Huáscar (circa 1502-1532) was ruler of the Inca Empire for a brief time after the death of his father Huayna Capac sometime between 1525 and 1527. When his father died, Huáscar was in command of the capital city of Cuzco and therefore most of the Inca Empire. Huáscar’s name has several different spellings, including Waskar and Waskhar.
Young Huáscar soon became embroiled in a brutal civil war with his half-brother Atahualpa, who was in command of the northern city of Quito (the second largest in the Empire). More importantly, Atahualpa had the loyalty of the formidable army and its three main generals, Chalcuchima, Rumiñahui and Quisquis.
Huáscar raised an army and went after Atahualpa in Quito, but he was repelled in a series of battles. Atahualpa ordered Chalcuchima and Quisquis to pursue Huáscar, who was defeated and captured outside of Cuzco sometime in mid 1532. Atahualpa was savoring his victory over Huáscar when he himself was tricked, ambushed and captured by Spanish conquistadors under Francisco Pizarro in November of 1532. When the Spanish asked to see Huáscar, who was still held captive by Atahualpa’s soldiers, Atahualpa ordered him killed. He did not want his former rival making a deal with the ruthless strangers. Huáscar was butchered by his captors in late 1532.
As Huáscar was never seen alive by any Spanish, little is known about his personal life and personality. The only Spanish chronicler who wrote much about Huáscar was Juan de Betanzos, who produced a text called The Narrative of the Incas. His primary source was his wife, who had previously been married to Atahualpa and whose opinion of Huáscar was presumably biased. According to Betanzos, Huáscar was a monster who forcefully took the wives of his subordinates if they caught his fancy. He also appropriated lands belonging to former Inca rulers, a sacrilegious act.
Legacy of Huáscar
Huáscar was survived by several relatives, but they were almost all rounded up and killed by General Quisquis to remove challengers to his lord Atahualpa. One of the survivors was his brother Manco Inca Yupanqui, who would be crowned by the Spanish in 1534.
In many ways, Huáscar is emblematic of the miserable bad luck that allowed the Inca Empire to be overcome by the Spanish. Had Atahualpa not won the support of the army before the civil war, Huáscar would have vanquished his brother easily. Atahualpa also made a mistake by identifying Huáscar as a more dangerous enemy than the Spanish. Had captive Atahualpa ordered his men to release Huáscar, a unified defense might have coalesced and allowed the Andeans to drive the Spanish off. The deep divisions created in the Empire during the civil war allowed the Spanish to play one side off against another and by the time both factions realized that the conquistadors represented a far greater threat and united, it was too late.
Eventually, even the fact that Huáscar was older than Atahualpa was used against the Inca people. Even though the Incas did not practice primogeniture, the Spanish did, and by European laws and traditions Atahualpa had usurped the throne of the “legitimate” Huáscar. This justified the horrible actions that the Spanish had taken during the conquest by making Atahualpa (and his empire) “fair game.”
In Peru, sympathies are still with Huáscar, considered a victim of his brother and the Spanish. Peru named a nineteenth century warship “Huascar” in his honor.
Hemming, John. The Conquest of the Inca London: Pan Books, 2004 (original 1970).
Herring, Hubert. A History of Latin America From the Beginnings to the Present. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.