The Incas: Facts and Figures

The Inca Empire at its greatest extent

At its height, the Inca Empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. In terms of both population and geographical extent, the Inca Empire was comparable to, if not greater than, many contemporaneous European powers.

Facts About the Inca Empire

  • Name: Tawantinsuyu (variously translated as “The Four Parts Together” or “Land of Four Quarters”).
  • Inca population: Between 6 and 14 million at its height.
  • Capital: Cusco.
  • Administrative Regions: Anti Suyu (northeast), Chinchay Suyu (northwest), Qulla Suyu (southeast) and Kunti Suyu (southwest).
  • Geographic Extent: Much of Peru and Ecuador, southern and western Bolivia, central and northern Chile, the northwest of Argentina and southern Colombia.
  • Type of government: Monarchy (rulers of the Tawantinsuyu went by the title Sapa Inca).
  • Religion: Polytheistic (a large number of deities occupying three Inca realms, Hanan Pacha, Kay Pacha & Uku Pacha).
  • Official language: Quechua (various other languages were spoken throughout Tawantinsuyu, including Aymara and Puquina).
  • Record keeping: Quipu (the Inca had no written language).
  • Transport and communication: The Incas had not developed the wheel and had no horses. Extensive road systems and waypoints were built to allow armies and runners to move relatively quickly on foot.
  • Rise: The Inca timeline can be traced back to at least c.1200 A.D. The Tawantinsuyu was formed in 1438 under Inca Yupanqui (Pachacuti).
  • Fall: Cusco fell in 1533. Túpac Amaru, the last Sapa Inca, was captured and executed in 1572.

The Incas – Facts About Daily Life

At its height, the Inca Empire covered a vast expanse of territory. Distinct geographic and climatic regions created a diverse mix of cultures and traditions, and daily life could be quite different from one region to the next:

  • Food: Inca food was based heavily around vegetables and grains, with limited livestock (no cattle or sheep, for example). Maize, potatoes and manioc were of particular importance.
  • Clothing: Inca clothing varied between climatic regions with heavier woolen items worn in the colder highlands and lighter cloth used in the warmer lowland regions. Clothing was also a sign of status, and laws were in place to control the wearing of fine items.
  • Tools: Tools made of wood, stone and animal bone were used for farming and domestic purposes. Some Inca farming tools are still used in parts of South America today.
  • Art: The Incas produced high quality ceramics portraying various subjects including animals, natural features and scenes from daily life. Also gold and silver items of very high quality, most of which were melted down by the Spanish Conquistadors.
  • Architecture: Stonemasonry was of a very high standard, the most famous examples being found in the walls of Machu Picchu.
  • Medicine: Various herbs were used for medicinal purposes. The Incas also developed surprisingly successful skull surgery procedures. Trepanning, the process of drilling into the skull, was used to cure cranial injuries and infections.

Facts About Inca Warfare

Inca expansion was carried out through diplomatic channels where possible, but military power certainly added weight to any diplomatic negotiations. When force was necessary in order to absorb a rival tribe, the Inca army could be deployed quickly and effectively:

  • Military capability: According to Ian Heath, the Inca Empire “could raise at least 100,000 men without putting any undue strain on its resources” (Armies of the 16th Century, Foundry Books, 1999).
  • Organization: The Inca army was ordered on a decimal basis. Troops were organized into groups of 10, 50, 100, 1,000, 2,500 and 5,000 men.
  • Warriors: All young Inca men were trained in warfare. Inca warriors were disciplined and cowardice was punishable by death.
  • Weapons: Long-range Inca weapons consisted primarily of slings, spear throwers and the bow and arrow. Close-range weapons included wooden clubs, spears and battle-axes.
  • Tactics: Due to the absence of cavalry, Inca tactics relied solely upon foot soldiers. Long-range weaponry was used to pepper enemy formations before a massed charge at the enemy center. Reserved troops would then be used to attack the enemy flanks.