Top 13 things to know about the Incas, a friendly civilization

If one day you are asked the question “in your opinion, what is the most famous civilization in Latin America?” don’t hesitate for a second and answer that it’s the Incas, especially if it’s a matter of life or death. I don’t really see how you could be asked such a question in such a situation, but in any case the answer is the right one. But if you start being asked questions on the subject and you know nothing about it then you will look stupid, that’s why this top is made for you.

1. Their empire lasted less than two centuries

If we are not sure of the precise date on which the Inca Empire was created, historians agree that it dates back to the 13th century, and as we know that it declined with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 1530s that’s less than 200 years of full expansion, which isn’t a huge amount of time.

2. It stretched across a huge stretch of the South American west coast

In its heyday, the Inca Empire extended over a huge part of the west coast of South America, crossing the present countries of Colombia, Chile, Argentina, part of Bolivia , Peru and Ecuador. Basically, it was pretty tough territory, and it wasn’t the ugliest part of the globe.

Top 13 things to know about the Incas a friendly
Photo credits (CC BY-SA 3.0): EuroHistoryTeacher (talk), cropped to South America only by Kintetsubuffalo (talk) 15:36, 18 July 2010 (UTC)

3. We are not sure of the origin of the Incas

Several hypotheses exist, the first would be that it is a group originating from the region of Lake Titicaca, between Bolivia and Peru. They would then have begun to expand by rallying other tribes to them. The other geographical origin proposed would be the Amazonian forest since a city has been found there that is difficult to date with accuracy, the agricultural city of Mameria.

4. They had a polytheistic religion

The Inca religion has, like many polytheistic cults, major deities and minor deities. The two most important were Inti and Mama Quilla, respectively the sun and the moon, brother and sister but also husband and wife. Inti is probably the god to whom the most temples are dedicated, but his sister need not be ashamed since she is also the goddess of the seas and the winds. Most Inca deities are related to nature and represent stars or concrete elements such as thunder, rain, rainbows or volcanoes.

5. They had an elaborate system of growing and preserving food

The Incas grew a lot of varieties of potatoes, vegetables and cereals such as corn and mainly ate these products. Their cultivation methods, taken from other populations in this region, were very elaborate with systems of well-exposed raised ground and polyculture. To keep their production as long as possible, the Incas also had a refrigeration system: they stored food in qollcascircular constructions in volcanic rock that kept humidity and temperature low.

6. Suddenly the Incas were almost vegan

Because they had not domesticated a lot of animals (llamas, guinea pigs, ducks and alpacas) the Incas rarely ate meat. Alpaca wool was used to make clothing, llamas were used to carry loads, and ducks and guinea pigs were used as food for special occasions such as family or religious celebrations. The rest of the time they fed mainly on the produce of their crops.

7. “Ayni”, a state of mind and an art of living

What is called ayni in the Andes is an advanced system of mutual aid and mutualism: if someone in the community helps you, then you will help someone else later. The word could be translated as “today for me, tomorrow for you”, and thanks to this concept, the Incas generally lacked nothing. Sharing and the common good were anchored in mentalities and this principle of life still exists today in many traditional communities.

8. They didn’t have a writing system, but still kept records

The language of the Incas was Quechua, “like the mark of the tents” a sympathetic but light-hearted colleague has just told me. They had no known means of writing but used an interesting system of archiving: the quipus. They were hanging ropes in which they made knots with a numerical system. According to interpretations, the quipus were used to identify the population, the stocks of food, animals, goods and other possessions.

9. They had an elaborate messaging system

In order to communicate between the different cities there were always messengers placed on the roads. They were stationed in pairs and could leave to reach a point by carrying a message fairly quickly. Along the road network there were also shelters where the messengers could sleep, rest or even eat. It was really well put together and well thought out.

10. Their civilization had its capital and road network

One would be tempted to say that the most important city of the Inca Empire was the one at the top of Machu Picchu (which remains one of their most important sites) but it is not so: the capital of the empire inca was Cuzco. An important network of roads started from the city and extended over thousands of kilometers to join the various points of the Empire. We even found an old Inca gas station, surprising but completely false information.

11. They drunk and drugged children before sacrificing them

The Incas were not always tender, it came with their culture and their customs. The sacrificial rite of capacocha for example consisted in sending the children of high ranks (the best of them) to join their Gods by bringing them gifts to obtain their good grace. It was therefore something beneficial and considered an honor and a chance. Children were sometimes drugged with mind-altering drugs for the whole year before their death and the doses increased until the day of the sacrifice when they were buried alive. Yeah, that’s not super cool.

12. The Beginning of the End: The Internal War

Atahualpa, the last emperor of the independent Inca Empire survived an assassination attempt prepared by his half-brother Huascar. He managed to regain power but the Empire was already fragmented by a civil war and territories still under the control of Huascar. When the conquistadors of Francisco Pizarro arrived for the first time in 1527 the exchanges were cordial because the Incas took Pizarro for a representation of their God Viracocha. But the Spaniards brought with them smallpox which began to decimate the Inca population.

13. The Beginning of the End: The Trap of the Spaniards

In 1533 Pizarro returned with 180 men and the Incas gave them a friendly welcome, but the Spaniard had other plans than to make friends and captured the “god emperor” Atahualpa. They happily massacred the population of several cities to take control and when the Incas learned that the emperor was captive they no longer dared to respond for fear that their leader would be killed.

Pizarro fueled conflicts and played the political situation to turn some cities and tribes against others. When he had screwed up enough with the Incas, he demanded that an entire room be filled with gold as a ransom to free Atahualpa. The population agreed to collaborate thinking it would give them back their emperor, but when Pizarro got what he wanted, he had Atahualpa executed and stole the riches before conquering the lands. A nice shit this guy.

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