Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Origin myths

The Incas had various creation myths. In one, Ticci Viracocha sent forth his four sons and four daughters (known as the Ayar brothers) from Pacaritambo to establish a village. Along the way, Sinchi Roca was born to Manco and Ocllo, and Sinchi Roca led them to the valley of Cusco where they founded their new village. There Manco became their leader and became known as Manco Capac.

In another origin myth, the sun god Inti ordered Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo to emerge from the depths of Lake Titicaca. They were born in the lake and wandered north to establish the city of Cusco. They travelled by means of underground caves until they reached Cusco where they established Hurin Cusco, or the first dynasty of the Kingdom of Cusco.

These myths were apparently transmitted via oral tradition until early Spanish colonists recorded them; however some scholars believe that they may have been recorded on quipus (Andean knotted string records).


Sacsayhuamán, the Inca stronghold of Cusco

Andean civilization probably began c. 9500 BP. Based in the highlands of Peru, an area now referred to as the punas, the ancestors of the Incas probably began as a nomadic herding people. Geographical conditions resulted in a distinctive physical development characterized by a small stature and stocky build. Men averaged 1.57 m (5'2") and women averaged 1.45 m (4'9"). Because of the high altitudes, they had unique lung developments with almost one third greater capacity than other humans. The Incas had slower heart rates, blood volume of about 2 l (four pints) more than other humans, and double the amount of hemoglobin which transfers oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Archaeologists have found traces of permanent habitation as high as 5,300 m (17,000 ft) above sea level in the temperate zone of the high altiplanos. While the Conquistadors may have been a little taller, the Inca surely had the advantage of coping with the extraordinary altitude. It seems that civilizations in this area before the Inca have left no written record, and therefore the Inca seem to appear from nowhere, but the Inca were a product of the past. They borrowed architecture, ceramics, and their empire-state government from previous cultures.

In the Lake Titikaka region, Tiwanaku is recognized by Andean scholars as one of the most important precursors to the Inca Empire, flourishing as the ritual and administrative capital of a major state power for approximately 500 years.

The first Inca ruler was Manco Capac. There is no specific date for this ruler nor for the seven succeeding rulers, but the assumed dates are 1250 to 1438. The Inca originated at Cusco in the central highlands and expanded down the coast. The basis of the Inca's conquest is believed to be their organization. Their divine symbol was the sun god, their bureaucratic system consisted of a circle of officials belonging to eleven royal ayllus, and the line of descent continued through incestuous marriage with a sister who becomes the coya or "legal queen." The expansion of the Inca empire probably resulted from climatic conditions. Their resources in the highlands were limited to llama, alpaca, and vicuna.

In 1445, Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (the ninth Inca) began conquest of the Titicaca regions. He incorporated and developed patterns of cultures already in existence, particularly that of the Chimu. Pachacuti had disciplined officers from his own elite household. Common soldiers were armed with bronze battle axes, wooden hafts with stone or bronze heads, slings, lances, throwing spears, bows and arrows, wooden shields covered with leather, cotton or cane helmets, and quilted armor. In each captured province Inca officials were superimposed upon the existing local officials. The loyalty of the captured province was assured by taking the sons of the officials hostage in Cusco. They made Quechua the official language and sun worship the official religion. They exploited the labor force in order to increase productivity and rapidly develop irrigation and terrace cultivation systems, and used guano deposits found on the coastal islands as fertilizer. The Inca social system required a severe authoritarian government backed by ritual and divine compulsion.

They built temples and fortresses and were supreme in road building. The roads extended 3,250 miles from Quito in the north to Talca in Central Chile. These roads were vital to the maintenance of the empire, but ironically this network of highways made the Spanish conquest easier. There were road markers every topo which is 4.5 miles and rest houses or tambos every 12 miles for the Inca ruler and his retinue. Small post houses called chasquis every 5 miles housed the runners and 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.

Inca society was based on the idea of "equal footing." All men had to work in order to live, and even the Inca nobles helped to set an example. However, some archaeologists believe this was a façade supporting a two-caste system. The penalties for breaking the law were less severe for bureaucratic elites; this emphasizes the importance of the upper caste in the maintenance of the system.

Kingdom of Cusco

We can assure your majesty that it is so beautiful and has such fine buildings that it would even be remarkable in Spain.

—Francisco Pizarro

The Inca people began as a tribe in the Cusco area around the 12th century. Under the leadership of Manco Capac, they formed the small city-state of Cusco (Quechua Qusqu'Qosqo). In 1438, they began a far-reaching expansion under the command of Sapa Inca (paramount leader) Pachacuti-Cusi Yupanqui, whose name literally meant "earth-shaker". The name of Pachacutec was given to him after conquering over the Tribe of Chancas (modern Apurimac). During his reign, he and his son Tupac Yupanqui brought much of the Andes mountains (roughly modern Peru and Ecuador) under Inca control.

Reorganization and formation

Inca expansion (1438–1527)

Pachacuti reorganized the kingdom of Cusco 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), Contisuyu (SW), and Collasuyu (SE). Pachacuti is also thought to have built Machu Picchu, either as a family home or as a summer retreat, although there is speculation that Machu Picchu was constructed as an agricultural station.

Pachacuti sent spies to regions he wanted in his empire; they brought reports on the 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 Cusco 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.

Expansion and consolidation

It was traditional for the Inca's son to lead the army; Pachacutec's son Túpac Inca Yupanqui 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 a small portion of land to the north in modern day Ecuador and in parts of Peru. At its height, the Inca Empire included Peru and Bolivia, most of what is now Ecuador, a large portion of what is today Chile north of Maule River. The advance south halted after the Battle of the Maule where they met massive resistance by the Mapuche tribes. The empire also extended into corners of Argentina and Colombia. However, most of the southern portion of the Inca empire, the portion denominated as Collasuyu, was desert wasteland.

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 Inca empire as a whole had an economy based on exchange and taxation of luxury goods and labour. The following quote reflects a method of taxation:

“For as is well known to all, not a single village of the highlands or the plains failed to pay the tribute levied on it by those who were in charge of these matters. There were even provinces where, when the natives alleged that they were unable to pay their tribute, the Inca ordered that each inhabitant should be obliged to turn in every four months a large quill full of live lice, which was the Inca’s way of teaching and accustoming them to pay tribute”.

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