American Indian empire dating from 1438 to 1532, in the Andean region of South America, with its capital at Cuzco. At its height it extended 2,000 miles along the western coast along the Andes Mountains from S Colombia to central Chile. The Incas had neither wheeled vehicles nor writing; their quipu was a stringed counting device. Their tools were of copper, bronze, and stone, and their agricultural implements were primitive, yet they excelled in engineering, communications, warfare, and administration and controlled their huge empire through a personal, highly centralized administration under a god-emperor, the Sapa Inca. This actually facilitated their conquest by Spain, for when Francisco Pizarro with 150 Spanish captured and killed Emperor Atahualpa, the empire fell apart. In 10 years Inca civilization was virtually destroyed.
The Inca Empire was built on the cultural achievements of its many predecessors, dating back to approximately 1000 b.c. Among these were the Chimu, Mochica, Tiahuanaco, Huari, and Chincha. In Inca legend the founder was Manco Capac. The actual Incas formed one of the smallest of a number of states struggling for power in the southern Andes from c. a.d. 1200 to 1440. One by one the Incas subdued the neighboring states until, under Emperor Pachacuti and his son Topa, the pace of conquest quickened from c. 1440 to 1490. The powerful kingdom of Chimu in the central Andes was subdued, and under Huayna Capac, who conquered Quito, the empire reached its greatest extent. A civil war between his sons, Huascar and Atahualpa, ended with the latter’s triumph just as Pizarro landed on the coast of Peru.
From Cuzco, with its massive stone palaces, its sun temple with gold-sheathed gateways, its great fortress of Sacsahuaman, the Sapa Inca ruled as a god over many provinces, all linked to the capital by a network of roads over which chasqui runners sped with royal commands or llamas carried goods. Inca power was imposed on the provinces and ayllus, or local communities, by members of the royal family and a wider administrative class of Incas-by-privilege, who exacted from their areas tribute for Cuzco and labor quotas for public works. A small standing army, often enlarged by drafts from the ayllus, kept order
and carried out conquests; otherwise, provincial customs and religions were left undisturbed.
In each province the focus of government was the Inca new town, like Machu Picchu, or former capitals like the great Chimu city of Chan Chan. When a new province was conquered it was first surveyed and a census taken, then plans were drawn up for the irrigation projects and land improvements that made the land so fruitful. Populations were shifted around at need.
The Incas were superb engineers, adept at terracing and water control, the building of canals and road systems, sometimes with suspension bridges. Their major buildings were constructed with huge polygonal stones precisely fitted together without mortar. The end of Inca rule came swiftly. By 1580, despite spirited resistance and a rebellion in 1536–37, Spanish control was complete.