Trade, Economy, and Merchants in the Inca Empire for Kids and Teachers Illustration

Inca Empire for Kids
Trade, Economy, and Merchants

For Kids

In the Inca Empire, nobles might trade amongst themselves with a barter system like - I'll give you this if you'll give me that, with goods they already had on hand. But there was no trading class in the Inca Empire. There were no shops or markets in the Inca Empire, not for nobles or commoners. The Inca never used money. But then, they did not need any money. Their economy was controlled with a system of taxes and labor. All commoners had to pay tax in the form of labor. In exchange, everyone, commoners and nobles, received free clothing, food, shelter, festivals, and even education. 

Commoners were given production goals that included many more goods than they could possibly use. These excess goods were collected from all over the empire and stored in guarded warehouses to be distributed as needed. The warehouses were packed full of goods, including stored foods, beautiful textiles and ceramics, and goods made of gold and silver. If commoners were caught hoarding goods of any sort, they would be killed. Commoners could only keep the food, clothing, and other necessities distributed to them by the empire.

In spite of this, most historians believe there were a limited number of traders in the Inca Empire. With good piled on llamas, these traders used the roads, which normally would get them tossed off the mountain. The traders were tolerated not for their goods but to find out where they got them. If it was discovered that traders got their goods from commoners, the trader and the group of commoners involved would all be killed.

Sometimes, traders did trade successfully with other tribes in the Amazon. They brought these goods to the attention of the Inca nobles and bartered for what they wanted in return. Bartering with Inca nobles was difficult and tricky as the nobles believed all surplus goods should be theirs anyway in the form of gifts.  But some traders must have been brilliant at negotiation, or there would not have been any traders at all.

The bottom line - It was not that trade did not exist, it just did not exist on a large scale.

Economy of the Inca Empire

What was the job of an Inca merchant in an empire that had no stores or markets

The Ayllus

Incas for Kids

For Teachers

See Lesson 14 - Inca system of distribution - Classroom activity on the Inca barter and tax system

You might consider a lesson plan on negotiation skills, a skill much needed by traders