Empire (Quechua: Tawantinsuyu, lit. "The Four
Regions"), also known as the Incan
Empire and the Inka Empire, was
the largest empire in pre-Columbian America, and possibly the
largest empire in the world in the early 16th century. Its
political and administrative structure "was the most sophisticated
found among native peoples" in the Americas. The administrative,
political and military center of the empire was located in
modern-day Peru. The
Inca civilization arose from the highlands of
Peru sometime in the early 13th century. Its last stronghold was
conquered by the Spanish in 1572.
From 1438 to 1533, the Incas incorporated a large portion of western
South America, centered on the Andean Mountains, using conquest and
peaceful assimilation, among other methods. At its largest, the empire
joined Peru, large parts of modern Ecuador, western and south central
Bolivia, northwest Argentina, north and central
Chile and a small part
Colombia into a state comparable to the historical
empires of Eurasia. Its official language was Quechua. Many local
forms of worship persisted in the empire, most of them concerning
local sacred Huacas, but the Inca leadership encouraged the sun
Inti – their sun god – and imposed its sovereignty
above other cults such as that of Pachamama. The Incas considered
their king, the Sapa Inca, to be the "son of the sun."
Empire was unique in that it lacked many features associated
with civilization in the Old World. In the words of one scholar, "The
Incas lacked the use of wheeled vehicles. They lacked animals to ride
and draft animals that could pull wagons and plows... [They] lacked
the knowledge of iron and steel... Above all, they lacked a system of
writing... Despite these supposed handicaps, the Incas were still able
to construct one of the greatest imperial states in human history".
Notable features of the Inca
Empire include its monumental
architecture, especially stonework, extensive road network reaching
all corners of the empire, finely-woven textiles, use of knotted
strings (quipu) for record keeping and communication, agricultural
innovations in a difficult environment, and the organization and
management fostered or imposed on its people and their labor.
The Incan economy has been described in contradictory ways by
scholars: as "feudal, slave, socialist (here one may choose between
socialist paradise or socialist tyranny)". The Inca empire
functioned largely without money and without markets. Instead,
exchange of goods and services was based on reciprocity between
individuals and among individuals, groups, and Inca rulers. "Taxes"
consisted of a labour obligation of a person to the Empire. The Inca
rulers (who theoretically owned all the means of production)
reciprocated by granting access to land and goods and providing food
and drink in celebratory feasts for their subjects.
2.3 Kingdom of Cusco
2.4 Reorganization and formation
2.5 Expansion and consolidation
Inca Civil War
Inca Civil War and Spanish conquest
2.7 Last Incas
6.2 Organization of the empire
7 Arts and technology
7.1 Monumental architecture
7.2 Measures, calendrics and mathematics
7.3 Ceramics, precious metals and textiles
7.4 Communication and medicine
7.6 Weapons, armor and warfare
8 Adaptations to altitude
9 See also
9.1 Important Incan archeological sites
12 External links
The Inca referred to their empire as Tawantinsuyu, "the four suyu".
In Quechua, tawa is four and -ntin is a suffix naming a group, so that
a tawantin is a quartet, a group of four things taken together, in
this case representing the four suyu ("regions" or "provinces") whose
corners met at the capital. The four suyu were:
Antisuyu (east; the Amazon jungle),
Qullasuyu (south) and Kuntisuyu
(west). The name
Tawantinsuyu was, therefore, a descriptive term
indicating a union of provinces. The Spanish transliterated the name
as Tahuatinsuyo or Tahuatinsuyu.
The term Inka means "ruler" or "lord" in Quechua and was used to refer
to the ruling class or the ruling family. The Incas were a very
small percentage of the total population of the empire, probably
numbering only 15,000 to 40,000, but ruling a population of around 10
million persons. The Spanish adopted the term (transliterated as
Inca in Spanish) as an ethnic term referring to all subjects of the
empire rather than simply the ruling class. As such the name Imperio
inca ("Inca Empire") referred to the nation that they encountered and
Empire was the last chapter of thousands of years of Andean
Andean civilization was one of five civilizations in the
world deemed by scholars to be "pristine", that is indigenous and not
derivative from other civilizations.
Empire was preceded by two large-scale empires in the Andes:
Tiwanaku (c. 300–1100 AD), based around
Lake Titicaca and the
Wari or Huari (c. 600–1100 AD) centered near the present-day city of
Ayacucho. The Wari occupied the Cuzco area for about 400 years. Thus,
many of the characteristics of the Inca
Empire derived from earlier
multi-ethnic and expansive Andean cultures.
Carl Troll has argued that the development of the Inca state in the
Andes was aided by conditions that allows for the elaboration
of the staple food chuño. Chuño, which can be stored for long
periods, is made of potato dried at the freezing temperatures that are
common at nighttime in the southern Peruvian highlands. Such link
between the Inca state and chuño may be questioned as potatoes and
other crops such as maize can also be dried with only sunlight.
Troll did also argue that llamas, the Inca's pack animal, can be found
in its largest numbers in this very same region. It is worth
considering the maximum extent of the Inca
Empire roughly coincided
with the greatest distribution of llamas and alpacas in Pre-Hispanic
America. The link between the Andean biomes of puna and páramo,
pastoralism and the Inca state is a matter of research. As a third
point Troll pointed out irrigation technology as advantageous to the
Inca state-building. While Troll theorized environmental
influences on the Inca
Empire he opposed environmental determinism
arguing that culture lay at the core of the Inca civilization.
The Inca people were a pastoral tribe in the
Cusco area around the
12th century. Incan oral history tells an origin story of three caves.
The center cave at Tampu T'uqu (Tambo Tocco) was named Qhapaq T'uqu
("principal niche", also spelled Capac Tocco). The other caves were
Maras T'uqu (Maras Tocco) and Sutiq T'uqu (Sutic Tocco). Four
brothers and four sisters stepped out of the middle cave. They were:
Ayar Manco, Ayar Cachi, Ayar Awqa (Ayar Auca) and Ayar Uchu; and Mama
Ocllo, Mama Raua, Mama Huaco and Mama Qura (Mama Cora). Out of the
side caves came the people who were to be the ancestors of all the
Manco Cápac, First Inca, 1 of 14 Portraits of Inca Kings, Probably
mid-18th century. Oil on canvas. Brooklyn Museum
Ayar Manco carried a magic staff made of the finest gold. Where this
staff landed, the people would live. They traveled for a long time. On
Ayar Cachi boasted about his strength and power. His siblings
tricked him into returning to the cave to get a sacred llama. When he
went into the cave, they trapped him inside to get rid of him.
Ayar Uchu decided to stay on the top of the cave to look over the Inca
people. The minute he proclaimed that, he turned to stone. They built
a shrine around the stone and it became a sacred object. Ayar Auca
grew tired of all this and decided to travel alone. Only Ayar Manco
and his four sisters remained.
Finally, they reached Cusco. The staff sank into the ground. Before
Mama Ocllo had already borne Ayar Manco a child, Sinchi
Roca. The people who were already living in
Cusco fought hard to keep
their land, but Mama
Huaca was a good fighter. When the enemy
attacked, she threw her bolas (several stones tied together that spun
through the air when thrown) at a soldier (gualla) and killed him
instantly. The other people became afraid and ran away.
After that, Ayar Manco became known as Manco Cápac, the founder of
the Inca. It is said that he and his sisters built the first Inca
homes in the valley with their own hands. When the time came, Manco
Cápac turned to stone like his brothers before him. His son, Sinchi
Roca, became the second emperor of the Inca.
Kingdom of Cusco
Main article: Kingdom of Cusco
Under the leadership of Manco Cápac, the Inca formed the small
city-state Kingdom of
Cusco (Quechua Qusqu', Qosqo). In 1438, they
began a far-reaching expansion under the command of Sapa Inca
(paramount leader) Pachacuti-Cusi Yupanqui, whose name literally meant
"earth-shaker". The name of
Pachacuti was given to him after he
conquered the Tribe of
Chancas (modern Apurímac). During his reign,
he and his son Tupac Yupanqui brought much of the
Peru and Ecuador) under Inca control.
Reorganization and formation
The first image of the Inca in Europe, Pedro Cieza de León, Cronica
del Peru, 1553
Pachacuti reorganized the kingdom of
Cusco into the Tahuantinsuyu,
which consisted of a central government with the Inca at its head and
four provincial governments with strong leaders: Chinchasuyu (NW),
Kuntisuyu (SW) and
thought to have built Machu Picchu, either as a family home or summer
retreat, although it may have been an agricultural station.
Pachacuti sent spies to regions he wanted in his empire and they
brought to him reports on political organization, military strength
and wealth. He then sent messages to their leaders extolling the
benefits of joining his empire, offering them presents of luxury goods
such as high quality textiles and promising that they would be
materially richer as his subjects.
Most accepted the rule of the Inca as a fait accompli and acquiesced
peacefully. Refusal to accept Inca rule resulted in military conquest.
Following conquest the local rulers were executed. The ruler's
children were brought to
Cusco to learn about Inca administration
systems, then return to rule their native lands. This allowed the Inca
to indoctrinate them into the Inca nobility and, with luck, marry
their daughters into families at various corners of the empire.
Expansion and consolidation
Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo, children of the Inti
Traditionally the son of the Inca ruler led the army. Pachacuti's son
Túpac Inca Yupanqui
Túpac Inca Yupanqui began conquests to the north in 1463 and
continued them as Inca ruler after Pachacuti's death in 1471. Túpac
Inca's most important conquest was the Kingdom of Chimor, the Inca's
only serious rival for the Peruvian coast. Túpac Inca's empire
stretched north into modern-day
Ecuador and Colombia.
Túpac Inca's son
Huayna Cápac added a small portion of land to the
north in modern-day
Ecuador and in parts of Peru. At its height, the
Peru and Bolivia, most of what is now
a large portion of what is today Chile, north of the Maule River. The
advance south halted after the
Battle of the Maule
Battle of the Maule where they met
determined resistance from the Mapuche. The empire's push into the
Amazon Basin near the
Chinchipe River was stopped by the Shuar in
1527. The empire extended into corners of
Argentina and Colombia.
However, most of the southern portion of the Inca empire, the portion
denominated as Qullasuyu, was located in the Altiplano.
Empire was an amalgamation of languages, cultures and
peoples. The components of the empire were not all uniformly loyal,
nor were the local cultures all fully integrated. The Inca empire as a
whole had an economy based on exchange and taxation of luxury goods
and labour. The following quote describes a method of taxation:
For as is well known to all, not a single village of the highlands or
the plains failed to pay the tribute levied on it by those who were in
charge of these matters. There were even provinces where, when the
natives alleged that they were unable to pay their tribute, the Inca
ordered that each inhabitant should be obliged to turn in every four
months a large quill full of live lice, which was the Inca's way of
teaching and accustoming them to pay tribute.
Inca Civil War
Inca Civil War and Spanish conquest
Inca Civil War
Inca Civil War and Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire
Inca expansion (1438–1533)
Atahualpa, the last
Sapa Inca of the empire, was executed by the
Spanish on 29 August 1533
Spanish conquistadors led by
Francisco Pizarro and his brothers
explored south from what is today Panama, reaching Inca territory by
1526. It was clear that they had reached a wealthy land with
prospects of great treasure, and after another expedition in 1529
Pizarro traveled to Spain and received royal approval to conquer the
region and be its viceroy. This approval was received as detailed in
the following quote: "In July 1529 the queen of Spain signed a charter
allowing Pizarro to conquer the Incas. Pizarro was named governor and
captain of all conquests in Peru, or New Castile, as the Spanish now
called the land."
When they returned to
Peru in 1532, a war of brothers between the sons
of Huayna Capac,
Huáscar and Atahualpa, and unrest among newly
conquered territories weakened the empire. Perhaps more importantly,
smallpox had spread from Central America. Pizarro did not have a
formidable force. With just 168 men, one cannon, and 27 horses, he
often talked his way out of potential confrontations that could have
easily wiped out his party.
The Spanish horsemen, fully armored, had technological superiority
over the Inca forces. The traditional mode of battle in the
a kind of siege warfare where large numbers of usually reluctant
draftees were sent to overwhelm opponents. The Spaniards developed one
of the finest military machines in the premodern world, tactics
learned in their centuries-long fight against Moorish kingdoms in
Iberia. Along with their tactical and material superiority, the
Spaniards acquired tens of thousands of native allies who sought to
end the Inca control of their territories.
Their first engagement was the Battle of Puná, near present-day
Guayaquil, Ecuador, on the Pacific Coast; Pizarro then founded the
Piura in July 1532. Hernando de Soto was sent inland to
explore the interior and returned with an invitation to meet the Inca,
Atahualpa, who had defeated his brother in the civil war and was
Cajamarca with his army of 80,000 troops.
Pizarro and some of his men, most notably a friar named Vincente de
Valverde, met with the Inca, who had brought only a small retinue.
Through an interpreter Friar Vincente read the "Requerimiento" that
demanded that he and his empire accept the rule of King Charles I of
Spain and convert to Christianity. Because of the language barrier and
perhaps poor interpretation,
Atahualpa became somewhat puzzled by the
friar's description of Christian faith and was said to have not fully
understood the envoy's intentions. After
Atahualpa attempted further
enquiry into the doctrines of the Christian faith, the Spanish became
frustrated and impatient. They attacked the Inca's retinue and
Atahualpa as hostage.
Atahualpa offered the Spaniards enough gold to fill the room he was
imprisoned in and twice that amount of silver. The Inca fulfilled this
ransom, but Pizarro deceived them, refusing to release the Inca
afterwards. During Atahualpa's imprisonment
Huáscar was assassinated
elsewhere. The Spaniards maintained that this was at Atahualpa's
orders; this was used as one of the charges against
Atahualpa when the
Spaniards finally executed him, in August 1533.
Main article: Neo-Inca State
View of Machu Picchu
The Spanish installed Atahualpa's brother
Manco Inca Yupanqui
Manco Inca Yupanqui in
power; for some time Manco cooperated with the Spanish while they
fought to put down resistance in the north. Meanwhile, an associate of
Pizarro, Diego de Almagro, attempted to claim Cusco. Manco tried to
use this intra-Spanish feud to his advantage, recapturing
1536, but the Spanish retook the city afterwards. Manco Inca then
retreated to the mountains of Vilcabamba and established the small
Neo-Inca State, where he and his successors ruled for another 36
years, sometimes raiding the Spanish or inciting revolts against them.
In 1572 the last Inca stronghold was conquered and the last ruler,
Túpac Amaru, Manco's son, was captured and executed. This ended
resistance to the Spanish conquest under the political authority of
the Inca state.
After the fall of the Inca
Empire many aspects of Inca culture were
systematically destroyed, including their sophisticated farming
system, known as the vertical archipelago model of agriculture.
Spanish colonial officials used the Inca mita corvée labor system for
colonial aims, sometimes brutally. One member of each family was
forced to work in the gold and silver mines, the foremost of which was
the titanic silver mine at Potosí. When a family member died, which
would usually happen within a year or two, the family was required to
send a replacement.
The effects of smallpox on the Inca empire were even more devastating.
Beginning in Colombia, smallpox spread rapidly before the Spanish
invaders first arrived in the empire. The spread was probably aided by
the efficient Inca road system.
Smallpox was only the first
epidemic. Other diseases, including a probable
Typhus outbreak in
1546, influenza and smallpox together in 1558, smallpox again in 1589,
diphtheria in 1614, and measles in 1618, all ravaged the Inca people.
Inca society and Inca education
The number of people inhabiting
Tawantinsuyu at its peak is uncertain,
with estimates ranging from 4–37 million. Most population estimates
are in the range of 6 to 14 million. In spite of the fact that the
Inca kept excellent census records using their quipus, knowledge of
how to read them was lost as almost all fell into disuse and
disintegrated over time or were destroyed by the Spaniards.
Main article: Quechua languages
The main form of communication and record-keeping in the empire were
quipus, ceramics, textiles and various dialects of Quechua, the
language the Incas imposed upon the peoples within the empire. While
Quechua had been spoken in the Andean region, including central Peru,
for several centuries prior to the expansion of the Inca civilization,
the dialect of Quechua the Incas imposed was an adaptation from the
Cusco (an early form of "Southern Quechua" originally named
Qhapaq Runasimi, or 'the great language of the people'), or what some
historians define as the
The language imposed by the Incas diverted from its original phonetics
as some societies formed their own regional varieties. The diversity
of Quechua at that point and even today does not come directly from
the Incas, who were just a part of the reason for Quechua's diversity.
The civilizations within the empire that had previously spoken Quechua
kept their own variety distinct from the Quechua the Incas spread.
Although these dialects of Quechua had a similar linguistic structure,
they differed according to the region in which they were spoken.
Although many of the societies within the empire spoke or learned to
speak Quechua, others continued to speak their original languages,
such as Aymara, which remains in use in contemporary Bolivia, where it
is the primary indigenous language and in various regions surrounding
Bolivia. The linguistic body of the Inca
Empire was thus varied. The
Inca's impact outlasted their empire, as the Spanish continued the use
The Incas were not known to develop a written form of communication;
however, they visually recorded narratives through paintings on vases
and cups (qirus). These paintings are usually accompanied by
geometric patterns known as toqapu, which are also found in textiles.
Researchers have speculated that toqapu patterns could have served as
a form of written communication (e.g.: heraldry, or glyphs), however
this remains unclear.
In the Incan Empire, the age of marriage differed for men and women;
men typically married at the age of 20, while women usually got
married around 4 years earlier at the age of 16. Men who were
highly ranked in society could have multiple wives, but those lower in
the ranks could only take a single wife. Marriages were typically
within classes and resembled a more business-like agreement. Once
married, the women were expected to cook, collect food and watch over
the children and livestock. Girls and mothers would also work
around the house to keep it orderly to please the public
inspectors. These duties remained the same even after wives became
pregnant and with the added responsibility of praying and making
offerings to Kanopa, who was the god of pregnancy. It was typical
for marriages to begin on a trial basis with both men and women having
a say in the longevity of the marriage. If the man felt that it
wouldn’t work out or if the woman wanted to return to her parent’s
home the marriage would end. Once the marriage was final, the only way
the two could be divorced was if they did not have a child
Maiden of Llullaillaco, the mummy of a 15-year old Inca girl
The Inca called newborn infants wawa, a term that they also used for
newborn animals. This term was used for all newborn beings without
regard to their biological sex. Babies were not given human social
status until they reached two or three years of age due to the high
infant mortality rates. It was at this time that a ceremony was held
called rutuchikuy in which the infant was given its first haircut,
name and introduced to the extended family. Also in this ceremony,
children advanced from the description of wawa to warma, a gender
neutral term for a child who has not developed the language skill set.
By the time children reached the age of seven, they had completed
gender specific tasks and were referred to as gender specific terms,
Thaski for girls and maqt’a for boys.
Religion in the Inca Empire
Religion in the Inca Empire and Inca mythology
Diorite Inca sculpture from Amarucancha
Inca myths were transmitted orally until early Spanish colonists
recorded them; however, some scholars claim that they were recorded on
quipus, Andean knotted string records.
The Inca believed in reincarnation. After death, the passage to
the next world was fraught with difficulties. The spirit of the dead,
camaquen, would need to follow a long road and during the trip the
assistance of a black dog that could see in the dark was required.
Most Incas imagined the after world to be like that of the European
notion of heaven, with flower-covered fields and snow-capped
It was important to the Inca that they not die as a result of burning
or that the body of the deceased not be incinerated. Burning would
cause their vital force to disappear and threaten their passage to the
after world. Those who obeyed the Inca moral code – ama suwa, ama
llulla, ama quella (do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy) –
"went to live in the Sun's warmth while others spent their eternal
days in the cold earth". The Inca nobility practiced cranial
deformation. They wrapped tight cloth straps around the heads of
newborns to shape their soft skulls into a more conical form, thus
distinguishing the nobility from other social classes.
The Incas made human sacrifices. As many as 4,000 servants, court
officials, favorites and concubines were killed upon the death of the
Huayna Capac in 1527. The Incas performed child sacrifices
around important events, such as the death of the
Sapa Inca or during
a famine. These sacrifices were known as qhapaq hucha.
The Incas were polytheists who attempted to please many gods. These
Viracocha, is the great creator god in Inca mythology
Viracocha (also Pachacamac) – Created all living things
Apu Illapu – Rain God, prayed to when they need rain
Ayar Cachi – Hot-tempered God, causes earthquakes
Illapa – Goddess of lightning and thunder (also Yakumama water
Inti – sun god and patron deity of the holy city of
Cusco (home of
Kuychi – Rainbow God, connected with fertility
Mama Killa – Wife of Inti, called Moon Mother
Mama Occlo – Wisdom to civilize the people, taught women to weave
cloth and build houses
Manco Cápac – known for his courage and sent to earth to become
first king of the Incas. Taught people how to grow plants, make
weapons, work together, share resources and worship the Gods.
Pachamama – The Goddess of earth and wife of Viracocha. People give
her offerings of coca leaves and beer and pray to her for major
Quchamama – Goddess of the sea
Sachamama – Means Mother Tree, goddess in the shape of a snake with
Yakumama – Means mother Water. Represented as a snake. When she came
to earth she transformed into a great river (also Illapa).
Further information: Incan agriculture, Vertical archipelago, Mit'a,
Illustration of Inca farmers using a chakitaqlla (Andean foot plough)
Empire employed central planning. The Inca
Empire traded with
outside regions, although they did not operate a substantial internal
market economy. While axe-monies were used along the northern coast,
presumably by the provincial mindaláe trading class, most
households in the empire lived in a traditional economy in which
households were required to pay taxes, usually in the form of the
mit'a corvée labor, and military obligations, though barter (or
trueque) was present in some areas. In return, the state provided
security, food in times of hardship through the supply of emergency
resources, agricultural projects (e.g. aqueducts and terraces) to
increase productivity and occasional feasts. The economy rested on the
material foundations of the vertical archipelago, a system of
ecological complementarity in accessing resources and the cultural
foundation of ayni, or reciprocal exchange.
Main article: Government of the Inca Empire
Sapa Inca was conceptualized as divine and was effectively head of
the state religion. The
Willaq Umu (or Chief Priest) was second to the
emperor. Local religious traditions continued and in some cases such
as the Oracle at
Pachacamac on the Peruvian coast, were officially
venerated. Following Pachacuti, the
Sapa Inca claimed descent from
Inti, who placed a high value on imperial blood; by the end of the
empire, it was common to incestuously wed brother and sister. He was
"son of the sun," and his people the intip churin, or "children of the
sun," and both his right to rule and mission to conquer derived from
his holy ancestor. The
Sapa Inca also presided over ideologically
important festivals, notably during the
Inti Raymi, or "warriors'
cultivation," attended by soldiers, mummified rulers, nobles, clerics
and the general population of
Cusco beginning on the June solstice and
culminating nine days later with the ritual breaking of the earth
using a foot plow by the Inca. Moreover,
Cusco was considered
cosmologically central, loaded as it was with huacas and radiating
ceque lines and geographic center of the Four Quarters; Inca Garcilaso
de la Vega called it "the navel of the universe".
Organization of the empire
The Inca Empire's southern border defined by the Maule or Maipo River
(scholars differ). Inca troops never crossed the Bío Bío
Empire was a federalist system consisting of a central
government with the Inca at its head and four quarters, or suyu:
Chinchay Suyu (NW),
Anti Suyu (NE),
Kunti Suyu (SW) and Qulla Suyu
(SE). The four corners of these quarters met at the center, Cusco.
These suyu were likely created around 1460 during the reign of
Pachacuti before the empire reached its largest territorial extent. At
the time the suyu were established they were roughly of equal size and
only later changed their proportions as the empire expanded north and
south along the Andes.
Cusco was likely not organized as a wamani, or province. Rather, it
was probably somewhat akin to a modern federal district, like
Washington, D.C. or Mexico City. The city sat at the center of the
four suyu and served as the preeminent center of politics and
Cusco was essentially governed by the Sapa Inca, his
relatives and the royal panaqa lineages, each suyu was governed by an
Apu, a term of esteem used for men of high status and for venerated
Cusco as a district and the four suyu as
administrative regions were grouped into upper hanan and lower hurin
divisions. As the Inca did not have written records, it is impossible
to exhaustively list the constituent wamani. However, colonial records
allow us to reconstruct a partial list. There were likely more than 86
wamani, with more than 48 in the highlands and more than 38 on the
The four suyus or quarters of the empire.
The most populous suyu was Chinchaysuyu, which encompassed the former
Chimu empire and much of the northern Andes. At its largest extent, it
extended through much of modern
Ecuador and into modern Colombia.
The largest suyu by area was Qullasuyu, named after the
Aymara-speaking Qulla people. It encompassed the Bolivian Altiplano
and much of the southern Andes, reaching
Argentina and as far south as
the Maipo or
Maule river in Central Chile. Historian José Bengoa
Quillota as perhaps the foremost Inca settlement.
The second smallest suyu, Antisuyu, was northwest of
Cusco in the high
Andes. Its name is the root of the word "Andes."
Kuntisuyu was the smallest suyu, located along the southern coast of
modern Peru, extending into the highlands towards Cusco.
The Inca state had no separate judiciary or codified laws. Customs,
expectations and traditional local power holders governed behavior.
The state had legal force, such as through tokoyrikoq (lit. "he who
sees all"), or inspectors. The highest such inspector, typically a
blood relative to the Sapa Inca, acted independently of the
conventional hierarchy, providing a point of view for the Sapa Inca
free of bureaucratic influence.
Inti, as represented by
José Bernardo de Tagle
José Bernardo de Tagle of Peru
Colonial sources are not entirely clear or in agreement about Inca
government structure, such as exact duties and functions of government
positions. But the basic structure can be broadly described. The top
was the Sapa Inca. Below that may have been the Willaq Umu, literally
the "priest who recounts", the High Priest of the Sun. However,
Sapa Inca also sat the Inkap rantin, who was a confidant
and assistant to the Sapa Inca, perhaps similar to a Prime
Minister. Starting with Topa Inca Yupanqui, a "Council of the
Realm" was composed of 16 nobles: 2 from hanan Cusco; 2 from hurin
Cusco; 4 from Chinchaysuyu; 2 from Cuntisuyu; 4 from Collasuyu; and 2
from Antisuyu. This weighting of representation balanced the hanan and
hurin divisions of the empire, both within
Cusco and within the
Quarters (hanan suyukuna and hurin suyukuna).
While provincial bureaucracy and government varied greatly, the basic
organization was decimal. Taxpayers – male heads of household of a
certain age range – were organized into corvée labor units (often
doubling as military units) that formed the state's muscle as part of
mit'a service. Each unit of more than 100 tax-payers were headed by a
kuraka, while smaller units were headed by a kamayuq, a lower,
non-hereditary status. However, while kuraka status was hereditary and
typically served for life, the position of a kuraka in the hierarchy
was subject to change based on the privileges of superiors in the
hierarchy; a pachaka kuraka could be appointed to the position by a
waranqa kuraka. Furthermore, one kuraka in each decimal level could
serve as the head of one of the nine groups at a lower level, so that
a pachaka kuraka might also be a waranqa kuraka, in effect directly
responsible for one unit of 100 tax-payers and less directly
responsible for nine other such units.
Kuraka in Charge
Number of Taxpayers
Arts and technology
We can assure your majesty that it is so beautiful and has such fine
buildings that it would even be remarkable in Spain.
Architecture was the most important of the Incan arts, with textiles
reflecting architectural motifs. The most notable example is Machu
Picchu, which was constructed by Inca engineers. The prime Inca
structures were made of stone blocks that fit together so well that a
knife could not be fitted through the stonework. These constructs have
survived for centuries, with no use of mortar to sustain them.
This process was first used on a large scale by the Pucara (ca. 300
BC–AD 300) peoples to the south in
Lake Titicaca and later in the
Tiwanaku (ca. AD 400–1100) in present-day Bolivia. The rocks
were sculpted to fit together exactly by repeatedly lowering a rock
onto another and carving away any sections on the lower rock where the
dust was compressed. The tight fit and the concavity on the lower
rocks made them extraordinarily stable, despite the ongoing challenge
of earthquakes and volcanic activity.
Measures, calendrics and mathematics
Tokapu. Textiles worn by the Inca elite consisting of geometric
figures enclosed by rectangles or squares. There is evidence that the
designs were an ideographic language
Quipu, 15th century. Brooklyn Museum
Physical measures used by the Inca were based on human body parts.
Units included fingers, the distance from thumb to forefinger, palms,
cubits and wingspans. The most basic distance unit was thatkiy or
thatki, or one pace. The next largest unit was reported by Cobo to be
the topo or tupu, measuring 6,000 thatkiys, or about 7.7 km
(4.8 mi); careful study has shown that a range of 4.0 to
6.3 km (2.5 to 3.9 mi) is likely. Next was the wamani,
composed of 30 topos (roughly 232 km or 144 mi). To measure
area, 25 by 50 wingspans were used, reckoned in topos (roughly
3,280 km2 or 1,270 sq mi). It seems likely that
distance was often interpreted as one day's walk; the distance between
tambo way-stations varies widely in terms of distance, but far less in
terms of time to walk that distance.
Inca calendars were strongly tied to astronomy. Inca astronomers
understood equinoxes, solstices and zenith passages, along with the
Venus cycle. They could not, however, predict eclipses. The Inca
calendar was essentially lunisolar, as two calendars were maintained
in parallel, one solar and one lunar. As 12 lunar months fall 11 days
short of a full 365-day solar year, those in charge of the calendar
had to adjust every winter solstice. Each lunar month was marked with
festivals and rituals. Apparently, the days of the week were not
named and days were not grouped into weeks. Similarly, months were not
grouped into seasons. Time during a day was not measured in hours or
minutes, but in terms of how far the sun had travelled or in how long
it had taken to perform a task.
The sophistication of Inca administration, calendrics and engineering
required facility with numbers. Numerical information was stored in
the knots of quipu strings, allowing for compact storage of large
numbers. These numbers were stored in base-10 digits, the same
base used by the Quechua language and in administrative and
military units. These numbers, stored in quipu, could be
calculated on yupanas, grids with squares of positionally varying
mathematical values, perhaps functioning as an abacus. Calculation
was facilitated by moving piles of tokens, seeds or pebbles between
compartments of the yupana. It is likely that Inca mathematics at
least allowed division of integers into integers or fractions and
multiplication of integers and fractions.
According to mid-17th-century Jesuit chronicler Bernabé Cobo, the
Inca designated officials to perform accounting-related tasks. These
officials were called quipo camayos. Study of khipu sample VA 42527
(Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin) revealed that the numbers
arranged in calendrically significant patterns were used for
agricultural purposes in the "farm account books" kept by the
khipukamayuq (accountant or warehouse keeper) to facilitate the
closing of accounting books.
Ceramics, precious metals and textiles
Camelid Conopa, 1470–1532, Brooklyn Museum, Small stone figurines,
or conopas, of llamas and alpacas were the most common ritual effigies
used in the highlands of
Peru and Bolivia. These devotional objects
were often buried in the animals' corrals to bring protection and
prosperity to their owners and fertility to the herds. The cylindrical
cavities in their backs were filled with offerings to the gods in the
form of a mixture including animal fat, coca leaves, maize kernels and
Ceramics were painted using the polychrome technique portraying
numerous motifs including animals, birds, waves, felines (popular in
the Chavin culture) and geometric patterns found in the
Nazca style of
ceramics. In a culture without a written language, ceramics portrayed
the basic scenes of everyday life, including the smelting of metals,
relationships and scenes of tribal warfare. The most distinctive Inca
ceramic objects are the
Cusco bottles or "aryballos". Many of
these pieces are on display in
Lima in the Larco Archaeological Museum
and the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History.
Almost all of the gold and silver work of the Incan empire was melted
down by the conquistadors.
Communication and medicine
The Inca recorded information on assemblages of knotted strings, known
as Quipu, although they can no longer be decoded. Originally it was
Quipu were used only as mnemonic devices or to record
Quipus are also believed to record history and
The Inca made many discoveries in medicine. They performed
successful skull surgery, by cutting holes in the skull to alleviate
fluid buildup and inflammation caused by head wounds. Many skull
surgeries performed by Inca surgeons were successful. Survival rates
were 80–90%, compared to about 30% before Inca times.
The Incas revered the coca plant as sacred/magical. Its leaves were
used in moderate amounts to lessen hunger and pain during work, but
were mostly used for religious and health purposes. The Spaniards
took advantage of the effects of chewing coca leaves. The Chasqui,
messengers who ran throughout the empire to deliver messages, chewed
coca leaves for extra energy.
Coca leaves were also used as an
anaesthetic during surgeries...
Weapons, armor and warfare
Battle of the Maule
Battle of the Maule between the Incas (right) and the Mapuches
Inca army was the most powerful at that time, because they could
turn an ordinary villager or farmer into a soldier. Every able bodied
male Inca of fighting age had to take part in war in some capacity at
least once and to prepare for warfare again when needed. By the time
the empire reached its largest size, every section of the empire
contributed in setting up an army for war.
The Incas had no iron or steel and their weapons were not much more
effective than those of their opponents. They went into battle with
drums beating and trumpets blowing. Their armor included:[citation
Helmets made of wood, copper, bronze, cane, or animal skin; some were
adorned with feathers
Round or square shields made from wood or hide
Cloth tunics padded with cotton and small wooden planks to protect the
The Inca weaponry included:
Bronze or bone-tipped spears
Clubs with stone and spiked metal heads
Woolen slings and stones
Stone or copper headed battle-axes
Bolas (stones fastened to lengths of cord)
Roads allowed quick movement (on foot) for the
Inca army and shelters
called tambo and storage silos called qullqas were built one day's
travelling distance from each other, so that an army on campaign could
always be fed and rested. This can be seen in names of ruins such as
Ollantay Tambo, or My Lord's Storehouse. These were set up so the Inca
and his entourage would always have supplies (and possibly shelter)
ready as they traveled.
Rainbow flag § Andean peoples and social
Chronicles and references from the 16th and 17th centuries support the
idea of a banner. However, it represented the Inca (emperor), not the
Francisco López de Jerez wrote in 1534:
... todos venían repartidos en sus escuadras con sus banderas y
capitanes que los mandan, con tanto concierto como turcos.
(... all of them came distributed into squads, with their flags
and captains commanding them, as well-ordered as Turks.)
Chronicler Bernabé Cobo wrote:
The royal standard or banner was a small square flag, ten or twelve
spans around, made of cotton or wool cloth, placed on the end of a
long staff, stretched and stiff such that it did not wave in the air
and on it each king painted his arms and emblems, for each one chose
different ones, though the sign of the Incas was the rainbow and two
parallel snakes along the width with the tassel as a crown, which each
king used to add for a badge or blazon those preferred, like a lion,
an eagle and other figures.
(... el guión o estandarte real era una banderilla cuadrada y
pequeña, de diez o doce palmos de ruedo, hecha de lienzo de algodón
o de lana, iba puesta en el remate de una asta larga, tendida y tiesa,
sin que ondease al aire, y en ella pintaba cada rey sus armas y
divisas, porque cada uno las escogía diferentes, aunque las generales
de los Incas eran el arco celeste y dos culebras tendidas a lo largo
paralelas con la borda que le servía de corona, a las cuales solía
añadir por divisa y blasón cada rey las que le parecía, como un
león, un águila y otras figuras.)
-Bernabé Cobo, Historia del Nuevo Mundo (1653)
Guaman Poma's 1615 book, El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno,
shows numerous line drawings of Inca flags. In his 1847 book A
History of the Conquest of Peru, "
William H. Prescott
William H. Prescott ... says that in
Inca army each company had its particular banner and that the
imperial standard, high above all, displayed the glittering device of
the rainbow, the armorial ensign of the Incas." A 1917 world flags
book says the Inca "heir-apparent ... was entitled to display the
royal standard of the rainbow in his military campaigns."
In modern times the rainbow flag has been wrongly associated with the
Tawantinsuyu and displayed as a symbol of Inca heritage by some groups
Peru and Bolivia. The city of
Cusco also flies the Rainbow Flag,
but as an official flag of the city. The Peruvian president Alejandro
Toledo (2001–2006) flew the Rainbow Flag in Lima's presidential
palace. However, according to Peruvian historiography, the Inca Empire
never had a flag. Peruvian historian
María Rostworowski said, "I bet
my life, the Inca never had that flag, it never existed, no chronicler
mentioned it". Also, to the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio, the
flag dates to the first decades of the 20th century, and even the
Congress of the Republic of
Peru has determined that flag is a fake by
citing the conclusion of National Academy of Peruvian History:
"The official use of the wrongly called '
Tawantinsuyu flag' is a
mistake. In the Pre-Hispanic Andean World there did not exist the
concept of a flag, it did not belong to their historic context".
National Academy of Peruvian History
Adaptations to altitude
Sacsayhuamán, the Inca stronghold of Cusco
Incas were able to adapt to their high-altitude living through
successful acclimatization, which is characterized by increasing
oxygen supply to the blood tissues. For the native Inca living in the
Andean highlands, this was achieved through the development of a
larger lung capacity, and an increase in red blood cell counts,
hemoglobin concentration, and capillary beds.
Compared to other humans, the Incas had slower heart rates, almost
one-third larger lung capacity, about 2 L (4 pints) more blood volume
and double the amount of hemoglobin, which transfers oxygen from the
lungs to the rest of the body. While the
Conquistadors may have been
slightly taller, the Inca had the advantage of coping with the
Important Incan archeological sites
Indigenous peoples in Argentina
Governorate of New Castile
Governorate of New Castile (1528–1542)
Governorate of the Río de la Plata
Governorate of the Río de la Plata (1617–1782)
Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata
Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata (1776–1811)
United Provinces of the River Plate
United Provinces of the River Plate (1810–31)
Liga Federal (1815–20)
Republic of Entre Ríos
Republic of Entre Ríos (1820–21)
Argentine Confederation (1831–61)
State of Buenos Aires
State of Buenos Aires (1852–61)
Kingdom of Araucanía and Patagonia
Kingdom of Araucanía and Patagonia (1860–present, unrecognized)
Argentine Republic (1861–present)
El Fuerte de Samaipata
Pambamarca Fortress Complex
Pukara of La Compañia
Aclla, the "chosen women"
Amauta, Inca teachers
Amazonas before the Inca Empire
Anden, agricultural terrace
Inca Civil War
Incas in Central Chile
Guaman Poma de Ayala
Garcilaso de la Vega (chronicler)
Quipu, knotted cords
Qullqa, Inca storehouse
Religion in the Inca Empire
Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire
Tampukancha, Inca religious site
Cultural periods of Peru
Demographic history of the indigenous peoples of the Americas
History of Peru
History of smallpox
^ Namnama, Katrina; DeGuzman, Kathleen, "The Inca Empire", K12, USA,
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Additionally Poma shows both well drafted European flags and coats of
arms on pp. 373, 515, 558, 1077, 0. On pages 83, 167–171 Poma uses a
European heraldic graphic convention, a shield, to place certain
totems related to Inca leaders.
^ Preble, George Henry; Charles Edward Asnis (1917). Origin and
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Signals... 1. N. L. Brown. p. 85.
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to High Altitude: Review", American Journal of Human Biology, 25 (2):
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Library resources about
Resources in your library
Resources in other libraries
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
Guaman Poma – El Primer Nueva Corónica Y Buen Gobierno" – A
high-quality digital version of the Corónica, scanned from the
Conquest nts.html Inca Land by Hiram Bingham (published 1912–1922
Machu Picchu 360 degree movies of inca
artifacts and Peruvian landscapes.
Ancient Civilizations – Inca
"Ice Treasures of the Inca" National Geographic site.
"The Sacred Hymns of Pachacutec," poetry of an Inca emperor.
Engineering in the
Andes Mountains, lecture on Inca suspension bridges
A Map and Timeline of Inca
Ancient Peruvian art: contributions to the archaeology of the empire
of the Incas, a four volume work from 1902 (fully available online as
Pre-Columbian civilizations and cultures
Archaeology of the Americas
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
North American pre-Columbian cultures
Mesoamerican pre-Columbian chronology
Shaft tomb tradition
South American Indigenous people
Cultural periods of Peru
Hydraulic culture of mounds (Bolivia)
La Tolita (Tumaco)
Architecture (road system)
K'inich Janaab' Pakal
Uaxaclajuun Ub'aah K'awiil
Jasaw Chan K'awiil I
Manco Inca Yupanqui
Spanish conquest of Yucatán
(Francisco de Montejo)
Spanish conquest of Guatemala
(Pedro de Alvarado)
(Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada)
(Hernán Pérez de Quesada)
(List of conquistadors)
Portal:Indigenous peoples of North America
Mesoamerican writing systems
Native American cuisine
Native American pottery
Population history of indigenous peoples of the Americas
Painting in the Americas before European colonization
War of Independence
War of the Pacific
Alliance for the Future
Peruvian Nationalist Party
Union for Peru
Regions and provinces
List of Peruvians
Water supply and sanitation
Eastern Ganga dynasty
ancient great powers
medieval great powers
modern great powers
Monarchies in the Americas
Antigua and Barbuda
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Araucania and Patagonia
Courland and Semigallia
Latin American monarchies
List of monarchs in the Americas
List of the last monarchs in the Americas