THE ARRIVAL OF THE SPANIARDS AT CAJAMARCA
Six months after disembarking in Tumbes and after a hard journey
across the coastal plains and the rough mountain roads, on 15th
November, 1532 Pizarro's host caught sight of the splendid valley of
Cajamarca. They were 72 men on horseback, 106 men on foot and an undetermined but
large number of porters, Indian men and women from Nicaragua and some
black and Moorish slaves.
At one end, as if secluded by the shelter of the soft cordillera,
was the vast stone city and at the back, Atahualpa's camp at the
hot-baths of Cunoc. "It looked like a very beautiful city because everyone had his
own tent", reported Hernando Pizarro to the Hearers of the Audience of
Santo Domingo. The view of the Inca's army must have impressed the Castilians,
maybe they had ventured too far into the Empire, but returning was out of
the question. The die was cast.
The Spaniards arrived after midday "at the time of vespers" as the
chroniclers point out. It was raining and hailing; soon afterwards
they entered the empty city Atahualpa had transferred his camp to the
thermal springs a little over a league away from the city Pizarro called
together his captains to explain the plan. Experience advised a surprise
attack, without there being any provocation. If they wanted to get out alive it
was important to capture the Inca. It was thus established; it was, in short,
the tactic that had proved so successful in the conquest of Mexico and the
As soon as they had settled in, Pizarro sent Hernando de Soto
and some horsemen to the Incas camp to invite him for dinner that
same night. Soto left for the Cunoc camp with fifteen men on horseback and an
interpreter. After traveling the road across the reed-covered
plain they found the Inca in a small palace in which there was a warm water pond
where only the monarch and his women bathed. De Soto asked through the
interpreter for the emperor to come out and speak with him. Atahualpa had
Soto wait for him while his servants hung a transparent curtain from the door,
the Inca sat behind it. There were some women next to him and many nobles.
The Inca's soldiers remained at a distance in a compact crowd.
De Soto began talking without Atahualpa condescending to reply.
One of the nobles declined the invitation for him explaining that
his lord was on his last day of ritual fasting. After some time he had the
curtain withdrawn and told the Spaniards he accepted the invitation for
the following day. At the same time he mentioned the serious news he
had received from the cacique of Poechos about the acts and defects
of the Castilians. For their part the Spanish captains - for they had
been joined by Hernando Pizarro, bold and violent - boasted about their prowess
as warriors and the power of their horses. Atahualpa invited them to dismount
and have dinner. The Castilians showed their fear of being poisoned.
Atahualpa calmed them down by drinking some of the contents of their
glasses, and managed to persuade them to drink some chicha.
De Soto asked the Inca if he would like him to
race his horse before him and, with his acceptance he spurred on his
horse, galloping in a nearby field.
Suddenly, he galloped across the field towards the tents;
witnessing the never-before-seen beast charge in their direction, the guard
drew back in fright. Then, going back towards Atahualpa with the intention of
scaring him, he spurred on and stopped only a few inches away from the
monarch. Some chroniclers state that great was the fear of the Spaniards
when they saw the Inca's composure.
Night had fallen when de Soto returned to his companions, whom
he found taking shelter in the rooms that faced the plaza. The
captains told Francisco Pizarro the details of the meeting: Atahualpa was every
bit an Emperor and his Court's refinement had surprised and amazed them.
They had also seen a victorious army in battle formation, which both
de Soto and Hernando Pizarro calculated was forty thousand strong. Atahualpa
was strange and impressive. He had not smiled once, nor had he shown
gratitude for the presents the Governor had sent him: a delicately
embroidered shirt from Flanders and a lovely glass of Venetian crystal.
Pizarro set up the guards, patrols and sentries to be on watch
throughout the night. His men were battle-hardened: there were
veterans from the Italian campaigns, from the conquests in the Caribbean,
Mexico and Central America. They had all been tempered in battle, even
against Indians, but that night no-one was able to sleep. Maybe next day
they would be dismembered by the Inca's maces. Only luck and a very
audacious sudden attack could save them. Some confessed their sins to the priests
who had come with them. As soon as day broke, governor Francisco Pizarro
formed his army and laid out the battle plan. The "immense" plaza referred to
in the chronicles suited his plans perfectly and they had to wait there
anyway. Two of its sides were made up by huge sheds, which he had the cavalry
enter. Each of these buildings, which were only erected in important
administration centers, had - said Cristobal de Mena - "more than two hundred
steps and twenty doors". These sheds surrounded the plaza's enclosed space.
The other side of the plaza had a "mud wall with a tower in the
middle, open towards the plain". This tower or fortress, as the
chroniclers call it, was no less than the ushno, a sort of platform where the Inca
or the governors sat to impart justice or decide important matters. Every
administrative center in the Empire had one. Pizarro had Pedro de Candia's
artillery placed there with four shots or falconets and eight or
nine arquebusiers. A shot would be the signal for the attack to begin.
The entrance was covered by the rest of the infantry.
Atahualpa had promised to arrive early, but hours went by without
his turning up. Only in the afternoon of that very long day could
they make out the amazing entourage in the distance. In front came a troop
of sweepers cleaning the way the sovereign was going to go through,
then, three groups of musicians and dancers led a body of the
army; behind marched a large group of nobles. Carried on litters came the
lords of Chincha, of Chimu and of Cuismanco; finally, on his magnificent
portable platform and with the dignity of a god, came the Inca.
A quarter of a league before arriving, the entourage stopped.
Nobody knows why. Atahualpa decided to put up tents, which caused panic
among the Castilians. They saw how the trap they had laid for him was
failing, and they began to suspect that what they most feared would happen: a
night attack. They kept waiting, hidden at their posts, under orders
not to show themselves until they heard the signal agreed upon. Pedro
Pizarro, then the governors page, would later remember: "I saw many a Spaniard
pissing himself in sheer terror without even noticing".
Francisco Pizarro asked for a volunteer to go with the
interpreter and ask the Inca to keep his word, and Hernando de Aldana stepped
forward. Atahualpa, confident in the situation and believing there was
nothing to fear, continued on his way, leaving behind, with fatal consequences,
the bulk of his army of slingers and lancers. With no more than five or six
thousand men, apparently disarmed, he decided to go into the city, It is
also possible that the Inca was planning to lay a trap for the Spaniards and
had ordered Ruminahui (stone eyes) and other generals to surround the city so
that no invader could escape.
At about five o'clock that afternoon, carried on his gold
platform, Atahualpa entered Cajamarca. He advanced to the center of the
great esplanade and ordered his entourage to halt. Seeing nobody, he
asked for the Spaniards. Someone from his entourage told him they were hiding.
He then asked his men to look for them. Then unannounced and in the midst
of an expectant silence, the Dominican friar Vicente Valverde came out,
followed by Martinillo, the Tallan boy who acted as interpreter, and by
Aldana. The friar approached the Inca's platform and began speaking. He may
have been reading or reciting by heart the formula of the Request that had
to be pronounced to justify the conquest. He surely spoke of God, of the
right the Pope and their majesties, the king and queen of Spain had
conferred on them to occupy the Inca's dominions, preach the faith in Jesus Christ
and save their souls. He probably assured Atahualpa that Pizarro came in peace.
The monarch, having heard and not understood what had been said,
asked the friar, outraged, where he got all that from. Valverde pointed at
the book he had in his hand. The chroniclers say that Atahualpa asked him for
the book and after observing it he tossed it away in anger. The friar,
frightened, started running towards where Pizarro was hiding.
We do not know the priest's words; the chroniclers give different
versions. What they all agree upon is that he asked the governor
to attack. Pizarro gave the signal. "The gunner was signaled to fire - said
Cristobal de Mena - and so he fired two shots, unable to release more".
Candia's falconets shook the air with terrifying thunder and at the cry of
"Santiago, let's get them!" Pizarro came out to lead the attack as the trumpets
sounded; the arquebuses were fired and the cavalry squadrons charged, leaving
death and confusion in their wake.
The Inca's entourage was taken by surprise. Surrounded in the
plaza, they were not capable of organizing a defense. They all tried to
reach the few narrow exits, while the Spaniards, positioned above, released a
shower of arrows on them. The first who tried to find the exits were struck by
arquebus shots and those who were escaping from the horses stumbled into them. The
Spaniards had closed them in and the Inca's companions could do nothing
Atahualpa stood up on his platform watching the massacre in awe.
The main caciques who bore the litter never abandoned him and the
chronicles agree that those who fell in the slaughter were replaced by
others. Although many of them were wounded and almost dead, they did not cease to
surround him with their bodies, trying to stop the Spaniards from reaching
Pizarro and twenty-four soldiers made their way to where Atahualpa
was and, after shooting down those who stood in their way, they
got to him, and knocking down the litter grabbed him by the hair. Somebody
tried to stab him, but Pizarro prevented it; while defending the Inca he was
wounded in the hand. The Inca was captured and taken to a stone building that
faced the plaza.
Outside the slaughter went on. The Spaniards, intoxicated by the
blood, continued to stab and spear Atahualpa's unarmed companions. When
they had finished off those in the plaza they went out to the
countryside after those who ran for their lives. The slaves and the troop finished
off the wounded.
Ruminahui, who with his army had been waiting outside the city for
the Inca's orders, failed to make a clear decision and left the
place fearing Atahualpa was dead. Night fell on that 16th November, 1532 and on
the bloody dusk of that day the sacred sun of the Incas set for good.
"Six or seven thousand Indians remained dead on the field", reports Cristobal
de Mena and other witnesses confirm the number.
Atahualpa was treated formally with the consideration his
condition demanded. They allowed some of his women to keep him
company and he was visited by relatives and servants. The Inca
was a shrewd man; he understood his situation perfectly and the danger
in which he would be if the followers of his brother Huascar dealt with
He knew on the other hand, the Spaniards' greed for precious
metals. In exchange for his freedom he offered them a room filled with
gold up to where his arm reached, and two more with silver. The Inca
believed that with this ransom and the formal promise of the Spaniards he had bought
his freedom. He was far from imagined that Pizarro's little army was but
the advance party of an inevitable invasion. He probably believed that the
Spaniards would leave, but his fate was already decided. Fast chasquis
(runners who carried news) took Atahualpa's orders in all directions and soon
the porters of the fabulous treasure started to arrive in Cajamarca.
Without waiting for the amount offered by the Inca to be completed,
the Spaniards began melting the gold and silver pieces: jugs,
plates, goblets, pans, braziers, vases, drums, figures of men and
animals, "monstrous pieces". After melting them down, they marked the bars
with the royal stamp and noted down their weight and assay value. They
only left some pieces that amazed them for the quality of the
workmanship, which went to complete the royal fifth.
On 17th June, Pizarro ordered the distribution of the silver and
gold of the most fabulous ransom ever to be paid in history, slightly
more than 6,080 kilograms of "good gold" (22 carats) were melted down and
11,872 kilograms of silver. But the treasure was distributed in parts.
After separating one fifth for the Crown and one tenth for the Church, Pizarro
took thirteen parts and the customary "Governor's jewel", no less than the
gold seat of Atahualpa's litter.
Hernando Pizarro received seven and the younger brothers two and
a half parts. De Soto, without whose intervention, as Lockhart says, the
conquest would scarcely have happened, only received four parts.
Sebastian de Benalcazar received two and a quarter parts and captain
Cristobal de Mena less than a man on horseback.
In short, each conquistador on horseback received approximately
forty kilograms of gold and eighty of silver. Pawns, that is
foot-soldiers, were given approximately half of that. The loads of gold and silver
pieces continued arriving in Cajamarca, and they kept melting them even
after the Inca's execution. Never has a soldier received such a large pay.
They all became rich. The Inca's treasure ended the Spanish adventurers'
poverty; fame would come in addition.
THE INCA'S DEATH
Atahualpa, who had trusted Pizarro's word, noticed the deception
when he saw that the treasure was being distributed and he was
still a prisoner. Gomara says that it was agreed to establish a court
presided over by the Governor, which found the Inca guilty of treason, because
having promised a ransom he was doing all he could to finish with the
Spaniards. It was said that he had ordered Ruminahui to advance towards
Cajamarca and attack his captors; he was found guilty of usurping the throne of
the Empire and having ordered the death of his brother Huascar, according to
them the legitimate monarch; he was accused of having ordered the
slaughter of the Cusco nobles without bearing in mind sex or age; he was condemned
for having committed incest, by having his sister for his wife and
for adultery for having many wives and children with them. Finally, he was
declared a heretic in contempt for refusing to recognize Christ's faith and
proclaiming himself Son of the Sun. The court found all the accusations valid
and Atahualpa was sentenced to die burned at the stake.
Hernando Pizarro and Hernando de Soto opposed the Inca's execution, considering it
a tremendous injustice. They were of the opinion that he should be taken to Spain
to be tried by the king and that the Governor had no competence to sentence
a sovereign prince in his own dominions.
Some soldiers shared this view; among them young Pedro Cataño.
But others, like Diego de Almagro and the royal officers, treasurer Riquelme,
overseer Salcedo, accountant Navarro and father Valverde supported the
So that no one should speak out in Atahualpa's defense, Hernando
Pizarro was entrusted to take the part of the booty corresponding
to the Crown to Spain. Hernando de Soto was sent to fight a false
rebellion. Cataño was arrested. At the last minute Atahualpa's sentence to burn at
the stake was commuted for the vile garrotte, in exchange for being baptized.
Atahualpa accepted baptism not because he wanted it, but because
he was terrified by the thought of his body being destroyed: his
remains, like the mummified bodies of the previous Incas, were destined to be
The Inca was strangled on the night of 26th July, 1533, and quarteled.
The next day the funeral was celebrated with "great honour" at the
improvised church of Cajamarca. Governor Pizarro, dressed in rigorous
mourning and with his hat in his hand, came out to the door of the church in
the company of Diego de Almagro to receive the corpse and conduct the
service with Valverde. The chroniclers state that during the funeral there were
desperate scenes of grief on behalf of the Inca's wives and women servants;
some committed suicide and many asked to be buried with their lord. Amen.