The Inca people were a pastoral tribe in the Cusco area around the 12th century. Incan oral history tells an origin story of three caves. The center cave at Tampu T’uqu (Tambo Tocco) was named Qhapaq T’uqu (“principal niche”, also spelled Capac Tocco). The other caves were Maras T’uqu (Maras Tocco) and Sutiq T’uqu (Sutic Tocco).Four brothers and four sisters stepped out of the middle cave. They were: Ayar Manco, Ayar Cachi, Ayar Awqa (Ayar Auca) and Ayar Uchu; and Mama Ocllo, Mama Raua, Mama Huaco and Mama Qura (Mama Cora). Out of the side caves came the people who were to be the ancestors of all the Inca clans.
Ayar Manco carried a magic staff made of the finest gold. Where this staff landed, the people would live. They traveled for a long time. On the way, Ayar Cachi boasted about his strength and power. His siblings tricked him into returning to the cave to get a sacred llama. When he went into the cave, they trapped him inside to get rid of him.
Ayar Uchu decided to stay on the top of the cave to look over the Inca people. The minute he proclaimed that, he turned to stone. They built a shrine around the stone and it became a sacred object. Ayar Auca grew tired of all this and decided to travel alone. Only Ayar Manco and his four sisters remained.
Finally, they reached Cusco. The staff sank into the ground. Before they arrived, Mama Ocllo had already borne Ayar Manco a child, Sinchi Roca. The people who were already living in Cusco fought hard to keep their land, but Mama Huaca was a good fighter. When the enemy attacked, she threw her bolas (several stones tied together that spun through the air when thrown) at a soldier (gualla) and killed him instantly. The other people became afraid and ran away.
After that, Ayar Manco became known as Manco Cápac, the founder of the Inca. It is said that he and his sisters built the first Inca homes in the valley with their own hands. When the time came, Manco Cápac turned to stone like his brothers before him. His son, Sinchi Roca, became the second emperor of the Inca.
Kingdom of Cusco
Under the leadership of Manco Cápac, the Inca formed the small city-state Kingdom of Cusco (Quechua Qusqu’, Qosqo). In 1438, they began a far-reaching expansion under the command of Sapa Inca (paramount leader) Pachacuti-Cusi Yupanqui, whose name literally meant “earth-shaker”. The name of Pachacuti was given to him after he conquered the Tribe of Chancas (modern Apurímac). During his reign, he and his son Tupac Yupanqui brought much of the Andes mountains (roughly modern Peru and Ecuador) under Inca control.
Inca Civil War and Spanish conquest
Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro and his brothers explored south from what is today Panama, reaching Inca territory by 1526. It was clear that they had reached a wealthy land with prospects of great treasure, and after another expedition in 1529 Pizarro traveled to Spain and received royal approval to conquer the region and be its viceroy. This approval was received as detailed in the following quote: “In July 1529 the queen of Spain signed a charter allowing Pizarro to conquer the Incas. Pizarro was named governor and captain of all conquests in Peru, or New Castile, as the Spanish now called the land.”
When they returned to Peru in 1532, a war of brothers between the sons of Huayna Capac, Huáscar and Atahualpa, and unrest among newly conquered territories weakened the empire. Perhaps more importantly, smallpox had spread from Central America. Pizarro did not have a formidable force. With just 168 men, one cannon, and 27 horses, he often talked his way out of potential confrontations that could have easily wiped out his party.
The Spanish horsemen, fully armored, had technological superiority over the Inca forces. The traditional mode of battle in the Andes was a kind of siege warfare where large numbers of usually reluctant draftees were sent to overwhelm opponents. The Spaniards developed one of the finest military machines in the premodern world, tactics learned in their centuries-long fight against Moorish kingdoms in Iberia. Along with their tactical and material superiority, the Spaniards acquired tens of thousands of native allies who sought to end the Inca control of their territories.
Their first engagement was the Battle of Puná, near present-day Guayaquil, Ecuador, on the Pacific Coast; Pizarro then founded the city of Piura in July 1532. Hernando de Soto was sent inland to explore the interior and returned with an invitation to meet the Inca, Atahualpa, who had defeated his brother in the civil war and was resting at Cajamarca with his army of 80,000 troops.
Pizarro and some of his men, most notably a friar named Vincente de Valverde, met with the Inca, who had brought only a small retinue. Through an interpreter Friar Vincente read the “Requerimiento” that demanded that he and his empire accept the yoke of King Charles I of Spain and convert to Christianity. Because of the language barrier and perhaps poor interpretation, Atahualpa became somewhat puzzled by the friar’s description of Christian faith and was said to have not fully understood the envoy’s intentions. After Atahualpa attempted further enquiry into the doctrines of the Christian faith, the Spanish became frustrated and impatient. They attacked the Inca’s retinue and captured Atahualpa as hostage.
Atahualpa offered the Spaniards enough gold to fill the room he was imprisoned in and twice that amount of silver. The Inca fulfilled this ransom, but Pizarro deceived them, refusing to release the Inca afterwards. During Atahualpa’s imprisonment Huáscar was assassinated elsewhere. The Spaniards maintained that this was at Atahualpa’s orders; this was used as one of the charges against Atahualpa when the Spaniards finally executed him, in August 1533.
The Spanish installed Atahualpa’s brother Manco Inca Yupanqui in power; for some time Manco cooperated with the Spanish while they fought to put down resistance in the north. Meanwhile, an associate of Pizarro, Diego de Almagro, attempted to claim Cusco. Manco tried to use this intra-Spanish feud to his advantage, recapturing Cusco in 1536, but the Spanish retook the city afterwards. Manco Inca then retreated to the mountains of Vilcabamba and established the small Neo-Inca State, where he and his successors ruled for another 36 years, sometimes raiding the Spanish or inciting revolts against them. In 1572 the last Inca stronghold was conquered and the last ruler, Túpac Amaru, Manco’s son, was captured and executed. This ended resistance to the Spanish conquest under the political authority of the Inca state.
After the fall of the Inca Empire many aspects of Inca culture were systematically destroyed, including their sophisticated farming system, known as the vertical archipelago model of agriculture. Spanish colonial officials used the Inca mita corvée labor system for colonial aims, sometimes brutally. One member of each family was forced to work in the gold and silver mines, the foremost of which was the titanic silver mine at Potosí. When a family member died, which would usually happen within a year or two, the family was required to send a replacement.
The effects of smallpox on the Inca empire were even more devastating. Beginning in Colombia, smallpox spread rapidly before the Spanish invaders first arrived in the empire. The spread was probably aided by the efficient Inca road system. Within a few years smallpox claimed between 60% and 94% of the Inca population, with other waves of European disease weakening them further. Smallpox was only the first epidemic. Typhus (probably) in 1546, influenza and smallpox together in 1558, smallpox again in 1589, diphtheria in 1614, measles in 1618 – all ravaged the Inca people.