Clash of empires

In AD 1532, Francisco Pizarro and a few hundred European conquistadores arrived on the coast of Peru with plans for settlement and conquest.

It is extraordinary that their arrival would herald the downfall of the largest and most successful empire that South America had ever seen. However, to ask how they did it is perhaps to ask the wrong question. The right question is how did the Inca allow it to happen and why did the basis of their power and the foundations of their empire crumble so quickly? This is the question that can help to reveal how the mechanisms of social change could occur so swiftly across the empire.

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Bollaert Slab
  • 1

    Bollaert Slab, Colonial, Peru, 16th century AD 

    This is the earliest known example of an indigenous coat of arms in Peru adopted just decades after the conquest and belonging to Don Pedro Guaneque of the Chincha valley. The Chincha, resentful of their domination by the Inca, allied with the Spanish during the conquest and were some of the first to adopt Spanish coats of arms as a symbol of this special unity, to declare their acceptance of Christianity and the new colonial order, as well as to legitimise their own power and authority.

  • 2

    Tapestry hanging, Colonial Inca, Peru 

    The European coat of arms on this tapestry is surrounded by representations of exotic animals and plants, including Andean mythical creatures. The outer edge of the fabric is filled with depictions of Inca nobility, such as are often seen on Keros (drinking cups). This object demonstrates how the complex dialogue between different belief systems and ideological frameworks are being represented in objects being made during this time.

  • 3

    Beaker, or ‘kero’, Colonial Inca, 1550-1800 AD  

    Keros, or drinking cups, like this one were used for ceremonial drinking and religious festivals in South America for hundreds of years before the arrival of Francisco Pizarro. To see the European clothing and designs blended with the indigenous vessel form and iconography of this example shows the complex integration of ideological change after European arrival.

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    Pendant of Christ 

    The arrival of Christianity into the Inca Empire represents the complete contrast of ideologies and a clash of indigenous vs European worldviews. The rapid spread of Christianity across the continent is reflected in the portable material culture of objects like this pendant that were soon worn by people in the region. This new religious landscape created a new spiritual dialogue in the Andes that continues to this day: a dialogue between societies with traditions that reach back thousands of years on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.


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