Conquest of Peru

Kris Lane

in Latin American Studies

ISBN: 9780199766581
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:
Conquest of Peru

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  • Regional and Area Studies
  • History of the Americas


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On 16 November 1532, the Inca emperor Atahuallpa (or Atawallpa) received 168 Spanish visitors and at least one indigenous interpreter in the highland city of Cajamarca, in today’s northern Peru. At the head of the Spanish contingent, which included sixty-two men on horseback, was Francisco Pizarro, a 54-year-old veteran Indies hand who had been searching for a South American empire for nearly a decade. Pizarro was joined by several younger half-brothers, all natives of the Extremaduran city of Trujillo, and a priest named Vicente de Valverde. According to eyewitness sources, Valverde and the interpreter, baptized Felipe, presented Atahuallpa with a breviary, which he examined but discarded. At this, the priest called upon his fellow Spaniards to attack the emperor and his unarmed followers. Francisco Pizarro led the charge, making certain that Atahuallpa was captured alive. Hundreds, if not thousands, of his soldiers, were cut down, shot, or crushed against the stone walls that enclosed them. Atahuallpa was held prisoner for nearly a year while his subjects collected a huge ransom in gold and silver. Despite its delivery, Pizarro ordered the Sapa Inca, or “unique emperor,” throttled in July 1533. Thus began the fabled conquest of Peru. It would rumble on in what are today Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, along with northern Chile and Argentina, for another three years, although a rump Inca state emerged in the hot lowlands north of Cusco that survived until 1572. The conquest of New Granada, today’s Colombia and part of Venezuela—but then part of Spanish “Peru”—was separately accomplished between 1537 and 1539, led by the Andalusian lawyer Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada. The Mapuche peoples of central Chile fell to Pedro de Valdivia and his followers in the 1540s, only to rise up in rebellion in the 1550s, a rebellion they sustained for much of the colonial period. Dozens of other unconquered peoples survived for centuries in forest and swamplands all over the Andes region, but the bulk of South America’s native population, the ten or twelve million former subjects of the Incas, were under Spanish domination within a few years of Atahuallpa’s capture in 1532.

Article.  4275 words. 

Subjects: Regional and Area Studies ; History of the Americas

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