A Skirmish at Cajamarca in 1532 Led to the Downfall of the Incan Empire
A Skirmish at Cajamarca in 1532 Led to the Downfall of the Incan Empire

A Skirmish at Cajamarca in 1532 Led to the Downfall of the Incan Empire

Patrick Lynch - April 20, 2018

A Skirmish at Cajamarca in 1532 Led to the Downfall of the Incan Empire
Depiction of Atahualpa surrendering to Pizarro – Highbrow

A Simple Victory

Soon after the letter incident, Pizarro gave the order to attack and his men wasted no time as they opened fire and immediately attacked the Inca nobles. A combination of guns and a cavalry charge confused the Inca and they panicked. The Spaniards knew they had to capture the Sapa Inca as soon as possible and targeted Atahualpa from the moment they began the attack. The Inca had never faced firearms before and had no idea how to react so they fled in terror.

When Pizarro rushed at the emperor on horseback, he expected his opposite number to flee but he stood still. Atahualpa was being carried by a large group of his nobles so the Spanish cut off the hands of the emperor’s bearers. They couldn’t believe their eyes when the Inca ignored their suffering and used the stumps of their hands to continue carrying Atahualpa. Eventually, one soldier pulled the Inca Emperor off the throne and Pizarro realized the importance of keeping the Sapa Inca alive. Therefore, he prevented his men from killing Atahualpa on the spot. It is said that Pizarro blocked a sword strike aimed for the Inca Emperor and received a deep wound for his troubles.

A Skirmish at Cajamarca in 1532 Led to the Downfall of the Incan Empire
Depiction of Atahualpa’s execution – Eon Images

Ransom & Conquest

When the dust settled at Cajamarca, somewhere between 3,000 and 7,000 Inca lay dead. No Spaniards died and only one was wounded. The conquistadores knew nothing of Inca customs and laws; such as the one where laying hands on the emperor was punishable by death. This lack of knowledge probably helped them defeat the Inca because the soon to be conquered people had no clue how to react to such audaciousness.

This was apparent in the aftermath of Cajamarca because, had the Inca army responded, it would have easily defeated the Spaniards, weapons or not. Remember, there were still several thousand-armed warriors in the vicinity and they vastly outnumbered the enemy. Alas, the shock of Atahualpa’s capture destroyed the army’s morale so instead of launching an attack, they refused to engage in a fight even after their nobles had been routed.

Two days later, the Spaniards ransacked the Inca army camp and found an extraordinary amount of gold, silver, and precious stones. The Sapa Inca realized that the Spaniards lusted after these glittering items and offered to fill a room of 22 x 17 x 8 feet once with gold and twice with silver within a couple of months. He fulfilled his promise but after a few months, the Spaniards realized that keeping the emperor was dangerous as the Inca general Ruminahui was preparing an attack. Pizarro staged a mock trial and Atahualpa was sentenced to death. He was strangled in Cajamarca on August 29, 1533.

The Inca Empire didn’t last long after his death because Pizarro and his men marched on Cusco and entered the city on November 15, 1533, a year to the day after his triumph at Cajamarca. The Incas rebelled against the invaders with archaeological evidence suggesting there was an uprising in 1536. The last Inca leader, Tupac Amaru, was killed by the Spanish in 1572. Meanwhile, there was a struggle for power between Pizarro and Diego de Almagro. Although Pizarro ‘won’ this particular battle, he didn’t live long enough to enjoy it as Almagro’s followers murdered him in Lima on June 26, 1541.


Where Do We Get This Stuff? Here is a List of our Sources

‘Francisco Pizarro and the Conquest of the Inca.’ Shane Mountjoy and William H. Goetzmann. Chelsea House Publishers, 2006.

‘Battle of Cajamarca.’ Michael Kerrigan in Britannica.

‘Battles that Changed History: An Encyclopedia of World Conflict.’ Spencer Tucker. ABC-CLIO, 2011.