Battle of Cajamarca

gigatos | December 15, 2021


The capture of Atahualpa, slaughter of Cajamarca, was a surprise attack carried out by the contingent of Francisco Pizarro stationed in Cajamarca on the retinue of the monarch of the Inca Empire, the Inca Atahualpa, whose army surrounded the enclosure and penetrated to the interior. The attack had a brief duration of 30 minutes, occurred in the afternoon of November 16, 1532, in the main square of Cajamarca. The action derived in a human avalanche that produced a stampede of enormous mortality among the indigenous warriors inside the enclosure, with the Spaniards having achieved the objective of capturing the person of the Inca.

The Inca Empire was in the last phase of a long civil war for the succession to the throne, in which one of the pretenders, Atahualpa, had just captured his half-brother and rival for the throne, Huascar. Meanwhile, the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro and four brothers led a conquering expedition of 168 men and 62 horses, which had left Panama in December 1531.

During the journey of the Spanish expedition, Atahualpa sent several messengers with gifts for the Spaniards, some of them gold, which increased Pizarro”s hopes of finding great treasures. However, when Pizarro arrived in Cajamarca it was deserted and he was informed that the Inca army of about 30,000 warriors was camped on the outskirts, in Pultumarca (today called Baños del Inca), a league away from the city.

Francisco Pizarro entrusted Hernando de Soto with the mission of going to the Inca to invite him to come and dine with him in Cajamarca. Pizarro was very insistent in the sense that the invitation had to be transmitted in a polite and peaceful way, to avoid misunderstandings. Soto set out accompanied by twenty horsemen, among them Diego Garcia de Paredes. When the advance party was already halfway, Pizarro, seeing from the top of one of the “towers” of Cajamarca the numerous tents that made up the Inca”s camp, feared that his men could be ambushed, and sent his brother Hernando Pizarro with another twenty horsemen.

Soto and his men arrived at Pultumarca, through a stone causeway that ran between two water channels and ended in a river, from which the Inca”s camp began. While Hernando Pizarro and his party were already almost within Soto”s reach, the latter carried the interpreter Felipillo of Tumbes, while Hernando Pizarro carried the interpreter Martinillo, the nephew of the curaca Maizavilca of Poechos.

The Inca rested in a palace situated in the middle of a cultivated meadow, located a little behind the Inca camp. About four hundred Inca warriors, deployed in the meadow, guarded the Inca”s residence. Soto and his men, after crossing the camp, arrived before the door of the palace and, without getting off their horses, sent Felipillo to request the Inca”s presence. An “orejón”, an Inca nobleman, went to his lord with the message and the Spaniards were left waiting for an answer. However, time went by without anyone giving an answer and then Hernando Pizarro arrived, together with four Spaniards, all on horseback (the rest of the horsemen had remained at the gates of the camp, waiting for what was going to happen). Without getting off the animal, Pizarro went to Soto asking him the reason for his delay, to which the latter answered “here I am saying that Atahualpa is coming out… and he is not coming out”. Hernando Pizarro, very annoyed, ordered Martinillo to call the Inca, but as nobody was coming out, he got even angrier and said, “Tell the dog to come out…!”

After the aggravation of Hernando Pizarro, the orejón Ciquinchara left the palace to observe the situation and then returned to the interior, informing Atahualpa that the same Spaniard that had disqualified him in Poechos (seat of the curacazgo of Maizavilca, in Piura), when he was spying on the Spanish camp, was outside. It was then when Atahualpa was encouraged to leave, walking towards the door of the palace and proceeding to sit down on a colored bench, always behind a curtain that only allowed to see his silhouette. In this way, he could observe the enemy without being seen.

Soto immediately approached the curtain, still slouching, and presented the invitation to Atahualpa, although Atahualpa did not even look at him. Rather, he turned to one of his orejones and whispered some things to him. Hernando Pizarro became annoyed again and began to rant a series of things that ended up attracting the attention of the Inca, who ordered the curtain to be withdrawn. His gaze was directed very particularly to the daring one who had called him “dog”. However, he chose to respond to Soto, telling him to tell his chief that the next day he would go to see him where they were and that there they should pay him for everything they had taken during their stay in his lands.

Hernando Pizarro, feeling displaced, told Martinillo to communicate to the Inca that between him and Captain Soto there was no difference, because both were captains of His Majesty. But Atahualpa was undeterred, as he took two golden glasses, filled with corn liquor, which two women handed him. However, Soto remarked to the Inca that his companion was the governor”s brother. The Inca continued to be indifferent to Hernando Pizarro, but finally addressed him, engaging in a dialogue, during which the Spaniard boasted of the warlike superiority of his men.

Then, the Inca offered the Spaniards the glasses of liquor, but those, fearful that the drink was poisoned, excused themselves from drinking it, saying that they were fasting. To which the Inca replied saying that he was also fasting and that the liquor in no way broke the fast. To allay any fears, the Inca tried a sip from each of the glasses, which reassured the Spaniards, who then drank the liquor. Soto, mounted on his horse, immediately wanted to show off and began to gallop, prancing before the Inca; suddenly he advanced on the monarch as if he wanted to run him over, but stopped short. Soto was astonished to see that the Inca had remained unchanged, without making the slightest gesture of fear. Atahualpa then ordered more drinks and they all drank. The interview ended with Atahualpa”s promise to go the next day to meet Francisco Pizarro.

The Spaniards convinced the Inca to take only servants and not soldiers to the encounter as a gesture of good will, although Atahualpa also took a few hundred soldiers of his imperial guard to his side. He was followed by 30,000 to 40,000 unarmed servants and warriors on his orders (because he intended to capture the Spaniards like animals: only with his hands, and if necessary, using bolas). Pizarro was waiting for them with 180 Spaniards and 37 horses, plus auxiliary Indians.

Atahualpa accepted the invitation and presided over a slow and ceremonious march of thousands of his subjects, mostly dancers, musicians and service porters. The move took him a good part of the day, causing despair in Francisco Pizarro and his soldiers, because they did not want to fight at night. This is remarkable because at this point in the campaign to conquer the Tahuantinsuyo, the Spaniards were unaware that the Incas did not fight at night for ritual reasons.

Inside Cajamarca, the Spaniards had already made the preparations to set up a trap for the Inca. Pizarro divided his horsemen into two groups, one under Hernando Pizarro and the other under Hernando de Soto. The horses were fitted with bells to make more noise when galloping. The infantrymen were also divided into two groups, one under the command of Francisco Pizarro himself and the other under the command of Juan Pizarro. All these troops were deployed strategically. At the top of a tower located in the square, the artilleryman Pedro de Candía was installed, accompanied by three soldiers and two trumpets, together with the artillery, composed of two falconetes or small cannons, ready to fire when the agreed signal was given.

Hidden inside the city, the Spanish troops witnessed the entrance of the Inca to the main square, already near the hour of the twilight. Atahualpa made the mistake of underestimating the danger that the small group of Spaniards represented and came escorted only by a group of between 3000 and 6000 servants, while the rest of his army remained outside the city wall, in front of the eastern gate.

The Inca, loaded on andas, was led to the center of the plaza, where he ordered his bearers to stop. He was surprised to see no Spaniards and asked his spy Ciquinchara where they all were. Some of his captains replied that the Spaniards were hiding in fear. Suddenly, he advanced towards Atahualpa a bearded man dressed in a black and white habit: it was the friar Vicente de Valverde, accompanied by an indigenous interpreter (Felipillo, according to chroniclers like Cieza and Garcilaso, or Martinillo, according to the soldier-chroniclers Pedro Pizarro and Miguel de Estete, witnesses of the facts) and the Spanish soldier Hernando de Aldana, the only one of the Hispanic host that slightly understood the language of the Incas. Valverde, carrying a cross and a breviary, initiated the so-called Requerimiento, ordering Atahualpa to renounce his pagan religion and to accept Catholicism as his faith and Charles I of Spain as his sovereign. Atahualpa was insulted and confused by these demands of the Spaniards. While Atahualpa surely had no intention of acceding to the Spaniards” demands, according to the chronicles of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, the Inca attempted some sort of discussion about the faith of the Spaniards and their king, but Pizarro”s men began to grow impatient.

The Inca noticed that Valverde was looking at his breviary before pronouncing the phrases of the Requerimiento and curiously asked for it. The priest explained to him that there was the divine design of his religion and that from there came the word of God. Atahualpa took the book, checked it and brought it close to his ear, becoming indignant because he did not hear anything or feel that this object was so powerful, so he threw it far away with fury, shouting that he would not submit to anyone for being the son of the sun, and that he did not know the religion of which the priest spoke to him; he also demanded that the Spaniards pay for the excesses they had committed since their arrival on the soil of his kingdom. Martinillo picked up the book and gave it to Valverde, who ran to Pizarro, shouting: “What are you doing, Atabalipa is a Lucifer!”, to then go to the Spanish soldiers, telling them that the Inca had thrown the Gospels to the ground and rejected the Requerimiento, for what he incited them to go out to fight the “idolater”, that they would have the absolution. It was thus that Pizarro ordered his men to go into action; the trumpets sounded and simultaneously, the artilleryman Pedro de Candía fired one of the falconetes that were on the top of the tower (the other one broke down), impacting the shot in the middle of the human mass, killing and mutilating those that in his line of fire he found. And before the surprised Indians recovered, the Spaniards on horseback, at the cry of “Santiago, Santiago!”, came out shouting loudly sweeping everything in front of them, followed by a troop of blacks and Indians with breastplates, rapiers and spears. Simultaneously, the other squadron of Spaniards opened fire with their muskets from a long distance. Great chaos ensued, as the few armed warriors did not have time to draw their batons, which were also of little help against the distant Spanish shots and horses. Most of the Indian mass tried to get out of the compound to get away from the massacre, and as the only main gate was crowded they charged one of the walls, forcing a breach in it, and left the compound.

The main target of the Spanish attack was Atahualpa and his commanders. Pizarro rode on horseback to where Atahualpa was, but the Inca did not move. The Spaniards cut off the hands or arms of the attendants carrying Atahualpa”s litter to force them to drop it so they could reach him. The Spaniards were surprised because the attendants ignoring their wounds, and with their limbs still healthy, held the litter until several of them were killed and the litter overturned. Atahualpa remained seated on the litter while a large number of attendants rushed to stand between the litter and the Spaniards, leaving the Spaniards to kill them. While his men killed the Indians, Pizarro rode among them to where a Spanish foot soldier had extracted Atahualpa from the litter. While this was happening, other soldiers also reached the litter and one of them attempted to kill Atahualpa. Recognizing Atahualpa”s courage as a prisoner, Pizarro defended him and was wounded in the hand with a sword.

As a result of the encounter, between 4000 to 5000 people died (between servants and atahualpistas guards, together with third parties that were there, like the settlers of Cajamarca and several huascaristas orejones sent with offers of part of the captive Inca), other 7000 were wounded or captured, according to the chroniclers the Spaniards had only one dead (a black slave) and several wounded.

Atahualpa”s wife, Cuxirimay Ocllo (who was then between 13 and 15 years old), was with the army and accompanied Atahualpa while he was a prisoner. After her execution she was taken to Cuzco and adopted the name of Doña Angelina. By 1538 she was the concubine of Francisco Pizarro, with whom she had two sons, Juan and Francisco. After Pizarro was killed in 1541, she married the interpreter Juan de Betanzos who later wrote Suma y narración de los Incas, whose first part covers the history of the Incas until the arrival of the Spaniards, and the second part covers the conquest until 1557, mainly from the point of view of the Incas and includes mentions of interviews with Inca guards who were near Atahualpa”s litter when he was captured. Until 1987 only the first 18 chapters of the first part were known, until the complete manuscript was found and published in 1987.


  1. Captura de Atahualpa
  2. Battle of Cajamarca
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