The Last Days of the Incas


Kim MacQuarrie




Date Reviewed:

August 19, 2012

ast Days of the Incas tells the story of Pizarro's conquest of the Inca Empire. With only 137 Spaniards, Pizarro managed to subdue an empire that had millions of inhabitants. The Incas had just completed their own civil war to unify the empire, so they didn't have any chance to reign over their new kingdom.

Although the Incas have a tremendous numerical advantage, Pizarro has two huge advantages - his men wear armor, and they have horses. Whenever the two armies clash, the repeated charges of armored soldiers (the horses were armored too) proved to be too much for the Incans, who had never seen such fearsome creatures before. The result is wildly different fatality rates - a few Spaniards will fall while hundreds, if not thousands of Incans, perish. The Incas have clubs and slings and arrows, but they lacked pikes which are the traditional weapon against charging calvary. Also, the Spanish have steel swords, their encounters with Incan warriors is really ruthless butchering. Given time, the Inca would have developed tactics to counter the Spanish horses, but the initial shock of the Spanish conquest routed most of the native army.

Almost immediately after conquering the Inca, the Spanish leaders begin to fight amongst themselves. Pizarro's second in command (Diego de Almagro) heads south on an expedition that searches unsuccessfully for gold. Almagro gets as far south as modern day Santiago, in Chile, but he does not find the treasures he craves. Almagro returns to Peru to find Pizarros brothers encircled by rebelling Incan troops in Cuzco.

Despite knowing the inevitable outcome, I couldn't help but root for the Inca to some how repel the ruthless Spanish invaders. Pizarro and his four half brothers are portrayed as the worst of humans. They kill the natives, steal their gold and land, and rape the native women. The Spanish have an unquenchable lust for gold and silver. Even with rooms full of gold and silver already in their greedy grasp, it is not enough and the Spaniards still want more.

The Spanish conquerors are so cruel that the Incans rebel. A new, young emperor named Manco is crowned and he musters a gigantic Inca army to attack the Spaniards in Cuzco. A tremendous battle rages, but ultimately the Spanish are victorious. Manco retreated to a hidden city called Vilcabamba, from which he directs an unsuccessful civil war. The city of Vilcabamba was hidden from the Spanish for years, and it frustrated their attempts to completely conquer the natives. As long as the Inca emperor remained free, the Spanish would not completely control Peru.

MacQuarrie's narrative is not one-side against the Spanish, he also shows the Incan emperor Atahaulpa was a ruthless man in his own right - at the first encounter between the Spanish and Incans, one Spanish warrior rears his horses and charges at the Incan warriors in a demonstration of intimidation - and it works, because a host of Incans break ranks and run. Atahaulpa has those soldiers executed for cowardice. Plus, Atahaulpa's plan was to murder the Spanish invaders, keeping a few castrated men alive to serve as guards (how MacQuarrie knows that this was Atahaulpa's plan is unexplained). Also, the Incans have a bloodthirsty way of determining the succession of their emperor - when the ruler dies, his surviving sons murder each other until only one remains. Pizarro happened to enter the Incan empire while Atahaulpa had just successfully defeated the forces of his brother Huascar.

Ultimately, all of the Pizarro brothers come to bad ends - Francisco himself is assassinated by Spanish rivals. So at least the evil invaders suffer for their crimes.

After reading this book, I wish I could go to Peru and visit some of those ruined Inca cities myself.