The Incas are said to have first appeared in what is now southeastern Peru sometime in the 1100s. Manco Capac assumed a leadership position. He and the other members of his community settled in the fertile valley near Cuzco around 1200. During the 1400s, the Incas built one of the most extensive and closely regulated empires the world has ever seen. Their expertise in government was matched by their feats of engineering. Some of the roads, walls, and irrigation canals built by the Incas are still being utilized today.
As with other early American civilizations, the true origins of the Incas are difficult to untangle from the founding myths they believed. According to legend, in the beginning, the creator god Viracocha rose from the Pacific Ocean, and when he reached Lake Titicaca, he formed the sun and all of the ethnic groups. These original people were buried by the god and only later did they arise from springs and rocks back into the world. The Incas, particularly, were brought into being at Tiwanaku from the sun god Inti, therefore, they perceived themselves as the ‘Children of the Sun’ and the Inca emperor was Inti’s emissary on earth. In a different version of the creation myth, the earliest Incas came from a divine cavern called Tampu T’oqo, which was located at Pacariqtambo, south of Cuzco. The first couple of humans was Manco Capac and his sister and wife Mama Oqllu. Three more brother-sister couples were born, and the eight Incans set off together to found their city. Overcoming the Chanca people with the help of stone warriors, the first Incans ultimately settled in the Valley of Cuzco and Manco Capac, casting a golden rod into the earth, instituted what would become the Inca capital.
The Inca started increasing their landholdings by the reign of their fourth emperor, Mayta Capac. Nevertheless, they did not truly become a widespread influence until their eighth emperor, Viracocha Inca, took power in the early 1400s. Backed up by the military abilities of his two uncles, Viracocha conquered the Ayarmaca state to the south and took over the Urubamba Valley. He also instituted the Inca practice of leaving military posts to sustain order in subdued lands. When the rival Chancas attacked in 1438, Viracocha withdrew to a military outpost while his son, Cusi Inca Yupanqui, victoriously protected Cuzco. Obtaining the title of Pachacuti, Cusi Inca Yupanqui became one of the most prominent rulers. After assuming emperorship in 1471, Topa Inca Yupanqui expanded the southern boundary of the empire to the Maule River in modern-day Chile. His heir, Huayna Capac, led prosperous northern campaigns that went to the Ancasmayo River, which is the modern boundary separating Ecuador and Colombia. Meanwhile, the influx of Spanish explorers had already triggered the breakdown of the nation. The Spanish bore such foreign viruses as smallpox, which annihilated an immense amount of the citizens before the current emperor, Huayna Capac, and his appointed heir succumbed to this disease in 1525. This caused a civil war as two brothers fought for supremacy, with Atahualpa ultimately outliving his half-brother, Huascar, to seize the throne. Tempted by the stories of Incan treasure, Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro convinced Atahualpa to attend a supposed supper in his honor and captured the emperor in November 1532. Atahualpa was killed the following summer. Striving to maintain the order, the Spaniards established a young prince named Manco Inca Yupanqui as a puppet king, a decision that completely backfired during a spirited revolt in 1536. Unfortunately, Manco and his men were eventually made to flee to the jungle village of Vilcabamba, which became the last remaining part of the empire until 1572.
Although the Incan empire, also known as Tawantinsuyu, constituted of more than 100 different ethnic groups amongst its 12 million residents, a well-developed societal structure kept the empire operating smoothly. There was no written language, but a form of Quechua became the primary dialect, and knotted cords called quipu were used to keep track of historical and accounting records. Most citizens were independent farmers who tended to corn, potatoes, squash, llamas, alpacas and dogs, and paid taxes by public labor. The Inca religion focused on a group of deities that included Inti; a creator god called Viracocha; and Apu Illapu, the rain god. Majestic shrines were built throughout the area, including a beautiful Sun Temple in Cuzco that was more than 1,200 feet in circumference. Mighty priests depended on divination to diagnose sickness, determine guilt, and prophesy the results of combat. In many cases, their divination entailed animal and human sacrifices.
Nowadays, a large number of the traditions the Inca practiced live on in the Andes. Textile making is still widespread, the foods they ate are eaten throughout the world, and archaeological sites like Machu Picchu are beloved tourist attractions. Even their language, Quechua, is still commonly spoken. It is the most frequently spoken of the indigenous languages remaining in the Americas. Six to ten million people in the Andean region speak Quechua daily.
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