Battle of Cajamarca

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Sep 19, 2022

Table of Content


The capture of Atahualpa, slaughter of Cajamarca, was a surprise attack carried out by the contingent of Francisco Pizarro on the retinue of Atahualpa. It happened in the afternoon of November 16, 1532, in the Plaza de Armas of Cajamarca, with the Spaniards having achieved the objective of capturing the Inca. The capture of Atahualpa marked the beginning of the conquest of the Tahuantinsuyo.

The ambush lasted a brief 30 minutes. The action resulted in a human avalanche that produced a stampede of enormous mortality among those present inside the enclosure.

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, was staying in the heights of Cajamarca with a force of almost 80,000 soldiers, veterans of the successful campaigns against his half-brother Huáscar. Meanwhile, for his part, the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro led a conquering expedition composed 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 Atahualpa's army of about 30,000 men was camped outside the city, in Pultumarca (today called Baños del Inca), preparing to travel to Cuzco, where his generals had just captured Huáscar and defeated his army.

Atahualpa, unlike Moctezuma in Mexico, knew very well that these men were neither gods nor his representatives at all (the information had come to him from his spies). On the contrary, he was extremely contemptuous of the Castilians. According to the chronicles, he planned to recruit some of the conquistadors to steal arms and horses. He would then execute others at will.

Francisco Pizarro entrusted Hernando de Soto with the mission of going to Atahualpa 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.

Atahualpa rested in a small palace located in the middle of a cultivated meadow, a little behind the Inca camp. About four hundred Atahualpa soldiers, deployed in the meadow, guarded the 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 presence of the Inca. An "orejón" (Andean 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 catching the attention of Atahualpa, who ordered the curtain to be pulled back. His gaze was directed very particularly at the daring man 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 on his land.

Hernando Pizarro, feeling displaced, told Martinillo to tell Atahualpa that there was no difference between him and Captain Soto, 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 told him that his companion was the governor's brother. Atahualpa 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, Atahualpa 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 he replied that he was also fasting and that the liquor in no way broke the fast. To allay any fears, he tasted 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 him to take only servants and not soldiers to the encounter as a gesture of good will, although Atahualpa also took a few hundred soldiers with small truncheons hidden under their tunics. He was followed by 30,000 to 40,000 servants and unarmed troops on his orders since 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, once the Spaniards had left, ordered eight thousand soldiers led by Rumiñahui to station themselves on the outskirts of Cajamarca, to capture the Spaniards: he was sure that seeing so many people, the Spaniards would surrender.

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 stage of the conquest campaign, the Spaniards were unaware that the Incas did not fight at night for ritual reasons.

Inside Cajamarca, the Spaniards had already made preparations to lay the trap. 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 (although one was out of service), ready to fire when the agreed signal was given.

Before entering combat, Pizarro encouraged his men in a harangue:

Hidden inside the city, the Spanish troops witnessed the entrance of the leader atahualpista 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, no matter how exotic their clothing and armaments were, 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.

Atahualpa's attendants were lavishly dressed in what were apparently ceremonial robes. Many wore gold or silver discs on their heads and the main feast was preceded by a group in colorful checkered livery, singing as they swept the roadway in front of Atahualpa. The Inca himself was carried in a litter lined with parrot feathers and partially covered with silver, carried by eighty high-ranking Inca courtiers dressed in bright blue. Behind Atahualpa came two other litters, carrying two important personages of the Empire: one of them was Chinchay Capac, the great lord of Chincha, and the other was probably Chimu Capac or great lord of the Chimu (others say he was the lord of Cajamarca). Atahualpa's intention seems to have been to impress the small Spanish force with this display of splendor and he had no anticipation of an attack.

Loaded on bearers, he led himself to the center of the plaza, where he ordered his bearers to halt. 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. Some depictions further decorate this scene and describe that Friar Valverde began his speech with the words, "Listen to the word of God..." When Atahualpa interrupted the priest and asked him irritably where the word of God came from, Valverde handed him his breviary. As Atahualpa did not know the writing, he took the book, checked it and brought it close to his ear, becoming indignant because he did not hear the "word" announced nor did he feel that this object was that 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.

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

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 Spanish horsemen, at the cry of "Santiago, Santiago!", came out shattering, sweeping everything in front of them, followed by a troop of blacks and natives 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 truncheons, which were also of little help against the distant Spanish shots and horses. Most of the spectating 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 exited the compound.

The Spaniards lashed out especially against the nobles and curacas, who were distinguished by their liveries (uniforms) with purple escaques. "Other captains died, that for being a great number it is not made case of them, because all those that came in guard of Atahualpa were great lords." (Jerez). Among those captains of the Inca that fell that day was Ciquinchara, the same one that had officiated as ambassador before the Spaniards during the journey between Piura and Cajamarca.

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 hurried to place themselves between the litter and the Spaniards, leaving the infantrymen to kill them. While Juan Pizarro and his men surrounded the Lord of Chincha and killed him in his litter, Francisco 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 tried to kill Atahualpa. Recognizing the Inca's courage as a prisoner, Pizarro interposed himself in time, shouting that "nobody hurt the Indian on pain of life....  "; it is said that in that struggle, Pizarro himself suffered a wound in the hand.

Atahualpa's main force under Rumiñahui, which had retained its weapons but remained "about a quarter of a league" outside Cajamarca, was scattered in confusion when the survivors of those who had accompanied the Inca fled the plaza, tearing down the city walls. Atahualpa's warriors were veterans of his recent campaigns against Huáscar and constituted the professional core of the Inca army, experienced warriors who outnumbered the Spaniards by more than 45 to 1 (8,000 to 168). However, the impact of the Spanish attack, coupled with the spiritual significance of losing the Inca and most of his commanders in one fell swoop, apparently shattered the army's morale, terrifying its ranks and initiating a massive defeat. There is no evidence that any of the main Inca forces attempted to engage the Spanish at Cajamarca after the success of the initial ambush.

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 the Inca's 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. Battle of Cajamarca
  2. Captura de Atahualpa
  3. ^ MacQuarrie, Kim (2012). The Last Days of The Incas. p70.: Hachette. ISBN 9781405526074.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  4. ^ 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".
  5. ^ 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 Days of The Incas, Hachette publishing 2012, p84.
  6. ^ Andagoya, Pascual de. "Narrative of the Proceedings of Pedrarias Davila". The Hakluyt Society. p. 47. Retrieved 21 June 2019 – via Wikisource.
  7. ^ de Navarette, Martin Fernadez (1829). Viages menores, y los de Vespucio; Poblaciones en el Darien, suplemento al tomo II (in Spanish). pp. 428–.
  8. Armas, gérmenes y acero. 2020.
  9. Kim MacQuarrie (2007). The Last Days of The Incas, pág 70.
  10. a b Spencer C. Tucker (2010). Battles That Changed History: An Encyclopedia of World Conflict. Santa Bárbara: ABC CLIO, pp. 171. ISBN 978-1-59884-429-0.
  11. a b c Francisco de Xerez: Geschichte der Entdeckung und Eroberung Perus - Kapitel 22 (Projekt Gutenberg-DE, Übersetzer: H. Külb).
  12. a b c d Wolfram zu Mondfeld: Blut, Gold und Ehre. Die Conquistadoren erobern Amerika. München 1981, S. 256–265.
  13. History of the Conquest of Peru, 1847 (Teil II, Kap. 4 (Memento vom 11. Januar 2016 im Internet Archive)). (Online-Version of the William Prescott classic provided by the [ World Wide School].)
  14. Lavallé, Bernard (2005). Biografía de una conquista. [S.l.]: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos. p. 116
  15. MacQuarrie, Kim (2005). The Last Days of The Incas. [S.l.]: Hachette. p. 70.

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