Episode Two :
Episode Two | Transcript
On November 15th 1532, 168
Spanish conquistadors arrive in the holy city of Cajamarca, at the
heart of the Inca Empire, in Peru.
They are exhausted,
outnumbered and terrified – ahead of them are camped 80,000 Inca
troops and the entourage of the Emperor himself.
just 24 hours, more than 7,000 Inca warriors lie slaughtered; the
Emperor languishes in chains; and the victorious Europeans begin a
reign of colonial terror which will sweep through the entire
Why was the balance of power so
unequal between the Old World, and the New?
Can Jared Diamond
explain how America fell to guns, germs and steel?
Pizarro has gone down in history as the man who conquered the Inca.
Leading a small company of mercenaries and adventurers, this former
swineherd from a provincial town in Spain managed to demolish one of
the most sophisticated Empires the world has ever seen.
||Pizarro, leader of
the Spanish conquistadors
Pizarro's home town of Trujillo, Jared Diamond pieces together the
story of the Spaniards' victory over the Inca, tracing the invisible
hand of geography.
On the surface, the Spaniards had
discovered a foreign empire remarkably similar to their own. The
Inca had built an advanced, politically sophisticated, civilization
on the foundations of successful agriculture. They had ruthlessly
conquered their neighbors in South America, and by 1532 governed a
vast territory, the length and breadth of the Andes.
Jared discovers, the Inca lacked some critical agents of
Eurasia boasted 13 of the 14 domesticable
mammals in the world as native species. Among these was the
As Diamond learns, the horse was fundamental to the
farming success of Eurasian societies, providing not only food and
fertilizer but also, crucially, load-bearing power and transport –
transforming the productivity of the land.
non-Eurasian domesticable animal species in the world was the llama
– native, by chance, to South America. The Inca relied on llamas for
meat, wool and fertilizer – but the llama was not a load-bearing
animal. Llamas can't pull a plow, nor can they transport human
And unlike horses, llamas could never be ridden for
Spanish horsemanship, based on principles of
cattle-herding, was famous throughout Europe for its manoeuvrability
and spontaneity – skills learned by Pizarro's conquistadors in their
youth. Horses could charge, mounted soldiers could slay with brutal
efficiency. Diamond realizes that, to a people like the Inca, who
had never seen humans ride animals before, the psychological impact
of these alien mounted troops must have been huge.
Steel vs bronze
men only brought 37 horses to Peru. So where did the rest of their
shock value lie?
Well, once again, the Europeans had
something the Americans didn't – they had steel.
thousands of years throughout Eurasia, metal-working technology had
evolved from the simplest ore-extraction of the first Neolithic
villages, to the highly-sophisticated forging of steel, in cities
like Toledo and Milan. Geography had endowed Europe with rich
sources of iron and wood, and a climate conducive to
Thanks to the geographic ease
with which ideas spread through the continent of Eurasia,
discoveries like gunpowder could also migrate thousands of miles,
from China to Spain.
And political competition within Europe
fuelled a medieval arms race. Pizarro's conquistadors were armed
with the latest and greatest in weapons technology – guns, and
The Inca, by comparison, had never worked iron or
discovered the uses of gunpowder. Geography had not endowed them
with these resources. Nor had they received technologies from other
advanced societies within the Americas. This included a technology
even more critical to Spanish success than their weapons,
eve of battle, Pizarro and his men discuss how to tackle the vast
army of the Inca. It seems an impossible task. But they have a
secret weapon up their sleeve – the weapon of past
Jared Diamond travels to the library of Salamanca
University, to read for himself the published accounts of Hernan
Cortes' conquest of Mexico.
Only twelve years before
Cajamarca, Cortes and his men had faced similar odds against the
vast army of the Aztec Empire. But somehow Cortes had captured the
Emperor and conquered the land for Spain.
Cortes and his
soldiers sent their written accounts back to the general public in
Europe, where they were widely published. Diamond discovers a
repository of dirty tricks at Salamanca – a collection of handbooks
for would-be conquistadors. And on the eve of battle, it was the
printed lessons of Cortes that inspired Pizarro and his
By contrast, the Inca Emperor Atahualpa had never heard
of Cortes, or even of his own neighbors, the Aztecs. Thanks to the
geography of the Americas, it was practically impossible for any
ideas, technologies, or even news, to spread from north to south. So
whilst the Mayan civilisation of Central America had invented a form
of written communication, it had never got as far as Peru. The Inca
were isolated – and Atahualpa had never even seen a book
So, when presented
with a copy of the Bible on November 16th, 1532, Atahuallpa throws
the alien object to the floor, prompting a furious and surprise
attack from the conquistadors. The combined impact of mounted
troops, gunpowder and sharpened steel lead to a massacre, and
Atahuallpa is personally seized by Pizarro himself.
Atahualpa had never seen writing
matter of hours, the Inca Empire lies in ruins. But the story of
Eurasian triumph isn't over.
Seven thousand Inca died at Cajamarca.
Over the course of a generation, the Spaniards killed tens of
thousands more. But Diamond learns that up to 95% of the native
population of the entire Americas were wiped out after the conquest.
Genocide alone can't account for this number.
discovers, native Americans fell victim to European germs –
infections which they had never encountered before.
Diamond realizes that European diseases like smallpox were a fatal
inheritance of thousands of years of mammal domestication – the
lethal gift of livestock.
European farmers, rearing cattle,
pigs, sheep, goats, horses and donkeys, lived in close proximity
with their animals - breathing, eating and drinking animal germs.
Eventually some diseases crossed over to the human population and
the resulting epidemics wiped out millions of Europeans.
each time, a few people would survive and the immunities they'd
developed passed through their genes to the next generation. The
conquistadors who sailed to the Americas carried immunities like
But in Peru, the llama was never brought indoors, and
never milked so the prospect for the spread of disease was severely
But then the Europeans arrived and a single Spanish
slave arrived, infected with smallpox and the consequences were
devastating. The disease emptied the continent, killing millions of
indigenous people who lacked any prior exposure, and therefore any
immunity. The European triumph was complete.
Diamond has shown how guns, germs and steel had conquered the New
World. But will his theories work in every corner of the
Where to next?
Read the full
transcript of Episode Two.
more about Episode Three.