Cuzco 1536-37 – Battle for the Heart of the Inca Empire, Si Sheppard

Cuzco 1536-37 – Battle for the Heart of the Inca Empire, Si Sheppard

Campaign 1536-37

In 1532 the Spanish made first contact with the Incan Empire, and almost immediately overthrew its leadership and seized control, but a few years of merciless exploitation triggered a massive Incan uprising in 1536, and besieged the Spanish garrison of Cuzco for almost a year. This book covers the entire conquest period, from Francisco Pizarro’s initial departure to try and find a rumoured major power on the west coast of South America to the aftermath of the failed siege.

The key question here is just how did the handful of Spanish conquistadors manage to defeat the vast armies of the Incan Empire? The initial conquest can be put down to their successful capture of the Incan ruler Atahualpa in an ambush at their very first contact late in 1532, which allowed them to at least temporarily seize the legitimate levers of power within the Empire and rule through puppet emperors. However once the great revolt broke out four years later they would appear to have be doomed, with a handful of Spaniards besieged in Cuzco, the first relief expeditions defeated, and an army hundreds of thousands strong surrounding them.

I must admit this is one of the few books where I found myself hoping for a different outcome to the one we know actually happened.  The conquistadors come across as having had no redeeming features, being motivated entirely by greed, and carrying out countless massacres wherever they went. Having overthrown the Inca they could have gained the support of the many conquered nations along the Andes, and used their tame leaders to keep control without so much bloodshed. Instead they were so greedy that eventually even their puppet emperor Manco couldn’t take any more, escaped from their custody and triggered the massive revolt.

One unexpected feature of this story is that we actually know quite a bit about the Incan side of the story. The Spanish and Inca lived alongside each other for a few years before great revolt, and the names and careers of the various Incan leaders are known, as are some of their opinions about the course of events. As a result this is a somewhat more balanced story than one might have expected. Overall this is a compelling account of one of the most influential campaigns in history. 

Origins of the Campaign
Opposing Commanders
Opposing Forces and Plans
The Siege of Cuzco, 1536-37

Author: Si Sheppard
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 96
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2021

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