PIZARRO’S small force now embarked on the most thrilling part of its conquest, the final march from Jauja to Cuzco. The total force involved, after a garrison of the more feeble had been left at Jauja, was 100 horse and 30 foot, together with some native auxiliaries. Pizarro had a reasonable idea of the country that lay ahead. The three Spaniards who went on the reconnaissance to Cuzco in April had carefully recorded the towns and physical features along the route. This central section of the Andes is wild, magnificent country, a vertical land of mountains deeply cut by fierce rivers plunging towards the Amazon. The topography changes with altitude, descending from snow-capped mountains to bare, misty puna high above the tree-line, down to pretty Andean valleys full of maize and flowers, and on down to suffocating heat and cactus in the depths of the canyons. The road from Jauja runs for a time alongside the Mantaro river, constantly climbing into and out of the valleys of its tributaries. The Mantaro turns abruptly northwards towards the Amazon, and the road to Cuzco has to continue across a succession of great rivers separated by ranges of hills.
This mountainous region would have been almost impassable had it not been for the Incas’ own superb roads. An efficient people, the Incas excelled in civil engineering and depended on roads to control the empire. The main royal highway ran along the line of the Andes, from Colombia through Quito, Cajamarca, Jauja and Vilcashuaman to Cuzco, and on through modern Bolivia to Chile. A parallel highway followed the Pacific coast, and the two were joined by many lateral connections, particularly from Cuzco to the coast through Vilcashuaman. Europe had seen no roads like these since Roman times. Hernando Pizarro wrote, ‘the mountain road really is something worth seeing. Such magnificent roads could be seen nowhere in Christendom in country as rough as this. Almost all of them are paved.’ With no draught animals or wheeled vehicles, the Incas built their roads only for walking men and trains of llamas. The roads climbed the slopes of the Andes with flights of steps or tunnels unsuitable for the horses. They were well graded and often supported by fine stone embankments to cross steep mountainsides or marshes. Pedro Sancho described the terrifying ascent of Parcos that Pizarro’s force had to climb four days after leaving Jauja. After fording the river we ‘had to climb another stupendous mountainside. Looking up at it from below, it seemed impossible for birds to scale it by flying through the air, let alone men on horseback climbing by land. But the road was made less exhausting by climbing in zigzags rather than in a straight line. Most of it consisted of large stone steps that greatly wearied the horses and wore down and hurt their hooves, even though they were being led by their bridles.’ The Inca roads were narrow, averaging only some three feet in width in difficult mountain country, but the flagstone paving was good, and so were the long flights of steps that worried the Spanish horses.
The Inca government built posthouses at regular intervals along the roads for the use of its officials, porters and armies. These tambos consisted of sleeping shelters and rows of rectangular storehouses, and the local population had to keep them serviced and provisioned. Important messages and loads were carried along the highways by relays of chasquis, runners stationed in huts some four to five miles apart. The chain of chasquis, each running at full speed, could carry messages across the country extraordinarily quickly. But the messages themselves had to be oral or quipu string records because of the Incas’ lack of writing.
The road from Jauja to Cuzco crossed the river barriers in a series of fibre-rope suspension bridges. Pizarro hoped that he could capture some of these bridges before the retreating Quitans had time to destroy them. The cavalry force that overtook the Inca column just outside Jauja was supposed to have pressed ahead to secure the first bridge, but it turned back because of the exhaustion of the horses and lack of fodder. Now that the army was rested and ready for the final expedition, Pizarro sent his seventy best horsemen ahead under Hernando de Soto to try to take the bridges. He himself and Almagro followed with the other thirty horse and thirty foot-soldiers guarding Chalcuchima. Soto left Jauja on Thursday 24 October, and Pizarro the following Monday. Of our various eyewitness informants, Pedro Pizarro, Diego de Trujillo and Juan Ruiz de Arce were with Soto, while the meticulous Pedro Sancho and Miguel de Estete were with their master Francisco Pizarro.
The Inca force that had been caught marching down the Jauja valley continued southwards to join forces with the main Quitan army that was occupying Cuzco. Its commanders were determined to prevent the Spaniards from reaching Cuzco, and equally keen to preserve the Atahualpan faction’s hold on the imperial capital. This is why they moved deeper into the Inca empire instead of retreating northwards towards their base at Quito. It was a courageous decision, for they were well aware that the local population would rise against them as they departed, and they were leaving an ever-greater stretch of hostile country between themselves and their homeland. When they burned the bridges against Pizarro’s advance they were also burning them against their own retreat.
The civil war was still the issue of the moment. By killing Atahualpa the Spaniards had cast themselves as champions of Huascar’s cause. The native population welcomed them as such, and the Quitans probably fought them more as the champions of their defeated opponents than as the spearhead of a foreign invasion. Pizarro was of course well aware of this attitude which he exploited continually. His soldiers often enjoyed a reception as liberators. This was especially true at Jauja where the inhabitants were merciless in hunting down any Quitan survivors and handing those they found over to the Spaniards.* The Quitans in revenge adopted a scorched earth policy as they moved southwards. The burning of strategic suspension bridges was an obvious tactical move, but the burning of villages and food stores along the line of march was the parting blow of a retreating army of occupation. This destruction made the Spaniards’ advance uncomfortable, but any inconvenience was far outweighed by their gaining the support of the local population.
Below Huancayo the Mantaro river drops into an ugly gorge and runs for some sixty miles between walls of crumbling yellow clay and outcrops of black rock. The Inca road crossed this canyon near its upper end, and the Quitans very properly burned the suspension bridge. But they did not discover that the bridge’s guardians had hidden their supplies of repair materials. When Soto’s men reached the place, the guards were able to build a rapid temporary bridge, and this structure was also able to carry Pizarro’s contingent, even though the hooves of Soto’s horses had left it full of holes. On the night after this crossing, Pizarro’s men camped in a deserted village that had been burned and sacked by their retreating enemies. They were without water, for the Quitans had destroyed the aqueducts. The following night they reached a village called Panaray and were dismayed to find no inhabitants or food there either, despite the fact that its chief had marched with them from Cajamarca to Jauja and had gone ahead to prepare supplies in his village. It was only on the following day, at Parcos, that their hardships were eased by a chief who provided them with badly needed food, maize, wood and llamas.
The Quitan occupation of southern Peru was based on the cities. The army that retreated from Jauja therefore made its next stop at Vilcashuaman, the next administrative centre, 250 miles to the south-east. Soto’s men covered this distance in only five days, meeting no resistance on the way. They camped five hours’ march before Vilcas and rode into the city at dawn on 29 October. Once again the speed of their movements caught the Indians by surprise, and they eluded the sentries posted at the approaches to the town. The Quitan warriors were away hunting. ‘They had left their tents, their women and a few Indian men in Vilcas, and we captured these, taking possession of everything that was there at the hour of dawn, which was when we entered Vilcas. We thought that there were no more troops than those who had been there then. But at the hour of vespers, when the Indians had been informed [of our arrival] they came from the steepest direction and attacked us, and we them. Because of the roughness of the terrain, they gained on us rather than we on them, although some Spaniards distinguished themselves – for instance Captain Soto, Rodrigo Orgonez, Juan Pizarro de Orellana and Juan de Pancorvo, and some others who won a height from the Indians and defended it strongly. The Indians on that day killed a white horse belonging to Alonso Tabuyo. We were forced to retreat to the square of Vilcas, and all spent that night under arms. The Indians attacked next day with great spirit. They were carrying banners made from the mane and tail of the white horse they had killed. We were forced to release the booty of theirs that we were holding: the women and Indians who were in charge of all their flocks. They then withdrew.’
Soto in a dispatch to Francisco Pizarro described how he had been reluctant to fight in the difficult country surrounding Vilcas, but had eventually left ten men in the town and had led thirty others through a defile and down a difficult slope. The enemy’s bold attack had killed one horse and wounded two others, as well as wounding a number of Spaniards. But, although the natives recaptured their baggage, the battles cost them over six hundred dead, including one of their commanders called Maila. Despite its bravery, the Quitan army had been defeated in its first two clashes with the Spaniards. The only consolation was that the dreaded horses were seen to be mortal, and enough was now known of Spanish tactics for the preparation of an ambush to annihilate them. With this in mind the Indian army marched eastwards to join its companions at Cuzco. ‘Counting those who went, those who remained there, and the natives of the district, a vast quantity of Indians was assembled. We all agreed that there could have been 25,000 Indian warriors.’
Vilcashuaman is on a plateau, a promontory overlooking the deep cleft of the Vischongo river a few miles from its junction with the larger Pampas river. The country above Vilcas is rolling, treeless puna, the present-day home of the Morochucos, a race of remarkable horsemen said to be directly descended from the conquistadores themselves. A modern visitor sees them riding their tough ponies across their pale green steppes, and every year their spectacular horsemanship provides the main attraction at the fairs during Ayacucho’s Holy Week. Around Vilcas itself the valleys are richer, full of wild flowers, maize-fields and clusters of tuna prickly pears. The village has no motor road: a visitor must walk the final few miles after a half day’s drive from Ayacucho. No one has excavated Vilcashuaman, and it is full of half-buried Inca terraces and palace walls. One fine stretch of coursed masonry runs along the lower part of the faÃ§ade of the village church. At one edge of the village is a stone step pyramid, the only surviving Inca structure of its kind. It was either a sun temple, or an usno, a mound on which the Inca presided over his court (plate 13).*
Below Vilcashuaman the canyons plunge toward the hot, airless bed of the Pampas river, 6,000 feet below. Pizarro’s and Almagro’s men spent most of 6 November making their way down this spectacular descent, with the stone steps of the Inca highway cutting their horses’ hooves. They just succeeded in swimming the river. The Quitans had destroyed the bridge, but did not remain to contest the crossing.
Soto now decided to disobey his instructions by leaving Vilcashuaman before the arrival of his compatriots. In his letters to the Governor he explained that he wanted to race ahead to try to capture the ApurÃmac bridge, to prevent a junction between the Jauja army and Quisquis’s force. Diego de Trujillo and Pedro Pizarro who were with him gave a different explanation: Soto, Orgonez and various other hotheads decided that ‘since we had endured the hardships, we should enjoy the entry into Cuzco without the reinforcements that were coming behind ‘. Because of this disobedience and greed, wrote Pedro Pizarro, ‘ we were all almost lost’.
Soto’s advance went smoothly for some days. He crossed the Pampas, Andahuaylas and Abancay rivers unopposed. Quisquis had sent a force of 2,000 men to reinforce the troops of Chalcuchima’s command, but these turned back when they met the army retreating from Vilcas. Pizarro followed a few days behind Soto. Two days after leaving Vilcas he decided to split his force yet again, sending Almagro ahead with thirty horse to overtake and reinforce Soto. He himself continued the march with only ten horse and twenty infantry guarding the wretched Chalcuchima. The following day his men were alarmed to find two dead horses, but Soto had left a message explaining that these died from exposure to the great extremes of heat and cold – the Spaniards were not aware that the army was also being affected by the high altitudes of the Andes.
The Spaniards now had to cross the greatest obstacle of all, the mighty canyon of the ApurÃmac, the river whose Quechua name means Great Speaker. The Inca highway crossed this gorge on a high suspension bridge, the bridge whose successor was the subject of Thornton Wilder’s novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The approaches to the ancient structure can still be seen half-way up the sides of the valley, with the narrow Inca road running through a tunnel before it turns, past massive stone buttressing, out into the present void. The bridge was burned by the time the Spaniards reached it, but they were able to ford the river despite its strong current and slippery stone bed. The water came up to the breasts of the horses. The conquistadores were extraordinarily fortunate to cross these mighty rivers with such ease. Herrera, Philip Ill’s official historian of the Conquest, wrote: ‘It was remarkable that they crossed the rivers with their horses even though the Indians had dismantled the bridges, and although the rivers are so powerful. It was a feat that has never been seen since, particularly not with the ApurÃmac.’ The conquistadores’ luck was partly due to the fact that they made their march at the driest time of the year, just before the start of the rains. A few months later the rivers they swam and forded would become swirling grey torrents rising high up the walls of their canyons.
No Indians opposed the crossing of the ApurÃmac. Soto and his men pressed eagerly onward towards Cuzco. On the eastern bank of the ApurÃmac the ground rises in stages, with a series of steep ascents interspersed by more gradual climbs up tributary valleys. On Saturday 8 November, at noon, Soto’s men began to climb the last of the steep hillsides, the ascent of Vilcaconga. ‘We were marching along with no thought of a line of battle’, wrote Ruiz de Arce. ‘We had been inflicting very long days’ marches on the horses. Because of this we were leading them up the pass by their halters, marching in this way in groups of four.’ Men and horses were tired by the midday heat, which was intense. They stopped to give the horses some maize that had been brought to them by the inhabitants of a nearby town. There was a small space with a little brook, half way up the slope. Just before the Spaniards reached this, Hernando de Soto, who was a crossbow-shot’s length ahead of the others, saw the enemy appear along the top of the mountain. Three or four thousand Indians came charging down, completely covering the hillside. Soto shouted to his men to form line of battle, but it was too late. The Indians were hurling a barrage of stones before them, and the Spaniards’ first reaction was to scatter to avoid these missiles. They ran to either side of the path, and those who had time to mount spurred their horses up the hillside, thinking that they would be safe if they could reach the level ground at the top. ‘The horses were so exhausted that they could not catch breath sufficiently to be able to attack such a multitude of enemy with any dash. [The natives] never stopped harassing and worrying them with [the barrage] of javelins, stones and arrows they were firing. They exhausted them all to such a degree that the riders could hardly raise their horses to a trot, and some not even to a walk. As the Indians perceived the horses’ exhaustion, they began to attack with greater fury.’ Five of the Spaniards – an eighth of the total force – were caught in the full crush of Indians before they could reach the top. Two were killed on top of their horses; the others fought on foot, but were cut down before they were seen by their companions. One man had failed to draw his sword to defend himself, and because of this the Indians were able to grab the tail of the horse above and to prevent its rider from passing forward with the rest. For once the Inca soldiers had caught the Spaniards in hand-to-hand fighting – the only form of battle that they knew well. At such close quarters they were able to use their armoury of clubs, maces and battle-axes. The five or six Spaniards killed in the battle all had their heads split open by such weapons.
Pizarro was by now leading an army of rich men, for all had shared on one of the most successful looting operations in history. One of the men killed at Vilcaconga was Hernando de Toro; his estate was valued on Pizarro’s orders and found to consist of thirteen slabs of 15-carat gold, to a total of 4,190 pesos. Toro was a dashing young hidalgo, one of the most popular men in the army, but he had encouraged Soto to press ahead to occupy Cuzco. Another victim, Miguel Ruiz, left 5,873 pesos, of which 3,905 were in gold and the balance in IOUs from two fellow-conquistadores. The other dead, Gaspar de Marquina, Francisco MartÃn Soitino, Juan Alonso and a man called HernÃ¡ndez, had all received shares of the distributions of treasure up to that time.
The day’s fighting ended with an attempt by Soto to lure the natives down on to the level plain. He ordered his men to retreat step by step down the mountainside. Some Indians pursued, firing stones from their slings, and the Spaniards were able to turn on these and kill some twenty of them. But the bulk of the Inca troops retired up the hill, and the exhausted Spaniards followed up to camp for the night on a hillock, with, as Ruiz de Arce vividly recalled, ‘very little victory and plenty of fear’. The Indians camped a couple of crossbow-shots’ distance away, on a higher hill, shouting abuse at the frightened band of invaders. The Spaniards spent the night armed and few slept. Soto posted sentries and saw that the eleven wounded men and fourteen wounded horses received attention – although it is difficult to imagine what can have been done for the battered and bleeding men on that cold, exposed hillside. He also tried to raise the spirits of his men with speeches of encouragement.
None of Soto’s words can have produced an effect comparable to that of a sound heard by the sleepless Spaniards at one o’clock in the morning. It was the call of a European trumpet. The thirty horse that Pizarro had sent ahead under Almagro joined ten others left behind by Soto to escort the loot captured at Vilcashuaman. This combined force had heard about the battle and was advancing through the night with its trumpeter Pedro de Alconchel sounding his horn like a ship’s siren.
The Indians greeted the new day confident of victory, only to find that the battered force of the previous afternoon had miraculously doubled. The jubilant Spaniards formed line of battle and advanced up the hillside. The Indians retreated and any who remained on the slope were killed. The arrival of a thousand men from Cuzco did not save the situation, and the natives’ only salvation was the descent of a ground mist. Such silvery mists often cling to the edges of the ApurÃmac canyon on cool mornings. One rides through them huddled against the cold, longing for the Andean sun to break through the cloud, to glisten on the damp grasses and shine with dazzling brilliance on the snows of Soray and Salcantay.*
The battle of Vilcaconga was described by its survivors as ‘ a fierce fight, a highly dangerous affair in which five Spaniards were killed and others wounded, as well as many horses’. Quisquis’s men at last made use of steep terrain to come to grips with the enemy. They proved that Spaniards and their horses were vulnerable and mortal. They destroyed part of Soto’s tiny vanguard. Had they gone on to destroy his entire squadron, they might have become sufficiently emboldened and experienced to have crushed Almagro’s and Pizarro’s smaller isolated contingents. Native troops annihilated far larger Spanish forces in similar difficult country in later years. But this is speculation. The fact was that Quisquis acted too late. He failed to exploit the many earlier river crossings, steep ascents and tight valleys where his men could have trapped Pizarro’s impudent force of invaders.
Almagro and a chastened Soto paused in a fortress at the top of the ascent to await Pizarro. The Governor crossed the ApurÃmac on Wednesday 12 November and slept at Limatambo, just below the scene of the battle. He joined his lieutenants next day and the combined force advanced to Jaquijahuana, modern Anta, a village only twenty miles from Cuzco itself. The bitter fighting at Vilcaconga had shown that Chalcuchima was an ineffectual hostage. The Spaniards became convinced that he was somehow controlling the movements of their enemies. As soon as Pizarro heard news of the battle, he had Chalcuchima put in chains and delivered a chilling announcement to his prisoner. ‘You have seen how, with the help of God, we have always defeated the Indians. It will be the same in the future. You can be certain that they will not escape and will not succeed in returning to Quito whence they came. You can also rest assured that you yourself will never see Cuzco again. For as soon as I arrive where Captain [de Soto] is waiting with my men, I shall have you burned alive.’ Chalcuchima listened attentively to this harangue. He then replied, briefly, that he was not responsible for the Indians’ attack. Pizarro, sure of Chalcuchima’s complicity, left him without pursuing the conversation. The fate of the great Inca general was sealed when the two Spanish forces reunited, for both Almagro and Soto were convinced that Chalcuchima had been behind the Indian resistance. At Jaquijahuana on the evening of Thursday 13 November he was brought out to be burned alive in the middle of the square. Friar Valverde tried to persuade him to imitate Atahualpa in a deathbed conversion to Christianity. But the warrior would have none of it. He declared that he had no wish to become a Christian and found Christian law incomprehensible. So Chalcuchima was once again set alight with ‘his chiefs and most familiar friends the quickest in setting him on fire’. As he died he called on the god Viracocha and on his fellow commander Quisquis to come to his aid.
Quisquis still presented a serious threat. His army lay between the Spaniards and the Inca capital. He might attempt another pitched battle on the grassy hills above the city, or a desperate defence of Cuzco itself. Friendly Indians reported that the Quitans intended to set fire to the thatched roofs of the city, as they had attempted to do at Jauja. Cuzco lies in the fold of a valley and is invisible to a traveller from the north-west until he is immediately above it. But as the Spanish column rode closer, a cloud of smoke became visible above the line of hills. This seemed to be the start of the burning of Cuzco. Forty horse spurred ahead to prevent a contingent of the Quitan army descending into the city to complete its destruction. They found Quisquis’s main army drawn up to defend a passage on the road in a last attempt to prevent the invading army from reaching Cuzco. ‘We found all the warriors waiting for us at the entrance to the city.’ A fierce fight ensued, in which the natives, ‘in the greatest numbers, came out against us with a great shout and much determination’. The Indians drove the Spaniards back from the pass leading towards Cuzco. Juan Ruiz de Arce wrote bitterly that’ they killed three of our horses, including my own, which had cost me 1,600 castellanos; and they wounded many Christians’. Some Spanish horsemen were driven back down the slope. ‘The Indians had never before seen Christians retreat, and thought that they were doing it as a trick to lure them on to the plain.’ They therefore remained in the security of the hills and waited while Pizarro came up with the remainder of the Spaniards. The two armies camped on hills close to one another, and the invaders spent the night with their horses bridled and saddled. Pizarro himself described the battle outside Cuzco as a ‘full-scale encounter’.
The four battles on the road to Cuzco – Jauja, Vilcashuaman, Vilcaconga, and the pass above Cuzco – had demonstrated the immense superiority of mounted, armoured Spaniards over native warriors. The Inca empire did not, as is sometimes supposed, go under without a struggle. Whenever the native armies were led by a determined commander they fought with fatalistic bravery. In the course of the Conquest the Incas, who were themselves formidable conquerors against other Andean tribes, tried to adapt their fighting methods to meet the extraordinary challenges of invasion by a more advanced civilisation. The mounted knight had dominated European military history since Roman times. This formidable figure could be stopped only by other horsemen using similar equipment, by archers, pikemen or elaborate defences. His domination of the battlefield ended only with the evolution of rapid-firing firearms. Whenever American natives had time to assimilate European weapons they were able to mount an effective resistance – for instance the natives of southern Chile, who acquired pikes and horses, or those of North America who adopted horses and firearms. But the Incas did not have time to make these adaptations to their fighting techniques, and their bare mountainous country did not possess suitable wood for pikes or bows.
The Inca armies were now confronting the finest soldiers in the world. Spanish tercios were considered the best in Europe throughout the sixteenth century. They had behind them the successful expulsion of the Moors from Spain, and many who now fought in Peru had participated in the defeat of Francis I at Pavia or of the Aztecs in Mexico. The men who were attracted to the American conquests were the most adventurous – as tough, brave and ruthless as the members of any gold rush. In addition to greed they possessed the religious fervour and unshakeable self-confidence of a crusading people which had been fighting the infidel for centuries and was still on the advance. Whatever one may think of their motives, it is impossible not to admire their bravery. In skirmish after skirmish their first reaction – almost a reflex – was to charge straight into the thick of the enemy. Such aggressiveness was intended as a psychological shock-tactic, and its effect was heightened by the invaders’ reputation for success, invincibility, almost divinity.
Atahualpa’s nephew Titu Cusi tried to describe the awe felt by his people in the face of these strangers. ‘They seemed like viracochas, which was our ancient name for the universal creator. [My people] gave this name to the men they had seen, partly because they were very different from us in clothing and appearance, and also because we saw that they rode on enormous animals that had feet of silver – we said ‘silver’ because of the shine of the horses’ shoes. We also called them this because we had seen them expressing themselves on to white sheets, just as one person talks to another – this referred to their reading books and letters. We called them viracochas because of their magnificent appearance and physique; because of the great differences between them – some had black beards and others red ones; because we saw them eat off silver; and also because they possessed yllapas (our name for thunder) – we said this to describe the arquebuses which we thought to be thunder from heaven.’
During the actual fighting of the Conquest, the Spaniards owed everything to their horses. On the march their horses gave them a mobility that continually took the natives by surprise. Even when the Indians had posted pickets, the Spanish cavalry could ride past them faster than the sentries could run back to warn of danger. And in battle a mounted man has an overwhelming advantage over a man on foot, using his horse as a weapon to ride down the enemy, more manoeuvrable, less exhausted, inaccessible and continually striking downwards from his greater height.
At the time of the Conquest there was a revolution in the method of riding. The pike and arquebus had made the fully armoured knight too vulnerable. He was now replaced by the trooper, jinete, on a lighter, faster horse. Instead of riding ‘a la brida’ with legs stretched out to take the shock of jousting, the riders of the Conquest adopted a new style called ‘a la jineta’. This method had the rider in ‘the position of the Moors, with short stirrups and the legs bent backwards so as to give the appearance of almost kneeling on the horse’s back … With the high Moorish saddle, the rider used the powerful Moorish bit, a single rein, and always rode with rather a high hand. The reason was that the horses were all bitted on the neck, that is to say they turned by pressure on the neck and not by pulling at the corners of the mouth … As the bit had a high port, and often a long branch, the raising of the hand pressed the port into the palate … and a horse turned far more rapidly and suffered less [than under] the modern system.’
Both Spaniards and Indians attached immense importance to horses, the tanks of the Conquest. To Spaniards the possession of a horse elevated a man, entitling him to a horseman’s share of conquered treasure. During the months of waiting at Cajamarca, Spaniards had paid fantastic prices for the few available horses. Francisco de Xerez described these prices ‘even though some people may find them unbelievably high. One horse was bought for 1,500 pesos de oro and others for 3,300. The average price for horses was 2,500, but there were none to be found at this price.’ This was sixty times the price being paid for a sword at Cajamarca at the same time, and the inflated values of Peru of course represented small fortunes in contemporary Spain. Many deeds of sale that have survived from the period confirm them.*
For the Indians, their enemies’ great horses assumed a terrible value. They thought little of a Spaniard on foot, cumbersome in armour and breathless from the altitude; but the horses filled them with dread. ‘They thought more of killing one of these animals that persecuted them so than they did of killing ten men, and they always placed [the horses’] heads afterwards somewhere that the Christians could see them, decked in flowers and branches as a sign of victory.’
The Spanish conquistadores wore armour and steel helmets. Some of the infantry wore a simple steel cap called a salade, of which the barbute type was still common at the time of the Conquest. It looked like a steel Balaclava helmet, similar to a modern steel helmet, but lower over the forehead and nape of the neck. The cabasset was another simple helmet. Its high domed crown resembled a 1920s cloche, and it often had a small apical peak like a French revolutionary liberty cap. But the most famous helmet was the morion. This was a bowl-like chapel-de-fer to which an elongated brim had been added. This brim swept along the sides in an elegant upward curve, rising to a point at the front and rear. The crown was often protected by a steel crest running from front to rear like that on the helmet of a French poilu of the 1914â€“18 War.*
All Spanish soldiers wore armour, but this varied in elaboration. Many of the wealthy leaders wore full armour, which came in a wide variety of styles ranging from heavy gothic suits to the Maximilian suits of the 1530s and 1540s. The period of the Conquest was the high point of the art of making armour. Plates covering exposed areas of the body were brilliantly jointed with articulated lames and hinges to permit freedom of movement to every limb. Special protective plates covered the shoulders, elbows and knees; but the steel of the breastplates and leg and arm protections was as light as possible. A full suit of armour weighed only about sixty pounds, and this weight was quite tolerable, being evenly distributed over the entire body. In the latter half of the century some parts of the body were less thoroughly protected, in order to economise weight. Instead of head-to-foot armour, soldiers adopted a half-suit extending only to the jointed lames, called tassets, that formed a skirt below the breastplate, or a three-quarter suit extending to the knees. Suits of armour had their own helmets. A solid crown covered the head and extended over the neck where it joined a series of overlapping plates called a gorget. The cheeks and chin were defended by a piece called bevor, and a hinged visor covered the face. This helmet also became lighter, with the visor being replaced by a peak across the forehead and a series of protective bars across the face itself.*
Although most of the rich men in the Conquest owned full armour or acquired it when they received shares of treasure, they often used lighter substitutes when fighting Indians. Some wore chain mail shirts, which weighed between fourteen and thirty pounds. These varied according to the size of their links, but most could withstand a normal thrust. Some suits had thicker or flattened wire at vulnerable places to reduce the size of the holes. Other conquistadores abandoned even chain mail in favour of padded cloth armour called escaupil, which they adopted from the Aztecs. Escaupil normally consisted of canvas stuffed with cotton. Spanish soldiers also defended themselves with small shields, generally oval bucklers of wood or iron covered in leather.
The most effective Spanish weapon was a sword: either the double-edged cutting sword, or the rapier, which over the years gradually lost its cutting edge and became thinner and more rigid for thrusting. These were the weapons that slaughtered thinly protected Indians. Sword manufacture had reached perfection by the sixteenth century, and Toledo was one of the most famous centres for the craft. Strict regulations and apprenticeships ensured that high standards were maintained. A blade had to survive rigorous testing before being decorated and mounted in its hilt: it was bent in a semicircle and in an s-bend, and then struck with full force against a steel helmet before being passed. The sword was often decorated with a motto: ‘never unsheathed in vain’; ‘por mi dama y mi rey, es mi ley’ (‘for my lady and my King, this is my law’); or more blatant advertising such as ‘Toledan quality, the soldier’s dream’. The blade, some three feet long, light, flexible and extremely strong and sharp, was a deadly weapon in the hands of skilled swordsmen. And the Spanish conquistadores, acknowledged as the finest fighting men in Europe, made it their business to be supreme in this art. Throughout the century swords, like horses, were rigorously forbidden to Indians under any circumstances whatsoever.
In addition to his sword, and to supporting daggers and poniards, the cavalryman’s favourite weapon was his lance. Along with the crouching, highly mobile jineta method of riding, came the ‘lanza jineta’. This was ten to fourteen feet long, but light and thin, with a metal tip shaped like a diamond or olive leaf. The rider could charge with the shaft resting against his chest; he could hold it down level with his thigh, parallel to the galloping horse, with his thumb pointed forwards in the direction of the blow; or he could stab downwards with it. Each method was enough to penetrate Indian padded armour.
It has sometimes been said that the Spanish triumph was due to their firearms. This was not so. Arquebuses were sometimes fired during the Conquest, but there were very few of them, and they played no significant role beyond producing a great psychological effect when they did go off. It was not surprising that few arquebuses were used. The cavalry despised them as an ungentlemanly arm, and the Conquest was largely the work of horsemen. They were unwieldy, from three to five feet long, and often needing a support at the end of the barrel. They were difficult to load: a measured charge of powder had to be pushed down the muzzle, followed by the ball. And they were even more difficult to fire: fine powder led through a hole to the main charge, and this had to be lit by a wick. Arquebusiers carried the long rope-like wick coiled around themselves or around the weapon; they lit it by striking a flint and tinder; and they had to blow on the lighted end before applying it to the powder. Later innovations produced an s-curved piece of metal that slightly accelerated the process by pressing the wick on to the powder. But it was almost a century before the flintlock was introduced.
Crossbows were used in the Conquest, but again with limited effect. This weapon had been invented to shoot a missile with sufficient velocity to penetrate armour, but the thrust was gained at the expense of ease or speed. The steel bow had to be bent back mechanically, either by heaving on a system of pulleys or by winding back along a series of ratchets with the help of a wheel called a cranequin. All this involved a laborious process of upending the weapon, treading the head against the ground, and heaving up the bowstring. The metal bolt, once fired, killed any Indian it struck, but the natives were not impressed by this cumbersome device, which often misfired or suffered mechanical breakages.
What could Quisquis’s men offer against this armoury? They were still fighting in the bronze age, and their use of metal was unimaginative. They simply copied shapes that had been developed in stone, and their bronze was sadly blunt when matched against Spanish steel. They used a variety of clubs and maces, massive, heavy clubs of some hard jungle palm, and smaller hand-axes or head-breakers called champis. These had stone or bronze heads, shaped either as simple circles or adorned with star-shaped spikes – such heads litter museums and collections of Inca artefacts. Some of the larger clubs had blades like butchers’ choppers. Almost all the Spanish soldiers and horses were battered and wounded by these clubs. But it was all too rare for one of these biblical weapons actually to kill a mounted, armoured, slashing Spaniard.
The natives had more success with their missiles. A favourite among the highland tribes was the sling, a belt of wool or fibre some two to four feet long. This was doubled over the projectile, generally a stone the size of an apple, and twirled about the head before one end was released. The slingshot then spun off to its target with deadly force and accuracy. Coastal tribes used palm throwing-sticks to fire javelins with fire-hardened points. The most effective weapon against cavalry was the long bow, but this was rarely used in Inca armies. Forest Indians used bows and arrows, just as they do today-their forests produced the necessary springy woods for their manufacture, and the dense conditions made arrows ideal weapons for shooting forest game. Whenever Inca armies fought near the Amazonian forests they could enlist jungle tribes with deadly contingents of archers, but they failed to exploit this fine weapon in the highlands.
An Inca warrior was a splendid figure. He wore the normal male dress of a knee-length tunic and resembled a Roman or Greek soldier or a medieval page. His tunic was often adorned with a patterned border and a gold or bronze disc called canipu in the centre of the chest and back. He had bright woollen fringes around his legs, below the knee and at the ankle, and often a plumed crest across the top of his helmet. The helmets themselves were thick woollen caps or were made of plaited cane or wood. Many soldiers wore quilted armour similar to the escaupil of the Aztecs. Beyond this the only protection was a round shield of hard chonta-palm slats worn on the back, and a small shield carried on the arms. These shields added further colour to the Inca battle line, for their wooden bases were covered with cloth or feather-cloth and had a hanging apron, all of which was decorated with magical patterns and devices.
After their defeat in the fierce fight above Cuzco, Quisquis’s men lost heart. While the Spaniards spent an anxious night on the hill above the city, the natives left their campfires burning and slipped away in the darkness. When dawn broke Quisquis’s army had vanished. ‘The Governor drew up the infantry and cavalry at the first light of dawn the following morning, and marched off to enter Cuzco. They were in careful battle order, and on the alert, for they were certain that the enemy would launch an attack on them along the road. But no one appeared. In this way the Governor and his men entered the great city of Cuzco, with no further resistance or fighting, at the hour of high mass, on Saturday, 15 November 1533.’