The history of Ecuador is better known from the point of the Inca expansion than during the Pre-Columbian era, though even after the Inca conquered Ecuador many holes remain because of the limited recorded history they kept. In 1463 the Inca warrior Pachacuti and his son Topa Yupanqui began conquering Ecuador. By the end of 15th century, despite fierce resistance by several Ecuadorian tribes, Huayna Capac, Topa Yupanqui’s son, conquered all of Ecuador.
The Inca ruled the Ecuadorian Kingdoms until the arrival of Francisco Pizarro, Diego de Almargo and a force of Spanish conquistadors in 1532. During the period of Inca control, the Ecuadorian tribesmen assimilated agricultural practices and the social organization of the Inca, but they maintained their traditional religious beliefs and many customs. Ecuador’s indigenous population would suffer far worse under Spanish rule than it did under the Inca.
Incan ruins like these are scattered throughout the Ecuadorian countryside.
Pizarro set out in the final months of 1531 from Panama on the expedition that would end in the defeat of the Inca Empire and the Spanish domination of Ecuador. He began the campaign with less than two hundred men while his partner, Almargo, remained in Panama to gather more troops. After landing, Pizarro was forced to spend several months on the Ecuadorian coast and in northern Peru building a base of operations and collecting jewels and gold to finance reinforcements.
When Pizarro’s expedition finally arrived in the recently founded Inca capital of Cajamarca, the new Inca king, Atahualpa Capac, was resting at nearby thermal baths after prevailing in a bitter civil war with his brother. The familial war for their father’s throne ignited because of a deep hatred fueled by Huascar’s, Atahualpa’s half brother, insistence that Atahualpa, borne by one of their father’s (the Emperor Huayna Capac) lesser wives, was a bastard and held no legitimate claim to the Empire.
Atahualpa, reluctantly returned to Cajamarca amongst thousands of his best troops to greet to Pizarro. When he went to Cajamarca’s central plaza to meet the Conquistador, instead of Pizarro he found a pompous Fray Vicente de Valverde waiting for him. Promptly after the Inca Emperor refused to submit to the Catholic God and Spanish Crown, concealed Spanish soldiers and mercenaries slaughtered thousands of the Inca defenders and took Atahualpa prisoner. Within a year of his capture, Atahualpa was executed.
The Spanish conquest of Quito marked the end of serious resistance in Ecuador.
By mid-1534 the Spaniards had taken Quito and effectively defeated the Inca armies. Weakened by civil war and leaderless, the Inca empire collapsed swiftly though the jungle lowlands in both the coastal region of Esmeraldas and the Oriente remained unconquered until late in the seventeenth century. The Spanish conquest of Ecuador can be described as nothing less than brutal; looting, pillaging, and torture were standard tools of the conquistadors.
Though the Inca were defeated, it took Spain almost two decades before it established a continuous, undivided system of colonial rule. After the Inca were subdued and several native rebellions put down, the dislike between Almargo and Pizarro that had been smoldering since the inception of their partnership, exploded. Almargo initiated open rebellion against Pizarro and was subsequently tried and executed for treason. Almargo’s followers then assassinated Pizarro. After several more power shifts Spain tethered the remaining conquistadors and Ecuador began more than two and a half centuries of relatively peaceful colonial rule.