[November 22, 2018] It was once said that the most powerful armies are those that are both patient and daring. Nearly five centuries ago, one of the most audacious battles ever planned and fought occurred in Peru between a tiny Spanish force and an Incan empire. The Battle of Cajamarca occurred on November 16, 1532.
Most readers of this leadership blog will not recognize the name of this battle but will surely remember the story. The battle pitted one of the smallest armies (less than 200 soldiers) against a much larger and experienced army of nearly 80,000. Since the Biblical times when Hercules took on his 12 labors, has there been such a battle.
“Success is the child of audacity.” – Benjamin Disraeli, twice Prime Minister of the UK
The Battle of Cajamarca was the unexpected ambush and seizure of the Inca ruler Atahualpa by a small Spanish force led by Francisco Pizarro. The Spanish killed thousands of Atahualpa’s counselors, commanders, and unarmed attendants in the great plaza of Cajamarca, and caused his armed host outside the town to flee.
Here are important lessons we can learn from the battle:
- Audacity works: Throughout the history of warfare there are many examples of smaller, outnumbered forces overwhelming a much larger force and doing so at the disadvantage of terrain, weaponry, and position.
- Attack your enemy’s weaknesses: This means you must know what those weaknesses are through the gathering of intelligence and then carefully plan to target them with the resources you have on hand.
- Never let them see you sweat: The enemy must think that there is something about you that they cannot overcome. This may be a small idea but by building upon it, much can be achieved.
Lessons from this battle have echoed in the history of warfare and the relations between nations. They also apply readily to the social and political interactions among people. In the aftermath of the Battle of Cajamarca and the capture of Atahualpa, the stage was set for the conquest of the pre-Columbian Inca civilization of Peru.1