Atahualpa Biography

(Last Inca Emperor)

Born: 1502

Born In: Inca Empire

Atahualpa was the final independent Inca sovereign. He belonged to the royal dynasty of Hanan Cuzco. Following his decisive victory over his brother, Atahualpa ascended the Inca throne. However, his reign as the Sapa Inca (sovereign emperor) of the Inca Empire lasted for about a year between 1532 and 1533, before he was captured and executed by the Spanish conquistadors. Prior to the death of his father, Emperor Huayna Capac, he had made Atahualpa’s brother, Ninan Cuyochi, his heir. However, he passed away from the same disease as his father. Another brother, Huáscar, was selected as Sapa Inca by the Cusquenian nobles, and Huáscar named Atahualpa the governor of Quito. The Inca Civil War between the two brothers took place between 1529 and 1532 and concluded when Atahualpa won against Huáscar and killed all the pretenders to his throne. He subsequently became the emperor but his reign came to a violent end when he was taken captive by the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro in November. Through Atahualpa, Pizarro virtually ruled over the empire. However, Atahualpa soon turned out to be a liability and the Spanish killed him. His successors would engage in a gradually-losing resistance in the ensuing decades.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Atawallpa, Atabalica, Atahuallpa, or Atabalipa

Died At Age: 31


Spouse/Ex-: Cuxirimay Ocllo

father: Huayna Capac

siblings: Atoc, Huáscar, Manco Inca Yupanqui, Ninan Cuyochi, Paullu Inca, Quispe Sisa, Túpac Huallpa

children: Carlos Atahuallpa, Diego Hilaquita, Felipe Atahuallpa, Francisco Ninancoro, Francisco Túpac Atauchi, Huallpa Cápac, Isabel Atahuallpa, Juan Quispe Túpac, María Atahuallpa, Puca Cisa

Born Country: Peru

Emperors & Kings Peruvian Men

Died on: July 26, 1533

Cause of Death: Execution

Childhood & Early Life
Atahualpa was likely born in 1502 in Cuzco, Quito or Caranqui. His father was Huayna Capac, the Sapa Inca who reigned from 1493 to 1524. Several names have been proposed as the likely candidates to be his mother, including Tocto Ocllo Coca, Paccha Duchicela, and Túpac Palla.
Atahualpa was one of the younger sons of his father and hence not his heir. That title was held by his brother, Ninan Cuyochi. In 1525, Huayna Capac passed away, and Ninan Cuyochi succumbed to the same disease two years later, leaving the empire in an utter turmoil.
The Cusquenian nobles subsequently chose Huáscar as the next Sapa Inca. Huáscar, in turn, named Atahualpa the governor of Quito, a region that their father had conquered only a few years earlier.
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The Civil War of the Incas
Huáscar believed that Atahualpa posed a danger to his reign. However, he did not remove him from his post as the governor of Quito to honour their father’s wishes. In the ensuing five-year-long peace, Huáscar allied himself with the powerful ethnic group, the Cañari, who controlled the north of the empire and hated Atahualpa who had waged war against them during the empire’s expansion in the region under their father.
Chronicler Pedro Pizarro writes that Huáscar dispatched an army to the north that surprised Atahualpa and imprisoned him. He was subsequently tortured and one of his ears was cut off. From that point, Atahualpa was always seen in public wearing a headgear that covered the scar. Ultimately, he managed to flee from his captors.
Another chronicler, Miguel Cabello de Balboa, disputes this, stating that the capture did not likely happen, as if Atahualpa had indeed been taken captive by Huáscar’s men, he would immediately have been killed.
After his escape, Atahualpa came back to Quito and assembled a massive army. He fought the Cañari of Tumebamba and destroyed their city and the surrounding lands. He sustained a leg injury during a naval confrontation and was forced to fall back. His forces, under generals Quisquis, Rumiñawi, and Calcuchimac registered multiple successive victories.
During his stay in Marcahuamachuco, he dispatched a convoy to seek guidance from the oracle of the Huaca (a god) Catequil. The oracle told his emissaries that Atahualpa’s action would result in disaster. Upon hearing the prophecy, Atahualpa became incensed. He travelled to the sanctuary, executed the priest, and razed the temple to the ground. During this period, he first came to know of Pizarro and his expedition.
Two of his generals, Quizquiz and Chalkuchimac, led his army in the final league of the campaign and won a decisive victory at the Battle of Quipaipan in April 1532. They then took Huáscar captive, executed his family, and took control of the capital, Cuzco. Atahualpa had stayed back in the Andean city of Cajamarca, where he came across Pizarro and his men.
The Arrival of the Spanish & Conquest
Pizarro’s expedition arrived in Puná Island in January 1531, intending to defeat and take control of the Inca Empire. They came to know that a civil war had been taking place in the empire after they took control of the city of Tumbes. After reinforcements came from Spain, in September 1532, Pizarro, accompanied by a force of 106 foot-soldiers and 62 horsemen, began advancing towards the centre of the Inca Empire.
Atahualpa had 80,000 soldiers with him in Cajamarca. When he was told about the marching unit of foreigners, he dispatched a noble for more information. Spending two days at the Spanish camp, the noble reported back to his emperor about the guns and horses of the foreigners.
Atahualpa felt safe due to his much larger force and let them come to Cajamarca, so he could meet them and possibly take them captive. The Spanish reached Cajamarca on 15 November.
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Atahualpa and his men had set up their camp outside the city. When the Spanish came, they chose to camp within the city. After an initial meeting between Atahualpa and the Spanish envoys Hernando de Soto and Pizarro's brother, Hernando Pizarro, he was asked to visit the Spanish camp and become acquainted with Pizarro. Atahualpa thought it would be prudent to do so on the following day.
Atahualpa departed from his camp on the next day at midday. He was accompanied by five to six thousand soldiers. Eighty lords were bearing his litter, while four other lords were with him inside the litter.
The emperor had become severely drunk by the time his large procession arrived at the town’s plaza. The Spanish were hiding inside the buildings. Dominican friar Vincente de Valverde came out with an interpreter to speak to the Incas.
Multiple accounts exist of what Valverde told the Incas. Most scholars believe that he asked the Incas to come with him to meet and dine with Pizarro. Atahualpa declined and ordered the Spanish to give back everything they had acquired since they had come to the empire.
Several eyewitnesses stated that Valverde talked about the Catholic religion and handed over his breviary to Atahualpa, who, after a short inspection, discarded it. However, Valverde did not give the requerimiento, a speech in which submission to the Supremacy of the Spanish Crown and acceptance of Catholicism were demanded.
Capture & Death
After Atahualpa threw away the breviary, Valverde ran back to Pizarro and urged the Spanish to fire at the Incas. In the ensuing skirmish, numerous Incas died, including the lords who carried Atahualpa’s litter. The emperor himself was captured.
On the Spanish side, not even one soldier perished. The Spanish then looted the Inca army camp. Recognising their greed for precious metals, Atahualpa promised them large amounts of gold and silver if they set him free.
In the ensuing months, Atahualpa underwent a mock trial, in which he was convicted of rebelling against the Spanish, worshipping idols, and killing Huáscar. It was ordered that he would be burnt at a stake. This terrified him, as the Incas believed the soul could not reach afterlife if their mortal body was burned.
Valverde suggested to him to convert to Catholicism, and his sentence might get reduced. He was baptized with the name Francisco Atahualpa.
On July 26, 1533, in accordance with his wishes, Atahualpa was killed by strangling with a garrote. His sister and wife, Coya Asarpay, suffered the same fate. His clothes and some of his skin were incinerated. His remains were allocated Christian burial, but the burial site is not known today.

See the events in life of Atahualpa in Chronological Order

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