Inca Timeline – Chronology of the Rise and Fall of the Inca Empire


The Inca timeline can be traced back to 1200 A.D., at which point the Inca tribe moved into the Cusco region. The Empire began its rapid expansion in the late 1430s; the Incas would dominate South America for the next century, pushing their boundaries ever further across the continent. However, this swift rise to power would be snuffed out by an even swifter fall.

Early Period Timeline – Inca Tribe and the Cusco Valley

The Inca tribe emerged in the Late Intermediate period of Peruvian archeological history. The Inca civilization was a relatively small tribe of the Peruvian altiplano (highlands) before rising to become the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.

– 900 to 1200 A.D. – The Killke culture occupies the Cusco valley region.
– 1150 to 1200 – The Inca tribe settles in the Cusco region.
– c.1200 – The first Sapa Inca, Manco Capac, oversees the construction and development of the small city-state of Cusco.
– 1200 to 1400 – The Incas maintain a tribal boundary within the Cusco valley but do not aggressively expand their territory.

Expansion of the Inca Empire

By the early 1400s, the Incas had absorbed or defeated various rival tribes within the Cusco region. They struck up a tactical alliance with the Lupaca, a relatively powerful society from the Lake Titicaca region. This alliance helped to guard against attacks from the south-east. However, it was an attack from the north that would ultimately change the course of the Inca Empire.

1438 – The Chanca tribe attacks the city of Cusco from the north. The current Inca ruler, Viracocha Inca, flees the city with his son and heir to the throne, Inca Urcon. Viracocha’s other son, Inca Yupanqui, stays in Cusco to offer a last-ditch defense of the city.

1438 to 1463 – Inca Yupanqui leads a heroic and successful defense of the city. He takes control of the Empire and becomes known as Pachacuti (Pachacutec). He begins a period of rapid territorial expansion while reorganizing the governmental system. The Inca civilization develops into the Tahuantinsuyu Empire.

1463 – Control of the army is given to Pachacuti’s son, Túpac Inca Yupanqui (Topa Inca). Túpac Inca further expands the boundaries of the Inca Empire, pushing up into Ecuador after having already secured much of central and northern Peru.

1471 – Túpac Inca becomes king upon the death of his father. He pushes south into Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.

1493 – Huayna Cápac, Túpac Inca’s son, becomes king. He further expands the Inca Empire over the following 30 years.

Inca Civil War and the Fall of the Inca Empire

With the Inca Empire at the height of its powers, further expansion looked inevitable. However, the Spanish had arrived further north in Aztec territory, bringing with them a smallpox epidemic that would sweep through the Inca lands before the Conquistadors had even stepped foot upon Inca soil.

1527 – Huayna Cápac dies, quite probably from the smallpox epidemic that had been unleashed upon the New World after the arrival of the Spanish in Aztec territory. The population of Cusco is devastated by the epidemic; worse still, Huayna Cápac had failed to name an heir before his death, resulting in 5 years of civil war between his two sons, Huáscar and Atahualpa.

1532 – Atahualpa proves himself to be the superior commander, finally defeating Huáscar’s forces in 1532. As the civil war finishes, the Spanish arrive on the north coast of Peru. Francisco Pizarro and his Conquistadors capture Atahualpa in Cajamarca; the Inca ruler is then ransomed before being killed. Manco Inca, Atahualpa’s brother, is installed as a puppet ruler by the Spaniards.

1533 – The Spaniards capture the Inca stronghold of Cusco.

1536 to 1537 – Manco Inca leads a rebellion against the Spaniards, laying siege to Cusco. Despite victory over the Spanish forces in the Battle of Ollantaytambo, Manco Inca is soon forced to flee upon the arrival of Spanish reinforcements.

1537 – Manco Inca takes refuge in the isolated region of Vilcabamba where the remnants of the Inca Empire form an independent stronghold.

1572 – The Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire is completed with the fall of the last Inca stronghold. Túpac Amaru, son of Manco Inca and the last ruler of the Inca Empire, is captured and executed in 1572.

With the death of Túpac Amaru, the Inca Empire was effectively destroyed as a political entity. Many uprisings were to follow, but the Spanish had taken full control of Peru and the Inca heartlands.