Since the Incas never developed a system of
writing, archaeologists must study myths and legends and the artifacts
they left behind for clues about the ancient Inca civilization.
Incan Tall Tales: The
Incas loved stories. Special "wise men" created stories that
were told over and over. They
loved tall tales. Their emperors always did amazing things.
Their battles were always bigger than life. The Incas believed in many
gods. Some of their stories were about the wondrous feats of their gods.
One Incan myth refers to an old man with long white hair, who was really
a god. This god lived in a coal sack (the Milky Way). He created the
Another popular myth tells a story about Manco
Capac and Inti, the sun god. In that myth, the sun god created the Incan
people. The story of Manco Capac is still told in Peru today. Click
here to read this myth.
A Little History: At
first, the Incas were simply a small tribe that lived in the city of Cuzco.
They worshiped gods of nature. They believed in omens and dreams. Around
1430 C.E, a neighboring tribe attacked the Incas. The Incas won! That
was the beginning of the Inca Empire.
Size of the Inca Empire: Over
the next 100 years, the
Inca Empire grew into a vast empire. The Incas were able
to build a vast empire by demanding loyalty from conquered people. At
the height of their power, the Inca Empire was 2,500 miles long, 500
miles wide, and home to 12 million people. These people called
themselves "the Children of the Sun".
Land of the Four Quarters: The
land the Incas ruled became known as "the land of the four
quarters". It was named that because the Inca Empire was divided
into four parts for ruling purposes. Cuzco
was still the capital.
Sapa Inca and his
Government: The Incas had a strong
central government. The leader of the Inca people was
the Inca, sometimes called the Sapa
Inca (the only Inca), the emperor. His was not an
elected position. The Inca was born to the job. The Sapa Inca was
all-powerful. Everything belonged to the Sapa Inca. He ruled his
people by putting his relatives in positions of power. Because
punishment was harsh and swift, almost no one broke the law.
government was responsible for taking care of the people, including
the poor, the sick, and the elderly. The government built roads and
bridges and aqueducts to carry water to the people. In times of
drought, the government distributed food. In times of natural
disaster, such as earthquake, the government sent troops
with food and blankets.
People: In exchange, it was the people's
job to work for the government. The common
people worked very hard. But no one went hungry and no one was
homeless in the Inca Empire. The state made sure everyone had enough
food to eat and warm clothing to wear. It was important that people
stay healthy. They were needed as workers.
The nobles who ruled the provinces
conducted a census so that all people could be taxed. A census is an
official count of all the people in an area and how they make a
living. The Incas loved gold and silver, but they had no use for
money. All Incan men gave the government some of their time each
year in physical labor. This was how they paid their tax - with
their service or their labor. The government built great palaces,
public buildings, and the famous
Incan roads with this labor.
To feed the millions of people in
the Inca Empire, the Incas invented terrace
farming so they could grow crops on the steep mountain slopes.
They used systems of irrigation to catch the rainfall and the spring
run off from the snow-capped Andes mountaintops.
The Incas believed that their ruler was
the direct descendant of the sun
god, Inti. Their ruler was a god. The Incas believed
in many gods. They believed in the god of nature, the moon, of
weather, of rainbows, and of planets. Every mountaintop was a god.
All Incas had little statues in their homes that were the homes of
little spirits. Anything might house a god. Just to be safe, they
prayed to all their gods every day.
Every month, the Incas held a
huge and public religious festival honoring one of their major gods.
At the festival, there was dancing and feasting and sacrifice.
Mostly, the Incas sacrificed animals. Sometimes, if something really
important was going on, they sacrificed people.
Crime and Punishment: There
was almost no crime in the Inca Empire. Inca
laws were very harsh. Punishment was swift.
Fall of the Inca Empire: The
conquered the Incan civilization. Francisco Pizarro led the Spanish
invaders. After a series of fierce battles, the Incas were defeated
in 1531. The ancestors of the Incas still live in the modern day
country of Peru today.
Incas for Kids