This Day In History: Pizarro Seizes The Incan Emperor (1532)


On this day in, 1532, Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador,  launches a daring plot to capture the Inca Empire. The shrewd conquistador decides that the best way for him to secure control of the Incan Empire for Spain was to capture the Incan Emperor. The Spanish forces only amounted to 200 men and some Indian allies. However, they were bold and believed that God had sanctioned their mission. They were also greedy for the fabulous wealth of the Incas.

On this date the Spanish invited the Incan Emperor, Atahualpa, to a feast in his honor. The Spanish had met the Incan Emperor and his army at Cajamarca. The Emperor of the Incas was perhaps over-confident and did not believe that the Spanish were a threat given their tiny army and he had an estimated army of up to 100,000 men.   Atahualpa  arrived with an escort of some 5000 men, a sign of his overconfidence.  As he entered the room where he feast was to be held a friar who was with the conquistadors demanded that Atahualpa convert to Christianity and when he refused, Pizarro gave the order  to attack the Incans. The Spanish  opened fire with their muskets and they massacre and unknown number of Incans. They spare the life of Atahualpa and they hold him hostage, because they know that they will be safe as long as they held him. They demand a ransom from the Incans. If they filled a room with gold and other riches they would release the Emperor. The Incans who believed that the Emperor was a living god, were eager to get Atahualpa away from the Spaniards. When the Incans delivered the wealth to Pizarro, they were betrayed. Instead of freeing Atahualpa they strangled him. The Incas are in shock at cold-blooded murder of their leader and it takes them some time to organize any resistance to the invaders.

The funeral of Atahualpa

The Spanish had arrived at a very fortunate time. The Inca Empire in 1532 had just emerged from a vicious Civil War. The war had caused a massive loss of life and also caused a famine. The war had been between Atahualpa and his older brother for the throne. Atahualpa had emerged the victor and was in the process of uniting the Empire. Pizarro was able to recruit many soldiers from the defeated army. After they had killed the Emperor they were able to take advantage of the panic in the ranks of the Incans to consolidate their hold on the Empire. They managed to take the major cities with little or no opposition. Soon the conquistadors received some reinforcements. The Incans retreated to the mountains and they continued to resist the Spanish for many years.  The Spanish fell out among themselves and they even fought each other and order was only restored when the Spanish king sent a viceroy to the area. Eventually, the Empire was absorbed by the Spanish and added to their vast American Empire.