Cajamarca, Peru (1532 AD)
The Battle of Cajamarca, perhaps better called the Massacre at Cajamarca, was one of the largest and bloodiest slaughters of indigenous people during the early Colonial era. In actuality an ambush planned by a small force of Spanish conquistadors against the Incan emperor and his retinue, the heavily armed Europeans handily defeated a poorly equipped force that outnumbered them by perhaps as much as thirty to one. The engagement at Cajamarca, one most horrifying in history, resulted in the death of the emperor and effectively marked the end of the Incan Empire, the last great pre-Colombian realm in the Americas.
By the early 16th century, the European subjugation of the Americas was well underway. In the 1520s, Spanish adventurers began to explore the west coast of South America, which was almost completely dominated by the Incan Empire. Spanish Conquistadors led by Francisco Pizzaro began raiding Incan territory as early as 1524. After two relatively ineffective expeditions, the Spanish organized a major campaign in 1531.
Soon after arriving in what is now Peru, the Spanish fought several minor engagements, in which the small but strongly equipped Spanish forces generally anhilated their opponents in large numbers. This was especially true at the Battle of Puna, in which local tribesmen took over four hundred casualties in exchange for three Spaniard deaths and some wounded.
Meanwhile, the Incas had just gone through a civil war, in which Atahualpa had just challenged and defeated his brother to claim the imperial throne. Marching back from Quito to Cusco with his army, which some estimates place as high as eighty thousand, Atahualpa was made aware of the small Spanish force. Deeming his army more than sufficient to handle the foreigners, he fortified a position outside of the city of Cajamarca.
Pizarro, with fewer than two hundred total soldiers at his disposal, knew that an assault on the Incas would be suicide. Instead they lured Atahualpa into Cajamarca with the intention of capturing him and using him as a hostage. Atahualpa accepted the invitation, coming only with a lightly armed retinue, and the Spanish seized their chance. In an effort to protect or rescue the emperor, the Incas took as many as seven thousand casualties, versus five dead and wounded Spanish. Ironically, Pizarro was wounded protecting the emperor from being slain out of hand. Atahualpa was subsequently killed, and the Spanish completed their conquest of the Incan Empire the following year.
The Massacre at Cajamarca took place near what is now the center of the city around the Plaza de Armas. The site best associated with the battle is a small building called the Ransom Room, where the captured Atahualpa was kept prisoner and tried before his execution in 1533. Accounts indicate that the emperor offered to fill the Ransom Room with gold in exchange for his life. Other sites around the city associated with the battle are noted with historical markers.
Cajamarca is a small city located along the old Inca Road from Quito to Cusco, approximately 200 miles north of Lima. Because much of the modern city was built over the battlefield, it is essentially an open site. As of this writing no visitor information was available for the Ransom Room building. Web: www.peru.info (official tourism website of Peru).
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