If Atahualpa had been his fathers general and governor in the north, then he at the death of the father could try to fight for the position as Sapa Inca. He was sitting in a capital, a new capital, which must have given him legitimacy or the feeling of such one. His power base would be the standing army which, as something new, had been established in addition to the peasants who were usually drafted as Inca warriors. Around him, Atahualpa had the officers he had led in the northern part of the realm.
Huáscar knew that the system of split heritage forced the Inca Empire to growth and he may have realized that the system had ended up in a deadly spiral of growth, which his grandfather and father had sought to subdue by founding the new capitals. Huáscar must have been aware that Atahualpa was his deadly rival.
Instead of continuing the fathers decentralization with additional capitals, Huáscar decided to concentrate power! The power of the panacas had to be clipped and it demanded control over their symbol of power: the royal mummies were to be burned!
This was a D E C L A R A T I O N O F W A R to the leading families who, by worshipping their ancestors and listening to the mummies, received important advice and the opportunity to influence the exercise of power.
Many nobles must have felt more than sweat.
Whether the burning of the mummies was carried out is uncertain. Garcilaso de la Vega wrote that in Cusco in 1560 he had seen five royal mummies – three male and two female – at judge Polo de Ondegardo.
Thus, all the mummies had not been burned, but the threat of extinction was abundant. It was possible to see Huáscars action as selfish, for increasing his own power, but worse was that it was yet another showdown with the Andes faith. Greatgrandfather Pachacútecs split heritage had been the first, grandfather Túpacs showdown with the peasants ayllus the second, father Mancos new capitals the third. It was the foundation of life – the foundation of the spiritual life of the Incas – that was under attack.
At the prospect of Huáscars fourth-generation showdown, the nobility raged to be deprived of their most sacred and the basis for their upper-class life. The panacas were shaken and began conspiring against Huáscar and supporting the enemy in the north, Atahualpa. The dead kings and the living nobility had turned to their ruler.
Huáscar demanded that Atahualpa should swear allegiance to him. Atahualpa replied by sending gifts of gold and silver, but that was not enough for Huáscar, who accused Atahualpa of planning a rebellion. Then Huáscar decided once and for all to put his brother in the right place.
With support of the Cañaris, who lived south of Quito – and who were sincerely hoping for the dissolution of the Inca Empire, for they longed for their former independence, so their support for Huáscar was probably tactical – Huáscars rapidly assembled army marched under the leadership of General Atoco to the north, towards Atahualpa.
But some say that the Cañaris, helped by the mitimaes, captured Atahualpa in order to present him to Huáscar, and put him in a safe place, but that Atahualpa had escaped and fled to Quito, where he made them think that he had turned himself into a snake by the will of God, so that he could escape from his enemies.
Atahualpas professional military forces under General Quizquiz’ leadership beat Huáscars less disciplined, rush-called forces, severely punished the Cañaris and marched against Cusco, where the panacas knew the wind had turned.
The war raged 1529-1532 and hit both sides bloody. Huáscar saw thousands of dead and fleeing out of Cusco. And then Atahualpas generals captured the city. Huáscars general Atoco was caught, tied to a pole, executed, and of his scull a cup was made for Atahualpa. Huáscar heard about the horrors, trembled and summoned chiefs from all over the empire asking for help.
Huáscar was more frightened than before. But his advisers told him not to abandon Cusco, but to send newly recruited soldiers and captains out to fight. And there was a lot of mourning for the dead, and in the temples and the oracles they made sacrifices.
Huáscar called many native lords of the Callao,Canches, Canas, Charcas, Carangas and of the Cuntisuyu and Chinchaysuyo. And when they gathered, he informed them about what Atahualpa had done, and asked for their help. And they all responded positively because they only accepted the man who was crowned King in Cusco, which was Huáscar.
About Atahualpa, Cieza wrote:
After that he ordered some of the nobles from the provinces to be killed and put his own captains there. Then he took the tassel and named himself Inca, even though it had no value because it was not done in Cusco. And some say that Atahualpa was crowned in Tumipampa before Atoco was defeated or even before he had left Cusco, and that Huáscar knew about it.
The descriptions of the War of Brothers are contradictory, and it is difficult to decide which one to believe. It can hardly be different when the story is based on myths! To note that mythological storytelling reflects Inca storytelling can hardly satisfy historians today. Many myths should legitimize display of force.
Some pages after Garcilaso de la Vega had described Atahualpa as intelligent, sagacious and brave, he mentioned other aspects of him:
Atahualpa made very cruel use of his victory. He made a false pretence that he intended to restore Huáscar and summoned together all the Incas in the empire, both governors and other civil ministers, and generals, captains, and soldiers. They were all to appear within a certain time in Cusco, where he said he wished to draw up with them certain privileges and statutes that should thenceforward be observed by both kings so that they might live in peace and brotherhood. At this news all the Incas of the royal blood assembled: only those who were prevented by sickness or age, and a few who were too far away or who could not or dared not come or did not trust the victorious Atahualpa, were missing. When they were all assembled, Atahualpa ordered them all to be killed in various ways so as to make sure that they would never plan any revolt against him.
Garcilaso specified Atahualpas ways of killing:
Some were beheaded, some hanged, some were thrown into rivers and lakes with great stones about their necks, so that they were unable to swim and drowned; others were flung from high crags and precipices. All this was done with as much haste as his ministers could apply, for the usurper could not feel safe until he saw or knew that all his rivals were dead.
Atahualpas mass killings of the royal family Garcilaso explained: Atahualpa would never be entitled to inherit. Children of mixed blood would never become legal heirs. Therefore, Atahualpa had to wipe out anyone who could claim the throne.
But there were survivors. His own mother, the princess, and his uncles, had survived.
At the same time as Garcilaso in Spain wrote his comments, 567 Indians of the royal Inca race signed a petition at the Spanish authorities. In Spain, a certain Melchior Carlos Inca claimed to be the heir to the Incathrone.
But there can hardly be any doubt that Atahualpas brotherly bloodbath had been violent, terrifying.
Despite the bloodbath, Sapa Inca Huáscar was allowed to live. At first, at least. Sharply guarded, he was forced to walk to Quito. Terrible for him who had been accustomed to always being carried in his royal litter. Now he was led up to Atahualpa.
Military campaigns can be described simply, if that’s what one wants. But war is never simple. Frequently it is mentioned that 500,000 warriors, ie. mobilized peasents, had fought for Huáscar against 250,000 more professionally trained warriors fighting for Atahualpa.
Garcilaso de la Vega wrote at more than 150,000 died on both sides.
The exact number of warriors and non-fighting, dead and mutilated, in this bloodbath of a War of Brothers, will never be determined.
(pp. 320-324 in volume 2, reproduced without notes and illustrations):
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO AZTECS AND INCAS: MYTHS AND STORIES FROM MEXICO AND PERU. Edited, translated, retold and commented by Mikael Witte. Volume 1 + Volume 2
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