The Incan Civilization
The Inca were originally a small warlike tribe inhabiting the south highland region of the Cordillera Central in Peru. In about 1100AD they began to move into the valley of Cuzco, where, for roughly the next 300 years, they raided and imposed tribute on neighboring civilizations. Until the middle of the 15th century, the Inca undertook no major imperialistic expansion, their farthest advance prior to this time was southward about 32 km (about 20 mi.) from Cuzco in the reign of the sixth ruler, Inca Roca.
The word Inca actually means “king” or “prince” in the Inca’s native language – Quechua. The term Inca was actually a name applied by the Spanish to the Quechuan-speaking Native American people who established the Andean empire in South America, now know as Peru, shortly before the conquest of the New World by Europeans. The name, Inca, also applies to each ruler of that empire and, to all subject peoples of the Incan Empire.
At its peak, in about the 1500’s, the Inca-controlled territory stretched more than 4000 km (more than 2500 mi.) north to south. From east to west, it extended about 805 km (about 500 mi.); and it encompassed an area roughly equal in size to the present-day Atlantic Coast states of the United States. Scholars estimate that between 3.5 million to 16 million peoples of varying tribal backgrounds inhabited this immense region.
The Inca’s downfall occurred in the 1500’s, when the Spanish Conquistadors invaded Peru, and the Incan civilization. The Conquistadors were led by a man the famous explorer, Francisco Pizarro. Pizarro and his men came to Peru in 1524, and by 1531, had taken over all of the Inca’s land in the name of Spain. The stronger, more powerful Spanish army defeated the Incas and took their land, their culture, and their respect. Because of the Spanish take over, most of Peru speak Spanish and are Roman Catholics.
At the height of their power, the Inca achieved a political and governmental system unsurpassed by any other Native American nation of the Western Hemisphere. The Incan society, an agriculturally based theocracy (a government in which the ruler is seen as a direct descendant of God) rigidly organized with primitive, socialistic ideals, was dominated by the all-powerful, God-Like ruler called the Inca. Beneath the Inca, in descending order of rank and power, were the royal family and upper aristocracy, the imperial administrators and petty nobility, and the great mass of artisans and farm laborers.
The Incas were farmers, and lived of their agriculture. The most important crops of the Inca’s were potatoes and maize. Llamas were the primary beasts of burden; alpacas were domesticated and raised chiefly for their fine wool. Other domesticated animals included dogs, guinea pigs, and ducks. The principal Incan manufactures were ceramic pottery, textiles, metal ornaments, tools, and weapons.
Among the most impressive features of Incan civilization were vast temples, palaces, fortresses, and public works; massive stone buildings, notably the great Temple of the Sun at Cuzco, were skillfully erected with a minimum of engineering equipment. Other remarkable achievements in engineering included the construction of rope suspension bridges (some nearly 100 m/328 ft in length), irrigation canals, and aqueducts. The use of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin suited for casting, for tools and ornaments was widespread.
Religion among the Inca was highly formalized. The supreme Inca deity was Viracocha, creator and ruler of all living things. Other major deities were the gods of the sun, stars, and weather and the goddesses of the moon, earth, and sea. Incan ceremonies and rituals, numerous and frequently elaborate, primarily centered on agricultural and health concerns, particularly the growing and harvesting of food crops and cures for various illnesses. At especially important ceremonies live animals were sacrificed; human sacrifices were also occasionally offered to the gods. The Inca produced a rich body of folklore and music, of which only fragments survive.
The Inca were a very significant part to the development of the countries of northwest South America, especially Peru. The Native American heritage of Peru is one of the richest in South America. Although Spain gave Peru its language, religion, and rulers, the civilization of the Inca has left its traces throughout Peruvian culture. Archaeological excavations have uncovered monumental Native American remains. Architecture of the Spanish colonial period, is mix of Spanish and Native American forms, called Creole. In art today, the indigenist school pointedly interprets 20th-century Peru in a Native American mode. The Native American pentatonic musical scale is still used, as are ancient instruments such as conch shells, flutes, ocarina, and panpipes.
The descendants of the Incan, Quechua people populate the Andean highlands. Many do not speak Spanish and have preserved the customs and folklore of their ancestors. Because of this, in 1979, the Peruvian government made Quechua, along with Spanish, one of the official languages of Peru. Along the coast and in the highland cities, the whites, mestizos, and blacks live in a modern Western style. In contrast to these settlements are the jungles of eastern Peru, where more isolated groups of Native Americans retain lifestyles similar to those of their ancestors.