The History of the Incas  is one of the most important manuscripts surviving from the Spanish Conquest period of Peru. Written in Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire, just forty years after the arrival of the first Spaniards in the city, this document contains extremely detailed descriptions of Inca history and mythology. It was written, on the orders of Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, by the highly educated Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, a sea captain and royal cosmographer of the viceroyalty.
The royal sponsorship of the work guaranteed Sarmiento direct access to the highest Spanish officials in Cuzco. It also allowed him to summon influential natives, as well as those who had witnessed the fall of the Inca Empire, so that they could relate their stories. Sarmiento traveled widely and interviewed numerous local leaders and lords (curacas), surviving members of the royal Inca families, and the few remaining Spanish conquistadors who still resided in Cuzco. Once the first draft of the history was completed, in an unprecedented effort to establish the unquestionable authenticity of the work, his manuscript was read, chapter by chapter, to forty-two indigenous authorities for their commentary and correction.
After the public reading, which occurred on 29 February and 1 March 1572, the manuscript was entrusted to Jerónimo de Pacheco, a member of the viceroy's personal guard. Pacheco was to take the manuscript to Spain and deliver it to King Philip II, along with four painted cloths showing the history of the Incas and a number of other artifacts and objects that Toledo had collected. However, due to a series of unusual events, this irreplaceable document of Inca history was relegated to obscurity for centuries. Most importantly, a short time after the completion of Sarmiento's History of the Incas, Toledo's forces captured the last royal Inca, Tupac Amaru, in the jungles of Vilcabamba to the northwest of Cuzco. For more than forty years, members of the former ruling family had maintained a government in exile in Vilcabamba and had carried out a guerrilla war against the Spaniards. The capture of Tupac Amaru brought an end to the war, and after a hastily arranged trial, Tupac Amaru was beheaded in Cuzco on 24 September 1572. Thus, by the time Sarmiento's document reached the king of Spain, the Inca had already been executed and the long-standing rebellion against Spanish rule had been ended.
As a clear violation of the European tradition of the divine right of kings, the killing of Tupac Amaru by Toledo disturbed King Philip II. It is said that when the monarch saw Toledo on his return to Spain nearly ten years later, the king angrily told Toledo that "he had not been sent to Peru to kill kings, but to serve them" (Garcilaso de la Vega 1966:1483 [1609:Pt. 2, Bk. 8, Ch. 20]). Toledo was to die in Spain soon afterward, dishonored and unrewarded after more than a decade of service to the king in Peru. Similarly, it appears that Sarmiento's History of the Incas, a product of Toledo's much-criticized administration of Peru, was undervalued, set aside, and subsequently forgotten.
The work resurfaced two hundred years later in 1785 when the private library of Abraham Gronovius was sold to the Göttingen University Library. However, another century passed until the existence of the manuscript was revealed to the world by the librarian Wilhelm Meyer. The historian Richard Pietschmann immediately began editing the manuscript, and in 1906 he published the first transcription of the work. The first English translation was produced by Sir Clements Markham the following year.
Sarmiento and His General History of Peru
Sarmiento's History of the Incas must be seen as the result of the great social and administrative changes that took place during Toledo's monumental term as viceroy of Peru (1569-1581). Francisco de Toledo y Figueroa, the third son of the Count of Oropesa, reached Peru with clear instructions from the Crown and unparalleled powers to carry them out. Philip II had charged the new viceroy with ending the tradition of encomiendas in Peru, a highly confrontational task in which one of his predecessors had already failed, resulting in a bloody rebellion against the Crown. Toledo was also told to put an end to the long-standing war with the Incas of Vilcabamba and to completely reorganize the administration of the viceroyalty.
Blessed with notable zeal and formidable energy, Toledo left Lima early in his term to carry out a general inspection of the Andean kingdom of which he was in charge (Table 1). This inspection lasted four years. The viceroy and his entourage left Lima for Cuzco and the highlands of Peru on 23 October 1570. They made various stops along the way to conduct inspections of areas such as Jauja (20 November 1570), where Gabriel de Loarte, president of the court of the Audiencia of Lima, joined the delegation. From Jauja they continued toward Cuzco, inspecting various regions as they traveled, including Guamanga (14 December 1570), Pincos (31 January 1571), Limatambo (7 February 1571), Mayo (13 March 1571), and Yucay (19 March 1571). During each of these visits, they met with the eldest and most notable inhabitants, in particular the leaders, curacas, and Incas. Through these interviews, they obtained information about the government, economic life, and religious customs of the Incas. Traveling from place to place, Toledo eventually reached Cuzco in late February or early March of 1571, just in time to control the election of the town council (AGI, Lima 110), and to have the formidable Juan Polo de Ondegardo appointed for another term as corregidor of Cuzco. Toledo departed for Collasuyu a little more than a year later, in early October 1572. By 1573 he had reached southern Bolivia, and after a humiliating military defeat at the hands of the indigenous group of that region (the Chiriguanas), Toledo concluded his general inspection and returned to Lima.
One of the most important projects that Toledo initiated during the course of his general inspection was the writing of a historical overview of the regions that he now controlled. This large project was entrusted to Captain Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa. Toledo had great trust and respect for Sarmiento, who had accompanied the viceroy on his journey across the Andes. He described Sarmiento to the king of Spain as being extremely competent, and he would later personally come to his aid when Sarmiento was imprisoned in Lima.
Although Sarmiento traveled within Toledo's entourage and enjoyed his newly appointed position as royal cosmographer, he was already a controversial figure in Peru. Sarmiento had left Spain in 1555 for Mexico and Guatemala and reached Lima two years later. A great mariner and an excellent geographer, he had already helped discover the Solomon Islands (1567), sailing under the command of Alvaro Mendaña. Later, after the general inspection was completed, Toledo sent him on an unsuccessful mission to capture Sir Francis Drake in 1579. Later still (in 1581), Sarmiento would be given permission by King Philip II to explore the Strait of Magellan to establish a new colony in that remote region. In 1586 he was captured by the English and taken to England, where he remained prisoner for a year before being released.
Sarmiento was also accused of being an astrologer and incurred the wrath of the Holy Office of the Inquisition on two separate occasions. In December of 1564, the archbishop of Lima, Fray Jerónimo de Loayza, imprisoned Sarmiento while a causa de fe was initiated against him (Medina 1952:214 ). He was accused by the Holy Office of having magic ink, which no woman, receiving a love letter written in it, could resist, and also of being in possession of two magic rings engraved with Chaldean characters. He was found guilty, in a trial that seems to have been more politically than religiously motivated, and on 8 May 1565 was sentenced, among other things, to hear mass in the cathedral of Lima, "stripped naked and holding a lighted taper in his hand" (Means 1928:463). Ten years later, in 1575, Sarmiento was again brought in front of the Inquisition for having magical amulets in his possession. However, on this occasion, Toledo himself ordered Sarmiento's release so that he could continue his work for the Crown.
But let us return to 1572 and Sarmiento's work in Cuzco. In response to Toledo's orders to write a history of the Andes, Sarmiento developed an ambitious research plan. He envisioned a general history of Peru that was to be divided into three parts. In the first chapter of his History of the Incas, he provides a clear outline of what was to be included in each of the parts.
This general history that I undertook by order of the most excellent Don Francisco de Toledo, viceroy of these kingdoms of Peru, will be divided into three parts. The first will be a natural history of these lands, because it will be a detailed description of them that will include the wondrous works of nature and other things of much benefit and pleasure. (I am now finishing it so that it can be sent to Your Majesty after this [second part], since it should go before.) The second and third parts will tell of the inhabitants of these kingdoms and their deeds, in this manner. In the second part, which is the present one, the first and most ancient settlers of this land will be described in general. Then, moving into particulars, I will write of the terrible and ancient tyranny of the Capac Incas of these kingdoms until the end and death of Huascar, the last of the Incas. The third and last part will be about the times of the Spaniards and their noteworthy deeds during the discoveries and settlements of this kingdom and others adjoining it, divided by the terms of the captains, governors, and viceroys who have served in them until the present year of 1572. (Sarmiento 1906:10 :Ch. 1)
The first part of his general history was to be a geographical description of all the lands of the kingdom. It was to contain the "wondrous works of nature and other things of much benefit and pleasure." A great deal of this work was to be based on the information that was being collected as Toledo and his followers conducted their general inspection of the Andes. However, since Toledo and his party were to move on from Cuzco to the Charcas, Sarmiento felt that in 1572 the first part of his general history was still incomplete. The work seems to have been well advanced, however, since he tells the king: "I am now finishing it so that it can be sent to Your Majesty after this [second part]."
Sarmiento continued to write Part One as he traveled with Toledo toward modern Bolivia. Catherine Julien (1999:79) notes that there are two letters, both written on the same day (16 May 1575), indicating that Sarmiento continued to research and write a full three years after The History of the Incas was completed and sent to Spain. The first of these letters was written by the president of the Royal Audiencia, who notes:
He [Toledo] has done a very curious thing that will please those who govern this kingdom because he has ordered a good cosmographer to visit all of the provinces and towns, of both Spaniards and Indians, and take the latitude of them and describe them with painting and to write the customs and laws the Inca used to govern them and all of their rites and ancient ceremonies. (Julien 1999:79; translation by Julien)
The second letter was written by the Audiencia of Charcas. It, too, noted the remarkable work of a cosmographer (i.e., Sarmiento):
. . . about the description of all this land that the cosmographer has made and the true history of all that happened in Peru with the information he has taken from those who have been longest in this kingdom, which is something of great importance so that the truth about everything will be known and consent will not be given to circulate in print some false histories. (Julien 1999:79; translation by Julien)
The above letters suggest that Part One of Sarmiento's general history had gone well beyond the "wondrous works of nature" described earlier, to include sections on the customs, laws, rites, and ancient ceremonies of the different regions. In addition, it seems that Toledo expected Sarmiento to use his observational and cartographic skills to paint what he observed so he could illustrate the text of his history. That paintings were created to illustrate the first part of the general history demonstrates that the painted cloths that accompanied the second part, sent to the king, were not a unique initiative. Unfortunately, if in reality the first part of the general history and its accompanying paintings were ever finished, they have not been found and are feared lost.
The second part of Sarmiento's general history, herein referred to as The History of the Incas, tells of the Andean past before the arrival of the Europeans. This portion of the three-part series was largely researched in Cuzco and was completed in early 1572. Its information was primarily gleaned from interviews that Sarmiento conducted with the native authorities of the Inca heartland. It contains very little of the information gathered during Toledo's general inspection between Lima and Cuzco, since that information was to be presented in the first part of the general history.
Fortunately, the king's own copy of Sarmiento's History of the Incas has survived in an excellent state of preservation. Written in a clear and steady hand, bound in green leather and red silk, the manuscript can be seen in the library of Göttingen University. Its elegantly plated title page reads: "Second part of the general history called Indica, which by order of the most excellent Don Francisco de Toledo, viceroy, governor, and captain-general of the kingdoms of Peru and steward of the royal house of Castile, Captain Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa wrote" (Figure I.1).
The third and final part of Sarmiento's general history was to cover the period of Spanish rule in the Andes. It was to begin with the discovery and settlement of South America and include the most notable deeds of the "captains, governors, and viceroys who have served in them until the present year of 1572." Antonio Baptista de Salazar (1867:262-263 ), general assistant to Toledo, appears to have seen parts of this work. This is not surprising, since Salazar had traveled to Cuzco with Sarmiento and Toledo, and may have been in Cuzco for the reading of Sarmiento's completed History of the Incas. In a chapter titled "On the investigation that the viceroy ordered made concerning the origin and descendant of the Incas," Salazar writes:
Because this city is the ancient court and seat of the Incas, whom they called lords of these kingdoms, and because there are still many of the old Indians and a few of the first conquistadores alive, [the viceroy] ordered investigations and inquiries carried out, in written and painted form, on the genealogy, origins, and ancestry of the Incas before they all die. He confirmed that they were tyrants and not true lords, as had been believed until then. And because of what was written in two printed books, one about the origin of this new discovery and the other about the events of the civil wars that occurred between the Spaniards, [Toledo] ordered all the information known by the old conquistadores [collected] so that both newly corrected histories could be completed, filled with truths about many things that were not told in the other [works]. He assigned this [task] to Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, a cosmographer, who has a great capacity for understanding in this, [aided by] a scribe before whom the above-mentioned [people] would give their depositions, and who could swear to everything. I do not know in what state this work was left or what has happened to the papers, which were of great importance and interest.
Salazar confirms much of what we already know about Sarmiento's research on the Incas. Most of the research was conducted in Cuzco and included interviews with the older natives and the few surviving members of Pizarro's forces. Furthermore, the results of Sarmiento's research on the history of the Incas, which took both written and painted forms, supported the view that the Incas were tyrants and not legitimate rulers of the Andes. Salazar also suggests that, while in Cuzco, Sarmiento was working on one, perhaps two other volumes, covering the discovery of the New World and the first decades of Spanish rule in the Andes. Unfortunately, the fates of these works remain unknown.
Sarmiento's History of the Incas (1572)
Sarmiento's 1572 manuscript is composed of a 10-page letter to King Philip II, 262 pages of text, and a final Certificate of Verification that covers 11 pages. It also contains three coats of arms. The cover page displays the coat of arms of Castilla and León (Figure I.2). This is followed by the ornate title page, which is followed by the royal coat of arms of King Philip II (Figure I.3). Next is the above-mentioned dedicatory letter to King Philip II, which was signed by Sarmiento in Cuzco on 4 March 1572. The history ends with the coat of arms of the commissioner of the work, Francisco de Toledo (Figure I.4). The Verification and the final signatures of the witnesses follow this.
In his concluding letter to King Philip II, Sarmiento clearly delineates his sources for his work. He writes:
I have collected this history from the inquests and other investigations that, by order of Your Excellency, have been carried out in the Jauja Valley and in the city of Guamanga and in other areas through which Your Excellency has come inspecting. But [the history was] principally [collected] in this city of Cuzco, where the Incas had their continuous residence, and [where] there is more information about their deeds . . . (Sarmiento 1906:130 ; emphasis added)
Although informed by his journey through the central Andes, The History of the Incas was largely the product of material gathered during his stay in the Cuzco region.
In his cover letter to the king, Sarmiento also reveals the reason why The History of the Incas was written. It was to be a true history of the Incas, challenging and discrediting earlier reports that presented the Incas as the rightful and natural lords of the Andes. He emphatically states that since the information provided to earlier authors about the history of the Incas was incorrect, it led them to false conclusions concerning Spain's right to rule the Indies:
[But as] the information provided to [the scholars] about the deeds [of the Incas] was indirect and not the truth, [the scholars] concluded that these Incas, who were in the kingdoms of Peru, were the true and legitimate kings of these lands and that the curacas were and are the true natural lords of this land. These [statements] gave rise to doubts among strangers to your kingdom. Catholics as well as heretics and other unbelievers discussed and aired their complaints about the rightful pretensions that the Spanish kings had and still have over the Indies. (Sarmiento 1906:4 )
There is no doubt that The History of the Incas was written in direct reaction to the works of men such as Bartolomé de Las Casas, whom Sarmiento singles out for specific criticism in his cover letter to the king. The account's purpose was to show that the Incas were not the legitimate kings of the Andes and thus to support Spain's right to rule the kingdom of Peru.
Moreover, the work was written to champion Toledo's massive reforms of Andean culture. Sarmiento also explains this in his cover letter to King Philip:
[This work is] to give a secure and quiet harbor to Your Royal conscience against the tempests [generated by] your native vassals, theologians, and other learned [individuals] who are misinformed about the events here. Thus, in [Toledo's] general inspection, which he is personally carrying out all across the land, he has examined the sources and spoken with a large number of witnesses. With great diligence and care, he has questioned the most important elders and those of greatest ability and authority in the kingdom, and even those who claim some stake in it because they are kinsmen and descendants of the Incas, about the terrible, deep-seated, and horrendous tyranny of the Incas, who were tyrants in this kingdom of Peru, and about the specific curacas of its towns. [He does this] to disabuse all those in the world of the idea that these Incas were legitimate kings and [that] the curacas were natural lords of this land. So that Your Majesty might be informed, with little effort and much interest, and so that others of differing opinion might be disabused [of their ideas], I was ordered by the viceroy Don Francisco de Toledo, whom I follow and serve in this general inspection, to take charge of this business and to write the history of the lives of the twelve Incas of this land and of the origin of its natives until their end. (Sarmiento 1906:7 )
Thus, beneath a thin veil of history, Sarmiento's 1572 work was to play an important role in addressing the mounting criticisms of Spanish rule in the Americas and offset the Black Legend disseminated by Las Casas and his followers. First, his general history was meant to illustrate the illegitimate nature of Inca rule. Sarmiento is relentless in this effort. While recounting the lives of each of the Incas, Sarmiento repeatedly questions their legitimacy. Second, his general history was to show that each of the Incas committed crimes against natural laws and were thus tyrants and unfit to rule. Again, he returns to this point over and over as he describes the lives of each of the Incas. And just in case a reader might have missed his lines of reasoning, Sarmiento presents a summary of the alleged evidence against the rulers of the realm in his penultimate chapter titled "Noting how these Incas were oath-breakers and tyrants against their own, in addition to being against the natives of the land" (Chapter 70). Sarmiento's third political agenda in writing The History of the Incas was directed against the curacas, the natural (i.e., local) lords of the region. The alleged tyranny and the supposed illegitimacy of the claims to power of the local lords were relevant to the great social reforms that Toledo was introducing into the countryside. These included the creation of reducciones, new towns based on Spanish-inspired grid systems and principles of organization. These new settlements were established through the forced abandonment of innumerable villages, and their creation marks one of the largest demographic movements in the Americas. If the curacas' power was illegitimate, then they could not invoke their ancient rights in court cases protesting any government changes in local life (Sabine Hyland, pers. comm., 2004). The illegitimacy of the curacas is specifically addressed in Chapters 50 and 52, where Sarmiento describes the replacement of all local curacas with political appointees. Clearly, Sarmiento's work must be evaluated within the context of the social issues of his time as he attempts to strengthen the moral hand of King Philip II and to justify the broad reforms that were being conducted by Toledo.
This portrayal of Inca history was one that Sarmiento continued to propound for much of his life. Nine years after the completion of The History of the Incas, Sarmiento was briefly in Spain, where he met with the king and secured permission to map the Strait of Magellan and establish a new colony with himself as governor. Apparently, before he left Spain for the southern tip of South America, Sarmiento submitted another report to the court providing advice on how the king should continue to protect his control over Peru. Unfortunately, the full contents of this report have not been described. However, Markham provides a short quote from it. In his 1581 report, Sarmiento writes:
I left in Lima the eldest son of Titu Cusi Yupanqui, named Quispi Titu. He is in the house of a half-caste, his cousin Francisco de Ampuero. I advise that the king should order these Incas to be brought to Spain, or somewhere away from the people of Peru. The people always retain the memory of the Incas in their hearts and adore one of the Inca lineage. (Sarmiento, 1581 letter to the king, cited in Markham 1895:xix)
Although we know few details of the 1581 report other than those provided by Markham, we do know that the report was immediately archived. A 1581 entry by the Council of the Indies reads:
In terms of Pedro Sarmiento's testimony of what he says of the Inca, the Council does not think that there is anything that should cause concern because the Indians are more or less without leadership and with less strength than ever and the Spaniards with greater presence with all of this known by Your Majesty, the viceroy shall be written to, to be warned of this and to advise him to understand [this].
According to the opinion of the Council, Sarmiento's 1581 report did not contain urgent information, since "the Indians are more or less without leadership." Nevertheless, the Council advised that the viceroy be written to. The king himself then noted in the margin of the entry, "That is good."