Incas, an Indian people of South America. Long before the voyages of Columbus, their empire, centered in Peru, was remarkable for its organization and culture. The word Inca, properly the title of the emperors, was eventually applied to the people as a whole. Their descendants, the Quechua Indians, now make up most of the rural population of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and parts of Argentina.

The Inca EmpireThe Inca Empire stretched 3,000 miles along the coast of South America.

At its height the Inca empire stretched for some 3,000 miles (4,800 km) from present-day Colombia along the Pacific coast through Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia into Chile. The capital and sacred city was Cuzco, high in the Andes Mountains of central Peru.

How the Incas Lived

The Incas worshiped the sun god, Inti.His chief temple, the Temple of the Sun, was radiant with the immense amount of gold, silver, and jewels used to decorate it. It also contained chambers sacred to the moon, the stars, and the rainbow.

The Inca emperor, believed to be descended directly from the sun god, had absolute power. He ruled the empire as the paternal dictator of a communistic society in which all land belonged to the government and money was unknown and not needed.

Inca emperorsInca emperors were treated as earthly gods.

The common people were organized into groups ranging from a unit of 10 families to subdivisions numbering 10,000 households. The farmers, miners, builders, and other members of the laboring classes were required to work a specified number of days each year. Seed, tools, clothing, and food were distributed by the government, which also provided for those unable to work.

The Incas spoke the Quechua language. In place of writing, they used the quipu.This device, which they invented, consisted of cords of different lengths and colors which, by the arrangement of knots, recorded accounts and events.

The Incas were advanced farmers. They were the first to cultivate the Irish potato and many other food plants. They terraced mountain slopes to conserve soil, used fertilizer, and constructed networks of canals and ditches to irrigate their fields. They also domesticated the llama and alpaca for their wool.

Inca builders erected temples and strongholds using blocks of granite, some of which weighed 100 tons. The stones were cut with such precision that mortar was not needed to hold them in place. Cities were connected by roads for foot travelers; the roads were paved, cut through rock, or carried over mountain gorges by rope bridges.

Bone flutes and other musical instruments have been found with the mummified bodies of the Incas. The skill of Inca craftsmen is seen in their gold and silver ornaments, copper and bronze utensils, hand-woven textiles, and pottery.


The Incas were a small tribe in the Andean mountains near Lake Titicaca when, in about 1250 A.D., they conquered Cuzco. By the early 15th century, they had conquered all the neighboring tribes and built an empire. During the latter part of the 15th century, the Inca Empire expanded greatly by bringing under its rule much of what is now Peru, Ecuador, and northern Chile. The death of an emperor in 1527 led to a succession conflict that made it easier for Spaniards under Francisco Pizarro to capture the capital (153233). Pizarro's followers looted the empire and crushed a series of Inca uprisings.