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Battle of Cajamarca
Part of the Spanish conquest of Peru
Inca-Spanish confrontation
Contemporary engraving of the Battle of Cajamarca, showing Emperor Atahualpa surrounded on his palanquin.
Date November 16, 1532
Location Cajamarca, Inca Empire
present-day Peru
Result Decisive Spanish victory
Flag of Cross of Burgundy Spanish Empire
Inca Empire
Commanders and leaders
Francisco Pizarro
Hernando Pizarro
Gonzalo Pizarro
Juan Pizarro II
Hernando de Soto
Atahualpa (POW)
106 infantry
62 cavalry
four cannons
12 harquebuses[1]
3,000–8,000 unarmed personal attendants/lightly armed guards [2]
Casualties and losses
0–5 dead;[3]
one wounded
2,000 dead
5,000 taken prisoner

The Battle of Cajamarca was the ambush and capture of the Inca ruler Atahualpa by Francisco Pizarro and a small Spanish force on November 16, 1532. The "battle" involved the massacre of thousands of Atahualpa's unarmed entourage of nobles and attendants, in the great plaza of Cajamarca. The seizure of Atahualpa marked the opening stage of the conquest of the pre-Columbian Inca civilisation of Peru.


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The confrontation at Cajamarca was the culmination of a months-long struggle involving espionage, subterfuge, and diplomacy between Pizarro and the Inca via their respective envoys. Atahualpa had received the invaders from a position of immense strength. Encamped along the heights of Cajamarca with a large force of battle-tested troops fresh from their victories in the civil war against his half-brother Huascar, the Inca felt they had little to fear from Pizarro's tiny army, however exotic its dress and weaponry. In a calculated show of goodwill, Atahualpa had lured the adventurers deep into the heart of his mountain empire where any potential threat could be met with a show of force. Pizarro and his men arrived on Friday November 15.[4] The town itself had been largely emptied of its two thousand inhabitants, upon the approach of the Spanish force of 150 men, guided by an Inca noble sent by Atahualpa as an envoy. Atahualpa himself was encamped outside Cajamarca, preparing for his march on Cuzco, where his commanders had just captured Huascar and defeated his army.

Atahualpa, unlike Montezuma II in Mexico, knew immediately that these men were not gods nor representatives of gods, thanks to reports from his spies. According to Spanish sources, he planned to recruit a few of the conquistadores into his own service and to appropriate Spanish firearms and horses for his armies.

The book History Of The Conquest Of Peru, written by 19th century author William H. Prescott, recounts the dilemma in which the Spanish force found itself. Any assault on the Inca armies overlooking the valley would have been suicidal. Retreat was equally out of the question, because any show of weakness might have undermined their air of invincibility, and would invite pursuit and closure of the mountain passes. Once the great stone fortresses dotting their route of escape were garrisoned, argued Pizarro, they would prove impregnable. But to do nothing, he added, was no better since prolonged contact with the natives would erode the fears of Spanish supernaturality that kept them at bay. Unlike his kinsman Hernán Cortés, whom Pizarro emulated and who could call on Spanish reinforcements 200 miles away in Veracruz, Pizarro's nearest Spanish reinforcements were 1,000 miles away in Panama.[citation needed]


Pizarro gathered his officers on the evening of November 15 and outlined a scheme that recalled memories of Cortés' exploits in Mexico in its audacity: he would capture the emperor from within the midst of his own armies. Since this could not realistically be accomplished in an open field, Pizarro invited the Inca to Cajamarca. According to the chroniclers, no one slept that night and some even "wet themselves in their terror".

Atahualpa accepted this invitation. Leading a procession of over eighty thousand men, he advanced down the hillside very slowly the next day. Pizarro's fortunes changed dramatically in the late afternoon when Atahualpa announced that the greater part of his host would set up camp outside the walls of the city. He requested that accommodations be provided only for himself and his retinue, which would forsake its weapons in a sign of amity and absolute confidence.

Shortly before sunset Atahualpa left the armed warriors who had accompanied him, on an open meadow about half a mile outside Cajamarca. His immediate party still numbered over seven thousand but were unarmed except for small battle axes intended for show. Atahualpa's attendants were richly dressed in what were apparently ceremonial garments. Many wore gold or silver discs on their heads and the main party was preceded by a group wearing livery of chequered colors, who sang while sweeping the roadway in front of Atahualpa. The Inca himself was carried in a litter lined with parrot feathers and partly covered in silver, carried by eighty Inca courtiers of high rank in vivid blue clothing. Atahualpa's intention appears to have been to impress the small Spanish force with this display of splendor and he had no anticipation of an ambush.[5]

The Spaniards had concealed themselves within the buildings surrounding the empty plaza at the centre of the town. After a brief pause Friar Vincente de Valverde, accompanied by an interpreter, emerged from the building where Pizarro was lodged. Carrying a cross and a missal the friar passed through the rows of attendants who had spread out to allow the Inca's litter to reach the centre of the square. Valverde approached the Inca and ordered him to accept Catholicism as his faith and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor as sovereign. Atahualpa was equally insulted and confused by the Spaniard's demands. Although Atahualpa likely had no intention of conceding to their demands, according to chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega he did attempt inquiry into the Spaniards' faith and their king, but Pizarro's men began to grow impatient. Discussion ended abruptly when Atahualpa was offered a Bible but "did not know how to open it". Valverde reached out to open it, but not wishing to be touched, Atahualpa "in great anger, gave him a blow on the arm." Historical accounts differ as to whether the friar returned to Pizarro and related the incident, along with some demands by the Inca, after which Pizarro ordered the attack to begin, or whether he immediately turned to the hidden Spanish troops and exhorted them to attack in the name of the Church, absolving them of the murders to come.[6] Either way, the Incan emperor's refusal to convert to Roman Catholicism was exploited by the conquistadors as an excuse to initiate a bloodbath. Juan de Betanzos however states that prior to being executed, Atahualpa accepted Christianity and was baptized and given the name Francisco.[7]

Inca account of eventsEdit

Titu Cusi Yupanqui, son of Manco II and a nephew of Atahualpa, dictated the only Inca eyewitness accounts of the events leading up to the battle which have been generally discounted by historians as they do not match the Spanish accounts. On November 15 Atahualpa had received Pizarro and de Soto, offering them gold cups containing Chicha which they poured out on the ground. The Spaniards then gave Atahualpa a letter (or book) which they said was quilca (image-writing) of God and the king. Offended by the spilling of the chicha, Atahualpa threw the "letter or whatever it was" away, telling them to leave. Diego de Trujillo stated that Pizarro was given a gold cup while de Soto was offered a silver cup. Pizarro then told the ruler that de Soto was of equal rank and should be treated as such.

On November 16, Atahualpa arrived at Cajamarca "not with weapons to fight or armour to defend themselves," although they did carry tumis (ceremonial knives to kill llamas) and some carried ayllus (possibly bolas). The Spanish approached and told Atahualpa that Virococha had ordered them to tell the Inca who they were. Atahualpa listened then gave one (de Valverde?) a gold cup of chicha which was not drunk and given no attention at all. Furious, Atahualpa stood and yelled "Since you pay no importance to me I wish nothing to do with you" on which the Spanish attacked. Titu Cusi did not mention the bible being offered on the day of the battle, an omission that has been explained as due either to its insignificance to the Inca or to Titu Cusi confusing the events of the two days. His account of the battle itself is heavily influenced by Inca mythology and ritualised.[8]

Atahualpa's CaptureEdit

At the signal to attack, the Spaniards unleashed gunfire at the vulnerable mass of Incans and surged forward in a concerted action. The effect was devastating and the shocked and unarmed Incans offered little resistance.

Contemporary accounts by members of Pizarro's force explain how the Spanish forces used a cavalry charge against the Incan forces, who had never seen horses, in combination with gunfire from cover (the Incan forces also had never encountered firearms before) combined with the ringing of bells to frighten the Inca.

Other factors in the Spaniards' favor were their steel swords, helmets, and armor as the Incan forces had only leather armor and were unarmed. The Spanish also had four small cannons commanded by a Greek artillery captain which were used to great effect in the crowded town square.

The first target of the Spanish attack was Atahualpa and his top commanders. Pizarro rushed at Atahualpa on horseback, but the Inca remained motionless. The Spanish severed the hands or arms of the attendants carrying Atahualpa's litter to force them to drop it so they could reach him. The Spanish were astounded that the attendants ignored their wounds and used their stumps or remaining hands to hold it up until several were killed and the litter slumped. Atahualpa remained sitting on the litter while a large number of his attendants rushed to place themselves between the litter and the Spanish, deliberately allowing themselves to be killed. While his men were killing these Indians, Pizarro rode through them to where a Spanish foot soldier had pulled Atahualpa from the litter. While he was doing so, other soldiers also reached the litter and one attempted to kill Atahualpa. Recognizing the value of Atahualpa as a hostage, Pizarro defended him and received a sword wound to his hand.[9][10]

Atahualpa's wife, 10-year-old Cuxirimay Ocllo, was with the army and stayed with him while he was imprisoned. Following his execution she was taken to Cuzco and took the name Dona Angelina. By 1538 she was Pizarro's mistress, bearing him two sons, Juan and Francisco. Following his assassination in 1541 she married the interpreter Juan de Betanzos who later wrote Narratives of the Incas, part one covering Inca history up to the arrival of the Spanish and part two covering the conquest to 1557, mainly from the Inca viewpoint and including mentions of interviews with Inca guards who were near Atahualpa's litter when he was captured. Only the first 18 unpublished chapters of part one were known until the complete manuscript was found and published in 1987.[11]



  1. MacQuarrie, Kim (2012). The Last Day of The Incas. p70.: Hachette. ISBN 9781405526074. 
  2. Jared Diamond Guns, Germs And Steel, Random House 2013 (p76), states that the Inca personnel were purely Atahualpa's personal attendants and nobles, whereas John Michael Francis (2006, Iberia and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History: a Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia, v1, Santa Barbara, Ca.; ABC-CLIO, p322) states that they were "ceremonially armed guards".
  3. Most sources state that no Conquistadors were killed, while others state that five or fewer were killed.(Spencer C. Tucker, 2010, Battles That Changed History: An Encyclopedia of World Conflict, Santa Barbara, Ca.; ABC-CLIO, p172.) Among modern sources stating categorically that no Spaniards were killed are (e.g.) Kim MacQuarrie, The Last Day of The Incas, Hachette publishing 2012, p84.
  4. Hemming, John. The Conquest of the Incas. Penguin Books 1987. p. 31. 
  5. Hemming, John. The Conquest of the Incas. Penguin Books 1987. pp. 38–39. 
  6. Wilson, Pip. "The Battle of Cajamarca 1532". Wilson's Almanac free daily ezine. Retrieved 2010-11-16. 
  7. Juan de Betanzos, Roland Hamilton (translator), Dana Buchanan (ed.). Narrative of the Incas (1996), Part II, Chapter 26, p.274.
  8. Thomas Cummins Toasts with the Inca: Andean abstraction and colonial images on quero vessels University of Michigan Press 2002 Pg 15 - 19 ISBN 0-472-11051-9
  9. Cook, Alexandra and Noble (1999). Discovery and Conquest of Peru (Translation of book 3 of a 4 book compilation of interviews with Pizarro's men and Indians by Pedro Cieza de León). Duke University Press ISBN 0-8223-2146-7. 
  10. Juan de Betanzos Narratives of the Incas University of Texas Press, 1996 Pg 265 ISBN 0-292-75559-7
  11. Juan de Betanzos Narratives of the Incas Pg 9 - 12

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