Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Arts and technology

Monumental architecture

A detail of an Inca stone work

Inca architecture was by far the most important of the Inca arts, with pottery and textiles reflecting motifs that were at their height in architecture. The main example is the capital city of Cuzco. The breathtaking site of Machu Picchu was constructed by Inca engineers. The Inca constructed stone temples without using mortars yet the stones fit together so well that one could not fit a knife through the stonework. The rocks used in construction were sculpted to fit together exactly by repeatedly lowering a rock onto another and carving away any sections on the lower rock where the dust was compressed. The tight fit and the concavity on the lower rocks made them extraordinarily stable. Similar rockwork allegedly exists on Easter island. Some schools of thought contend that this similarity could be evidence for Inca voyages to Easter island. This hypothesis is rejected in the following quote from a Nova program where Dr. Jo Anne Van Tilburg" 'all archaeological, linguistic, and biological data' point to Polynesian origins in island Southeast Asia." In a related set of questions and answers, the architect Vince Lee said "I think that the answer to that is probably not. It's the sort of question you can never answer 100 percent in the negative. In other words, we can't prove that something didn't happen but to date a lot of excavation and study has been done on Easter Island. Absolutely no evidence has been found of visitation by Andean peoples such as broken pottery or stone implements or really anything else that would indicate the presence of Andean people here so I think it's very unlikely that these walls were built by Andean peoples or that they were influenced by Andean builders. But they are remarkably similar to some of the walls of Peru, especially these two examples, so I think that will forever remain somewhat of a question. I believe that the prevailing answer to date, which is that the Peruvians had nothing to do with them, is probably correct."

The Inca had an extensive road system which consisted of two main roads as described in the following quote by Cieza de Léon: "The Incas built two roads the length of the country. The Royal Road went through the highlands for a distance of 3,250 miles, while the Coastal Road followed the seacoast for 2,520 miles."

Ceramics, precious metal work, and textiles

Inca tunic

Almost all of the gold and silver work of the empire was melted down by the conquistadors. Ceramics were painted in numerous motifs including birds, waves, felines, and geometric patterns. The most distinctive Inca ceramic objects are the Cusco bottles or ¨aryballos¨.Many of these pieces are on display in Lima in the Larco Archaeological Museum and the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History. Textiles were important in that they showed social status, and could also be used as armor. Another important use of textiles was in the creation of rope bridges across gorges.


Representation of an Inca quipu

In Cuzco in 1589, Don Mancio Serra de Leguisamo — the last survivor of the original conquerors of Peru — wrote in the preamble of his will not without exaggeration, the following (in parts):

We found these kingdoms in such good order, and the said Incas governed them in such wise [manner] that throughout them there was not a thief, nor a vicious man, nor an adulteress, nor was a bad woman admitted among them, nor were there immoral people. The men had honest and useful occupations. The lands, forests, mines, pastures, houses and all kinds of products were regulated and distributed in such sort that each one knew his property without any other person seizing it or occupying it, nor were there law suits respecting it… the motive which obliges me to make this statement is the discharge of my conscience, as I find myself guilty. For we have destroyed by our evil example, the people who had such a government as was enjoyed by these natives. They were so free from the committal of crimes or excesses, as well men as women, that the Indian who had 100,000 pesos worth of gold or silver in his house, left it open merely placing a small stick against the door, as a sign that its master was out. With that, according to their custom, no one could enter or take anything that was there. When they saw that we put locks and keys on our doors, they supposed that it was from fear of them, that they might not kill us, but not because they believed that anyone would steal the property of another. So that when they found that we had thieves among us, and men who sought to make their daughters commit sin, they despised us.

Politics and government

The Inca Empire was separated into four sections together known as 'Ttahuantin-suyu' or "land of the four sections" each ruled by a governor or viceroy called 'Apu-cuna' under the leadership on the central 'Sapa Inca'. Cuzco was the central capital of the Inca Empire from where the Sapa Inca ruled. According to the oral traditions of the Inca the empire was ruled by 14 kings in succession. The earliest kings are likely either local leaders of ayllus around Cuzco or possibly mythical figures.

The term 'ayllu' refers to a grouping of indigenous people of South America and has been translated as clan. The term represents a group based on assumed blood-ties which operates as an economic and social unit. The Inca Empire was essentially several Andean ayllus controlled by a few Inca ayllus. As an economic unit the ayllu represented collective ownership of the land as well as other resources such as llama herds and water sources. The success and cohesiveness of the Andean ayllus was largely attributed to communal agriculture. Ayllus could regularly split apart because of economic hardships, ignoring blood ties, or come together with other ayllus with whom they did not share genealogy for the purposes necessary co-operation such as in irrigation or defence.

Despite regular conquering or grouping of ayllus, the individual ayllu would remain intact even after a break up of the group or empire to which it had belonged. This was largely because of their economic self-sufficiency. However conquering ayllus like the Inca, by building the collective state, gained economic and political power and developed into the ruling class, but in doing so they lost that self-sufficiency. This meant that the failure or defeat of the collective state meant the demise of the ruling class.

The Inca ayllus were based in Cuzco, the empire's capital, which was divided into Hanan-Cuzco (upper Cuzco) and Hurin-Cuzco (lower Cuzco). This separation, common with Andean ayllus is known as dual divisions. The two halves of the ayllu would from separate customs and rites and would form separate units in the army but would remain on good terms with each other socially, taking part in feasts and mock battles. Dual division was mostly religious and symbolic but had little economic relevance. When a ruler died, their chosen successor would receive all their political power and rights, while the ruler's other male descendants received all the monetary treasures. This process was called split inheritance.


While the Inca often tolerated or incorporated the religions of their conquered ayllus they also imposed a state religion upon them. The Inca empire was a theocracy in which the Inca king, Sapa Inca, was the descendant of Inti, the sun god. The Inca required tribute, especially before and after battle, to certain gods. Regular and general festivals punctuated the labors of the empire's subjects with food drink and entertainments. Inti Raymi, the festival of the sun god, lasted nine nights, during which Sapa Inca would provide Aqhachicha, a maize beer, to first Inti, then himself, then the nobles, and finally to all people who attended.


The Inca used quipu (bundled knotted strings), for accounting and census purposes. Much of the information on the surviving quipus has been shown to be numeric data; some numbers seem to have been used as mnemonic labels, and the color, spacing, and structure of the quipu carried information as well. How to interpret the coded or non-numeric data remains unknown. However, some scholars still harbor hope that quipus recorded spoken language like a writing system.

Despite accounts kept on quipus, the Inca depended on oral transmission to maintain and preserve their culture. Inca education was divided into two distinct categories: vocational education for common Inca, and formalized training for the nobility.


According to myth, Incan civilization began with Manco Capac, who carried a golden staff called the ‘tapac-yauri’. The Inca were instructed to create a Temple of the Sun in the spot where the staff sank into the earth, to honor their celestial father. After a long journey, including a tour of the underworld, the Inca arrived at Cuzco, where they built the temple. During the journey, one of Manco’s brothers, and possibly a sister, was turned to stone (huaca) = "sacred/holy". In another version of this legend, instead of emerging from a cave in Cuzco, the siblings emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca.

In ancient times Inca Virachocha son Mono Linco lived at Pacari-Tampu, today known as Pacaritambo, 25 km (16 mi) south of Cuzco. He and his brothers (Ayar Anca, Ayar Cachi, and Ayar Uchu), and sisters (Mama Ocllo, Mama Huaco, Mama Raua, and Mama Cura) lived near Cuzco at Paccari-Tampu. Uniting their people, and the ten ayllu they encountered in their travels, they set to conquering the tribes of the Cuzco Valley. This legend also incorporates the motif of the golden staff, given to Manco Capac by his father. Accounts vary, but according to some versions, the young Manco jealously betrayed his older brothers, killed them, and thus became the sole ruler of Cuzco.

Emergence and expansion

Inca expansion (1438-1527 AD)

The Inca people began as a tribe of the Killke culture in the Cuzco area around the 12th century AD. Under the leadership of Manco Capac, they formed the small city-state of Cuzco (Quechua Qosqo).

In 1438 AD, under the command of Sapa Inca (paramount leader) Pachacuti, much of modern day southern Peru was conquered. Cuzco was rebuilt as a major city and capital of the newly reorganized empire. Known as Tawantinsuyu, it was a federalist system, consisting 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). The powerful Inca emperor is also thought to have built Machu Picchu, either as a family home or as a vacation retreat.

Pachacuti would send spies to regions he had wanted in his empire. They would then report back on the political organization, military might, and wealth. The Sapa Inca would then send messages to the leaders of these lands, extolling the benefits of joining his empire. He offered gifts of luxury goods like high quality textiles, and promised that all living in those territories 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 neighboring rulers' children would be brought to Cuzco to be taught about Inca administration systems, and then would return to rule their native lands. This allowed the Inca to indoctrinate the former rulers' 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, continuing 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, and his son Huayna Cápac added significant territory to the south. At its height, Tawantinsuyu 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.

Tawantinsuyu 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. For example, 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 labor. (It is said that Inca tax collectors would take the head lice of the lame and old as a symbolic tribute.) 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. They ended up being conquered by Francisco Pizarro.

Spanish conquest and Vilcabamba

Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro explored south from Panama, reaching Inca territory by 1526. It was clear that they had reached a wealthy land with prospects of great treasure. After one more expedition in 1529, Pizarro returned to Spain and received royal approval to conquer the Inca region and become its viceroy.

At the time the Spanish returned to Peru in 1532, a war of succession between Huayna Capac's son Huascar and half brother Atahualpa was in full swing. Additionally, unrest among newly conquered territories, and smallpox, spreading from Central America, had considerably weakened the empire. The Spanish invaders told the Inca that the diseases decimating their population were sent from the Christian god as punishment for their idolatrous ways.

Pizarro did not have a formidable force. With just 180 men, 27 horses and 1 cannon, he often used diplomacy to talk his way out of potential confrontations that could have easily ended in defeat. Their first engagement was the Battle of Puná (near present-day Guayaquil, Ecuador) where his forces rapidly overcame the indigenous warriors of Puná Island. Pizarro then founded the city of Piura in July 1532. Hernando de Soto was sent inland to explore the interior; he returned with an invitation to meet Atahualpa, who had defeated his half brother in the civil war and was resting at Cajamarca with his army of 80,000 troops.

Pizarro met with the Inca, who had brought only a small retinue. Through interpreters, Pizarro requested the new Inca ruler convert to Christianity. A disputed legend claims that Atahualpa was handed a Bible and threw it on the floor. The Spanish supposedly interpreted this action as reason for war. Though some chroniclers suggest that Atahualpa simply did not understand the notion of a book, others portray Atahualpa as being genuinely curious and inquisitive in the situation. Regardless, the Spanish attacked the Inca's retinue, capturing Atahualpa.

Atahualpa offered the Spaniards enough gold to fill the room he was imprisoned in, and twice that amount in silver, in order to be freed. The Incas fulfilled this ransom, but Pizarro refused to release him. During Atahualpa's imprisonment Huascar was assassinated. The Spanish maintained it was at Atahualpa's orders, and this was one of the charges used against Atahualpa when the Spanish finally decided to put him to death in August 1533.

The Spanish installed his brother, Manco Inca Yupanqui, upon the Empire's throne. Yupanqui cooperated with the Spaniards while the conquistadors fought to put down resistance in the north. Meanwhile an associate of Pizarro's, Diego de Almagro, attempted to claim Cuzco for himself. Yupanqui attempted to use this intra-Spanish feud to his advantage, recapturing Cuzco in 1536, but the Spanish retook the city.

Manco Inca Yupanqui then retreated to the mountains of Vilcabamba, where he and his successors ruled for another 36 years, sometimes raiding the Spanish or inciting revolts against them. In 1572 the last Inca stronghold was discovered, and the last ruler, Túpac Amaru, Manco's son, was captured and executed, bringing the Inca Empire to an end.

Inca civilization

The Inca civilization began as a tribe in the Cuzco area, where the legendary first Sapa Inca, Manco Capac founded the Kingdom of Cuzco around 1200. Under the leadership of the descendants of Manco Capac, the Inca state grew to absorb other Andean communities. In 1442, the Incas began a far-reaching expansion under the command of Patchacuti. He founded the Inca Empire (Tawantinsuyu), which became the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.

The empire was split by a civil war to decide who would be Inca Hanan and who would be Inca Hurin (Hanan and Hurin represent the families of the higher parts of the city (Hanan) and those of the lower parts (Hurin) it is believed that one of the brothers was from Hanan Cuzco and the other from Hurin Cuzco as they were part of the family of their mothers), which pitted the brothers Huascar and Atahualpa against each other. In 1533, Spanish Conquistadores led by Francisco Pizarro, took advantage of this situation and conquered much of the existing Inca territory. In succeeding years, the invaders consolidated power over the whole Andean region, repressing successive Inca resistance and culminating in the establishment of the Viceroyalty of Perú in 1542. The militant phase of Inca liberation movements ended with the fall of resistance in Vilcabamba during 1573. Though indigenous sovereignty was lost, Inca cultural traditions remain strong among surviving indigenous descendants such as the Quechuas and Aymara people.