History of the Incas – Peru

The Inca Empire was an empire centered in what is now Peru from 1400 to 1532 C.E. Over that period, the Inca used conquest and peaceful assimilation to incorporate in their empire a large portion of western South America, centered on the Andes mountain ranges. The Inca empire proved short-lived: by AD 1533, Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor, called a Sapa Inca, was killed on the orders of the conquistador Francisco Pizarro, marking the beginning of Spanish rule. He used the capture to gain gold as a ransom. Over four months, almost 8 tonnes of gold was collected. Pizarro was supposed to let the ruler of the Incas free once the ransom was paid, but instead had him strangled in public.



The Quechua name was Tawantin Suyu which can be translated The Four Regions or The Four United Regions. Before the Quechua spelling reform it was written in Spanish as Tahuantinsuyo. Tawantin is a group of four things (tawa “four” with the suffix -ntin which names a group); suyu means “region” or “province”.

The empire was divided into four suyus, whose corners met at the capital, Cusco (Qosqo), in modern-day Peru.

The official language of the empire was Quechua, although over seven hundred local languages were spoken. The Inca leadership encouraged the worship of their gods, the foremost of which was Inti, the sun god.

Origin stories

The Inca had four types of origin myths. In one, Tici Viracocha of Colina de las Ventanas in Pacaritambo sent forth his four sons and four daughters to establish a village. Along the way, Sinchi Roca was born to Manco and Ocllo, and Sinchi Roca is the person who finally led them to the valley of Cuzco where they founded their new village. There Manco became their leader and became known as Manco Cápac.

In another origin myth the sun god Inti ordered Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo to emerge from the depths of Lake Titicaca and found the city of Cuzco. They traveled by means of underground caves until reaching Cuzco where they established Hurin Cuzco, or the first dynasty of the Kingdom of Cuzco.

In the third origin myth, an Inca sun god told his wife that he was lonely. She proposed that he create a civilization to worship him and keep him company. He saw this as a wise plan and carried it out. The Inca were born from Lake Cuzco and populated the Andes and worshiped their sun god.

In the last origin myth, Manco Cápac ,who was the son of the sun, and his sister Mama Occlo, the daughter of the moon, were sent by the sun to look for a place to build an empire. They were to tell when they were at the right place by carrying a special rod with them at all times. Wherever the rod sank into the ground, this was where they were to create a new city. The rod sank into the ground in Cuzco.

The knowledge of these myths is due to oral tradition, since the Incas did not have writing. Manco Cápac, who became the leader of his tribe, probably did exist, despite lack of solid evidence. The archeological evidence seems to indicate that the Inca were a relatively unimportant tribe until the time of Sinchi Roca, also called Cinchi Roca, who is the first figure in Inca mythology whose existence can be supported historically. The Incas were destroyed by the Spanish making it hard to find helpful clues about the Incas.

The Inca people began as a tribe in the Cuzco area around the 12th century AD. Under the leadership of Manco Cápac they formed the small city-state of Cuzco Quechua Qosqo), shown in red on the map.

In 1438 AD, under the command of Sapa Inca (paramount leader) Pachacuti, whose name literally meant “world-shaker”, they began a far-reaching expansion. The land Pachacuti conquered was about the size of the Thirteen Colonies of the United States in 1776, and consisted of nearly the entire Andes mountain range.

Pachacuti reorganized the kingdom of Cuzco into an empire, the Tahuantinsuyu, a federalist system which consisted of a central government with the Inca at its head and four provincial governments with strong leaders: Chinchasuyu (NW), Antisuyu (NE), Kuntisuyu (SW), and Qullasuyu (SE). Pachacuti is also thought to have built Machu Picchu, either as a family home or as a Camp David-like retreat[citation needed].

Pachacuti would send spies to regions he wanted in his empire who would report back on their political organization, military might and wealth. He would then send messages to the leaders of these lands extolling the benefits of joining his empire, offering them presents of luxury goods such as high quality textiles, and promising that they would be materially richer as subject rulers of the Inca. Most accepted the rule of the Inca as a fait accompli and acquiesced peacefully. The ruler’s children would then be brought to Cuzco to be taught about Inca administration systems, then return to rule their native lands. This allowed the Inca to indoctrinate the former ruler’s children into the Inca nobility, and, with luck, marry their daughters into families at various corners of the empire.

It was traditional for the Inca’s son to lead the army; Pachacuti’s son Túpac Inca began conquests to the north in 1463, and continued them as Inca after Pachucuti’s death in 1471. His most important conquest was the Kingdom of Chimor, the Inca’s only serious rival for the coast of Peru. Túpac Inca’s empire stretched north into modern day Ecuador and Colombia.

Túpac Inca’s son Huayna Cápac added significant territory to the south. At its height, Tahuantinsuyu included Peru and Bolivia, most of what is now Ecuador, a large portion of modern-day Chile, and extended into corners of Argentina and Colombia. Tahuantinsuyu was a patchwork of languages, cultures and peoples. The components of the empire were not all uniformly loyal, nor were the local cultures all fully integrated. The portions of the Chachapoya that had been conquered were almost openly hostile to the Inca, and the Inca nobles rejected an offer of refuge in their kingdom after their troubles with the Spanish.For instance, the Chimú used money in their commerce, while the Inca empire as a whole had an economy based on exchange and taxation of luxury goods and labour (it is said that Inca tax collectors would take the head lice of the lame and old as a symbolic tribute).

Economic productivity was based on collective labor which was organized in order to benefit the whole community. The ayni was used to help individual members of the community in need, such as a sick member of the community. The minka or team work represented community service and the mita was the tax paid to the Inca in the form of labor. The Inca did not use currency, economic exchanges were by reciprocity and took place in markets called catus.