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The Amazing New Adventures of Larry and Mark - Peru, Land of the Incas

Chapter 24

How the Inca Civilization Ended


We all learned in grade school that “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  The invasion of the New World started in the late 15th Century (1490's) with the Spanish colonization of the Caribbean Islands.  Not a great source of precious metals or gems, enslavement of natives for farming of sugarcane was much more profitable.  By the early 16th Century, Spanish conquistadors were lured to the south and west by stories of large amounts of gold.


By 1521, the Aztecs had been subdued by Hernan Cortes.  Success in this invasion encouraged the Spanish to continue southward, towards a place called “Peru,”  rumored to have limitless wealth of gold.  Many of  Francisco Pizarro’s forces participating in the invasion were not soldiers but were promised great wealth.   In return, the Spaniards brought gifts of questionable value:    They brought with them measles and smallpox, to which the Andeans had no immunity.  By 1525-27, there was a smallpox epidemic.


Pizarro and his men advanced south, and in 1530, they enter Peru.  Pizarro then headed back to Spain to get more men and to get advice from Cortes.  When he returned to Peru, he found that the area was devastated by the civil war among the Inca nobles. 


Huayna Capac was the eleventh Inca king or “Sapa Inca”.  In his years in power, he had extended the Incan empire significantly south to what is present-day Chile and Argentina.  The empire had reached the height of its size and influence under his rule, stretching over much of Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and Columbia.  Despite its size and wide ranging geography and cultures, the Inca empire or “Tawantinsuyo” was very sophisticated, with large cities, temples, fortresses of expertly engineered stone, roads cut through mountains, massive terraces for agriculture, and hydraulic (water-moving) works.


Into this comes an irresistible force: Huayna Capac died from smallpox, and had not left a clear successor.   This may have led to the downfall of the Inca civilization.  He had two sons, and right before his death, he had split the empire between his favorite son, Atahualpa, and his legitimate heir, Huascar.  This started the civil war.  Francisco Pizarro came back toward the end of this war, and arranged to put a puppet Inca “king” on the throne.


Atahualpa had defeated Huascar, becoming the last independent Inca leader, in place when Pizarro came.  But many of the soldiers on the losing side (Huascar) who were likely to be victims of torture by the winners, sided with Pizarro against Atahualpa.


Atahualpa had stopped in the city of Cajamarca in the Andes with his army of about 80,000 troops on his way south to Cusco to claim his throne when he encountered the Spanish led by Pizarro. With him were only 180 Spaniards with steel armor and  37 horses.  But the Inca had never seen a white man, or steel weapons, or even a horse before.


Atahualpa was captured, but he was offered release if his subjects could provide ransom in the form of gold and precious jewels - enough to fill a room once with gold and twice with silver.  Over the next months, precious objects were brought to Cusco from across the Empire - jars, pots and even huge golden plates taken off the walls of the Sun Temple of Coricancha in Cusco.  By Pizarro’s order, the huge accumulation of gold was melted down and distributed to his men.  But Atahualpa was killed anyway in 1533, accused of plotting against his captors.


After Atahualpa's execution, the Spaniards appointed his younger brother Túpac Huallpa as a puppet ruler.  His crowning was with great recognition and ceremony, all done to convince the Inca people that they were still being ruled by an Inca.  Tupac Huallpa may not have understood that he was being used so the Spaniards could take control.  More of the golden treasures of the Inca continued to be looted.   Túpac Huallpa died of smallpox  soon after he was crowned the Inca Emperor by Francisco Pizarro.   He was succeeded by another brother of a lower nobility class, named Manco Inca Yupanqui.


Manco first cooperated with the Spaniards, but eventually chafed under their rule.  At one point imprisoned in Cusco, he escaped and in 1536 he formed an army of 30,000 to end the Spanish occupation, attacking Lima where Pizarro lived.  He was defeated by 300 Spanish soldiers and 20,000 natives opposed to Manco, and he retreated to Vilcabamba.  Manco died there in 1544, but the area remained in Inca hands until 1572, led by Manco’s son Tupac Amaru.


In 1572, the Spanish invaded Vilcabamba and found the city vacant.  They pursued the last Incan rulers and executed them.  But all remaining Inca vanished into the forests, cutting their bridges to the outside, and were never seen again.  The Spanish never found Machu Picchu.


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