The Inca state in Peru was founded in the 13th century AD, but until the Chanca invasion of 1438 AD had been only one of several Quechua tribes. Others now deserted the Chanca to join them. Pachacutic, the 9th Inca, now incorporated all Quechua into a reorganised state with his original tribesmen as its aristocracy, subjugated the Chanca, then launched an aggressive expansion culminating with the conquest of the coastal Chimu empire in 1464.
The Inca state was highly regimented, the whole populace being issued with standard clothing from storehouses and forbidden to embellish it. The army consisted of 4 large regular regiments, supported by local militia and unassimilated subject contingents. Inca regulars are mostly depicted with a short spear decorated with feathers along its shaft’s whole length, club, sling, small shield and cotton armour. Earlier unassimilated Quechua were probably armed in much the same way. The classification as Auxilia is because even today they are described always moving at a “light footed shuffling trot”, walking only when drunk! The militia are described as “hordes adding little to the strength of the army”. Mountain subject tribes were issued with bronze-edged chonta wooden swords as a side arm and Equadorians like the Canari added atlatl dart-throwers. Colla used the bolas and are classed as Psiloi (X) due to its effect on horses. The only bowmen were Amazon forest tribesmen
As the empire expanded, the land that came under the Sapa Inca’s rule came to be called the Land of the Four Quarters, or Tahuantinsuyu. The quarters-Chichaysuyu (north), Antisuyu (east), Collasuyu (south), and Cuntisuyu (west)-were distinctly different in region, climate, earlier civilizations, and agriculture. At the heart of the empire stood Cuzco, the capital of the government and the religion. In the land of the Incas, all roads led to Cuzco. The Inca Empire changed its borders under various Sapa Incas, but always had its heart in the Andes Mountains of South America.
The story of how Cusi Yupanqui became the military leader of the Inca army, defeated the Chanca, and claimed the title Sapa Inca actually began with a vision. According to the writings of Spanish priest Bernabé Cobo, the sun god Inti spoke to young Cusi Yupanqui, saying, “Come here, my child, have no fear, for I am your father the sun. I know that you will subjugate [conquer] many nations and take great care to honor me and remember me in your sacrifices.”
The sun god then presented images of the lands and people Cusi Yupanqui would conquer. Cusi Yupanqui lived in a time and culture where such visions were taken seriously. As events unfolded, he was able to turn his vision into reality.
According to the cronistas (soldiers, clerks, and priests who wrote detailed accounts of the history, customs, and daily lives of Inca citizens), the legend began as follows: In 1438, Cuzco came under attack from the Chancas, a violent, warlike culture much feared by the Incas. To escape capture and possible torture, the Sapa Inca, Huiracocha, and his son and heir, Urco Inca, fled to a stronghold in the Andes Mountains. This left younger son Cusi Yupanqui to defend the empire.
At this point, fact and fiction mingle. As the Chancas prepared their attack, Cusi Yupanqui dressed in the skins of a puma (an animal the Inca revered for its strength and cunning). Cusi Yupanqui led his soldiers against the Chanca and, as the legend goes, the sun god Inti caused the stones on the battlefield to rise as warriors and assist Cusi Yupanqui in defeating the dreaded Chancas.
The young warrior saved Cuzco from defeat, then forced his father to step down as ruler. After casting aside his cowardly brother, Cusi Yupanqui declared himself Sapa Inca. From that time on he was called Pachacuti-the earthshaker.
INCA MILITARY MIGHT
One of Pachacuti’s first projects was a military campaign to expand the empire. He had inherited a well-disciplined and experienced army. Every adult male between ages 25 to 50 had military training, and part of the ritual of manhood included getting weapons of war as gifts and learning how to use them. A well-equipped warrior wore padded cloth armor and a helmet, and carried a spear, a mace (a heavy club with a metal head studded with spikes), a slingshot, and a shield.
The military was organized in a similar way to a modern army. The Incas based their military structure on units of 10. A troop of 10 men had a troop leader, like today’s corporal. Five troops of 10 had an officer similar to a sergeant, and units increased accordingly.
Officers oversaw groups of 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 warriors. The Sapa Inca was commander in chief of the army, just as the president of the United States is today. Although most officers were appointed nobles, the military was one area in which commoners could rise through the ranks. An outstanding warrior was rewarded, regardless of his position in society.
The Incas recognized the value of a continuous chain of supplies for military operations. Roads stretched to the edges of the Inca Empire, and along the roads were storehouses from which the soldiers were fed, clothed, and armed. In addition, llamas followed the army in caravans, carrying additional supplies the warriors might need.
Military strategy was simple: The Inca forces were divided into three groups. The first group attacked from the front while the other two groups circled to attack the rear flanks (sides). If the enemy retreated to a fortress, the Incas cut off all their water, food supplies, and communications-a military strategy called “laying siege.”
According to Albert Marrin in his book Inca and Spaniard: Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru, “The Inca approached the enemy in mass formations thousands strong. As they came within earshot, they set up an earsplitting racket; noise boosted their own courage and made the enemy jittery. Warriors blew conch-shell trumpets and bone whistles. They shook gourd rattles and beat drums covered with human skin. Men danced wildly, whirling, jumping, shouting. They boasted of their courage and jeered at the enemy as cowards. Some units bellowed this bloodcurdling chant:
We’ll drink chicha [beer] from your skull
From your teeth we’ll make a necklace
From your bones, flutes
From your skin we’ll make a drum
And then we’ll dance.
Many enemies gave up before the fighting had even begun. In battle, the Inca army lined up according to which weapon they carried. The first row were skilled with the slingshot and attacked opponents by throwing their smooth stones. Then came the common warriors with spears, and stone or metal clubs, and nobles armed with sharp battleaxes made of copper.
As new cultures were conquered, the Incas added the weapons of those cultures to their army. Bolas (ropes with three stones attached) were one such addition. When the bolas were spun around, then hurled, the stones encircled the arms or legs of an enemy, literally tying him up. Another welcome addition was the bow and arrow. The Incas had no archery skills, but their subjects from the Amazon region achieved such great accuracy with bows and arrows that they could shoot birds in flight.
As Sapa Inca and commander in chief of the military, Pachacuti declared that destruction in conquest was unacceptable. He prohibited his soldiers from destroying towns, massacring the enemy, or burning crops. Instead, as he took over an area, Pachacuti enlarged the Inca labor force with farmers, soldiers, artisans, and experienced leaders.
Defeated cultures that declared loyalty to Pachacuti were immediately integrated into the Inca civil system. Those who remained hostile met a brutal fate: Their skulls became drinking vessels, their skins were stretched over military drums, and their bones were carved into flutes.
The Sapa Inca approached every conquest by extending a hand of friendship and offering a caravan laden with gifts. His open diplomacy encouraged acceptance of Inca rule while reducing the costs in lives and supplies consumed by major battles. Pachacuti offered gifts of gold and cloth, and guaranteed peace to those who swore their loyalty to the Inca Empire. Not surprisingly, less powerful cultures chose to join the empire rather than die.
In 1463, Pachacuti decided to concentrate on administering his now vast empire. He named his son, Tupac Yupanqui, as the new commander in chief of the military. For more than four decades, father, son, and grandson, Huayna Capac, enlarged the Inca Empire until it stretched roughly 3,400 miles north to south along the Andes. The Incas controlled all the land from the Pacific Ocean to the eastern foothills of the Andes and the Amazon rainforest.
Pachacuti was a dictator, but he was also a caring ruler. He understood the need for defeated people to keep their dignity and heritage intact, because otherwise they would become rebellious. He appreciated certain basic needs of people-food, clothing, and shelter-and the civil administration of Pachacuti’s reign made sure all citizens had these basics.
However, Pachacuti was not simply an idealist. Many of his ideas about government came from his understanding of how a ruler maintains control over a great number of conquered people. One way to avoid rebellion was by bringing a conquered culture’s principal idols (images of their gods) to the Coricancha, the central temple in Cuzco, which replaced the Intihuasi.
Pachacuti claimed he honored these gods, and in fact, the Incas occasionally accepted new gods into their own beliefs. However, moving the idols of these gods to Cuzco was a symbol that the defeated culture’s beliefs were captive. In war, armies brought idols of their primary gods into battle as a safeguard against the enemy. These idols were not merely images, but were believed to have the power of the god they represented. Thus, an army automatically lost the battle when its idol was captured. Once Pachacuti held a culture’s idols in Cuzco, its people would not dare rebel, because Pachacuti would order the idols to be destroyed.
In the same way, Pachacuti ensured loyalty among the leaders of a conquered culture by providing the leaders’ sons with an education. The former leaders continued to govern their people while their sons went to Cuzco to study and learn Inca customs. Education ensured an excellent future for the heirs, and also made sure they came to value Inca culture. The sons were also hostages of Pachacuti, who would not have hesitated to execute them if their fathers rebelled.