The Inca Civilization and Pizarro: Pre-Columbian South America

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  • 0:06 Pre-Inca Civilizations
  • 1:12 Pachacutec, an Inca King
  • 2:20 The Incan Army
  • 2:54 The Arrival of…
  • 3:35 The Defeat of the Inca
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clint Hughes

Clint has taught History, Government, Speech Communications, and Drama. He has his master's degree in Instructional Design and Technology.

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.

Pre-Inca Civilizations

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 Portrait

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.

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