The Incan Empire was an amazing empire of the early Americas. Their accomplishments rival those of many other great empires, but they were defeated by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in only a few years.
There were many different groups of people throughout South America. Most of them were tribal hunter/gatherers.
One group stood out above the rest as a great civilization: The Inca.
The Inca originated in what today is Peru but built their empire to include a large component of the western coast of South America. This region is in the heart of the Andes Mountains. The harsh, mountainous terrain made for some amazing architectural accomplishments and the development of amazing terraced fields know as step agriculture. This form of agriculture has been developed in other mountainous areas, like China's famous dragon back terraces. The accomplishment of the Inca was equally impressive!
Since around 1000 BCE there was development of tribal groups in Peru who began farming and over the centuries left great finds of carving, weaving, metal work and pottery.
One great example of an early Peruvian culture is the Nazca people. They are known for leaving the amazing Nazca Lines. The Nazca left these amazing images of birds, spiders and other designs in the desert as well as on their pottery.
The line of the Inca kings actually begins in the 12th century with Manco Capac, but what we know as the Inca Empire didn't really begin until a couple of centuries later when the Inca began conquering other peoples of the region under King Pachacutec. There are many differing stories about Pachacutec.
One common legend says that in 1430 (or around there), during a war with a neighboring tribe, Pachacutec's father and king was about to admit defeat in hope that his people would be spared the usual slaughter that followed anyone being conquered in the area.
When Pachacutec heard this he prayed to the gods to help him. The Inca had many gods, who they believed were perfectly willing meddle in the affairs of mortals. The legends say the gods decided to help. Pachacutec rallied the army, went into battle and won.
Pachacutec led the Incan army to victory and strengthened the civilization.
Pachacutec turned out to be an excellent leader. He crowned himself 'Inca' and replaced his father as ruler. The people he conquered were not killed. Instead they were invited to join the Inca Empire.
The Incan Army
The Inca Army was a real sight! Their uniforms were colorful. They entered battle accompanied by drums, flutes and trumpets. The army was well organized, healthy and well trained. They even had protective headgear and a lot of medicines. They were armed with superior weapons compared to all the other neighboring tribes. Their main weapon was a wooden club, but they also had spears, bows and other weapons as well!
The Inca were such a force that many just chose to sign onto the empire, instead of even trying to fight.
The Arrival of Pizarro
Around 1525, a civil war broke out for the Inca. There was a question of succession, and usually in these things, the two possible heirs began to fight it out. Atahualpa came out on top as emperor.
Directly following this civil war is when the Spanish arrive.
Francisco Pizarro had heard the stories of Inca wealth, so like any good conquistador, he wanted to go get some of that Inca gold!
The Inca had been so busy with their civil war that they hadn't even heard of Spanish conquests up north in Mexico… they really kept to their own empire usually, anyway.
The End of the Inca
Normally the Inca would have just had Pizarro and his group of around 150 men killed the second they arrived, but the new ruler, Atahualpa, thought it would be amusing to allow the Spanish to pass through. He thought it would be fun to just kill some of them, and maybe enslave some of them.
The Spanish kidnapped Atahualpa in a successful attempt to get gold.
When Pizarro and his men were waiting to meet with Atahualpa, they knew they had bitten off more than they could chew. The Inca were not disorganized primitives. They were a well-oiled military machine.
While waiting, Pizarro comes up with a plan. One they probably figured was a long shot…death was likely. They would kidnap Atahualpa and ransom him.
It worked. Atahualpa showed up with all kinds of majesty and fanfare, but he didn't bother with military. The 2,000 or so attendants and priests didn't know what to do, and most of them were killed when the Spanish jumped out and grabbed the emperor.
Atahualpa agreed to pay the ransom of a large room filled with gold, silver and riches.
Atahualpa kept his end of the deal….the Spanish did not. They killed the emperor and left with as much of the treasure as they could carry. The Spanish returned with a full army and took only a few years to completely defeat all of the empire. The Spanish were very harsh rulers of the Inca people.
From simple hunter gatherers, to farmers, to the great Incan Empire, it was all taken down by a wealth driven conquistador named Francisco Pizarro!
After watching this lesson, you should be able to:
- Understand civilizations in Peru prior to the start of the Incan Empire
- Identify King Pachacutec and describe the Incan Army
- Identify Francisco Pizarro and explain how he led to the end of the Incan Empire