A response to a question asked in AP European History for the world's consumption.

Upon questioning the events surrounding the death of Atahuallpa and the downfall of the American Indians, important lessons are unearthed. Said knowledge can be tracked chronologically, from the first encounter with the Spaniards to the ultimate destruction of the Incan people. The first great wisdom gained from the initial encounter at Cajamarca was that of the unpredictability of human nature, something that would cost Atahuallpa and his people dearly. Secondly, the ability of little more than two hundred Spanish soldiers to conquer a standing army of over eighty thousand Indian warriors makes light of the absolute need for technological superiority in order to ensure victory. Finally, the overwhelming greed of humanity forms the backbone of the entire tale, for the Spanish would have never launched their invasion of the New World had it not have been for the insatiable yearning for gold, territory, and power.

There are those, such as author Jared Diamond, who would have one believe that Atahuallpa “…marched into Pizarro’s obvious trap at Cajanmarca.” (Diamond, p. 78) On the other hand, one can argue that Atahuallpa could not predict the so-called “obvious trap”, believing that Pizarro would not attempt anything as outlandish as an assault on the Incan lord. If one observes texts concerning this time one can clearly see that the Spanish who participated in this attack were themselves surprised in its success, as it seemed like an impossibility to either side. (Diamond, p. 78) Furthermore, Atahuallpa was a victim of ignorance, gathering his only information about his foe from second and third hand oral sources, which lead Atahuallpa to believe that the Spaniards were little more than an unorganized mass of noncombatants. As Jared Diamond summarized in his Guns, Germs, and Steel “The envoy saw the Spaniards at their most disorganized, told Atahuallpa that they were not fighting men, and that he could tie them all up if given 200 Indians. Understandably, it never occurred to Atahuallpa that the Spaniards were formidable and would attack him without provocation.” (Diamond, p. 79)

As pathetic as was the Italian conquer of Ethiopia at the opening of the Second World War, it was nothing compared to the Spanish slaughter of the Incas. Pizarro’s vast technological superiority allowed the Spanish soldiers to “…cut down almost all the leaders of all the leaders of the empire in a half hour” (Pizarro, Francisco, Microsoft Encarta) Diamond again makes a noteworthy statement, asserting that guns played but a minor role in the conquest, and that the real industrial advantage was given by the weapons of steel. The sound and sharp lances and swords brought down the lightly armored Incans like wheat to the scythe. On the other hand, the bludgeoning clubs utilized by the Indians were no use against their Spanish foes, as “The Spaniards’ steel or chain mail armor and, above all, their steel helmets usually provided an effective defense against club blows…” (Diamond, p. 76) The armor advantage made the Spanish a nearly invincible foe, while the weapons of steel allowed them to slaughter an insurmountable number of the primitive Incans.

The final lesson learned from the shameful conquest of the Incans and death of Atahuallpa is that the event provides an excellent example of mankind’s nigh indescribable greed. The price of Atahuallpa’s freedom, which later became known as the infamous Atahuallpa’s ransom, would be one of the largest sums of money amassed in pure specie ever. Historians estimate that this great fortune would be worth anywhere between one hundred and three hundred million dollars in today’s market, and weighed in at over twenty-four tons. (Pizarro, Francisco, Microsoft Encarta - Atahuallpa’s ransom, available online @ http://online.elcamino.cc.ca.us/hist1A/prize.htm respectively) Not only did the Spanish invaders seek wealth, they sought power and territory. Using the captured Incan king to his own ends, Pizarro was able to control the Incan nobles and in turn the entire empire.

In conclusion, one can stipulate that three major lessons are purveyed by the experiences of Atahuallpa at the time of the conquest of the Incan people. The first of what can be learned from this period in time is derived from the surprise attack launched by the Spanish. The unprecedentedand unpredicted victory of the Spaniards was derived from the second lesson, the importance of technological superiority. As Diamond states “…it is hard for us to grasp the enormous numerical odds against which the Spaniards’ military equipment prevailed.” (Diamond, p. 75) Finally, the growing voracity of humanity was greatly evidenced by the motivations for the conquer of the Incan people by the inhabitants of Europe, but more specifically the Spanish.

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