Spanish Inquisition and the death of the glorious Aztec civilization of Peru
Posted on July 5th, 2014

Senaka Weeraratna

Preliminary note

The ongoing Inquisition on Sri Lanka under UNHRC auspices in an European City i.e. Geneva, raises a myriad of questions not least being the double standards of Western countries in respect to Human Rights and the horrific nature of crimes committed by Europeans in the heyday of colonialism in the name of Justice.

Nothing is more appalling in the criminal history of the world than the ‘ legal murder ‘ under ‘ White man’s justice’ of  Atahualpa, the leader of the Incas people of Peru and ethnic cleansing and genocide of the glorious Aztec civilization by the Spanish Conquistadors.

The following two accounts provide an insight into a dark chapter in Western colonial history and this sad story in turn should alert people of non – European countries particularly in Asia and Africa that this same colonial mindset of inquisition, plunder and even genocide is still alive and kicking among some of those who have inherited the genes of two Spanish men Hernan Cortez and Francisco Pizarro who conquered Central and South America, and other European Conquistadors who conquered and dominated a good part of the rest of the world.

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

Senaka Weeraratna


1533 – A Trial Ends the Empire of the Incas–A-Trial-Ends-the-Empire-of-the-Incas.aspx

It would be a terrible injustice not just to the memory of the Incas, but to the English language, to refer to the events of August 29, 1533 in Cajamarca, Peru as a “trial“, at least under modern definitions of that process.


Of course, most contemporary legal thinkers could propose that there never really was any justice in the 1500s anywhere, as it were, until the first statutes were pronounced declaring the rights of the individual, such as the 1689: The English Bill of Rights or the 1789: Declaration of the Rights of Man.

Be that as it may, there was a formal record of the trial, as the Spaniards called it, of the last real, free emperor of the Incas, held in Peru on August 29, 1533. That record, the original of which is now lost, was written and endorsed for the record by the prosecutors, judges and executioners all of whom were Spaniards, and conquistadors. Even the date is uncertain with some historians referring to the date of his trial and death as July 26, 1533.


The Spaniards, still in the heyday of the Inquisition on the European continent, were oddly fastidious about the appearance and use of the legal words such as justice and “trial”. For example, at the first settlement the Spanish expedition leader Fransisco Pizarro started in South America, now Piura in present-day Peru, one of the first three buildings to go up was a court of justice.

The Accused

The accused in the 1533 mock trial was one Atahualpa, probably born in 1497, and then 36 years old. Even his name is uncertain since it has no authentic English or even Spanish equivalent, but was merely a convenient phonetic facsimile of the Emperor’s name. Other renderings of his name include Atahuallpa, Atawallpa and Ata Wallpa.

Atahualpa was on his way to claim the Inca throne at the capital Cuzco after having defeated his brother in battle. The grand Emperor of the Indians was called the Sapa Inca. This was a phenomenal civilization and stretched from modern-day Peru to include Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia.

Atahualpa was soon to become the last true Emperor of the Incas and his brutal murder by the Spaniards under the guise of a show trial ended a fascinating civilization, one which pioneered farming, civilization, and specific areas of science such as medicine and astronomy.

Meeting With Destiny

At the town of Cajamarca, the Sapa Inca’s path and that of his 20,000 soldiers intersected with Francisco Pizarro and 168 Spanish soldiers, the latter on horseback. Although they had lamas, the Incas had never seen horses before and believed that man and horse were one almost like the minotaurs of ancient Greek mythology.

Nor had the Incas ever experienced another little something the Spaniards carried – short range cannons and firearms.

The Spaniards took advantage of initial friendly communications to get close to Atahualpa. They then used their firearms and horses to ambush and awe the Incas. Surprising Atahualpa’s entourage, the Spaniards quickly dragged him away into an easily defended building. The Spaniards then manipulated their hostage and his people to start a gold collection.

Captured by the Spaniards in this daring commando-style event, Atahualpa then bided his time as a hostage. He reassured his people not to attack the Spaniards because he felt that once they had received the ransoms, they would leave. The Incas, presumably, had a system of honor amongst thieves; something the Spaniards did not.



This travesty of justice stains the history and legacy of Spain, one already well-drenched in the blood of the Spanish Inquisition. The trial of Atahualpa is related in the very well written book, The Last of the Incas.

This proud king, better known as an Emperor, was firmly a captive of the Spaniards and was calling-in at the blade of a knife on his throat, the numerous gold reserves of his empire. Once the first returns from the locations identified by Atahualpa returned with phenomenal stores of gold, the Spaniards were confident that the other locations suggested by the Emperor were accurate and his usefulness had ended – a few more boatful of soldiers, horses and guns and they were confident they could get the gold themselves.

Atahualpa had outdone his usefulness. The solution was the presentation of a 12-charge indictment including one especially farcical charge of raising an insurrection against the invaders of his land. He was also charged with abiding with un-Roman Catholic law such as incest (the Sapa Inca could only marry their sisters) and adultery which was also expected of the Sapa Inca.

Atahualpa was also charged with practicing idolatry charge we can now look back with some humor since the Roman Catholic Church is nothing if not the worship of paper, metal and porcelain idols. But the ominous feature of the charge of idolatry was that if found guilty, the accused was subject to being burnt alive.

There were many Spaniards in Cajamarca and so Pizzaro, the leader of the Spanish forces knew that there would be many reports of this trial made back to Spain. Rumors that had been returned to him were to the effect that many Spanish soldiers had come to like this proud but graceful emperor and were against the persecution of him because he had been so compliant and had done as requested: led the Spaniards to his empire’s gold reserves and gold mines. Reports made back to friends and family of some of the Spanish soldiers were that Atahualpa was both intelligent and witty.

The Trial

To increase the appearance of legitimacy, Pizarro assigned a Spanish soldier to make the case against the prisoner and another was assigned to be the Devil’s advocate. The official translator was an individual known as Felipillo, who disliked Atahualpa, and apparently took many opportunities to twist his answers against him. The small jury was comprised of Pizarro and other Spanish men that reported to him.

The account of the trial of Atahualpa can now only be reconstructed, often with reference to a Spanish military historian Oviedo who did not fail to comment on the indictment against Atahualpa in these words: that it was:

“… a badly contrived and worse written document devised by a factious and unprincipled priest (Valverde), a notary without conscience, and others of likemind, who are all concerned in this villainy.”

This peculiar trial ended in a vote as to whether or not the death sentence should be imposed before they rendered a verdict. The vote on the death penalty was unanimous following which, the accused was declared guilty on all counts, and referred immediately to be burnt alive in the public square.

When the sentence was explained to him, this proud Emperor for the first and only time broke down and pleaded for his life:

“What have I done that I should meet with such an end? And at your hands, who have met with nothing but friendship and kindness from my people, with whom I’ve shared my treasures, and who have received nothing but benefits from me.”

The next affront was a proposal made to him even while he was bound to a cross and placed in the middle of a pile of wood. The Spanish priest Valverde whispered into his ear that if he agreed to be baptized a Christian, he would avoid being burnt at the state and instead would be hung.

As Hyams and Ordish suggest, it is likely that Atahualpa could hardly believe his luck in that he would receive a less painful death if he merely uttered a series of meaningless words. By contrast, however, when the great Aztec emperor Montezuma II met with a similar last-minute offer at his execution thousands of miles to the North and some thirteen years earlier, he had declined, telling his Spanish murderers:

“I have but a few moments to live. I will not at this hour desert the faith of my fathers.”

The disrobed and humiliated Atahualpa, the last King of the Incas, and a bogus Roman Catholic at the end, met his end with great dignity pleading lastly for the safety of his family even up to the moment that a rope was placed around his neck and tightened until he died.

“With him died the … the independent existence of a noble race of men.”

Atahualpa was succeeded by his nephew Tupac Huallpa, but Huallpa was but a puppet Sapa Inca for the Spaniards and indeed, the Inca Empire never did recover from the capture, trial and execution of Atahualpa with which, also, was executed the Inca Empire.

He is not completely forgotten to history for in Quinto, the capital of Ecuador, is the Atahualpa Olympic Stadium.

Dead is Dead

Shortly after his death, a number of women bewailed at the Spaniards, begging to give their dead Emperor the proper Inca funeral rites. When the Spaniards refused, some of the women promptly killed themselves.

An amazing although not perfect civilization had come to an end as the Spaniards spread out rapidly to ravage all the gold that could be found. In 1543, a silver mine was found at Potosi that was so rich, that it subsidized the Spanish state for over a century.

When the sudden affluence of the Spanish court manifested itself to the rest of Europe, there appeared all along the coast of South America, ships bearing different European flags and all looking for the same thing and not justice, respect or assistance to an aboriginal people.


  • Hyams, Edward, and Ordish, George, The Last of the Incas (New York: Dorset Books, 1963)
  • Pratt-Chadwick, M. L., Francisco Pizarro: The Conquest of Peru (Boston: Educational Publishing Company, 1890)
  • Royal Hunt of the Sun (1970),  Cinema Center Films. Director, Irving Lerner.


4 Responses to “Spanish Inquisition and the death of the glorious Aztec civilization of Peru”

  1. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    To reward to Spaniards who participated in the conquest, the Spanish crown authorized grants of native labor in particular indigenous communities. The Spanish conquerors in Mexico during the early colonial era lived off the labor of the indigenous. Due to some horrifying instances of abuse against the indigenous peoples, Bishop Bartolomé de las Casas suggested importing black slaves to replace them. Bishop Bartolomé de las Casas later repented when he saw the even worse treatment given to the black slaves. The other discovery that perpetuated this system was extensive silver mines discovered at Potosi, in Upper Peru (now Bolivia) and other places that were worked for hundreds of years by forced native labor and contributed most of the wealth that flowed to Spain. Spain spent enormous amounts of this wealth hiring mercenaries to fight the Protestant Reformation and to halt the Turkish invasions of Europe. The silver was used to purchase goods, as European manufactured goods were not in demand in Asia and the Middle East. The Manila Galleon brought in far more silver direct from South American mines to China than the overland Silk Road, or even European trade routes in the Indian oceans could. The Aztec education system was abolished and replaced by a very limited church education. The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire was one of the most significant events not only in the Spanish colonization of the Americas, but also in world history.

  2. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    Smallpox, influenza, mumps, measles and a literal host of other diseases decimated the native populations of America. From a pre-Columbus population estimated at 1 million, the native population of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) fell to only 500 by year 1500. Natives of Americas were completely upended by so many deaths. Entire cities lay sick and dying from smallpox and plague; military formations were crushed by disease long before they could attack the Spanish.

  3. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    To quote the article: “…..and ethnic cleansing and genocide of the glorious Aztec civilization by the Spanish Conquistadors.” . There was nothing “glorious” about the Aztec civilization. Their “blood cult” demanded the sacrifice of countless humans on their alters of blood to the sun God. Entire villages, entire pre Spanish central American cultures were simply wiped out of existence by the Aztec civilization.

    Having said that “two wrongs do not make a right”. The Conquistadors should not have used the barbarism of the Aztec civilization to justify their own acts of barbarism. Today Mexico is basically run by a dozen Spanish families (that is why the leaders of Mexico are so European looking and fair while the population is brown complexioned and have the features of the Mayan people)

    The best movie that encapsulates the Aztec civilization is a movie called “Apocalypto”. One can Google it and watch the trailer and I strongly suggest one watches this movie (which is not suitable for children) to get a balanced opinion of the Aztec civilization just before the Conquistadors arrived. Liberal Progressive Hollywood practically condemned it for its realistic no nonsense content of that civilization.

    If we are to accuse then lets accuse using the facts and not fall into the same trap of distorting them to prove a point.

  4. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    The western countries could never lead! They could only conquer and rule. Everywhere the western countries went disaster struck. Problem is the leadership is about money driven by greed and thirst for power. In fact there are very few leaders in the western world who have been good.

    Europe was pretty much a poor smelly underdeveloped backwater in global terms for most of history, although the culture and civilization of Asia and Africa often reached across the Mediterranean and especially into the areas near the middle east.

    The change from poor backwater to rulers of the world started with the conquering of South Asia, America & Africa and especially the vast amounts of gold flowing in from India, South America and Africa. This gold was in large used to pay for an arms race and the building of several huge European fleets. These armies and fleets in turn was used for trade. The unfriendly trade generated more wealth, more European arms races and even more fleets and more wealth.

    Industrial revolution made Britain and Europe enormously wealthy, so much so that they now could do very unfriendly trade with pretty much anyone.

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