About the Incas to blame

Historical Investigation

To what extent are the Incas to blame for their own downfall?

A. Plan of the Investigation:

The Inca Empire was the largest in Pre-Columbian America in the 14th century until the 16th century when they were conquered by the Spanish Conquistadores. They had just faced a civil war when Francisco Pizarro reached South America therefore they didn't find themselves at their strongest. Francisco Pizarro was the man who conquered the Incas and became the conquistador of Peru. The aim of this investigation is to determine if the Incas were to blame for their downfall due to their civil war and the weakness of the Empire at the time.

My investigation was carried out in the following ways:

  • An internet research.
  • Through research of books relating to the Incas and their conquest.

B. Summary of Evidence

The Inca Empire is known as the largest empire in Pre-Columbian America, it was located in South America between what is now Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Colombia. The administrative political and military section was located in the capital called Cuzco, a city in the Andean mountain range. The Inca Empire was actually created through an expansion in South America by Pachacuti, the emperor at the time. He allocated four provincial governments with strong leaders who would report back to him. The emperor in the Inca Empire is now called the Sapa Inca however at the times of the Incas only the Emperor was called Inca, the rest were commoners. They believed that the Sapa Inca was the"son of God"[1] so he was venerated like a God. Several of the conquests began in 1463 when Pachacuti's son led the army into expanding the Empire. The Empire under its simple rules which were not to be lazy, steal, lie, commit adultery or murder; this was enough to keep the Empire under control as people knew their lives would be simple and they would get all the living essentials. At the time of the Sapa Inca Huayna-Capac, he had "for many years been leading the empire's professional army against tribes in the extreme North"[2] and this led to the consideration of having a second imperial capital, Quito. Informs were sent to Huayna-Capac about the sudden appearance of strangers, as we now know these "strange people"[3] were the Spaniards led by Pizarro. The Incas found themselves hit by a certain disease we now think was smallpox however there are certain historians such as John Hemming who think that it could have been malaria. As they had never been exposed to such thing they weren't immune to it and it caused large numbers of casualties along the whole Empire. Huayna-Capac was hit by this disease and was bound to leave the throne to one of the many heirs to the throne. The one son that he had chosen actually contracted the disease and died some days prior his father. The Incas found themselves with no Sapa Inca and this meant chaos considering they thought the Sapa Inca was God. He then decided to divide the Empire in two sections; one that was to be ruled from Cuzco and the other from Quito leaving each section to a different son. This meant the whole of the Empire and its structure would change creating a life change in the whole of South America. The chosen sons were Huascar and Atahualpa. It is crucial to know that in the Inca Empire that if the Sapa Inca that was chosen to take over the thrown wasn't considered strong enough then he could be overthrown by another more aggressive brother through a civil war or a palace revolution. In this case a war "which arose on the death of Huayna Capac"[4]. This civil war could have actually become one of the main reasons for the failure of the Incas to defend themselves from the Spaniards. The Spanish Invasion of the Inca Empire began in 1532 when the Inca ruler was informed of the arrival of the Spaniards.

The Spaniards themselves saw evidence of a massacre that had taken place not long ago before their arrival; they saw that "from the trees hung many bodies of Indians loyal to Huascar"[5]. Atahualpa sent a messenger to arrange a meeting with Pizarro and he came back with two goblets of Venetian glass and a Holland shirt. During the meeting of these two leaders in Cajamarca Pizarro invited Atahualpa to join him for dinner and this was going to complete his plan of ambushing him at a time when he was separated from his army. This was the point in which the Spaniards had control of the Inca Empire as they had control over the Sapa Inca.

C. Evaluation of Sources

The first source[6] is an extract from a book called "The Spanish Conquistadores" by F. A. Kirkpatrick. This book was first published in 1934 and it is not only focused in the conquest of Peru but focuses on all of the Spanish Conquests therefore has information on both Pizarro and Hernan Cortes who has the Conquistador of the Aztecs. The origin of this source being from a historian that has focused on both of the conquests can help us see how the conquest of Peru was different and what the differences were. The purpose of this source was to inform people of the conquests and being at such an early stage of the 20th century not this many information was available and not much research had been done to find out what had truly happened in the past. This source is valuable for this investigation because it gives us a detailed account on the effects of the civil war in the Empire and how the Spaniards benefitted from this. Also by giving us an account of the conquest of Mexico we are able to see if the civil war actually weakened the Incas to a point where they couldn't defend themselves from the Spaniards or if it had nothing to do with the conquest. The limitations of this source however are that it doesn't give us a very detailed account of the civil war and therefore although the source does offer the main information of the civil war, there is important information which isn't included that would be useful to a historian studying the Inca Civil War.

The second source[7] is a book called "The Conquest of the Incas" by John Hemming. The author of this source is a historian that is known to be one of the world's experts in South American history with a very strong interest in the Incas and their culture, he has visited almost every ruin in Peru and is one of the few historians that has been all around Peru to find out as much of the Incas as possible. This source was first published in July 1970 and it was his first book published about the Incas and his aim was to inform people of what had actually taken place in Peru during the Spanish conquest and how the Incas had been defeated. This source is valuable for this investigation because it is an exact account which has been thoroughly researched by the historian about what actually happened to the Incas and what actually took place during the civil war. It shows us the ways in which the civil war weakened the Empire but also gives us the other views on the disease that hit the Incas before the arrival of the Spaniards. The limitations that a historian would have with using this source is that although it does explain the effects of the war on the Empire it doesn't give us much detail on how the Spaniards benefited from this and also we have to consider that as the Incas didn't have a written language we don't actually know what happened during the war in detail and therefore this is a problem for historians focusing on the civil war.

D. Analysis

The Inca Civil War began about 7 years before the arrival of Pizarro when the Inca Empire was divided by Huayna Capac before his death between his son Huascar "a prince of generous and easy character"[8] and Atahualpa who was said to be "warlike, ambitious and unscrupulous"[9]. The fact is that Huascar was the second follower to the throne after Ninan Cuyochi who died a couple of days prior Capac and so the Empire found itself with no ruler. This is when the Empire was divided in half; after Capac's death and nor Atahualpa or Huascar were willing to share the Empire and so the war began. Huascar was informed that Atahualpa wanted to usurp the throne from Huascar who was natural heir although it differed from his father's decision and so Huascar sent for his brother and said that if Atahualpa "failed to obey his summons an army would be sent to fetch him"[10]. This is the first episode of the war and at this point the battles between these two brothers and their forces begin. The fact that the both rulers were using forces against each other led to the destruction of large amounts of Inca infrastructure which is why the Spaniards arrived at Tumbes and found that the "Inca civil war had left that city in ruins"[11]. The separation of the armies as the armies of the north though of Atahualpa as their favourite meant that the Empire found itself at a weaker point than ever because its forces which were normally spread across the empire were not only separated now but they were also led by different leaders with completely different aims.

The civil war affected the empire with a great number of casualties in battles such as the battle in Cotapampa in which Atahualpa faced serious losses however right after this Huascar was captured which ended the war and Atahualpa emerged victorious. Another reason for large numbers of casualties at the time is that the Empire was hit by smallpox. A disease brought by the Spaniards and to which the Incas weren't immune to as they were new to this disease and their medicine had never encounter such a thing therefore they were unable to cure it. This led to the Incas dying "in great numbers"[12] and caused depopulation in the Empire. This also weakened the Empire before the arrival of the Spaniards and therefore has to be considered as one of the reasons for their downfall. It is also the cause of the civil war to begin with as Capac contracted this disease and so did the natural heir to the throne.

E. Conclusion

At the time when Pizarro and his fleet reached South America, the Incas had just faced a civil war and the results of an epidemic of smallpox brought by explorers that had come before Pizarro. These two reasons were both very influential as Pizarro tried to conquer the Incas. First of all smallpox had led to a depopulation of the empire which resulted in weakening army forces and weakening of the structure of the Empire .After the civil war Atahualpa faced a constant fear of Huascar regaining the throne which made him very vulnerable to the Spanish once he was captured and therefore he offered them anything they wanted to keep them from letting Huascar free. The combination of these reasons and the fact that the Spaniards were able to capture the Sapa Inca so quickly all led to the downfall of the Inca Empire.

F. Sources and Word Limit


"Francisco Pizarro Conqueror of the Incas" by Barbara A. Somervill

"The Spanish Seaborne Empire" by J. H. Parry

"The Conquest of the Incas" by John Hemming

"The Incas" by Nigel Davies

"The Spanish Conquistadores" by F. A. Kirkpatrick








Word Limit:

[1] Francisco Pizarro Conqueror of the Incas by Barbara A. Somervill

[2] The Conquest of the Incas by John Hemming

[3] Francisco Pizarro Conqueror of the Incas by Barbara A. Somervill

[4] The Incas by Nigel Davies

[5] The Incas by Nigel Davies

[6] The Spanish Conquistadores by F. A. Kirkpatrick

[7] The Conquest of the Incas by John Hemming

[8] The Spanish Conquistadores by F. A. Kirkpatrick

[9] The Spanish Conquistadores by F. A. Kirkpatrick

[10] The Incas by Nigel Davies

[11] Francisco Pizarro Conqueror of the Incas by Barbara A. Somervill

[12] Francisco Pizarro Conqueror of the Incas by Barbara A. Somervill

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