Friday, April 12, 2013

The Inca Empire - Uniting the Andes

In establishing their state (Tahuantinsuyu or "land of the four quarters") the Inca refined borrowed institutions and technology to create an empire of a size previously unimaginable in the Andes region.

Never before had a government ruled so much territory, such a variety of environments, so many people, or such a diversity of ethnic groups.  To bring a measure of unity to this vast realm required administrative and organizational genius.

The Inca took existing roads and joined them to create an intricate highway system.  They carefully counted their millions of subjects and made sure that each labored for the state and that products of those labors were correctly distributed or stored away.

Yet the Inca were far from all-powerful.  "They were extraordinary, but their control varied," states archaeologist Terence D'Altroy.  "They had to negotiate and adapt.  In many places the Inca took a hands-off approach.  Life in the provinces had little to do with the affairs of the empire.  Many subjects seldom even saw an Inca."

Recent excavations have shown that while the Inca transformed the Peru heartland around their capital Cusco, their rule had far less impact in the distant areas.  Farther from Cusco the Inca often ruled through an appointed local elite who reported to an Inca superior.  They did have a hefty arsenal for control and the ability to call up a huge army that would dwarf a force of any foe. They had garrisons in occupied lands, and they exiled resisting populations from their homelands.

Even so, the Inca faced constant rebellions.  Historian Maria Rostworowski de Diez Canseco writes that this lack of fundamental unity as well as weaknesses in Inca institutions began bringing the empire down even before the Spanish arrived.

For example, the practice of amassing wealth to buy yhe loyalty of royal family members, nobles, priests and local rulers drove the empire to place heavier and heavier burdens on the subjects.  They required more forced labor and military service upon the restless people.

After a meteoric rise over just a few generations, the Inca Emipre fell with even greater speed following the arrival of the Spanish in 1532.  The last isolated Inca survivors were defeated in 1572.

Read about my visit to Ollantaytambo in the Inca Valley

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