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Origin and historyThe Inca civilization flourished in ancient Peru between c. 1400 and 1533 CE, and their empire eventually extended across western South America from Quito in the north to Santiago in the south, making it the largest empire ever seen in the Americas and the largest in the world at that time. Undaunted by the often harsh Andean environment, the Incas conquered people and exploited landscapes in such diverse settings as plains, mountains, deserts, and tropical jungle. Famed for their unique art and architecture, they constructed finely-built and imposing buildings wherever they conquered, and their spectacular adaptation of natural landscapes with terracing, highways, and mountaintop settlements continues to impress modern visitors at such world famous sites as Machu Picchu.
by Mark Cartwright
Historical OverviewAs with other ancient Americas cultures, the historical origins of the Incas are difficult to disentangle from the founding myths they themselves created. According to legend, in the beginning, the creator god Viracocha came out of the Pacific Ocean, and when he arrived at Lake Titicaca, he created the sun and all ethnic groups. These first people were buried by the god and only later did they emerge from springs and rocks (sacred pacarinas) back into the world. The Incas, specifically, were brought into existence at Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) from the sun god Inti, hence, 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 another version of the creation myth, the first Incas came from a sacred cave known as Tampu T'oqo or 'The House of Windows', which was located at Pacariqtambo, the 'Inn of Dawn', south of Cuzco. The first pair of humans were Manco Capac (or Manqo Qhapaq) and his sister (also his wife) Mama Oqllu (or Ocllo). Three more brother-sister siblings were born, and the group set off together to found their civilization. Defeating the Chanca people with the help of stone warriors (pururaucas), the first Incas finally settled in the Valley of Cuzco and Manco Capac, throwing a golden rod into the ground, established what would become the Inca capital, Cuzco.
40,000 Incas governed a territory with 10 million subjects speaking over 30 different languages.
More concrete archaeological evidence has revealed that the first settlements in the Cuzco Valley actually date to 4500 BCE when hunter-gather communities occupied the area. However, Cuzco only became a significant centre sometime at the beginning of the Late Intermediate Period (1000-1400 CE). A process of regional unification began from the late 14th century CE, and from the early 15th century CE, with the arrival of the first great Inca leader Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui ('Reverser of the World') and the defeat of the Chanca in 1438 CE, the Incas began to expand in search of plunder and production resources, first to the south and then in all directions. They eventually built an empire which stretched across the Andes, conquering such peoples as the Lupaka, Colla, Chimor, and Wanka civilizations along the way. Once established, a nationwide system of tax and administration was instigated which consolidated the power of Cuzco.
The rise of the Inca Empire was spectacularly quick. First, all speakers of the Inca language Quechua (or Runasimi) were given privileged status, and this noble class then dominated all the important roles within the empire. Thupa Inca Yupanqui (also known as Topa Inca), Pachacuti's successor from 1471 CE, is credited with having expanded the empire by a massive 4,000 km (2,500 miles). The Incas themselves called their empire Tawantinsuyo (or Tahuantinsuyu) meaning 'Land of the Four Quarters' or 'The Four Parts Together'. Cuzco 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, 40,000 Incas governed a huge territory with some 10 million subjects speaking over 30 different languages.
Government & AdministrationThe Incas kept lists of their kings (Sapa Inca) so that we know of such names as Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (reign c. 1438-63 CE), Thupa Inca Yupanqui (reign c. 1471-93 CE), and Wayna Qhapaq (the last pre-Hispanic ruler, reign c. 1493-1525 CE). It is possible that two kings ruled at the same time and that queens may have had some significant powers, but the Spanish records are not clear on both points. The Sapa Inca was an absolute ruler, and he lived a life of great opulence. Drinking from gold and silver cups, wearing silver shoes, and living in a palace furnished with the finest textiles, he was pampered to the extreme. He was even looked after following his death, as the Inca mummified their rulers. Stored in the Coricancha temple in Cuzco, the mummies (mallquis) were, in elaborate ceremonies, regularly brought outside wearing their finest regalia, given offerings of food and drink, and 'consulted' for their opinion on pressing state affairs.
Inca rule was, much like their architecture, based on compartmentalised and interlocking units. At the top was the ruler and ten kindred groups of nobles called panaqa. Next in line came ten more kindred groups, more distantly related to the king and then, a third group of nobles not of Inca blood but made Incas as a privilege. At the bottom of the state apparatus were locally recruited administrators who oversaw settlements and the smallest Andean population unit the ayllu, which was a collection of households, typically of related families who worked an area of land, lived together and provided mutual support in times of need. Each ayllu was governed by a small number of nobles or kurakas, a role which could include women.
Local administrators reported to over 80 regional-level administrators who, in turn, reported to a governor responsible for each quarter of the empire. The four governors reported to the supreme Inca ruler in Cuzco. To ensure loyalty, the heirs of local rulers were also kept as well-kept prisoners at the Inca capital. The most important political, religious, and military roles within the empire were, then, kept in the hands of the Inca elite, called by the Spanish the orejones or 'big ears' because they wore large earspools to indicate their status. To better ensure the control of this elite over their subjects, garrisons dotted the empire, and entirely new administrative centres were built, notably at Tambo Colorado, Huánuco Pampa and Hatun Xauxa.
For tax purposes censuses were taken and populations divided up into groups based on multiples of ten (Inca mathematics was almost identical to the system we use today). As there was no currency in the Inca world, taxes were paid in kind - usually foodstuffs, precious metals, textiles, exotic feathers, dyes, and spondylus shell - but also in labourers who could be shifted about the empire to be used where they were most needed, known as mit'a service. Agricultural land and herds were divided into three parts: production for the state religion and the gods, for the Inca ruler, and for the farmers own use. Local communities were also expected to help build and maintain such imperial projects as the road system which stretched across the empire. To keep track of all these statistics, the Inca used the quipu, a sophisticated assembly of knots and strings which was also highly transportable and could record decimals up to 10,000.
Although the Incas imposed their religion and administration on conquered peoples, extracted tribute, and even moved loyal populations (mitmaqs) to better integrate new territories into the empire, the Incas also brought certain benefits such as food redistribution in times of environmental disaster, better storage facilities for foodstuffs, work via state-sponsored projects, state-sponsored religious feasts, roads, military assistance and luxury goods, especially art objects enjoyed by the local elite.
Most splendid were the temples built in honour of Inti and Mama Kilya - the former was lined with 700 2kg sheets of beaten gold.
CuzcoThe Inca capital of Cuzco (from qosqo, meaning 'dried-up lake bed' or perhaps derived from cozco, a particular stone marker in the city) was the religious and administrative centre of the empire and had a population of up to 150,000 at its peak. Dominated by the sacred gold-covered and emerald-studded Coricancha complex (or Temple of the Sun), its greatest buildings were credited to Pachacuti. Most splendid were the temples built in honour of Inti and Mama Kilya - the former was lined with 700 2kg sheets of beaten gold, the latter with silver. The whole capital was laid out in the form of a puma (although some scholars dispute this and take the description metaphorically) with the imperial metropolis of Pumachupan forming the tail and the temple complex of Sacsayhuaman (or Saqsawaman) forming the head. Incorporating vast plazas, parklands, shrines, fountains, and canals, the splendour of Inca Cuzco now, unfortunately, survives only in the eye-witness accounts of the first Europeans who marvelled at its architecture and riches.
Inca ReligionThe Inca had great reverence for two earlier civilizations who had occupied much the same territory - the Wari and Tiwanaku. As we have seen, the sites of Tiwanaku and Lake Titicaca played an important part in Inca creation myths and so were especially revered. Inca rulers made regular pilgrimages to Tiwanaku and the islands of the lake, where two shrines were built to Inti the Sun god and supreme Inca deity, and the moon goddess Mama Kilya. Also in the Coricancha complex at Cuzco, these deities were represented by large precious metal artworks which were attended and worshipped by priests and priestesses led by the second most important person after the king: the High Priest of the Sun (Willaq Umu). Thus, the religion of the Inca was preoccupied with controlling the natural world and avoiding such disasters as earthquake, floods, and drought, which inevitably brought about the natural cycle of change, the turning over of time involving death and renewal which the Inca called pachakuti.
Sacred sites were also established, often taking advantage of prominent natural features such as mountain tops, caves, and springs. These huacas could be used to take astronomical observations at specific times of the year. Religious ceremonies took place according to the astronomical calendar, especially the movements of the sun, moon, and Milky Way (Mayu). Processions and ceremonies could also be connected to agriculture, especially the planting and harvesting seasons. Along with Titicaca's Island of the Sun, the most sacred Inca site was Pachacamac, a temple city built in honour of the god with the same name, who created humans, plants, and was responsible for earthquakes. A large wooden statue of the god, considered an oracle, brought pilgrims from across the Andes to worship at Pachacamac. Shamans were another important part of Inca religion and were active in every settlement. Cuzco had 475, the most important being the yacarca, the personal advisor to the ruler.
Inca religious rituals also involved ancestor worship as seen through the practice of mummification and making offerings to the gods of food, drink, and precious materials. Sacrifices - both animals and humans, including children - were also made to pacify and honour the gods and ensure the good health of the king. The pouring of libations, either water or chicha beer, was also an important part of Inca religious ceremonies.
The Incas imposed their religion on local populations by building their own temples and sacred sites, and they also commandeered sacred relics from conquered peoples and held them in Cuzco. Stored in the Coricancha, they were perhaps considered hostages which ensured compliance to the Inca view of the world.
Inca Architecture & RoadsMaster stone masons, the Incas constructed large buildings, walls and fortifications using finely-worked blocks - either regular or polygonal - which fitted together so precisely no mortar was needed. With an emphasis on clean lines, trapezoid shapes, and incorporating natural features into these buildings, they have easily withstood the powerful earthquakes which frequently hit the region. The distinctive sloping trapezoid form and fine masonry of Inca buildings were, besides their obvious aesthetic value, also used as a recognisable symbol of Inca domination throughout the empire.
One of the most common Inca buildings was the ubiquitous one-room storage warehouse the qollqa. Built in stone and well-ventilated, they were either round and stored maize or square for potatoes and tubers. The kallanka was a very large hall used for community gatherings. More modest buildings include the kancha - a group of small single-room and rectangular buildings (wasi and masma) with thatched roofs built around a courtyard enclosed by a high wall. The kancha was a typical architectural feature of Inca towns, and the idea was exported to conquered regions. Terracing to maximise land area for agriculture (especially for maize) was another Inca practice, which they exported wherever they went. These terraces often included canals, as the Incas were expert at diverting water, carrying it across great distances, channelling it underground, and creating spectacular outlets and fountains.
Goods were transported across the empire along purpose-built roads using llamas and porters (there were no wheeled vehicles). The Inca road network covered over 40,000 km and as well as allowing for the easy movement of armies, administrators, and trade goods, it was also a very powerful visual symbol of Inca authority over their empire. The roads had rest stations along their way, and there was also a relay system of runners (chasquis) who carried messages up to 240 km in a single day from one settlement to another.
Inca ArtAlthough influenced by the art and techniques of the Chimu civilization, the Incas did create their own distinctive style which was an instantly recognisable symbol of imperial dominance across the empire. Inca art is best seen in highly polished metalwork (in gold - considered the sweat of the sun, silver - considered the tears of the moon, and copper), ceramics, and textiles, with the last being considered the most prestigious by the Incas themselves. Designs often use geometrical shapes, are technically accomplished, and standardized. The checkerboard stands out as a very popular design. One of the reasons for repeated designs was that pottery and textiles were often produced for the state as a tax, and so artworks were representative of specific communities and their cultural heritage. Just as today coins and stamps reflect a nation's history, so, too, Andean artwork offered recognisable motifs which either represented the specific communities making them or the imposed designs of the ruling Inca class ordering them.
Works using precious metals such as discs, jewellery, figures, and everyday objects were made exclusively for Inca nobles, and even some textiles were restricted for their use alone. Goods made using the super-soft vicuña wool were similarly restricted, and only the Inca ruler could own vicuña herds. Ceramics were for wider use, and the most common shape was the urpu, a bulbous vessel with a long neck and two small handles low on the pot which was used for storing maize. It is notable that the pottery decoration, textiles, and architectural sculpture of the Incas did not usually include representations of themselves, their rituals, or such common Andean images as monsters and half-human, half-animal figures.
The Inca produced textiles, ceramics, and metal sculpture technically superior to any previous Andean culture, and this despite stiff competition from such masters of metal work as the expert craftsmen of the Moche civilization. Just as the Inca imposed a political dominance over their conquered subjects, so, too, with art they imposed standard Inca forms and designs, but they did allow local traditions to maintain their preferred colours and proportions. Gifted artists such as those from Chan Chan or the Titicaca area and women particularly skilled at weaving were brought to Cuzco so that they could produce beautiful things for the Inca rulers.
CollapseThe Inca Empire was founded on, and maintained by, force, and the ruling Incas were very often unpopular with their subjects (especially in the northern territories), a situation that the Spanish conquistadores, led by Francisco Pizarro, would take full advantage of in the middle decades of the 16th century CE. The Inca Empire, in fact, had still not reached a stage of consolidated maturity when it faced its greatest challenge. Rebellions were rife, and the Incas were engaged in a war in Ecuador where a second Inca capital had been established at Quito. Even more serious, the Incas were hit by an epidemic of European diseases, such as smallpox, which had spread from central America even faster than the European invaders themselves, and the wave killed a staggering 65-90% of the population. Such a disease killed Wayna Qhapaq in 1528 CE and two of his sons, Waskar and Atahualpa, battled in a damaging civil war for control of the empire just when the European treasure-hunters arrived. It was this combination of factors - a perfect storm of rebellion, disease, and invasion - which brought the downfall of the mighty Inca Empire, the largest and richest ever seen in the Americas.
The Inca language Quechua lives on today and is still spoken by some eight million people. There are also a good number of buildings, artefacts, and written accounts which have survived the ravages of conquerors, looters, and time. These remains are proportionally few to the vast riches which have been lost, but they remain indisputable witnesses to the wealth, ingenuity, and high cultural achievements of this great, but short-lived civilization.
Origin and historyThe Inca civilization flourished in ancient Peru between c. 1400 and 1534 CE, and their empire eventually extended across western South America from Quito in the north to Santiago in the south, making it the largest empire ever seen in the Americas. Government and power was held at Cuzco, the Inca capital, which was considered the navel of the world. Eventually 40,000 Incas would govern some 10 million subjects speaking over 30 different languages. Consequently, the centralised Inca government, employing a vast network of administrators, governed over a patchwork empire which, in practice, touched local populations to varying degrees. Inca government, therefore, relied heavily on a combination of personal relations, state largesse, ritual exchange, law enforcement and military might.
by Mark Cartwright
Historical Overview – The EmpireCuzco became a significant centre sometime at the beginning of the Late Intermediate Period (1000-1400 CE). A process of regional unification began from the late 14th century CE, and from the early 15th century CE, with the arrival of the first great Inca leader Pachacuti ('Reverser of the World'), the Incas began to expand in search of plunder and production resources, first to the south and then in all directions, and so they built an empire which stretched across the Andes.
The rise of the Inca Empire was spectacularly quick. First, all speakers of the Inca language Quechua (or Runasimi) were given privileged status, and this noble class then dominated all the important roles within the empire. Eventually a nationwide system of tax and administration was instigated which consolidated the power of Cuzco. The Incas themselves called their empire Tawantinsuyo (or Tahuantinsuyu) meaning 'Land of the Four Quarters'.
The Incas imposed their religion, administration, and even art on conquered peoples.
The Incas imposed their religion, administration, and even art on conquered peoples, they extracted tribute, and even moved loyal populations (mitmaqs) to better integrate new territories into the empire. However, the Incas also brought certain benefits such as food redistribution in times of environmental disaster, better storage facilities for foodstuffs, work via state-sponsored projects, state-sponsored religious feasts, roads, military assistance and luxury goods, especially art objects enjoyed by the local elite.
The Inca KingThe Incas kept lists of their hereditary kings (Sapa Inca, meaning Unique Inca) so that we know of such names as Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (reign c. 1438-63 CE), Thupa Inca Yupanqui (reign c. 1471-93 CE), and Wayna Qhapaq (the last pre-Hispanic ruler, reign c. 1493-1525 CE). It is possible that two kings ruled at the same time and that queens may have had some significant powers, but the Spanish records are not clear on both points. The king was expected to marry on his accession, his bride sometimes being his own sister. The queen (Qoya) was known as Mamancik or ‘Our Mother’ and could wield some influence both on her husband and via her kin group, particularly in selecting which son might become the official heir to the throne. The Qoya also had significant wealth of her own which she could dispose of as she wished.
The Sapa Inca was an absolute ruler whose word was law. He controlled politics, society, the empire's food stores, and he was commander-in-chief of the army. Revered as a god he was also known as Intip Churin or ‘Son of the Sun’. Given this elevated status he lived a life of great opulence. Drinking from gold and silver cups, wearing silver shoes, and living in a palace furnished with the finest textiles, he was pampered to the extreme. He was even looked after following his death as the Inca mummified their rulers and later 'consulted' them for their opinion on pressing state affairs. Despite his enviable status, though, the king had to negotiate the consent and support of his nobles who could, and did, sometimes depose or even assassinate their ruler. In addition to keeping favour with his nobles the king also had to perform his role as a magnanimous benefactor to his people, hence his other title Huaccha Khoyaq or ‘Lover and Benefactor of the Poor’.
The Inca NoblesInca rule was, much like their famous architecture, based on compartmentalised and interlocking units. At the top was the king, his high priest (Willaq Umu) – who could also act as a field marshal - and ten royal kindred groups of nobles called panaqa. These nobles could form and instigate policy in councils with the king and, even more importantly, influence the final choice of the king’s successor which was rarely simply the eldest son. Indeed, many royal accessions were preceded by intrigue, political maneuvering, coups, and even assassinations to promote a particular kin group’s candidate. This may well be why later Inca kings married their own sister so as to avoid widening the elite power base at the very top of the government structure.
Next in line to the panaqa came ten more kindred groups more distantly related to the king and divided into two halves: Upper and Lower Cuzco. Then came a third group of nobles not of Inca blood but made Incas as a privilege. This latter group was drawn from that section of the population which had inhabited the region when the Incas had first arrived. As all of these groups were composed of different family lines, there was a great deal of rivalry between them which sometimes broke out into open warfare.
The Inca AdministratorsAt the bottom of the state apparatus were locally recruited administrators who oversaw settlements and the smallest Andean population unit the ayllu, which was a collection of households, typically of related families who worked an area of land, lived together, and provided mutual support in times of need. Each ayllu was governed by a small number of nobles or kurakas, a role which could include women.
Local administrators collaborated with and reported to over 80 regional-level administrators (a tokrikoq) who were responsible for such matters as justice, censuses, land redistribution, organizing mobile labour forces, and maintaining the vast network of roads and bridges in their jurisdiction. The regional administrators, who were almost always ethnic Incas, reported to a governor responsible for each quarter of the empire. The four governors reported to the supreme Inca ruler in Cuzco. To ensure loyalty, the heirs of local rulers were also kept as well-kept prisoners at the Inca capital. The most important political, religious, and military roles within the empire were, then, kept in the hands of the Inca elite, called by the Spanish the orejones or 'big ears' because they wore large earspools to indicate their status. To better ensure the control of this elite over their subjects, garrisons dotted the empire and entirely new administrative centres were built, notably at Tambo Colorado, Huanuco Pampa and Hatun Xauxa.
Taxation & TributeFor tax purposes annual censuses were regularly taken to keep track of births, deaths, marriages, and a worker’s status and abilities. For administrative purposes populations were divided up into groups based on multiples of ten (Inca mathematics was almost identical to the system we use today), even if this method did not always fit the local reality. These censuses and the officials themselves were examined every few years, along with provincial affairs in general, by dedicated and independent inspectors, known as a tokoyrikoq or ‘he who sees all’.
As there was no currency in the Inca world taxes were paid in kind - usually foodstuffs (especially maize, potatoes, and dried meat), precious metals, wool, cotton, textiles, exotic feathers, dyes, and spondylus shell - but also in labourers who could be shifted about the empire to be used where they were most needed. This labour service was known as mit'a. Agricultural land and herds were divided into three parts: production for the state religion and the gods, for the Inca ruler, and for the farmers' own use. Local communities were also expected to help build and maintain such imperial projects as the road system which stretched across the empire. To keep track of all these statistics the Inca used the quipu, a sophisticated assembly of knots and strings which was also highly transportable and could record decimals up to 10,000.
Goods were transported across the empire along purpose-built roads using llamas and porters (there were no wheeled vehicles). The Inca road network covered over 40,000 km and as well as allowing for the easy movement of armies, administrators, and trade goods it was also a very powerful visual symbol of Inca authority over their empire.
CollapseThe Inca Empire was founded on, and maintained, by force and so the ruling Incas were very often unpopular with their subjects (especially in the northern territories), a situation that the Spanish conquistadores, led by Francisco Pizarro, would take full advantage of in the middle decades of the 16th century CE. Rebellions were rife, and the Incas were actively engaged in a war in Ecuador, where a second Inca capital had been established at Quito, just at the time when the empire faced its greatest ever threat. Also hit by devastating diseases brought by the Europeans and which had actually spread from Central America faster than their Old World carriers, this combination of factors would bring about the collapse of the mighty Inca civilization before it had even had chance to fully mature.
Origin and historyThe warfare of the Inca civilization was characterised by a high degree of mobility, large-scale engagements of hand-to-hand combat, and the establishment of a network of fortresses to protect an empire of over 10 million subjects. Conquest gave the Incas access to vast new resources and gained prestige for both rulers and those warriors who displayed courage on the battlefield. Diplomacy was an important tool and used time and again by the Incas to acquire new territory with the minimum of bloodshed but sometimes they were obliged to engage in battle and several regions of the empire persistently resisted Inca rule. Ultimately, though, only the arrival of the Europeans with their superior technology would stop the Inca rulers relentlessly expanding their empire.
by Mark Cartwright
Expanding the EmpireThe Incas were great diplomats, and they were able to extend their influence throughout the Andes region by negotiating trade and tribute agreements, offering impressive gift exchanges, organising inter-marriages, and relocating sympathetic populations to newly acquired or troublesome areas. Only when these strategies failed did warfare become necessary. Early Inca warfare was concerned merely with acquiring the wealth of the enemy but gradually, as they became more ambitious, they sought to permanently control the territory of their neighbours and so spread their influence across South America.
Conquest was important for a ruler’s prestige, not only during his reign but also after his death when his deeds would be recounted and pilgrimages made to the sites of his great victories. Rulers naturally wanted to outdo their predecessors and so the empire expanded ever outwards into new territories throughout the history of the Incas.
Conquest was important for a ruler’s prestige, not only during his reign but also after his death when his deeds would be recounted.
There was also a religious element to warfare as the Incas saw their conquests as furthering the worship of the sun god Inti. For this reason, campaigns were preceded by fasting for two days and then ceremonies of sacrifices (usually black llamas and sometimes children too) and feasting. Priests and religious idols accompanied the army on campaign, and certain religious events were respected even during battle. For example, on the new moon no fighting was permitted, a fact the Spanish took advantage of when they attacked Cuzco in the first half of the 16th century CE.
Troops & Command StructureThe Inca army was largely composed of non-Incas, those conquered peoples who were obliged as a form of tribute to give their persons for use by their overlords. For this reason, the Inca army was a conglomerate of individual ethnic units, each led by their own local commander and fighting with their own preferred weapons. Speaking different languages, these units must have been difficult to coordinate in the heat of battle. In addition, these soldiers were in fact farmers and their effectiveness, or lack thereof, probably explains why the Incas eventually began to form a professional army. Units were divided into decimals, the smallest group being 10 men commanded by a chunka kamayuq, then 100 led by a pachaka kuraka, then 1,000 men under a waranqa kuraka, and finally 10,000 led by a hunu kuraka. Officers often commanded in pairs, although it is unclear how duties were divided between them.
Inca armies, then, consisted of tens of thousands of troops, perhaps even over 100,000 in some battles. Soldiers were called up from the general populace on a rotation basis with any male aged from their mid-twenties to their fifties eligible for active service. Soldiers could take their wives with them on campaign. Men under the age of 25 were expected to act as baggage carriers and joined an impressive entourage of non-combatants which included cooks and potters. Although the troops were farmers when not needed by the state all Inca males were given weapons training in their youth and performed in ritual battles. The pure-blood Incas formed an elite army of a few thousand; sometimes they were supplemented by choice picks from other units too. They acted as the personal bodyguard of the Inca king and wore distinctive tunics of black and white checks with a bright red triangle at the neck.
The senior army commanders were usually of royal blood. The Inca king was the commander-in-chief, and to avoid subsidiary commanders gaining too much prestige and making themselves a threat to his reign, he often commanded the army in the field personally. However, as the empire expanded, this became too impractical for the king to be so long-absent from the capital Cuzco, and the burden of command in the field often rested on the shoulders of his brother or son. Either way, field commanders rarely involved themselves in the front line, and it was more usual for them to issue general orders from the safe distance of a command post.
WeaponsBattles were bloody and confused episodes of hand-to-hand combat. Weapons differed depending on the ethnic origin of particular units but included hardwood spears launched using throwers, arrows, javelins, slings, the bolas, clubs, and maces with star-shaped heads made of copper or bronze. The favourite weapon seems to have been the palm-wood club which was shaped like a sword and had a double-edge. Large stones were also employed to roll down on the enemy and grass fires if the terrain was suitable. Protection was provided by hide rectangular or trapezoid shields, helmets of plaited cane or wood, and metal plates over the chest and back or tunics of quilted cloth which were both resistant and light to wear.
Besides weapons, troops were issued with a set of clothes, sandals, a blanket, and some foodstuffs such as maize, peppers, and coca leaves. Soldiers would put on their best finery for battle such as extravagant feather headdresses and burnished silver or copper breastplates. Soldiers might also wear decorations of their previous escapades such as necklaces made from the teeth of enemies and copper or silver medallions given as rewards by their commanders.
StrategiesThe great strength of the Incas in warfare was not technological superiority or better fighting tactics than the enemy but their great preparedness and hitting the enemy with overwhelming numbers. Before battle, though, it was a common tactic to send messengers to the enemy offering favourable terms of surrender and promising rewards to the leaders who would be allowed to continue in their positions of power. Further, the community would not be robbed of all their resources as long as they pledged allegiance to the Inca king, accepted the Inca sun god Inti as the supreme deity, and offered regular tributes both in goods and labour. A huge area of the Upper Mantaro Valley was conquered in this way without any bloodshed whatsoever.
On the other hand, if the enemy insisted on battle, the Incas would mobilise their superior numbers, wipe out the opposing army without mercy, and deport as many of the conquered population as possible, effectively erasing the city from the archaeological record. Areas dealt with in this way included Tunanmarca, Canete, and the Cayambe people in Ecuador. Those areas, such as around Lake Titicaca, which repeatedly displayed rebellion were pacified from within by relocating Inca sympathetic populations to them.
On the battlefield actual engagements were preceded by both armies singing songs and hurling insults at each other, a process which could take several days. When the battle started proper, attacks were either front-on over open terrain or siege warfare. Spies were sent before the battle to ascertain the lie of the land, and the Inca army usually struck in a single mass unit with some troops left in reserve in case they were needed to protect a retreat. Two often repeated tactics which proved very effective were pretended withdrawals and counter-attack pincer movements.
LogisticsTo maintain an empire which stretched right down the western coast of South America and permit the rapid deployment of troops wherever they were needed, the Incas built a network of fortresses connected by an even more extensive road network. At regular intervals, routes were punctuated with waystations so that troops need march no more than 20 kilometres without fresh supplies. Goods were also transported by carriers – both llamas and people, including women.
Generally, campaigns lasted several months and troops needed feeding and shelter. Food and arms were available from the Inca storehouses, the qollqa, which dotted the countryside. To ease the burden on local communities, they were warned beforehand that the army was on its way and the troops moved in staggered groups so as not to all be in the same place at the same time as they marched to the battlefield. Further, any local looting by soldiers was punishable by death.
FortressesAs the empire expanded and so became ever more taxing to police, the Incas were obliged to maintain a permanent presence in the territory they conquered. This necessitated the construction of fortresses, establishing garrisons, and fortifying borders. Forts were typically built at strategic passes and routes likely to be used by invaders in the border areas, especially in the area around Quito where the remains of 37 Inca forts have been identified.
As Andean warfare did not include explosives, large projectiles, or siege engines, fortresses were often simple affairs consisting of a walled enclosure built on a hilltop. They could not shelter a large number of soldiers indefinitely, troops usually slept in tents when not under attack. Walls were built in concentric circles but also included sharp bends to increase the angles from which to fire sling stones on attacking forces. Sometimes extra protection was provided by a moat, revetments, and gates with multiple and offset doorways.
Victory & DefeatTo the victors go the spoils and the coffers of the Inca king were enriched by war-booty. Those soldiers who had displayed great valour were given rewards depending on their status. These prizes included land, the right to sit with the king, prestigious administrative positions, gold and silver breastplates, fine clothes, captured women, weapons, and livestock. Defeated enemies were taken as captives to Cuzco and paraded before the people, much like in a Roman Triumph, with the Inca king ceremoniously stamping on the head of his defeated counterpart. Some leaders would be sacrificed and particularly hated foes had their skulls made into ornate drinking cups and their skins made into drums. The Incas also captured the sacred objects of a conquered people, symbolically imprisoning them in the Coricancha complex at Cuzco to ensure compliance from the population.
The Incas seem not to have recorded the defeats they suffered, although given their superior discipline and numbers any setbacks were likely only temporarily. The Incas did, of course, meet more than their match when the Europeans arrived with their cavalry and firearms. Their fall was not sudden, though. After initial dramatic defeats and the loss of their king, the Inca actually won some battles and resisted the superior armed invaders for another 50 years. The Spanish would ultimately be victorious but they would also find out exactly how difficult it was to maintain control over a huge empire encompassing all kinds of terrain and hundreds of different cultures spread over thousands of square kilometres.
Origin and historyMachu Picchu is an Inca settlement located in the High Andes of Peru in the Urubamba Valley, north of Cuzco. The site, perched high above the Urubamba river, has been variously described as a fortress, imperial retreat and ceremonial precinct. It was founded by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui in c. 1450 CE, had capacity for around 1,000 residents at its peak, and ranked amongst the most sacred of all sites for the Inca. Following the collapse of the Inca empire, Machu Picchu was abandoned and forgotten, only to be rediscovered in 1911 CE by the explorer Hiram Bingham.
by Mark Cartwright
PurposeMachu Picchu (meaning 'old hill') was an imperial estate founded by and belonging to Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the Inca ruler, in the mid-15th century CE. The ownership of the site was later passed to Pachacuti's successors. On its rediscovery by the explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911 CE (although local residents in the valley had always known of the site's existence) it was claimed as the last capital of the Incas. However, this proved to be untrue when the actual final capital was discovered at Vilcabamba, further downstream in the Urubamba Valley.
Another hypothesis concerning the site posed by early historians was that Machu Picchu was a fortress and the strong walls, large towers, and dry moats were cited in support of this theory. The need for fortification perhaps sprang from a series of severe droughts which made the competition for resources fierce. This would also explain why the site was not occupied for very long as when the water situation improved the necessity for such citadel sites declined. Once again though, further study has revealed that most of the architecture was designed for religious purposes and the fortifications may well have been put in place to ensure only a select few could enter this sacred site. In further support of this interpretation, a road was discovered which linked the site to several residential settlements dotted along the valley. The most likely purpose of Machu Picchu, then, was as a sacred site, probably to the sun god Inti and with the additional purpose of reminding the recently conquered local population of the power and might of Pachacuti and the Inca empire centred at its capital Cuzco. The site was abandoned by the Inca shortly before Pizarro and the Spanish conquistadors arrived. The invaders never reached Machu Picchu, though, and the site would remain unknown to the wider world for 400 years.
Materials & LayoutMachu Picchu is a fine example of the Inca practice of shaping architecture around the natural terrain. Ridges were made into plateaus for building upon and slopes were terraced using stone bulwarks. Further, constructions were made to aesthetically blend with their surroundings. For example, the profile of the Sacred Rock actually mimics one of the mountain peaks behind it. Finally, very often windows and doorways were deliberately positioned to capture the best views of the surrounding mountains.
Rock was a material the Incas had special reverence for. Stone was even thought of as a living substance.
Rock was a material the Incas had special reverence for. Stone was even thought of as a living substance and in the Inca language (Quechua) the word for it translates as 'to begin'. Stone was shaped with great skill and natural rock outcrops were moulded to suit various purposes. For example, below the Torreón (Observatory), a room was carved out of a natural cleft in the rock and used as a temple to the sun god Inti. The Intihuatana Stone ('Hitching Post of the Sun'), also known as the intiwatana, sitting at the highest point of the sacred complex, was carved with great care into a device for astronomical observations and made a tangible link between the earth and sky. The carved stone pillar on top of the polygonal stone base was used like a sundial to record the movements of the sun and, during solstices, priests symbolically tied the sun to the earth using a cord.
The site of Machu Picchu is composed of two distinct areas: a central complex of closely packed buildings arranged around a central square and a series of western terraces. The structures on the east and southern sides were likely residential and follow a pattern of single-roomed dwellings with an enclosed patio. However, the exact function of most of the buildings at the site is not known for certain. Many of the buildings display the great rock carving and masonry skills of the Inca. The buildings use locally quarried granite, one of the hardest stones, which was cut with great precision and then finished when in position to produce walls of blocks so well fitted together that mortar was not necessary. The irregular lines of blocks also create a pleasing aesthetic effect and make the structures highly resistant to earthquakes.
ArchitectureAmongst the most impressive structures at the site both for its size and unusual curved masonry is the D-shaped tower known as the Torréon, mentioned above. The single window of the tower was aligned with the Pleiades stars as they appeared in the 15th century CE and the building's astronomical purpose is further evidenced by the presence of a stone protruding from the floor which may have been used to plot the sun on the June solstice. The Temple of the Three Windows is another impressive example of fine stone work and was also used as an astronomical observation post. The many administrative kallanka buildings also employed fine stone blocks made to fit perfectly together. These buildings also had stone pegs protruding from their gables to which a thatched roof would have been attached. Another type of building is the prison-like structures which may have been used to house captured nobles until a ransom was paid. The complex also has a cavern structure and a sacrificial stone block sculpted into the form of a condor.
Water was supplied to the site via 14 natural springs whose waters were collected and re-located via 16 cut-stone channels. Another curious feature is the stone steps which lead from Machu Picchu up to the small retreat Huayna Picchu (meaning 'young hill'), perched on a rock outcrop. Some graves have been excavated at the site but these typically belong to individuals of lower rank such as administrative staff resulting in a paucity of high value grave goods, and there are a peculiarly large proportion of female remains. Pottery finds have offered some clues to daily life at the site and derive from four separate locations, amongst which is the Chuma blackware.
Excavations and reconstruction are ongoing at Machu Picchu, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and despite its remote location it continues to draw tourists from around the world having safely secured its status as one of the most recognisable and photographed ancient sites in the world.
Origin and historyPachacamac, located on the coast of Peru and 32 km south of Lima, was an important sacred site, oracle, and place of burial, which was visited by pilgrims of many ancient Andean cultures, including the Incas. The site, active for over 2,000 years, was named after the god of the same name (Pacha Kamaq) who was worshipped there and considered the ‘Maker of the Earth’ by coastal peoples.
by Mark Cartwright
Sacred Site of PachacamacPachacamac, located in the Lurin Valley, may have been in use as a sacred oracle site from the 1st millennium BCE while its settlement began sometime in the early 1st millennium CE. The god Pachacamac, also known as the ‘Maker of the Earth’, was a creator god who was also associated with earthquakes. In coastal mythology, Pachacamac had defeated the rival creator god Con who had stopped all rainfall as punishment for humanity’s wickedness. Pachacamac then changed the existing human race into animals and created a whole new race of men and women. In some versions of the myths the god sent four stars to earth, the two male stars became the kings and nobility while the two female stars became the commoners.
The god’s sacred wooden statue was worshipped at the site, situated inside a large temple complex built on a stepped earthen platform. This structure is contemporary with the Moche and Nazca civilizations (200 BCE – 600 CE). Built overlooking a colonnaded plaza and sitting on an eight-level platform on a natural hill, the temple buildings must have dominated the site. Each level of the adobe brick platform is around one metre high, and they were painted in bright colours with plant and animal designs. The figures were made more striking by outlining them in black. A set of artist’s brushes (of human hair and reeds) and a bag of pigments were found buried at the site in 1935 CE. The temple was well-maintained as some areas of decoration show as many as 16 re-coats. Buildings on the highest platform were arranged around a courtyard, and some were used as accommodation.
The sacred site & oracle of Pachacamac has been described as the Mecca of ancient Peru.
The Oracle of PachacamacThe site attracted pilgrims from far and wide to consult its oracle although just how this functioned is not known in detail. We know that a High Priest interpreted the oracle from the privacy of a chamber only he was permitted to enter. Pilgrims had to undergo many weeks of initiation, fasting and cleansing rituals before they could be considered worthy of consulting the oracle. They were also expected to make offerings such as foodstuffs, coca, textiles, and any other precious goods they could afford. Indeed, the priests of Pachacamac established a network of subsidiary shrines throughout the region which extracted tributes from local populations. As at ancient oracles the world over, questions posed would have concerned the weather for agricultural purposes, warfare, health issues, family problems, and so on.
Such was the popularity of the site that the historian Alden Mason described Pachacamac as ‘the Mecca of Peru’. This is attested by the finds in tombs of pottery and textiles coming from many different cultures such as the Lambayeque, Nazca, Wari, Tiwanaku, and Chimu. Eventually, the religious buildings spread with many shrines to lesser deities and a residential area sprang up to cover an area of 4 square miles (c. 10 square km). It thus became the largest centre in central and southern Peru. In the residential zones many of the floors and column bases, which must have supported roofs of matting, survive.
Under Inca RuleThe Incas took over the site during the reign of Thupa Inka Yupanki (1471 - 1493 CE) and, in typical fashion, incorporated it and the deity Pachacamac into the Inca religion. They built a temple dedicated to the Inca Sun god Inti with whom Pachacamac was given, unusually for the gods of conquered peoples, equal status. Constructed on a six-level earthen platform and painted red, the temple was actually two parallel rectangular buildings measuring 52 x 23 metres and reaching a height of 7.3 metres. Used as an accommodation for priests the walls have many niches and are decorated with animal paintings. Other Inca structures include a large colonnaded residence for holy women known as the ‘Painted Building’ (‘Nunnery’), a large raised plaza for pilgrims to congregate in, and the residential section of the site known as Tauri Chumbi.
Excavations at the Sun temple’s entrance and inside it have revealed a burial space made by the Incas containing 20 young sacrificed women. Artefacts buried with them suggest the girls were of coastal origin. We also know that human sacrifices were made to Pachacamac in order to appease him following the presence of this new rival Inti. The people of Pachacamac, no doubt because of the antiquity of the oracle and the importance of the site to many Andean cultures, were given a higher degree of autonomy than most conquered areas by their Inca overlords.
Later HistoryThe site’s oracle continued to be consulted by the Incas but lost royal favour when it wrongly predicted that Washkar would win the civil war against Atahualpa between 1526 and 1532 CE. Accordingly, the latter ruler gave permission for Pizarro to send his brother to destroy the statue of Pachacamac. As with any Inca tombs they could find, the Spanish almost certainly would have looted the site as well.
Pachacamac was damaged by further looting and environmental factors over the centuries so that its original form has been difficult to establish. Although parts have been excavated, indeed, the site was the first in Peru to be investigated by archaeologists, some of the modern reconstructions at the site are not necessarily an accurate replica of the original buildings, notably the ‘Nunnery’ structure. Nevertheless, portions of its well-made walls which used the typical Inca method of neatly fitted stones without mortar, can still be admired. Artefacts excavated from tombs, remarkably well-preserved in the dry desert climate of the region, include richly painted pottery and fine textiles with bold geometrical designs, much like those of the Nazca.
Origin and historyA quipu, or knot-record (also called khipu), was a method used by the Incas and other ancient Andean cultures to keep records and communicate information. In the absence of an alphabetic writing system, this simple and highly portable device achieved a surprising degree of precision and flexibility. Using a wide variety of colours, strings, and sometimes several hundred knots all tied in various ways at various heights, quipu could record dates, statistics, accounts, and even represent, in abstract form, key episodes from traditional folk stories and poetry. In recent years scholars have also challenged the traditional view that quipu were merely a memory aid device and go so far as to suggest that quipu may have been progressing towards narrative records and so becoming a viable alternative to written language just when the Inca Empire collapsed.
by Mark Cartwright
MethodA typical quipu consists of a horizontal string or even wooden bar, from which hang any number of knotted and coloured strings made from either cotton or wool. Some of the larger quipu have as many as 1500 strings, and these could also be woven in different ways suggesting this, too, had a meaning. The various colour shades used could also carry a specific meaning. So, too, the type of knot, the position of it on the string, the total number of knots and the sequence of the knots could all combine to create a potentially huge number of meanings. The whole method was based on a decimal positional system, with the largest decimal used being 10,000. The Inca mathematical system was almost exactly the same as our own system in use today. The numbers or units in the system on a particular quipu are indicated by the strings furthest from the primary string, acting as a sort of key.
Different types of knots had different meanings. For example, a knot could indicate a number from one to nine by the turns of string within the knot, a figure-of-eight knot could indicate a fixed value, a 'granny' knot equalled ten, and a string missing a knot signified zero. Secondary strings could also hang from any single string and these could indicate that this string was an exception or of secondary importance to the other strings. Finally, individual quipu could join with others in a specific and meaningful sequence.
Knots and colours could combine to create a potentially huge number of meanings.
Naturally, to maximise the quipu's potential for information storage, it was better to have an accompanying oral record and so there grew a body of experts or masters, the khipu kamayuq (also quipucamayos). These individuals memorized the oral account which fully explained a particular quipu and, as the job was hereditary, the oral part was passed from generation to generation. There was a certain pressure attached to the job, however, as lapses in memory could be severely punished.
PurposeAt Cuzco, the Inca capital, the khipu kamayuq were professionals, and besides keeping official records, they also used quipu as an aide memoire to recount stories, myths and poems from the Inca tradition. Quipu were also used to record imperial conquests and royal blood-lines. They were ideal for recording the census data for provinces, i.e. total numbers, specific numbers of males and females, children, married and unmarried, etc. Other kinds of data that quipu were used to record included accounts, stores, taxes (paid in kind), livestock, land measurements, armies and their equipment, astronomy, and calendars. Quipu were also used, along with a short oral description, by Inca postal messengers (chaski).
Surviving ExamplesMany Inca quipu were purposely destroyed when Atawalpa took power and sought to clean the slate of Inca history, and, in particular, destroy the historical record concerning the reign of his bitter rival and half-brother, Waskhar. Then, following the Spanish conquest, even more quipu records were sought out and destroyed, the new rulers being highly suspicious of the information they might contain within their knots. As a result of these actions, only several hundred examples of quipu survive today. However, quipu are still used by Andean people even today, most often by shepherds and herders as a method to record livestock numbers.
Origin and historyViracocha was the supreme god of the Incas. He is also known as Huiracocha, Wiraqoca and Wiro Qocha. Considered the creator god he was the father of all other Inca gods and it was he who formed the earth, heavens, sun, moon and all living beings. When he finished his work he was believed to have travelled far and wide teaching humanity and bringing the civilised arts before he headed west across the Pacific, never to be seen again but promising one day to return. In his absence lesser deities were assigned the duty of looking after the interests of the human race but Viracocha was, nevertheless, always watching from afar the progress of his children.
by Mark Cartwright
Alternative NamesAs the supreme pan-Andean creator god, omnipresent Viracocha was most often referred to by the Inca using descriptions of his various functions rather than his more general name which may signify lake, foam, or sea-fat. These other names, perhaps used because the god's real name was too sacred to be spoken, included Ilya (light), Ticci (beginning), and Wiraqoca Pacayacaciq (instructor).
The Creator GodIt was believed that human beings were actually Viracocha's second attempt at living creatures as he first created a race of giants from stone in the age of darkness. However, these giants proved unruly and it became necessary for Viracocha to punish them by sending a great flood. In the legend all these giants except two then returned to their original stone form and several could still be seen in much later times standing imposingly at sites such as Tiahuanaco (also known as Tiwanaku) and Pukará.
As the supreme pan-Andean creator god, omnipresent Viracocha was most often referred to by the Inca using descriptions of his various functions.
Then Viracocha created men and women but this time he used clay. He also gave them such gifts as clothes, language, agriculture and the arts and then created all animals. Even more useful was Viracocha's decision to create the sun, moon and stars and so bring light to the world. These heavenly bodies were created from islands in Lake Titicaca. Finished, and no doubt highly satisfied with his labours, Viracocha then set off to spread his civilizing knowledge around the world and for this he dressed as a beggar and assumed such names as Con Ticci Viracocha (also spelt Kon-Tiki), Atun-Viracocha and Contiti Viracocha Pachayachachic. He was assissted on his travels by two sons or brothers called Imaymana Viracocha and Tocapo Viracocha. The god was not always well received despite the knowledge he imparted, sometimes even suffering stones thrown at him. Ending up at Manta (in Ecuador), Viracocha then walked across the waters of the Pacific (in some versions he sails a raft) heading into the west but promising to return one day to the Inca and the site of his greatest works.
WorshipViracocha was actually worshipped by the pre-Inca of Peru before being incorporated into the Inca pantheon. In Inca mythology the god gave a headdress and battle-axe to the first Inca ruler Manco Capac and promised that the Inca would conquer all before them. The god's name was also assumed by the king known as Viracocha Inca (died 1438 CE) and this may also be the time when the god was formally added to the family of Inca gods. Worshipped at the Inca capital of Cuzco, Viracocha also had temples and statues dedicated to him at Caha and Urcos and sacrifices of humans (including children) and, quite often, llamas, were made to the god on important ceremonial occasions. As other Inca gods were more important for the daily life of common people, Viracocha was principally worshipped by the nobility, and then usually in times of political crisis.
Viracocha in ArtIn art Viracocha is often depicted as an old bearded man wearing a long robe and supported by a staff. One of his earliest representations may be the weeping statue at the ruins of Tiwanaku, close to Lake Titicaca, the traditional Inca site where all things were first created. Here, sculpted on the lintel of a massive gateway, the god holds thunderbolts in each hand and wears a crown with rays of the sun whilst his tears represent the rain. Another famous sculpture of the god was the gold three-quarter size statue at Cuzco which the Spanish described as being of a white-skinned bearded male wearing a long robe.
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Source: Ancient History EncyclopediaContent is available under License Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0