. He settled at San Miguel, and by 1532 Pizarro was ready to make contact with the rulers of what seemed a huge and wealthy empire.

Trouble in the Empire

The Incas already had serious internal problems. Unpopular taxes were demanded in the form of goods, military service, and general labor. Many communities were forcibly resettled to other parts of the empire. The Incas also imposed their religion and art on conquered peoples.

There were some benefits to Inca rule, which improved the food supply, built better roads and communication systems, offered military protection, and sponsored feasts. The conquered peoples lacked loyalty to the empire when a rival power threatened Inca rule. Some areas of the empire were constantly in rebellion. The Incas leaders were also fighting among themselves for control of the empire.

The Incas were hit by an epidemic of European diseases, including smallpox, which spread quickly from Central America.

Pizarro Meets Atahualpa

In 1532, Pizarro sent word that he wanted to meet the Inca king. Surrounded by an army of 80,000 soldiers, King Atahualpa did not feel threatened, and he made Pizarro wait until the next day.

Both sides planned to capture or kill the other leader. When the Incan royal troop arrived, Pizarro and his men fired small canons. The Spaniards wore armor and attacked on horseback. Spanish firearms overpowered the Incan spears, arrows, slings, and clubs. Atahualpa was captured alive. Pizarro later executed the king.

The Fall of Cuzco

Next the Spanish set about conquering Cuzco with its vast golden treasures. Pizarro built his new capital there. The local population disliked the Inca rule, so they helped the Spaniards.

The Spaniards ruthlessly stripped and melted down treasures from Cuzco and the Coricancha temple.

Conquering the Empire

The Spaniards’ continued their conquest of the empire. The Inca were unfamiliar with military tactics such as deceit, ambush, and subterfuge, changing strategy mid-battle, and seizing opportunities of weakness in the enemy as they arose.

Inca warriors were highly dependent on their officers. If a leader fell in battle, a whole army might 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.

Source: Pizarro & the Fall of the Inca Empire
By Mark Cartwright, World History Encyclopedia, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

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