Conquering South America’s western edge, the Incas ruled three distinct geographic regions that Spanish soldier-chronicler Pedro Cieza de León termed uninhabitable : rainless coastal deserts, mountain ranges towering more than 22,000 feet, and steamy rain forests. On slopes rising four vertical miles, climates in the empires varied from tropical to polar. In scattered areas on this slopes, at both high and low elevation, the Incas terraced and irrigated the land and produced abundant food for the twelve million or more subjects. A 10,000-mile network of roads, some as wide as 24 feet, knitted together the Incas’ domain. Parallel trunk lines-connected by lateral roads tracing river valleys-followed coast and highlands. Four main highways entered Cuzco, the heart of the empire.
Cuzco became the richest city in the New World. Chiefs and governors , made presents to the Inca, when they visited his court and when he went to their lands, while touring his kingdom. This wealth grew daily, for provinces were many and others were continually being brought to obedience.
It was prohibited to remove silver and gold from Cuzco. ” Nor was it spent, in things that are consumed with use,” but for idols, goblets, and ornaments for the temples, the king, and great nobles. As money did not exist, rulers paid their retainers in clothing and food. Author William H. Prescott’s account of imperial splendor, persuade us, that life among the Incas – even to taking a bath – was the epitome of pleasure.
The Incas, “loved to retreat, and solace themselves with the society of their favorite concubines, wandering amidst groves and airy gardens, that shed around their soft, intoxicating odors and lulled the senses to voluptuous repose. Here, too, they loved to indulge in the luxury of their baths, replenished by streams of crystal water which were conducted through subterranean silver channels into basins of gold.”
Gold was a fiery metal esteemed by the Incas for its beauty and sought by the Spaniards for its worth. Exciting the greed of conquistadors, it brought an empire to ruin. To Incas, gold was “the sweat of the sun ,” and it reflected the glory of their Sun God who, they believed, had entrusted them with its safekeeping. Gold took on value only when crafted into ceremonial articles – vessels, jewelry, figurines – or adornments for tombs and temples,. By law, all gold and silver of the realm belonged to the emperor, who used it to bedeck his palace,beautify temples, and reward loyalty. Most gold – in the form of nuggets and flakes – came from mountain rivers; Incas smelted the ore with charcoal and bellows. They learned much of the craft from artisans of the Chimu Kingdom, who created countless vessels and ornaments. Spaniards reduced such works of art into ingots, easy to transport and exchange.
While historians agree their accord was strictly verbal (no written document exists to prove otherwise), they are known to have dubbed their enterprise the “Empresa del Levante” and determined that Pizarro would command the expedition, Almagro would provide the military and food supplies, and Luque would be in charge of finances and any additional provisions they might need.
On September 13, 1524, the first of three expeditions left from Panama for the conquest of Peru with about 80 men and 40 horses. Diego de Almagro was left behind because he was to recruit men, gather additional supplies, and join Pizarro later. The governor of Panama, Pedro Arias Dávila, at first approved in principle of exploring South America. Pizarro’s first expedition, however, turned out to be a failure as his conquistadors, sailing down the Pacific coast, reached no farther than Colombia before succumbing to such hardships as bad weather, lack of food, and skirmishes with hostile natives — one of which caused Almagro to lose an eye by arrow-shot. Moreover, the place names the Spanish bestowed along their route, including Puerto deseado (desired port), Puerto del hambre (port of hunger) and Puerto quemado (burned port), only confirm their straits. Fearing subsequent hostile encounters like the one the expedition endured at the Battle of Punta Quemada, Pizarro chose to end his tentative first expedition and return to Panama.
In 1532 Pizarro once again landed in the coasts near Ecuador, where some gold, silver, and emeralds were procured and then dispatched to Almagro, who had stayed in Panama to gather more recruits. Though Pizarro’s main objective was to then set sail and dock at Tumbes like his previous expedition, he was forced to confront the Punian natives in the Battle of Puná, leaving three Spaniards dead and 400 dead or wounded Punians. Soon after, Hernando de Soto, another conquistador that had joined the expedition, arrived to aid Pizarro and with him sailed towards Tumbes, only to find the place deserted and destroyed. Their two fellow conquistadors expected they had disappeared or died under murky circumstances. The chiefs explained the fierce tribes of Punians had attacked them and ransacked the place.
As Tumbes no longer afforded the safe accommodations Pizarro sought, he decided to lead an excursion into the interior of the land and established the first Spanish settlement in Peru (third in South America after Santa Marta, Colombia in 1526), calling it San Miguel de Piura in July 1532. The first repartimiento in Peru was established here. After these events, Hernando de Soto was dispatched to explore the new lands and, after various days away, returned with an envoy from the Inca himself and a few presents with an invitation for a meeting with the Spaniards.
Following the defeat of his brother, Huascar, Atahualpa had been resting in the Sierra of northern Peru, near Cajamarca, in the nearby thermal baths known today as the Baños del Inca (Incan Baths). After marching for almost two months towards Cajamarca, Pizarro and his force of just 106 foot-soldiers and 62 horsemen arrived and initiated proceedings for a meeting with Atahualpa. Pizarro sent Hernando de Soto, friar Vicente de Valverde and native interpreter Felipillo to approach Atahualpa at Cajamarca’s central plaza. Atahualpa, however, refused the Spanish presence in his land by saying he would “be no man’s tributary.” His complacency, because there were fewer than 200 Spanish as opposed to his 80,000 soldiers sealed his fate and that of the Incan empire.
Atahualpa’s refusal led Pizarro and his force to attack the Incan army in what became the Battle of Cajamarca on November 16, 1532. The Spanish were successful and Pizarro executed Atahualpa’s 12-man honor guard and took the Inca captive at the so-called ransom room. Despite fulfilling his promise of filling one room (22 feet (7 m) by 17 feet (5 m) ) with gold and two with silver, Atahualpa was convicted of killing his brother and plotting against Pizarro and his forces, and was executed by garrote on August 29, 1533. Pizarro wished to find a reason for executing Atahualpa without angering the people he was attempting to subdue.
Since Pizarro could not write like many of his contemporaries, he used his curlicue signature (“rubrica”) on the left and on the right of his name. Then a writer set the name between them. A year later, Pizarro invaded Cuzco with indigenous troops and with it sealed the conquest of Peru. It is argued by some historians that the growing resistance from the new Inca, Manco Inca Yupanqui, prolonged the conquest. Manco Inca Yupanqui was the brother of the puppet ruler, Tupac Huallpa. During the exploration of Cuzco, Pizarro was impressed and through his officers wrote back to King Charles of Spain, saying:
“This city is the greatest and the finest ever seen in this country or anywhere in the Indies… We can assure your Majesty that it is so beautiful and has such fine buildings that it would be remarkable even in Spain.”
After the Spanish had sealed the conquest of Peru by taking Cuzco in 1533, Jauja in the fertile Mantaro Valley was established as Peru’s provisional capital in April 1534. But it was too far up in the mountains and far from the sea to serve as the Spanish capital of Peru. Pizarro thus founded the city of Lima in Peru’s central coast on January 18, 1535, a foundation that he considered as one of the most important things he had created in life.
After the final effort of the Inca to recover Cuzco had been defeated by Almagro, a dispute occurred between him and Pizarro respecting the limits of their jurisdiction. This led to confrontations between the Pizarro brothers and Almagro, who was eventually defeated during the Battle of Las Salinas (1538) and executed. Almagro’s son, also named Diego and known as “El Mozo”, was later stripped of his lands and left bankrupt by Pizarro.
Fortunately, the looting was confirmed to one chamber. Subsequent excavations yielded one stunning find after another: a copper scepter topped with a complex architectural model; hundreds of ceramic vessels depleting people and animals; an intact oak sarcophagus tied with cooper strips: and most remarkably, a gilded ear ornament, intricately crafted of gold and turquoise, showing a warrior chief holding a shield and a scepter and wearing a crescent-shaped diadem, an articulated golden nose piece, and a collar of gold owl heads.
This tiny, exquisite figure, the team learned, foreshadowed the discovery or the similarly attired remains of the Lord of Sipán, a royal warrior and a priest who died around A.D. 300. He is the only American king whose tomb has ever been unearthed. Ultimately, the tombs of 13 individuals (many buried with a retinue) were excavated at Sipán. “This discovery revolutionized Moche studies the way the discovery of King Tut changed Egyptian studies”, Alva says, “We understood suddenly that the people we’d seen in drawings – and their ceremonies, their rituals – were real”.
Since the Incas and the Spanish conquistadors were the principal sources of information on the Chachapoyas, unbiased first-hand knowledge of the Chachapoyas remains scarce. Writings by the major chroniclers of the time, such as El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, were based on fragmentary second-hand accounts. Much of what we do know about the Chachapoyas culture is based on archaeological evidence from ruins, pottery, tombs and other artifacts.
The chronicler Pedro Cieza de León offers some picturesque notes about the Chachapoyas:
“They are the whitest and most handsome of all the people that I have seen in Indies, and their wives were so beautiful that because of their gentleness, many of them deserved to be the Incas’ wives and to also be taken to the Sun Temple…The women and their husbands always dressed in woolen clothes and in their heads they wear their llautos, which are a sign they wear to be known everywhere.”
Cieza adds that, after their annexation to the Inca Empire, they adopted customs imposed by the Cuzco-based Inca. When civil war broke out within the Inca empire, the Chachapoyas were located on middle ground between the northern capital at Quito, ruled by the Inca Atahualpa, and the southern capital at Cuzco, ruled by Atahualpa’s brother Huascar. Many of the Chachapoyas were conscripted into Huascar’s army, and heavy casualties ensued. After Atahualpa’s eventual victory, many more of the Chachapoyas were executed or deported due to their former allegiance with Huascar.
It was due to the harsh treatment of the Chachapoyas during the years of subjugation that many of the Chachapoyas initially chose to side with the Spanish colonialists when they arrived in Peru. Guaman, a local ruler from Cochabamba, pledged his allegiance to the conquistador Francisco Pizarro after the capture of Atahualpa in Cajamarca. The Spanish moved in and occupied Cochabamba, extorting what riches they could find from the local inhabitants.
During Inca Manco Capac’s rebellion against the Spanish, his emissaries enlisted the help of a group of Chachapoyas. However, Guaman’s supporters remained loyal to the Spanish. By 1547, a large faction of Spanish soldiers arrived in the city of Chachapoyas, effectively ending the Chachapoyas independence. Residents were relocated to Spanish-style towns, often with members of several different ayllu occupying the same settlement. Disease, poverty, and attrition led to severe decreases in population; by some accounts the population of the Chachapoyas region decreased by 90% over the course of 200 years after the arrival of the Spanish.