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The Inca Empire (Tahuantinsuyo)

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The History of the New World's Greatest Empire


The Inca Empire was called Tahuantinsuyo by the Incas. It stretched from today's Colombia through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, down into today's Chile and Argentina.


Today's Peru was the heartland of the once flourishing Andean empire and the most important region within it was the Sacred Valley of the Incas


The Inca Empire was the largest empire in the Americas ("Nuevo Mundo" or "New World" - as the medieval Spaniards called the Americas)...

In fact, the Inca Empire was one the World's largest empires. Smaller than the Roman Empire, the British Empire, but the biggest one in the Americas.


Though, the empire was called Inca Empire, it is speculated that large numbers of other populations/peoples have been inhabiting it, coexisting with the Incas. The latter ones were more powerful and have probably assimilated others.


Pre-Inca Civilizations


Before the Inca civilization there were others inhabiting the respective areas. Among the biggest civilizations were the Chachapoyas, the Chimú, the Nazca, the Moche, the Caral (or Norte Chico), the Huari (Wari), the Tiahuanaco and the Chavín cultures.


Among the smaller groups of people who had inhabited the places where the Tahuantinsuyo, we can mention the Malbecs, the Hu-Tyus, Punos, Mari-Tiu-Tie, Olbraqeus.

Some of these names are not the original, because the populations disappeared a long time ago and we have no clues about how they called themselves. Therefore, archaeologists and locals gave them the names. Most of these names come from geographical regions.


Some of these ancient civilizations, like the Chachapoyas had left behind wonderful artifacts and beautiful ruins, such as those of the Kuelap archaeological site.

The famous Nazca Lines visible from airplane had been created by the pre-Inca civilization nowadays known as the Nazca civilization. The Nazca civlization had thrived between 200 BC and 600 AD between the valleys of Cañete and Acari.

The culture called Norte Chico, but sometimes called the Caral civilization had left behind the city of Caral. Which is located in the southwestern parts of Peru: consists of pyramids and other structures. It is the oldest city in the Americas! Over 5.000 years old!

The Chimú and the Moche had been conquered by the Incas and have probably "blended in" with the dominators. It is known that the Chimú people have adopted the Inca religion.

Tiahuanaco is a city in today's Bolivia, constructed by the culture with the same name. Interestingly, the word Tiahuanaco comes from the Incas and means "City of the Dead". The Tiahuanaco culture partly resembles the one of the Incas, links between them can be found as far away as Ollantaytambo, where common shapes, forms can be found on the walls.


The Foundation of the Inca Empire


Historians put the beginning of the Inca Empire at around 1200.

The Tahuantinsuyo had risen in the Cuzco (Cusco) area, later it has expanded and included territories in 6 of today's countries.


The word Tahuantinsuyo (Tawaintin Suyu in Quechuan writing) is said to mean "Four Regions". "Tahua" or "tawa" means a group of 4 elements and "suyo" or "susyu" means region, area or province.

The 4 major regions were the following: Chinchasuyu, Antisuyu, Contisuyu and Collasuyu. These 4 divisions of the mighty empire met at the city of Cuzco (in its original name "Quesqu" or sometimes "Qusqu" or "Qosqu", today often written as "Cusco"), which had been built in the shape of a Puma.


Quechuan is the predominant language among Amerindians in Peru. During the Inca Empire it is believed that several languages were used by the inhabitants.

Incas have always been deeply religious and their beliefs have been their highest values. Even cruel acts, like human sacrifice have been undertaken under the pretext of religion, the "wish of the gods"...


A remarkable Inca construction is the 23.000 km (14.300 mi) long Inca Trail network, which was used primarily for message delivery.  


The Growth and Fall of the Inca Empire


Under the rule of Pachacuti, the Inca Empire's territory was much smaller than later when the Spaniards arrived. This territory included much of the Urubamba area, down to the Lake Titicaca. This was the core of the empire, but in the late 1400s it has managed to grow towards the north and west, especially.

Pachacuti is considered to have been the most successful of all Inca emperors. Pachacuti is also said to have been the leader who had ordered the construction of Machu Picchu.


Between 1463 and 1493 the largest expansion of the Inca Empire had taken place. This was just several decades prior to to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. During this period, the Incas have conquered the territories that are in parts of today's Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, also the territories along the Pacific coastline of Peru, as well as parts of Ecuador. About 70 % of the territory ever ruled by the Incas has been conquered during the rule of Túpa Inca, the son of Pachacuti Inca.


Cuzco has served as capital between 1197 and 1533, but the Spanish attacks on in and finally its occupation by them has made the Incas construct other strangleholds, like Vilcabamba and Vitcos.

The last capital of the Incas was Vilcabamba. It stood between 1533 and 1572, when it has fallen under Spanish attack. The Spaniards captured the last Inca ruler, Túpac Amaru, the son of Manco Cápac II. and killed him.


The Inca Empire's collapse was mostly due to the wars between Incas, not so much attributed to the Spanish armed forces. Francisco Pizarro had only over 100 men during his first "visit", but the Incas had numbered up to over 30.000 soldiers. Of course, the Europeans had better weapons and many of them were horseback and armored, while the Incas were barefoot unarmored warriors with simpler weapons, such as spears.


In 1532, prior to Pizarro's arrival, a war of succession broke out between Huayná Capac's 2 sons, Atahualpa and Huascár. Atahualpa killed his own brother together with his whole family, only to be caught, blackmailed and then killed by the conquistadors.


Pizarro has managed to exploit multiple conflicts between the Incas, has achieved luring many Incas to his side.

In some battles 20.000 to over 30.000 Incas have clashed with each other (some on the Spanish side), while the Spaniards have remained almost unharmed.



Related Material


Inca Rulers

Spanish Conquest and Colonization of the Inca Empire



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