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Incan Empire

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The Inca Empire existed in South America, covering parts of modern-day Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina, with its capital in the modern-day city of Cuzco, Peru. It lasted from about 1200 until the death of the last emperor at the hands of the Spanish Conquistadores in 1533.

Table of contents


Temples and Shrines

The Sun Temple in Cuzco is the best known of the Inca temples. Another, at Vilcashuman, has a large temple that still exists today. Near one of Peru's highest peaks, Ancocogua, "there was a temple... an ancient oracle held high in regard where they made their sacrifices." There was also a temple of the sun on Titicaca Island.

As the Incas took over new places, they placed temples in their new lands. In Caranqui[?], Ecuador, one temple like this had been placed on new ground, which contained vessels of gold and silver.

The Sun Temple in Cuzco was built with stones all matched and joined. It had a circumference of over one thousand two hundred feet. Inside the temple was a great sized image of the sun. In one part of the temple, the Golden Enclosure, were models of cornstalks, llamas and lumps of earth. Portions of the Incas' land were allotted to the sun and administered for the priests.

Sacred Sites

Huacas, or sacred sites, were widespread around the Inca land. Huacas ranged from temples and mountains to hills and bridges. One example of a Huaca bridge is the great Huacacha across the Apurimac River.

Priests and Chosen Women

The priests lived at all of the important shrines and temples. Priests were supposed to have the functions of diviner of the lungs, sorcerer, confessor and curer. The title of the chief priest in Cuzco was Villac umu. Villac umu was married and he competed in authority with the Inca. Villac umu had power over all the shrines and temples and he could appoint and remove priests.

In the selection and training of Chosen Women, only the most skilled would be chosen, and they would be chosen at an early age. Their time was spent weaving textiles used by the Inca and the priests.


Divination was considered before all action. Nothing of importance was done without divination. Divination was used to diagnose illnesses, predict what would happen in battles and to drive out crimes. Divination was also used to determine which sacrifices should be made to which god. The Incas believed that life was controlled by unseen powers. To determine these outlooks, the priest had to recourse to divination.

Watching spiders move and looking at the arrangement that coca leaves took in a shallow dish accomplished divination. Another way of divination being accomplished was to drink ayahuasca, a hallucinatory drug that affects the central nervous system. This was believed to enable a person to be in touch with supernatural powers. Studying the lungs of a sacrificed white llama also carried out divination. The lungs of the llama were inflated by blowing into the dissected trachea and then were removed by priests, who minutely studied the veins.


Sacrifice, both human and animal, was offered at every important occasion. Many sacrifices were done every day for the ceremony of the suns appearance. At times of big sacrifices, up to two hundred children could be offered. Even the chosen women from the Sun Temple were sometimes taken out for sacrifice. It was important when humans were offered that they were unmarked and in perfect condition. Many people for sacrifices were taken from defeated places as part of taxation.


The Incas had a thirty-day calendar in which each month had it's own festival. Festivals gave the puric (a tax-paying Indian) a sense of belonging. Hymns were sung.

The months and celebrations of the calendar are shown below:

Georgian month Peruvian month Translation
December Capac Raimi Magnificent festival
January Huchuy Pacoy Small ripening
February Hutan Pocoy Great ripening
March Paucar Warai Garment of flowers
April Ariway Dance of the young maize
May Aimuari Song of the harvest
June Inti Raimi Festival of the sun
July Anta Situwa Earthly purification
August Capac Situwa General purification sacrifice
September Caya Raimi Festival of the queen
October Uma Raimi Festival of the water
November Ayamarca Procession of the dead

Burial Practices

The Incas believed in re-incarnation. Those who obeyed the Inca rule; "ama sua, ama llulla, ama chella" (do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy), went to live in the Suns warmth. Those who did not obey this rule spent their eternal days in the cold earth.



Inca childhood can seem to be harsh by modern standards. When a baby was born, the Incas would wash the child in cold water then wrap it in a blanket. The mother would carry around the child. After a while, the baby was put in a pit dug in the ground which was like a playpen. By about 1, the baby would be expected to learn to crawl and walk without any help. At age 2, the boy or girl would go to a naming ceremony where they left babyhood and a lock was cut from their hair. From then on, boys and girls were expected to help around the house. Misbehaving during this time could result to very severe punishment. At age 14, boys were given a loincloth in a ceremony to mark their manhod. Boys from noble families were put through many different tests of endurance and knowledge. After the test, a certain color of earplugs and weapon would ber given to them. The color stood for their rank in society.

The Organisation of the Empire

At the top of the Inca Empire was The Inca. The Inca was a god-like figure that was carried around in great style wearing a special headdress that showed his superior power.

Next were the Royal family, nobles, military leaders and religious leaders. These people controlled the Inca Empire and many of them lived in Cuzco.

Third in line were the governors of the four provinces of the Inca Empire. These people had great powers; they could organise troops, organise tribute and organise law and order.

Then were the local officials. These were responsible for less important judgements, like settling disputes and giving out punishments.

Last were the other peasants.

The start of the Inca Empire

The Incas came from the mountains of Peru. They took over the Andes Mountains of South America. The Inca civilisation reached its peak in the fifteenth century, under the rule of Pachacuti. The Incas built stone cities and fine roads. They built houses out of mud. The Incas also built bridges made of rope, and the rope made of twined plant fibres. These often crossed steep gorges.

The Inca Emperors

The first Inca emperor was Manco Capac, who ruled from about 1200. Details of many of the earlier emperors were lost in the Spanish Conquest.

AD1200 ~ Manco Capac Sinchi Roca Lloque Yupanqui Mayta Capac Capac Yupanqui Inca Roca Yahuar Huacac Vircocha Inca 1438 - 1437 ~ Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui 1471 - 1493 ~ Topa Inca Yupanqui 1493 - 1527 ~ Huayna Capac 1527 - 1532 ~ Huascar 1532 - 1533 ~ Atahualpa

When Pachacuti was emperor, he was described as the greatest man in Ancient America. He sent expeditions to conquer new lands. If his opponents surrendered they were well-trested. If not, little mercy was shown to them. As Pachacuti won more and more lands, his armies became larger and more successful.

Pachacuti knew how to win people over. He would send messages to the leaders of the lands to be conquered telling them of the benefits of joining the Incas. If they gave up their land, they would be in control of their local area but they would be within the Inca Empire. Their sons would be given a full education and they would be treated as nobles.

Expanding the Inca Empire

The Incas had a well-trained and well-organised army. When the Incas conquered a place, people gave work tribute to help develop the Empire. The Incas encouraged people to join the Empire, and if they did then they would be well treated for doing so. Postal services were set up with runners who delivered messages and packages between major cities. They would also broadcast news at speeds of up to one hundred and twenty-five miles a day - someone would shout the message, a messenger would run to the next person and tell them the message, then that person would run and tell the next person, and so on until the message reached it's destination. The Incas exchanged populations in conquered areas. The whole Inca Empire was linked by lots of good roads and bridges.

Organising the Empire

The Incas were told what job they had to do, how much land they could farm and where they could and could not travel.

In return for keeping these rules, the Incas were well looked after.

If an Inca was caught stealing but it was not proven, then the Local Official would be punished for 'not doing his job properly'.

The Inca Empire helped those unable to work. Wives were given wool allowance. The Inca people had to work on the Empire's and the god's land before their own.

The Incas had no freedom to travel, and the son always had to follow his fathers' trade. The Inca Empire was divided into four parts. All parts of the Inca life was supervised by Inca officials. It is generally believed that the Inca Empire developed no form of writing at all, relying mostly on the transmission of information passed on by mouth.


The Incas played melodies on their woodwind instruments and drums. The woodwinds that they had included flutes, pan-pipes and trumpets which were made of shell and ceramics.

Arts and Crafts

The Incas produced amazing craftwork that ranged from images of gods to items of every day use. They made beautiful objects of gold. The chosen women made fine cloth woven with amazing designs.

Food, Currency, Clothing and Medicines


At the peak of the Inca civilisation in 1400, the farmers of the Inca Empire were well spread, going from Columbia through Chile. They cultivated food crops on dry pacific coastlines, high on the slopes of the Andes, and deep in the lowland Amazon jungle. It is estimated that the Incas grew around seventy crop species. A key to the Incas' farming success was that their footpath and road system allowed distribution of their crops over large distances. The Incas main crops were sweet potatoes, meat and maize. They had terraced fields and were one of the first people to use irrigation systems in their fields. The Incas used simple digging sticks and ploughs. They used Llamas for wool, ropes, blankets and meat.

The Inca leaders kept records of what each family in the empire produced.


The Incas used arrows and blow pipes to hunt and kill animals. They hunted deer, pumas and fish. The way that they actually made the kill was that huge numbers formed a circle and closed in on the animals.


The main crops of the Incas were maize, cotton, potatoes, an edible root called oca, and a grain known as quinoa. The Incas used maize to make Chica, a beer that was very popular then.

The food that the Incas ate mainly consisted of vegetables. They ate stews and porridges, often with guinea pigs to add flavour.


The Incas did not have money as such. The used barter and traded goods for other goods. Workers got labour credit, which was work paid for in goods or food.


Inca men wore a sleeveless, knee-length tunic, sometimes with a cape. The women had large clothes and often wore sandals.

The Inca's liked to decorate themselves. There were better colours for the rich and the quality of the cloth that they wore depended how important the person was. The Inca's used different headdresses to symbolise different Inca tribes.

The Inca men wore a lot of jewellery, whereas the women wore very little. The rich wore gold bracelets and huge earplugs. Warriors wore necklaces made of their victim's teeth.


The Incas made many discoveries in medicine and cures. They used quinine to treat malaria, they performed successful brain surgery and they discovered medicines to lessen pain.

The Spanish Conquest

The Background to the Conquest of the Incas

War broke out amidst the Inca Empire when Huayna Capac became emperor. Some sources show that he may have been just five years old. Huayna upset many people and liked to be cruel. The war between the people lasted twelve years.

Rumours spread around the Inca Empire like wild fire about strange 'bearded men' who lived in 'a house in the sea' and had 'thunder and lightning in their hands'. These strange men started killing off many of the Inca soldiers with the diseases that they brought.

By the time Huayna Capac had died, the Empire was standing on its last legs. There was a dispute of power between Huayna's two sons. Cuzco was given to the new Emperor, Huascar, who was one of those two sons. Huascar was a horrible person who was ugly, bad mannered and half-mad. He came close to murdering his sister and mother. He also forced his own sister to marry him. Huayna Capac's favorite son, Atahualpa, was given Quito and the Northern Territory. Huascar was now very angry.

Civil war broke out between the two brothers. It was named The War of the Two Brothers. One hundred thousand people were killed in this bloodthirsty dispute.

After many struggles, Atahualpa finally defeated Huascar. Now Athuapula was the one who was half-mad, as he treated his losers terribly. Many had stones dropped on their backs to cripple them. Nearly one thousand five hundred members of the Royal Family were cut up in front of Huascar. Huascar's children were also cut up. Unborn children were ripped out of their mothers. Bodies were stuck on spikes for display. Normal people were tortured.

Atahualpa paid a terrible price to be an emperor. His Empire had been terribly shaken and weakened. At this critical moment, the 'strange bearded men' arrived. The final scene was now in place for the end of the Inca Empire. These strange bearded men turned out to be Francisco Pizarro's men; from Spain.

The Actual Conquest

Pizarro and his men found a camp at which Atahualpa was staying. Pizarro sent a messenger to Atahualpa asking if they could meet with him. Atahualpa agreed to meet with the Spanish. Atahualpa rode in to the place where they were supposed to meet. However, when he arrived, the place looked deserted.

A man named Vicente de Valverde appeared. Through a translator, he told the Inca Atahualpa that he and his people must convert to Spanish, and if he refused he would be considered an enemy of the Church and of Spain.

Atahualpa disagreed. This refusal gave Francisco Pizarro enough reason to attack the Inca people. The Spanish opened fire and attacked the Inca soldiers that were there with Atahualpa. In the struggle, Pizarro's men went after the Inca intending to kill him. However, Pizarro had plans of his own. Atahualpa was captured and taken prisoner.

While in capture, Atahualpa was not treated badly and he was allowed to stay in contact with his people.

Atahualpa wanted to be free, so he decided to make a deal with Pizarro. He agreed to fill a room with gold and silver in return for his release. They shook on it, but Pizarro had no intentions of letting Atahualpa go as Pizarro needed Atahualpa's influence over the Inca people to keep order once the Spanish started to take over.

Huascar, who only played a small role in things, was still alive. Atahualpa feared that as long as Huascar lived, Pizarro might not need him, for Huascar would make a better puppet ruler than him. Atahualpa feared for his life and so ordered the execution of his brother, Huascar.

That day, Pizarro and the Spanish decided to charge Atahualpa with twelve things, the most important being attempting to revolt against the Spanish, practicing idolatry and murdering Huascar. Atahualpa was found guilty of all twelve charges, and was sentenced to be burned.

That very night, Francisco Pizarro decided to execute Atahualpa. After being led to the place of execution, Atahualpa begged for his life. Valverde, the priest that started the whole thing, told Atahualpa that if he agreed to convert then he would reduce the sentence. Atahualpa agreed to be baptised and was strangled instead of being burnt. Atahualpa died on August 29, 1553. With him, died "the independent existence of a noble race".

The death of Atahualpa was the beginning of the end of the Inca Empire.

The situation went quickly downhill. Francisco Pizarro had Toparca, Atahualpa's brother, named Inca and used him as a 'puppet ruler' until he died unexpectedly. Everything fell apart. Remote parts of the Inca Empire revolted, and in some cases they joined with the Spanish against the Incas.

Lands and crops were neglected and the Incas experienced a famine that they had never known. The Incas, now wise to the Spanish motives of getting all the gold and silver that they could, started looting and hiding everything from everyone. Disease played a huge role. The diseases that had been running wild around Europe that the Incas had never met were now destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of Incas. The gold that Pizarro and his men wanted so badly was everywhere and prices soared. A good horse went up to $7000. Grain became more valuable than the Spaniards precious gold. The great Inca civilisation, as it was known, no longer existed.

After the Spanish Conquest

The Inca Empire was brought down by fewer than two hundred of Francisco Pizarro's men and twenty-seven horses. Pizarro and later Spaniards repressed the Incas and their traditions, whilst they hid away their farming system. From the deprival of health, nutrition and economics, the territories of what belonged to the Incas remain today some of the most poverty-stricken in the world. The Spanish made less of the cultivation of most of the Incas' crops, such as quinoa and important root crops.

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