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The Inca Empire known in the native Quechua language as Tawantinsuyu, which means "The Four Regions", was the largest empire in the world at its time, and the largest empire in the history of the pre-columbian Americas. The administrative, political, and military center of the empire was located in Cusco, modern-day Peru. The Inca civilization arose from the valley of Cusco in the Peruvian highlands sometime in the early 13th century, and the last Inca stronghold was conquered by the Spanish in 1572.

From 1438 to 1533, 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, besides Peru, large parts of modern Ecuador, western and south central Bolivia, northwest Argentina, north and central Chile, and a small part of southern Colombia, into a state comparable to the historical empires of Eurasia. The official language of the empire was Quechua, although hundreds of local languages and dialects of Quechua were spoken. Many local forms of worship persisted in the empire, most of them concerning local sacred Wak'as, but the Inca leadership encouraged the worship of Inti , the Inca sun god, and imposed its sovereignty above other cults such as that of Pachamama , the earth mother. The Incas considered the Emperor, called the Sapa Inca, to be the "son of the sun."

Cities in the HillsEdit

The Inca civilization began primarily in the area now known as Peru that thrived between the 13th and 16th Century A.D. Farming communities had however began around 8000 B.C. in the Chilca Valley, located at an altitude of 3900 meters above sea level. The inhabitants took the long step towards civilization with the domestication of plants mainly of wild forms of modern plants such as corn, potatoes and other tubers. There was also evidence of trade with coastal communities but the living condition was tough on the high windswept plateaus. So for reasons that are unclear, these small communities eventually faded from existence. However, plant archeology indicated that the wild variety of plants they cultivated such as corn took close to 9000 years to develop from a size of an inch to three inches. The low quality of the crop yield combined with expanding population, and poor climatic conditions all probably contributed to the culture's decline and dispersal.

However beginning around 900 BC, a so-called Chavin culture emerged in the eastern slopes of the Cordillera Blanca in Peru. Their settlements were situated high in the Andes Mountains, between the tropical rainforest and the coastal plains. This culture would become the foundation of all later Peruvian civilizations to follow. Social stratification was also present consisting of a small group of elite, among a much larger group of commoners, as evident from burial sites. They also worshiped a feline god, and built temples equipped with underground chambers dedicated to it's worship. The Chavin culture seemed to have practiced ritual cannibalism from evidence found in these temples. However, advances in art, textiles and metal working also characterized this culture. Interestingly, it also appears that their artwork seemed to have some similarities to the Olmec art found in Central America. There was a period of political unification within Northern Peru, but ultimately the Chavin culture would be practically extinct by around 300 B.C.


Moche ceramic vase, depicting a skeleton playing a drum. The cultural significance of this figure (if any) remains unknown.

Meanwhile, the Moche located within the river valleys along the Northern Peruvian coast started its emergence. Not much of the Moche culture is known except through archeological evidence of its art. What is known is that, the post-Chavin peoples formed city-states based on a theocracy after the breakup of the unified government. The Moche culture seemed to have gradually spread throughout these city-states as evident from their artwork. It also seemed to have gone through 5 distinct phases of developments. The Moche culture would last over a thousand years until around the 12th century A.D. and would however serve as the cultural antecedents to the two powers that arose in South America shortly before the Spanish arrival, the Chimu and the Inca.

During this time, other South American cultures also developed along side the Moche, which would become part of the Inca Empire, that are also noteworthy. In modern day Bolivia the Tiwanaku, settled the area beginning around 400 B.C. and came to dominate between 400 A.D. to 500 A.D. Their capitol was Tiahuanaco, and believed to have had a population between 30,000 to 60,000 people. They were also pyramid builders, and establish trade networks that eventually reached the majority of the southern Andes. The Tiahuanaco Empire (its people by then as they are now known as the Aymara) finally collapsed between 1000 A.D. and 1100 A.D. becoming divided into twelve separate kingdoms which the Inca was able to exploit. Another culture was the Nazca, that thrived between 250 A.D. till 750 A.D. They were situated on the coastal plain of southern Peru, from the Chincha to Acari valleys. They are perhaps one of the most mysterious peoples in the history of the Earth. Their claim to fame comes from the gigantic geoglyths that they sculpted into the landscapes where they inhabited. The purpose of these massive drawings is uncertain. It is still debated how they managed to create art at such a scale, let alone its meaning, but it is thought that they are connected to their beliefs and economical systems.

Of these, however, the greatest challenge to Inca rule came from the Chimu. The Chimu was an aggressive expansionist state that thrived between 1100 A.D till the 1400s, who left their marks in the form of their extensive irrigation systems. The longest of which stretched twenty miles from the Chicama Valley to their capitol of Chan-Chan. When the expansionist Chimu state grew southwards and encountered the Inca in 1462 A.D., conflict naturally arose. The Inca eventually prevailed over the Chimu in 1476 A.D. by ingeniously cutting off Chan-Chan's water supply. The inhabitants of the city were then resettled at Cuzco, the Inca capitol, to serve the Inca King.

The Valley of Cusco Edit

The Inca were originally a warlike tribe living near the city of Cuzco in modern Peru but near to indistinguishable from other Andean tribes until around the 15th century A.D., when the Inca Empire, first founded by Manco Capac in the 13th century, set itself on a path of conquest of South America. Guided by Tupac Yupanqui, the Inca Empire would cover an area that was one third of the size of the South American continent. In fact it stretched almost the entire length of the western side of the continent from the bordering areas of Colombia in the North to half way down Chile in the South, west to east it stretched from the pacific coast into the Amazon rainforest. In fact there were the largest Native American civilization that ever existed. The center of Inca civilization however was situated in the Andes Mountains.

Despite the lack of steel or the wheel, Inca cities and fortresses were built on the slopes of some of the highest mountains in the world. The mountainous terrain could in part explain why the Inca never used the wheel (they preferred to either walk on two feet, and transfer goods on four using llamas). However, it is not surprising to see how, with the sheer inaccessibility of some of the Inca strongholds, the remnants of the Inca Empire were able to hold out against the Spanish for decades. In fact, the city of Machu Picchu located high up in the Andes Mountains was not discovered by the outside world after the Inca abandoned it until the 20th century. This world in the mountains was connected with upwards of 20,000 miles of roads, and a system of foot messengers that was as fast as any modern postal system could manage today. The Inca however, did not have a written language, instead they used a record-keeping system using knots on ropes called Quipus. Quipus were intricate knots on ropes which could be sent easily from town to town and were yet robust enough to survive the trip.

The First Inca Edit

The Inca dynasty was founded by Manco Capac in the 13th Century A.D, whose rule culminated in the subjugation of the surviving Moche. In the 14th Century A.D. the Inca began to assert themselves upon their neighbors with the rule of Mayta Capac. However the Inca was still not very strong holding no particular advantage over the other South American tribes. Alliances between groups were constantly being forged and broken to deal with threats or to take advantage over weaker opponents.

Inca society was divided into many castes, like many other contemporary nations. The king or "Sapa Inca" at the top served as ruler, high priest and supreme army commander. The royal family formed an educated, governing upper nobility that served as Priests, architects and regional army commanders were next. Then all who spoke Quechua, the native tongue of the tribe from which the Inca dynasty came from became an "Inca" class and held colonial privileges over the lands conquered by the Inca. Lesser administrative officials, were derived from formerly independent rulers, and their descendants. They formed the minor nobility that controlled their former subjects in servitude to the Inca, however they could never become a part of the "Inca" class. Artisans, and soldiers form the next lower class. Farmers and herders, who employed Llamas as pack animals and for its meat, were at the bottom of the social ladder. The farmers were charged with providing subsistence for the rest of the population and also had to pay tax in the form of gold, to the higher classes. The hierarchical organization, along with the fierceness of the Inca warriors produced a very effective army that would eventually conquer all of the other Andean cultures by the mid 1500's.

However, unlike those of Mediaeval Europe or early modern India, the strict enforcement of this caste system however did not exclude any possibility of social mobility - specially skilled people from peasant families could still move into other classes, either by promotion or by marriage: brave or skilled peasants could find themseves becoming warriors and artisans, while their daughters could rise up fast if they caught the eye of the ruling castes.

The Inca legal system was also very severe, with capital punishment being prescribed for most offences. The Inca worshiped a number of Gods, the six major gods of the Inca represent the moon, sun, earth, lightning and the sea. The Sun God Inti was the most revered and most powerful of the Inca mythology. Worship of the Inca gods took place at the heighest peaks that the Inca could find, as they held such places sacred. The Inca Sun Temple, was located at Machu Picchu situated at an altitude of 8,000 feet. It is not surprising that the Inca buried their Royalty on top of mountain peaks so that they could be close to their Sun God. As a result the cold dry air and the ice atop the mountains managed to mummify and preserve the remains to the present day. The city of Macchu Pichu was built between 1460 A.D. and 1470 A.D. by Emperor Tupac Yupanqui, the 9th and most expansive Emperor in the Inca dynasty. It is believed that the city was used for solely religion purposes. So few people outside the emperor's closest retainers were actually aware of its existence. This would turn out to be fortuitous because prior to the Spanish conquest, a smallpox epidemic and then a civil war easily erased the knowledge of its existence even to the Inca themselves. The secret of Machu Picchu was preserved from the outside world, and most importantly the Spanish conquerors intent on erasing the Inca culture and plundering its wealth. It was not until 1911 A.D. when the world was more ready to learn what the Inca civilization had to teach, was it discovered by American archaeologist Hiram Bingham.

Formation of the TawantisuyuEdit

The turning point came with the 8th ruler of the dynasty Viracocha Inca. The Inca capitol of Cuzco was being attacked by a powerful rival tribe called the Chancas in 1438 A.D. Viracocha fled with his designated heir to a more remote fortress, but one of his sons, Tupac Yupanqui refused to give in and stayed to defend the capitol. He quickly formed alliances with friendlier neighboring tribes, and managed to defeat the invaders. He took on the title "Pachacuti" which meant destroyer, and took control of the Inca Empire. He would go further, putting the Inca Empire on a startling path of expansion and conquest. His conquests would be continued by his son and heir Topa Inca. By the end of the rein of Topa Inca, the empire had millions of subjects and thousands of square miles of land. The Inca Empire was known as "Tahuantinsuyo" or the Land of the four quarters, because of the way the territories were organized. Topa Inca's son Huayna Capac continued the expansion although far less then the previous two Emperors had managed. He was mostly concerned with consolidating control of the Empire from what but died suddenly in 1527 A.D. It was believed that he died of small box that was brought about as a result of contact that outlying South American tribes had with the Spanish making their way south from Central America. The smallpox epidemic would kill off half of the Inca population, and the sudden death of the ruler would cause two of his sons, Atahualpa and Huascar, to be embroiled in a struggle for power plunging the Empire in a civil war. Atahualpa eventually emerged triumphant over his rival in 1532 A.D.

The End and After Edit

Unfortunately for Atahualpa, the Spanish arrived at exactly the wrong time. Francisco Pizarro arrived in Inca territory that same year. with a force of 180 men, and a determination to make his fortunes as Cortez had done in conquering the Aztecs a few decades earlier. As Atahualpa made his way towards the Inca capitol to meet with the bulk of his army and to officially take the throne, he was informed of the Spanish visitors' demands to meet with him. He was more concerned with consolidating his power so he did not take the small Spanish contingent very seriously. However he did agree to meet but mostly with unarmed attendants and officials. Upon the meeting the Spanish presented him with a bible and a demand that he renounce his gods and accept treaty with Spain. Naturally he did not, and threw the book down on the ground. The Spanish used this excuse to attack, a rush managed to capture the Inca Emperor. The Inca army became confused and disheartened by the capture of their King. Terrified by the Spaniards' strange weapons and horses, the Inca retinue that number in the thousands were annihilated, while the Spanish achieved their goal of capturing the Inca ruler, without taking any serious casualties. The Inca ruler now sought to gain his freedom by offering the Spaniards a treasure in gold and silver. So over the next few months a room full of gold (eleven tones) and even more in silver was delivered to the Spanish as they held Atahualpa hostage. However, as soon as the ransom demands were met, Atahualpa was strangled to death by the Spanish.

Atahualpa's capture and subsequent murder not only deprived the empire of leadership at a crucial moment, but also revived the hopes of his recently defeated pro-Huascar opponents, who had hoped to form an alliance with this new power in the region, the Spanish. Manco Capac II, an ally of Huascar, was thusly crown Emperor the by the pro-Huascar forces with their new allies, the Spanish. The native South American tribes originally though the Spanish were merely just another force to be bargained with, but the increasingly rapacious behavior of the Spanish eventually changed the minds of their former native allies. Manco Capac II also finally saw the subservient role he was being put into by the Spanish and thus lead a rebellion against them in 1536 A.D. The rebellion was defeated but Manco Capac II managed to escape and establish an independent kingdom deep in the interior of the Andes Mountains.

The Spanish however managed to consolidate their control over much of the former Inca territory over the next few decades despite facing native resistance and internal divisions among the victorious Spaniards. Establishing the city of Lima as their power base, converting its population to Christianity, and transforming the former Inca Capitol into a city thoroughly Spanish in character. In 1571 A.D. Tupac Amaru, the son of Manco Capac II led the indigenous rural population in an uprising against the Spanish. The Spanish took the opportunity to finally rid itself of the old Inca power structure, capturing and executing Tupac Amaru. The independent Inca State would hold out until 1572 A.D. The next few centuries saw the various South American states emerge as former conquistadors, and the Spanish crown vied for control of the colonial possessions.

Return of the SunEdit

In 1780, Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui, who served as the representative leader of the indigenous population had the chief magistrate appointed by the Spanish crown arrested on charges of cruelty. He took the name Tupac Amaru II and led a general uprising of indigenous people against the Spanish authority. The greed of Spanish rule, the cultural and social destruction caused even former Conquistadores at the end of their lives to express regret. So it is not surprising the revolt even gained the support of some of the Spanish descendents. The rebellion, spread from Peru into Bolivia and Argentina but lost support when it degenerated into a race war between the indigenous people and white colonists. Tupac Amaru II was captured in 1781 A.D. and taken to Cuzco where, after being forced to witness the execution of his wife and children, he was quartered and beheaded. However, subsequent indigenous rebel groups would still invoke the name of Tupac Amaru in their struggles.

In the next century the various South American states would seek their independence from Spain. Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador declared war on Spain and finally expelled monarchist forces by 1866, but at high cost. The silver mines had also finally ran out a few decades earlier. The Peruvian economy's dependence on a single resource, which saw it shift from gold and silver mining to exporting bird droppings for fertilizer would characterize what would follow for Peru. While more lucrative resources such as oil, sugar cane and cotton would be developed, the largely anachronistic agrarian society that had changed little for centuries, was unable to lift Peru out of its poor economic prospects. The unstable economic structure would lead to wars with its neighbors, rebellions, military dictatorships, political corruption and economic uncertainty that would continue through the 20th century and into the present day.

Purhaps the expression "the higher they climb, the harder they fall" provides an ironic keynote to this once great civilizaton.

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