In 1526 or 1527, the Inca ruler, Huayna Capac (“the young mighty one”), died, possibly due to an infectious disease brought to the New World by Europeans. His designated heir died too. Therefore, the empire was split in two, with two of Huayna’s other sons each ruling half of the kingdom: Atahualpa ruled the northern part from Quito, and Huascar ruled the southern part from Cusco.

Not surprisingly, civil war broke out between the two brothers. Huascar captured and imprisoned Atahualpa, who escaped, and subsequently waged war on Huascar. It was a crushing defeat, and Atahualpa eventually killed his brother. He then invited all the leaders in Cusco to come together in order to divide up the country. This was a ruse, and he slaughtered everyone who showed up in order to protect his throne.

Just as things were settling down and Atahualpa was ascending to power, the Spanish conquistadors arrived. The band of 168 Spaniards was led by Fransisco Pizarro. Atahualpa had an army of 80,000 men and did not consider the Spaniards a threat.

When Pizarro invited Atahualpa to a feast in his honor, Atahualpa left his army behind and showed up with a contingent of just 5,000 unarmed soldiers. When they arrived, Atahualpa was given the option of converting to Christianity along with the entire Inca Empire, while also recognizing King Charles V of Spain as their sovereign leader. When Atahualpa asked by whose authority these demands were made, he was shown a Bible. He looked through it, announced that it “did not speak to him” as it was in a foreign language, and threw the Bible on the ground.

Atahualpa’s act of sacrilege, combined with his refusal to immediately adopt Christianity, gave Pizarro all the reason he needed to open fire. His 168 men, armed with horses and guns, slaughtered all 5,000 of Atahualpa’s men, while Atahualpa was taken prisoner.

Knowing that the Spaniards were greedy for silver and gold, Atahualpa offered to fill a large room with gold once, and silver twice, to earn his freedom. The Spanish quickly agreed, and the gold began flowing in from all corners of the Andes. The room measured 22 feet (6.7 m) long, by 17 feet (5.2 m) wide, and 8 feet (2.4 m) tall. Over 24 tons of treasure was delivered over the course of the next eight months, whose value would top $50 million today. Most of it was in the form of priceless art, and it was all crushed and melted down, resulting in an incalculable cultural loss.

After securing the ransom, rumors flew that Atahualpa had ordered a general to bring a large army to wipe out Pizzaro and his men. Pizzaro used that as an excuse to execute Atahualpa. When Atahualpa was horrified by the prospect of being burned at the stake due to his belief that burning would ruin his soul, Pizzaro gave him the option of converting to Christianity and being killed by strangulation instead. This Atahualpa did.

The rumors of the large army descending on Pizzaro were false. There was no army.

Pizzaro installed a puppet regime of Atahualpa’s other brothers while he himself ruled with an iron fist, making Atahualpa the last of the Inca rulers.

Cultural destruction followed on a large scale. It took just eight years for the Spanish to all but destroy an ancient culture, replacing it in an unjust system centered around slavery. And they kept all the gold and silver.