The History Book Club discussion

HISTORY OF LATIN AMERICA > 4. LAST DAYS OF THE INCAS ~ SIX – REQUIEM FOR A KING – (April 28th – May 4th) ~ (118-137) ~ No Spoilers

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message 1: by Kressel (new)

Kressel Housman | 917 comments With every chapter, I dislike everyone more. I would have been sympathetic to Almagro's position, but he was just as brutal as the other Spaniards. And of course, captive Atahualpa had a pretty violent past himself. It seems if you live as a conqueror, you die conquered.

message 2: by Kressel (last edited Apr 28, 2014 10:42AM) (new)

Kressel Housman | 917 comments I've read two books about the English colonists. They're better than the Spanish, but still pretty horrible. Some, like John Smith, were willing to work with the natives, but were still out to enrich themselves. And some were all about conquest.

Big Chief Elizabeth The Adventures and Fate of the First English Colonists in America by Giles Milton by Giles Milton Giles Milton

Love and Hate in Jamestown John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of a New Nation by David A. Price by David A. Price (no photo)

message 3: by Ann D (new)

Ann D I think the quotation at the beginning of the chapter is very appropriate:“Politics have no relation to morals.” NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLI, THE PRINCE, 1511 (p. 118)

I was disturbed by the account of Atahualpa's death, especially the forced conversion. It is hard for me to understand the logic of the friar, who told the emperor that he had to die for his sins, but then could save his soul if he was baptized.

And the possible sins of the Spanish in executing him after he had fulfilled his part of the bargain? It is very convenient when you know that God is always on your side.

On the other hand, I feel certain that Atahualpa would have been equally brutal if the tables had been turned.

I wonder - who was the ultimate source of the rumor about the nearby invading Inca army? An enemy of Atahualpa? Maybe it was even something the Spanish narrators concocted later to excuse their actions.

message 4: by Mark (new)

Mark | 11 comments I found it interesting that the Spanish were seemingly so irritated that Atahualpa had apparently lied about not seeking to have his people try to set him free. Considering that they decided to keep him prisoner even after the ransom was paid against their word is obviously inconsistent with this concern for the value of one's word. As myopic as the Spanish were in extracting wealth from the Incans their writing seems to be sincerely indignant at their captured prisoner’s apparent breach of contract. I wonder if they were just that two-faced or if something else is at work. Did they feel like they didn't need to apply their moral standards to their treatment of non-Christians? Did they have a distorted view of what it meant to Atahualpa to be under their control? Were there specific aspects of the nature of their control (armed guards versus chains) that allowed them to convince themselves that he was wrong? Is there anything that we can learn about prisoners and ransoming in Europe at that time that helps?

message 5: by Kressel (new)

Kressel Housman | 917 comments Ann wrote: "I was disturbed by the account of Atahualpa's death, especially the forced conversion. It is hard for me to understand the logic of the friar, who told the emperor that he had to die for his sins, but then could save his soul if he was baptized."

What can you expect from the inventors of the Inquisition?

For me, one of the most powerful images of that section was the natives' reaction to their emperor's execution. They had that term - pachacuti - a cataclysm ushering in a new era - and they were right.

message 6: by Kressel (new)

Kressel Housman | 917 comments I, for one, don't have anything against Gaspar, who was just a young man trying to increase his fortune. He wasn't guilty of treachery like Pizarro. The conquest didn't have to be a conquest. It could have been a negotiated peace.

message 7: by Ann D (new)

Ann D Kathy,
So true that Gaspar's letter added a touch of humanity to the conquistadors. He seems to have been very homesick. He tried to do right by his family by sending them some of his riches.

I guess even to the Spanish soldiers, their defeat of Atahaulpa's forces seemed nothing short of miraculous. This must have reaffirmed their belief that they were doing God's will.

message 8: by Ann D (new)

Ann D Maybe a Non-Inca chief who wanted the Spanish to kill Atahualpa?

The very privileged Inca ruling class was such a small minority in their own kingdom; I think there must have been lots of dissatisfied people underneath them.

There could also have been embittered supporters of Atahualpa's murdered brother around. The Inca custom seemed to be that any new emperor immediately killed any of his relatives who could conceivably be a rival. Since the Incas had so many wives and concubines producing children, there were lots of relatives. It would be difficult to get them all.

message 9: by Ann D (new)

Ann D I am really enjoying this discussion too, Kathy. This is a part of history I have never explored, and it is truly fascinating. Thank you for leading this discussion and supplying all that great supplemental information. I am learning a lot.

message 10: by Stevelee (new)

Stevelee As to the question, "What purpose does baptizing Atahualpa before he is executed serve?"

There are a couple of reasons that I can think of: first, they sincerely believed that they could save Atahualpa’s soul, as I think Pizzaro and the rest of the Conquistadors ardently felt they were true Christians. (How this is congruent with their actions is difficult for me to fathom.) Alternatively, they possibly, and I feel more likely, believed that by baptizing the Inca ruler, this would be a seen by the rest of the Inca population as direct repudiation of the Inca gods by their omnipotent ruler/demigod Atahualpa. Thus, the next logical step would be for the Inca masses to follow suit and convert to Christianity themselves. Although not stated in the book, I would think that the conversion of native populations would have been a Spanish goal.


message 11: by Kressel (new)

Kressel Housman | 917 comments It's true, but the Inca royalty lived parasitically off their people, too. And the conquistadors had been peasants back in Spain, which is what motivated them to leave in search of someone they could exploit. Really, there are only villains in this book, and yet they all have moments of heroism and bravery, too.

message 12: by Hana (last edited May 01, 2014 01:45PM) (new)

Hana Kressel wrote: "It's true, but the Inca royalty lived parasitically off their people, too. And the conquistadors had been peasants back in Spain, which is what motivated them to leave in search of someone they..."
I've been vacillating about reading this book since everyone involved seems so vile--as Henry Kissinger may have said about the Iran-Iraq war: "It's a pity they can't both lose." Such a wish seems to have been granted in this case.

message 13: by Kressel (new)

Kressel Housman | 917 comments @Hana - I agree with Kathy. It's a very well-written and well-researched book.

message 14: by Stevelee (new)

Stevelee For this time in South American history, referring to both the Incas and the Spanish, I think Thucydides' quote from his History of the Peloponnesian War is most fitting, “…the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."


The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

message 15: by Kressel (new)

Kressel Housman | 917 comments @Stevelee - Thucydides was right that the weak get conquered, but as this book proves, conquerors ultimately get conquered, too. As someone amasses wealth and power, he becomes more of a target because he's got more for someone else to take.

message 16: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44200 comments Mod
Very true Kressel. And other folks are jealous or envious. I think that the US finds itself in the unenviable position from their stand point to be in the top super power spot and it is never one that is easy no matter how well intentioned they believe their motivations are.

message 17: by Stevelee (new)

Stevelee Kressel,

In this case maybe power and wealth were not enough, as it seems that technology was the decisive edge for the conquistadors. The horse as an instrument of war, gunpowder, metal armor, shields....all these combined seemed to completely overwhelms the huge numbers of battle-hardened Inca warriors.


message 18: by Stevelee (new)

Stevelee Disease, yes, certainly.

I am not very far along in this chapter, but to where I am, around page 150, the discussion is only about the advantages of the Spanish. It would seem to me there were several advantages the Incas had that so far were have not been covered - knowledge of the local terrain, the ability to feed and supply their army from known local sources, access to natural resources, of course, their overwhelming numbers, veteran leaders, and I am sure others. I find it interesting, at least to this point, that for some reason, the Incas failed to adjust in order to counter the Spanish invasion or to try and offset the Spanish technological edge.


message 19: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44200 comments Mod
I wondered if Atahualpa was battle weary and wanted to rest "on his laurels" so to speak. Smallpox started this downward spiral - the Inca ruler and his designee both died from the disease - so Pizzaro already started winning before he set ashore the second time. Germs helped Pizzaro more than anything else without his even being aware of the situation on the return voyage. Atahualpa certainly had not been building up good will during the war with his brother - the story of his drinking cup and its genesis certainly revealed all there was to know about the new ruler. Kathy I have to agree that he probably wished that the Spaniards would go away so that he could get on with being the new ruler and enjoy the spoils. The population probably was in a weakened condition either by disease or war - death by smallpox almost sounded more painful.

message 20: by Michael (new)

Michael (michaelbl) | 407 comments Ann wrote: "I think the quotation at the beginning of the chapter is very appropriate:“Politics have no relation to morals.” NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLI, THE PRINCE, 1511 (p. 118)

I was disturbed by the account of At..."

I agree this "conversion" account had me a bit sick to my stomach. I also felt rather angry. This was an act purely for the sake of religion rather than an act based on faith. For me there is a difference between the two.

We may never know the answer but to me it seems someone might have actively been playing both sides against each other. (my conspiracy theory)

message 21: by Michael (new)

Michael (michaelbl) | 407 comments Kathy wrote: ""Atahualpa's chief concern for the moment seemed to be less about himself, however, and more about his two small sons." (page 132)

Upon facing death as a surety, it is touching to see Atahualpa's..."

If I remember right the Spanish followed Roman Catholic traditions. I am not Roman Catholic so stand to be corrected but baptism may have sealed salvation regardless of Atahualpa's understanding (sincerity)in converting? Religion at work rather than faith.

message 22: by Stevelee (new)

Stevelee Kathy wrote: "Interesting, Michael. Thanks."

Apologies...I got ahead of myself. Thank you for taking care of it.


message 23: by shescribes (new)

shescribes (iamspartacus) The more I read on, the more I find that the age-old cliché, "History repeats itself," is indeed true. Are modern tactics really any different than those employed by the colonizers/conquistadores/Europeans? Along with military invasion, come the civilian contractors looking for resources and ways to capitalize on the destruction wrought by the conflicts. The invaders influence the installation of new governments, hoping the new "heads" of government will rule in their favor and help stabilize (or control) society. Missionaries travel to developing nations to proselytize and win souls for God and heaven. Paternalism lives on, as does the lust for riches and resources. Today's exploration for oil and other fossil fuels is perhaps akin to the hunt for gold and silver in colonial times. Wherever it is found, one can be assured there will be competing claims for its control, by both internal and external forces.

message 24: by Robyn (new)

Robyn (rplouse) | 73 comments I'm still enjoying the book although I'm having trouble understanding why the Incas didn't rise up when the small band of conquistadors killed their leader. I guess this supports all of the history that shows us that good, strong leadership is hard to defeat. I'm interested to see what takes place in the leadership vacuum that will follow. I'm not sure I'd consider any of the conquistadors a good leader - seems like desire for wealth and selfish personal gain were their motivations; whatever they said about spreading the Catholic faith.

I agree with everyone above about the forced conversion of Atahualpa. It seems like they were trying to justify or minimize the impact of his murder by saving his soul. However, I think based on what the author said that Pizarro at least initially regretted killing Atahualpa when he heard there were no legions coming to rescue him.

message 25: by Katy (new)

Katy (kathy_h) Glad you are still enjoying the book, Robyn. It does seem that as I read I too have more questions than are answered. Hopefully we will have some clues as to the Inca's thinking as we continue our read.

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