Cajamarca - Peru
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The Battle of Cajamarca

The confrontation at Cajamarca was the culmination of a months-long contest of espionage, subterfuge, and diplomacy conducted by Pizarro and the Inca via their respective envoys. Atahualpa had received the invaders from a position of immense strength. Encamped along the heights of Cajamarca with legions of battle-tested troops fresh from their victories in the civil war against his half-brother Huascar, the Inca had little to fear from Pizarro's minute army, however extravagant its dress and weaponry. In a calculated show of goodwill, he had lured the adventurers deep into the heart of his mountain empire where any potential threat could be met with a show of force. The Spaniards arrived on November 15, 1532. Atahualpa, according to Spanish sources, planned to recruit a few of the conquistadors into his own service and to appropriate Spanish firearms and horses for his armies. He would then execute the others at his leisure.



The Spaniards found themselves in a decidedly less enviable position: the great 19th century historian of the conquest William H. Prescott recounts that from their camp in the city plaza, any assault on the Inca armies overlooking the valley would have rightly seemed suicidal. Retreat was equally out of the question, because any gesture of weakness that might undermine their inflated display of potency would invite furious pursuit and the sealing of the mountain passes. Once the great stone fortresses dotting their route of escape were garrisoned, argued Pizarro, they would prove impenetrable. But to do nothing, he added, to dally in the fragile and fleeting safety of the Inca's good graces, was no better, since prolonged contact with the natives would erode the fears of Spanish supernaturality that kept them at bay.

Pizarro gathered his officers on the evening of November 15 and outlined a scheme that, in its audacity, recalled memories of Hernán Cortés' exploits in Mexico: he would capture the Emperor from within the midst of his own armies. Since this could not realistically be accomplished in an open field, Pizarro invited the Inca to Cajamarca.

Atahualpa accepted this invitation, but, leading a procession of over eighty thousand men, advanced down the hillside only slowly the next day. Pizarro's fortunes changed dramatically in late afternoon when Atahualpa announced that the greater part of his host would set up camp outside the walls of the city. He requested that accommodations be provided only for himself and his retinue, which would forsake its weapons in a sign of amity and absolute confidence.

Having concealed themselves within the city, the Spaniards allowed the Incas to enter Cajamarca unopposed on November 16, 1532. An incident occurred when friar Vicente de Valverde approached the Inca and ordered him to renounce his pagan religion and to accept Charles V as sovereign. Atahualpa, outraged, spoke in unflattering terms about Catholic doctrine, the Bible (which he threw on the floor), and the office of the Papacy.

Valverde, equally infuriated by these indignities, urged Pizarro to attack. At once, the Spaniards unleashed murderous gunfire at the vulnerable mass of Incas and surged forward in a concerted action. The effect was devastating: the shocked and largely unarmed Incas offered such feeble resistance that the battle has often and more appropriately been labeled a massacre. At length, Pizarro captured and imprisoned the Inca at the so-called ransom room, ending all attempts at resistance. Although years of fighting would continue as the Spaniards consolidated their conquests, the Inca Empire effectively fell with a single blow at Cajamarca.

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