11. The Inca War of Two Brothers saw a bloody sibling rivalry herald the end of the Inca Empire
In 1527, the Inca Emperor Huayna Capac died from smallpox. According to tradition, his eldest son, Huascar, stood to inherit the throne. However, Huascar’s brother Atahualpa believed he should be the next Emperor – after all, unlike his brother, he was a successful warrior, plus he was also in control of the powerful city of Quito. Of course, neither brother was willing to back down. And so, at the very time the Incas needed to be united in order to hold back the threat of the Spanish, the Empire was ripped apart from a bloody civil war, pitting brother against brother.
According to most accounts, it was Huascar who initiated the war. Believing himself to be the sole, legitimate heir to all of the Inca lands, Quito included, he demanded loyalty from everyone, including his own brother. But even when Atahualpa pledged his allegiance and sent peace offerings of gold and silver, Huascar still saw him as a threat. Both brothers launched surprise attacks, killing not only soldiers but also thousands of civilians. Between 1529 and 1532, the two fought numerous battles across the length and breadth of the empire. Over time, Atahualpa’s superior tactical mind and numerical advantage (he had an army of 100,000 men in comparison to his brother’s 60,000 warriors) gave him the edge.
Just before Atahualpa could finish the war, he was captured by the conquistadors. The Spaniard Francisco Pizarro offered to decide which of the brothers deserved to be ruler. However, Atahualpa preferred to have his brother murdered instead. So, in 1533, the Spaniards agreed and Huascar was drowned, supposedly in full accordance with his own brother’s wishes. But that didn’t mean Atahualpa was safe. Just a few months later, he himself was killed in a public square by Pizarro’s men.