Inca Empire: Civilization Taken Over by A Handful of Spanish Conquistadors

West of South America is where the Inca Empire flourished. Expansion of the Inca Empire started in 1438 and lasted until 1533, when Pizarro and the Spanish conquistadors captured Cuzco.

Having begun in the Cuzco valley (Peru) more than 800 years ago, the Inca Empire eventually spread to include most of what are now Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. Beginning in the 15th century, Inca rulers successfully imposed their will on many peoples and therefore established a unified but culturally varied empire. After more than three centuries of existence and despite the Inca civilization’s strength and riches, the Inca Empire was overthrown by Spanish conquistadors in a matter of months.

Which legend relates to the birth of the Inca Empire?

In contrast to many earlier civilizations, the Incas did not rely heavily on written records to attest to the facts of their people. In truth, the people’s history and culture have always been passed down orally, and there were few written records from before the 15th century. Because of this, the earliest years of Inca culture are sometimes referred to as “legendary.”

Manco Capac (or Manco Cápac) was the first emperor, and he supposedly ruled in the year 1200. When they first arrived in the southern Peruvian Andes, the Incas were a tiny warrior tribe intent on expanding their empire and subjugating the many indigenous communities that lay in its path. However, the valley of Cuzco does not see much extension until the 14th century, under the reign of the seventh Inca emperor. This paves the stage for the real conquests, which began in the XV century.

How did the Inca Empire develop?

When Inca Emperor Viracocha (number eight) ran into trouble with the ambitious Chanca people, his son Yupanqui gathered an army to protect the empire. They just fueled his ambition, and in 1438 he was able to turn the tables and defeat his enemies. The great Inca expansion then began, giving rise to an enormous and enduring empire. Yupanqui declared himself Emperor and changed his name to Pachacutec.

Starting from the city he named the capital, Cuzco, the new ruler conquered land to the south, around Lake Titicaca, and to the west, along the coast, before turning his attention to the north. After his passing, his son, Tupac Yupanqui, carried on the family’s tradition of conquest.

The eleventh emperor, Huayna Capac, presided over the greatest period of growth in the history of the Inca Empire. The region under his control in the latter years of his rule extended beyond the current boundaries of Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile, and all the way into Colombia. About eight million people had to be brought together under the banner of a unified Empire after it was necessary to subdue and unify the numerous populations.

How was the Inca Empire organized?

Lacking a certain degree of political cohesion, the Inca Empire would not have survived. Since this was the case, emperors in the 1500s used various means to ensure the conquered populations would remain submissive. To better incorporate the ethnic groups into the system, one of the key procedures was to relocate the people either farther into the land or into previously structured areas.

The Empire was built on agriculture and a theocratic government, and it was divided into four major sections known as “quarters” (hence the name “Tahuantinsuyu”). Moreover, every nation was mandated to worship the Sun God, while native religions were tolerated. In order to achieve linguistic harmony, the various groups must give up their native tongues in favor of Quechua. All of these things, plus a powerful transportation network, were used by the Empire to maintain its unity. This seemingly powerful empire, however, had weak foundations.

What events precipitated the fall of the Inca Empire?

After his death in 1527, Huayna Capac’s sons, Huáscar and Atahualpa, took control of the Inca Empire. The aristocracy in Cuzco crowns the first son, the rightful heir, as emperor, while the second rules the territory’s northern regions. In the same year, Francisco Pizarro first set foot in Peru. He leaves, already planning his return since he was so impressed by all the luxury.

A power struggle between the two Inca brothers came to an end with Atahualpa’s triumph over his brother’s rival for the Inca throne in 1531. It was at this time that Pizarro returned to Peru, with the backing of King Charles V. He arranges to have a chat with the new emperor, and the latter pays him a visit in Cajamarca, showing no sign of mistrust. The Spaniards kidnap Atahualpa and slaughter his bodyguard on the pretense that he refuses to convert to Christianity. The Conquistadors suffocated him on August 29, 1533, after extracting a large ransom from him.

An empire that had existed for centuries and counted eight million people among its population fell in a matter of months to a force of less than two hundred. Even if the last of the Inca’s descendants were to launch a small rebellion, its effects would be limited. The greatest pre-Columbian civilization in history and its associated empire have been completely destroyed.

According to the experts, there was no single explanation for this type of drop. Some have hypothesized that the Incas didn’t fight back because they considered the Whites as heavenly embodiments. Some people attribute the swift loss to the widespread fear spread by weapons and tamed horses. No matter what happens, Peruvians won’t forget their rich heritage for decades. There was evidence of this in the Condorcanqui uprising at the end of the XVIIIth century.


1200 – Birth of the Inca civilization

According to the legends told by the Incas to the Spaniards, Manco Capac founded the Inca Empire. He would have been sent by his father, the Sun, in order to offer civilization to men. Along with his wife, Mama Ocllo, he would have traveled from Lake Titicaca and settled in the area now known as Cuzco.

A different myth claims that the Ayar people initially consisted of four brothers who, with their wives, emerged from a cave and began a massive migration in the Cuzco valley. Ayar Manco, however, would have slaughtered his brothers to keep the one-of-a-kind sovereign for himself. In any case, Ayar Manco, also known as Manco Capac, will be remembered as the first Inca emperor, having ruled about the year 1200.

1438 – Inca Yupanqui defends his city

Yupanqui, son of Inca King Viracocha the Eighth, leads an army to defend Cuzco against the Chancas. This latter group does actually capitalize on the kingdom’s vulnerability to increase their own dominance.

The battle was over, and the valiant Inca Yupanqui would soon reclaim his throne and restore order to the Empire, but not before much blood had been spilled. When he assumes the name Pachacutec, he plans to expand his territory and assert his control over several indigenous communities.

1471 – Tupac Yupanqui succeeds his father

After his father, Inca Yupanqui, Tupac Yupanqui became the tenth Inca emperor. He had helped greatly in his predecessor’s program of territorial expansion, so he naturally carried it on. First, he looks north, where his soldiers will be able to advance into most of present-day Ecuador. These will extend the boundaries southward into the future city of Lima and then farther still toward the heart of Chile.

1493 – Huayna Capac, new Inca emperor

Huayna Capac succeeds his father Tpac Yupanqui as Emperor. The huge domain he inherited was one he set out to develop and strengthen. The Inca Empire would reach its zenith under his rule. He will rule over an area more than 3,500 kilometers long and 800 kilometers wide.

1527 – Death of the emperor Huayna Capac

After his death, the eleventh Inca emperor bequeathed his empire to his two sons, Huáscar (a legitimate descendent who was anointed by the nobility of Cuzco) and Atahualpa (who ruled the northern part of the empire). But the two successors will have fierce disagreements, leading to an actual civil war in the Empire. In 1532, Atahualpa would win a brutal fight against his half-brother not far from Cuzco and capture power.

January 1531 – New landing of Pizarro

With the Inca army decimated by civil conflict between the late emperor’s two successors, the Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro sets foot on Inca land. Near Cuzco, one of them, Atahualpa, will eventually be able to vanquish his half-brother Huáscar and assume the throne as the thirteenth Inca. However, Pizarro, inspired by his desire for conquest, will arrange a meeting with the new emperor during which the latter will be captured.

16 November 1532 – Pizarro captures the last Inca emperor

An internal civil war between the deceased emperor’s two successors weakens the Inca empire, allowing Francisco Pizarro to set foot on Inca land. The thirteenth Inca will be Atahualpa, who will become Inca after eventually defeating his half-brother Huáscar outside of Cuzco. In contrast, Pizarro, driven by a desire for conquest, will arrange a meeting with the new emperor during which the latter will be captured.

August 29, 1533 – Death of Atahualpa

The Inca Atahualpa, emperor of the Incas, was killed by Spaniards at Cajamarca (Peru). Francisco Pizarro, the conqueror, had received permission from Emperor Charles V to conquer the Inca Empire. In 1532, he commanded a small expedition that landed on the Peruvian coast, kidnapped Atahualpa, and ultimately executed him despite receiving a massive payment. Pizarro himself was stabbed by a supporter of his rival, Amalgro, in 1541.

November 15, 1533 – Capture of Cuzco by the Spaniards

Upon arriving in Cuzco, Francisco Pizarro explores the Inca Empire’s imperial city. The city was ransacked; the Sun Temple was looted for all of its treasure, and the Inca royal graves were desecrated. The once-majestic capital of the vast empire had vanished. The Spanish would construct Lima and make it the capital of the viceroyalty of Peru.

January 18, 1535 – Foundation of Lima

The city of Lima, which the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro intended to become the capital, was formally created by him. He dubbed it “Ciudad de los Reyes,” which translates to “city of kings.” Lima is the name of a city in Peru. It is deformed from the Quechua word rimac, which means “speaker.” In 1542, the city was designated as Peru’s viceroyal capital. The city quickly rose to prominence as the economic and cultural hub of Spanish America.

1536 – Revolt of Manco Capac II

The rebel army was covertly assembled by Manco Capac II, also known as Manco Inca, the son of Huayna Cápac. He was only Pizarro’s puppet, installed on the throne with no actual power. His uprising fizzled out, and he had to seek refuge in the mountains. Titu Cusi, his son, maintained the fight by staging infrequent assaults against the Spanish.

July 8, 1538 – Hernando Pizarro puts Diego de Almagro to death

Hernando Pizarro beheaded Diego de Almagro on July 8, 1538. When Almagro chooses to rest in Cuzco, he and Pizarro, the city’s governor, will clash. The two conquistadors were buddies throughout the conquest of the Inca empire. When Francisco Pizarro, a conquistador and his older brother, freed him, the two would eventually square off against one another in the decisive Battle of Salinas, which the Pizarro brothers would ultimately win.

June 26, 1541 – Francisco Pizarro murdered

In 1538, Diego de Almagro, a competitor and former partner of the Spanish adventurer Francisco Pizarro, was slain by Pizarro, prompting Almagro’s supporters to assassinate Pizarro in Lima (Peru). Shortly after Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, Pizarro set out in pursuit of excitement. He was successful in his conquest of the Inca Empire and the subsequent death of Atahualpa. Out of the ashes of this empire will rise Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

September 24, 1572 – The last Inca heir was beheaded

In accordance with instructions from Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, the Spanish captured Tupac Amaru, brother of Titu Cusi. Tupac Amaru was beheaded in public. He continued his brother’s fight against colonial rule. As a result, the Inca Empire’s only surviving successor vanished.


  1. Mann, Charles C. (2005). 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before ColumbusKnopf. pp. 64–105. ISBN 978-0-307-27818-0.
  2. McEwan, Gordon F. (2008). The Incas: New Perspectives. W.W. Norton, Incorporated. pp. 221–. ISBN 978-0-393-33301-5.
  3.  McCandless, Byron (1917). Flags of the world. National Geographic Society. p. 356.
  4.  Francisco López de Jerez,Verdadera relación de la conquista del Peru y provincia de Cusco, llamada la Nueva Castilla, 1534.

By Hrothsige Frithowulf

Hrothsige works at Malevus as a history writer. His areas of historical interest include the ancient world and early Europe, as well as the history of modern culture.