Inca Empire | History, Civilization, Facts & Culture

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Inca Empire – Civilization

Inca Empire: Civilization that developed in South America from the thirteenth century to the sixteenth century approximately.

The Inca Empire, also known as the Incan Empire or the Inka Empire.

Date XIII – XVI Century
Location Cusco, present-day Peru.
Religion Polytheists.
Economy Agriculture and Livestock

Who were the Inca (Incan)?

The Inca were a civilization that developed in South America from the 13th century to the 16th century approximately.

According to the mythical narrative of its origin, its ancestors came to the Cusco valley from the Lake Titicaca region and there they founded the city of Cusco, which was considered the center of the world. From there, the Incas spread across a vast territory to the north and south. The empire reached 10 million inhabitants of different ethnic groups.

The Inca empire was conquered by the Spanish under Francisco Pizarro in 1532, when Emperor Atahualpa was taken prisoner. Although some pockets of resistance remained until 1572, they did not constitute a threat to the new colonial order.

Location of the Inca (Inka)

In its moment of maximum expansion, the Inca Empire encompassed present-day Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, the south of present-day Colombia, and part of the north of Argentina and Chile.

Location of the Inca culture.

Extension of the Inca Empire to the arrival of the Spanish.

Characteristics of the Inca Culture

Some characteristics of the Inca civilization were:

  • The empire was divided into four regions called yours: the Antisuyo to the east; the Collasuyo, to the south; Chinchasuyo, to the north and Cuntisuyo, to the west. Each had a governor who fulfilled political and military functions.
  • They used various methods of controlling the territories they conquered. Among them, the transfer of entire populations to territories far from their place of origin. These groups were called mitimaes. Although this word also designates those who were transferred as a distinction for their services or talents.
  • The subjects were obliged to comply with the mita, a tribute that they had to deliver to the Inca in the form of work for the State during a certain period, every year. Some communities, specialized in the production of highly valued goods, such as certain ceramics or textiles, paid their tribute in products.
  • Excess production was stored and distributed among the population in times of scarcity.
  • The Empire was traversed by a network of roads that allowed rapid communication between all regions. The messengers, called chasquis, traveled through them carrying communications between different points. These roads had posts, called tambos, where travelers could rest and feed.
  • Although they did not have an alphabetical writing, they had different methods of recording and visual communication of information. Among them, the quipus, a series of ropes of different colors with knots, allowed to keep accounts and keep the memory of some stories.

Political and Social Organization of the Inca (Incans)

Political Organization of the Inka Empire

The Inca Empire was politically organized as follows:

  • The highest authority was the king or Inca, considered the son of the Sun, who ruled by divine right.
  • The highest positions in the administration of the Empire were held by the Inca‘s relatives. These formed a nobility that dealt with the complex organization of the State.
  • A powerful army, led by generals from the royal family, dealt with the expansion, conquest and control of the conquered territories.

Machu Picchu, icon of the Inca culture

Inca fortress of Machu Picchu, in the Urubamba river valley.

Social Organization of the Inca Empire

The society of the Inca Empire was organized as follows:

  • Inca society was divided into strict hierarchies. The highest place in the social scale was occupied by the Inca, who was considered a divinity. The Inca‘s relatives were the nobility.
  • Below the nobility, there was the rest of the population: the artisans, the peasants.
  • The peasants were organized in communities of related people called ayllus headed by a curaca. The curaca distributed the work and products and was answerable to the authorities for his ayllu.
  • Each social group had certain obligations that had to be fulfilled. At the same time, the hierarchies established the activities that each one carried out, the clothes that could be used and the products that could be consumed. Some materials, such as gold, silver and certain textiles were reserved for the Inca and could only be used by him and by some of his direct relatives.

Social pyramid of Inca culture

Social pyramid of the Inca culture.

Economy of the Incas Empire

In the Inca social and economic organization, the concepts of reciprocity and redistribution were important. Reciprocity implied a collaborative relationship, both in the exchange of work and goods, with the obligation of retribution.

The redistribution is the accumulation of surpluses to distribute among people who needed them as sick, orphans, etc. or in regions suffering difficulties. These concepts worked both on a local scale, among the members of each ayllu, and on a general scale, between the Inca and his subjects.

The Inca economy was based on agricultural production. The lands belonged to the State that distributed them: a third part was dedicated to producing for the Inca, another for the priests and the third for the ayllus.

Taking advantage of the diversity of ecosystems in the territory, an important variety of products was obtained, for example, potatoes, corn, beans, squash, quinoa, cassava, cotton, peanuts, tobacco, coca and beans. They also developed camelid farming, such as the llama and the alpaca.

Religion and Beliefs of the Incas

The Incas had a relationship of sacralization of the environment that surrounded them. They considered numerous elements of nature, people, objects, etc., sacred those they called huaca.

They respected the beliefs of the peoples they conquered, but they imposed the cult of the Sun, their main divinity.

They also worshiped the Pachamama (mother earth); Viracocha, the creator of the world; and Illapa, the god of thunder and storm.

Inca (Incans) Gods

The main gods of the Inca culture were the following:

Name Function
Viracocha Creator and supreme God.
Inti God of the sun.
Pacha mama Goddess of nature and mother earth.
Mama Quilla Goddess of the moon.
Mama Sara Goddess of corn and food.
Mama Cocha Goddess of femininity.
Illapa God of lightning and battle.
Coyllur Goddess of the stars.
Supay God of Death.
Wasikamayuq God of the home.
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