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View series: The Portuguese and Spanish Empires

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The Conquest of the Inca Empire

This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of The Portuguese and Spanish Empires.


At the beginning of the 16th century, the Inca Empire covered the Andes from the Equator to northern Chile, a territory of nearly 4,000 kilometers in length. A vast road network made it possible for the Incas to maintain their power throughout the region and also facilitated the passage of goods. It spread across the high plains and linked the capital Cuzco to many Inca towns and villages, including Quito, Tumbes, Cajamarca and Chucuito.

By the time the Spanish arrived, a power struggle had lead to a civil war that weakened the Aztec empire.

After his first expedition in 1527, the Conquistador Francisco Pizarro was excited at the prospects of immense wealth. On his return to Spain, Charles V named him Captain General for all the lands he would discover and claim for Spain.

In 1531, Pizarro left Panama with a small band of soldiers and reached the south of today’s Colombia.

In September 1532, the Spanish Conquistador headed for Cajamarca where he requested a meeting with the Emperor Atahualpa. This interview was in fact a trap, and the Inca was taken prisoner.

Despite receiving a large amount of gold as a ransom, Pizarro’s men executed Atahualpa.

The Spanish continued their journey south. Indian tribes hostile to the Incas facilitated their journey across the Central Andes towards the capital of Cuzco. The city was taken on 15 November 1533 and was totally plundered.

Pizarro chose to establish his capital not in Cuzco, but in Lima, a new town he founded on the coast, as this allowed him to establish easier contacts with other Spanish possessions.

The fall of the Inca Empire did not mean the end of resistance by the Indians, who were able to take advantage of quarrels between Pizarro and his officers over the division of the booty.  Resistance groups remained active in the Vilcabamba Cordilliera until the last Inca, Tupac Amaru, was captured in 1572.

The conquest of Peru had dramatic consequences for the indigenous population.  Cruel treatment and a series of epidemics, including smallpox, typhus and influenza, led to the loss of nine-tenths of the population.