Battle of Cajamarca

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Battle of Cajamarca
The battle of Cajamarca
The battle of Cajamarca
date November 16, 1532
place Cajamarca
output Victory of the Spaniards , capture of Atahualpa
Parties to the conflict

New Castile

Inca Empire


Francisco Pizarro


Troop strength
106 infantrymen
62 cavalrymen
3 cannons
4000-5000 fighters

2 wounded

over 2000 dead

The Battle of Cajamarca was a massacre of the royal entourage of the Inca ruler Atahualpa under the leadership of the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro . On the evening of November 16, 1532, the Spanish attack from an ambush took place on the large square of Cajamarca in present-day Peru , which lasted less than half an hour, but killed at least 2,000 Inca. Atahualpa was captured. This was a crucial step in the Spanish conquest of Peru .


In 1531 the explorer and conqueror Francisco Pizarro led an expedition of over two hundred men from Panama along the Pacific coast of South America. He reached the north of present-day Ecuador by ship and then after months of march to the city of Tumbes on the northern edge of present-day Peru, which he had already reached on a previous expedition in 1528. This was the first contact between the Spaniards and the Inca Empire, which stretched from there far south to Chile. In the meantime, however, the country was shaken by a three-year, bitter civil war between the half-brothers Atahualpa, who came from northern Quito , and Huáscar from the capital Cusco . Tumbes was destroyed.

In August 1532 Pizarro founded what is now Piura , the first Spanish city in what is now Peru. In September he and his people set out for the interior of the country. After a loss-making hike through the tropical rainforest , the Spanish conquerors advanced with their simple equipment across the Andes, several thousand meters high, into the Inca territory. On their way they were watched by scouts from Atahualpas, whose victory in the civil war was imminent.

Starting position of the Spaniards

Francisco Pizarro only had 110 foot soldiers , 67 mounted men and 2 guns (the exact numbers vary depending on the source, the talk is always from 150 to a maximum of 180 Spaniards).

The Spaniards had vague information about the ongoing civil war in the Inca Empire and were aware that the conditions for a surprise attack were favorable. They also compared their situation with that in which Hernán Cortés had found himself a few years earlier in Mexico and figured out chances for a comparable success. So they marched purposefully inland to Cajamarca , where the Inca and his army were waiting for them and where they arrived in mid-November 1532. The city was located in the middle of the northern part of the then empire between the old capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco , about 1000 km south as the crow flies , and the high mountain city of Quito, about 700 km to the north, the new power center of the Atahualpas.

The Spaniards reached the empty city around three o'clock on November 15th. The city lies at the exit of a basin, leaning against a mountain slope, on the surrounding hills the tents of a huge field camp where Atahualpa had gathered tens of thousands of soldiers could be seen. A failure from the city or a direct attack on the Inca troops from the valley would have been hopeless for the Spaniards. Retreating was also out of the question, as any sign of weakness or insecurity would have undermined their aura. For Pizarro it was clear that there would inevitably lead to persecution by the Inca armies and the blocking of the routes of retreat. One of the largest Inca fortresses with a strong garrison was on the way back to the coast.

Starting position of the Inca

Atahualpa received the intruders conscious of his immense strength. Along the heights of Cajamarca camped detachments of his battle-tested warriors, who had just returned from their victory in the civil war against his half-brother Huáscar . The Inca leaders felt no fear of Pizarro's tiny but flamboyant force, which was in possession of iron armor, unknown weapons, and horses. Under the pretense of benevolence and trust, they had allowed the invaders to advance deep into the mountains of their empire, where they could easily cope with any threat with their own troops and good local knowledge. According to Spanish sources, Atahualpa planned to acquire the Spanish weapons and horses and recruit some of the conquerors to his own army and execute the rest.

On the evening of November 15, Atahualpa received a delegation of the conquistadors , led by Hernando de Soto and Pizarro's brother Hernando on horseback with an interpreter . They invited the Sapa Inca to come to the city of Cajamarca the following day and meet the Spaniards there. Atahualpa agreed. The chronicler Pedro Pizarro attributes the behavior of the Inca to an unfortunate but understandable misjudgment: "Unfortunately, Atahualpa was completely reassured by scouting reports about our small number." He himself is said to have later declared that he was curious about the encounter and wanted to find out how the Spaniards were trying to save themselves from what he saw as a hopeless situation.

The battle

Francisco Pizarro

During the night, both sides made their preparations. Pizarro wanted to take the Inca ruler prisoner in a flash and in this way bring the army under his control. Since this was not feasible in the open field, he had called the ruler into the city and distributed his troops around the central square of Cajamarcas. Atahualpa sent his general Rumiñahui with several thousand lasso carriers in the back of the Spaniards. You should wait there and capture and tie up the strangers as soon as they try to escape.

On the morning of November 16, Atahualpa announced his visit through ambassadors. Towards noon he slowly went down the slope in a long procession with about 8,000 escorts. He and some of his dignitaries were carried in litters. The train took many hours to travel the few kilometers. This waiting time was grueling for the Spaniards, many were very afraid. Indian scouts had seen the Spaniards retreat to the town's warehouses; they took it as a sign of fear and intimidation and did not think of an ambush.

Atahualpa announced that afternoon that a large part of his army would be setting up camp outside the city walls. He made arrangements to spend the night outside of town himself and to move in the next morning. Pizarro thereupon urged the king to come straight to town and promised a dignified reception. According to some versions, there should have been negotiations in which the Inca agreed to lay down their weapons as a sign of confidence and peacefulness before entering the city. While William Prescott still assumed that the Indians entered Cajamarca without weapons, this is now considered legendary and excluded by the majority of historians. Eyewitnesses Francisco de Xerez and Fray Celso García also report that the troops were armed.

The ambush

Accompanied by the singing of his vanguard that was strange to the Spaniards, Atahualpa entered the city and occupied the main square with his soldiers, servants and officials. The Spaniards had prepared an ambush and positioned their foot soldiers in the streets around the square; The riders were divided into three groups under the leadership of Hernando Pizarro , Hernando de Soto and Sebastián de Belalcázar and waited in the warehouses for the agreed attack signal. At first there was no European to be seen on the square, which Atahualpa apparently disapproved of or interpreted as cowardice. Then the Dominican Vicente de Valverde stepped forward with a book ( breviary or Bible) and a cross in hand - the interpreter at his side - and began to give Atahualpa a lecture on the Christian faith. Some representations further decorate this scene and describe that the priest began his speech with the words: "Hear the word of God ..." When Atahualpa interrupted the priest and asked irritably where the word of God came from, Valverde had handed him the Bible. Since Atahualpa could not do anything with the writing, he held the book to his ear and then threw it contemptuously on the ground, as he did not hear the announced "word". According to García, however, the Inca tore the book from the priest's hand and threw it away because he no longer wanted to listen. Then he agreed an angry counter-speech in which he accused the Spaniards of all kinds of cruelty. He also complained that the Spaniards had looted his warehouses on the way .

The chronicler and eyewitness Pedro Pizarro narrates the scene as follows:

“The priest had a breviary in his hands from which he read what he was preaching. Atabalipa wanted it and he gave it to him closed. When he had it in his hands and didn't know how to open it, he threw it to the ground. He called [Hernando de] Aldana to come and give him his sword. Aldana pulled it out and showed it, but didn't want to give it up. Atabalipa then said they were thieves and that he would kill them all. When the father heard this, he turned around and reported to the Marqués [Francisco Pizarro] what had happened. "

- Pedro Pizarro

Francisco de Xerez writes:

“Atabaliba demanded that the book be given to him to look at; it was handed to him closed; Since he was unable to open it, the monk stretched out his arm to help him, but Atabaliba gave him a slap on the arm with great displeasure and did not want it to be opened. When he finally managed to open it after continued exertion, he was neither amazed at the letters nor at the paper, like the other Indians, but hurled it five or six paces away. "

- Francisco de Xerez)

At that moment Pizarro gave the signal to attack. Pedro de Candía fired two cannon shots and the horsemen and foot soldiers stormed into the middle of the mass of the Inca from three directions. The shots of the arquebuses , the din of the war trumpets and the horses hung with rattles put the Inca into shock. The Spaniards caused a bloodbath with their edged weapons, without the shocked being able to resist. Atahualpa's litter-bearers and bodyguards tried in vain to protect their ruler with their bodies. Pizarro personally captured Atahualpa. The fleeing Incas trampled each other dead in a panic, a wall collapsed under their onslaught and they fled into the open. The riders followed them. According to the lowest estimates, 2000 Incas were killed. Only two soldiers of the Spaniards, including Pizarro himself, are said to have been injured; some sources speak of certain losses on the part of the Spaniards - depending on a killed horse or an African slave.

The main Inca army (about 20,000 to 80,000 men, depending on the source), which was set up in the area under the command of Rumiñahui , behaved passively and did nothing against the Spaniards, apparently out of perplexity, as it felt robbed of its supreme leader. or so as not to endanger the Inca. According to various reports, the troops fled, leaving tents and equipment behind. Atahualpa feared he would be killed, but Pizarro told him nothing would happen to him. Pizarro then had dinner with the captured Inca king while the corpses were still in the square. The Inca told him frankly that he had been told that the Spaniards were easy to defeat. He had intended to kill the Spaniards or make them his slaves.

Reasons for the Spanish victory

The ambush succeeded because Atahualpa did not recognize the intentions of the Spaniards - despite weeks of observation on their way to Cajamarca - and underestimated them. The horses that were never seen (between 37 and 65) and the metallic armament of the Spaniards contributed to making the visitors appear as strange creatures from another world. Furthermore, the attacks by the Spaniards hit the Inca hard because they did not expect the ambush tactics . In addition, their armor made of leather and quilted cotton was poorly protected against steel weapons.


Fate of Atahualpa

Atahualpa offered Pizarro a ransom : he would have the room he was currently in filled with gold objects to the height that he could reach with an outstretched hand, and the neighboring room with silver in the same way. For this purpose, palaces and temples throughout the country were plundered in the following months on Atahualpa's orders, which his subjects continued to obey unconditionally. After paying the ransom, however, the Spaniards did not release Atahualpa because it was clear to them that they would then be defeated. Instead, they accused him of planning a riot and sentenced him to death in a mock trial. On July 26, 1533, he was strangled with the garrotto in Cajamarca .

The Spaniards take power

After Atahualpa's death, the Incas were leaderless. Atahualpa had Huáscar's supporters killed in the capital, Cusco, and Prince Manco Cápac , who had escaped the slaughter, now sided with Pizarro. Pizarro crowned him with the approval of the nobility of Cusco as the new Sapa Inca . But soon he was just a powerless puppet of the Spaniards, who quickly took control of the whole country.


Individual evidence

  1. a b Francisco de Xerez: History of the discovery and conquest of Peru - Chapter 22 ( Gutenberg-DE project , translator: H. Külb).
  2. a b c d Wolfram zu Mondfeld: Blood, Gold and Honor. The conquistadors conquer America. Munich 1981, pp. 256-265.
  3. History of the Conquest of Peru , 1847 ( Part II, Chapter 4 ( Memento of January 11, 2016 in the Internet Archive )). (Online version of the William Prescott classic provided by the [ World Wide School] .)
  4. Wolfram zu Mondfeld: Blood, Gold and Honor. The conquistadors conquer America. Munich 1981, p. 258.
  5. a b c retold by Robert u. Evamaria Grün (ed. And edit.): The conquest of Peru. Pizarro and other conquistadors 1526–1712. The eyewitness accounts of Celso Gargia, Gaspar de Carvajal and Samuel Fritz. Tübingen 1973, pp. 50–54 (last published as a fully, completely, and abridged new edition by Ernst Bartsch and Evamaria Grün (eds.): Stuttgart / Vienna 1996, ISBN 3-522-61330-9 ).
  6. History of the Conquest of Peru , 1847 ( Part II, Chapter 5 ( Memento of January 11, 2016 in the Internet Archive )). (Online version of the William Prescott classic provided by the [ World Wide School] .)
  7. Verdadera relación de la conquista del Perú y provincia del Cuzco (Seville 1534): Description of November 16, 1532 as a digitized version (p. 13) (Spanish).
  8. Spanish text: Pedro Pizarro : Relación del descubrimiento y conquista de los reinos del Perú. In: Martín Fernández de Navarrete u. a. (Ed.): Documentos inéditos para la Historia de España , Volume V, printed in Madrid 1844, p. 228 ( digitized in the Google book search).
  9. ^ John Hemming: The conquest of the Incas. 2012, p. 43
  10. Waldemar Espinoza, Destrucción del imperio de los incas , p. 71


  1. a b c d Francisco de Xerez speaks of 2000 dead "not counting the wounded". In the Atahualpas camp, "according to some who saw it," there were more than 40,000 people. (Es opinion de algunos que han visto gente en campo, que habia más de cuarenta mil; en la plaza quedaron muertos dos mil, sin los feridos.) Verdadera relación de la Conquista del Perú, p. 96 Hemming quotes chroniclers who “like common, increasing with time “ (“ As usual, their numbers tended to increase with time. ”) speak of up to 8000 deaths.
  2. Pedro Pizarro in his Relación del descubrimiento y conquista de los reinos del Perú vividly describes the fear of the Spaniards: “Altahualpa heard from Indian spies that the Spaniards hid in fear in a hut and that no one had appeared on the square; and the Indian was telling the truth, because I heard how many Spaniards, without even realizing it, wet themselves out of sheer fear. ” fué la novia á Atabalipa de indios que tenia espiado, que los españoles estaban todos metidos en un galpon, lleno de miedo, y que ninguno parescia por la plaza; y á la verdad el indio la decia, porque yo oí muches españoles que sin sentillo se orinaban de puro temor. ( Digitized in the Google book search).
  3. Pizarro had two interpreters with him, whom the Spaniards called Felipillo and Martinillo. The rapporteurs disagree as to which of the two translated Valverde's words. What is certain is that neither of the two spoke Quechua as their mother tongue.
  4. According to Hemming (footnote on page 42), all chroniclers, with the exception of Pedro Pizarro, agree that it was not a question of the formal requerimiento , which demands that the Christian religion and the sovereignty of the Spanish crown be recognized.
  5. Hemming concludes that Atahualpa by no means naively believed in the peacefulness of the Spaniards, but simply underestimated them because of their small number.
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on January 12, 2006 .

Coordinates: 7 ° 9 ′ 52 "  S , 78 ° 30 ′ 38"  W.