Episode Two : Conquest – Transcript
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Spanish coming into Inca city and challenging Ataxalpa
Voiceover: One day in November, 1532, the New World and the Old
Spaniards and Incas in battle, Spaniards moving on with captured
Jared on river in boat, in helicopter, studying old maps
Voiceover: 168 Spaniards attacked the imperial army of the Incas
in the highlands of Peru. Before the day was out, they had massacred
7,000 people, and taken control of the Inca Empire. Not a single
Spanish life was lost in the process. Why was the balance of power
so uneven between Old World and New? And why, in the centuries that
followed, were Europeans the ones who conquered so much of the globe?
These are questions that fascinate Professor Jared Diamond. He is
on a quest to understand the roots of power, searching for clues
in the most unlikely places. He’s developed a highly original
theory that what separates the winners from the losers is the land
itself – geography. It was the shape of the continents, their
crops and animals that allowed some cultures to flourish while others
were left behind. But can this way of seeing the world shed light
on the events of 1532? How can geography explain the conquest of
the world by
guns, germs and steel?
Titles: Episode 2: Conquest
Conquistadors traveling, led by Pizarro, on mountainside
Voiceover: For two years, a band of Spanish conquistadors has been
traveling in search of gold and glory. They’re not professional
soldiers, but mercenaries and adventurers, led by a retired army
captain, Francisco Pizarro. He’s already made a fortune for
himself in the colonies of Central America. Now he’s taking
his men south, into unknown territory. They are the first Europeans
to have climbed the Andes, and ventured this far into the continent
of South America.
Pizarro and conquistadors finding local inhabitants
Voiceover: As they travel, they find evidence of a large native
civilization. They’ve reached the edge of the mighty Inca
Empire. For Indians and Spaniards alike, any encounter is a clash
of cultures. These Indians have never seen white men before, and
have no idea of the threat they represent. They can’t imagine
that within a few days, these strangers will turn their world upside
Earth from space, with highlighted areas
Voiceover: By the 1530s, the Inca Empire was enormous. It stretched
along the length of the Andes, from modern-day Ecuador to central
Chile, a distance of 2,500 miles. But just 500 miles to the north
began the colonies of Central America and the Caribbean –
prized possessions of the Spanish empire. At the time, the Spanish
king controlled a third of mainland Europe, but Spain itself had
only recently become a unified state, having fought off 700 years
of occupation by Islamic Moors.
Pizarro’s home, with Jared walking around it
Voiceover: It was still a rural society. Most of the conquistadors
came from villages and small towns in the heart of the country;
towns like Trujillo, where Pizarro grew up. He spent much of his
childhood here, working as a swineherd in the fields nearby. Today
he’s remembered as a great warrior. His statue dominates the
main square in Trujillo, and his family home has been turned into
a museum. Jared Diamond has come here to explore the world of the
conquistadors, and understand the secret of their success.
Statue of Pizarro
Jared Diamond: This is Francisco Pizarro, a Spaniard who conquered
the most powerful state in the New World, the Inca Empire. Why did
Pizarro and his men conquer the Incas instead of the other way round?
It seems like a simple question. The answer isn’t immediately
obvious. After all, Pizarro started out as a rather ordinary person,
and Trujillo here is a rather ordinary town. So what is it that
gave Pizarro and his men this enormous power?
Pizarro and conquistadors traveling
Jared Diamond: Why am I so interested in Pizarro’s conquistadors?
Because their story is such a grimly successful example of European
conquest. And for 30 years I’ve been exploring patterns of
Voiceover: Jared Diamond is a professor at UCLA in Los Angeles.
But most of his fieldwork has been done in Papua New Guinea. His
time there inspired him to explore the roots of inequality in the
modern world. To understand why some people have been able to dominate
and conquer others. Looking back thousands of years, he argues that
farming gave some cultures an enormous head start, and those who
were lucky enough to have the most productive crops and animals
became the most productive farmers. Agriculture first developed
in a part of the Middle East known as the Fertile Crescent. Over
time, crops and animals from the Fertile Crescent spread into North
Africa and Europe, where they triggered an explosion of civilization.
By the 16th Century, European farms were dominated by livestock
animals that had come from the Fertile Crescent. None were native
to Europe. They provided more than just meat. They were a source
of milk and wool, leather and manure. And crucially, they provided
Mules pulling ploughs, Incas cultivating land as llamas look on,
Conquistadors riding onto Inca land
Voiceover: Harnessed to a plough, a horse or an ox could transform
the productivity of farmland. European farmers were able to grow
more food to feed more people, who could then build bigger and more
complex societies. In the New World, there were no horses or cattle
for farming. All the work had to be done by hand. The only large
domestic animal was the llama, but these docile creatures have never
been harnessed to a plough. The Incas were very skilled at growing
potatoes and corn, but because of their geography, they could never
be as productive as European farmers. Horses gave Europeans another
massive advantage – they could be ridden. To the Incas, the
sight of Pizarro’s conquistadors passing through their land
is extraordinary. They’ve never seen people carried by their
animals before. Some think they are gods, these strange-looking
men, part human, part beast. The horses that seemed so exotic to
the Incas had already been used in Spain for 4,000 years. In an
age before motorized transport, they allowed people to be mobile,
and control their land.
Jared watching Javier riding
Voiceover: When Javier Martin is not herding cattle, he gives displays
of traditional horsemanship.
Javier Martin: This style of riding is known as jimeta. The emphasis
is on control and maneuverability, using bent knees to grip the
sides of the horse, and only one hand on the reins. Very different
from the more formal style of medieval knights. By the 16th century,
the jimeta way of riding had become the dominant style of the Spanish
cavalry. This is how the conquistadors would have ridden their horses.
Jared Diamond: It’s an amazing display of a big animal being
controlled by a person,
precise control, stopping and starting and turning. Javier told
me that he has been riding since he was five years old, and when
I watched this, I have a better understanding where the conquistadors
were coming from. They were masters of these techniques, and they
learned these techniques for working with bulls, but the techniques
were also good in a military context as well, and I can see that
this control would let you ride down people in the open. People
who had never seen horses before would have been absolutely terrified
watching this. It would be strange and frightening, and that’s
even before one of these animals is rushing towards you, riding
you down, about to lance you and kill you.
Inca messenger running to give news to Ataxalpa
Voiceover: News of the godlike strangers on their four-legged animals
is taken by royal messenger to the emperor of the Incas, who’s
camped in the valley of Cajamarca in northern Peru, guarded by an
army of 80,000 men.
Ataxalpa being beautified
Voiceover: Ataxalpa is revered as a living god, a son of the sun
itself. He’s in Cajamarca on a religious retreat, giving thanks
for a series of recent military triumphs.
Messenger giving Ataxalpa the news
Voiceover: When he hears about the progress of the Spaniards, he
chooses not to have them killed. Instead, he sends back a message.
He invites them to join him in Cajamarca, as quickly as possible.
Messenger running to give reply
Efrain Trelles, Historian: Ataxalpa wanted the Spaniards to come
to Cajamarca and enter into a trap, and to be sure that they would
do so; he played like a psychological game with them, sending presents,
asking them to come. Ataxalpa knew that the Spaniards were not gods.
The intelligence reports speak of people wearing wool on their faces,
like a lamb or like an alpaca, they’re just like an animal.
Then they went from one place to the other wearing on top of their
heads a little pot that has never been used for cooking.
You need to be crazy to walk with a pot, but you must be beyond
salvation if you arrive to a camp and you don’t use that pot
to cook. Ataxalpa had an idea that these were sub-humans. What could
a few horsemen and a hundred or so Spaniards do to the powerful
Inca? Virtually nothing.
Art depicting Spanish in battle
Voiceover: But Ataxalpa’s spies don’t realize that
the Spanish are armed with some of the best weapons in the world.
At the time of the conquistadors, Spain had the biggest army in
Europe, orchestrated from the imperial capital, Toledo. For more
than 700 years the Spaniards had been at war, fighting against the
Moors and other European armies. There was an arms race in Europe.
To survive, the Spaniards needed to keep up with the latest in weapons
Man and Jared firing and loading guns
Voiceover: By the 1530s, the Jacobus was an important part of the
Spanish arsenal. Gunpowder had originally come from China, but its
use as a weapon was pioneered by the Arabs. In European hands, guns
became lighter and more portable, and were used for the first time
by foot soldiers on the battlefield. The Jacobus was still a crude
weapon, but would go on to change the face of warfare.
Jared Diamond: To us moderns, this gun doesn’t seem useful
for anything, it’s like a joke. Its aim is terrible, it takes
a long time to reload, and while the shooter’s reloading it
a swordsman would come in and kill him, but the Incas hadn’t
even gotten this far, and even this gun, with its sound and with
the smell and with the smoke and with every now and then a person
that it manages to kill, would have been terrifying to someone who
had never seen this before. This would have been shock and awe,
Sword smith at work as Jared watches
Voiceover: For all its bluster, the technology of gunpowder was
still in its infancy. The real power of the conquistadors lay elsewhere,
with the production of steel. Toledo had some of the best sword
smiths in the world. But why were people here able to craft deadly
steel weapons, while the Incas were still making simple bronze tools?
Man handling sword
Jared Diamond: There was nothing innately brilliant about Europeans
themselves that allowed them to be the ones to make high quality
swords. Just as with guns, swords were the result of a long process
of trial and error that began outside Europe. People started working
with metal in the Fertile Crescent 7,000 years ago, and because
Europe is geographically close to the fertile crescent, Europeans
inherited this metal technology.
But they took this technology on to a new level. European soldiers
demanded stronger, longer, sharper swords.
Jared Diamond: This is what a Toledo sword looks like when it’s
finished. This particular one is modeled on the sword that Pizarro
carried. It’s a fearsome weapon.
It’s used for stabbing and it’s also used for slashing,
and I can easily understand how the person wielding the sword could
kill dozens of people within a short time.
Mike Loads, Historical Weapons Expert: Swords like this, rapiers,
represented a high point in a very sophisticated metalworking technology.
You think about what the qualities are that are needed in a sword.
First of all, it has to be hard enough, the metal has to be hard
enough to take a sharp edge, and that requires steel that is iron
infused with carbon, and the more carbon you put into the iron,
then the harder the metal is. But if you make it too hard, then
it’s brittle, and that’s no good because as you hit
somebody, your sword would break, and so you also need your sword
to have a certain pliability, an ability to bend and spring back
into shape. And it’s got by heating it to certain temperatures,
plunging it into cold water, immense amount of experimentation,
it took centuries to get to the level of sophistication where you
could get something so long and elegant and fine, and deadly as
Voiceover: The rapier, with its extra long blade, was developed
as a dueling weapon, but became so fashionable in Renaissance Europe;
it was the sword of choice for any aspiring gentleman.
Mike Loades: The word rapier derives from the Spanish term “espara
ropera”, and that means dress sword. And for the first time
in Spain, we start to see people wearing the sword with their everyday
clothing, their civilian dress, going about their everyday business.
They didn’t do that in the Middle Ages. This is something
new in the 16th century, and it’s saying I have arrived, I
am a gentleman, I am upwardly mobile, and I claim ancestry from
the knights of the Middle Ages. It was very much a symbol of the
conquistadors’ aspiring greed. The thing that drove them through
all their hardships, the thing that made them go to the Americas,
was their lust for gold, their lust for self-advancement, and the
rapier absolutely symbolized that overbearing avarice.
Conquistadors traveling, looking across valley to huge town and
Voiceover: On November 15th 1532, Pizarro’s band of adventurers
entered the valley of Cajamarca. They’ve been told that Ataxalpa
is waiting for them here. But they’re not prepared for the
sight that greets them. In the hills beyond the town of Cajamarca
is the imperial Inca army – 80,000 men in full battle order. The
conquistadors’ own journals bear witness to their first impressions.
Diary Reading: Their camp looked like a very beautiful city. We’d
seen nothing like it in the Indies until then, and it scared us,
because we were so few and so deep in this land.
Spanish entering Inca camp and being taken to Ataxalpa
Voiceover: Pizzaro sends a party of his best horsemen into the
heart of the Inca camp. They are led by Captain De Soto. They are
gambling that Ataxalpa will allow them to pass through the camp
unharmed, and agree to meet them.
Efrain Trelles: Soto’s visit had a very important psychological
purpose; to intimidate the Inca in front of his people. Challenging
him with the horse. Ataxalpa at first didn’t react to Soto’s
presence, as if nobody had entered the room. Once the, the horse
comes eye to eye with the Inca, the Inca is still calm, showing
that the horse has no impact on him,
calling Soto’s bluff. The captain advanced so close that the
horse’s nostrils disturbed the fringe of the Inca’s
forehead. But the Inca never moved. And then, after a brief silence
comes Ataxalpa’s explosion. He was telling them, the time
has come for you to pay.
I understand this as the time has come for you to pay with your
lives. Soto I understand was nervous enough to come back with fear
to the, the camp, and as we know, the Spaniards spent the night
before in extreme fear.
Spaniards’ camp at night
Voiceover: The conquistadors had made their camp in the town of
Cajamarca. Many of them are now convinced they are facing oblivion.
168 soldiers, 1,000 miles from any other Spaniard, facing an army
of 80,000 Incas.
Diary Reading: Few of us slept that night. We kept walking the square,
from where we could see the campfires of the Indian army. It was
a fearful sight, like a brilliantly star-studded night.
Voiceover: Pizarro and his most trusted officers debate their options
for how to deal with Ataxalpa. Some advise caution, but Pizarro
insists their best chance is to launch a surprise attack the next
day. It’s a tactic that’s worked successfully in the
past. Twelve years before Pizarro went to Peru, another famous conquistador,
Hernan Cortez, had gone to Mexico and encountered another formidable
civilization; the Aztecs. He conquered the country by kidnapping
the Aztec leader and exploiting the ensuing chaos. Cortez’s
story was later published and became a bestseller, a handbook for
any would-be conquistador. It can still be found in the great library
of Salamanca University in Northern Spain.
Jared Diamond: This wonderful library here can be thought of among
other things as a repository of dirty tricks, because in these books
are the accounts of what generals had been doing to other generals
for thousands of years in the past and across much of Eurasia, and
here from this library we have a famous account of the conquest
of Mexico with all the details of what Cortez did to the Aztecs
and what worked. That was a model for Pizarro to give him ideas
what exactly to try out on the Incas, whereas the Incas without
writing, had only local knowledge transmitted by oral memory, and
they were unsophisticated and naïve compared to the Spaniards
because of writing.
Voiceover: But if books were so useful, why couldn’t the Incas
read or write? To develop a new system of writing independently
is an extremely complex process, and has happened very rarely in
human history. It was first achieved by the Sumerian people of the
Fertile Crescent at least 5,000 years ago. They pioneered an elaborate
system of symbols called cuneiform, possibly as a way of recording
Ever since, almost every other written language of Europe and Asia
has copied, adapted or simply been inspired by the basics of cuneiform.
The spread of writing was helped enormously by the invention of
paper, ink and moveable type, innovations that all came from outside
Europe but were seized upon by Europeans in the Middle Ages to produce
the ultimate transmitter of knowledge – the printing press.
The written word could now spread quickly and accurately across
Europe and Asia. The modern world would be impossible without the
development of writing.
Jared studying maps
Voiceover: But there’s another part of the world where a
new system of writing was invented independently. In Southern Mexico,
at least 2,500 years ago, native people developed a way of working
with symbols that involved into the Mayan script. But if the Maya
had writing, why didn’t it spread south to the Andes and help
the Incas become literate? For Diamond, the answer lies in the shape
of the continents.
Jared Diamond: Here were Europe and Asia forming the continent of
Eurasia, a giant continent but it’s stretched out from east
to west, and narrows from north to south. The American continent
is long from north to south, narrow from east to west – very
narrow at Panama where it narrows down to less than 100 miles. The
two continents are of the same lengths, about 8,000 miles in maximum
dimensions, but Eurasia is 8,000 miles from east to west, and the
Americas are 8,000 miles from north to south, it’s as if these
continents were rotated 90 degrees of each other.
Voiceover: Diamond has already shown that crops and animals could
spread easily east and west across Eurasia. Because places the same
latitude automatically share the same day length and a similar climate
and vegetation. But the American continents were the opposite of
Eurasia. A journey from one end of the Americas to the other is
a journey from north to south, a journey through different day lengths,
different climate zones, and dramatically different vegetation.
These basic differences hindered the spread of crops and animals
as well as people, ideas and technologies. The people of the Andes
were chronically isolated, without access to writing or almost any
other innovation from elsewhere in the Americas. By contrast, Pizarro
and his men were geographically blessed. As Spaniards, they enjoyed
the benefit of technologies and ideas that had spread easily across
Jared Diamond: The events of 1532 were clearly influenced by deep
causes, over which no individual Spaniard or Inca had any control.
The shape of the continents, the distribution of plants and animals,
the spread of Eurasian technology, these were facts of geography,
and at almost every turn of the drama, geography was tilted in favor
of the Europeans.
Conquistadors preparing for battle, inter-cut with Ataxalpa being
prepared for day’s events
Inca party en route to meeting
Voiceover: It’s the morning of November 16th, 1532. Ataxalpa
has agreed to meet the Spaniards in the town of Cajamarca, and sends
his entourage ahead of him. But he makes a fateful decision; that
his soldiers should not carry weapons.
Efrain Trelles: The Indians were musicians and dancers. They were
soldiers, but unarmed. Why would Ataxalpa unarm his own soldiers?
Why, because he was in the festivity, he was celebrating. He wasn’t
going to war. He was going for a celebration so that the whole people
could see how the alleged gods would run away in fear. The fact
that some people believed that the Spaniards were gods would play
better in the hands of Ataxalpa’s purpose. If I know they
are not gods and I defeat the gods, then of course everybody will
be with me. But what if I defeat the gods with no show of force
at all? Then I am beyond the gods.
Party with Ataxalpa on litter
Voiceover: While Ataxalpa and his men enter Cajamarca, the Spaniards
are waiting, hidden from view. Ataxalpa coming into main square
Diary Reading: There were five or 6,000 men and behind them, the
figure of Ataxalpa, seated in a very fine litter, lined with feathers
and embellished with gold and silver. Many of us pissed ourselves
out of sheer terror.
Efrain Trelles: The square is filed with Ataxalpa’s people,
but there’s, there’s not one Spaniard at sight. Ataxalpa
asks, ‘Where are these dogs?’ One of his right hands
answers, ‘They have run away because they are afraid of magnificent
Inca’. Of course the whole crowd listened to this and believed
that this was the case.
Ataxalpa receiving visit from Spanish priest
Subtitles: I come before you in the name of Christianity…
Pizarro sends out his priest to confront Ataxalpa.
Subtitles: …to show you the path of truth
The conquistadors are obliged to try and convert native people
before any resort to violence.
Subtitles: What are you talking about hair face?
Subtitles: I am the Son of the Sun!
Subtitles: I have the right to govern my people
Subtitles: What right do you have to speak to me in this way?
Subtitles: My authority comes from The Lord
Subtitles: His Word is written in this book
Subtitles: This is your power?
Ataxalpa has never seen a book before. He doesn’t know what
to do with it.
Subtitles: It’s worthless
Subtitles: I don’t hear the word you speak of
Subtitles: How dare you, Indian dog!
Subtitles: Come out, Spaniards!
Subtitles: Destroy these dogs who don’t respect things of
Spaniards open fire and battle begins
Efrain Trelles: At that moment, with the crowd absolutely unprepared,
the horses come.
There was massive panic.
Mike Loades: Just imagine the scene in Cajamarca. The Incas hadn’t
seen horses before, and these aren’t ordinary horses, these
are Spanish horses, fierce, big, fighting horses.
They could get in amongst men, they would trample men and they made
the most excellent platform. From the horse, you could stab down
to the left, stab down to the right, you could cut, you could scythe,
hacking all about you.
Voiceover: If only the Incas had known that what you had to do
against cavalry was stand firm, then they’d have been alright,
they had superior numbers, but they didn’t know that. They
fled, they broke ranks, and then the horsemen could get in amongst
them and they cut them down.
Mike Loades: There was an Inca god called Viracoxa, and he was a
white man, and he was the god of thunder, and they thought these
men with their aquabuses were the very incarnation of Viracoxa.
Efrain Trelles: The Inca Ataxalpa was in his litter, held by his
carriers. As soon as they were able to do it, the Spaniards went
after the litter. And they started killing the carriers. One carrier
would fall, and another one would replace him. Only at the very,
very, very end of the tragedy, the litter started to move because
there were no more carriers left. As the litter falls, Pizarro himself
captures Ataxalpa. His plan has worked to perfection. Ataxalpa is
taken to a makeshift prison in the royal quarters at Cajamarca.
Diary Reading: He thought we were going to kill him, but we told
him, no. Christians only kill in the heat of the battle.
Voiceover: Outside, thousands of Incas are dead. The rest of the
army has retreated to the hills. In spite of a massive imbalance
in number, Spanish horses, swords and strategy have proved decisive.
But the Spaniards possessed another weapon they didn’t even
know they had – a weapon of mass destruction that had marched
invisibly ahead of them.
Spanish slave showing signs of illness
Voiceover: Today, the war against infectious disease is waged at
biological research centers like Porton Down in Southern England.
They produce vaccines here against the world’s deadliest viruses.
In the 16th century there were no vaccines, and there was no protection
from the rampant spread of infectious disease. Twelve years before
Pizarro arrived at Cajamarca, a Spanish ship sailed to Mexico. On
board, one of the slaves was suffering from the first signs of a
fever. He was the first person to bring a deadly disease to the
American mainland. The disease was smallpox. Within weeks, the smallpox
virus would spread from a single source to infect thousands of native
Dr Tim Brooks, Health Protection Agency, Porton Down: Smallpox gets
into the body when you breathe in the particles, and they attach
themselves to the back of your throat and the inside of your lungs.
About two to three days into the illness, then the classic rash
appears, and in its worst forms, this takes over the whole of the
body with initially pimples and then enormous blisters until the
whole of the skin, starting with the hands and the face and then
spreading down to cover the rest of the body, is taken over by the
smallpox blisters. From that time on, the patient is highly infectious.
Because each of those blisters is packed full of smallpox particles,
then if you burst a blister, fluid will come out and large numbers
of viruses will be spilt onto whatever it touches. Ten to twelve
days later, his friends would be taken ill, and then ten to twelve
days after that, their friends. That kind of rate means the disease
spreads exponentially. Its rate of increase gets bigger and bigger
and bigger the more people are infected, until eventually it will
cause tremendous devastation in the population.
Depiction of smallpox victims, Smallpox victim being nursed
Jared in field looking at cows and sheep, Livestock in fields
Voiceover: The first smallpox epidemic of the New World swept through
Central America and reached the Inca Empire. Wherever it went, the
virus decimated native populations, making them easier prey for
Spanish conquest. But why were the germs so one-sided? Why did the
Spaniards pass their diseases onto the Incas, and not the other
Jared Diamond: This is Pizarro’s secret weapon; pigs and cows,
sheep and goats, domestic animals. Remember that Pizarro was a swineherd.
He grew up in huts like this, in intimate contact with domestic
animals, breathing in their germs, drinking the germs in their milk,
and it was from the germs of domestic animals that the killer diseases
of humans evolved, for example our ‘flu evolved from a disease
of pigs transmitted via chickens and ducks. We acquired measles
from cattle; we acquired smallpox from domestic animals, so that
these worst killers of human people were a legacy of 10,000 years
of contact with our beloved domestic animals.
Voiceover: During the Middle Ages, infectious diseases swept through
Europe and claimed millions of lives. But paradoxically, repeated
epidemics made Europeans more resilient. In each outbreak, there
were always some people who were genetically better able to fight
off the virus. These people were more likely to survive and have
children. In the process, they’d pass on their genetic resistance.
Over centuries, whole populations acquired some degree of protection
against the spread of diseases like smallpox – a protection
the Incas never had.
Tim Brooks: Once smallpox was taken to the New World, nobody in
the New World had ever seen a disease like this before, so the number
of people who were susceptible was much greater. There was no natural
immunity, and so therefore the number of people who could both contract
the disease and then spread it, and the number of people to receive
it once it had spread, was much higher.
Voiceover: More people would die, and more people would be susceptible
to catch it in the first place. It would spread rapidly throughout
the population, and the death toll would be enormous.
Jared Diamond: Why hadn’t Native Americans encountered smallpox
before? And why didn’t they have any deadly diseases of their
own to pass on to the Spaniards?
It’s simply because they didn’t have the same history
of contact with farm animals. The Incas had llamas, but llamas aren’t
like European cows and sheep. They’re not milked, they’re
not kept in large herds, and they don’t live in barns and
huts alongside humans. There was no significant exchange of germs
between llamas and people.
Voiceover: The key to Diamond’s argument is the distribution
of farm animals around the world. Aside from the llama, all the
large farm animals were native to Eurasia and North Africa. None
was ever domesticated in North America, Sub-Saharan Africa, or Australia.
As a result, the worst epidemic diseases were also native to Eurasia
and North Africa, and were then spread around the world with deadly
effect. There’s been a long debate about the number of indigenous
people who died in the Spanish conquest of the New World. Some scholars
think there may have been a population of 20 million Native Americans,
and the vast majority, perhaps 95%, were killed by Old World diseases.
A continent virtually emptied of its people.
Ataxalpa playing chess
Voiceover: After the initial shock of his capture, Ataxalpa became
a cooperative prisoner. He learned to speak Spanish, and play chess
with his captors. The Spaniards realized he was more useful to them
alive than dead. He was allowed to re-establish his court in prison,
as long as he ordered his people to accept Spanish rule. He also
ordered them to melt down a vast amount of treasure. Pizarro had
promised Ataxalpa his freedom in return for the gold. It proved
to be an empty promise. Having handed over 20 tons of gold and silver,
Ataxalpa was no longer useful to his captors. He was garrotted to
death, in the same square where so many of his followers had been
slaughtered eight months earlier. With Ataxalpa dead, the conquistadors
went on to colonize the rest of Peru. Relying on the power of their
guns, germs and steel.
Voiceover: Gold from the Spanish colonies was brought back to Seville
in Southern Spain. There’s little activity in the Guadocreata
River today, but in the 16th century, this was among the most important,
busiest ports in the world. A steady flow of ships carrying treasure
from the Americas helped Spain become one of the richest nations
on earth. The conquistadors had changed forever the relationship
between Old World and New.
Jared Diamond:: I came to Spain to answer a question – why
did Pizarro and his men conquer the Incas instead of the other way
around? There’s a whole mythology that that conquest and the
European expansion in general resulted from Europeans themselves
being especially brave or bold or inventive or smart, but the answers
turn out to have nothing to do with any personal qualities of Europeans.
Yeah, Pizarro and his men were brave, but there were plenty of brave
Incas. Instead, Europeans were accidental conquerors. By virtue
of their geographic location and history, they were the first people
to acquire guns, germs and steel.
Steam train, Slaves in chains, Guns being loaded and fired on people
armed with spears
Voiceover: By the end of the 19th century, European powers had
ventured down the Americas and colonized Africa, Australia and much
of Asia. The process that began at Cajamarca had reached its logical
conclusion. European guns, germs and steel were reshaping the world.
Where to next?
Find out more about Episode Three.
Read the full transcript of Episode