Adventures and Conquests of Pizarro - George Towle

The Golden Land

Let us transport ourselves in fancy beyond the mighty barrier of the Cordilleras, and observe the mysterious land which had kindled Pizarro's ambition, and to reach and subdue which he was ready to brave every peril, and make every sacrifice.

It was indeed a marvelous country, exceeding in many respects the most glowing pictures of the savages who had described it to Andagoya,—a country most fertile, romantic in scenery, with a skillfully-devised government, noble edifices, aqueducts, roads, and bridges, and actually teeming with wealth.

Extending through thirty-nine degrees from north to south on the west coast of South America, Peru presented, as it still presents, an exceedingly curious and striking aspect to the traveller. A very narrow strip of land, fifteen hundred miles from north to south, and in its widest part only about sixty miles, stretched along the coast of the Pacific, and was bounded on the east by the lofty and apparently unbroken chain of the snow-crested Cordilleras, which shut it completely out from the continent beyond.

The empire of Peru, indeed, extended to the other side of the mountains; but its principal seat, and all its larger cities and towns, were upon this long narrow strip between the mountains and the ocean.

The country at first sight did not seem fitted for cultivation. The soil near the coast was sandy, and there appeared but little fruitful space between the rather barren shore and the craggy and jagged sides and spurs of the Cordilleras.

But it had for several centuries been inhabited by an energetic and almost civilized race. Aqueducts, canals, and bridges had been constructed; the sides of the mountains had been transformed by long and patient labor into terraces, which, rising one above the other as far as eye could reach, supported luxuriant gardens and farms, rich in the fruits, flowers, shrubs, and vegetables of almost every degree of climate and temperature; while over the pastures roamed vast flocks of the shaggy Peruvian sheep, the "llamas,"—animals never seen by Europeans until the advent of Pizarro and his little army.

On the plateau and among the lofty crags and cliffs, as well as on the sloping plain, nestled thrifty towns and villages, between which lay wide and well-constructed high-roads that passed in straight lines over the level expanse as far as the horizon, and wound by broad zigzags up the mountain spurs.

The land of Peru was ruled by a powerful monarch called the Inca. The Inca was not only the sovereign of the Peruvians, but was believed by them to be more than a mortal. The Peruvians worshipped the Sun, and the Inca was supposed to be the descendant of the orb of day.

It was said that the Sun, in order to give prosperity and civilization to his chosen people, had sent his son and daughter among them to give them a knowledge of the arts, by which they might increase in riches, population, and power.

The names of this celestial brother and sister were Manco Capac and Mama Oello. While the brother, having founded his capital at Cuzco, in the center of the country, instructed the Peruvian men how to cultivate their farms and gardens, to supply themselves with water, to build roads, and to erect temples, the sister, Mama Oello, took the women under her tutelage, and taught them the feminine arts of weaving, spinning, housekeeping, and the proper bringing-up of children.

Thus the empire of Peru, according to tradition, was founded by the children of the Sun. The Incas were their descendants. The son of Manco Capac succeeded to the throne of his celestial father; and so the realm had passed down without a break, from father to son, to the time of Pizarro. They had not confined themselves to the dominions of Manco Capac, but by continual wars had made many conquests, until their empire occupied the great extent of country which was ruled by the Peruvian monarch when the Spaniards came.

The name "Inca" was applied not only to the reigning sovereign, but to all the descendants of Manco Capac. Thus there had grown up a numerous nobility, or caste, all of whom boasted their sacred origin from the Sun, and who held all the high places, military and civil, in the state.

The future monarch of Peru was carefully trained for his high destiny. He was obliged to pass through a severe course of study; to become skillful in wrestling, boxing, running, and in the use of warlike weapons; and to prove in severe examinations his capacity to rule over the empire. When once upon the throne, however, his power was absolute. Being a descendant of the Sun, he was placed far above his subjects, and his word was a divine law.

Even the Inca nobles could not appear in his presence except standing, with uncovered head and bare feet, and carrying a burden as a sign of their abject inferiority.

The Inca was not only the monarch, but the high priest, of his people. He imposed religious doctrines as well as worldly laws. He took care, moreover, to constantly impress his unapproachable greatness upon his subjects. Whenever he appeared among them, it was with the most dazzling pomp and imposing ceremony. Attired in rich cloths of many hues, glittering with gold and jewels, his brow encircled with a bright red fringe, from which arose two enormous plumes plucked from a sacred bird, he showed himself at solemn religious festivals and brilliant banquets, or travelled through the country on magnificent litters, borne by stately nobles, and attended by a host of gaily attired cavaliers. Palaces were scattered throughout the empire to serve as halting-places when the Inca made his journeys.

Some of these royal palaces, indeed, were magnificent. If you had approached one of them, you would have seen a long, low building of stone, roofed with wood, and would not have been struck by its appearance. But, once within the doors, you would have been fairly bewildered and dazzled by its adornment. You would have observed that in the walls were fitted finely-fashioned devices in silver and gold; and that in alcoves, at frequent intervals, statues of the same precious metals were placed. There were hangings of gorgeous cloths; and the Inca was served, when he dined in these palaces, upon heavy gold plate, and with pitchers and ewers thickly studded with large-sized gems.

At more than one royal residence were to be seen luxuriant gardens with real plants and flowers of every size and hue, and just among them other plants and flowers of gold and silver, carved in minute imitation of nature. Here, too, were baths, fed by waters which flowed through silver pipes into broad basins of shining gold.

Nor were the principal temples of Peru less splendid than the palaces in which the Inca kept his imperial state. Not the sun only, but the moon, the stars, the thunder and lightning, and the rainbow, were worshipped by the Peruvians; and there were sanctuaries dedicated to them all.

Noblest and most superb among these temples was that which stood in Cuzco, the capital of the empire, and which was called both "The Temple of the Sun" and "The Place of Gold." It was of stone, and surrounded by a high wall; but, as in most Peruvian edifices, its chief decorations were in the interior. On one of the walls blazed an enormous effigy of the Sun, in burnished gold, the glittering rays shooting out from the central orb to the remotest corner of the ceiling, and down to the very floor. The orb itself was fashioned to represent the face of the Deity, and upon it appeared many brilliant jewels. The other walls were almost concealed behind the huge golden ornaments fastened into them, and the cornice of the temple consisted of massive bars of gold. Another temple, dedicated to the Moon, had a similar effigy of that luminary; only this was made of shining silver. Each sacred edifice throughout the empire presented a like lavish display of precious metals. The vases, censers, and ewers, the pipes, reservoirs, and utensils, were all of silver and gold.

The Inca, while his rule was absolute, seldom exercised it with tyranny, or even harshness. The Peruvians were a gentle, docile, industrious race: they submitted to his divinely-descended despotism without a murmur, and received its laws with serene and perfect obedience.

The empire was divided into four provinces; and these were subdivided into districts containing a thousand, five hundred, and one hundred people. Over the provinces governors were appointed, always from among the Inca nobles; and Inca nobles also ruled over the lesser provinces, except when foreign provinces had been conquered, over which were placed native chiefs called "curacas," who became loyal to the Inca.

The laws which the Incas imposed upon their people were very different from those of Europe. Theirs was a most methodical and orderly government. They punished theft, adultery, murder, the burning of a bridge, and curses uttered against the sovereign, with death. The entire empire was divided into three kinds of lands,—those for the Sun, for the Inca, and for the people.

The lands devoted to the Sun and the Inca were cultivated in turn by all the inhabitants; and their revenues were employed to support the temples, priesthood, and religious rites and festivals, and to maintain the monarch in his splendor. The lands left for the people were divided up among them in equal portions. When a Peruvian married, as he was bound by law to do at a certain age, a hut and piece of land were assigned to him to cultivate and subsist upon. The farms were redivided every year. So it was that no Peruvian could rise above the moderate comfort to which he was entitled as a subject of the Inca.

The holder of a farm could neither sell any portion of it, nor could he purchase other land and add to it. From month to month, and from year to year, he grew no richer, nor did he grow poorer.

The Peruvian was obliged first to till the fields belonging to the Sun; then to aid in cultivating the land of those of his neighbors who were old, infirm, or sick; then he could occupy himself with his own acres; finally he went to work his share upon the lands of the Inca. All the sheep in Peru, and the manufactures of wool from them, were entirely the property of the Sun and the Inca. When the sheep were shorn, the wool was collected in the imperial storehouses, and distributed equally among the population. The women in all the Peruvian homes spun and wove it into cloth; this was again collected, and distributed for clothing throughout the empire. In the same way the mines belonged to the Inca, and were worked for his and the common benefit.

The various occupations and trades—carpentry, mining, masonry, and so on—usually descended from father to son; and each artisan, supplied by the government with the material for his labor, was obliged to work during a certain period each year for the general benefit. From these laws it may be seen how systematic and orderly was the rule of the Incas, what power they had over their people, and how it was that individual wealth and poverty were alike unknown among the masses in Peru.

Having thus the absolute disposal of the time and labor of their subjects, the Incas were able to execute many vast works, which amazed the Spaniards when they came, and are to this day the admiration of the traveller who wanders to that distant land. The most remarkable of these, perhaps, were the great roads already spoken of, which formed almost a network over the empire, and two of which extended throughout its length. These roads were built of the most massive masonry, with the highest engineering skill, and were cut through the crags for long distances: one of them is believed to have traversed a length of no less than two thousand miles. Suspension-bridges were thrown across the mountain streams; while the surface of the roads was covered with a tarry coating, which, in time, became harder than the rock upon which it rested.

"As to pomp and magnificence," says a quaint old writer, "neither Greece, Rome, nor Egypt can compare any of their works with the roads to be seen in Peru, made by the kings of the country, from the city of Quito to that of Cuzco (three hundred leagues),—straight, even, twenty-five paces wide, paved, enclosed on both sides with high and beautiful walls, and along them, on the inside, two clear rivulets, bordered with a beautiful sort of tree which they call molly.

"In which work, when they met with rocks and mountains, they cut them through, and made them even, and filled in pits and valleys with lime and stones to make them level. At the end of every day's journey are beautiful palaces, furnished with provisions, vestments, and arms, as well for travellers as for the armies that are to pass that way.

"They did not build with any stones less than ten feet square, and had no other means of carriage than by drawing their load themselves by force of arms; and knew not so much as the art of scaffolding, nor any other way of standing to their work but by throwing up earth against the building as it rose higher.

"The last king of Peru, the day that he was taken, was carried upon staves of gold on the shoulders of men, sitting in a gold chair, into the middle of the battle. As his bearers fell, others took their places."

In every part of Peru, moreover, are still to be seen the remains of great temples and noble palaces, of long aqueducts and massive bridges, which attest at once the wealth of the Inca empire and the skill and patient labor of the Peruvian people in the time of their prosperity and power. One of the most striking of these ruins is that of the fortress of Cuzco, with its lofty battlements and three giant towers, and its underground galleries, the walls of which were built of enormous blocks of stone.

Many of the customs of the Peruvians under the Incas were very strange and curious. Among the most remarkable of these were the customs which were practiced on the death of an Inca. His body, after being embalmed, was arrayed in magnificent robes, and placed, sitting on a throne, in the Temple of the Sun, with the hands crossed over the breast, and the head bent forward as if in prayer. So on either side of the great temple might be seen, ranged along the walls, the preserved bodies of the Incas and their queens, with ghastly faces, and all having preserved for generations and centuries the same devout attitude. The death of an Inca, moreover, was attended by the sacrifice of many of his slaves and favorite women, who went willingly to death, so as to accompany their lord to the celestial regions. A large quantity of precious treasure was buried near him in the temple; and, as each Inca passed away, one of the houses he had occupied in life was thenceforth specially devoted to him, and kept up in royal state, as if his spirit were thought to return and dwell in it.

Sometimes the body of an Inca would be brought out at the head of a gorgeous procession into the public square, seated on his throne; and the ghostly figure sat in grim silence at the head of banqueting-tables groaning with bounteous good cheer, while his whilom subjects reveled around him.

The Peruvians were ardently devoted to their religion. Their sacred festivals were very numerous, and were always celebrated with much pomp, ceremony, and festivity. There was a religious festival commemorative of every month, besides lesser festivals scattered between. The most splendid religious celebration of all took place in the summer, at the period when the Sun began to assume its fullest glory, and to linger long above the heads of his Peruvian worshippers. This was called the feast of Raymi. The nobles and people from every part of the empire gathered on this occasion at Cuzco to take part in or witness the splendid festivities.

On the morning of the sacred day, at earliest dawn, the throng of brilliantly-attired Inca chiefs, with the sovereign in their midst, assembled in the great square, while every balcony and house-top were densely crowded with eager spectators. The moment that the Sun rose from behind the lofty range of the Cordilleras a mighty shout of joy went up from the vast multitude, who greeted him with deafening hymns of praise, and music from hundreds of rude instruments. The Inca poured out a libation in his honor, and then repaired in stately procession to the Temple of the Sun, where sacrifices took place, consisting of sheep, flowers, and sweet-perfumed gums. Sometimes, to celebrate a special event, even children and beautiful maidens were sacrificed on the day of Raymi. Many other ceremonies attended this famous festival, which ended with eating and drinking, singing, dancing, and general merry-making.

A few years before Pizarro resolved to try his fortunes in an expedition to the south, a warlike and vigorous Inca, named Huayna Capac, was reigning in Peru. He had extended his empire over a large and flourishing country called Quito, which lay just north of his hereditary dominions; and, by his enterprise and energetic rule, Peru had reached its highest limit of wealth and power. Huayna had two sons by different wives. To the elder, Huascar, he left the empire of Peru: to the younger, his favorite son, Atahualpa, he bequeathed the throne of Quito. For a short time the two brothers lived and reigned quietly in their respective realms. They continued the works begun by their father; and it seemed as if the two countries would continue to advance, side by side, in their career of high prosperity. Huascar, the new Inca, was of a gentle and peaceful temper, and did not begrudge his brother the fine possessions which their father had confided to him. But Atahualpa inherited the bold spirit and the war-like qualities of Huayna. Though younger than Huascar, and really not entitled even to Quito, he was bitterly chagrined because Huascar, instead of himself, reigned over the ancient realm of the Incas.

Not long after he came to the throne Atahualpa began to raise armies, and to make attacks upon his neighbors, adding the provinces he conquered to his own kingdom. At first he very carefully avoided giving the Inca Huascar cause for alarm. But soon Huascar began to suspect that Atahualpa fostered designs on Peru itself; and, after mutual misunderstanding had once arisen between the brothers, a cause of quarrel was not far to seek. Atahualpa was a handsome young man, of noble and soldierly bearing, impetuous, and as brave as a lion. He not only rushed, with the veterans who had served his father so valiantly, into the thickest of the battle, but he was free, generous, and indulgent to them, and thus completely won their hearts.

The first assault was made by Huascar, who invaded the territory of Quito, and, after a fierce conflict, not only routed Atahualpa, but took him prisoner. But Atahualpa soon escaped, and, returning to his kingdom, made haste to restore and swell the ranks of his defeated army. The soldiers were only too eager to follow him once more against the Inca. He marched them rapidly southward, and, meeting Huascar with a formidable force at the foot of Mount Chimborazo, the loftiest peak of the Cordilleras, utterly defeated and put him to flight.

Pursuing the retreating Peruvians, Atahualpa entered, sacked, and razed Tumebamba, one of his brother's chief cities, and savagely massacred its people, young and old. Then he advanced, desolating the country in his pathway with fire and sword, and established his camp at Caxamalca. From thence he sent his main army forward under the command of two veteran generals. They met the hosts of Huascar on a broad plain, a short distance from Cuzco, his capital. There then ensued a desperate and terrible battle, which resulted in a second and still more fatal disaster to the Inca, whose army was routed in the wildest disorder, whose capital was seized and plundered, and who was himself taken prisoner.

Atahualpa's triumph now seemed complete; but he used it with barbaric cruelty. He ordered his brother to be thrown into a dungeon in a distant fortress; he summoned a large concourse of Inca nobles to Cuzco, and, when they were gathered there, ordered them to be massacred without mercy; and, crowning himself with the imperial diadem, he declared himself to be the Inca of Peru.

Such was the condition of the Peruvian Empire at the moment that Pizarro, with the aid of his faithful friends Almagro and Luque, was preparing to sail in two small ships, and with a resolute band of soldiers, in the direction of its shores.