Incan Army: History & Practices

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  • 0:01 The Inca Empire
  • 1:18 Incan Soldiers
  • 3:16 Battle Gear
  • 5:22 Battle Campaigns
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lucia Reyes
In this lesson, you will learn about the Inca Army through the eyes of a soldier, one of the 200,000 well-trained warriors tasked with defending and expanding South America's mighty Inca Empire.

The Inca Empire

The Inca Empire formed along South America's Western coast around the 14th century CE. At its height, it encompassed approximately 12 million people and incorporated portions of modern day Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

An emperor, known as the Sapa Inca, ruled from the capital city of Cuzco, which sits in a valley amidst the Andes Mountains. The Inca may not have developed a writing system, but they had successful agricultural practices, an advanced system of roads, and a complex government. They were known for their colorful textiles and crafts made of gold.

Although the Inca's impressive army helped them build and maintain their vast empire, it was no match against the invading Spanish, who arrived in 1532 CE and eventually brought the Inca to their demise. In this lesson, you'll learn about the Inca army from the perspective of one of its soldiers. Although he isn't based on a specific person in history, his narrative is filled with factual and interesting details about the Inca army.

Incan Soldiers

I am Huallpa Atoc. I am a soldier of the mighty Inca Empire. I will teach you about the history, structure, and practices of our army. Our army is undefeatable. We come together, 200,000 warriors, to protect and defend the sovereignty of the Inca Empire. We expand our borders by conquering surrounding territories, adding to the power of the Sapa Inca. Sometimes we are called to quell rebellions or respond to coups against our emperor.

I am 28 years old now. I was drafted into the army at age 25. Soldiers serve six or seven years before they can return home. Men of noble blood, such as myself, see this as our duty and honor. To be a professional soldier is to maintain a high status within Inca society. Soldiers are given food, clothing, and gifts, such as coca or jewelry of the finest gold. When I am away at war, my family is provided for. Even hatun runas, or commoners, consider joining the army an honor. It is their chance to rise in social status.

No longer are we an army of peasant soldiers, as were our ancestors who united to defend their villages. As our empire grew, so did our army. Now we are extremely organized and disciplined, led by only the worthiest professional officers, called Apusquispay. Potential officers have to pass tests of speed, marksmanship, and combat skills in the Huarachicuy Festival. Sometimes they even test endurance by determining who can stay awake the longest. My unit commander stayed awake for an impressive four days!

Battle Gear

The Incan Army is composed of men from all over the Inca Empire. These men are organized into units based on their ethnic group. I come from Cuzco. Others are from Quito or from the coast, or even from the jungle. Our fleece tunics bear specific colors and insignia of our region, decorated with animal skins and feathers. Our leather sandals carry us for miles.

We wear fringes of wool tied on our biceps and below our knees and ankles to strengthen our limbs. We pack our belongings on our llamas, which can carry up to 70 pounds on their backs. In addition, our cloaks made of llama wool keep us warm and their meat keeps our stomachs full.

Sometimes what we wear indicates status. High-ranking noble officers wear a disc of bronze, gold, or silver on their chest. As a noble, I don earplugs and a feathered helmet bearing the symbol of Inti, our Sun God. Also, only nobles are allowed to wear gold.

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