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7th Grade Social Studies / Lesson 12 - The World of the Incas

What will we be learning in this unit?
  • How did Incan emperors extend and maintain their empire?
  • How did the Incas live?


The Incan Empire
  • Pachacuti, a skilled warrior and leader, was the founder of the Incan empire. In 1438, he proclaimed himself Sapa Inca, or emperor, and set out on a policy of conquest. From a small kingdom in the high mountain valley of Cuzco, he came to dominate an immense empire. Once he had subdued neighboring peoples, he enlisted them in his armies for future campaigns. In this way, he and his son extended Incan rule from Ecuador in the north to Chile in the south.


The Incan Empire
  • The Sapa Inca exercised absolute power over the empire. Claiming that he was divine, the son of the sun itself, he was also the chief religious leader. Like the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, the Incan god-king owned all the land, herds, mines, and people. Gold, the "sweat of the sun," was his symbol. He lived in splendor, eating from golden plates and dressing in richly embroidered clothes. In fact, the Sapa Inca never wore the same royal garments twice. His queen, the Coya, carried out important religious duties and sometimes governed when the Sapa Inca was absent.
  • From Cuzco, the Incas ran an efficient government with a chain of command reaching into every village. Nobles ruled the provinces along with local chieftains whom the Incas had conquered. Below them, officials carried out the day-to-day business of collecting taxes and enforcing laws. Specially trained officials kept records on a quipu, a collection of knotted, colored strings. Modern scholars think that quipus noted dates and events as well as statistics on population and crops.


The Incan Empire
  • To unite their empire, the Incas imposed their own language, Quechua, and religion on the people. They also created one of the great road systems of history. It wound more than 12,000 miles through mountains and deserts. Hundreds of bridges spanned rivers and deep gorges. Steps were cut into steep slopes and tunnels dug through hillsides. Even more impressive than the roads that united the Roman empire, the Incan road system was unmatched until modern times.
  • The roads allowed armies and news to move rapidly throughout the empire. At regular stations, runners waited to carry messages. Relays of runners could carry news of a revolt swiftly from a distant province to the capital. The Incas kept soldiers at outposts throughout the empire. Within days of an uprising, they would be on the move to crush the rebels. Ordinary people, though, were restricted from using the roads at all.


The Incan Empire
  • All roads led through Cuzco. The population was made up of representatives of all the peoples of the empire, each living in a particular part of the city. They wore regional costumes and practiced traditional crafts. In the heart of the city stood the great Temple of the Sun, its interior walls lined with gold. Like Incan palaces and forts, the temple was made of enormous stone blocks, each polished and carved to fit exactly in place. The engineering was so precise that, although no mortar was used to hold the stones together, Incan buildings have survived severe earthquakes.


   Daily Life
  • The Incas strictly regulated the lives of millions of people within their empire. People lived in close-knit communities, called ayllus. Leaders of each ayllu carried out government orders, assigning jobs to each family and organizing the community to work the land. Government officials arranged marriages to ensure that men and women were settled at a certain age.


  Daily Life
  • Farmers expanded the step terraces built by earlier peoples. On steep hillsides, they carved out strips of land to be held in place by stone walls. These terraces kept rains from washing away the soil and made farming possible in places where flat land was scarce. 
  • Farmers had to spend part of each year working land for the emperor and the temples as well as for their own communities. All land belonged to the Inca, but cultivation and crops were allotted to specific groups of people or for particular purposes. The government took possession of each harvest, dividing it among the people and storing part of it in case of famine.


Daily Life
  • The Incas were the best metalworkers in the Americas. They learned to work and alloy, or blend, copper, tin, bronze, silver, and gold. While they employed copper and bronze for useful objects, they used precious metals for statues of gods and goddesses, eating utensils for the aristocracy, and decorations.


Daily Life

  • The Incas developed some important medical practices, including surgery on the human skull. In such operations, they first cleaned the operating area and then made the patient unconscious with a drug-procedures much closer to the use of modern antiseptics and anesthesia than anything practiced in Europe at that time.

 


Daily Life
  • Like other early peoples, the Incas were polytheistic, worshiping many gods linked to the forces of nature. People offered food, clothing, and drink to the guardian spirits of the home and the village. Religion was tied to the routines of life. Each month had its own festival, from the great ripening and the dance of the young maize to the festival of the water. Festivals were celebrated with ceremonies, sports, and games. A powerful class of priests served the gods, celebrating their special festivals and tending to their needs. 
  • Chief among the gods was Inti, the sun god. His special attendants, the "Chosen Women," were selected from each region of the empire. During years of training, they studied the mysteries of the religion, learned to prepare ritual food and drink, and made the elaborate wool garments worn by the Sapa Inca and the Coya. At the end of their training, most of the Chosen Women continued to serve the sun god. Others, however, joined the Inca's court or married nobles. 


Looking Ahead
  • At its height, the Incan civilization, like those of Middle America, was a center of learning and political power. Then, in 1525, the emperor Huayna Capac died suddenly of an unknown plague that swept across the land. As he had not named a successor, civil war broke out between two of his sons. The fighting weakened the empire at a crucial moment. Like the Aztecs to the north, the Incas soon faced an even greater threat from Spanish invaders.