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Age of Discovery

Conquest of the Incas

Portrait of Francisco PizarroPortrait of Francisco Pizarro Following the discoveries made by the explorer Christopher Columbus, the Spanish crown backed further expeditions to explore and conquer new territories in the Americas. In 1532, a small band of Spanish soldiers under the command of the conquistador Francisco Pizarro (c.1475–1541) arrived in South America. They were in search of a land rumoured to be rich with silver and gold. Pizarro had won approval from the Spanish king to venture south to the region of modern Peru, the heart of the Inca Empire. They found a land riven by civil war and ravaged by an epidemic of smallpox—a disease that had been introduced to the Americas by the Spanish themselves only a few years earlier.

The Inca Empire

The Inca city of Machu Picchu, built around 1450The Inca city of Machu Picchu, built around 1450The Incas were originally chiefs of a small mountainous area in what is now Peru, South America. By around AD 1200, they had fought and raided neighbouring enemy villages, making themselves the most powerful people in the region. They ruled from their capital, Cusco. The Inca emperors claimed they were descended from the Sun and that this gave them the right to rule. In the 15th century, the Incas began to conquer surrounding territories. By 1493 they ruled over 10 million subjects in a 4000-kilometre (2500-mile) stretch of the Andes Mountains.

The Incas thought gold represented the glory of their sun god and referred to the precious metal as “tears of the Sun.” It had no financial value—only as a thing of beauty.

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