29.08.

1533: Last Inca Emperor dies after Converting to Catholicism

1533: Last Inca Emperor dies after Converting to Catholicism
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 29 August 1533
  • When Inca Emperor Atahualpa was captured, he offered the Spanish a room full of gold should they spare his life. Still, conquistador leader Francisco Pizzaro decided to kill him a few months later. A show trial was arranged, where the Emperor was sentenced to death by burning. Since the Inca believed a man could not pass on to the afterlife if he was burned, Dominican friar Vicente de Valverde intervened and told Atahualpa that he would be spared burning (but not execution) if he converted to Catholicism. The latter accepted and was baptized Francisco Atahualpa in honor of the conquistador leader.

On this day Spanish conquistadors killed the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa.

His official title among the Inca was “Sapa Inca”, i.e. “Great Inca”. He ascended the throne after defeating his older brother Huáscar in a civil war. Thus he became ruler of a huge empire spanning 1.8 million square kilometers (almost thrice as large as Texas, or over 7 times larger than the UK) and around 16 million inhabitants.

Under the leadership of the infamous Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistadors landed on the shores of Atahualpa’s empire in 1531. They then set off towards the hinterland with only around 100 soldiers and 60 horsemen. Atahualpa and his army were located somewhere near the city of Cajamarca. He sent one of his nobles to assess the Spanish. The envoy spent two days with the Spanish and invited them to Cajamarca to meet the Emperor. Atahualpa did not consider the Spanish to be a threat since they were so few in number, and they were allowed to march to Cajamarca unopposed.

The Spanish entered the city and found it undefended (the Inca army was camping outside). Pizzaro’s soldiers hid themselves in city houses and prepared an ambush for Atahualpa. When the emperor arrived, the Spanish captured him and killed most of his escort, allegedly around 2,000 people. Another 5,000 were captured. This sounds incredible since the Spanish were so few and had only a dozen or so arquebuses and four cannons. It is most likely that the Inca were armed with only ceremonial weapons and thus unable to offer any substantial resistance.

When Atahualpa was captured, he offered the Spanish a room full of gold should they spare his life. Still, Pizzaro decided to kill him a few months later. A show trial was arranged, where the Emperor was sentenced to death by burning. He was aghast because it appears the Inca believed a man could not pass on to the afterlife if he was burned.

Dominican friar Vicente de Valverde intervened and told Atahualpa that he would be spared burning if he converted to Catholicism. The latter accepted and was baptized Francisco Atahualpa in honor of the conquistador leader. In accordance with his own request, Atahualpa was strangled by garrote, and his remains were buried according to Catholic custom.

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