The Inca Mailmen
Many young boys in the
Inca Empire dreamed of one day becoming a mailman. Only the best
were chosen. Potential mailmen had to work hard to achieve their
goal. They had to attend a special school that taught them how
to be mailmen. The mailmen in the Inca Empire had to be physical
fit, good listeners, with great memories. They ran the roads,
It was each runnerís job
to run a mile or two down the road. As he approached the next
relay station, the runner blew loudly on a conch shell to alert
the next runner to get ready. The next runner would appear,
running along side him. Without stopping, the first runner told
the second runner the message. The second runner speeded ahead
until he reached the next relay station. And so it went, from
one point in the empire to another. The mail system was a system
of relay runners.
Messages had to reach
the Sapa Inca accurately. If it was discovered that a message
was not accurate, punishment was severe. Punishment did not only
descend upon the person who delivered the message, punishment
could track backwards to anyone who had a part in that message.
It was important to be accurate.
When messages were
secret, runners carried the message in the form of a
quipu - a
series of knots and colored string. The quipu would be handed
from runner to runner until it reached its destination. There, a
special quipu reader would decipher the message.
This relay system was so
effective that runners could move messages at a rate of about
250 miles a day. Without runners, controlling the vast Inca
Empire would have been next to impossible. With the runners,
news and orders traveled rapidly and accurately from one end of
the empire to the other.
Runners carried no weapons. If they were attacked by a wild animal, they fought by hand, ran away, or died. It was a dangerous job. But runners did not have to work in the fields.