The Incredible Incas for Kids

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The Incredible Incas for Kids

The Incan Empire was located on the western side of South America. Although the Empire was huge, it can be easily divided into three geographical regions - mountains, jungle, and desert.

Andes Mountains: North to south were the Andes Mountains - home of the Inca civilization. The mountains dominated Incan society. The mountain peaks were worshiped as gods. The Andes created a natural barrier between the coastal desert on one side and the jungle on the other. The snow-capped mountains were full of deep gorges. The Inca built bridges across the gorges so they could reach all parts of their empire quickly and easily. These mountain gorges were natural barriers. If an enemy approached, the Incas could simply burn the bridges.

Amazon Jungle: On one side of the Andes was the Amazon jungle. The Incas must have entered the jungle occasionally, as they did know about the many valuable things that could be found in the Amazon, like wood and fruit and natural medicines. But they never established settlements there. They had no desire to live in the jungle. The Incas expanded north and south instead.

Coastal Desert: Between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean is a coastal desert 2000 miles long and between 30-100 miles wide. The desert provided a wonderful natural barrier. Some scientists think it is the driest place in the world. It is not completely barren. There are fertile strips where small rivers and streams run from the Andes mountaintops to the sea.

Inca Origin Myth
Manco Capac

Once upon a time, a long time ago, Inti, the sun god, created the first Incan, and named him Manco Capac. The sun god created a sister for Manco. The sister did not have a name of her own. She was simply called "his sister". The sun god told Manco and his sister to go on a journey. Their job was to search high and low for a special place, a placed called Cuzco. The sun god gave Manco a golden staff.

The sun god said, "You will know that you have found Cuzco when the staff is swallowed by the earth. When you find it, you will build a city and name it Cuzco. In this special city, you will teach other Indians about the power of the sun god."

Because no one argued with the sun god, Manco Capac and his sister immediately traveled into the harsh Andes Mountains (referred to in this myth as "the wilderness".) Things were looking pretty grim. Over and over they tried, but they could not find a place where the golden staff sank into the ground.

One day, they stumbled upon a most beautiful location, the most beautiful location they had ever seen. When Manco tested the ground, his staff sank immediately out of sight, just as the sun god had foretold. Manco Capac and his sister built their city on that spot. They named their city Cuzco.

There were other tribes in the area, but Manco soon took over leadership of all the tribes. Manco became the first ruler of the Incas. That's how Cuzco became the capital of the Incan empire.

Manco went on to have 400 children. When Manco died at a very old age, the Incas built the Temple of the Sun on the spot where he died.

The Lords of Cuzco  &
The Emperors of the Four Quarters

The Inca emperors are broken up into two groups - the Lords of Cuzco and the Emperors of the Four Quarters. Because the Incas never developed a system of writing, there is no written proof that any of the Lords of Cuzco ever existed, although some may have. The second group, the emperors of the Four Quarters, did exist.

Lords of Cuzco (the Kings)

Manco Capac - MAHN-do-KAH-pahk (Son of the Sun, mythical first king)

Sinchi Roca - SIN-chee-RO-kah (The Incas did not know much about this king so they made up tall tales about him. One legend says that Sinchi Roca designed the first forehead fringe that forever after denoted royalty. The Incas also decided this king helped to expand the empire, but since this was just a story, who he conquered was never discussed.)

Lloque Yupanqui - YO-kay Yu-PAHN-kee (The Incas did not know much about this king either. He is credited with events done by other Incas later on. The Incas did not wish him to appear less than marvelous, so they made up marvelous stories about him. This emperor probably did not exist.)

Mayta Capac - MAHY-ta KAH-pahk (This Inca was the Hercules of Inca legend - he was super smart and super strong. Stories about this king mention that he was born with all his teeth in his mouth. The Incas knew very little about this king; they gave him feats of super strength so they could be proud of him.)

Capac Yupanqui - KAH-pahk Yu-PAHN-kee (This king is also perhaps a made-up person. But Incan stories credit this king as the first to demand tribute from neighboring tribes in the form of money, gold, silver, slaves, food, and pottery.)

Inca Roca - IN-kah RO-kah (Inca legends say this king started the first school for noble boys. And, he was the first king to use "Inca" as his royal title.)

Yahuar Huacac - YAH-war WAH-kahk (Legend says this king was kidnapped as a child, but the wonderful Inca warriors got him back.)

Viracocha - Wir-ah-DO-chah (This Inca was supposedly the first king who expanded Inca lands beyond the Cuzco Valley.)

Emperors of the Four Quarters

This is the period when expansion began in earnest, and the Inca tribe became an empire. The empire lasted about 100 years. And these emperors did exist (probably.)

Pachacuti - Pah-chah-KOO-tee (First emperor. Creator of the Inca Empire by conquest) 1438

Tupa Inca - TU-pah IN-kah (More expansion)

Huayna Capac - WAHY-nah KAH-pahk (More expansion)

Huascar - WAHS-kar (Fourth emperor. This emperor was at war with this brother, Atahualpa. Atahualpa won, killed his brother, and crowned himself Inca.

Atahualpa - Ah-tah-WAHL-pah (Captured and executed by Francisco Pizarro 1533)   

Incas after the Spanish Conquest: When the Spanish army arrived, some Incan people managed to escape into the jungle. There were 7 more Incas over a period of about 40 years. Kids in Peru today know all the Inca rulers names. They chant them. The last 7 Incas are not in the chant because the time of the Inca Empire was over.

Inca Origin Myth
Manco Capac

Once upon a time, a long time ago, Inti, the sun god, created the first Incan, and named him Manco Capac. The sun god created a sister for Manco. The sister did not have a name of her own. She was simply called "his sister". The sun god told Manco and his sister to go on a journey. Their job was to search high and low for a special place, a placed called Cuzco. The sun god gave Manco a golden staff.

The sun god said, "You will know that you have found Cuzco when the staff is swallowed by the earth. When you find it, you will build a city and name it Cuzco. In this special city, you will teach other Indians about the power of the sun god."

Because no one argued with the sun god, Manco Capac and his sister immediately traveled into the harsh Andes Mountains (referred to in this myth as "the wilderness".) Things were looking pretty grim. Over and over they tried, but they could not find a place where the golden staff sank into the ground.

One day, they stumbled upon a most beautiful location, the most beautiful location they had ever seen. When Manco tested the ground, his staff sank immediately out of sight, just as the sun god had foretold. Manco Capac and his sister built their city on that spot. They named their city Cuzco.

There were other tribes in the area, but Manco soon took over leadership of all the tribes. Manco became the first ruler of the Incas. That's how Cuzco became the capital of the Incan empire.

Manco went on to have 400 children. When Manco died at a very old age, the Incas built the Temple of the Sun on the spot where he died.

The Hero Pachacuti

The year is 2000 BCE

The Inca tribe was not the first tribe of people to live in the Andes Mountains. People were living and farming in the western part of South America as early as 2000 BCE. Some archaeologists say they began farming as early as 5000 BCE. Like other ancient civilizations, these early people worshiped many gods. They built towns, worked metals, and made beautiful pottery.  

The year is 1200 CE

Three thousand two hundred years later (3200 years later), the Incas were a small band of people who lived peacefully in a region that would become the modern day country of Peru. Their capital was the town of Cuzco. The leader of the Incas was known as the Inca, which means emperor. (The Inca is also called the Sapa Inca, which means "the only emperor".)

Like the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, the Inca had absolute rule over his people, which is why his people were called the Incas (the Inca's people.) The ruling Inca usually treated his people with care. Like most ancient rulers, he lived in luxury. The royal family had the finest of everything, while his people were hard working peasants.

The Inca tribe quarreled now and then with neighboring tribes. For the most part, life was peaceful.

The year is 1430 CE

One day, around 1430 CE, a neighboring tribe started a war with the Incas. This was very upsetting to the Inca ruler. In those times, in South America, warring tribes usually killed the people they conquered. And the Incan army was losing badly.

The Inca ruler did not wish to die. He convinced himself that if he accepted defeat, the warring tribe might spare the royal family. The Inca ruler knew that even if they did spare the royal family, they would still kill most of the common people.

The ruler's son, Pachacuti, could not believe his father was considering sacrificing his people. Pachacuti acted. He called on the gods to help him.

The Incas believed in a great many gods and goddesses, most of whom could be counted upon to help or hinder mortals in their wars and other mortal affairs. Legend says the gods decided to help Pachacuti save his people. The Incas were saved from total destruction when Pachacuti rallied the army, went into battle, and won the day.

The New Inca: After the battle, Pachacuti crowned himself Inca, replacing his cowardly father as the new leader of the Incan people. Pachacuti turned out to be a great leader. He rebuilt the city of Cuzco. He rebuilt the army and set about conquering neighboring tribes.

Incan Armies: The Incan armies were quite a sight. Their uniforms were very colorful. They marched into battle accompanied by drums, flutes and trumpets. The army was organized, well fed, and well trained. They wore warm clothing and protective headgear. They had plenty of medicine. Their weapons were superior to other neighboring tribes. Their main weapon was a wooden club. They also had bows, spears, and bolasses, which were Y-shaped cords with stones at three ends. They believed the gods were on their side. As time went on, when the Incan army marched their way, some tribes simply joined the Inca Empire rather than be defeated in battle.

Pachacuti did not kill the people he conquered. Instead, he invited them to become part of the Inca Empire. He built schools. He built fabulous cities and fortresses. He placed his royal relatives in positions of power in the government throughout the Empire. The Inca rulers who followed him did the same.

The Incan age of expansion had begun. In less than 100 years, the Incan would grow to become one of the largest empires of all time.

The Sapa Inca
and his Government

The Sapa Inca was all-powerful. He ruled everything. He made all the laws. Everything was the responsibility of the Sapa Inca, and nothing could be done until the Sapa Inca approved it. How did the Sapa Inca rule 12 million people all by himself? That's easy. He didn't.

The Sapa Inca organized his government in a pyramid.

  • Alone at the top of the pyramid was the Sapa Inca

  • Supreme Council (4 men)

  • Provincial Governors

  • Officials (army officers, priests, judges, and others from the noble class) These individuals could ride in a litter and had other special privileges not enjoyed by the general population.

  • Tax collectors. There were several levels of tax collectors. There was one tax collector for every ayllu (for every family group.) That tax collector reported to a collector higher up the scale who might be in charge of 10 ayllus. And so it went. Tax collectors could be in charge of 100 people or 10,000 people. Their rung on the social scale was measured accordingly.

  • Workers. At the bottom of the pyramid were the workers. Workers were organized into family units called ayllus. Most of the people in the Inca Empire were workers.


When the Sapa Inca made a new law, he told the top tax collectors. They told the tax collectors who reported to them, who told the next level down, and so on, until everyone every farmer and every family in the empire heard the news. Since the workers could not vote or voice an opinion, that was the end of it until the Inca made a new law. Word would come down. If you broke any Inca law, punishment was harsh and swift.

The Sapa Inca put his relatives in positions of power. You could work your way up. But mostly, the government officials were members of the royal family and the nobility.

It was easy to tell if someone in charge was a royal or not. When the royals were young children, boards were strapped to their heads. This was not painful, but their head grew almost into a point. To the Incas, pointed heads were symbols of beauty and prestige.

The Sapa Inca

Who was the Sapa Inca? Like the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Inca was the all-powerful emperor, the leader of the Inca people. Inca means emperor. Sapa Inca means the only emperor. The Sapa Inca ruled everything and owned everything. The Inca was not just a ruler. The Inca was believed to be a direct descendant of the sun god, Inti.

Did he have servants? Yes, he did. Servants carried the Sapa Inca everywhere in a golden litter, and waited on him hand and foot. He ate off gold plates and drank from gold cups. When the Inca left the palace, women and children, colorfully dressed in specially made outfits, went in front of the golden litter. They swept the ground, and threw flowers, and played music. The emperor

Was he married? Every Incan ruler had many wives. The Inca might have as many as 100 children. He could marry anyone of noble blood, but usually the emperor married his sister in formal ceremony, as his main wife. All the Inca's wives had a job in common. It was their job to collect and guard anything the Inca might drop, including a single hair from his head. Everything about the Inca was sacred, and everything had to be guarded to protect the Inca from evil spirits.  

Where did he live? The emperor lived in a palace, with gold and silver walls. He ate off plates made of gold, and drank from cups made of gold. He wore a gold fringe around his forehead as the emblem of his office. His throne was just a low stool, probably made of wood. But since wood was scarce, that made it valuable. His blanket was made of the finest wool. He slept on the floor on a mat, just as all people did in the Inca Empire.

What did the Inca wear? The Inca wore clothes that were made by women called the "chosen women". The Inca only wore an outfit once. When his clothes were removed, they were burned. The chosen women were kept very busy making clothes for the Inca. The clothes were very fancy.

Only the Inca could wear a headdress with his special fringe of gold and feathers. His coat was covered with jewels and pieces of turquoise. He wore heavy gold shoulder pads. He wore heavy gold bracelets and earrings. His earrings were so heavy that they pulled his earlobes down until they rested on his shoulder pads. He wore shoes of leather and fur. He wore a royal shield on his chest engraved with a picture of the sun god. He wore a royal badge made of hummingbird feathers, framed with gold. It is amazing he could even breathe weighed down as he was by the golden symbols of his office.  

Could anyone see the Inca? Whenever the Inca left his palace, his face was covered with a translucent cloth. It was believed that he was too splendid to be seen by everyone.

Could anyone become the next Inca? The answer is no. Only a son of the current emperor and the main wife could become the next Inca. Should they have more than one son, the choice was not always the oldest son. The heir to the throne was given special training to make sure he could outdo other boys in strength and endurance. But he was not automatically selected. The son who proved himself most worthy was selected. Before he died, the Inca selected the son who would replace him. He had his council to help him, but the Inca made the final decision.

The Capital City

The capital city of Cuzco was the heart of the empire. It was situated about 11,000 feet above sea level high in the Andes Mountains. It was a beautiful city. There were palaces, temples, schools, houses, and government buildings. It had gardens filled with exotic herbs, trees, and flowers. There was a huge public square for ceremonies and gatherings. The streets were paved. Water was brought in by aqueducts to supply the palaces. (The Incas took frequent baths.)

Most of the buildings were made of stone. The Incan were master builders. Their stonework is shaped so that each piece fit together perfectly, without the use of mortar. Inca stonework is still regarded as the best in the world. Building stones were quarried in the mountains. Thousands of men were organized to hack out enormous blocks and to transport them to building sites.

The city was always under construction. Each emperor ordered a new palace to be built for his use. They had to, actually, as the palaces of the former Incas were still in use. The Incas believed in an afterlife. The mummy of a former Inca was housed in his palace. To wait on him, his servants and family continued to live in the palace. So new Incas had to build their own palace.

The famed Temple of the Sun was in the center of the city. The temple had six chapels built around a central courtyard. The walls were made of perfectly fitted stone covered with sheets of gold.

Cuzco was the seat of government as well as a city. It was a busy place. Messengers traveled back and forth with news from across the empire. Armies, engineers, priests, and administrators arrived and left again, traveling to wherever in the empire they were needed. Llama trains arrived with loads of food and goods. There were religious celebrations every month. Cuzco was the home of the Sapa Inca, as well as the home of all former Sapa Incas, who were still in residence in spirit.

The emperor lived in his palace with his family. His most important administrators lived in the palace as well. Only important visitors and noblemen had access to the emperor. Few commoners, except carefully selected servants, were ever seen in the city. Less important officials lived in the suburbs outside the city. They reported to higher up administrators, who reported to higher up administrators, who ultimately reported to the Sapa Inca.

A massive fortress guarded the city. You had to pass through a huge tollgate to enter the city. The gateway guards checked everyone who came and went. They noted everything coming in. They made sure nothing precious was removed from the city without permission. The guards also kept their eye on the criminals positioned at the city gate. As part of their punishment, criminals had to tell their tales of crime and punishment to all those who entered and left the city. This was to remind the people of what would happen if you broke the law.

Not very many of the common people lived in the city. Most of the people were farmers. They lived in farming communities. The only people who actually lived in or just outside the city were the artisans who made artwork for the temples. People who lived nearby might travel into town for festivals or business. But the city was mainly used for the government.

The Royals and Nobility

The rich belonged to an ayllus of noble family members. Members of the royals and nobility led a life of luxury. They were exempt from taxation. They could own land. They could own llamas. They had fine clothing. They were carried around on litters. The boys went to school. Some were given jobs of importance in the government. They had to be careful not to upset the Inca or they could rapidly lose status and even their lives. But compared to the common people who had to work very hard, their lives were ones of ease and interest.

Clothing: Everyone dressed in the same fashion in the Inca Empire - rich and poor. The quality of the cloth varied. The rich had soft clothes, heavily embroidered. The poor had coarse wool clothes. But the style was the same. Men wore sleeveless knee-length tunics, with ponchos or cloaks. Women wore long dresses and capes fastened with a pin of cheap metal or heavy gold, depending upon their status. All clothes were made of woven cotton or wool cloth.

Coming of Age Ceremony: When rich and poor boys turned 14, there was a coming of age ceremony that allowed the boys to demonstrate their physical and military skill. In a special ceremony, the boys had their ears pierced. Then, they were presented to the sun god, then took their place as adults. Boys from noble families worn special clothes made for this ceremony, woven from feathers.

Hairstyles: Hairstyles for the men were very important. Each noble ayllu had a distinctive hairstyle. Your hairstyle announced your social position. Since the Incas were very class conscious, hairstyles for the men were most important.

Earplugs: Men wore decorative earplugs of shell or metal. At their coming of age ceremony (at age 14), a golden disk would be inserted in their newly pierced earlobes. Bigger disks were continually added. These were called earplugs. Earplugs for the rich were so heavy that their earlobes stretched over time until they actually rested on their shoulders. This was considered quite stylish.

Daily Life of the Common People


Ayllus: The common people were organized into groups. Each group was like a family unit. There were 10-20 people in each unit. Each unit was called an ayllu. Within each ayllu, each person had a specific job to do.

Common people had no freedom: They could not own or run a business. They could not own luxury goods. The only items common people could have in their homes were things they needed to do their job. They could not travel on the roads. Life was not all work. They had lots of religious holidays. But they could not be idle. That was the law. Either they were celebrating a state approved holiday, working in the fields, or sleeping. Only a small amount of time was allotted for bathing and eating.

There were many laws that kept a family (an ayllu) in its place. Laws dictated who should work, when, where, and at what time. Inspectors stopped by frequently to check on things. Breaking a law usually meant the death penalty. Very few people broke the law.

Most commoners were farmers: The emperor owned all the land. He controlled the use of the land through administrators. Administrators divided the land into plots large enough for a family to manage. Each ayllu planted enough food to feed themselves and others. Family groups helped each other when they could. Each fall, the administrators gave a family unit a little more or a little less land to farm based on how many people they had in their family unit. Farmers could only keep about one-third of their harvest. The rest went to support other people.

Service Tax: Farmers had to pay taxes on the land they worked. The Incas loved gold and silver. But they had no use for money. Tax was paid in labor - in billions of man-hours. That is how the Incas were able to build so much so rapidly.

Education: The Incan people were very smart. The children of the common people were not generally educated. When they were old enough, each child would be assigned a job to do. That was their job for life. The only training they received would be related to their job.

Food: People did not go hungry. The common people ate two or three meals a day. Their breakfast was typically a food called chicha, which was a kind of thick beer made from fermented corn. Their main meal was eaten at night. It was hearty. They ate corn with chili peppers seasoned with herbs, thick vegetable soups, and hot bread made from cornmeal and water.

Marriage: Everyone was required to marry. If an Incan man had not married by the time he was twenty, a wife would be chosen for him. Although the Inca royals had many wives, commoners could only have one wife.

Babies: When a baby was born, his or her arms were tightly bound to their body for three months. The Incas believed this binding made the baby stronger. Babies were rarely held. The Incas believed that if you held a baby, it would cry more. Crying exhausted the family. That interfered with farming. So, babies were not held. They were touched only to clean or feed them. They were left in cradles all day, alone.

Children, including babies, were left alone most of the day: Children were fed three times a day, but they also were not hugged. Again, they were only touched to clean or feed them. Many Incan children died young from neglect.

Homes: Common homes were made of sun-baked brick with thatched roofs. There were no doors and no windows. The doorway was covered with a strip of hanging leather or woven cloth. Goods were stored in baskets. On cold nights, people slept on mats, near the stone stove. In the morning, the family left to work the fields.

Specialized Professions

Some people did escape life on the farm. Some boys were trained as artisans. Others were trained to be the servants and temple assistants of the royals, nobles, priests. Some actually rose to rather high positions in governmental service, but they were the exceptions.

Profession: Chosen Women
The most beautiful 10-year-old girls of each ayllu were selected to become "chosen women".   They lived in the temples. They were taught domestic arts. They studied religion. After a few years, they were assigned jobs in the homes of the wealthy, perhaps even the home of the emperor himself. Some were sacrificed to the gods and buried on mountain peaks.

Profession: Herders
The Incas did not have sheep, oxen, horses, chickens, goats or pigs. They had llamas and alpacas, both greatly prized for their meat and their wool. Young boys had the job of driving off foxes or any animals that might harm the herd. The carefully collected llama dung t use as fuel in the winter. In the mountains, herders slept in small tents. They wore thick clothing to protect themselves from the cold.

Profession: Craftsmen
The artists of the time were well-respected. They made necklaces for the rich of gold and pearls. They made beautiful as well as functional weapons. They made many religious items.

The Incas never invented the wheel, including the potters wheel. Their pottery was made by hand. It was gorgeous. The Incas are famous for a weird pot they made that has a pointed bottom. When filled, this pot balances itself upright. When it's empty, it lays on its side.

They made bronze by melting copper and tin together. They mined precious metals. They made statues, knives, weapons, pins for garments, and tools.

Profession: Weavers
Weaving was probably the most important of all the arts. Both men and women were weavers. Weavers made blankets, ropes, clothing, baskets, and thick twisted rope cable for the suspension bridges. Some of the wool fabrics they made felt like silk. Some weavers wove feathers into their fabrics. Weavers in Peru today use the same methods as the ancient Incas. The Incas used the same methods as the people before them. Some of the designs have remained unchanged for thousands of years.

Profession: Sorcerers
The sorcerers were local people who had special abilities. There were not priests, but they were locally powerful because they could cast spells, read omens, and help or hinder you in your goals though the use of magic.

Incan Relay Roadrunners
The Mailmen

The job of Inca roadrunner was a specialized profession in the Inca Empire. 

Young men studied how to be an Incan roadrunner. Incan roadrunners carried orders and news from one end of the entire to the other. They were the mailmen of the Incan Empire. Messages always reached the Sapa Inca accurately. If it was discovered that a message was not accurate, punishment was severe.

Each runner would run like the wind for a short distance along the famous Inca roads. 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.

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 messages at a rate of about 250 miles a day. Without these specially trained Incan mailmen, controlling the vast Inca Empire would have been next to impossible.

The runners did not have guards. They did not carry weapons with which to defend themselves. They ran alone. They ran like the wind. The job of relay roadrunner carried great honor.

Terrace Farming

The Incas were great farmers. The three staple crops were corn, potatoes, and quinoa - quinoa seeds were used to make cereal, flour, and soups. Corn was special to the Incas. It was used in religious ceremonies. They also used it to make a drink called chicha. The Incas were the first civilization to plant and harvest potatoes.

Besides their staple crops of corn, potatoes, and quinoa, they grew tomatoes, avocados, peppers, strawberries, peanuts, squash, sweet potatoes, beans, pineapple, bananas, peanuts, spices, and coco leaves to make chocolate. They kept honeybees. Occasionally, seasonal hunts were organized to catch meat for the nobility. Commoners ate very little meat, but they did not go hungry.

The Incas invented the first freeze-dried method of storage. They left their food out in the cold to freeze. Then they stamped on the frozen food to squeeze out the water. They left their stamped on food in the sun to dry. It worked. When they wanted to use the dehydrated foods, they simply added water.

The Incas invented terrace gardening. They carved steps of flat land up the side of the mountain to create flat land for farming. The terraces also helped to keep rainwater from running off. They reduced erosion. The government built raised aqueducts to carry water to farmlands for irrigation.

The Inca farmers grew more food than was needed. Some of their food was dried and stored in royal warehouses for times of war or famine.

Cities and Buildings

The Incas built the best planned cities in the ancient Americas. The Incas laid out their cities in a grid. Each city had a central plaza. That plaza was surrounded by public buildings and temples. A palace was built for visiting Sapa Incas. There was housing for priests and nobles. Houses were even built for the common people.

Most Incan cities did not have walls around them. Instead, the Incas built large stone fortresses near or beside their cities. In times of danger, people could run inside the fortress for protection. The rest of the time, the fortress housed some of the military. The military checked everyone coming in or out of the cities. The cities were very safe.

The Incas build beautiful cities. They liked their buildings to match the surrounding landscape. They used well-cut stone. The Incas were master builders. Buildings were constructed to last, and to survive natural disasters like earthquakes. Doorways and window niches sloped inwards slightly at the top. Roofs were also slanted. Incan buildings are amazing structures.

The architecture was formal yet simple. The Incas loved things made of gold and silver. But they also liked things to be simple. The outside doors leading in to their homes were often highly decorated. Inside, they had simple paintings on the walls and solid gold decorations throughout their homes.

 Inca Roads and Bridges  

Incan roads connected the vast empire: The Incas never invented the wheel. But in less than a hundred years, they built over 14,000 miles of road, much of which was paved. Some sections of road were over 15 feet wide. Some sections were so steep that the Incas built stone walls along the edge to prevent people from falling off cliffs.

Bridges: The Andes are sharp ragged mountains full of deep gorges.

  1. Suspension Bridges: The Incas built suspension bridges over the gorges using huge cables made of woven reed. If a bridge broke, local workers rushed to fix it, so that travel could continue unimpeded. The Incas built hundreds of bridges. Every other year, bridges were replaced.

  2. Pontoon Bridges: The Incas made pontoon bridges from reed boats to cross creeks and some rivers.

  3. Pulley Baskets: In places, they constructed pulley baskets - to use these, travelers would climb inside a basket which was then pulled to the other side of an especially deep gorge or to cross a river.

Who could use the roads? Common people could not use the roads. The roads belonged to the government. No one could travel the roads without special permission. The army used the roads to move quickly and easily to any point in the Incan Empire. The army could quickly stop rebellions or protect people from intruders. The army could bring supplies to victims of natural disasters. Young men ran along the roads carrying messages back to the capital. Llama trains collected food from the farms and moved it to the city and to storerooms along the road.

Storehouses: Storehouses stored food, clothing, and weapons for the military. Some of the storehouses were so huge that they could hold enough supplies and food for 25,000 men at a time. There were many storehouses along the roads.

Inns/Rest Houses: Rest houses were built every few miles. Travelers could spend the night, or cook a meal, or feed their llamas.

Road Signs: There were road signs every few miles.

Workers: As the Empire expanded, roads were quickly built to keep the Empire connected. First the engineers would go in and make sure the roads were properly laid out. Then the workers arrived. Building roads was one way farmers and common people could pay their "service tax" or labor tax.

The roads were very well built. Many of the Incan roads are still in use today.

Llama Legends

Llama Legends: The Incas never invented the wheel, so they had no wheeled vehicles. They did not have horses or cows. High in the Andes, the llama was a most important animal. The llama was used for transportation. It provided the Incas with wool and food. So it's understandable that many Incan legends and myths were about llamas.

Flood Story
(loosely based on an Incan myth)

At one time, people became very evil. They were so busy doing evil deeds that they neglected the gods. Only those in the high Andes mountains were honest and true.

One day, two brothers who lived in the high Andes mountains noticed their llamas were acting strangely. They asked the llamas why they were staring up at the sky. The llamas answered that they were told by the stars that a great flood was coming. The brothers believed the llamas. They moved their families and flocks into a cave they found on the highest mountain.

It began to rain. The rain continued for four months and four days. At last the rain stopped. The water receded. The brothers and their families repopulated the earth.

The llamas were most grateful to the stars for warning them about the flood. That is why llamas prefer to live on the mountain tops, safe from floods, and near their friends, the stars.

A little about llamas:

The llama is a member of the camel family. The llama is about four feet tall and four feet long and can weigh 300 pounds. They can travel long distances without needing water. They can carry light loads of not over 100 pounds. They can easily travel 6 miles a day over lumpy bumpy ground. On flat ground, the llama can run faster than a horse.

Llamas are herd creatures. They need to be with other llamas to be happy. Most llamas have big personalities. They are very loving and gentle. They do not like to be stared at. But then, who does? If you ever meet a llama, be sure and follow this simple rule of llama etiquette - don't stare - otherwise the llama might spit in your face.

Children of the Sun

Gods and Goddesses: The Incas were known as the "Children of the Sun". They worshiped gods of nature - the sun god, the god of thunder, Moon, rainbows, mountain tops, stars, planets, and many more. Like the ancient Greeks, the Incas believed the gods could intervene to help you or hinder you. To avoid problems, they worshiped all the gods every day.

Dreams, Omens, Signs: The Incas believed that the gods and their dead ancestors could communicate with them through dreams, omens, and other signs. The priests were very powerful because people believed they could read the signs. Priests saw signs everywhere. They could read signs in the flames of a fire, or in the way a plant grew.

Afterlife, Ancestor Worship, Mummies: Like the ancient Egyptians, the Incas believed in an afterlife. They mummified their dead. The family held a funeral for eight days. Women in mourning wore wore black clothes for about a year. They also cut their hair really short.

The bodies and tombs of the dead were carefully tended. The mummies of dead rulers remained in their palaces. These rulers were treated as if they were still alive. Servants brought them things. Their family consulted them for advice on daily affairs. On parade days and other special occasions, their mummies were carried through the streets.

Even the very poor mummified their dead. It was easy. They simply set the dead body out in the cold in above ground tombs. The Incas could enter and reenter these tombs, leaving gifts of food and belongings. They could also retrieve these gifts if needed.

Huacas: The Incas also worshiped huacas - sacred places or objects. Huacas were everywhere. A huaca could be a large building, or a tiny statue that fit in the palm of your hand. Every family said daily prayers to little family huacas. Priests performed daily ceremonies at the temples, offering prayers to the huacas in their care.

Festivals: Every month, the Incas held a major religious festival. Festivals were held outside. Games, songs, dancing, food, parades, and sacrifice (of animals usually) were all part of the festivities. If something special was happening, like the crowning of a new emperor or a drought, the Incas would include human sacrifice as part of the festival.

Expansion and Growth

As soon a new tribe was conquered, or voluntarily joined the Inca Empire, three things happened quickly:

  1. Engineers and workers began to build roads to connect the new province to the rest of the Empire.

  2. Government officials were sent to count the new wealth - how many people, how much gold and silver, how many vases - the count was very detailed.

  3. A governor was appointed to run the new territory.

Some of the conquered people were sent to join existing ayllus units in various parts of the Empire. If the government needed workers somewhere, some of the conquered people were sent to help out. People who were moved about often did not speak the language of the group they were joining. This pretty much wiped out all chance of rebellion.

All the new people had to follow the Inca ways. They had to speak the Inca language. They had to worship Inca gods. But, they could additionally follow their own religious customs.

The new territory was absorbed into the Inca Empire. The Empire continued to have a common language, a common government, and huge storages of food and goods available for use in times of need. It was an effective way of handling a rapidly expanding Empire.

Inventions and Achievements  

Inca Calendar: The Incan calendar was important to the ancient Incas for religious reasons. Each calendar month hosted a different religious festival. The Incan calendar was divided into 12 months. Each month was divided into 3 weeks. Each week had 10 days. The Incas used special towers called "time makers" that told them when a new month was beginning. Time makers used the position of the sun to mark the passage of time. Occasionally, time got off track a bit. When that happened, the Incas simply added a couple of days until the time makers were in line. This system resulted in a very accurate calendar.

Musical Instruments: The Incas loved music. They invented many wind and percussion instruments. Drums and flutes were very popular. The panpipe was the most popular. A panpipe is a group of single pipes tied together in a row. Each pipe in the row makes a different sound, and he pipes are arranged very carefully. Panpipes are still played in the Andes Mountains today.

Systems of Measurement/Quipus: Using a base of ten, the quipus had a main string about two feet long. Many additional colored strings were tied to the main string. Each string had knots in it. The color of the strings and the distance between knots all had meaning to the ancient Incas. The quipus allowed messages to be carried by the Inca runners from one end of the empire to the other. Some people believe the Incas could even tell stories with the intricate knots of the quipus. It took training to read the quipus. Only a few people could write and read their secret messages. To learn more, click here: The Incas wrote in string. 

Achievements important to the success of the Inca Empire:

  • Communication: (roads, runners)

  • Specialized Professions (engineers, metal workers, stone masons, other artisans)

  • Service Tax (huge free labor force)

  • Technology (terrace farming, surplus crops, irrigation systems)

  • Strong Central Government (all powerful Inca, strict laws, basic needs satisfied)

Recap of Inventions:

  • Terrace Farming

  • Freeze Dried Foods

  • Use of Gold and Silver

  • Marvelous Stonework

  • Wonderful Textiles

  • Aqueducts (the Incas were frequent bathers)

  • Hanging Bridges

  • Panpipes

  • Systems of Measurement (calendar, quipus)

Things they did NOT invent: The wheel, a system of writing

Civil War/Spanish Arrival
Fall of the Inca Empire

Civil War

In the mid-1500's CE, an Inca ruler died without first choosing an heir. This created an enormous problem. Two of his sons both wanted to be the next Sapa Inca. They were both qualified. One brother crowned himself Inca. But the other brother did not accept his rule. Civil war broke out in the Inca Empire. For five years, the brothers and their armies fought each other for the right to become the next Sapa Inca. Atahualpa finally won the war.

Spanish Arrival - Francisco Pizzaro

It was not long after this that the Spanish first arrived. The Spanish had heard about the fabled cities of gold from the conquered people who lived along fertile strips in the Coastal Desert. The Incas had little contact anyway with the Mayas and Aztecs, but war had kept them busy. They knew nothing about the Spanish conquest of other tribes in Mexico, to the north. To them, the Spanish were simply invaders. At any other time, the Inca probably would have ordered the immediate death of Francisco Pizzaro and his band of 167 men.

Unfortunately for the Incas, their new Sapa Inca, Atahualpa, flush with triumph, decided to allow the Spanish intruders safe passage. His plan was to kill some of the intruders and to keep others as slaves. Basically, he was amusing himself.

Once Pizarro left the Coastal Desert and entered the Inca Empire in the Andes Mountains, Pizarro knew right away that he was in trouble. The Incas were organized, militant, and numerous. Pizarro and his band of 167 men spent a nervous night, waiting for the arrival of the Sapa Inca, who was coming the next morning to officially greet them. They worked up a plan. Their plan was to kidnap the Sapa Inca, Atahualpa. The Spanish probably had little hope of success.

When Atahualpa visited them the next morning, he brought with him a small group of about 2000 priests and attendants. None were armed. He wore an emerald necklace. He was carried on his golden litter - the whole song and dance. It never occurred to him that the intruders might be a problem.

When Pizarro's men leaped from their hiding places, they grabbed the Sapa Inca. The priests and attendants did not know what to do. The Spanish killed most of them.

Once Atahualpa understood that the Spanish intruders wanted gold and silver - that's why they had come - they had heard about the fabulous Incan cities of gold - Atahualpa offered them a huge ransom for his safe release. He offered a room 22 feet long filled with gold and silver. The intruders could take the gold and silver and leave freely. Atahualpa kept his word. The Spanish did not. Once the gold was delivered, they killed the Sapa Inca and fled with as much gold as they could carry.

When they returned, they brought an army with them. It took the Spanish a few years to completely defeat all regions in the Empire. The Spanish took over as the harsh rulers of the Incan people.

Machu Picchu
The Forgotten City

The ancient city of Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911.  Archaeologists were so excited about finding the ruins of this city. Some believe it was a country estate. Some believe it was a religious retreat. Some believe it was a city high in the Andes mountains that was somehow overlooked by the Spanish. It was quite a find!

Explorers found ruins of temples, palaces, fortresses, and a royal tomb. They found remains of the stone aqueducts that brought water into the city from over a mile away. They found remains of terrace gardens, and homes for farmers, nobles, and priests. They found wonderful pottery.

They also found an Intihuatana. This was an exciting discovery. An Intihuatana was the ceremonial pyramid the Incas built to speak to their sun god.  Once, there were intihuatanas all over the Incan empire. But Machu Picchu is the only place one of these has been found intact. The rest were destroyed by the Spanish invaders. The carved rock at the top was used by Incan astronomers to predict the best times to plant crops. In Machu Picchu, the Intihuatana was angled and built so that people in the palace had ring side seats - from the palace, it would have been easy to see the ceremonies conducted on the very top of the Intihuatana.

Timeline of the Inca Empire


18,000 BCE - Early hunters and gatherers

5000-2000 BCE - Tribes begin farming the land

400 CE - Inca tribe first mention via myths and legends in Peru

1200 CE - City of Cuzco is formed. Manco Capac is the first ruler.

1400-1500 CE - Incas conquer other tribes. Expand Empire to 2500 miles long and about 500 miles wide

1525 CE - Civil War

1531 CE - Pizarro brings Spanish to the Inca Empire. He kills Emperor Atahualpa - the Inca ruler.

Today - Descendants of the ancient Incas still live in the modern day country of Peru in South America



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