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What was the single biggest mistake in all of history?(r/AskReddit)
Peru 1532 – Atahualpa Inca agreeing to meet Francisco Pizarro and fewer than 200 Spanish soldiers in Cajamarca square.
Atahualpa had received the invaders from a position of immense strength. Encamped along the plains of Cajamarca with a large force of battle-tested troops fresh from their victories in the civil war against his half-brother Huascar, the Inca felt they had little to fear from Pizarro’s tiny army, however exotic its dress and weaponry. In a calculated show of goodwill, Atahualpa had lured the adventurers deep into the heart of his mountain empire where any potential threat could be met with a show of force.
Despite their experience, Pizarro’s 160 men had marched into an impasse and were now thoroughly frightened and desperate. All that they could decide during that anxious night was to employ the various tactics and advantages that had proved successful in the Caribbean. They could use surprise, attacking first without provocation, and take advantage of the novelty of their appearance and fighting methods. Their weapons – horses, steel swords and armor – were far superior to anything they had encountered so far in the Indies, although they were not so sure about the Incas. They had in mind the tactic that had succeeded so well in the conquest of Mexico: the kidnapping of the head of state. They could also try to make capital of the internal dissensions within the Inca empire – Hernando Pizarro had already offered the services of Spaniards to help Atahualpa in his inter-tribal fighting.
Possibly their greatest advantage lay in the self-assurance of belonging to a more advanced civilization and the knowledge that their purpose was conquest: to the Indians, they were still an unknown quantity of uncertain origin and unsure intentions.
Atahualpa accepted this invitation but was in no hurry to make the short journey across the plain to Cajamarca. He had just finished a fast and there was drinking to be done to celebrate this and the victory of his forces at Cuzco. The morning went by with no sign of movement from the native encampment. Finally leading a procession of over eighty thousand men, he advanced down the hillside very slowly.
The familiar noble envoy arrived from Atahualpa saying that he intended to come with his men armed. ‘The Governor replied: “Tell your lord to come … however he wishes. In whatever way he comes, I will receive him as a friend and brother.”The Spaniards were concealed in their buildings, under orders not to emerge until they heard the artillery signal. A chronicler recalled ‘I saw many Spaniards urinate without noticing it out of pure terror.’
When the messenger reached Atahualpa, he made a reverence and told him, by signs, that he should go to where the Governor was.’ He assured the Inca ‘that no harm or insult would befall him. He could therefore come without fear – not that the Inca showed any sign of fear.’ Shortly before sunset Atahualpa left the armed warriors who had accompanied him, on an open meadow about half a mile outside Cajamarca. His immediate party still numbered over seven thousand but were unarmed except for small battle axes intended for show.
Eighty lords carried him on their shoulders, all wearing a very rich blue livery. He was seated on the litter, on a small stool with a rich saddle cushion. When Atahualpa arrived, Pizarro launched the ambush with the prearranged signal and killed many hundreds of Atahualpa’s family and followers. Many tried to save the Inca but it was futile. The carnage continued.
The kidnapping set of a chain of events but the immediate aftermath was Atahualpa tried to ransom himself, and Pizzarro tried to use him as a puppet ruler. When that did not materialize, Pizzaro executed Atahualpa in 1533. Over the next thirty years the Spanish struggled against various insurrections, but, with the help of native allies, they finally gained control of the Inca empire in the 1560’s.
Many reasons can be offered for the fall of the Incas, but the sudden conquest of a mighty empire by only a handful of Spaniards is still hard to comprehend.
Read The Conquest Of The Incas by John Hemming ( 1970 ) if ever get a chance, felt great empathy and shock at the sheer amount of missed chances. Gripping book & considered by many to be one of the finest if not the finest large scale historical study ever written. Link
Edit : Thank you very much to the kind soul that gifted me my first gold 🙂
Edit : Added text from the book.