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The Inca warrior in battle gear, from "Black Buddha, Pt. Two".

The Inca Empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. At its height, it controlled the western coast of South American from the tip of Chile to Ecuador, with lands over the Andes in the rainforest. Yet it lasted less than three hundred years, with its greatest territorial expansion coming only in the final century of its existence. It was conquered by Spain in the mid 1530s.

In the Forever Knight episode "Black Buddha, Pt. Two", Javier Vachon and his long-time foe, an Incan warrior, recount their story. Vachon had been a foot soldier with Pizarro's conquistadors when they first came to South America and encountered the Inca Empire. The warrior had waylaid him when Vachon was sent for reinforcements before a battle near Lake Titicaca.

Expansion of the Inca EmpireEdit

Andean civilization probably began around 7500 B.C. Based in the highlands of Peru, the ancestors of the Incas were likely a nomadic herding people. Prior civilizations in the area have left no written record, so that it sometimes seems as though the Inca Empire appears from nowhere; but, in fact, the Inca borrowed architecture, ceramics, and their empire-state government from previous cultures.

The first Inca ruler (or Sapa Inca) was Manco Capac. There is no specific date for this ruler nor for the seven succeeding rulers, but their assumed dates are 1250 A.D. to 1438 A.D. The Inca Empire originated at Cuzco in the central highlands and expanded down the coast.
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The expansion of the Inca Empire, by reign and date.

The basis of their successful conquest is believed to be their organization. Their bureaucratic system consisted of a circle of officials belonging to eleven royal ayllus (clans), and the line of descent continued through incestuous marriage with a sister who became the coya or queen.

A far-reaching expansion of this early empire began in 1438 A.D. and lasted until 1533 A.D. The Incas used a variety of methods, from conquest to peaceful assimilation, to incorporate a large portion of western South America, centered on the Andean mountain ranges, including large parts of modern Ecuador, Peru, western and south central Bolivia, northwest Argentina, north and north-central Chile, and southern Colombia. The administrative, political and military center of the empire was located in Cuzco; and the loyalty of the captured provinces was assured by taking the children of the local rulers back to Cuzco as hostages. However, they were taught about Inca administration systems, and then returned to rule their native lands. This allowed the Inca to indoctrinate the former ruler's children into the Inca nobility; as well, they married their own daughters into families throughout the empire.

The official language of the empire was Quechua, although hundreds of local languages and dialects of Quechua were spoken. The Quechua name for the empire was Tawantinsuyu which can be translated as "The Four Regions". The empire was divided into four Suyus (provinces), whose corners met at the capital, Cuzco.

Inca SocietyEdit

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A vista of Machu Picchu.

The Inca Empire 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 empire as a whole had an economy based on the exchange and taxation of luxury goods and compulsory labour (mita). This social system required a severe authoritarian government backed by ritual and divine compulsion. The ruling class exploited the labor force in order to increase productivity. Inca society was based on the idea of "equal footing": all men must work in order to live. However, there was a rigid caste system allowing for no social mobility, with the Incas of the true blood set above all others.


There were many local forms of worship through the conquered territories, but the Inca leadership encouraged the worship of their own sun god, Inti. Inti Raymi, the festival of the Sun God, was the largest and most important Inca festival. However, the Incas had other gods as well: just as Inti was the chief among the male gods, Quilla, the moon goddess, was chief among the female ones. The Inca royal lineage claimed descent from the Sun and Moon; and the Incas identified their king as "child of the sun."

A prominent theme in Inca mythology is the duality of the Cosmos. They divided the world into three realms; but Cay Paca, the realm of the outer earth where humans resided, was viewed as an intermediary realm between upper and lower realms. Hanan Paca, the upper world, consisted of the deities of the sun, moon, stars, rainbow, and lightning, while Ukhu and Hurin Pacas were the realms of Pachamama, the earth mother, and the ancestors and heroes of the Inca. The realms were represented by the condor (upper world), puma (outer earth) and snake (inner earth).


The main crops grown by the Incas were potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn (maize), chili peppers, cotton, tomatoes, peanuts, an edible root called oca, and the grains quinoa and amaranth. Llama and alpaca meat were eaten primarily by the upper classes, while the common people used domesticated cuyes (guinea pigs) for food.
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Terraced fields in the Andes.

A wide variety of fish and seafood was eaten. In addition, they hunted various wild animals for meat, skins and feathers. Corn was malted and used to make chicha, a fermented alcoholic beverage.

Because their lands ran from the dry Pacific coastline up to the high slopes of the Andes, and down the other side into the lowland Amazon rainforest, the Inca were able to grow crops suitable to a wide variety of climatic zones. In the mountains, they made extensive use of terraced fields. The Inca road system was key to their farming success as it allowed distribution of foodstuffs over long distances.


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a quipu

The Inca Empire was supreme in road building. The roads extended 3,250 miles from Quito in the north to Talca in Central Chile. They were vital to the maintenance of the empire; but ironically this network of highways made the Spanish conquest easier. The roads were mostly used by the nobility and soldiers, porters and llama caravans, and people on official duty. Because the Incas did not make use of the wheel for transportation, and did not have horses until the arrival of the Spanish in Peru in the 16th century, the trails were used almost exclusively by people walking. The Inca ruler travelled by litter, accompanied by thousands of soldiers and retainers.

There were road markers every topo (4.5 miles). Rest houses or tambos were built every twelve miles, both for the Inca ruler and his retinue, and also to lodge and provision itinerant state personnel. Small post houses called chasquis were placed every five miles to house the runners who were used for relaying dispatches—at the rate of about 150 miles per day. Verbal dispatches were supplemented by quipu or knotted strings, probably involving a code based on numbers. These were the equivalent of the notched sticks of the old tally system used in Europe. The runners also carried fresh fish up from the seacoast to the cities in the uplands.



The exterior wall of the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman, showing how the huge pieces of stone fit perfectly.

Architecture was by far the most important of the Inca arts. The main examples are the capital city of Cuzco and the breathtaking site of Machu Picchu. Inca engineers used a mortarless construction that fits together so well that there is no gap wide enough for a knife to be slipped between the stones. These were sculpted to fit together exactly by repeatedly lowering one onto another and carving away any sections on the lower stone where the dust was compressed. The tight fit and the concavity on the lower stones makes the construction extraordinarily stable.


Because the Inca had a system that emphasized political and religious organization, there were many specialized artisans like smiths, weavers, cloth makers, and pottery makers. They particularly prized fine cloth, considering the highest grades to be more precious than gold. Cloth was divided into three classes. Awaska, made from llama wool, was for household use; it had an threadcount of about 120 threads per inch. Finer cloth, qunpi, came in two grades. The lower grade of qunpi was made from alpaca wool. It was collected as tribute from throughout the country and was used for trade and gifts to political allies. The higher grade of qunpi was made from vicuña wool and used solely for royal and religious use. It had threadcounts of 600 or more per inch, unsurpassed anywhere in the world until the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century.


The Inca did not use iron or steel. However, copper, tin, gold, and silver were all obtained from mines or washed from the river gravels. Both copper and bronze were used for basic farming tools and weapons. Gold and silver were used for decoration throughout the palaces and temples. Reputedly, the walls and thrones were covered with gold; and the emperor dined on gold and silver plates, often inlaid with images of llamas, butterflies or other creatures. Many historians believe that the choice of gold relates to the Incan religion surrounding the sun. Very little survives today, however: it was all melted down into ingots by the Spanish conquerors.

Inca ArmyEdit

The Inca army was the most powerful of its time in South America. Any ordinary villager could quickly be pressed into service as a soldier because every male Inca had to do military service and take part in war at least once, so as to be prepared for warfare again when needed. Both Inca oral histories and Spanish written accounts estimate the Inca Empire could field armies of 100,000 at a time, organized into several battalions. Warriors wore tunics, often with checkered patterns.

The Inca had no iron or steel. Their weapons were essentially identical to those used by the other peoples of South America—but strikingly inferior to those used by the Spanish. The Inca had:

  • bronze or bone-tipped spears
  • two-handed wooden swords with serrated edges
  • clubs with stone and spiked metal heads
  • woollen slings and stones
  • stone or copper headed battle-axes
  • bronze knives
  • bolas (stones fastened to lengths of cord).

The armor used by the Incas included:

  • helmets made of wood, copper, bronze, cane, or animal skin (sometimes adorned with feathers)
  • round or square shields made from wood or hide
  • cloth tunics padded with cotton and small wooden planks to protect spine.

Roads allowed very quick movement for the Inca army, and shelters called quolla were built one day's distance in travelling from each other, so that an army on campaign could always be fed and rested.

They went into battle with the beating of drums and the blowing of trumpets.

Spanish ConquestEdit

In July 1529 the Queen of Spain signed a charter allowing Francisco Pizarro to conquer the Incas. The conquistadors came to Peru in 1532 at a time when the Empire was overextended and under internal threat. There was unrest among newly conquered territories; smallpox—which had spread from Central America—was cutting a swathe through the population; and the country had just gone through a period of civil war.

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Atahualpa, portrait from 1533.

After the death of the previous ruler, Huayna Capac, his sons Huáscar and Atahualpa (who were half-brothers) waged a war of succession for the Inca throne. Huáscar was of Inca blood on both sides, and therefore received control of the capital, Cuzco, on his father's death. However, Atahualpa commanded the imperial army in Quito, in the north of the empire. A lengthy civil war concluded with Atahualpa's victory. However, before he had the chance to rule over his empire, he was captured by the Spaniards

Pizarro did not have a formidable force; with just 168 men, one cannon and 27 horses, he often needed to talk his way out of potential confrontations that could have easily wiped out his party. However, the Spanish horsemen, fully armored, with firearms and metal weapons, had great technological superiority over the Inca forces. The traditional mode of battle in the Andes was a feudal siege in which large numbers of draftees were sent to overwhelm opponents. The Spaniards were professional soldiers from one of the finest military machines of the period, with tactics learned in their centuries' long fight against the Moorish kingdoms in Iberia. As well, they allied themselves with the rulers of conquered territories, who sought to end Inca control.

After Atahualpa was captured, he offered to pay the Spaniards a ransom of enough gold to fill the room he was imprisoned in, and twice that amount of silver. The Inca fulfilled this ransom, but Pizarro deceived them, refusing to release their ruler afterwards. During Atahualpa's imprisonment Huáscar was assassinated elsewhere. The Spaniards maintained that this was at Atahualpa's orders; this was used as one of the charges against Atahualpa when the Spaniards finally decided to put him to death, in August 1533.

Adapted from the Wikipedia article on the Inca Empire.
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