Rise and fall of the Inca Empire
History of the Incas
Where did the Incas come from?
After Chiripa, Chavín, Tiahuanaco and Wari societies, the Inca civilization developed, emerging around 1,000 AD and reaching its peak in the mid-16th Century. At this time, the empire stretched across the territories of present-day Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador and parts of Colombia, Chile and Argentina. Excavations and discoveries in Brazil suggest that the Inka realm even extended into present-day Brazil.
Before the founding of the United States of America, it was certainly the largest contiguous national territory in the Americas, spanning an area greater than that of the Roman Empire and also larger than the empire of Alexander the Great. It had a population of roughly 16 million people and even today may still be hailed as the only society in the history of mankind in which there was neither hunger nor poverty!
Those who lived in the Incan empire enjoyed a general state that can be described as well-being or economic prosperity. It seems that this was possible due to a combination of pragmatism and spirituality, guided by an overarching principle that is still known in the Andes today as Ayni.
The mythology of the Incas includes two well-known legends about their origin or their evolution, which are described in detail here.
The original name of the Incan empire was Tawantinsuyu (“Four nations united”) and it was comprised of the areas Antisuyu, Qollasuyu, Chinchasuyu, and Kuntisuyu. The capital was Qosqo, which means “navel of the world;” today the city is called Cuzco or Cusco. The Tawantinsuyu was ruled by an Inka, an emperor by divine right and equipped with great personal strength. This Inka was regarded by his subjects as a vehicle of cosmic energy, in whom the order of prosperity and justice was inherent and who at the same time ensured that Ayni was fulfilled and lived.
At the end of the 14th Century, this Incan emperor was Wayna Qhapaq (pronounced way•na ka•pak) , son of Topa Inca and grandson of the famous Pachakuti Inca Yupanqi, founder of the expansive and “modern” Inca empire. Under the rule of Wayna Qhapaq, the Inca empire was at the height of its power.
In 1527, Ninan Kuyuchi was appointed Inca by Wayna Qhapaq while the latter was still alive and ruled the empire together with his father. When Wayna Qhapaq was obviously planning to move the capital (which, after the many conquests it had successfully performed, was no longer the “navel of the Incan empire”) from Qosqo to Quito in Ecuador, smallpox was introduced to Panama by European missionaries, spread across South America, and eventually reached the Tawantinsuyu. As a result, Wayna Qhapaq and Ninan Kuyuchi died without naming a successor.
Civil war / fratricidal war
The ensuing civil war between the half-brothers Huascar (son of Wayna Qhapaq and a woman of noble blood from Cusco) and Atahuallpa (son of Wayna Qhapaq and a princess from Quito) can probably be attributed to the fact that the 12 royal families (called Panakas) from Cusco did not want to lose their position and influence; they elected Huascar Inca, assuming that he would not pursue his father’s plans to move the capital.
This, however, aroused the anger of the nobility in Quito, who obviously considered Atahuallpa to be Inca Mallku, a potential contender for the throne. When Atahuallpa wanted to enter into negotiations with his brother Huascar and sent a mediator to Cuzco, Huascar had the mediator assassinated. This affront against all diplomatic conventions caused a war with his brother.
After five long years, Atahuallpa finally defeated his brother and became the new Sapa Inka, the sole Inkan ruler, in 1532.
In the same year, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro landed with two ships carrying about 150 soldiers and three canons, as well as horses and weapons on the coast of Peru. The empire had been weakened due to human losses caused by the civil war, smallpox and measles.
Atahuallpa had learned of the strangers and their hunger for gold long before he met Pizarro and his men in person in Cajamarca in 1532. There, he appeared in all his splendor, surrounded by many thousands of warriors and unaware of the threat posed by the Spaniards. He underestimated their greed for gold and silver, which for the Incas held no material value but was instead merely of sentimental value. They described gold as “sweat of the sun” and silver as “sweat of the moon” and used these metals to pay homage to Father Sun and Grandmother Moon.
Pizarro and his followers captured Atahuallpa in a surprise attack and massacred around 4,000 Indians in the ensuing conflict. At that time, Spain was the leading military nation with the most advanced weapons technology – the Incan warriors, with their leather armor and wooden weapons, were no match for the Spaniards’ horses, muskets, armor, and weapons of steel.
Atahuallpa promised Pizarro that he would fill the room in which he was held captive up to the ceiling with gold and silver in return for his release. When he began to have the objects of gold and silver gathered from all parts of the empire, Pizarro informed him of his plan to make Huascar Inca. In response, Atahuallpa had his brother killed. He was not released after the provision of the ransom, however, but instead sentenced to death in a show trial by Diego de Almagro for fratricide and other offences and later executed.
Manco Qhapaq II was enthroned as the successor in 1533, but turned against the Spaniard three years later and laid siege to the city of Cusco, which they had previously conquered.
After failing to retake the city, he retreated and died in 1541. His sons Sayri Tupac and Titu Cusi Yupanqi continued the resistance, followed by their brother Tupac Amaru, who was captured and executed by the Spaniards in 1572.
Scientists now believe that during the 45 years of turmoil (1527 – 1572), almost 90% of the inhabitants of the Tawantinsuyu lost their lives as a result of diseases, civil war, conquest, and colonization. With more than 14 million dead, this can certainly be considered one of the greatest genocides of mankind.
200 years later, in 1780, Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui led a resistance movement against exploitation and forced labor as well as abuses by the overseers of the Spanish crown. With reference to his lineage, he called himself Tupac Amaru II. The movement, however, was subdued rather quickly and Tupac Amaru II. was killed.
The return of the Inca
Since the Incas and their ancestors did not have a full written language, their history was passed down through oral traditions, legends, and myths.
Spanish chroniclers such as Garcilasso de la Vega, Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa and Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza wrote about their own experiences, but also drew on stories of people who could remember Pachakuti Inca, Topa Inca and Wayna Qhapaq or who had witnessed the fratricidal war between Huascar and Atahuallpa. As a result, details of the glory, but also the collapse, of the Incan empire were preserved.
In order to re-establish the validity of Ayni and the now forgotten prosperity of earlier days, the Inca religion and Andean mystics await and prepare for the Return of the Inca. They do so actively by using spiritual tools and exercises that are imparted by well-known teachers of this tradition to this day.
A detailed list of books in English language, including a brief description of each piece, is available on this website under Literature.