Climax of the siege of Cuzco: Manco Inca and his men ignite the roofs of the city
AS always, the Spaniards’ first reaction to a disturbance with the Indians was to try to seize the initiative. Hernando sent his brother Juan with seventy cavalrymen – virtually every horse then in Cuzco – to disperse the Indians in the Yucay valley. While riding across the plateau of rolling grassy hills that separates the valley of Cuzco from that of Yucay, they met the two Spaniards who had been with Manco. These had been beguiled by him into leaving when he continued towards Lares, and they were now returning in all innocence to Cuzco, unaware of any native rebellion. The first sight of the magnitude of the opposition came when Pizarro’s men appeared at the brow of the plateau and looked down at the beautiful valley beneath them. This is one of the loveliest views in the Andes; the river below winds across the broad flat floor of the valley, whose rocky sides rise as abruptly as the fantastic scenery in the background of a sixteenth-century painting. The slopes are tightly contoured with neat lines of Inca terraces, and above them, in the distance, the snowy peaks of the Calca and Paucartambo hills shine brilliantly in the thin air. But now the valley was filled with native troops, Manco’s own levies from the area around Cuzco. The Spaniards had to fight their way across the river, swimming their horses. The Indians retreated on to the slopes and allowed the cavalry to occupy Calca, which they found full of a great treasure of gold, silver, native women and baggage. They occupied the town for three or four days, with the natives harassing the sentries at night but making no other attempt to drive them out. The reason for this was appreciated only when a horseman from Hernando Pizarro galloped in to recall the cavalry with all possible speed; for irresistible hordes of native troops were massing on all the hills around Cuzco itself. The cavalry force was harassed continuously on the return journey, but succeeded in entering the city, to the relief of the remaining citizens.
‘As we returned we found many squadrons of warriors continuously arriving and camping in the steepest places around Cuzco to await the assembly of all [their men]. After they had all arrived, they camped on the plain as well as on the hills. So many troops came there that they covered the fields. By day they looked like a black carpet covering everything for half a league around the city of Cuzco, and by night there were so many fires that it resembled nothing less than a very clear sky filled with stars.’ This was one of the great moments of the Inca empire. With their genius for organisation, Manco’s commanders had succeeded in assembling the country’s fighting men and in arming, feeding and marching them to the investiture of the capital. All this had been done despite the fact that the empire’s communications and supply depots were disrupted, and without giving any warning to’ the astute and suspicious foreigners occupying the land. All the Spaniards were taken by surprise by the mobilisation at their gates, and were staggered by its size. Their estimates of the numbers opposing them ranged from 50,000 to 400,000, but the accepted figure by the majority of chroniclers and eyewitnesses was between 100,000 and 200,000.*
The great colourful steam-roller of native levies closed in from every horizon around Cuzco. Titu Cusi wrote with pride that ‘Curiatao, Coyllas, Taipi and many other commanders entered the city from the Carmenca side … and sealed the gate with their men. Huaman-Quilcana and Curi-Hualpa entered on the Condesuyo side from the direction of Cachicachi and closed a great gap of over half a league. All were excellently equipped and in battle array. Llicllic and many other commanders entered on the Collasuyo side with an immense contingent, the largest group that took part in the siege. Anta-Aclla, Ronpa Yupanqui and many others entered on the Antisuyo side to complete the encirclement of the Spaniards.’
The native build-up around Cuzco continued for some weeks after the return of Juan Pizarro’s cavalry. The warriors had learned to respect Spanish cavalry on level ground, and they kept to the slopes. The royal general Inquill was in charge of the encircling forces, assisted by the high priest Villac Umu and a young commander Paucar Huaman. Manco maintained his headquarters at Calca.
Villac Umu pressed for an immediate attack, but Manco told him to wait until every last contingent had arrived and the attacking forces had become irresistible. He explained that it would do the Spaniards no harm to suffer confinement just as he had done: he himself would come to finish them off in due course. Villac Umu was distressed by the delay, and even Manco’s son criticised his father for it. But Manco was applying Napoleon’s dictum that the art of generalship is to come to battle with a force vastly superior to the enemy’s. He thought that his warriors’ only hope against the Spanish cavalry lay in overwhelming numbers. Villac Umu had to content himself with occupying Cuzco’s citadel, Sacsahuaman, and with destroying the irrigation canals to flood the fields around the city.
The Spaniards inside Cuzco were suffering just as much anxiety as Manco had hoped. There were only 190 Spaniards in the city, and of these only eighty were mounted. The entire burden of the fighting fell on the cavalry, for the ‘greater part of the infantry were thin and debilitated men’. Both sides agreed that a Spanish infantryman was inferior to his native counterpart, who was far more nimble at this high altitude.* Hernando Pizarro divided the horsemen into three contingents commanded by Gabriel de Rojas, HernÃ¡n Ponce de LeÃ³n and his brother Gonzalo. He himself was Lieutenant-Governor, his brother Juan was corregidor, and Alonso Riquelme, the royal treasurer, represented the Crown.
At the outset, while the native forces were still massing, the Spaniards tried their tactic of charging out into the thick of the enemy. This met with far less success than usual. Many Indians were killed, but the crush of fighting men stopped the onrush of the horses, and once the Indians saw that the cavalry was thoroughly embroiled they turned on it with savage determination. A group of eight horsemen fighting around Hernando Pizarro saw that it was being surrounded and decided to retreat to the city. One man, Francisco Mejia, who was then alcalde or mayor of the city, was too slow. The Indians ‘blocked his horse and grabbed at him and the horse. They dragged them about a stone’s throw away from the other Spaniards, and cut the heads off [Mejia] and off his horse, which was a very handsome white horse. The Indians thus emerged from this first engagement with a distinct gain.’
This success against cavalry on level ground greatly emboldened the attackers. They moved closer to the city until they were camped right up against the houses. In the tradition of intertribal warfare, they tried to demoralise the enemy by jeering and shouting abuse and by ‘raising their bare legs at them to show how they despised them’. Such skirmishes took place every day, with great courage shown on either side but no appreciable gains.
Finally on Saturday, 6 May, the feast of St John-ante-Portam-Latinam, Manco’s men launched their main attack. They moved down the slope from the fortress and advanced along the steep, narrow lanes between Colcampata and the main square. Many of these alleys still end in long flights of steps between whitewashed houses and form one of the most picturesque corners of modern Cuzco. ‘The Indians were supporting one another most effectively, thinking that it was all over. They charged through the streets with the greatest determination and fought hand-to-hand with the Spaniards.’ They even succeeded in capturing the ancient enclosure of Cora Cora which overlooked the northern corner of the square.* Hernando Pizarro appreciated its importance and had fortified it with a palisade the day before the Indian onslaught. But his infantry garrison was driven out by a dawn attack.
If the horse was the Spaniards’ most effective weapon, the sling was undoubtedly the Indians’. Its normal missile was a smooth stone about the size of a hen’s egg,* but Enriquez de Guzman claimed that ‘they can hurl a huge stone with enough force to kill a horse. Its effect is almost as great as [a shot from] an arquebus. I have seen a stone shot from a sling break a sword in two when it was held in a man’s hand thirty yards away.’ In the attack on Cuzco the natives devised a deadly new use for their slingshots. They made the stones red-hot in their camp fires, wrapped them in cotton and then shot them at the thatched roofs of the city. The straw caught fire and was burning fiercely before the Spaniards could even understand how it was being done. ‘There was a strong wind that day, and as the roofs of the houses were thatch it seemed at one moment as if the city were one great sheet of flame. The Indians were shouting loudly and there was such a dense cloud of smoke that the men could neither hear nor see one another…. They were being pressed so hard by the Indians that they could scarcely defend themselves or come to grips with the enemy.’ ‘They set fire to the whole of Cuzco simultaneously and it all burned in one day, for the roofs were thatch. The smoke was so dense that the Spaniards almost suffocated: it caused them great suffering. They would never have survived had not one side of the square contained no houses and no roofs. Had the smoke and heat come at them from all sides they would have been in extreme difficulty, for both were very intense.’ Thus ended the Inca capital: stripped for Atahualpa’s ransom, ransacked by Spanish looters, and now burned by its own people.
From the captured bastion of Cora Cora the Indian slingers kept up a withering fire across the square. No Spaniard dared venture on to it. The besieged were now cornered in two buildings facing each other at the eastern end of the square. One was the great galpÃ³n or hall of Suntur Huasi, on the site of the present cathedral, and the other was Hatun Cancha, ‘the large enclosure’, where many of the conquistadores had their plots. Hernando Pizarro was in charge of one of these structures and HernÃ¡n Ponce de LeÃ³n of the other. No one dared to move out of them. ‘The barrage of slingshot stones coming in through the gateways was so great that it seemed like dense hail, at a time when the heavens are hailing furiously.’ ‘The city continued to burn on that and the following day. The Indian warriors became confident at the thought that the Spaniards were no longer in a position to defend themselves.’
By extraordinary chance, the thatched roof of Suntur Huasi itself did not catch fire. An incendiary projectile landed on the roof. Pedro Pizarro said that he and many others saw this happen: the roof started to burn and then went out. Titu Cusi claimed that the Spaniards had Negroes stationed on the roof to extinguish the flames. But to other Spaniards it seemed a miracle, and by the end of the century it became established as such. The seventeenth-century writer Fernando Montesinos said that the Virgin Mary appeared in a blue cloak to extinguish the flames with white blankets, while St Michael was by her side fighting off devils. This miraculous scene became a favourite subject for religious paintings and alabaster groups, and a church called the Triunfo was built to commemorate this extraordinary escape.*
The Spaniards were becoming desperate. Even Manco’s son Titu Cusi felt a touch of pity for these conquerors: ‘They secretly feared that those were to be the last days of their lives. They could see no hope of relief from any direction, and did not know what to do.’ ‘The Spaniards were extremely frightened, because there were so many Indians and so few of them.’ ‘After six days of this strenuous work and danger the enemy had captured almost all the city. The Spaniards now held only the main square and a few houses around it. Many ordinary people were showing signs of exhaustion. They advised Hernando Pizarro to abandon the city and look for some way to save their lives.’ There were frequent consultations among the weary defenders. There was desperate talk of trying to break the encirclement and reach the coast via Arequipa, to the south. Others thought that they should try to survive inside Hatun Cancha, which had only one entrance. But the leaders decided that the only thing to do was to fight back, and if necessary die fighting.
In the confused street fighting the natives were resourceful and ingenious. They evolved a series of tactics to contain and harass their terrible adversaries; but they could not produce a weapon that could kill a mounted, armoured Spanish horseman. Teams of Indians dug channels to divert Cuzco’s rivers into the fields around the city, so that the horses would slip and sink into the resulting mire. Other natives dug pits and small holes to trip the horses when they ventured on to the agricultural terraces. The besiegers consolidated their advance into the city by erecting barricades in the streets: wicker screens with small openings through which the nimble warriors could advance to attack. Hernando Pizarro decided that these must be destroyed. Pedro del Barco, Diego MÃ©ndez and Francisco de VillacastÃn led a detachment of Spanish infantry and fifty CaÃ±ari auxiliaries in a night attack on the barricades. Horsemen covered their flanks while they worked, but the natives maintained a steady barrage from the adjoining roofs.
The flat walls of Cuzco’s houses were exposed when the thatch was burned off in the first great conflagration. The natives found that they could run along the tops of the walls, out of reach of the horsemen charging below. Pedro Pizarro recalled an episode when Alonso de Toro was leading a group of horsemen up one of the streets towards the fortress. The natives opened fire with a bombardment of stones and adobe bricks. Some Spaniards were thrown from their horses and half buried in the rubble of a wall overturned by the natives. The Spaniards were only dragged out by some Indian auxiliaries.*
With inventiveness born of desperation, the natives evolved another weapon against the Christians’ horses. This was the ayllu, or bolas: three stones tied to the ends of connected lengths of llama tendons. The twirling missile tangled itself around the horses’ legs with deadly effect. The natives brought down ‘most of the horses with this device, leaving almost no one to fight. They also entangled the riders with these cords.’ Spanish infantry had to run up to disengage the helpless cavalrymen, hacking the tough cords with great difficulty.
The besieged Spaniards survived the burning roofs, sling-shots, bolas and missiles of the Inca armies. They tried to counter each new native device. As well as destroying the street barricades, Spanish working parties smashed the flumes along which the natives were diverting the streams. Others tried to dismantle agricultural terraces so that the horses could ride up them, and they filled in the pits and traps dug by the attackers. They even began to recapture parts of the city. A force of Spanish infantry recaptured the redoubt of Cora Cora after a hard battle. In another engagement some cavalry fought its way under a hail of missiles to a square at the edge of the city, where another sharp fight took place.
The brunt of the Indian attacks came down the steep hillside below Sacsahuaman and on to the spur that forms the central part of Cuzco. Villac Umu and the other besieging generals had established their headquarters within the mighty fortress. Indians attacking from it could penetrate the heart of Cuzco without having to cross the dangerous level ground on other sides of the city. Hernando Pizarro and the besieged Spaniards deeply regretted their failure to garrison this fortress. They realised that as long as it remained in enemy hands their position in the roofless buildings of the city was untenable. They decided that Sacsahuaman must be recaptured at any cost.
Sacsahuaman – local guides have learned that they can earn a larger tip by calling it ‘saxy woman’ – lies immediately above Cuzco. But the cliff above Carmenca is so steep that the fortress needed only one curtain wall on the city side. Its main defences face away from Cuzco, beyond the brow of the cliff, where the ground slopes away to a small grassy plateau. On that side the top of the cliff is defended by three massive terrace walls. They rise above one another in forbidding grey steps, casing the hillside like the flanks of an armoured dreadnought. The three terraces are built in zigzags like the teeth of great saws, four hundred yards long, with no fewer than twenty-two salient and re-entrant angles on each level. Anyone trying to scale them would have to expose a flank to the defenders. The regular diagonal shadows thrown by these indentations add to the beauty of the terraces. But the feature that makes them so amazing is the quality of the masonry and the size of some of the blocks of stone. As with most Inca terrace walls, this is polygonal masonry: the great stones interlock in a complex and intriguing pattern. The three walls now rise for almost fifty feet, and excavations by the archaeologist Luis ValcÃ¡rcel showed that ten feet more were once exposed. The largest boulders are on the lowest terrace. One great stone has a height of twenty-eight feet and is calculated to weigh 361 metric tons, which makes it one of the largest blocks ever incorporated into any structure. All this leaves an impression of masterful strength and serene invincibility. In their awe, the sixteenth-century chroniclers soon exhausted the mighty buildings of Spain with which to compare Sacsahuaman (plates 30, 32).
The ninth Inca, Pachacuti, started the fortress and his successors continued the work, recruiting the many thousands of men needed to manhandle the great stones into place. Sacsahuaman was intended to be more than a simple military fortress. Virtually the entire population of the unwalled city of Cuzco could have retreated within it during a crisis. At the time of Manco’s siege the crest of the hill behind the terrace walls was covered in buildings. ValcÃ¡rcel’s excavations – made to mark the four-hundredth anniversary of the Conquest – revealed the foundations of the chief structures within Sacsahuaman. These were dominated by three great towers. The first tower, called Muyu Marca, was described by Garcilaso as having been round and containing a water cistern fed by underground channels. The excavations confirmed this description: its foundations consisted of three concentric circles of wall of which the outer was seventy-five feet in diameter. The main tower, Salla Marca, stood on a rectangular base, sixty-five feet long.* Pedro Sancho inspected this tower in 1534 and described it as consisting of five storeys stepped inwards. Such height would have made it the Incas’ tallest hollow structure, comparable to the so-called skyscrapers of the pre-Inca Yarivilca culture along the upper Maranon. It was built of coursed rectangular ashlars, and contained a warren of small chambers, the quarters of the garrison. Even the conscientious Sancho admitted that’ the fortress has too many rooms and towers for one person to visit them all’. He estimated that it could comfortably house a garrison of five thousand Spaniards. Garcilaso de la Vega remembered playing in the labyrinth of its corbelled subterranean galleries during his boyhood in Cuzco. He felt that the fortress of Sacsahuaman could rank among the wonders of the world – and suspected that the devil must have had a hand in its extraordinary construction.*
The beleaguered Spaniards now decided that their immediate survival depended on the recapture of the fortress on the cliff above them. According to Murua, Manco’s relative and rival Pascac, who had sided with the Spaniards, gave advice about the plan of attack. It was decided that Juan Pizarro would lead fifty horsemen – the greater part of the Spaniards’ cavalry-in a desperate attempt to break through the besiegers and attack their fortress. Observers from the Indian side remembered the scene as follows:’ They spent the whole of that night on their knees and with their hands clasped [in prayer] at their mouths – for many Indians saw them. Even those on guard in the square did the same, as did many Indians who were on their side and had accompanied them from Cajamarca. On the following morning, very early, they all emerged from the church [Suntur Huasi] and mounted their horses as if they were going to fight. They started to look from side to side. While they were looking about in this way, they suddenly put spurs to their horses and at full gallop, despite the enemy, broke through the opening which had been sealed like a wall, and charged off up the hillside at breakneck speed.’ They broke through the northern Chinchaysuyo contingent under the generals Curiatao and Pusca. Juan Pizarro’s horsemen then galloped up the Jauja road, climbing the hill through Carmenca. They somehow broke and fought their way through the native barricades. Pedro Pizarro was in that contingent and recalled the dangerous ride, zigzagging up the hillside. The Indians had mined the road with pits, and the Spaniards’ native auxiliaries had to fill these in with adobes while the horsemen waited under fire from the hillside. But the Spaniards eventually struggled up on to the plateau and rode off to the north-west. The natives thought that they were making a dash for freedom, and sent runners across country to order the destruction of the ApurÃmac suspension bridge. But at the village of Jicatica the horsemen left the road and wheeled to the right, fought through the gullies behind the hills of Queancalla and Zenca, and reached the level plain below the terraces of Sacsahuaman.* Only by this broad flanking movement were the Spaniards able to avoid the mass of obstacles that the Indians had erected on the direct routes between the city and its fortress.
The Indians had also used the few weeks since the start of the siege to defend the level ‘parade ground’ beyond Sacsahuaman with an earth barrier that the Spaniards described as a barbican. Gonzalo Pizarro and HernÃ¡n Ponce de LeÃ³n led one troop in repeated attacks on these outer enclosures. Some of the horses were wounded, and two Spaniards were thrown from their mounts and almost captured in the maze of rocky outcrops. ‘It was a moment when much was at stake.’ Juan Pizarro therefore attacked with all his men in support of his brother. Together they succeeded in forcing the barricades and riding into the space before the massive terrace walls. Whenever the Spaniards approached these they were greeted by a withering fire of slingshots and javelins. One of Juan Pizarro’s pages was killed by a heavy stone. It was late afternoon, and the attackers were exhausted by the day’s fierce fighting. But Juan Pizarro attempted one last charge, a frontal attack on the main gate into the fortress. This gate was defended by side walls projecting on either side, and the natives had dug a defensive pit between them. The passage leading to the gate was crowded with Indians defending the entrance or attempting to retreat from the barbican into the main fortress.
Juan Pizarro had been struck on the jaw during the previous day’s fighting in Cuzco and was unable to wear his steel helmet. As he charged towards the gate in the setting sun, he was struck on the head by a stone hurled from the salient walls. It was a mortal blow. The Governor’s younger brother, corregidor of Cuzco and tormentor of Inca Manco, was carried down to Cuzco that night in great secrecy, to prevent the natives learning of their success. He lived long enough to dictate a will, on 16 May 1536, ‘being sick in body but sound of mind’. He made his younger brother Gonzalo heir to his vast fortune, in the hope that he would found an entail, and left bequests to religious foundations and to the poor in Panama and his birthplace Trujillo. He made no mention of the native siege, and left nothing to the Indian woman from whom ‘I have received services’ and ‘who has given birth to a girl whom I do not recognise as my daughter.’ Francisco de Pancorvo recalled that ‘they buried him by night so that the Indians should not know he was dead, for he was a very brave man and the Indians were very frightened of him. But although the death of Juan Pizarro was [supposed to be] a secret, the Indians used to say “Now that Juan Pizarro is dead” just as one would say “Now that the brave are dead”. And he was indeed dead.’ Alonso EnrÃquez de Guzman gave a more materialistic epitaph: ‘They killed our Captain Juan Pizarro, a brother of the Governor and a young man of twenty-five who possessed a fortune of 200,000 ducats.’
On the following day the natives counter-attacked repeatedly. Large numbers of warriors tried to dislodge Gonzalo Pizarro from the hillock opposite the terraces of Sacsahuaman. ‘There was terrible confusion. Everyone was shouting and they were all entangled together, fighting for the hilltop the Spaniards had won. It looked as though the whole world was up there grappling in close combat.’ Hernando Pizarro sent twelve of his remaining horsemen up to join the critical battle – to the dismay of the few Spaniards left in Cuzco. Manco Inca sent five thousand reinforcements, and ‘the Spaniards were in a very tight situation with their arrival, for the Indians were fresh and attacked with determination.’ Below ‘in the city, the Indians mounted such a fierce attack that the Spaniards thought themselves lost a thousand times’.
But the Spaniards were about to apply European methods of siege warfare: throughout the day they had been making scaling ladders. As night fell, Hernando Pizarro himself led an infantry force to the top of the hill. Using the scaling ladders in a night assault, the Spaniards succeeded in taking the mighty terrace walls of the fortress. The natives retreated into the complex of buildings and the three great towers.
There were two individual acts of great bravery during this final stage of the assault. On the Spanish side HernÃ¡n’SÃ¡nchez of Badajoz, one of the twelve brought up by Hernando Pizarro as additional reinforcements, performed feats of prodigious panache worthy of a silent-screen hero. He climbed one of the scaling ladders under a hail of stones which he parried with his buckler, and squeezed into a window of one of the buildings. He hurled himself at the Indians inside and sent them retreating up some stairs towards the roof. He now found himself at the foot of the highest tower. Fighting round its base he came upon a thick rope that had been left dangling from the top. Commending himself to God, he sheathed his sword and started clambering up, heaving up the rope with his hands and stepping off from the smooth Inca ashlars with his feet. Half way up the Indians threw a stone ‘as big as a wine jar’ down on him, but it simply glanced off the buckler he was wearing on his back. He threw himself into one of the higher levels of the tower, suddenly appearing in the midst of its startled defenders, showed himself to the other Spaniards and encouraged them to assault the other tower.*
The battle for the terraces and buildings of Sacsahuaman was hard fought. ‘When dawn came, we spent the whole of that day and the next fighting the Indians who had retreated into the two tall towers. These could only be taken through thirst, when their water supply became exhausted.’ ‘They fought hard that day and throughout the night. When the following day dawned, the Indians on the inside began to weaken, for they had exhausted their entire store of stones and arrows.’ The native commanders, Paucar Huaman and the high priest Villac Umu, felt that there were too many defenders inside the citadel, whose supplies of food and water were rapidly being exhausted. ‘After dinner one evening, almost at the hour of vespers, they emerged from the fortress with great Ã©lan, attacked their enemies and broke through them. They rushed with their men down the slope towards Zapi and climbed to Carmenca.’ Escaping through the ravine of the Tullumayo, they hurried to Manco’s camp at Calca to plead for reinforcements. If the remaining two thousand defenders could hold Sacsahuaman, a native counter-attack might trap the Spaniards against its mighty walls.
Villac Umu left the defence of Sacsahuaman to an Inca noble, an orejÃ³n who had sworn to fight to the death against the Spaniards. This officer now rallied the defenders almost single-handed, performing feats of bravery ‘worthy of any Roman’. ‘The orejÃ³n strode about like a lion from side to side of the tower on its topmost level. He repulsed any Spaniards who tried to mount with scaling ladders. And he killed any Indians who tried to surrender. He smashed their heads with the battle-axe he was carrying and hurled them from the top of the tower.’ Alone of the defenders, he possessed European steel weapons that made him the match of the attackers in hand-to-hand fighting. ‘He carried a buckler on his arm, a sword in one hand and a battle-axe in the shield hand, and wore a Spanish morriÃ³n helmet on his head.’ ‘Whenever his men told him that a Spaniard was climbing up somewhere, he rushed upon him like a lion with the sword in his hand and the shield on his arm.’ ‘He received two arrow wounds but ignored them as if he had not been touched.’ Hernando Pizarro arranged for the towers to be attacked simultaneously by three or four scaling ladders. But he ordered that the brave orejÃ³n should be captured alive. The Spaniards pressed home their attack, assisted by large contingents of native auxiliaries. As Manco’s son wrote, ‘the battle was a bloody affair for both sides, because of the many natives who were supporting the Spaniards. Among these were two of my father’s brothers called Inquill and Huaspar with many of their followers, and many Chachapoyas and CaÃ±ari Indians.’ As the native resistance crumbled, the orejÃ³n hurled his weapons down on to the attackers in a frenzy of despair. He grabbed handfuls of earth, stuffed them into his mouth and scoured his face in anguish, then covered his head with his cloak and leaped to his death from the top of the fortress, in fulfilment of his pledge to the Inca.
‘With his death the remainder of the Indians gave way, so that Hernando Pizarro and all his men were able to enter. They put all those inside the fortress to the sword-there were 1,500 of them.’ Many others flung themselves from the walls. ‘Since these were high the men who fell first died. But some of those who fell later survived because they landed on top of a great heap of dead men.’ The mass of corpses lay unburied, a prey for vultures and giant condors. The coat of arms of the city of Cuzco, granted in 1540, had ‘an orle of eight condors, which are great birds like vultures that exist in the province of Peru, in memory of the fact that when the castle was taken these birds descended to eat the natives who had died in it’.
Hernando Pizarro immediately garrisoned Sacsahuaman with a force of fifty foot-soldiers supported by CaÃ±ari auxiliaries. Pots of water and food were hurried up from the city. The high priest Villac Umu returned with reinforcements, just too late to save the citadel. He counter-attacked vigorously, and the battle for Sacsahuaman continued fiercely for three more days, but the Spaniards were not dislodged, and the battle was won by the end of May.
Both sides appreciated that the recapture of Sacsahuaman could be a turning point in the siege. The natives now had no secure base from which to invest the city, and they abandoned some of the outlying districts they had occupied. When the counter-attack on Sacsahuaman failed, the Spaniards advanced out of the citadel and pursued the demoralised natives as far as Calca. Manco and his military commanders could not understand why their vast levies had failed to capture Cuzco. His son Titu Cusi imagined a dialogue between the Inca and his commanders. Manco:’ You have disappointed me. There were so many of you and so few of them, and yet they have eluded your grasp.’ To which the generals replied, ‘We are so ashamed that we dare not look you in the face…. We do not know the reason, except that it was our mistake not to have attacked in time and yours for not giving us permission to do so.’
The generals might possibly have been right. Manco’s insistence on waiting for the entire army to assemble meant that the Indians lost the element of surprise they had preserved so brilliantly during the early mobilisation. It also meant that the professional commanders could not attack while the Spaniards had sent much of their best cavalry to investigate the Yucay valley. The hordes of native militia did not necessarily add much to the effectiveness of the native army. But Manco had clearly felt that as long as his men suffered a terrible handicap in weapons, armour and mobility, their only hope of defeating the Spaniards was by weight of numbers. The heavy, determined fighting of the first month of the siege showed that the Spaniards had no monopoly of personal bravery. Once again, it was their crushing superiority in hand-to-hand fighting and the mobility of their horses that won the day. The only arms in which the natives had parity were projectiles – slingshots, arrows, javelins and bolas – and prepared defences such as breastworks, terraces, flooding and pits. But projectiles and defences rarely succeeded in killing an armoured Spaniard, and the siege of Cuzco was a fight to the death.
Manco could also be criticised for not directing the attack on Cuzco in person. He apparently remained at his headquarters at Calca throughout the critical first month of the siege. He was using his authority and energies to effect the almost impossible feat of a simultaneous uprising throughout Peru, together with the feeding and supply of an enormous army. But the Inca’s presence was needed at Cuzco. Although there were plenty of imposing fighting men in the various contingents, the army lacked the inspiration of a leader of the stature of Chalcuchima, Quisquis or RumiÃ±avi.
The fall of Sacsahuaman at the end of May was by no means the end of the siege. Manco’s great army remained in close investiture of the city for a further three months. The Spaniards soon learned that the native attacks ceased for religious celebrations at every new moon. They took full advantage of each lull to destroy roofless houses, fill in enemy pits, and repair their own defences. There was fighting throughout this period, with great bravery displayed on either side.
One episode will illustrate the typical daily skirmishes. Pedro Pizarro was on guard duty with two other horsemen on one of the large agricultural terraces at the edge of Cuzco. At midday his commander, HernÃ¡n Ponce de LeÃ³n, came out with food and asked Pedro Pizarro to undertake another tour of duty as he had no one else to send. Pizarro duly grabbed some mouthfuls of food and rode out to another terrace to join Diego Maldonado, Juan Clemente and Francisco de la Puente on guard.
While they were chatting together, some Indian warriors approached. Maldonado rode off after them. But he had failed to see some pits the natives had prepared, and his horse fell into one. Pedro Pizarro dashed off against the Indians, avoiding the pits, and gave Maldonado and his horse, both badly injured, a chance to return to Cuzco. The Indians re-appeared to taunt the three remaining horsemen. Pizarro suggested ‘Come on, let’s drive these Indians away and try to catch some of them. Their pits are now behind us.’ The three charged off. His two companions turned half way along the terrace, and returned to their post, but Pizarro galloped on ‘impetuously lancing Indians’. At the end of the terrace the natives had prepared small holes to catch the horses’ hooves. When he tried to wheel, Pizarro’s horse caught its leg and threw him. One Indian rushed up and started to lead off the horse, but Pizarro got to his feet, went after the man and killed him with a thrust through the chest. The horse bolted, running off to join the other Spaniards. Pizarro now defended himself with his shield and sword, holding off any Indians who drew near. His companions saw his riderless horse and hurried to help him. They charged through the Indians, ‘caught me between their horses, told me to grab the stirrups, and took off at full speed for some distance. But there were so many Indians crowding around that it was useless. Wearied from all my armour and from fighting, I could not go on running. I shouted to my companions to stop as I was being throttled. I preferred to die fighting than be choked to death. So I stopped and turned to fight the Indians, and the two on their horses did the same. We could not drive off the Indians, who had become very bold at the thought that they had taken me prisoner. They all gave a great shout from every side, which was their normal practice when they captured a Spaniard or a horse. Gabriel de Rojas, who was returning to his quarters with ten horsemen, heard this shout and looked in the direction of the disturbance and the fighting. He hurried there with his men, and I was saved by his arrival, although badly wounded by the stone and spear blows inflicted by the Indians. I and my horse were saved in this way, with the help of our Lord God who gave me strength to fight and to endure the strain.’
Gabriel de Rojas received an arrow wound in one of these skirmishes: it went through his nose as far as his palate. Garcia Martin had his eye knocked out by a stone. One Cisneros dismounted, and the Indians caught him and cut off his hands and feet. ‘I can bear witness’, wrote Alonso Enriquez de Guzman, ‘ that this was the most dreadful and cruel war in the world. For between Christians and Moors there is some fellow-feeling, and it is in the interests of both sides to spare those they take alive because of their ransoms. But in this Indian war there is no such feeling on either side. They give each other the cruellest deaths they can imagine.’ Cieza de Leon echoed this. The war was ‘fierce and horrible. Some Spaniards tell that a great many Indians were burned and impaled…. But God save us from the fury of the Indians, which is something to be feared when they can give vent to it!’ The natives had no monopoly of cruelty. Hernando Pizarro ordered his men to kill any women they caught during the fighting. The idea was to deprive the fighting men of the women who did so much to serve and carry for them. ‘This was done from then onwards, and the stratagem worked admirably and caused much terror. The Indians feared to lose their wives, and the latter feared to die.’ This war on the women was thought to have been one of the chief reasons for the slackening of the siege in August 1536. On one sortie Gonzalo Pizarro encountered a contingent from the Chinchaysuyo and captured two hundred of them. ‘The right hands were cut off all these men in the middle of the square. They were then released so that they would go off. This acted as a dreadful warning to the rest.’
Such tactics added to the demoralisation of Manco’s army. The vast majority of the horde that massed on the hills around Cuzco were ordinary Indian farmers with their wives and camp followers – with few exceptions a thoroughly militia army, most of whose men had received only the rudimentary arms drill that was part of the upbringing of every Inca subject. Only part of this rabble was militarily effective, although the entire mass had to be fed. By August the farmers began drifting away to sow their crops. Their departure added to the attrition of heavy losses in every battle against the Spaniards. Weight of numbers was Manco’s only effective strategy, so the reduction of his great army meant that further operations against Cuzco might have to wait until the following year. But Cuzco was only one theatre of the national uprising. In other areas the natives were far more successful.
While he attacked Cuzco, Manco entrusted Quizo Yupanqui and his captains Ilia Tupac and Puyu Vilca with the conquest of the central highlands.* Another general, Tiso, had already been fomenting rebellion among the natives of the Jauja area with some success. At the first hint of trouble, the Spaniards had despatched a punitive expedition of some sixty men, mostly foot-soldiers, under one Diego Pizarro. These operated in the Jauja area while Tiso vanished into the eastern jungles and reported back to Manco at Ollantaytambo.
Governor Francisco Pizarro first heard about the attack on Cuzco on 4 May, in his new capital Los Reyes, or Lima. He at once feared for his brothers and the other Spaniards isolated in Cuzco, and began organising relief expeditions. He sent thirty men over the mountains to Jauja, under Captain Francisco Morgovejo de QuiÃ±ones, one of the two alcaldes of Lima. This force marched inland in mid-May, with orders to proceed along the royal road and garrison the strategic crossroads of Vilcashuaman.* It travelled through peaceful country beyond Jauja and as far as Parcos, an important tambo above the gorge of the Mantaro. Morgovejo de QuiÃ±ones learned here that the natives had killed five Spaniards travelling towards Cuzco. His reprisals were swift and vicious. He gathered twenty-four chiefs and elders of Parcos into a thatched building and burned them all alive. He hoped in this way to intimidate the natives so that he could proceed unmolested to a rendezvous with Diego Pizarro at Huamanga.
Pizarro also despatched another force of seventy horse under his relative Gonzalo de Tapia. This contingent took the middle route, descending the coast for some 120 miles and then climbing inland past HuaitarÃ¡, which is still graced by Inca ruins, to cross the Andes at 15,000 feet and strike the royal road north of Huamanga. Tapia’s force crossed the desolate puna of HuaitarÃ¡ but was caught by the Indians in a defile on the upper Pampas river -’ one of the worst passes in the land’. It had run into Quizo Yupanqui’s new army marching north from Cuzco.
These various parties of marching Spaniards were tempting prey to the rebellious natives. The superiority of Spanish horses and weapons was nullified by the Andean topography: for these central Andes are one of the most vertical places on earth, an endless succession of crumbling precipices, savage mountain torrents, landslides and giddy descents. Here, at last, the natives had a really effective natural ally. ‘Their strategy’, wrote AgustÃn de ZÃ¡rate, ‘was to allow the Spaniards to enter a deep, narrow gorge, seize the entrance and exit with a great mass of Indians, and then hurl down such a quantity of rocks and boulders from the hillsides that they killed them all, almost without coming to grips with them.’ Using this tactic, the natives now succeeded in annihilating Tapia’s seventy horse – almost as many mounted men as were defending Cuzco. The few survivors were sent as prisoners to Manco Inca.
Quizo continued northwards and soon met Diego Pizarro’s sixty men, who were marching down the Mantaro towards Huamanga. The Indians repeated their successful use of topography. Quizo trapped and exterminated Diego Pizarro’s entire force near the same Parcos where Morgovejo had burned the chiefs a few weeks before. News of these great victories was sent back to Manco, together with some Spanish post, weapons and clothing, the heads of many dead invaders,’ and two live Spaniards, one Negro and four horses’. The messengers reached the Inca soon after he had heard the news of the loss of Sacsahuaman at the end of May. His son Titu Cusi remembered the great rejoicings over the victory. To show his appreciation, Manco sent his victorious general ‘ a coya wife of his own lineage, who was most beautiful, and some litters in which he could travel with more authority’.
When Pizarro learned of the rebellion of Manco Inca, the prince he had crowned and in whom he had such confidence, he resorted to the familiar tactic of finding a rival puppet Inca. He chose a royal prince, probably Cusi-Rimac, who was with him in Lima. This man was given a hasty coronation and dispatched towards Jauja, protected by thirty horse under Captain Alonso de Gaete. Shortly afterwards pro-Spanish native yanaconas started bringing alarming rumours of the fate of the other expeditions. Pizarro decided that Gaete’s thirty men were too vulnerable. He therefore sent a further thirty foot-soldiers under Francisco de Godoy, the other mayor of Lima for the year 1536, and they left in mid-July.
The victorious Quizo Yupanqui was also marching on Jauja. Most of the original citizens of Jauja had descended to the coast to settle in Pizarro’s new capital Lima, but there were still a number of Christians living in the former Inca city. According to Martin de Murua, these Spaniards were too arrogant to post sentries or make preparations to defend themselves. ‘ Quizo Yupanqui arrived one morning at daybreak. He came upon the Spaniards so suddenly that the first they knew was that they were surrounded on all sides. They did not even have time to dress, for they were still in bed. In this tumult they positioned themselves in an usno [temple platform] they had there as a fortress with any weapons they found most readily to hand. Anyone can imagine the confusion: for they never thought that the Indians would have the courage to attack them…. The fighting lasted from the morning when the Indians arrived until the hour of vespers … and the Indians killed them all, and their horses and Negro servants.’
As the thirty foot-soldiers under Godoy approached Jauja they met the pathetic figure of Gaete’s half-brother Cervantes de Maculas fleeing with a broken leg on a pack-mule. This man and one other Spaniard were the only survivors of Gaete’s force, which was reported killed by its own Indian auxiliaries. The puppet Inca apparently succeeded in crossing to the native side in the heat of the battle: a brother called Cusi-Rimache was later prominent in Manco’s camp. Francisco de Godoy decided not to risk sharing the fate of Gaete’s, Diego Pizarro’s and Tapia’s men. He turned around and rode back into Lima in early August ‘with his tail between his legs, to give Pizarro the bad news’.
Quizo had now succeeded in annihilating almost all the Spaniards between Cuzco and the sea, including the inhabitants of Jauja and many travellers and encomenderos along the Jauja-Cuzco road. He had also defeated three well-armed relief forces of Spanish cavalry – over 160 men. The only Spanish force still at large in the central Andes was the thirty men under Morgovejo de Quinones. These continued down the Mantaro after massacring the elders of Parcos. At one crossing they were trapped by hordes of native warriors, who occupied both banks of the deep canyon. Night fell, and Morgovejo’s men camped by the river bank. They left camp-fires burning and were able to slip away in the darkness. There was another skirmish in a defile before the expedition managed to reach the tambo of Huamanga. The men could not rest for long. Throughout the following day native forces massed on the slopes around the tambo, and Morgovejo’s men saw a cluster of handsome litters that evidently contained the general Quizo Yupanqui and his staff. But the Spaniards again escaped under cover of darkness. They climbed the hills behind the tambo, and even took their weeping native women and yanaconas, who feared the reprisals of their compatriots if their European masters were annihilated.*
The exhausted expedition now attempted to ride back across the Andes to the coast. There were many days of marching and fighting around the ravines of the upper Pampas river. The Spaniards finally reached the last defile that separated them from the sanctuary of the coastal plain. But the local Indians had prepared another ambush. As the column entered the pass the air was filled with the echoing shouts of the warriors. Most of the Spaniards were trapped. The path was too narrow for them to fight, and they were caught in a barrage of boulders. Captain Morgovejo leaped from his exhausted horse and mounted the croup of another. But this animal was struck by a rock: both riders were thrown and Morgovejo’s thigh was shattered. The Spanish captain fought on for hours before he and his native attendant were killed. Four more of his men were killed at the passage of a river, but the shattered remnants reached the coast road and returned to Lima. They were almost the only survivors of some two hundred men sent into the sierra to relieve Cuzco.*
It was now some months since Francisco Pizarro had heard from his brothers in Cuzco, and he feared that they must be dead. ‘The Governor was deeply worried by the course of events. Four of his commanders had now been killed, with almost two hundred men and as many horses.’ When the rebellion broke out, Pizarro at once tried to consolidate his forces in Peru. Alonso de Alvarado was recalled from the conquest of the Chachapoyas, beyond Cajamarca in north-eastern Peru; he eventually reached Lima with thirty horse and fifty foot. Gonzalo de Olmos brought some men and seventy horse from Puerto Viejo on the Ecuadorean coast; and Garcilaso de la Vega, the father of the historian, abandoned an attempt to colonise the Bay of San Mateo and took eighty men back to Lima. Pizarro’s half-brother Francisco Martin de AlcÃ¡ntara was sent along the coastal plain to warn Spanish settlers of the danger and to gather them back to Lima.
But Pizarro could look for help beyond Peru. His invasion of the country was only one tentacle of Spanish colonisation of the Americas. Pizarro hoped at first to crush the rebellion from his own resources: he sent Juan de Panes to Panama in July to buy arms and horses with 11,000 marks of his personal fortune that were lodged there. But he soon realised that the rebellion was too serious and decided to appeal for help to all the Spanish governors in the Americas. In his desperation he even wrote on 9 July to Pedro de Alvarado, Governor of Guatemala, the man who had attempted to invade Quito and been humiliated and bought off by Pizarro only eighteen months previously. Pizarro now wrote him an eloquent plea: ‘The Inca has the city of Cuzco besieged, and for five months I have heard nothing about the Spaniards in it. The country is so badly damaged that no native chiefs now serve us, and they have won many victories against us. It causes me such great sorrow that it is consuming my entire life.’ Diego de Ayala took this letter to Guatemala and sailed on to Nicaragua, where he eventually recruited many good men. At the same time Licenciate CastaÃ±eda passed through Panama on the way to Spain, and Pascual de Andagoya wrote to the Emperor from Panama at the end of July that ‘ the Lord of Cuzco and of the entire country has rebelled’. ‘The rebellion has spread from province to province and they are all coming out in rebellion simultaneously. Rebellious chiefs have already arrived forty leagues from Lima. The Governor [Pizarro] is asking for help and will be given everything possible from here.’
News of the Peruvian revolt gradually reached Spain itself. As early as February 1536 the aged Bishop Berlanga of Tierra Firme, who had just returned from a royal mission to Peru, reported to King Charles that Governor Pizarro was allowing his conquistadores to violate the ordinances for good treatment of the natives. He also reported ominously that ‘the Governors have exploited the Inca, Lord of Cuzco, and so have any other Spaniards who wished to’. In April, Licenciate Gaspar de Espinosa wrote from Panama telling the King of the first killings of isolated Spaniards in the Cuzco area.* But news of the full siege of Cuzco did not arrive across the Atlantic until late August. The first reports of the rising said that ‘Hernando Pizarro caused this rebellion, for it is said that he tortured the chief cacique so that he would give him gold and silver.’
Manco Inca, delighted by Quizo’s victories, ordered him to descend on Lima ‘and destroy it, leaving no single house upright, and killing any Spaniards he found’ except for Pizarro himself. But Quizo wanted to ensure that his rear would be secure. He therefore spent July recruiting Jaujas, Huancas and Yauyos, trying to persuade these anti-Inca tribes to join his rebellion.* Quizo was understandably reluctant to engage Spaniards on the level ground and unfamiliar surroundings of the coastal plain unless he had overwhelming strength. He succeeded in recruiting a large force from the tribes along the western slopes of the Andes, and eventually brought his great colourful army down to the lowest range of Andean foothills, within sight of the hazy waters of the Pacific. The first news of them was brought by Diego de Aguero. He ‘arrived in flight at Los Reyes, reported that the Indians were all under arms and had tried to set fire to him in their villages. A great army of them was approaching. The news deeply terrified the city, all the more so because of the small number of Spaniards who were in it.’ Governor Pizarro sent seventy horse under Pedro de Lerma to try to prevent the Indians moving down on to the plain. A sharp engagement took place, in which many Indians lost their lives, ‘one Spanish horseman was killed and many others wounded, and Pedro de Lerma had his teeth broken’. The native army continued its advance on the European city.
‘When the Governor saw this multitude of enemy he had no doubt whatsoever that our side was completely finished.’ Quizo’s warriors advanced across the plain and some even entered the outlying houses of the city. But ‘the cavalry were hidden in ambush, and at the appropriate moment they charged out, killing and lancing a great number of them until they retreated and climbed into some hills. A strong guard was mounted by night, with the cavalry patrolling around the city’. Quizo now moved his army on to the Cerro de San Cristobal, a steep sugarloaf hill just across the Rimac river from the heart of Lima. This hill is encrusted today with a dusty slum, a tawny wart of poverty rearing above the modern city. Another hill was occupied by troops from the valleys of the Atavillos to the north-east of Lima – men better accustomed to the low, sea-level altitude and heavy atmosphere of Lima than their companions from the highland tribes. Other native warriors occupied hills between Lima and its port, a few miles away at Callao. The Spanish settlement was thus surrounded and almost severed from its communications with the sea.
The Spaniards were desperately anxious to dislodge Quizo’s men from San CristÃ³bal. Cavalry were useless against its steep flanks. A bold night attack, normally successful ‘since Indians are very cowardly at night’, seemed suicidal against so steep a hill occupied by so many enemy. Nevertheless, five days were spent preparing for such an attack. ‘It was agreed to build a shield of planks as protection against rocks. But when this was made it proved impossible to carry it.’
There was the usual confusion of loyalties during the siege. ‘Many Indian servants of the Spaniards went out to eat and live with the enemy and even to fight against their masters, but returned at night to sleep in the city.’ Francisco Pizarro suspected an Indian concubine of treachery. Atahualpa’s sister Azarpay, whom ‘he had in his lodging’, was accused by Pizarro’s chief love DoÃ±a InÃ©s of encouraging the besiegers. ‘So, without further consideration, he ordered that she be garrotted, and killed her when he could have embarked her on a ship and sent her into exile.’ There were, on the other hand, ‘some friendly Indians in the city who fought very well. Because of them the horses were spared from over-exertion, which they could not otherwise have endured.’
On the sixth day of the investiture of Lima, the native commander decided to end the stalemate with a full-blooded attack on the city. This was the critical moment of the rebellion, the attempt to drive the Spanish invaders back into the Pacific. Quizo Yupanqui ‘determined to force an entry into the city and capture it or perish in the attempt. He addressed his forces as follows: “I intend to enter the town today and kill all the Spaniards in it…. Any who accompany me must go on the understanding that if I die all will die, and if I flee all will flee.” The Indian commanders and leaders swore to do as he said.’ The native leader also promised his men enjoyment of the handful of Spanish women then in Lima – probably not more than fourteen women including Francisca Pizarro’s three godmothers. ‘We will take their wives, marry them ourselves and produce a race of warriors.’ The Spaniards had been busily creating the same race of mestizos ever since they set foot in Peru – but their unions with native women were not for eugenic purposes.
Quizo Yupanqui planned a simultaneous attack on Lima from three sides. He himself advanced from the hills to the east; the tribes of the Atavillos and north-central sierra marched in along the coastal road from Pachacamac.* The most determined attack was that of the Incas under Quizo himself. It possessed splendour and reckless bravery, the magnificent futility of the French at Agincourt, the British at Balaclava or the Confederates at Gettysburg. ‘The entire native army began to move with a vast array of banners, from which the Spaniards recognised their determination. Governor Pizarro ordered all the cavalry to form into two squadrons. He placed one squadron under his command in ambush in one street, and the other squadron in another. The enemy were by now advancing across the open plain by the river. They were magnificent men, for all had been hand-picked. The general was at their head wielding a lance. He crossed both branches of the river in his litter.
‘As the enemy were starting to enter the streets of the city and some of their men were moving along the tops of the walls, the cavalry charged out and attacked with great determination. Since the ground was flat they routed them instantly. The general was left there, dead, and so were forty commanders and other chiefs alongside him. It was almost as if our men had specially selected them. But they were killed because they were marching at the head of their men and therefore withstood the first shock of the attack. The Spaniards continued to kill and wound Indians as far as the foot of the hill of San CristÃ³bal, at which point they encountered a very strong resistance from the Indian redoubt.’â€ Manco Inca had lost his most successful general, the gallant Quizo Yupanqui.
With the slaughter of so many of their leaders, the fight went out of the Indians. The more agile Spaniards were planning a night attack on San CristÃ³bal, but the native army melted away into the mountains before the venture was attempted. The highland Indians were uncomfortable in the hot, close atmosphere of the coast: their lungs are specially evolved to live at high altitude. They despaired of driving Pizarro from his coastal city: the superiority of the Spanish horsemen was too crushing on a flat, open plain at sea level. The coastal tribes conspicuously failed to join in the highland revolt against the invaders, and the Spaniards had a number of coastal curacas in protective custody in Lima.*
The Spaniards besieged far away in Cuzco at this same time had two urgent objectives. One was to attempt to advise their compatriots on the coast that they were still alive. The other was to strike boldly at the Inca’s headquarters in a bid to destroy the men who were directing the siege. A group of citizens persuaded Hernando Pizarro to send fifteen of his finest horsemen towards the coast, riding an unexpected route, southwards to the altiplano and then west through Arequipa. The fifteen included ‘the flower of the men’, dashing young horsemen such as Pedro Pizarro, Alonso de Mesa, Hernando de Aldana, Alonso de Toro and TomÃ¡s VÃ¡squez. The selected men regarded the mission as certain suicide. Alonso EnrÃquez de Guzman thought that he was included because Hernando Pizarro had a personal grudge against him and wanted him killed. In the end, a delegation headed by the royal treasurer Riquelme persuaded Pizarro that the departure of these fine men would seriously weaken the city’s defences. Hernando wisely reversed the order and the fifteen were spared from annihilation by native ambush.*
Hernando Pizarro now attempted to strike at the Inca himself. He had learned that Manco had moved from Calca to Ollantaytambo, a remoter stronghold some thirty miles downstream on the Vilcanota-Yucay-Urubamba river. Pizarro assembled all his best men: seventy horse, thirty foot and a large contingent of native auxiliaries. Gabriel de Rojas was left in Cuzco with the remaining weaker Spaniards. Hernando Pizarro marched his force down the Yucay with great difficulty, for the meandering river often ran against the steep rocky hills that enclose its valley. ‘It had to be crossed five or six times, and each ford was defended.’ The Spaniards finally reached Ollantaytambo after continuous fighting, but they were appalled when they came in sight of its massive pale grey wails. ‘When we reached Tambo we found it so well fortified that it was a horrifying sight.’
The great ruin still stands to this day with its superb Inca masonry almost completely intact. Below the citadel is the town of Ollantaytambo in the bed of a small tributary valley. It is one of the few surviving examples of Inca town planning, with the wall foundations and grid of streets intact. Each town block contained two plots with entrances on to the longitudinal streets, and the original Inca houses are still occupied. Even the Inca names of the blocks survive, as do the houses that once contained the acllas or chosen holy women. The town consisted of five terraced enclosures, all contained in a symmetrical trapezoidal outline, the same tapering quadrangular shape so beloved of Inca architects. The Patacancha stream runs towards the Vilcanota beside the town, and beyond it a great cliff juts out towards the main river. The prow of this hillside contained the fortress-temple of Ollantaytambo. Undulating granite terrace-walls encase the steep slope at the end of the spur, while the hillside overlooking the town is lined with a great flight of seventeen broad terraces. At the top are walled fortifications – a rarity in Inca architecture – and within this sanctuary a platform faced with seven vast monoliths of pale porphyry, each some eleven feet wide. From below, the entire hillside seems to be embellished with the regular rows of polygonal Inca masonry (plates 33, 34).*
Hernando Pizarro’s men occupied the flat stretch of plain between the town and the Yucay river. Because Ollantaytambo lies close to the forested country of the upper Amazon basin, Manco had recruited archers from jungle tribes into his army. One of Pizarro’s troops described the bravery of these terrifying savages: ‘They do not know what is meant by flight – for they continue to fight with their arrows even when they are dying.’
The town was full of these archers, firing from every terrace, and so was the citadel. Across the stream were Inca slingers.’ The Indians were thus fighting them from three sides: some from the hillside, others from the far bank of the river, and the rest from the town…. The Inca was in the fortress itself with many well-armed warriors.’ ‘They amassed such a quantity of men against us that they could not crowd on to the hillsides and plains.’ A single flight of steps led up to the citadel. The gate at its foot had been sealed with a fieldstone wall through which an Indian could pass only on all fours. Two of the older conquistadores bravely rode their horses up against the walls of the town, but ‘it was amazing to see the arrows that rained down on them as they returned, and to hear the shouting’. Another group of horsemen tried to attack the terraces below the citadel. But the defenders ‘hurled down so many boulders and fired so many slingshots that, even had we been many more Spaniards than we were, we would all have been killed’. A missile broke the haunch of the leading horse, which rolled over, kicking, rearing and falling, and dispersed the horses trying to follow. Hernando Pizarro tried sending a party of foot-soldiers to seize the heights above the fortress, but the Europeans were driven back by a hail of rocks. As the Spaniards wavered, the natives attacked. They charged out on to the plain ‘with such a tremendous shout that it seemed as if the mountain was crashing down. So many men suddenly appeared on every side that every visible stretch of wall was covered in Indians. The enemy locked in a fierce struggle with [Pizarro’s men] – more savage than had ever been seen by either side.’ The natives had acquired many Spanish weapons and were learning to employ them effectively. ‘It was impressive to see some of them emerge ferociously with Castilian swords, bucklers and morriÃ³n helmets. There was one Indian who, armed in this manner, dared to attack a horse, priding himself on death from a lance to win fame as a hero. The Inca himself appeared among his men on horseback with a lance in his hand, keeping his army under control.’ The natives even attempted to use captured culverins and arquebuses for which powder had been prepared by Spanish prisoners.* Manco now released his other secret weapon. Unobserved by the Spaniards, native engineers diverted the Patacancha river along prepared channels to flood the plain. The Spanish horsemen soon found themselves trying to manoeuvre in rising water that eventually reached the horses’ girths.* ‘ The ground became so sodden that the horses could not skirmish.’ ‘Hernando Pizarro realised that it was impossible to take that town and ordered a retreat.’
Night fell, and the Spaniards tried to slide away under cover of darkness, leaving their tents pitched beneath Ollantaytambo. But the column of defeated horsemen was observed ‘and the Indians came down upon them with a great cry … grabbing the horses’ tails’. ‘They attacked us with great fury at a river crossing, carrying burning torches….There is one thing about these Indians: when they are victorious they are demons in pressing it home, but when they are fleeing they are like wet hens. Since they were now following up a victory, seeing us retire, they pursued with great spirit.’ The Indians had littered the road back with thorny agave spines which crippled the horses.* But the Spaniards succeeded in riding out of the Yucay valley that night, and they fought their way back into Cuzco the following day. Titu Cusi said that the natives laughed heartily at the Spanish failure, and the Spaniards knew that native morale had been raised by the defeat of this powerful expedition.* ‘The Inca was extremely sad that Hernando Pizarro had gone, for he was sure that had he delayed another day no single Spaniard would have escaped. In truth, anyone who saw the appearance of the fortress could have believed nothing else…. For … on such occasions, where horses cannot fight, the Indians are the most active people in the world.’
The Indians now provided an unexpected boost to the morale of the men besieged in Cuzco. The relief expeditions sent by Francisco Pizarro had been carrying a quantity of dispatches and letters. These were brought to Manco, who was going to burn them. But a cunning Spaniard who was a prisoner in the Inca’s camp suggested that the letters could be used more effectively: Manco should have them torn up and conveyed to the besieged to show the fate that had befallen their compatriots.* A group of Indians therefore appeared on top of Carmenca hill on the morning of 8 September. Hernando Pizarro and other horsemen duly rode out to chase them into the hills. On their return they found that the Indians had left two sacks containing the dried heads of six Spaniards and the torn remnants of a thousand letters. Manco had failed to appreciate the importance of written communication. The arrival of these letters – even in this macabre manner – enormously heartened the besieged. They learned that the Spaniards still held Lima and were trying to relieve them. They also learned from one letter ‘ almost intact, from our Lady the Empress’ that Charles V had won a victory against the infidel in Tunis. Alonso Enriquez de Guzman received a personal letter from Francisco Pizarro, dated 4 May, in which the old Governor admitted that the Inca’s rebellion ‘has caused me much concern, both on account of the detriment … to the service of the Emperor, of the dangers in which you are placed, and of the trouble it will cause me in my old age’. The receipt of these letters put an end to any attempt to communicate with the coast. The Spaniards in Cuzco could only hope that their compatriots would survive the rebellion and would eventually relieve them.
Manco Inca, encouraged by the defeat of the Ollantaytambo mission, attempted to reassemble the army that had almost captured Cuzco four months earlier. The farmers who had returned to their villages were recalled for a fresh attempt on the city, before the start of the rainy season. The Spaniards were now living more normally in the ravaged city. They had mended the roofs of some houses, replacing the original thatch with less inflammable flat roofs of peat and wooden beams. At the height of the siege they had had their horses constantly saddled and bridled, and each man stood watch for one quarter every night. Now his guard duty was only on alternate nights, and the besieged knew that they need fear night attacks only during a full moon – the natives were occupied with religious ceremonies at the advent of each new moon.*
The most acute problem for the besieged was food. ‘The greatest hardship endured by the Christians was incredible hunger, from which some died. For the Indians had, with great foresight, set fire to any buildings that contained supplies or stores.’ Hernando Pizarro was able to harvest some maize planted by the natives near Sacsahuana, a few miles north-west of Cuzco. Detachments of cavalry escorted the columns of native auxiliaries carrying the maize towards the city, and fought off Manco’s warriors who tried to intercept the operation.* But this maize was not enough. It could be months before rescue arrived from the coast, and the Spaniards, unable to undertake intensive farming, needed immediate supplies to avoid starvation during this period. The Inca quipocamayos were interrogated by the Spanish authorities after the siege. They reported that some important native commanders passed to the Spanish side with large contingents of Indians. These included Pascac, Manco’s cousin and enemy, whom Hernando Pizarro praised as “captain-general of the Indians who were with me in the defence of Cuzco”. These traitors revealed that ‘Manco Inca’s men had brought over a thousand head of cattle, maize and other provisions’, and that this was delayed not far from Cuzco. Hernando Pizarro immediately sent Gabriel de Rojas with seventy horse to seize these llamas and to raid in the Canchas country along the Collao road. Pedro Pizarro wrote of this raid: ‘We went and remained there for some twenty-five or thirty days, rounded up almost two thousand head of cattle [llamas], and returned with them to Cuzco without having had any serious engagement.’ The capture of this food emboldened the besieged. Hernando at once sent another six-day raiding and punitive mission into the Condesuyo, south-west of Cuzco. It was intended to avenge the murders there of Simon SuÃ¡rez and other encomenderos at the start of the rebellion. ‘But we could catch no one on whom to inflict punishment. So we collected some food and returned.’
These audacious raids saved the besieged from starvation. Although highly successful, they were a calculated risk and were very nearly disastrous. As soon as he learned that many of the best horsemen had left the city, Manco accelerated his mobilisation. The Spaniards left in Cuzco were anxious to learn about the natives’ movements. Gonzalo Pizarro was sent on a night reconnaissance to capture some prisoners who could be tortured for information. He led eighteen horse on to the plateau to the north of the city, and in the darkness passed, without knowing it, between two large contingents of Manco’s army. The Spaniards spent the night on their mission, divided into two small contingents under Gonzalo Pizarro and Alonso de Toro. When dawn came, they found themselves confronted by the enemy, Toro facing men from the northern part of the empire, and Pizarro a force of Manco’s own levies, the finest men in the Inca army. In a running battle, the Spanish cavalry soon found themselves trying to escape to Cuzco, but the natives for once had the advantage. They had Pizarro’s men exhausted. Valiant Indians succeeded in grabbing the tails of the horses while the riders tried to hack them off. The Spaniards were advancing only step by step through the crush of Indians, and were on the point of collapse. The situation was saved by native auxiliaries, some of whom had run back to the city to warn Hernando Pizarro of his brother’s desperate plight. Hernando rang the bells to summon the citizens, and rode out with every remaining horse in Cuzco: eight in all. These trotted and galloped for three or four miles before coming to the scene of the engagement. They dispersed the native troops in a thundering charge. Toro’s men rode up at the same time, and the Spaniards were able to make their way back to the city, exhausted and battered.
All agreed that this was the city’s darkest hour. In another day the natives would renew their attack and would find the defenders with little food, their horses wounded, and many of their effectives away in the Condesuyo. The Spaniards’ answer to this crisis was characteristic: they decided to take every horse capable of fighting and to attack the assembling native forces that very night. The attack was launched on Manco’s own contingent, the best of the native troops. It achieved complete surprise. Gonzalo Pizarro caught a mass of Indians crossing a plain between two mountains and massacred them in ‘ one of the most beautiful skirmishes that was ever seen’. His charge ended with the horsemen riding out into the lake of Chincheros spearing swimming natives like fish. Hernando Pizarro encountered the Inca’s guard of jungle archers and decimated them, despite arrow wounds to his own and other horses. The Spaniards had regained the initiative, and by demoralising Manco’s own troops they emasculated the native attack. To heighten their psychological victory, they again cut the hands off hundreds of prisoners in the square of Cuzco.
The siege had now reached stalemate. The defenders had enough food to survive the rainy season but were too weak to break out of their encirclement. Manco’s men had become convinced that they could not capture Cuzco by direct assault. They apparently hoped to trap the defenders during some sortie and ‘ they were waiting for the spring [of 1537] to assemble a more powerful army and complete the expulsion of the Spaniards’. But they had failed in the main purpose of the rebellion: the annihilation of the invaders in the Inca capital.*
While events in the mountains had reached a temporary stalemate, the balance of power in Peru was being altered by the arrival of seaborne Spanish reinforcements. Pizarro’s first emissary had delayed for three months in assembling men and ships at Panama. The desperate Governor therefore sent Juan de Berrio in late September carrying letters of credit from himself and further appeals for assistance. The crusty old Francisco de Barrionuevo wrote to Spain from Panama that ‘ Berrio says that there are plenty of useless men in the city of Lima: some wounded, others fevered, others delicate and effeminate – but no men to go out against the Indians…. What’s needed are men who will suffer hardships and hunger! There are plenty of effeminates down there!’ More virile men began to reach Pizarro towards the end of 1536. Pizarro’s own men returned from the Ecuadorean coast, and Alonso de Alvarado rode in with eighty men of his Chachapoyas expedition. The other Spanish governors also began to respond. ‘Pedro de los Rios, brother of the Governor of Nicaragua, came in a large galleon with men, arms and horses.’ The great HernÃ¡n CortÃ©s in Mexico sent ‘many weapons, shot, harnesses, trappings, silk cloth and a coat of marten fur in one of his ships under Rodrigo de Grijalva’. Licenciate Gaspar de Espinosa, Governor of Panama, sent men from Panama, Nombre de Dios and the Isthmus. In September the President of the Audiencia of Santo Domingo on the island of EspaÃ±ola sent his brother Alonso de Fuenmayor with four ships containing a hundred cavalry and two hundred foot-soldiers.
When Pizarro’s second appeal reached the Caribbean in November, two more ships went from EspaÃ±ola, and its President wrote that ‘the help from here now totals almost 400 [Spanish] men, 200 Spanish-speaking Negroes who are very good at fighting, and 300 horses’. But this proud force wasted three months trying to obtain ships on the Pacific, and did not reach Peru until the middle of the following year.* Juan de Berrio finally recruited four shiploads of men, but did not reach Peru until February 1537. Even the Spanish Crown responded to Pizarro’s appeals: in November the Queen sent Captain Peranzures with fifty arquebusiers and fifty crossbowmen.* Manco Inca was trying to expel an invader supported by the resources of a huge empire: he could not hope to succeed against its united determination.