Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Truth Wilder Than Fiction

By Alli Sinclair

When I first lived in Peru, I knew a little about the history but I was by no means an expert. As part of my work as a tour guide I had to study up, and I did so with glee. I find it disconcerting these events actually happened and the suffering that ensued is horrible but it’s hard not to read about the events in the Incan Empire in the 1500s and not think of it as an over-blown version of Dallas. Or perhaps I just watch too much television…

In 1532 a civil war broke out between Incan half-brothers Atahualpa and Huáscar. Unable to rule the Incan Empire together, Atahualpa took control of northern region and Huáscar the south, which included the political capital of Cuzco. Not content with his lot, Huáscar ordered his men to take Atahualpa prisoner but he escaped and in retaliation amassed 30,000 troops to attack Huáscar. Atahualpa declared war and as he advanced close to Cuzco, Huáscar’s inexperienced men were defeated. The day Atahualpa received news of his victory, Francisco Pizzaro, a Spanish conquistador descended into the northern Incan town of Cajamarca. He only had 180 men and 30 horses with him.

Pizarro’s perfect timing meant he could take advantage of the division within the Incan Empire and set about achieving his own goals for the Spanish. After securing an audience with Atahualpa, Pizarro demanded that Atahualpa and his people cast aside their religious beliefs and agree to a treaty with Spain. Of course, Atahualpa refused and the canons and highly-trained Spaniards overpowered the slings, stone axes, and cotton-padded armour of the Incas. The bloody battle killed close to 6,000 Incas but only five Spaniards.

Pizarro’s men captured Atahualpa who offered to fill a large room with treasure to secure his release. Pizarro accepted and received delivery of 24 tonnes of gold taken from various regions of the Incan Empire. Even though Atahualpa paid handsomely for his release, Pizarro put him on trial for arranging the murder of Huascar (so he didn’t pay Pizarro with more Incan riches to ensure Atahualpa stayed imprisoned), and for plotting to overthrow the Incan Empire. The Spanish tribunal found Atahualpa guilty and he was given the choice of being burned alive or the quicker option of hanging if he converted to Christianity. Atahualpa chose the latter so his body could be preserved for Incan mummification.

After his death, the new Incan Emperor and Huascar’s brother, Manco Capac, bowed to Pizarro and his men, allowing them to establish Lima in 1535. This city became the launching pad for another conquistador, Diego Almagro, to attack Chile and allowed Pizarro to communicate better with his leaders in Panama.

A year later, Capac led an uprising but failed. This defeat marked the end of the Inca’s resistance to Spanish rule and the end of an empire.

An empty-handed Almagro returned from Chile, having discovered the poor state of the region. Disheartened, he demanded a share of the riches from Pizarro, who refused, and another civil war broke out, but this time between the Spanish. Almagro seized the Incan capital, Cuzco, in 1538 but Pizarro teamed up with his half-brother, Hernando, to defeat and kill Almagro. But, and this is where it becomes more like a soapie than a history book, Almagro’s son, Diego el Monzo, attacked Pizzaro’s palace in Lima and had him killed. Monzo became Governor of Peru but the Spanish crown didn’t acknowledge his role and in 1542 Monzo was captured and executed by the Spanish. The Spanish Empire remained in a state of turmoil until the 1550s when Viceroy Andres Hurtado de Mendoza finally established a sense of order.

That’s quite a lot of events packed into a short period of history, isn’t it? So next time you watch a TV show about family rivalry and vicious take-overs, you might be prompted to remember the Spanish and the Incas and how truth can be wilder than fiction.


  1. What an amazing time in history, Alli. Thanks for sharing! Can you know any historical novels written about that time period in South America? It sounds like it would make for riveting fiction!

  2. Thanks Beth! Well, I can recommend a book (not published yet!) and the book is called VESTIGE and the author is Alli Sinclair. ;-) It is a super interesting time in history, that's for sure!