Origins » Inca Religion › Inca Food & Agriculture › Inca Mummies › Inca Textiles » History

Characters and historical events ››

  1. Inca Religion
  2. Inca Food & Agriculture
  3. Inca Mummies
  4. Inca Textiles
  5. The Inca Road System
  6. Daily Life in the Inca Empire
  7. Pizarro & the Fall of the Inca Empire
  8. Pizarro and Atahualpa: The Curse of the Lost Inca Gold

Ancient Origins ›› Its historical characters and places

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Inca Religion

Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Religion was for the Incas, as with many other ancient cultures, inseparable from politics, history, and society in general. All facets of community life were closely connected to religious beliefs, from marriages to agriculture, government to burials. Success and failures of any kind in life were due to the influence of the gods and the Inca’s ancestors. Keeping these figures content and avoiding their wrath in the form of natural disasters such as drought and earthquakes was a very important purpose of religious practices. The Inca religion was also an important tool for the ruling elite to legitimize both their own privileged position within Inca society and to spread the general belief of Inca superiority over the subjects of their vast Empire.

Influences & Local Traditions

Inca religion was influenced by earlier and contemporary Andean traditions, especially the Wari civilization and ancient Tiwanaku. Indeed, for all the state endorsed religion imposed by Cuzco, many local communities still adhered to their own traditional beliefs throughout the empire even if they were forced to adopt the major Inca gods as well. One such continuing Andean tradition was the belief in a specific founder of the community and an association with a particular spot where that person had emerged from the earth - a paqarisqa.
The long-standing worship of the Sun, Moon, stars and planets amongst ancient Andean communities were other beliefs perpetuated by the Incas. Shamans too, with their feared ability to cast spells and particular skill at divination by reading unfathomable signs in fires, llama's intestines and such like, remained important figures in the Inca world. Cuzco was reputed to have 475 of them, the most important being the yacarca, the personal advisor to the king. Yet another millennia-old Andean tradition which the Incas continued was the belief in oracles - the most famous being at Chavin and Pachacamac.
Inti was the most important Inca god as he was the god of the Sun and the patron of empire and conquest.

Creation of the World

For the Incas themselves, the world was created at Lake Titicaca, long previously considered a sacred place for Andean people and visited by Inca rulers in regular pilgrimages. The creator god Wiraqoca Pacayacaciq (or simply Viracocha) one day, on the sacred Island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca, made a race of giants but, finding these too large for his purpose, instead made humans on a smaller scale. This first race of humans upset Viracocha with their greed and arrogance and so as punishment he turned some of them to stone and others into the earth and natural features. Then he sent a great flood to wipe the earth clean, saving only three humans so that they might start the race again. Also at Lake Titicaca, Viracocha then made the Sun, Moon and stars. Next, the god went travelling around disguised as a beggar and known as Kon-Tiki, amongst many other names. He made carvings at Tiwanaku, established Cuzco by directing the Inca founding couple Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo there, and generally taught people the civilizing arts. Then, when he arrived at the coast, he mysteriously walked away across the sea to the west, promising one day that his messengers would return.

Inti & the Temple of the Sun

Inti was the most important Inca god as he was the god of the Sun and the patron of empire and conquest. His home of plenty was also the destination in the next life for those who lived good lives in this one. The Inca king or ruler was considered divine and a living descendant of Inti legitimizing the Inca divine right of rule. A gold statue of Inti, represented as a small seated boy and known as Punchao, was kept in the Temple of the Sun, at the Coricancha (Qorikancha) sacred complex at Cuzco. With rays projecting from his head and decorated with gold jewellery, the stomach of this figure was used as a receptacle for the ashes of the burned vital organs of previous Inca kings. Each day the statue was brought outside of the temple to bask in the sun. Following the Spanish conquest the figure was removed and hidden, never to be found again. So too, the gold which covered the exterior and interior of the Temple of the Sun, all 1,400 kilos of it, was spirited away by the European invaders. In addition to the Coricancha, Inti had the temple-fortress complex of Sacsahuaman dedicated to him, located just outside Cuzco.
The well-being of the king and the Inca Empire and the guarantee of a good harvest were entirely in the hands of Inti. The god was served by a dedicated High Priest (Villaq Umu), the most senior religious figure in the Inca world, who was aided by a team of young virgin priests, the acllas (also acyllyaconas). Each major Inca town had a temple to the god and a vast amount of resources were dedicated to him. Even land and herds were reserved especially for Inti and a whole province near Lake Titicaca was set aside for him. The Coricancha went one step further where a maize field complete with life-size llamas and shepherds was constructed out of pure gold and dedicated to the Sun.
One of the most important ceremonies in worship of Inti was the 8-9 day Inti Raymi, held every June (winter) solstice on a plain outside Cuzco. Sacrifices were made, libations of water and chicha beer were offered, and all the nobility and priesthood participated in a lavish festival of feasting and singing which also marked the beginning of the ploughing season. Another important festival in honour of both Inti and Viracocha was the Qhapaq Ucha when all towns across the empire were expected to send one or two of good-looking children (copacochas) to be sacrificed at the ceremony in Cuzco and in the subsequent procession in pilgrimage to various important sacred sites across the Inca world. Death was by strangulation or having their hearts removed, and this offering was believed to guarantee the continued well-being of the ruler and his people.

Other Gods

Besides Inti, the sacred Coricancha also had a temple to the Moon goddess Mama Kilya, one to the creator god Viracocha, and another to Illapa the god of thunder, the latter temple being called Pukamarka. Mama Kilya was considered important as she governed the ceremonial calendar whilst Illapa brought rain and storms - the thunder being produced as he wielded his sling while the lightning came from the flashing of his silver robes. Both Cuichu the rainbow god (for the Incas a bad omen) and the personification of Venus (Chaska-Qoylor) had their own temples alongside the others within the sacred Coricancha complex.
Lesser deities, although still important in their particular domains, included the earth goddess Pachamama in whose honour farmers built a stone altar in the centre of their fields where they could easily offer sacrifices in the hope of a good harvest. Pachamac ('Earth Maker') was a celebrated oracle and creator god, especially in the provinces. Particularly associated with earthquakes, he had an entire temple city, Pachacamac, built in his honour, where there was a great wooden idol of the god, which pilgrims visited to hear its advice. Finally, the coastal people held Mamacocha ('Mother of the Lakes and Seas') in particularly high regard. These gods and others had over 400 shrines in Cuzco alone.
The Incas were keen observers of celestial bodies and had mastered their movements and cycles. Accordingly, stars, constellations, and planets also had their personified representations, especially the Pleiades (Qollqa), the Milky Way (Mayu), Orion's Belt, and Venus (Chaska Cuyllor). In general it seems that all creatures had their own particular stellar equivalent which somehow governed and protected all its physical specimens on earth.

Mode of Worship

The Inca gods, then, were worshipped with the construction of temples (wasi) and sacred sites (huacas) where ceremonies were held, prayers made, and offerings given. A hierarchical priesthood conducted such ceremonies, their status depending on that of the god they served. The gods were kept satisfied and the status quo maintained via the sacrifice of precious goods and animals, especially llamas (white ones to Inti, brown ones to Viracocha, and dappled ones to Illapa). Humans, including children, were also sacrificed (even if on a smaller scale than other Americas cultures), typically by hitting them on the head while under the effects of alcohol which was given to them so that they might be happy when they first encountered their god. These more dramatic offerings were generally reserved for times of great strife such as prolonged droughts, solar eclipses, or a royal death. Human sacrifices also occurred after victories in war and were offered in many of the high mountain sacred shrines which dotted the empire.

Huacas & Ceque

The Incas believed that gods, spirits, and long-dead ancestors could be manifested on earth in the form of natural features such as mountain peaks (apu), rivers, springs, caves, rocky outcrops, and even peculiar shaped stones. These places were sometimes modified to accentuate unusual features and were treated as shrines with special power to influence reality. They were known as huacas (wak'a) and, in the case of stones, were taken for safe-keeping in palaces and tombs, on occasion, even transported on military expeditions. People left offerings at huacas, especially sea shells, textiles, coca, precious goods, clay figurines, and sacrifices were made, most commonly of llamas and guinea pigs.
Huacas could also be places used for astronomical observations. Perhaps the most famous is the 'hitching post of the sun' (intihuatana) at the highest point of Machu Picchu which was used to symbolically connect the sun to the earth via a special cord on each solstice. The most important sighting post was, though, the usnu - a raised platform in a plaza at Cuzco. This had a stone pillar used for astronomical observations and an adamantine throne for the Inca king to watch religious festivals from. All of these sacred sites - some 328 - were then linked to Cuzco, the centre of the Inca world, by 41 lines known as ceque (zeq'e) which could be physical trails or sight lines thus creating an imaginary sacred web with Cuzco at its heart.

Ancestor Worship & Mummies

Older generations (ayllu) were never forgotten in Inca society and tombs were re-opened at particular times in order for people to make new offerings to the deceased. These took the form of precious goods and food, and sometimes even purpose built channels permitted the pouring of libations into the grave without otherwise disturbing it. Particularly important individuals who had passed away could be represented in the community by statues, especially the founder of the community whose idol was the most precious object in a community. Indeed, the Incas exploited this tradition and often kidnapped the idols of conquered communities, keeping them hostage at Cuzco to ensure the compliance of the vanquished.
The bodies of important community members were often mummified, principally using processes involving desiccation and alcohol, and then wrapped in textiles and bound with cords in a fetal position. The mummies were then placed in tombs, in special rooms in a community mausoleum, or placed in sacred caves (machay) - most famously in the highlands of Cajatambo where over 1,800 mummies were discovered by the Spanish.
Internment was not usually permanent as mummies were occasionally brought out of their tombs so that they might in some way participate in important community events such as marriages and harvests. The most famous participation of deceased ancestors in the lives of the living was the role of mummies of former rulers, the mallquis. These were pampered during important ceremonies at Cuzco, dressed in fine clothes and even ritually fed. Their opinions were 'consulted' by priests and dedicated attendants (mallquipavillac) when important decisions had to be taken and they were honoured guests in the Inti Raymi festival.

The Demise of the Incas

It is interesting to note that following the downfall of the Incas their state religion and, in particular, the worship of the Sun, quickly fell out of favour with communities outside Cuzco who had long preferred the Moon as their principal god. The Inca-built temples and the land set aside for Inti were abandoned as religious sites and put to other uses. People abandoned the solar calendar and reverted to their time-honoured practices of worshipping their own gods, sacred sites, and ancestors. The local beliefs of the ancient Andean peoples proved resilient then but, in a way, so too did unique elements of the Inca religion, as, in a late 20th century CE revival after centuries of Catholic domination, many of the Inca ceremonies and traditions, notably the Inti Raymi festival and mountain pilgrimages, were revived and continue to be annually re-enacted in modern-day Peru.
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[ 2 ]

Inca Food & Agriculture

Ancient origins
by Mark Cartwright

The Incas controlled a vast empire which included four climate zones and, consequently, their agricultural produce was diverse. The people of the ancient Andes were largely vegetarian, occasionally supplementing their diet with camelid meat and seafood if they could get it. The Inca state developed a huge farming apparatus, where crops and herds were commandeered from conquered peoples and the people themselves were periodically commandeered to work on state-owned farms. More positively, a vast network of storage facilities was developed to insure against times of drought and disaster and foodstuffs were often given out as gifts by rulers seeking to make themselves popular.

Organization & Methods

At a micro-level each family unit produced its own food. Family units were part of a wider kin group or ayllu which collectively owned farmland. Ideally, an ayllu would posses at least some land in both the highlands and more temperate lowlands so that a diversity of foodstuffs could be cultivated. For example, the highlands could offer good pasture and permit potato and maize production, while coca could only be grown at lower altitudes. An area of land for maize cultivation (perhaps around 1.5 acres) called a tupu was given to newlyweds by their ayllu so that they might be self-sustainable. In addition, their first child entitled the couple to another half tupu. If the owner of land died without an heir, then the land was returned to the ayllu for future redistribution.
Land was worked using simple tools such as a hoe, clod breaker, and foot plough - the chakitaqlla, which consisted of a wooden or bronze pointed pole that was pushed into the ground by placing one's foot on a horizontal bar. Hoe blades were typically made using sharpened cobble stones. Agriculture was a community practice, and farmers worked in small teams of seven or eight, often singing as they worked with the men hoeing and women following behind, breaking up clods and sowing seeds. Meanwhile children and young adults were responsible for tending to the family herd of camelids.
Crops cultivated across the Inca Empire included maize, coca, beans, grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, ulluco, oca, mashwa, pepper, tomatoes, peanuts, cashews, squash, cucumber, quinoa, gourd, cotton, talwi, carob, chirimoya, lúcuma, guayabo, and avocado. Livestock was primarily llama and alpaca herds. These animals were vital to many aspects of Andean life as they provided wool, meat, leather, moveable wealth, transportation - especially for the army, and they were often sacrificed in religious ceremonies. Some of the larger state-owned herds could have tens of thousands of animals, and all herds were meticulously accounted for in a state census conducted each November.
The Incas were ambitious farmers and they transformed the landscape with terracing, canals, and irrigation networks.
The Incas were ambitious farmers, and to maximise agricultural production, they transformed the landscape with terracing, canals, and irrigation networks, whilst wetlands were often drained to make them suitable for farming. In addition, the Incas were fully aware of the values of regular crop rotation, and they also fertilized the land with dried llama dung, guano, or fish heads if these materials were available. Even so, the often harsh Andean climate could bring floods, droughts, and storms which, along with disease, meant that annual crop failures were not infrequent. In such cases the Inca talent for food storage came into its own.

Food Storage

Foodstuffs (and other goods) were stored in storehouses (qollqa) which were built in the tens of thousands across the empire, typically arranged in neat rows and near population centres, large estates, and roadside stations. State officials kept careful accounts of their stocks using the quipu, a recording device of strings and knots. Qollqa were single-roomed stone buildings, either circular or rectangular, which were built in a remarkably uniform manner. Placed on hillsides to take advantage of cool breezes, qollqa were designed to maximise the storage time of the perishable goods with which they were filled. They had drainage canals, gravel flooring, and ventilation in both the floor and roof in order to keep the interior as cool and dry as possible so that ordinary goods could be stored for up to two years and freeze-dried foodstuffs for up to four years. Archaeologists have ascertained that maize, potatoes, and quinoa were the most common foodstuffs stored in qollqa. Maize and coca from these stores were frequently given to the masses by popularity-seeking rulers and in times of crop failures.

Agriculture & Religion

Rituals, songs, and sacrifices were a vital part of farming for the Incas. In such ceremonies llamas and guinea pigs were sacrificed and chicha beer poured into the ground and near rivers and springs in order to win favour from the gods and the elements. In addition, the sometimes harsh Andean environment meant that agriculture was viewed as a form of warfare so that, as the historian T. N. D'Altroy eloquently put it, "The Incas approached farming with weapons in their hands and prayers on their lips" (276).
There were also many sacred fields in the Inca capital Cuzco. The harvest from these was used as offerings in shrines, and one particular field was reserved for the ceremonial planting of the year's first maize. It was here, in the month of August, that the Inca king ceremoniously tilled the first soil of the year with a golden plough. The sacred Coricancha, which had a temple to the Inca sun god Inti, even had a life-size field of corn made purely from gold and silver complete with precious metal animals and insects. When the Incas conquered a territory, they divided the land and livestock into three unequal parts - one for the state religion, one for the king, and one for the local inhabitants. Alternatively, as tax was often extracted in the form of labour (mit'a), farmers were relocated to work the Inca ruler's lands or help in other state projects, such as road building and large buildings. The agricultural produce of the farmers' own land was largely left untouched, and they were also allowed to cultivate small plots alongside the state farms while performing their mit'a.

Inca Food & Drink

The Incas had two main meals a day, one early morning and another in the late evening, both taken while seated on the floor without a table. The Inca diet, for ordinary people, was largely vegetarian as meat - camelid, duck, guinea-pig, and wild game such as deer and the vizcacha rodent - was so valuable as to be reserved only for special occasions. More common was freeze-dried meat (ch'arki), which was a popular food when travelling. A porridge made from quinoa was a staple food, and near the coasts fish was eaten, typically in stews. Using small reed boats, Inca fishermen hoped to catch anchovies, sardines, tuna, salmon, sea bass, and shellfish. Wild fruits available included sour cherries, custard apples, elderberries, cactus fruits, pineapples, and a type of banana.
Food was prepared on fires of wood or llama dung using a stone or clay stove so that most food was either boiled or roasted. Maize was either cooked in the form of small cakes or toasted, while popcorn was considered a special treat. Potatoes were another important staple, and these could be stored by drying or freeze-drying in the form of chuno. The grains quinoa and canihua were also important, along with the tubers oca, mashua, and maca. Grains were prepared by pounding them between stone mortars or with a pestle. Additional flavours were achieved by adding herbs and spices, especially chili peppers. The most popular drink was the mildly alcoholic chicha, a fermented beer-like drink which women prepared by chewing maize or other plants and then allowing the pulp to ferment for several days.
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Inca Mummies

Ancient origins
by Mark Cartwright

The Inca civilization of Peru, as with many other ancient Andean cultures, mummified many of their dead and buried them with valuable materials such as precious metal jewellery, fine pottery, and sumptuous textiles. Important mummies could also be periodically removed from their tombs to participate in ceremonies where they were also offered food as if they were still living persons. Those mummies (mallki) which escaped looters have, in most cases, been excellently preserved, thanks to the dry climate of the Andes region, and they provide a unique insight into the culture, religious practices, and everyday life of the Incas.

Ancestor Worship

Mummification was only one type of burial employed by the Incas and was an ancient Andean manifestation of ancestor worship which illustrates a deep reverence for older generations (ayllu) and kinship within communities. Considered a link between the living and the gods, these mummies could also be taken from their resting place and 'consulted' on important occasions so that their knowledge might serve the living community. Given places of honour and offered food and drink, mummies were involved in such ceremonies as marriages, sowing, and harvesting, or when long journeys had to be undertaken by individuals within the community.
Preservation of the body was achieved by desiccation or freeze-drying, processes helped by the natural climate conditions in certain areas such as deserts and the high sierras. Bodies could also be treated and preserved using alcohol (from chicha maize beer). Earlier Andean cultures had used salt as a preservative and often de-fleshed the corpse and removed bodily fluids prior to internment. Mummies were placed in a fetal position and wrapped into bundles using several layers of textiles, bound with cords, and sometimes with a cloth head added. Mummies could be interred in caves or dedicated rooms within a community, often in groups, and these chambers were reopened every so often so that new mummies could be added. High status individuals were clothed and wrapped in particularly fine textiles and jewellery. The deceased's possessions were interred along with their owner, sometimes also with the tools of their particular profession.
Sacrificial victims, including children (capacocha), could also be mummified and placed in mountain-top shrines and other sacred sites (huaca). These were usually freeze-dried and their primary function may have been to reinforce Inca control over conquered provinces.
One of the most remarkable sites for mummified remains is the area around Cajatambo in the highlands of central Peru. No fewer than 1,825 ancient mummies were recorded by the Spanish in the 17th century CE. Here mummies were stored in sacred caves known as machay and, dressed in finery, they were periodically offered food and drink so that, having become part of the landscape themselves, their consultation would guarantee a fruitful harvest.
At Cuzco there was a dedicated space for the mummified remains of former Inca emperors and their wives.

Royal Mummies

Due to looting by the conquistadores and subsequent grave robbers, very few tombs of the aristocracy have been discovered intact, but we do know about the royal mummies of the Inca capital Cuzco from written accounts. At the Coricancha religious complex at Cuzco, there was a dedicated space for the mummified remains of former Inca emperors and their wives, known as mallquis. Within these chambers, the mummified rulers were surrounded by their weapons and artistic treasures, as the Incas believed that the dead ruler remained the owner of the property he had accumulated in life.
Rather than the simple desiccation method, royal mummies got the deluxe treatment of entrails and organ removal, embalming, and skin tanning; they could even be set for eternity in a life-like posture. These mummies were brought out of storage during special ceremonies, such as those celebrating the solstices, and placed in a ring in order of their age in the open air of the main plaza, the Awkaypata or 'Terrace of Repose'. Each had a dedicated attendant who interpreted their wishes and stood by with a fly whisk. These regal mummies were dressed in fine clothes, gold ornaments, and exotic feathers. As though still living, offerings of food and drink were made to them, and the great achievements they had made during their reigns were read out for all to hear. Thus, a link was forged between present and past generations.
So venerated were these royal mummies that when the Spanish arrived, they were repeatedly moved around Cuzco to avoid their capture and destruction by the Europeans, who considered their reverence as idolatry. Ultimately, though, they were discovered and destroyed in 1559 CE. One Spaniard, Garcilaso de la Vega, described them as follows:
Their bodies were so perfect that they lacked neither hair, eyebrows nor eyelashes. They were in clothes such as they had worn when alive...They were seated in the way Indian men and women usually sit, with their arms crossed over their chests, the right over the left, and their eyes cast down...I remember touching a finger of the hand of Huayna-Capac. It was hard and rigid, like that of a wooden statue. The bodies weighed so little that any Indian could carry them from house to house in his arms or on his shoulders. They carried them wrapped in white sheets through the streets and squares, the Indians falling to their knees and making reverences with groans and tears... (D'Altroy, 97-99)
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[ 4 ]

Inca Textiles

Ancient origins
by Mark Cartwright

For the Incas finely worked and highly decorative textiles came to symbolize both wealth and status, fine cloth could be used as both a tax and currency, and the very best textiles became amongst the most prized of all possessions, even more precious than gold or silver. Inca weavers were technically the most accomplished the Americas had ever seen and, with up to 120 wefts per centimetre, the best fabrics were considered the most precious gifts of all. As a result, when the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century CE, it was textiles and not metal goods which were given in welcome to these visitors from another world.
Although very few examples of Inca textiles survive from the heartland of the empire, and we also know that many textiles were burnt to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Spanish, we do have, thanks to the dryness of the Andean environment, many textile examples from the highlands and mountain burial sites. In addition, Spanish chroniclers often made drawings of textile designs and clothing so that we have a reasonable picture of the varieties in use.


It seems that both men and women created textiles, but it was a skill women of all classes were expected to be accomplished at. The principal equipment was the backstrap loom for smaller pieces and either the horizontal single-heddle loom or vertical loom with four poles for larger pieces, such as rugs and blankets. Spinning was done with a drop spindle, typically in ceramic or wood. Inca textiles were made using cotton (especially on the coast and in the eastern lowlands) or llama, alpaca, and vicuña wool (more common in the highlands) which can be exceptionally fine. Goods made using the super-soft vicuña wool were restricted and only the Inca ruler could own vicuña herds. Rougher textiles were also made using maguey fibres.
Goods made using the super-soft vicuña wool were restricted and only the Inca ruler could own vicuña herds.
The finest female weavers (aclla) from across the empire were forcibly relocated to the capital Cuzco to work in the Acllawasi or 'House of the Chosen Women'. Here, too, state sponsored workshops with subsidised workers produced clothing for the nobility and the army. It was here that the finest cloth was made by male specialists known as qumpicamayocs or 'keepers of the fine cloth'. The Incas had three categories of cloth: the roughest was chusi (used primarily for blankets); slightly less coarse and most common was awasca for daily use and the military but which was rarely decorative; and the finest cloth was qompi. The latter was divided into a further two categories - one grade for tribute, the other for royal and religious function. Many burials contained not only textiles but also oblong work-baskets which contained the tools necessary for weaving (spindles, bobbins, spools of thread, and metal pins and needles), indicating that weaving was a highly esteemed craft.

Colours & Meaning

The principal colours used in Inca textiles were black, white, green, yellow, orange, purple, and red. Blue is rarely present in Inca textiles. These colours came from natural dyes which were extracted from plants, minerals, insects, and molluscs. Hundreds of additional colour shades were made from mixing the base palette of pigments. Colours also had specific associations, for example, red was equated with conquest, rulership, and blood. This was most clearly seen in the Mascaypacha, the Inca state insignia, where each thread of its red tassel symbolised a conquered people. Green represented rainforests, the peoples who inhabited them, ancestors, rain and its consequent agricultural growth, coca, and tobacco. Black signified creation and death, while yellow could signal maize or gold. Purple was, as in the rainbow, considered the first colour and associated with Mama Oclla, the founding mother of the Inca race. Finally, foreigners at Cuzco could wear only black garments.


Besides using dyed strands to weave patterns, other techniques included embroidery, tapestry, mixing different layers of cloth, and painting – either by hand or using wooden stamps. The Incas favoured abstract geometric designs, especially checkerboard motifs, which repeated patterns (tocapus) across the surface of the cloth. Certain patterns may also have been ideograms and so carried a specific meaning, but the issue continues to be debated by scholars. Non-geometrical subjects, often rendered in abstract form, included felines (especially jaguars and pumas), llamas, snakes, birds, sea creatures, and plants. Clothes were simply patterned, commonly with square designs at the waist and fringes and a triangle marking the neck. One such design was the standard military tunic which consisted of a black and white checkerboard design with an inverted red triangle at the neck.
Designs could be specific to family groups (ayllu), and one of the reasons for repeated designs was that textiles were often produced for the state as a tax and so textiles could be representative of specific communities and their cultural heritage. Just as today’s coins and stamps reflect a nation's history, so too Andean textiles offered recognisable motifs which either represented the specific communities making them or the imposed designs of the ruling Inca class ordering them. At the same time, just as the Inca imposed a political dominance over their conquered subjects, with art they imposed standard Inca forms and designs, but they did allow local traditions to maintain their preferred colours and motifs. It is also notable that, as with pottery decoration, Inca textiles did not include representations of themselves, their rituals, or such common Andean images as monsters and half-human, half-animal figures which are seen in other art forms.
Additional decoration could be added to articles in the form of tassles, brocade, feathers, and beads of precious metal or shell. Precious metal threads could also be woven into the cloth itself. As feathers were usually from rare tropical birds and condors, these garments were reserved for the royal family and nobility.


Inca clothes were simple in style, and most were made using either cotton or wool. The typical male attire was a loincloth and a simple tunic (unqo) made from a single sheet folded over and stitched at the sides with holes left for the arms and neck. In winter a cloak or poncho was worn on top. Women typically wore a single large cloth wrapped around the body which was pinned at the shoulder and held in place with a waist belt or sash known as a chumpi. On top of this a cloak could be worn, again pinned at the front. Both sexes wore cloth hats or headbands. This headgear could indicate clan groups or social status both in their design and with the addition of feathers and precious metal decorations.
Clothing was a great status symbol in Inca society and an easily recognisable indicator of a person's wealth and status. Rulers and nobility were also buried wrapped in multiple layers of fine textiles. Such was the value given to fine textiles that the Incas often required its production as tribute or tax (mit'a - working for the state) from conquered peoples. To this end specific quantities of wool or cotton were given to subject weavers each year so that they might produce a calculated quantity of textiles. Those textiles which involved the most labour to produce were considered the most valuable. Indeed, textiles were so valued that they became in effect a currency; for example, the state paid units of soldiers and those who had rendered a service with cloth.
Other goods made from textiles included bags, for the storage of, for example, coca leaves. These were frequently decorated with the addition of tassles. Sleeping mats, blankets, sacks, saddle bags, the uppers of shoes, and wall hangings were also made from textiles. Small votive figure dolls were also dressed in textiles and left in burial chambers. And textiles were given as gifts in important society rituals such as weddings, births, and rites of passage, and could be burned as votive offerings to the gods. Finally, mention should be made of the Inca quipu, the complex string recording device where knots and colours were used to record specific goods and messages.
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[ 4 ]

The Inca Road System

Ancient origins
by Mark Cartwright

The Inca road system formed a network known as the royal highway or qhapaq ñan, which became an invaluable part of the Inca empire, not only facilitating the movement of armies, people, and goods but also providing an important physical symbol of imperial control. Across plains, deserts, and mountains, the network connected settlements and administrative centres. Well-built and lasting, many roads included bridges, causeways, stairways, and also had small stations (chaskiwasi) and sometimes larger, more luxurious complexes (tambos) dotted along every 20 km or so, where travellers could spend the night and refresh.

The Inca Road Network

Inca roads covered over 40,000 km (25,000 miles), principally in two main highways running north to south across the Inca Empire, which eventually spread over ancient Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina. One highway ran down the coast, and the other wound through the highlands. Another important route ran east from Quito (Ecuador) across to Mendoza (Argentina), and there was also a major route along the plains of the northern coast. Criss-crossing these main roads were some 20 other secondary routes and many smaller trails besides. Roads were also built which went beyond Inca-controlled settlements and led to outside territory, perhaps to facilitate trade with, or military operations against, neighbouring peoples. Along some of the more important highways, milestones marked each Inca unit of distance, the topo, equivalent to 7 km.
Although some Inca roads used older routes such as those built by the earlier Wari, Tiwanaku, and Chimu cultures, the Incas were also creative in their positioning of routes and were not afraid to cross new and unpopulated terrain. Inca engineers were also undaunted by geographical difficulties and built roads across ravines, rivers, deserts, and mountain passes up to 5,000 metres high.

Engineering Methods & Materials

Inca roads were built without the benefit of sophisticated surveying equipment using only wooden, stone, and bronze tools. As they were built in different geographical zones using local populations, the roads are, consequently, not uniform in construction design or materials. The width of most roads varies from one to four metres, although some could be much bigger, such as the 15-metre wide highway in the Huanuco Pampa province. Sometimes there are also two or three roads constructed in parallel, especially near the larger urban centres. Flattened road beds - often raised - were usually made using packed earth, sand, or grass. The more important roads were finished with precisely arranged paving stones or cobbles. Roads were typically edged and protected with small stone walls, stone markers, wooden or cane posts, or piles of stones. Drainage was provided by frequent drains and culverts, which drew off rainwater from the road surface, channelling it either along or under the road. When crossing wetlands, roads were often supported by buttress walls or built on causeways. Bridges of stone or reeds were also constructed to cover distances in a more direct route as were large, stone, llama-friendly staircases in mountainous terrain. There was even an appointed official, the Chaka Suyuyuq, responsible for inspecting the empire's bridges.
Inca roads are very often more elaborate & well-constructed than was actually necessary, no doubt, so as to impress travellers & conquered peoples of the superiority of Inca culture.
Generally, and despite their reputation for Roman-like long straight roads, Inca roads tended to follow natural contours as the straight stretches of road are rarely more than a few kilometres long. It is also noteworthy that Inca roads are very often more elaborate and well-constructed than was actually necessary. This attention to detail was almost certainly in order to impress travellers and conquered peoples of the superiority of Inca culture as felt by the lords of Cuzco.
Surely one of the most impressive sights and showcases for Inca engineering must have been the many rope suspension bridges which crossed perilous ravines. These were built using braids of reed or grass rope with wooden and fibre flooring. Perhaps the most famous crossed the Apurimac River near Cuzco and measured 45 metres in length. Suspension bridges were often built in pairs perhaps with one bridge for commoners and one for nobles. An alternative to such bridges was the oroya, a suspended basket which transported two or three people at a time over a greater distance than could be reached with a rope bridge. Local populations were given the responsibility of maintaining these perishable structures each year as part of their imperial tribute.

Road Users

The extensive reach of the road network allowed the Incas to better move armies across their territories in order to further expand the empire or maintain order within it. Trade goods and tribute from conquered peoples - both goods and people - could also be easily transported to and from the major Inca centres, typically using llama caravans and porters (there were no wheeled vehicles). Inca administrative officials also travelled along the roads in order to dispense justice or maintain records such as local agricultural production, tribute quotas, and censuses. Ordinary people were not permitted to use the roads for private purposes unless they had official permission. They also sometimes had to pay tolls for the privilege, especially at bridges.
Another interesting feature of Inca roads was the use of runners (chaski or chasquis). Moving as fast as they could, they operated in relays, passing information to a fresh runner stationed every six to nine kilometres. However, it was not only messages that were carried between population centres but also such perishable items as fresh fish and seafood for the tables of Inca nobles. With this system, information (and fish) could travel up to 240 km in a single day. Messages carried over long distances would have involved hundreds of oral exchanges, and to preserve the correct meaning of the original message, quipu - a coded assembly of strings and knots - were probably used to help the memory of the runners.


Many sections of the Inca road network survive today and are still used by pedestrians, especially near such sites as Machu Picchu, where large stone stairways and bridges give access to the site for modern tourists. In addition, some of the original Inca routes have had modern roads built directly over them, illustrating the skills and vision for crossing terrain and distances possessed by Inca engineers and road builders.
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[ 5 ]

Daily Life in the Inca Empire

Ancient origins
by Mark Cartwright

Daily life in the Inca empire was characterised by strong family relationships, agricultural labour, sometimes enforced state or military service for males, and occasional lighter moments of festivities to celebrate important life events in the community and highlights in the agricultural calendar.

The Family & Ayllu

The family was a fundamental component of Inca society, and strong attachments were made between even distant relations, not just close family. For example, the words for father and uncle were the same, as were mother and aunt, and the word for cousin was the same as brother and sister. Naming conventions illustrate that the male line was regarded as the most important by the Incas.
The wider family would all have been members of the same kin group or ayllu. Some of these, composed of hundreds of small family units, were large enough to be categorised as a subtribe. Marriage outside of this group was unusual so that all members of the ayllu were, in practice, related. They believed they came from a common ancestor, usually a legendary figure or even a mythical animal. Ancestors were often mummified and revered in regular ritual ceremonies. A further collective identity besides blood was the fact that an ayllu owned a particular piece of territory and the elders parcelled it out for individual families to work on so that they might be self-sustainable.
Inca communities had most opportunity to reinforce shared cultural practices & personal ties at births, marriages & funerals.
The ayllu system of social governance was much older than the Incas themselves, but following their conquest of local tribes they used its conventions – for example, common labour in the service of the ayllu chief or chiefs and role as a political and trading body for relations with other ayllu – to good effect to better govern their empire. The Incas also put greater emphasis on the geographical ties between individuals and introduced a new aristocratic class which could not be accessed from a lower social group through marriage. Even new ayllus were created (each Inca king created his own, and forced resettlement was another reason), and above all, warriors now no longer pledged allegiance to the leader of their ayllu but to the Inca ruler at Cuzco. In the same way, the worship of particular local deities by any one ayllu was permitted to continue, but these were made subservient to the Inca gods, especially the sun god Inti. Finally, the Incas kept precise census records using their quipu (khipu) devices of knotted-string, in which males within the empire were classified according to their age and physical capacity for work in mines, fields, or the army.
Several of these cultural changes under Inca rule may well have been factors in the empire's collapse following the European invasion and explain many communities' readiness to join forces with the conquistadores against their Inca overlords. With distant leaders, imposed tribute and religion, and a feeling of isolation and anonymity in the vast Inca empire, the traditional ayllu with its close ties between individuals, a common heritage, and familiar leadership must have seemed a much more preferable way of life.


As with most ancient (and perhaps many modern) cultures, the events, besides warfare, when Inca communities had most opportunity to reinforce shared cultural practices and personal ties were births, marriages, and funerals. Again, common to ancient societies, births and deaths were high, especially the infant mortality rate. Families in ancient Peru on average had five members. There was no birth control (or infanticide), and children of both sexes were welcomed so that they might assist the family working the fields. Pregnancy did not interrupt a woman's agricultural duties, and when she gave birth, there was no help from a midwife. Babies were kept in a wooden portable cradle that the mother could carry while she worked.
Once weaned, a feast (the rutuchicoy) was held at which the baby was named, given gifts, and clippings of its nails and hair were kept aside. The child was instructed in all it needed to know by its parents as there were neither schools nor a writing system and they were expected to help their parents as soon as they could walk. For this reason, most children would have learned the trade of their parents. Children of the nobility at Cuzco did, however, receive some formal instruction concerning Inca religion and history, the quipu, and warfare. A select number of girls were chosen as future priestesses and trained in religion, weaving and the cooking of special dishes and preparation of chicha beer for religious feasts.


Puberty was an important passage for both boys and girls. The latter had a feast in their honour and were given gifts and their name (by their most senior uncle) to be used for their adult life. Boys had a more communal rite of passage involving races and sacrifices when their ears were pierced in order to wear the earspools of Inca rank. Here too, they were given a new adult name. There were no surnames in Peruvian society, and first names could be anything that best described the individual, leading to such names as 'Condor' (Kuntur), 'Jaguar' (Uturunku), 'Star' (Cuyllor), 'Gold' (Qori), and 'Pure' (Ocllo). Children of the elite would have carried several other names and titles depending on the rank and deeds they achieved through life.


The next big event in a young person's life was marriage. This probably took place when the couple were in their teens, although chroniclers disagree on the matter. A male was not considered an adult until he had married. As in any agricultural economy, it was not economically feasible for a person to remain single, and for the same reason, divorce was unheard of, at least formally speaking. The choice of partner seems to have been largely up to the individuals concerned in consultation with their parents. When the father of the girl accepted the traditional gift of coca leaves from the boy, the deal was done. The wedding ceremonies were not held for individual couples but perhaps once annually for all those getting married in a particular ayllu. In some areas, there was also the possibility of trial marriages where the couple lived together for a short period before committing to the full obligation of marriage. As virginity was not particularly prized in ancient Peru, the girl did not suffer any reputational repercussions, at least in that respect, from failed trials.
After the non-religious ceremony of feasting and gift exchange, the bride moved into the area of her partner's family in a new home and worked that land alongside her husband which he had inherited at birth. The quantity of land the bride had inherited (half the size of that given to males) was given back to the ayllu's communal lands. The family home was a simple affair of mud-brick or beaten mud walls with a thatch roof, a single low door and no windows. Inside was a central hearth and beds were made from llama skins. The living space was divided into two areas: one for sleeping and the other for cooking and keeping domestic animals such as guinea pigs.
In a culture where frequent wars meant that the male population was significantly smaller than the female, polygamy was permitted, although it seems to have been restricted largely to the aristocracy for whom it was also common to have many concubines. The first wife was always the most senior if there were secondary wives. A widower could remarry anyone he chose, but a widow could only marry her husband's brother.

Working Life

Both sexes worked in the fields using simple tools, and often in teams, or they raised livestock or fished and hunted, depending on their location. Men might be required to perform labour duties (building and maintaining Inca roads or farming on Inca state lands) or military service to the Inca rulers. When this happened and men were called away, their neighbours helped out so that the family farm could continue to function.
Women were expected to prepare the meals, care for the children, and perform such needed tasks as cleaning and weaving. The latter provided camelid-wool clothes, usually only one set for each member of the family. Regarding clothes, when worn at all, men wore trousers (huara), a sleeveless shirt (cushma or uncu), and, if necessary, a woollen cape (yacolla). Women wore a long belted tunic (anacu) and a yacolla, too. Footwear, if worn at all, was in the form of leather and woollen-cord sandals (usuta). Besides weaving other crafts might have been done, most typically pottery, which was made by both sexes.
Probably meal times were the most anticipated daily events, once in the morning and again in the evening, with wood or llama dung being the most common fuels. Diet was largely vegetarian with meat being reserved for special occasions, although coastal communities would have had access to seafood. Quinoa porridge, maize, and potatoes were staples, wild fruits were readily available ranging from sour cherries to pineapples, and treats included popcorn.
Both sexes would have participated in public religious ceremonies and in festivities related to the agricultural calendar, where drinking chicha beer would have been a highlight. Dancing was an important feature of the festivities when dancers mimicked activities such as hunting, sowing, or battles. Musical accompaniment came from ceramic panpipes, drums, bells, clackers, rattles, tambourines, and seashell trumpets. Leisure activities seem to have been few and far between, but there is evidence of sports such as running and jumping, boardgame-playing, and gambling using dice. Poetry recitals, recounting myths and singing traditional ballads were other popular pastimes.


Ancestor worship was an important part of ancient Peruvian culture. Individuals were mummified and carefully stored so that they might be brought out again in regular public ceremonies. Mummies were set in a foetal position and wrapped in fine textiles if the family could afford it. The possessions of the deceased and the tools they used in life were also buried with them or, on occasion, burned in ritual. The funeral ceremony might last a week, and in the case of the nobility, the individual's lesser wives and servants were sometimes sacrificed to accompany the body into the next life. Mummies were either buried in graves or placed in caves. Children who did not reach adulthood were often buried in pottery urns. A period of mourning was observed (up to a year for the elite at Cuzco) during which black clothes were worn and women covered their heads. A man could not remarry within one year, sometimes even two, of the funeral ceremony of his first wife. The tombs of the deceased were regularly reopened to offer food and drink to the mummies or to add new occupants.
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[ 6 ]

Pizarro & the Fall of the Inca Empire

Ancient origins
by Mark Cartwright

In 1533 CE the Inca Empire was the largest in the world. It extended across western South America from Quito in the north to Santiago in the south. However, the lack of integration of conquered peoples into that empire, combined with a civil war to claim the Inca throne and a devastating epidemic of European-brought diseases, meant that the Incas were ripe for the taking. Francisco Pizarro arrived in Peru with an astonishingly small force of men whose only interest was treasure. With superior weapons and tactics, and valuable assistance from locals keen to rebel, the Spanish swept away the Incas in little more than a generation. The arrival of the visitors to the New World and consequent collapse of the Inca Empire was the greatest humanitarian disaster to ever befall the Americas.

The Inca Empire

The Incas themselves called their empire Tawantinsuyo (or Tahuantinsuyu) meaning 'Land of the Four Quarters' or 'The Four Parts Together'. Cuzco, the capital, was considered the navel of the world, and radiating out were highways and sacred sighting lines (ceques) to each quarter: Chinchaysuyu (north), Antisuyu (east), Collasuyu (south), and Cuntisuyu (west). Spreading across ancient Ecuador, Peru, northern Chile, Bolivia, upland Argentina, and southern Colombia and stretching 5,500 km (3,400 miles) north to south, a mere 40,000 Incas governed a huge territory with some 10 million subjects speaking over 30 different languages.
The Incas believed they had a divine right to rule over conquered peoples as in their mythology they were brought into existence at Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) by the sun god Inti. As a consequence, they regarded themselves as the chosen few, the 'Children of the Sun', and the Inca ruler was Inti's representative and embodiment on earth. In practical terms, this meant that all speakers of the Inca language Quechua (or Runasimi) were given privileged status, and this noble class then dominated all the important political, religious, and administrative roles within the empire.
The rise of the Inca Empire had been spectacularly quick. Although Cuzco had become a significant centre some time at the beginning of the Late Intermediate Period (1000-1400 CE), the process of regional unification only began from the late 14th century CE and significant conquest in the 15th century CE. The Empire was still young when it was to meet its greatest challenge.

Pizarro & the Conquistadores

Francisco Pizarro and his partner Diego de Almagro were both in their mid-50s, from humble backgrounds, and neither had won any renown in their native Spain. Adventurers and treasure-seekers, they led a small group of Spanish adventurers eager to find the golden treasures their compatriots had found in the Aztec world of Mexico a decade earlier. Sailing down the Pacific coast from Panama in two small caravel merchant ships, they searched on in Colombia and the Ecuadorian coast but could not find the gold they so desperately sought. This was Pizarro’s third such expedition, and it seemed his very last chance for fame and glory.
Then, in 1528 CE, one Bartolomé Ruiz (the expedition’s pilot) captured a raft off the coast which was full of treasure. There might, after all, be something worth exploring deeper in South America. Pizarro used the discovery as a means to secure the right from the Spanish king Charles V to be governor of any new territory discovered with the Crown getting its usual one-fifth of any treasure found. With a force of 168 men, which included 138 veterans, 27 cavalry horses, artillery, and one friar, a Father Valverde, Pizarro headed for the Andes.
In 1531 CE, making slow and careful progress, he reached and conquered Coaque on the Ecuadorian coast and waited for reinforcements. These arrived the following year and swelled the Spanish force to 260 men of which 62 were cavalry. The force moved on down the coast to Tumbes, pillaging as they went and putting the natives to the sword. Moving on again they began to see the tell-tale signs of a prosperous civilization – storehouses and well-built roads. They formed a new settlement at San Miguel (modern Piura), and by the end of the year 1532 CE Pizarro was ready to make first contact with the rulers of what seemed a huge and wealthy empire.

Trouble in the Empire

When the foreign invaders arrived in Peru the Incas were already beset by some serious internal problems. As we have seen, their massive empire was a politically fragile and loose integration of conquered states whose subservience came from Inca military dominance and the taking of hostages - both of important persons and important religious artefacts - to ensure a continued, if uneasy, compliance to Cuzco’s rule. Unpopular taxes were extracted in the form of goods or service (military and general labour), and many communities were forcibly resettled to other parts of the empire or had to welcome new communities of people more loyal to their overlords.
The Incas also imposed their religion on conquered peoples, even if they allowed the continued worship of some gods provided they were given a lesser status to Inti. The Incas even imposed their own art across the empire as a way to visually impress exactly who was the ruling class. There were some benefits to Inca rule – a more regulated food supply, better roads and communications, the possibility of Inca military protection, and occasional state-sponsored feasts. All in all, though, the lot of a conquered area was such that, in many cases, when a rival power threatened Inca rule, loyalty to preserve the empire was somewhat lacking. Some areas, especially in the northern territories were constantly in rebellion, and an ongoing war in Ecuador necessitated the establishment of a second Inca capital at Quito.
Perhaps more significantly than this unrest, when Pizarro arrived on the scene the Incas were fighting amongst themselves. On the death of the Inca ruler Wayna Qhapaq in 1528 CE, two of his sons, Waskar and Atahualpa, battled in a damaging six-year civil war for control of their father’s empire. Atahualpa finally won but the empire was still beset by factions yet to be fully reconciled to his victory.
Finally, if all those factors were not enough to give the Spanish a serious advantage, the Incas were at that time hit by an epidemic of European diseases, such as smallpox, which had spread from central America even faster than the European invaders themselves. Such a disease killed Wayna Qhapaq in 1528 CE and in some places a staggering 65-90% of the population would die from this invisible enemy.

Pizarro Meets Atahualpa

On Friday, 15th of November, 1532 CE, the Spaniards approached the Inca town of Cajamarca in the highlands of Peru. Pizarro sent word that he wished to meet the Inca king, there enjoying the local springs and basking in his recent victory over Waskar. Atahualpa agreed to finally meet the much-rumoured bearded white men who were known to have been fighting their way from the coast for some time. Confidently surrounded by his 80,000 strong army Atahualpa seems not to have seen any threat from such a small enemy force, and he made Pizarro wait until the next day.
The first formal meeting between Pizarro and Atahualpa involved a few speeches, a drink together while they watched some Spanish horsemanship, and not much else. Both sides went away planning to capture or kill the other party at the first available opportunity. The very next day Pizarro, using the conveniently labyrinth-like architecture of the Inca town to his advantage, set his men in ambush to await Atahualpa’s arrival in the main square. When the royal troop arrived, Pizarro fired his small canons, and then his men, wearing armour, attacked on horseback. In the ensuing battle, where firearms were mismatched against spears, arrows, slings, and clubs, 7,000 Incas were killed against zero Spanish losses. Atahualpa was hit a blow on the head and captured alive.

Atahualpa’s Ransom & Death

Either held for ransom by Pizarro or even offering a ransom himself, Atahualpa’s safe return to his people was promised if a room measuring 6.2 x 4.8 metres were filled with all the treasures the Incas could provide up to a height of 2.5 m. This was done, and the chamber was piled high with gold objects from jewellery to idols. The room was then filled twice again with silver objects. The whole task took eight months, and the value today of the accumulated treasures would have been well over $50 million. Meanwhile, Atahualpa continued to run his empire from captivity, and Pizarro sent exploratory expeditions to Cuzco and Pachacamac while he awaited reinforcements from Panama, enticed by sending a quantity of gold to hint at the wealth on offer. Then, having got his ransom, Pizarro summarily tried and executed Atahualpa anyway, on the 26th of July, 1533 CE. The Inca king was originally sentenced to death by burning at the stake, but after the monarch agreed to be baptised, this was commuted to death by strangulation.
Some of Pizarro’s men thought this was the worst possible response, and Pizarro received criticism from the Spanish king for treating a foreign sovereign so shabbily, but the wily Spanish leader had seen just how subservient the Incas were to their king, even when he was held captive by the enemy. As a living god, Pizarro perhaps knew that only the king’s death could bring about the total defeat of the Incas. Indeed, even in death, the Inca king exerted an influence over his people for the severed head of Atahualpa gave birth to the enduring Inkarri legend. For the Incas believed that one day the head would grow a new body and their ruler would return, defeat the Spanish, and restore the natural order of things. Crucially, the period of Atahualpa’s captivity had shown the Spanish that there were deep factions in the Inca Empire and these could be exploited to their own advantage.

The Fall of Cuzco

Having cut off the snake’s head, the Spanish then set about conquering Cuzco with its vast golden treasures which were reported by Hernando Pizarro following his reconnaissance expedition there. After that, they could deal with the rest of the empire. The first battle was with troops loyal to Atahualpa near Hatun Xauxa, but the Spaniards were helped by the local population delighted to see the back of the Incas. The Spaniards were given supplies from the local Inca storehouses, and Pizarro established his new capital there. Local assistance and the plundering of the Inca storehouses would become a familiar pattern which aided Pizarro for the remainder of his conquest.
The invaders next defeated an army in retreat at Vilcaswaman but did not have everything their own way and even suffered a military defeat when an advance force was attacked by surprise on their way to Cuzco. The next day the Old World visitors resumed their unstoppable march, though, and swept all before them. A brief resistance at Cuzco was overcome, and the city fell into Pizarro’s hands with a whimper on 15th of November, 1533 CE. The treasures of the city and the golden wonders of the Coricancha temple were ruthlessly stripped and melted down.
Pizarro’s first attempt to install a puppet ruler - Thupa Wallpa, the younger brother of Waskar - failed to restore any sort of political order, and he soon died of illness. A second puppet ruler was installed – Manqo Inka, another son of Wayna Qhapaq. While he ensured the state did not collapse from within, Pizarro and his men left to pacify the rest of the empire and see what other treasures they could find.

Conquering the Empire

The Spanish were severely tested in the northern territories, where armies led by Ruminawi and Quizquiz held out, but these too capitulated from internal strife and their leaders were killed. The Europeans’ relentless conquest could not be answered. In this, they were greatly helped by the Inca mode of warfare which was highly ritualised. Such tactics as deceit, ambush, and subterfuge were unknown to them in warfare, as were changing tactics mid-battle and seizing opportunities of weakness in the enemy as they arose. In addition, Inca warriors were highly dependent on their officers, and if these conspicuous individuals fell in battle, a whole army could quickly collapse in panicked retreat. These factors and the superior weaponry of the Europeans meant the Incas had very little chance of defending a huge empire already difficult to manage. The Incas did quickly learn to fight back and deal with cavalry, for example by flooding areas under attack or fighting on rough terrain, but their spears, slings, and clubs could not match bullets, crossbows, swords, and steel armour. The Spaniards also had nearly half the population of the old empire fighting for them as old rivalries and factions re-emerged.
The Spanish soon found out that the vast geographical spread of their new empire and its inherent difficulties in communication and control (even if their predecessors had built an excellent road system) meant that they faced the same management problems as the Incas. Rebellions and defections spread all over, and even Manqo Inka rebelled and formed his own army to try and win real power for himself. Cuzco and the new Spanish stronghold of Cuidad de Los Reyes (Lima) were besieged by two huge Inca armies, but the Spaniards held out until the attackers had to retreat. The Inca armies were largely composed of farmers, and they could not abandon their harvest without starving their communities. The siege was raised again the next year, but once more the Spanish resisted, and when they killed the army leaders in a deliberately targeted attack, resistance to the new order ebbed away. Manqo Inka was forced to flee south where he set up an Inca enclave at Vilcabamba. He and his successors would resist for another four decades. Finally, in 1572 CE, a Spanish force led by Viceroy Toledo captured the Inca king Thupa Amaru, took him back to Cuzco, and executed him. The last Inca ruler was gone and with him any hope of restoring their once great empire.


Atahualpa, following victory in the war with his brother, had killed historians and destroyed the Inca quipu records in what was intended to be a total renewal, what the Incas called a pachakuti or ‘turning over of time and space’, an epoch-changing event which the Incas believed periodically occurred through the ages. How ironic then, that Atahualpa was to suffer a pachakuti himself and the new rulers would similarly loot, burn, and destroy every vestige of Andean culture they could find. The arrival of the Old World into the New turned it upside down. Nothing would ever be the same again.
The Spanish, after decades of their own internal problems, which included the murder of Pizarro, eventually established a stable colonial government in 1554 CE. For the Andean people, their way of life, which had stretched back millennia despite the Inca interruption, would be challenged again by the new epoch. These were the lucky ones, though, as by 1570 CE 50% of the pre-Columbian Andean population had been wiped out. For those ordinary people who survived the ravages of war and disease, there was to be no respite from a rapacious overlord once again eager to steal their wealth and impose on them a foreign religion.
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[ 7 ]

Pizarro and Atahualpa: The Curse of the Lost Inca Gold

Ancient origins
by Bill Yates

In November 1532 CE, Francisco Pizarro led a group of about 160 conquistadors into the Inca city of Cajamarca. The illiterate and illegitimate son of an Extremaduran nobleman and an impoverished woman, Pizarro had spent his entire life on a quest to become wealthy and be remembered.
After hearing of how a distant cousin of his, Hernan Cortes, had looted millions in gold from the Aztecs, Pizarro was desperate to do the same. He began his career when in 1502 CE, he joined a colonization expedition to the New World. Distinguishing himself in battle, Pizarro quickly rose to second-in-command of the Darien region’s army.
He led two unsuccessful expeditions into the western coast of South America, where harsh conditions and native warriors drove his troops back towards the shore. However, fate was to intervene when Pizarro’s troops entered the Inca City of Tumbes. The people of the village not only welcomed them, but allowed the conquistadors time to rest and heal.
Quickly the Spaniards became enthralled with not only the large amounts of silver and gold the local chieftains wore, but that the precious metals seemed to be everywhere. Using tactics and subterfuge, they persuaded the chieftains to tell them of a great Inca ruler in the mountains where gold was plentiful.
Taking his new found knowledge and some gold as proof, Pizarro returned to Spain, where he convinced King Charles to not only finance a third expedition, but to make him the governor of all lands he conquered.
Upon Pizarro’s return to Tumbes, he found the once beautiful city destroyed by civil war. Pizarro didn’t know it at the time, but his timing could not have been more perfect, as shortly before his arrival Atahualpa Inca had returned from the conquest of defeating his brother Huascar. The battle’s outcome had made Atahualpa the “Inca” (only the King could actually use the term Inca.) Upon hearing of the Spaniards arrival, Atahualpa felt he and his 80,000 men had little to fear from the 160 Spaniards. However, as a precaution he sent a few nobles to meet with the Spanish.
The nobles spent two days with the Spaniards, accessing them and their weapons. When he heard their report, Atahualpa sent word that he wished to meet the Spanish at the city of Cajamarca, where he planned to capture them.
When Pizarro entered the mostly deserted city in November, he immediately sent word that he would like to meet with the great Inca ruler at the city's center. As he waited for the Inca’s arrival, Pizarro planned a trap of his own. Atahualpa arrived at their meeting point carried in a litter by 80 noblemen and surrounded by 6,000 soldiers. Shortly afterwards, Pizarro ordered the attack. Cannons began to roar with deadly accuracy. The cavalry charged from their strategically hidden positions, and the infantrymen opened fire from long houses. The Inca soldiers and nobles who weren’t killed in the first few minutes of the attack fled in fear. Pizarro himself captured Atahualpa Inca.
Fearing for his life, Atahualpa told Pizarro if he would spare him, within two months his people would fill a room 24-feet long by 18-feet wide and a height of 8-feet with gold, and twice that amount with silver. Even Pizarro was taken aback by this amount of wealth and instantly agreed to the ransom.
However during the two months the gold and silver were slowly delivered, the Spanish troops and Pizarro lived with the growing and overwhelming fear that the massive Inca army may be mobilizing to take Atahualpa and kill them.
To prevent this from happening, on August 29, 1533 CE, Pizarro acted as judge, and on the basis of false charges sentenced Atahualpa to burn at the stake. Hearing of his verdict the Inca ruler asked if he could convert to Christianity. He knew if he were a Christian, the Spanish religion would not allow him to be burned to death, and he was right - instead they garroted him.
Upon learning of the Spanish treachery, Inca General Ruminahui hid the approximate 750 tons of gold he was bringing for his king’s release in a cave deep in the Llanganatis Mountains. Shortly afterwards Ruminahui was captured, and while tortured to death, he did not reveal the treasure's location.
There the treasure remained for many years until a Spanish man living in the Llanganatis Mountains - Valverde Derrotero - married a certain village priest's daughter. The priest sometime earlier had found the treasure and knowing of the Spanish lust for gold, he showed his new son-in-law its whereabouts. Derrotero had been a poor man, but after the marriage he became a very rich one. Some years later he returned to Spain and upon his deathbed wrote a three-page edict to the king, declaring the treasures location. Known as Valverde’s Guide, the piece gave detailed instructions on how to find the treasure.
Immediately the king dispatched a friar named Father Longo to inspect the possibility of hidden treasure. During his expedition Longo sent word that they had found the treasure, but on his way back down the mountains he mysteriously disappeared.
About 100 years after Longo’s disappearance, a miner named Atanasio Guzman, who had been mining in the Llanganates Mountains, penned a map, which he said led to the treasure. However, before he could lay stake to his claim he, much like Longo, disappeared in the mountains.
Nothing else was known about the treasure until 1860 CE, when two men --Captain Barth Blake and Lieutenant George Edwin Chapman-- believed they had solved the riddle set in search of the treasure. Blake made maps of the area and sent communication back home. In one of his letters he wrote:
It is impossible for me to describe the wealth that now lays in that cave marked on my map, but I could not remove it alone, nor could thousands of men … There are thousands of gold and silver pieces of Inca and pre-Inca handicraft, the most beautiful goldsmith works you are not able to imagine, life-size human figures made out of beaten gold and silver, birds, animals, cornstalks, gold and silver flowers. Pots full of the most incredible jewelry. Golden vases full of emeralds.
However, the men were not to enjoy their spoils, as on their way out of the mountains, Chapman disappeared, and Blake --a career naval officer-- somehow fell overboard while transporting some of the gold to be sold.
Is the story true? It’s difficult to be certain, but we know a tremendous amount of gold and silver was delivered to the Spaniards. There are the historical accounts of people disappearing, or in Blake’s case falling overboard, after announcing they had found the treasure.
There’s also the fact that in one of his cryptic clues to the Spanish King, Derrotero mentioned a Black Lake. Sometime in the 1930’s CE, the Yanacocha (or Black Lake) gold mine went into operation. To date the mine has produced more than $7 billion US dollars in gold. And, while finding gold in the area Derrotero said the treasure would be doesn’t necessarily make the story true, it does make it worth its weight in gold.
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Source: Ancient History EncyclopediaContent is available under License Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0