Atahualpa had not distinguished himself, so when Huayna Capac became ill, he passed over Atahualpa and named another son to replace him. Before the ruler died, though, the illness also killed his heir.
When the Inca nobles in Cusco, the Inca capital, learned of Huayna Capac’s death, they named another son, Huáscar, to be Sapa Inca. Atahualpa, who had been living with his father in the northern capital, declared himself to be ruler. Both brothers had powerful armies. Huáscar commanded the royal army in Cusco, while Atahualpa commanded the northern army used to expand the empire. The two sons of Huayna Capac plunged the empire into a brutal civil war.
Atahualpa and Huáscar called on the mummified bodies of past Sapa Incas to assist them. The Incas believed their rulers were descendants of Inti, the sun god. When the Sapa Inca died, his body was preserved and treated as if it were still living. Mummies were carried into battle to advise the generals.
The civil war seemed to end in 1532 when Atahualpa’s army captured Huáscar. Huáscar watched as his wives, children, and relatives were executed in front of his eyes. Then, as Atahualpa made his triumphant return to Cusco as Sapa Inca, word spread of the arrival of bearded pale men riding atop huge animals.