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The Inca Civilization

Amazing Facts About the Illustrious Inca Civilization

Though the 'Inca' or 'Inka' Empire flourished for only about a hundred years, it was the most powerful Civilization of pre-Columbian America. The power and wealth of the Inca civilization has always fascinated the Western world. The discovery of the breathtaking site of Machu Picchu has further left us awestruck at the architectural and scientific feats that this civilization had achieved.
Debopriya Bose
Last Updated: Feb 19, 2018
The Incas originated as a tribe in 1200 B.C. in the Cuzco area of southeastern Peru. However, in 1438 A.D., under the command of Pachacutec, the Inca people defeated the neighboring Andean tribes and laid the foundation of the great Inca Empire. The descendants of Pachacutec continued the expansion of the empire and made it the most powerful civilization of South America, that spread from Chile.
Rise of the Civilization

It is a well-known fact that the Peruvian-Andean culture was a rich, evolved one long before the arrival of the Incas. From the achievements of the Chavin civilization - who built a near-perfect drainage system to protect their temple Chavín de Huántar from the dangers of monsoon flooding - to the expertise of the Chimú - known for their intricate weaving and pottery skills, inhabitants of this region were always good and adept builders of healthy, habitable societies. So, these inhabitants of the regions which went on to become a part of the great Inca Empire basically bequeathed a very developed way of living for the Incas to build on. Known for their uncomparable diplomatic and organizational skills, the Incas made the most of the opportunities they got and built an empire par excellence.
From what has traveled down orally through generations, the people who founded the Inca race emerged from three caves - Tambo Tocco, Maras Tocco, and Sutic Tocco - situated very close to Lake Titicaca. The story begins with a group of eight siblings - four brothers (Ayar Manco, Ayar Cachi, Ayar Auca, Ayar Uchu) and four sisters (Mama Ocllo, Mama Raua, Mama Huaca, Mama Cora) - commencing their journey from the central cave of Tambo Tocco. They were accompanied by the inhabitants of the two other caverns who were the first members of the Inca society. It is said that Ayar Manco, a clear leader of this group, carried a pure gold scepter. Before journeying, he threw the scepter like a javelin and wherever it landed, the group would settle down at that place. This was the basic purpose of the journey. They traveled for almost 33 kilometers on foot until they reached the Peruvian cougar-shaped city of Cuzco or Qosqo. However, before reaching the city a number of events took place that inevitably paved the way for Ayar Manco to become the uncontested leader of the Incas.
  • Once everyone got tired of his constant boasting about his immeasurable strength and unmatchable power, Ayar Chachi was fobbed by his siblings into returning to Tambo Tocco in order to fetch a sacred llama. When he entered the cave, all the siblings barricaded the path to come out with boulders and locked him inside.
  • Ayar Uchu, on the other hand, proclaimed that he would go ahead and position himself atop a mount in order to keep an eye on the group. No sooner had the words escaped his mouth than he turned into a stone statue. The members of the group constructed a temple around the statue and carried on.
  • Ayar Auca lost his patience with all that was going on and decided to traverse alone.
  • Mama Ocllo had bourne a boy called Sinchi Roca to Ayar Manco.
After prolonged and tiresome traveling, the group headed by Ayar Manco and his four sisters, reached Cuzco circa early 13th century. There the group saw that Manco's scepter had sunk into the soil and this signified the fertile nature of the land.
The residents of this fertile valley took up a stand against this new group dwelling there. This is when Mama Huaca displayed her incredible warrior skills and intimidated the residents into accepting the group's supremacy over the natives. She simply hurled a bolas (a weapon made of multiple stones tied with interconnected chords which swung through the air before injuring the victim) at a gualla or soldier and it killed him. She then sat on the dead soldier, slit open his chest, and ripped his lungs out only to squeeze them with vehement force until they ruptured. This single act of violence was enough to quieten all voices of protest.
Ayar Manco went on to then become the first Inca Emperor and was known as Manco Cápac then onwards. The Emperor and his sisters then taught the rest of the group the art of building houses and growing crops. Sinchi Roca became the second Emperor, after Manco Cápac turned to stone at the end of his reign. By 1350, Inca Roca expanded the empire by conquering all the valleys peripheral to Cuzco, the areas around Lake Titicaca, and the regions east and north of the Upper Urubamba River.
It was under the able leadership of Sapa Inca Pachacuti-Cusi Yupanqui that the Incas started expanding their territories Northward up to Lake Jumin. The empire only saw a rise in everything post that.
It is interesting to note the modus operandi of Inca conquests. They begun with exchanges with rulers of other states, wherein a formal and very amicable word was put forward, asking the Head of the State to accept the supreme authority of the Incas and becoming a part of their empire. In case the Head heeded without opposition, lavish gifts were showered on to that territory with other advantages following. When the ruler did not revert willingly, he was subjected to become a part of the Inca Empire forcefully through military conquests. Sometimes, marital alliances were forged in order to take over a state.
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The Social Structure

The Inca Civilization had a strict hierarchical structure with the King at the top. The king was supposed to be the son of Sun and hence was held in great regard by the people. The king was known as the Sapa Inca which means the Unique Inca. The Sapa Inca owned all the land and wealth of the empire. He kept some land unused to build temples and gave the rest to the farmers to produce crops for themselves.
The class below the Sapa Inca was the Nobility, which included the descendants and relatives of the Emperor. These royal blood Incas held the most important posts in the government, military, and religious departments. Sometimes, these included the nobles of the conquered tribes who were trained in the Inca way of administration. They were called Curacs.
At the lowest rung were the farmers and the craftsmen. The farmers worked on the land given to them by the king. They in turn had to pay taxes and work in temples or on construction projects, like building roads and bridges. The craftsmen made objects of gold, copper, and silver. The Inca stonemasons were so highly skilled, that no mortar was required to hold their together.
The unit of Inca society was Ayllu. Each Ayllu would be given a portion of land by the Emperor. The Ayllu included a group of families that tilled the land given to them. This land was divided among the families on the basis of the family size and was rearranged with changes in the number of family members. Besides working on the allotted fields, each Ayllu worked on additional fields to support the Emperor.
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The Political Organization

The political structure of the Incas was complex and tightly controlled. The Emperor was the supreme ruler of the state. The empire was divided into four quarters known as the four Suyus. Hence the Incas called their empire Tahuantinsuyu, which means 'land of the four quarters'. Each quarter was placed under a governor who reported directly to the king. The king ruled the Inca Empire from his seat in the capital city of Cuzco. These governors were blood relatives of the king. Under every governor there were 10 district governors, each having 10,000 peasants. The offices were further divided with smaller units of peasants under each official of descending rank. At the lowest level, an official had only 10 peasants under him.
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The Incas were polytheists, though their most important god was the Sun God, Inti. The Inti was believed to be all-pervading, omnipotent, and omnipresent. In fact, the Incas considered gold to be the perspiration of the Sun God and all members of the royal family to be His descendants. They also worshiped Viracocha or (the Creator), Pacha Kamaq (the Earth-Maker), Illapa (the God of Weather, Thunder, and Lightning), Kuychi (the God of Rainbows), Pachamama (the Earth Goddess), Mamacocha (the Sea Goddess), Yakumama (the Goddess of Water), Mamaquilla (the Moon Goddess), Sachamama (the Goddess of Trees), and Ayar Cachi (the short-tempered God of Earthquakes).
They had a host of priests and priestesses who worshiped the gods and goddesses in the temples throughout the state. The Incas believed in offering sacrifices to appease the Gods. These sacrifices would usually be llamas or guinea pigs. However, on very sacred occasions, children and women were also sacrificed. The Incas believed in afterlife and held their ancestors in great respect. They placed the bodies of their ancestors in tombs that they regularly replenished with food and precious goods.
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Science and Arts

Although healing ceremonies were commonly used by the priests to cure diseases, they also carried out a number of successful surgeries that included amputations. The patients were rendered unconscious using herbs, intoxicants, or hypnotism. The Incas measured time according to the lunar calendar. They had standard units of measurements and used a balance beam to weigh objects. The site of Machu Picchu is an incredible testimony to the architectural feats that the Inca Civilization had achieved. It still has buildings made up of blocks of stones that are so well-cut that no mortar had to be used to hold them together.
The Incas were famous for their gold. They were marked craftsmen of gold and silver. However, it is ironic that the gold that they considered as the 'sweat of the sun', brought their end close when their wealth was discovered by a ruthless fortune seeker, Pizarro, in 1532.
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Incas had a clear segregation system in place when it came to imparting knowledge and education. The education given to men of nobility was markedly different from what the masses learned. Furthermore, the princes and princesses were taught different things as per the roles they were expected to play in their lives. It is believed that the young members of the royal family and a few other talented youngsters chosen from around the Inca Empire commenced their educational lives at the age of 13 and graduated at the age of 19. The best scholars of the empire called the Amawtakuna conducted sessions for these privileged students (young novices or yachakuq runa). The subjects encompassed Inca Religion, Physical Education, Military Techniques, History, Polity, Moral Norms and the Inca method of keeping numerical records or quipu - a method wherein strings were knotted in specific and logical ways in order to maintain precise quantitative data of population, armories (agricultural or otherwise), and military troops. All education was imparted orally. Examinations were held at the end of every young novice's educational life and they were presented with special underwear called wara when they successfully justified a complete realization and retention of the knowledge they had obtained. A wara signified the virility and maturity of each student who received it. Post this, a graduation ceremony was held, wherein these future sawyers of the Inca empire displayed their command over the subjects they had learned. A show of physical strength and martial skills was held to prove their masculinity. These ceremonies were attended by the erstwhile and most respected Inca scholars and other aristocratic members. These ceremonies usually ended with the Sovereign of the Inca State piercing the ear of every participant and declaring them to be the novel "Children of the Sun."
The education that the masses were given was markedly different from what the nobility was exposed to. Vocational training of farming, fishing, hunting, masonry, rope bridge making, road construction was given to the masses. They were also taught theoretical subjects like Arts, Morality, and Religion. But all this was taught by the elders in the family. The masses did not attend schools of any kind. So, the manual tasks, such as building fortress temples, irrigation systems, stone buildings, roads, rope bridges, and water fountains were performed by commoners.
As for the women, they were made adept at the arts of chicha (fermented and non-fermented corn beverages) brewing, spinning, and weaving. The princesses and a chosen few were taught the art of governance at girls-only schools called Aqlla wasi but not in so much detail as their male counterparts. Women from all stations of life were groomed to enhance their feminine ways. At the end of their education, some chose to become teachers themselves, while some from lower stations in life were chosen to become secondary wives of the Sapa Inca or were sent to men of power as rewards.
One thing that was ensured throughout the empire irrespective of class and gender was the thorough command over the Quechua language. Every member of the society had to be fluent in it. This, however, had more political motivations working behind it rather than educational ones.
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The Fall of the Incas

Over the years, historians have evaluated and reevaluated the ways in which a group of 168 Spaniards managed to hoodwink and conquer an evolved race like that of the Incas. The theories are too many. But one thing that becomes evident after studying the historical evidences and theories is that the Spaniards made the most of organized genocide and ruthless strategies that can be coined.
The fall basically started with the sudden death of Huayna Cápac in 1528. Historians conclude that the Emperor's demise was mostly caused due to smallpox, a disease the Europeans had brought along with them and gone on to use as a biological weapon, which he probably contracted during his expansion stint in Ecuador. Huayna Cápac had continued to expand his empire by conquest. Just before his demise, he is said to have realized how difficult it was becoming to govern the huge empire from the Inca capital, Cuzco. His sudden death gave way to a series of altercations between two of his most powerful sons - Prince Túpac Cusi Hualpa, a.k.a. Huáscar, and Huayna Cápac's favorite yet illegitimate son, Atahualpa (Huayna Cápac was believed to have fathered at least 500 legitimate and illegitimate sons). The succession dispute continued for five long years, post which Atahualpa declared himself to be the Sapa Inca or the only Emperor. But his glory did not last for more than a two weeks.
It is believed that after declaring himself the Emperor, Atahualpa stationed himself at the provincial capital of Cajamarca. His plan was to travel to Cuzco in order to formally ascend the throne as the new Emperor. However, on the very day he was supposed to set out for the Inca capital, he received news of the arrival of white demigods. These supposed demigods were Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro, his brothers Gonzalo, Juan, and Hernando, and his troop of soldiers. Atahualpa's messenger, Cinquinchara, an Orejon warrior, assured the Emperor that these white men hardly seemed godly with all their eating, drinking, and ravishing of women. Moreover, they did not perform any miracles at all. Up to this part, the information was correct. However, where Cinquinchara did go wrong was the part where he conveyed that the horses (animals the Inca population had never seen before) that the Spaniards were riding were rendered useless at night, that guns were nothing more than thunderbolts that could be used to shoot only twice, and that the enemy swords were useless in front of the weapons the Incas owned. This boosted the confidence of Atahualpa beyond fathomable limits. What he did next was mostly a result of the complacency that stemmed from the Emperor's new found confidence.
After successfully gauging the strengths and weaknesses of the Incas, Pizarro sent three emissaries to the Emperor - Hernando de Soto, friar Vincente de Valverde and native interpreter Felipillo. These three people were basically sent to the Emperor with the request to meet Pizarro at a square in the city of Cajamarca. Valverde did his best to convince Atahualpa that the Spaniards were there to teach the locals the true word of God to save them from their present plight. In spite of the undercurrent of power and dominance that the emissaries emitted, Atahualpa remained unflinchingly steady and questioned the source of authority that the Spaniards claimed to have. However, after much convincing, the Emperor agreed to meet the conquistadors at the designated spot the next evening. This was his biggest mistake. Cajamarca was a walled city from three sides and not once did it occur to the Sapa Inca that it was the perfect spot for the Spaniards to attempt an ambush. This seems strange for an ambush was a frequently used tactic of the Incas.
On the eve of 16th November, 1532, Atahualpa. with an unarmed army of 7,000 men. met the Spaniards at the Cajamarca square. Pizarro had set the ground perfectly for an unfair battle that would choke the Incas from the word go. On arriving at the square, the Spanish friar, Valverde tried to unsuccessfully explain principles of Catholicism and how mass conversion of the Incas would make them God's favorite people to the Inca and his entourage. He then handed the Emperor a Bible. On seeing a book for the first time, Atahualpa tried to see if the object spoke to him by shaking it near his ear and then flung it away when it didn't. The Spaniards took offense to this act and used it as an excuse to launch an attack on the unarmed soldiers. With caballeros, a cannon, guns, horses, metal armors, and swords, the Spaniard troop of 106 infantrymen and 62 horsemen butchered thousands of Inca soldiers and took the Sapa Inca prisoner in a matter of 30 minutes. Some theories also claim that Atahualpa was unable to understand the demands made by the Spaniards due to poor, incoherent translation and was thus attacked.
It is said that the Inca Emperor was imprisoned in a huge ransom room. Atahualpa begged for freedom in exchange for enough silver to fill up the entire room twice along with sufficient gold to fill it once. The deceitful Pizarro took the loot from the hopeful Emperor, but instead of freeing him, Pizarro slapped charges of "crimes against the Spanish state" on Atahualpa and executed the Sapa Inca by garroting on 29th August, 1533. It is to be noted that when Atahualpa was kept a prisoner himself, the Spanish conquistadors persecuted his half-brother Huáscar at another location and claimed that it was done under the orders of Atahualpa. This killing was later used as one of the charges against the imprisoned Emperor.
Post the death of Atahualpa, the road for the Spaniards became clear. Pizarro did appoint the 17-year-old Manco II as the next Sapa Inca, but he was a mere puppet in the hands of the Spanish monarchy. The brick-by-brick degeneration of the Inca Empire begun with the death of Atahualpa and was complete with the decapitation of the last Inca Emperor Tupac Amaru in 1572.
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It has not only dazed the world with its military power and wealth, but the Inca civilization has also left behind a remarkable example of how a single government could adeptly rule a number of diverse tribes, of which some lived in the most inaccessible mountain hideaways of the Andes.
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