Inca Civil War

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Inca Civil War
Emperor Atahualpa, the victorious brother, however, his reign as emperor was short
Emperor Atahualpa, the victorious brother, however, his reign as emperor was short.
Date 1529 – April 1532
Location Peru and Ecuador
Result Atahualpa victory; reunion of the Inca Empire under his rule
Weakening of the empire which leads to the Spanish conquest
Huáscar and his allies such as Tumebamba Atahualpa and his allies
Commanders and leaders
Huáscar (POW)
Topa Atao (POW)
Ullco Colla 
Tito Atauchi
Uampa Yupanqui
Guanca Auqui
Agua Panti
Paca Yupanqui
Tomay Rima  
100,000 Cañaris
Initially 50,000–100,000
At peak some 250,000
Casualties and losses
At least 100,000 killed
Tumebamba destroyed

The Inca Civil War, also known as the Inca Dynastic War, the Inca War of Succession, or, sometimes, the War of the Two Brothers was fought between two brothers, Huáscar and Atahualpa, sons of Huayna Capac, over the succession to the throne of the Inca Empire.[1]:146-149[2] The war followed Huayna Capac's death in 1527, although it did not begin until 1529, and lasted until 1532. Huáscar initiated the war because he saw himself as the rightful heir to the kingdom of all the Incas. Regardless of legitimacy, Atahualpa proved himself to be tactically superior to his brother in warcraft and to the mighty armies of Cuzco, which their father had stationed in the north part of the empire during the military campaign.[3]

Background and causes of the division of the empire[edit]

Inca Empire under the control of Atahualpa. It was almost coterminous with the former Chinchay Suyu province
Huáscar, who was defeated in the war between him and his brother

In 1524-1526, the Spaniards under Francisco Pizarro explored South America.[4] There were sixty-two horsemen and 106 foot soldiers.[5] Smallpox was taken to the continent, causing disaster for the Incas. However, the Sapa Inca Huayna Capac went to the north to investigate about the unfamiliar men. He never met any Spaniards, but he contracted smallpox and died in 1524. In addition, his eldest son and heir, Ninan Cuyochi, died shortly after him.[6] With both the leading Inca and the successor to the throne dead, it was uncertain as to who would become the next Inca king. No clear rules stated how one was to gain succession to the throne.[7] The choice stood between two sons of Huayna Capac, Huáscar, and Atahualpa, born of different mothers. Huáscar was of pure royal blood, but Atahualpa was considered illegitimate.[8] Huáscar saw it as an insult that Atahualpa, despite his alleged cunning and early wisdom, was even considered for Sapa Inca. Huáscar eventually did become the ruler of the Incas.[9] However, he felt that Atahualpa should not have any more land and that he should pay homage to him.[10]

Movements during the war[edit]

Huáscar, who was appointed by his father Huayna Capac to be the sole Sapa Inca of the Empire, and was supported by the nobility in Cuzco as well as the religious and political authorities and other main figures, saw it as a great insult that a "bastard" had inherited the throne of Huayna Capac.[11] The Inca nobles considered Atahualpa illegitimate because his mother, Paccha, was not born inside the Inca Royal Family and was merely the daughter of Cacha Shyri Duchicela, the former leader against the Incas conquest in the north (she was, however, born into the Shyri Royal Family). Soon after Huascar took his position as partial ruler of the empire, he expected Atahualpa and everyone else under the Incan authority to swear him allegiance, making him superior. Atahualpa had agreed to pledge allegiance to the new Inca, and sent his most trusted captains to Cuzco to announce his loyalty, as well as sending generous presents of gold and silver (as was customary.) Atahualpa was very liked in the North, as he was good tempered and carried himself with royal dignity. His brother Huascar was the contrary; he was ill tempered, disrespectful of the laws and ancient customs, suspicious of everybody, and refused to accept Atahualpa's offering of allegiance.[12] Huáscar then accused his brother of starting a rebellion against him, and ordered some of Atahualpa's messengers killed and had his captains sent back to him dressed as women. This was an insult to Atahualpa, who took it personally and declared war against his brother. Right before the Spaniards arrived in Cajamarca, Atahuallpa had order his troops to go to Cusco to capture Huáscar, and later on his way to the North to have him killed. Francisco Pizarro used this crime as one of excuses to execute Atahualpa after Pizarro collected the ransom of gold and silver promised to him for his freedom. This became probable cause for the war because Huáscar was in fact the eldest "pure" Inca blood. His mother, Chincha Ocllo, and his father, Huayna Capac, were brother and sister, which gave him full royal ancestry.[13]

The throne was passed down to Huáscar with his father's death.[14] As animosity grew between the brothers, Huáscar gathered soldiers under his command in preparation for attacking his brother. After getting stunned by his brother Huascar proclaimed his brother a traitor.[15] The head generals Chalcuchimac, Quizquiz, and Rumiñaei, were thought to have been born in the northern section of the empire, and thus transferred their devotion to Atahualpa[16] who was assembling the former imperial army of Huayna Capac in Quito, the Northern region left for his control.

People loyal to Atahualpa arranged the creation of a new capital of the Inca Empire in Quito so they could follow their preferred ruler, gain leeway within the government, and not have to fall under the rule of Huáscar. Atahualpa agreed to take on the leadership role of Sapa Inca in this new capital. Huáscar, who had assembled his army, moved north at this news in an attempt to get rid of his brother and gain complete control over the empire.[17] His men, with the support of the local Canari, initiated the offensive with a surprise attack at Tumebamba. (The Canari, sought to expel the nearest source of power, in an attempt to oust the Inca) Taken off guard, Atahualpa was captured. The army imprisoned him while they celebrated their victory. As their banquet progressed, the men got drunk and guards allowed a woman in to see Atahualpa. This woman snuck in a tool that he used later in the evening to drill a hole from which he made his escape.[18] As soon as he gained his freedom, Atahualpa gathered his large, experienced army from Quito and readied them for a counterattack.[19]

From 1531 through 1532, the two armies participated in numerous battles.[20] The first of these confrontations occurred when Atahualpa moved his men south shortly after his escape to the city of Ambato.[21] At Ambato, on the plains of Mochacaxa, they found Huáscar's men.[22] Soldiers attacked, defeated Huáscar's army, and managed to capture and kill the head general, Atoc, along with many other soldiers.[23] However, before Atoc was killed, his enemy tortured him with darts and arrows. After his death, Atahualpa demanded his "skull to be fashioned into a gilded drinking cup, which the Spaniards would note that Atahualpa was still using four years later.”[24] Following this victory, he strengthened his army and continued southward into lands belonging to his brother. As he made his way to Cajamarca, he added to his numbers. He first tried peaceful measures to gain loyalty from Huáscar’s men; in cases where that did not work, he became extremely violent, murdering large numbers. This in turn scared the survivors into surrendering to him. One report described how Atahualpa showed no mercy and massacred the Cañari tribesmen because they pledged their allegiance to Huáscar.[25] When he finally arrived in Cajamarca, Atahualpa sent the majority of his army ahead, led by his head generals, to continue military advances while he stayed in the safety of the city and explored rumors that the Spaniards were coming into the land.[26]

The military campaign continued southward through Huáscar’s territory. Battles took place at Bonbon and Jauja, both victories for Atahualpa’s army. The next battle started on the hillside of Vilcas and looked to be in favor of Huáscar. He had his troops set up at the top of the hill, behind a stone fortress. As initial attacks began, his men lost their position and retreated. Fighting occurred at Pincos and Andaguayias as soldiers went deeper into the enemy’s land; they remained successful. Atahualpa’s forces drew nearer to their opponent’s capital, northwest of Cuzco, at the battle between Curaguaci and Auancay, which again ended in victory. They continued their push to Limatambo, about twenty miles from Cuzco, where Huáscar’s men fell back to Ichubamba. There, they were defeated once again and fled from the battlefield.[27]

After a few years of fighting this civil war, an end looked in sight. Atahualpa and his army had defeated Huáscar in every encounter after the first battle. In 1532, as Cuzco seemed to be in danger of takeover, “Huáscar sent another army to meet Atahualpa’s, but after precarious battles, his forces were routed and Huáscar himself was taken prisoner.”[28] Atahualpa’s army had won the war. The news traveled back to Atahualpa in Cajamarca, where the army then learned about the Spanish incursion.

Atahualpa, Pizarro and the end of the Spanish conquest of Tahuantinsuyo[edit]

Atahualpa was saluted as a hero; when recapturing Cajamarca, making his camp outside the city with some 40,000 troops[29] (See Atahualpa) while Chalcuchimac and Quizquiz chased Huáscar’s army to the south. With a disastrous northern campaign, Huáscar had lost not only his best generals and many of his soldiers, but he also took command for the first time over his shocked and demoralized army. Huascar and Atahualpa’s armies met and each tried to gain advantage over the other. Huáscar, after finding himself in a dominant position, refused to make use of it, preferring instead to opt for a safe retreat, crossing the Cotabambas River on the way to Cuzco.

Chalkuchimac had a plan of his own and predicted the action of Topa Atao, and divided his army in two, sending one contingent around Topa Atao's back, enveloping and destroying the defenders. In January 1532, only miles from Cuzco, Huáscar’s retreat was cut off at Quipaipan, and his army was annihilated and disbanded.[30] Huáscar was captured and the capital Cuzco was seized by Quizquiz, who had it purged from Huáscar’s supporters in a bloody massacre. Huáscar himself was executed the following year.[31][32]

Throughout the course of the war, Atahualpa's army had risen to a strength of 250,000 men, all the strength of the Empire. However, before he had the chance to leave Cajamarca, the new Inca met up with conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who had reached the city on 16 November, and was captured by the Spaniards in the ensuing Battle of Cajamarca.[33]


While in the custody of Pizarro, Atahualpa was told by Pizarro that he was going to bring Huáscar to Cajamarca and Pizarro was going to judge which brother would be the better Sapa Inca. Atahualpa was scared that Pizarro would choose Huáscar over him so Atahualpa ordered Huáscar to be killed allegedly by drowning.[34] Only a few months later on August 29, 1533, Atahualpa was himself garroted at the plaza of Cajamarca by Pizarro’s men.[35]

There is no clear evidence of just how many Inca were killed during the Civil War. The estimated population of indigenous people at contact is anywhere from 60,000 to 1,100,000.[36]

Ratios of 20:1 or 25:1 have been published which are the depopulation ratios between the pre-conquest population totals and the lowest indigenous population estimate. This ratio means that out of every 20 or 25 people, one person died.[37]

Of the major battles fought, at Cajamarca the Spanish ambushed the Andean warriors and killed 1,500 of them without suffering any losses.[38] There are no other hard numbers of Inca or Spanish death tolls at any of the other battles. There were other causes of deaths other than the battles between the two brothers and their armies. Spanish and European disease also played a huge part in indigenous deaths across Latin America. Smallpox with the first recorded epidemic in December 1518 and it is thought that on Columbus’ second voyage an outbreak of influenza occurred where a large number of people died. Disease not only affected the indigenous people but also the Spanish as well. "Of the 1500 men who sailed from Cádiz on September 25, 1493, scarcely 200 were alive a decade later."[39]


  1. ^ Prescott, W.H., 2011, The History of the Conquest of Peru, Publishing, ISBN 9781420941142
  2. ^ Hemming, The Conquest, p. 29.
  3. ^ MacQuarrie, The Last Days, p. 50.
  4. ^ Davies, The Incas, p.186
  5. ^ Davies, The Incas, p.186
  6. ^ Davies, The Incas, p.181
  7. ^ Davies, The Incas, p.181
  8. ^ D'Altroy, The Incas, p.77
  9. ^ Davies, The Incas, p.182
  10. ^ De la Vega, Royal Commentaries of the Incas
  11. ^ Hemming, The Conquest, p. 29.
  12. ^ Von Hagen The Incas of Pedro, p. 80.
  13. ^ Von Hagen The Inca of Pedro, p. 52.
  14. ^ Hemming, The Conquest, p. 28.
  15. ^ Von Hagen The Incas of Pedro, p. 81.
  16. ^ Hemming, The Conquest, p. 29.
  17. ^ Cobo, History, p. 164.
  18. ^ Cobo, History, p. 165.
  19. ^ Prescott, History of the Conquest, p. 336.
  20. ^ The Hispanic American, p. 414.
  21. ^ Cobo, History, p. 165.
  22. ^ MacQuarrie, The Last Days, p. 50.
  23. ^ Cobo, History, p. 165.
  24. ^ MacQuarrie, The Last Days, p. 165.
  25. ^ The Hispanic American, p. 415.
  26. ^ Cobo, History, p. 165.
  27. ^ Cobo, History, p. 166.
  28. ^ The Hispanic American, p. 415.
  29. ^ Cieza de Leon, The Discovery, p. 192.
  30. ^ Kubler,"The Behavior of Atahualpa", p. 417.
  31. ^ Kubler,"The Behavior of Atahualpa", p. 417.
  32. ^
  33. ^ Kubler,"The Behavior of Atahualpa", p. 418.</
  34. ^ Hymas, The Last of the Incas, p. 232.
  35. ^ Means, Fall of the Inca Empire, p. 44.
  36. ^ Lovell, Heavy Shadows, p. 427
  37. ^ Smith, Depopulation, 453
  38. ^ Bauer, An Inca Account, p. 6
  39. ^ Lovell, Heavy Shadows, p. 428


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