Inca Civilization

The Inca civilization was the largest Pre-Columbian civilization in the Americas and Cusco was its capital. The best kept example of its architecture is Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu

The Sacred City is one of the most significant archeological sites left by the Incas


Fascinating culture and Inca heritage of this beautiful country

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. It occupies an important place in Inca mythology.

Animals of Peru

Animals in Peru have specialized and adapted to the conditions of its geography. At higher altitude levels, few animals and plants can survive because of the lack of oxygen.

Home » Inca Civilization

The Inca Empire

Submitted by |


Archaeologists use Inca art to understand their history

The Inca Empire flourished in the South American continent from 1438 until the Spanish arrived in the continent in 1533. From around 1200  to 1438 the Incas were considered a tribe which gradually grew occupying a territory of  800,000 sq km or 308,882 sq mi. Starting around the year 1438 the Incas started expanding absorbing neighboring territories and incorporating their culture and practices into their own societies and becoming an empire. The expansion started when Sapa Inca Pachacutec came to the throne. With the help of this son Topa Inca and his grandson Huayna Capac they expanded the empire controlling a vast territory known as the Tawantinsuyu or Four United Kingdoms. They made Cusco, the sacred city,  its capital.

The empire reached its peak in 1527 under the reign of Sapa Inca Huascar covering a territory of 2 million sq km or 772,204 sq mi that extended to  present day Peru, Quito, Ecuador and part of Colombia to the north; Bolivia to the east and Santiago, Chile and part of Argentina to the south. The Inca Empire was the largest empire built in the Americas reaching unparalleled cultural achievement. Read more about achievements of the Incas.


Administrative regions of the Inca Empire


Map of the Tawantinsuyu, Land of the four Quarters. Click on map to enlarge.

The empire was so large that it was divided into four administrative regions:

Chinchaysuyu was  the most populous of all suyus, it extended north from Cusco to modern day Ecuador and Colombia along the coast absorbing northern civilizations such as the Chimu and Chanchan.

Antisuyu was the territory northeast of Cusco covering the high Andes and bordering the Amazon region and the Bolivian Altiplano.

Contisuyu was the smallest region and covered the southern coast to the modern day department of Arequipa.

Coyasuyu extended from Cusco to the south covering part of Bolivia and Argentina as far as the Maule River near Santiago, Chile.


The Incas did not leave a written record of their history as they never developed a written language. Its history has been passed on orally from generation to generation in the form of myths and legends. The history of the Incas is endlessly fascinating and what we know from them and the civilization they developed is from discoveries made by archaeologists. Inca artifacts, tools, textilespottery and art have helped archaeologist understand their culture and how it impacts modern Andean society in Peru.

The Inca Dynasty

The title of emperor or Sapa Inca was hereditary. There were a total of thirteen Incas from 1198 to 1533. The first was Manco Capac and the last Atahualpa.

IncaReigning Period
Manco Capac 1198-1228
Sinchi Rocca 1228-1258
Lloque Yupanqui 1258-1288
Mayta Capac1288-1318
Capac Yupanqui 1318-1348
Inca Roca 1348-1378
Hanan Yahuar Huaca 1378-1408
Wiracocha 1408-1438
Pachacutec 1438-1471
Tupac Inca Yupanqui 1471-1493
Huayna Capac1493-1527
Atahualpa 1532-1533


Origin of the Incas

Before the Incas ruled Cusco there were many small tribes living peacefully in the same territory. After a long period of peace the Chanchas, a group coming from Ayacucho, tried to invade Cusco. Inca Wiracocha and his oldest son Urco afraid for their lives fled leaving his younger son Cusi Yupanqui in charge. Cusi Yupanqui and his soldiers with the help of soldiers from other tribes defended the city and prevented the Chancas from invading it. Because of his bravery and loyalty Cusi Yupanqui was named the new Inca or Emperor; he changed his name to Pachacutec which means “He who renew the world”. Many local tribes joined him as he organized and expanded the empire to the east reaching the Bolivian Altiplano and to the north reaching Ecuador. Read Where do the Incas come from?.

Myths of the origin of the Incas

The history of the origin of the Incas is mostly mythical, it is a representation of reality that helps understand the origin of their world and the forces of nature, it explains the unexplainable. Because the Incas did not have a written language myths have been passed on orally through generations. There are two main myths of the origin of the Incas: The myth of the Lake Titicaca and the myth of the Ayar brothers.

Myth of Lake Titicaca

Manco Capac

Manco Capac indicating his followers where to found the capital of his empire.

According to the myth of the Lake Titicaca the God Wiracocha created a couple, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, who originated from Lake Titicaca. This couple had a divine goal; to head north and to settle where the golden rod sunk. After trying in many places, they arrived at Mount Guanacaure, near the city of Cusco, Peru. In this place the rod sunk and it was there where the couple settled. Manco Capac taught the men to work the land, to build canals and organizational skills; Mama Ocllo taught the women how to weave, cook and take care of their children. They brought peace, culture, arts and the God Sun or Inti that emanated heat and power to the people.




Myth of the Ayar Brothers

Myth of the Ayar Brothers

According to the Ayar Brothers Myth their home was where the Temple of Coricancha now stands.

The legend of the Ayar Brothers tells that God Wiracocha created them and made them emerge from a cave in Pacaritambo in Cusco. They were four brothers: Ayar Cachi, Ayar Manco, Ayar Uchu and Ayar Auca and four sisters: Mama Guaco, Mama Cura, Mama Sarahua and Mama Ocllo. They carried with them rods made of solid gold and wore fine clothes embroidered with gold. They led a large group of people who carried seeds with them. During their long journey to find the appropriate place to settle they arrived at the top of Mount Guanacaure where Ayar Cache with one sling shot torn down hills, he had magical powers that frightened his brothers. Afraid of Ayar Cache his brothers deceived him into returning to the cave in Pacaritambo, once inside they blocked the entrance with large blocks of stone leaving him inside forever.

The rest of the brothers returned to Guanacaure where they lived for one year. One day Ayar Oche flew to the sky to talk to his father the Sun who in turn commanded him to tell Ayar Manco to change his name for Manco Capac. After carrying on his task he turned into stone. Manco Capac, Ayar Auca and the four sisters reached their destination, the valley of Cusco, where they settled and build their house where the Coricancha Temple was later built.


Inca Society

Inca society

The commoners were the working class or ayllu who contributed to the economy through their labor.

The Inca society had a vertical, stratified and hierarchical organization resembling a three level pyramid. At the top was the Sapa Inca as the most important and powerful person in the empire. Below him was the royalty comprised of his closest relatives, sons and daughters. Following the royalty was the nobility and included his other relatives and those who had attained distinction through service to the royal family such as priests and chiefs. At the third level were professionals such as craftsmen, architects and engineers; they commanded much respect from the highest levels as they provided the skills to expand the empire. At the bottom of the hierarchical level and the most populous was the ayllu. The ayllu was the working class that contributed the mita or tax in the form of labor. In exchange they received food, healthcare and free education. Every member of the ayllu was entitled to a piece of land which was distributed according to family size. This land was used to grow their own subsistence food and surplus could be exchanged among neighbors.

The redistribution of food, public services and the sense of security in this agricultural society made the population loyal to the highest ranks of society. Social stability was also achieved by applying a system of  three basic laws: Ama Sua. Ama Llulla. Ama Quella” or “Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not be lazy”. Inca law was draconian in essence, small offenses carried heavy punishments. There were no prisons, instead offenders were punished so that the penalty was a consequence of their actions and was meant to be exemplary to the rest of the population. For instance a person who steals would get his/her hand amputated. Read more about Inca law.

Inca Religion

Incas worshiped many Gods but the most important were Wiracocha and Inti

Incas worshiped many Gods but the most important were Wiracocha and Inti.

Inca society shared a common polytheistic religion in which the Sun or Inti and the Sapa Inca were their main gods. During the empire’s expansion they assimilated territories with different beliefs which they were allowed to keep as long as they revered Inca’s gods above their own deities. The result was a large number of deities and a melting pot of beliefs. It was common for the Inca people to worship natural resources such as a stream of water, animals, crops or a mountain. Among the most important and popular deities are: Inti or Sun, Wiracocha, Mama Quilla, Mama Cocha, Illapa, Ekkeko, among others. Read more about Inca gods and religion.

ViracochaThe creator, he created the Sun and the Moon.
IntiThe Sun and most important god in Inca religion, he ruled above all others.
Mama QuillaMother Moon, wife of Inti
IllapaGod of Weather. Thunder and war
EkkekoGod of wealth
Imahmana ViracochaSon of Viracocha. Sent to the earth by his father to verify people follow his commands.
Apu Mountain God
Mama Cocha or CochamamaMother Sea
ChascaGoddess of the dawn and the dusk, protector of young girls
SupayGod of Death
Coco MamaGoddess of Health and Happiness
UrcaquaryGod of treasures and buried riches
PariacacaGod of Rain and Water.
Mama OelloThe mother goddess of the Incas, she taught the Incas spinning.
ZaramamaGoddess of Grain and Corn
Mama Pacha or PachamamaGoddess of the Earth



Inca economy


The Ayllu was the working class. They contributed to society by paying a tax or mita in form of labor in exchange of food, education, clothes and health.

The success of the Inca economy was due to its collective labor and high degree of central planing that allowed the collection of tribute in the form of labor and the redistribution of resources. Unlike other advanced civilizations trade was not part of the Inca economy, so much so that they never developed a monetary system.

Collective labor was the main economic activity. There were three types of collective labor – ayni, minka and mita. The first two benefited their own communities. The third one, mita, was a tax paid to the Inca which benefited the entire empire. Every member of the community or ayllu was required to fulfill mita labor which included serving as soldiers, messengers, farmers, builders. The tasks were temporary and rotational.

As a social state, the empire emphasized the importance of redistribution specially of agricultural products, developing sophisticated terrace agricultural techniques in such a rugged terrain. They focused on the optimization of land and irrigation networks resulting in high productivity rates. Every year after harvest crop that was not consumed was stored in collcas, storage houses located along the roads, which would be use through out the year or in case of drought or bad weather. This system of redistribution allowed the Inca government to feed its population and build social wealth and therefore a loyal society. Central planning in the Andes would not have been  possible without roads and bridges. The Incas were expert engineers and built a network of roads and bridges that allowed them to reach every corner of the empire.

The fall of the Inca Empire

Spanish conquest of the Incas

When the Spaniards arrived the empire was in civil war. The spread of disease accelerated its fall at the hands of the conquerors.

The arrival of the Spaniards brought new diseases to the Americas. Smallpox made its way from Central America to the Inca empire making Sapa Inca Huayna Capac and the heir to the throne, Ninan Cuyochi, victims of the disease. The next in line was Huascar as it was customary for the oldest son of the Sapa Inca and the Coya to inherit the throne. Huayna Capac’s other son was Atahualpa, a more capable and stronger warrior but the son of a concubine. Atahualpa was proclaimed Sapa Inca by his followers in the northern administrative city of Quito starting a long and debilitating civil war.

When the Spaniards arrived in Peru the Inca empire was in the middle of a civil war and its population diminished by the onset of small pox and influenza which it is believed to have wiped out more than 50% of the population. Within the next fifty years other diseases such as typhus, diphtheria and measles weakened the population even further destroying the remains of the Inca civilization. Some archeologists suggest that up to 90% of the population was affected by theses diseases to which they did not have immunity. Read more about the fall of the Inca empire.



Next – Facts about the Incas >>

<< Back – Inca Civilization Category

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,