Strange stories

When diseases made history

 About the fall of the Goths and the Incas

(Posted in Grail World 21)

World history, as it is usually taught, is a curious collection of facts and their interpretations that aim to provide a vivid picture of bygone eras.

The descriptions of times that have blown away are inevitably incomplete and also shaped by a “zeitgeist” that even a historian striving for objectivity cannot escape from. Often enough, therefore, historiography offers poetry rather than truth and is also very one-sided.

As part of our “Strange Stories” series, this time we deal with a particularly neglected aspect of looking at history, namely the major role that diseases have always played. The Goths and the Incas serve as examples.

About the fall of the Goths

The well-known German trains to the south, to Italy (Ostrogoths) or Spain (Visigoths) and North Africa (Vandals) were actually only short episodes without far-reaching significance. However, since they were given widespread attention in the history of the 19th and early 20th centuries, they can be regarded as prime examples of a one-sided view of history.

The most famous was the procession of the Ostrogoths, their sinking on Italian soil Felix Dahn (1834-1912) poetically transfigured in a widely read heroic epic. This bestseller shaped the historical awareness of entire generations.

By strict historical standards, the history of the Ostrogoths lasted only about four generations (from 451 to 552). At the beginning and at the end were defeats and king names:
Valamier commanded the Ostrogoth contingent in 451, which was defeated with Attila's army in the Catalaunian fields.
Teja fell in 552 on Mons Lactarius (the "milk mountain" south of Salerno); with him the kingship and the ethnic identity of the Ostrogoths perished.

In this short epoch the legendary rise of the Ostrogoths lies beneath Theodoric (456-526), who became king in 471 and went out as imperial governor in 488 to conquer Italy. The German sagas know him as Dietrich von Bern.

In Italy the Germanic military leader had Odoacer (433-493) with his mercenaries the last emperor of western Rome, Romulus Augustulus, deposed in 476 and took power himself.
Theoderic was able to defeat Odoacer in three battles and finally, after a siege of two and a half years, he also conquered Ravenna, from then on the capital of the Ostrogothic Empire. Odoacer was murdered by Theoderic at a banquet.

So the typical chaos of the migration period. The great Roman Empire, once larger in area than the USA today, had split into two empires: the east with the capital Constantinople (Byzantium) could hold its own for a millennium, but the west with Rome became the plaything of rival groups.

The Ostrogoth empire on Italian soil could not last either. The Romans despised the "barbarians" who made up only 5 percent of the population but claimed political and military power. The already powerful Catholic Church hated the Arian ones[1] Goths.

Theoderic - given the rare title "the Great" by historians - wanted to familiarize his Goths with Roman culture and reconcile his empire with the Church. But hardly any Romans appreciated these concerns. Even Theoderic's lenient taxation policy found posthumous recognition only when the victorious Byzantines plundered the war-ravaged country. When Theoderic died in 526, Romans and Goths had hardly come closer, and Catholics believed that the Arian king was leading to hell.

The Goths themselves were at odds. There were succession battles that weakened the empire of the Goths and the Eastern Roman emperor Justinian I. (483-565) almost invited to recapture the Roman ancestral land. After the Byzantines had succeeded in smashing the Vandal Empire in North Africa (Carthage) with little difficulty in 534, they also conquered Italy in almost two decades of hard battles.

The heroism of the proud Germanic tribes, who could only be defeated by treachery and betrayal, is a frequently discussed topic among nationally minded chroniclers. In the history lessons one spoke still in my school time of the "slackening of the Teutons under the hot climate of the south". A strange statement, considering how well northern and central Europeans cope with different climates and feel just as comfortable in southern Europe as in California.

One looks almost always in vain for a decisive point of view in the history books: the diseases to which the intruders fell victim. And not only in ancient times or in the Middle Ages, but also in modern times well into the 19th century. Just think of West Africa as "the grave of the white man".

The vandals and the Goths also suffered decisive losses through disease, and it must be assumed today that more people lost their lives through epidemics than through enemy influence in their wars:
“When Italy's agriculture collapsed in the storms of the Great Migration and more and more areas were swamped, malaria became the world's most feared protector of the peninsula against the Germans and other barbarians attacking from the north. Malaria had a decisive influence on the fall of the Goths and vandals. The best known is the fate of the Visigoth king Alaric (370-410), who is likely to have contracted a malaria infection in 410 while taking Rome, to which he succumbed at Cosenca when he was about to cross over to Sicily and Africa. Theodoric (456-526), King of the Ostrogoths, who chose the less contaminated Ravenna as the capital of his newly founded empire, also fell victim to malaria ... Only the Lombards, who settled in a mountainous landscape of northern Italy, are not victims of malaria fallen because their adopted home, where no rice was grown at that time, was free from this epidemic. "

Another example that illustrates the neglected role of diseases in historical considerations is shown by the Incas.

The history of the Inca Empire
According to legend, the legendary Inka founded it around 1200 Mano Capac the empire in the area around Cuzco. In the 15th century, the empire expanded, eventually reaching in the north to the Rio Ancasmayo and in the south to the Rio Maule, i.e. over a north-south extension of 4000 kilometers. A tight organization and a well-developed road network helped hold the empire together. No wheeled vehicles or horses were used; Messages were delivered by runners.
After death Huayna Capacs (1527) a war of succession broke out between his sons Huascar and Atahualpa. The latter emerged victorious from these battles in 1432.
The Spanish landed under in 1431 Francisco Pizarro (1478-1541) were able to conquer the empire of the Incas quickly, as it was weakened by the war and other Indian ethnic groups (for example Canari, Huanca) as well as former followers Huascars allied with them for Inca supremacy or domination Atahualpas to shake off.
The from Pizarro deployed Inca Mano Capac organized an uprising against the Spaniards in 1536 and established a shadow kingdom in the mountainous region of Vilcamba, the last ruler until 1572, Tupac Amaru I., was captured and executed.
Source: Brockhaus Enzyklopädie, 20th edition, Leipzig/Mannheim 1997.

From the fall of the Incas

In Europe, especially in Germany, Indians have a good press. Their level of civilization is often wrongly rated higher than that of Sub-Saharan Africans. For example, while metalworking in pre-Columbian America was limited to copper, silver, tin and gold, i.e. metals that are native, iron has long been smelted in sub-Saharan Africa. There were also high cultures there, whose kingdoms have no fear of comparison with Indian empires.

But in the general consciousness, for example, the Aztecs and especially the Incas enjoy high esteem. Admiration for this people is expressed, for example, in the following account, which perhaps also influenced public opinion:
“... an admirable people once lived on the west coast of South America, who were high in power and education among righteous and beloved kings. The leading tribe was joined by a number of indigenous peoples, and in the course of time the most powerful empire and the highest culture in South America flourished here ... a country whose innocent dreams were shattered and annihilated by Europeans, the Spaniards.
The earliest fortunes of the Inca people disappear in the dark of legend. But we know the state institutions more precisely, because the Spanish conquerors saw everything with their own eyes. The constitution was thoroughly communist. Land, fields and pastures were divided into three parts; two of them belonged to the Inca[3] and the priesthood, and one was the property of the people. The cultivated soil was under the supervision of special government officials who were responsible for the necessary fertilization with guano from the islands of the west coast and for the fair distribution of the yield. Articles of clothing and domestic animals were also distributed among the people by the state. All Work was carried out jointly for the good of the community; Bridges and highways were built, mines were built, weapons were forged, and when hostile tribes threatened the peace, all armed men were brought into the field ...
The Inca people lived in undisturbed tranquility in their beautiful valleys and on their sun-flooded plateaus between the correlations of the Andes. Whenever warlike neighboring tribes disturb the peace here and there, the contingent in knot script went through the whole empire, and the military streets were filled with armed men ...
A great Inca died in the 16th century and left the rule to his two sons Huascar and Atahualpa. As in the old world, this division also led to a dispute and ultimately to open fratricidal war. These internal struggles divided the Inca people into two hostile halves and weakened them so that they became easy prey for a foreign conqueror ...
In 1531 Pizarro was at the head of a band of one hundred and eighty well-armed horsemen with whom he set out again for South America. Gradually he received reinforcements, landed on the Peruvian coast in November 1532 and moved up to the empire of the Inca.
Pizarro was soon fully informed of the state of affairs through scouts and envoys. With the most beautiful assurances he put the suspicions of Atahualpa, the one Inca, to sleep so completely that the latter even asked him for support against his brother Huascar. Had the brothers been united, they would have easily chased the Spanish plague out of the country. But their quarrel sealed their fate.
It was agreed that Atahualpa should appear in person in Pizarro's camp. And he came with great pomp and brought an army of thirty thousand men! He sat upright on a golden stretcher, and all his generals surrounded him. But if he thought he was teaching his new ally a high degree of his power, he had made a mistake. Pizarro's field preacher stepped up to him, the crucifix in one hand, the breviary in the other, and raising the crucifix, the priest admonished the Inca in the name of Jesus to embrace Christianity and to recognize the King of Castile as his master.
Atahualpa calmly replied that no one could deprive him of the rights he had inherited from his ancestors. He does not want to renounce the faith of his fathers and does not understand what the father is saying.
'It is written here in this book!' exclaimed the priest, handing the breviary to the king.
Atahualpa held the book to her ear and then, throwing it on the floor, said: 'Your book doesn't speak!'
That was the solution to a terrible blood bath. The cannons and muskets of the Spaniards plowed red furrows in the army of the Peruvians. Covered by their steel helmets and armor, the wild horsemen ran through the ranks of the half-naked natives, spreading confusion and terror around them ...[4].

The Inca was captured and even the highest ransom extorted did not bring him freedom.

The highest ransom ever paid
From the diary of Fray Celso Gargia:
“It had not escaped Atahualpa how much the Spaniards loved gold. And one day he proposed a deal to Pizarro: his freedom for gold, for a lot of gold. He undertook to have a room 17 feet wide, 22 feet long and 9 feet high filled entirely with gold and two smaller rooms with silver. He asked for two months to do this.
Pizarro thought only briefly. If he continued to advance, it could be that the Indians, who now knew that the Spaniards were after the gold, were hiding everything that was valuable ...
Now the Inca ruler immediately sent messengers to Cuzco and the other cities of the empire, with the order to bring all gold and all silver that was in the royal palaces and temples to Caxamalca immediately, threatening everyone with death if they did not act quickly ...
Day after day the Indian porters brought gold and silverBergergerät. Yet the piles in the rooms, which were filled to the ceiling, grew only slowly. There was enough gold in Peru, but the distances were also great. It took some porters four weeks to haul their heavy load to Caxamalca ...
Pizarro now decided ... to split the gold. Before that, it had to be melted down. This work was entrusted to Indian goldsmiths, who now had to destroy what they had artistically crafted. These were cups, jugs, plates, vases, implements for temples and royal palaces, imitations of various animals and plants and plates for cladding walls. The most beautiful piece was a golden fountain, on the edge of which sat silver birds ... "
Literature: Gargia, Celso: "Die Eroberung von Peru", Horst Erdmann, Tübingen 1975.

The unique story of the conquest of the legendary gold country is well known. However, there is seldom an answer to the question of how it was possible that a large empire with many millions of inhabitants and tens of thousands of warriors could be conquered by fewer than 300 Spaniards with only a few dozen horses.

Modern research describes the empire of the Incas differently than the cited account of Sven Hedin (1865-1952). The unique empire in ancient America's history was a strict dictatorship that not only brought advantages to the conquered peoples. The tax burden was oppressive - 2/3 for the Inca and the temples, 1/3 for the peasant - and the cemented religion offered rich benefices to domineering priests. But that does not explain why the powerful people of the Incas - apart from a few uprisings - submitted to the brutal conquerors almost without resistance and willingly bowed to the god of the cruel whites.

The fratricidal war that weakened the Inca Empire naturally contributed to its sudden collapse. But the most essential aspect was not mentioned in the history books:

Because the Spaniards were helped by a deadly "secret weapon": the smallpox. This epidemic, brought in by the Spaniards, spread in Central and South America even before the destruction of the Aztec Empire. In Mexico almost half the population fell victim to it, and in 1525 or 1526 smallpox also reached the Inca Empire:

“The consequences were just as disastrous there. The ruling Inca died during a campaign far from the capital. His designated successor also died, leaving no legitimate heir. The civil war broke out, and in the midst of this shattered political structure of the Inca Empire, Pizarro and his rough cronies marched to Cuzco in 1532 and plundered the treasures of the capital. He did not encounter any serious military resistance.
So the smallpox moved everywhere in front of the conquistadors and helped them to conquer the "terra nuova" with a handful of daring journeymen. The astonishing fact that the Spaniards succeeded in imposing their religion on the natives of Mexico and Peru can be explained by the psychological effects of the murderous plague, which only killed Indians and spared the Spaniards. The Indians could not have known that the Spaniards in their homeland had survived the disease as children and were therefore immune. Since the Indians, like the Spaniards, regarded the epidemic as a punishment from God, they could only explain the one-sided divine favor of their conquerors by saying that their gods were more powerful. The result was her conversion and stunned devotion to Spanish supremacy, which was tantamount to unresisting submission. " [5].

Neither the Incas nor the Spaniards knew the microbiological causes of epidemics; neither knew more than the Old Testament, for example in 1. Sam. 5, 6 or 2 Saturday. 24, 15 proclaimed God's punishments in plague epidemics. Not surprisingly, the Spaniards believed God on their side, who miraculously helped them accomplish the impossible, while the troubled Indians in desperation sought refuge in the stronger God, the Christian God; in the hope that this would protect them - like the Spaniards - from the terrible plague.

Engler, Aulo "Theoderich the Great", VGB, Berg, 1998.
Dahn, Felix "A Battle for Rome", Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig, undated
Hampe, Karl: "Rulers of the German Middle Ages", Quelle & Meyer, Heidelberg, 1955.
Jung, Ernst F .: "The Teutons", Weltbild, Augsburg, 1994.
McNeill, Wilhelm H .: "Epidemics make history", Udo Pfriemer, Munich, 1978.
Prescott, WH: “History of the Conquest of Peru”, Leipzig, 1958.
Wolfram, Herwig: "Die Goten", Ch. Beck, Munich, 1990.
“Inka - a myth falls”, Bild der Wissenschaft, 11/99, DVA, Stuttgart.

[1] Arianism: Christian teaching named after Arius (Greek Areios, 280-336), presbyter (priest / bishop) in Alexandria. In the Council of Nicaea (325) the doctrine of moderate Arianism was condemned, according to which Christ is similar in nature (Greek homoousios) to God, whereas the official church is particularly represented by Athanasius (295-373) insisted that God the Father and Son are essentially identical (Greek homousios). Under Theodosius the great (346-395), who elevated Catholic teaching to the state religion at the 2nd Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381, the Arians were declared heretics. The Germanic peoples who invaded the Roman Empire at the time of the migration of peoples had adopted Christianity in the Arian form, which persisted among the Lombards until the 7th century. The moderate Arians in particular did missionary work in the Goths Wulfila (Ulfilas, 311-282), who also translated the Bible into Gothic.
[2] Cf. Winkle, Stefan: "Scourges of humanity", Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf, 1997, page 729 f.
[3] The king's name was Inka.
[4] Quoted from: Hedin, Sven: “From Pol to Pol” Vol. 3, FA Brockhaus, Leipzig, 1922, page 197 f.
[5] Quoted from: Winkle, Stefan: "Scourges of humanity", Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf, 1997, page 859.