08/30/05 - pizarro and the incas

In today's excerpt - the 1532 encounter between the Spaniard Pizarro and the Inca emperor Atahuallpa at Cajamarca, that assured the successful conquest of the Inca empire and underscored the decisive role of technology:

"Atahuallpa was absolute monarch of the largest and most advanced state of the New World, while Pizarro represented the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (also known as King Charles I of Spain), monarch of the most powerful state in Europe.  Pizarro, leading a ragtag group of 168 soldiers, was in unfamiliar terrain, ignorant of the local inhabitants, completely out of touch with the nearest Spaniards (1000 miles to the north in Panama) and far beyond the reach of timely reinforcements.  Atahuallpa was in the middle of his own empire of millions of subjects and immediately surrounded by his army of 80,000 soldiers, recently victorious in a war with other Indians.  Nevertheless, Pizarro captured Atahuallpa within a few minutes after the two leaders first set eyes on each other.  PIzarro preceeded to hold his prisoner for eight months, while extracting history's largest ransom in return for a promise to free him.  After the ransom—enough gold to fill a room 22 feet long by 17 feet wide to a height of over 8 feet—was delivered, Pizarro reneged on his promise and executed Atahuallpa."


Jared M. Diamond


Guns, Germs and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies


W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.


Copyright 1999, 1997 by Jared Diamond


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