Atahualpa was ruler of the Incas during the Spanish conquest of the Incan Empire. He was the son of the favorite mistress of the Sapa Inca, Huayna Capac, but he was not the legitimate heir. Before the Inca died of smallpox, however, he divided his kingdom between Atahualpa and Huascar, an elder son. This led to civil war within the Incan empire for two years immediately preceding the Spanish invasion. The war was actually still in progress when the Spaniards appeared, and the divisions in the empire were exploited by the invaders.

The final battle in the Incan civil war occured in April 1532, during which Huascar was defeated and captured. At this time, the army of Atahualpa was camped near the town of Caxamala. Upon hearing of the approach of the Spaniards, Atahualpa sent an envoy inviting them to his camp. They were such a small force, amounting to less than 200 men, that he did not fear them and allowed them to approach over hundreds of miles of mountain passes unmolested. The Spaniards encamped within the deserted town of Caxamala, and sent an envoy to meet with the Inca. They then laid an ambush for him, by inviting him to a visit them in the city. As he entered Caxamala on a litter, surrounded by hundreds of unarmed attendents, the Spaniards attacked, slaughtered his retinue, and captured the king. It was their ambition to rule the Incas by controlling their leader, and due to the divisions of the empire, it appeared to work.

Atahualpa gained a reputation as a brave warrior capable of vicious deeds during the Incan civil war, yet his behavior as a captive was suprisingly conciliatory. He offered his sister in marriage to Pizarro, and arranged for his men to deliver a breath-taking amount of gold and silver to the Spaniards for his ransom. At the same time, he had his imprisoned brother Huascar killed to prevent the Spanish from enthroning him. He developed a friendship with Hernando De Soto, learned to play chess, and seemed to get along with his Spanish jailers. His motivation for such cooperation was likely to save his life, but Pizarro found it more convenient to be rid of him so that he could put a puppet 'Inca' on the throne. Pizarro sent his primary protector, De Soto, on a false mission, and in his absense had Atahualpa 'tried' and 'convicted' for the murder of his brother. He was strangled to death after being forcefully 'converted' to Christianity.

Key events during the life of Atahualpa, Ruler of the Incas:

Born as the son of the favorite mistress of the Huayna Capac, ruler of the Incas.
Death of Huayna Capac. Empire split between Huascar and Atahualpa.
Inca Civil War won by Atahualpa, after great losses on both sides.
Apr: Battle of Quipaipain Forces of Atahualpa defeat and capture Hauscar.
Sep: Envoy invites the Spaniards to meet Atahualpa at his camp near Caxamala.
Nov: Spaniards attack unarmed Incas and capture Atahualpa.
Atahualpa gathers enormous somes of gold for his ransom.
Strangled by the Spaniards.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
The Conquest of Peru  in  A Child's History of Spain  by  John Bonner
Conquest of Peru  in  America First—100 Stories from Our History  by  Lawton B. Evans
Swineherd Who Wanted a Castle  in  The Men Who Found America  by  Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson
Pizarro and the Inca's Golden Ransom  in  Historical Tales: Spanish American  by  Charles Morris
Kingdom of the Goths  in  Spain: A History for Young Readers  by  Frederick A. Ober
Conquest of Peru  in  The Discovery of New Worlds  by  M. B. Synge
Explorers in South America  in  A Book of Discovery  by  M. B. Synge
Caxamalca  in  The Boy's Book of Battles  by  Eric Wood

Image Links

If you will let me go free, Pizarro, I will fill up this room with gold.'
 in The Men Who Found America

Death of Atahualpa
 in Historical Tales: Spanish American

Atahuallpa, Inca of Peru
 in Ferdinand De Soto and the Invasion of Florida

The capture of Atahualpa
 in Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru

The execution of the Inca
 in The Adventures of Pizarro

Short Biography
Francisco Pizarro With only 160 men, conquered six thousand Inca and took control of Peru.
Hernando De Soto Adventurer who aided in conquest of Peru, then explored Southwestern United States. Discovered Mississippi river.
Huayna Capac Ruler of the Incan Empire. Died of Smallpox in 1527.
Huascar Ruler of the Inca empire who died shortly before the Spanish conquest, half-brother of Atahualpa.
Tupac Hualpa Brother of Atahualpa who succeeded him as a puppet emperor, controlled by the Spanish.