Battle of Cajamarca: 1532 A.D.

By | November 22, 2018

[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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “Battle of Cajamarca: 1532 A.D.

  1. Doc Blackshear

    A truly great battle yet we hear little of it in history courses in college. I wonder why? /sarc/

  2. Jerome Smith

    Many readers and commenters here have suggested you address (summarize) ancient battles. I would suggest perhaps not. The reason is simple in that the details of what actually happened is so often distorted (some purposefully) that a full accounting of any lessons may also be distorted. Thanks for reading my opinion!

    1. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      I’m sure that is part of the reason but I would also suggest that there is too much PC these days, especially among historians and those teachers trained by them.

  3. Nick Lighthouse

    Please consider adding an electronic book of these battles at some point in the future. It makes it much easier to read about them all in a single sitting. Much obliged.

  4. Martin Shiell

    My personal favorite battle to study and I would hope you consider for a future article here is the Battle of Châlons, AD 451. ?

  5. Lady Hawk

    Well written and entertaining. But I like most is what you pull out as the main lessons to learn from it. Wow, this battle must have been tremendous in the skill and great bravery by the Spanish. I’m not condoning what they did but to have a couple of hundred soldiers against 10s of thousands. All I can say is “wow.”

  6. Albert Ayer

    I respectfully recommend a few battles for you to consider:
    • Adrianople, 718
    • Battle of Salamis, 480 BCE
    • Yorktown, 1781
    • Battle of Vienna, 1683
    • Battle of Tours, 732

  7. Tracey Brockman

    Gen. Satterfield, your series on “battles” is really a good one. Please continue to post them. I would recommend more in the future.

  8. Bryan Lee

    Thanks all for coming out to read this blog on an American holiday. I wonder if the Spanish celebrate this day? Probably not.

  9. Drew Dill

    Another article that helps me and others understand that the past always gives us important lessons that can be readily applied to what we do today. Too many people reject the idea that history can provide us with lessons. Like Gen. Satterfield always notes, at least you learn what NOT to do.

  10. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Today is Thanksgiving Day (in the USA) and I want to say thank you to all who post here, especially those who post regularly and respond to my comments. It makes my day when someone is here and compliments others. Thanks!

    1. Joe the Aussie

      Yes, Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends in the USA and to those who truly believe that leadership matters.

  11. Army Captain

    Great article today that shows we can always learn from history if we take the time and energy to spend just a little time on it. 

  12. Willie Shrumburger

    Yes, you are correct that somewhere back in my classroom history days, I learned a little about this battle. It was distorted when my teacher, a big political liberal, called it genocide. Of course, all my classmates just laughed at her and she never really understood why.

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