The Inca Empire
The Inca empire (referred to in Quechua as the Tahuantinsuyo, or “Four Corners”) and its origins are obscured by myth. Historians believe that Manco Cápac, the first Inca leader, began his rule around A.D. 1200. For more than two centuries the Inca developed slowly in the Cusco area, until 1438, when the neighboring Chancas tribe threatened to overrun their city.
Though Inca Viracocha fled the city, his son Inca Yupanqui beat back the Chancas, took over from his disgraced father, and changed his name to Pachacútec, the “Shaker of the Earth.” He launched the meteoric rise of the Inca empire, which within a century would stretch for more than 4,000 kilometers from southern Chile to northern Ecuador and include huge chunks of Bolivia and Argentina as well.
Pachacútec was also responsible for much of the Inca’s monumental architecture, including the fortress of Sacsayhuamán and, in the Sacred Valley, Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Historians also believe he built Machu Picchu, which may have been a llacta or administrative center.
Though the Inca are known for their fine stonework, their greatest accomplishment was the organization of their empire. Cusco was actually smaller than other capitals of pre-Hispanic Peru, including Tiahuanaco, Huari, and Chan Chan. But the Inca imperial city was at the center of a paved road network that led throughout the empire. Inca runners known as chasquis would run along these roads carrying messages recorded in quipus, knotted bundles of string that store information.
The chasqui would run at near-sprint speed until reaching a tambo or rest house, at which point a new Inca runner would continue. In this way, quipus recording harvests, weather, population data, and numerous other statistics could pass from Quito to Cusco in a few days.
As the Inca expanded they built a network of satellite centers that allowed them to support their far-flung conquests. Like most everything in the Inca world, these miniature cities were divided into hanan (upper) and hurin (lower) parts. The cookie-cutter pattern, which can be seen all over Peru, included one or two plazas; an ushnu, a stone-made platform where ceremonies took place; an acllahuasi,<?span> a compound for the chosen women of the Inca; a kallanka, a large hall; and colcas, or grain storehouses.
The Inca offered rich economic and cultural benefits to neighboring cultures that submitted peacefully to their rule. When the Ica and Chincha lordships were integrated into the empire, the Inca helped build a vast aqueduct near present-day Chincha that is still used. Though the Inca changed the names of places they conquered and encouraged the spread of their religion and language, they accepted a wide degree of cultural diversity.
Spanish chroniclers such as Pedro Cieza de León were impressed with the tremendous variety of languages and native dress in Cusco at the time of the conquest. The Inca also behaved brutally to those who opposed them. After waging a long war against the Chachapoya, the Inca deported half the population to other parts of the empire as part of the forced-labor scheme known as mita.
Pachacútec’s son and grandson, Túpac Yupanqui and Huayna Cápac, spent most of their lives abroad, extending the Inca empire to its farthest limits. Huayna Cápac, born in Tumipampa (present-day Cuenca, Ecuador) died in 1527 during a smallpox epidemic that devastated Peru’s population and was probably spread by the Spaniards, who had set foot on the northernmost fringe of the Inca empire during a preliminary trip in 1526. His sudden death led to a devastating civil war between his two sons, Huáscar and Atahualpa, which had just ended when the Spaniards began their march from Tumbes.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition