Who were the Incas?

The Incas were a civilization that originated in the Andean highlands of Peru around the 12th century AD. They had a highly structured and hierarchical society, with a ruler known as the Sapa Inca at the top.

The Incas were renowned for their agricultural innovations, engineering and architectural feats, medicine and healthcare practices, and military tactics.

Their empire expanded rapidly under leaders such as Pachacuti and Huayna Capac but eventually fell to the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.

The Incas have left an enduring legacy on South American culture and heritage.

Let’s take a closer look and explore the origins of the Incas, their society and culture, achievements and innovations, expansion and decline, and legacy.

Origins of the Incas

The Inca civilization originated in the Andean highlands of modern-day Peru around the 12th century AD. According to Inca mythology, the first Inca ruler, Manco Capac, was the son of the sun god Inti and emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca to found the city of Cusco. They ruled over 12 million people living along the Pacific coast and in the Andes mountains. However, historians believe that the Incas were originally a small tribe of farmers that gradually expanded their territory through conquest and alliance-building.

Inca Society and Culture

Inca society was highly structured and hierarchical, with the ruler or Sapa Inca at the top and the common people or ayllus at the bottom. The Incas had a complex system of tribute and labour obligations, with each ayllu contributing to the common good through communal farming and construction projects.

The Incas spoke in a language known as quechua and they worshipped many gods and would perform human sacrifices for these gods. One of the main animals that the Incas kept were Llamas.  They were used for their wool, meat and for carrying goods along the roads, as the Incas traded with goods and services.

Gender roles in Inca society were also strictly defined, with men primarily responsible for warfare and women for domestic duties. Inca culture was characterized by a rich tradition of art, music, and dance, as well as a unique language and writing system known as quipus.

Inca Achievements and Innovations

The Incas were renowned for their agricultural innovations and techniques, including terrace farming and irrigation systems that allowed them to cultivate crops in the harsh mountain terrain. Inca engineering and architectural feats, such as the Machu Picchu citadel and the stone-lined roads that connected their vast empire, still awe modern-day visitors.

The Incas also had a sophisticated system of medicine and healthcare practices, including the use of medicinal plants and surgery. Inca military tactics and warfare were highly organized and effective, as evidenced by their rapid expansion and conquest of neighbouring civilizations.

Inca Empire and Expansion

Under the leadership of rulers such as Pachacuti and Huayna Capac, the Incas rapidly expanded their empire to include much of western South America, from present-day Ecuador to Chile. The Inca government and political structure were highly centralized, with the Sapa Inca serving as both political and religious leader.

Inca trade and commerce were facilitated by a network of roads and bridges, as well as the use of llama caravans to transport goods. However, the Inca Empire eventually declined and fell to the Spanish conquistadors under the leadership of Francisco Pizarro in the 16th century, largely due to the introduction of European diseases and superior weaponry.

Pizarro had arrived in South America in search of gold and other precious metals, it was during this time that he encountered the Incas. Although Pizarro only had a small army he was able to seize the Inca ruler Atahualpa after he refused to accept Christianity and the rule of Spain in 1532.  Pizarro took control of Cuzco in 1533 and claimed the land for Spain.

Legacy of the Incas

Despite their relatively short-lived empire, the Incas have left an indelible mark on South American culture and heritage. Today, tourists flock to sites such as Machu Picchu and Cusco to marvel at the ingenuity and beauty of Inca architecture and art. Indigenous South American peoples also continue to preserve and celebrate their Inca heritage through music, dance, and other cultural traditions.

As you have read, the Incas were a remarkable civilization that made significant contributions to the world in fields such as agriculture, engineering, and medicine. By understanding their history and culture, we can appreciate their enduring legacy and learn from their innovations and achievements.

Featured image “Machu Picchu Lima Cusco Peru 300” by WasifMalik is marked with CC0 1.0.