INCA (Quechua inka, "king" or "prince"), name applied by the Spanish to a Quechuan-speaking Indian people who established an extensive Andean empire in South America shortly before the conquest of the New World by Europeans. The name also applies to each supreme ruler of that empire and, broadly, to all subject peoples of the Incan Empire. SeeQUECHUA.
The Inca were originally a small warlike tribe inhabiting the south highland region of the Cordillera Central in Peru. About AD 1100 they began to move into the valley of Cuzco, where, for roughly the next 300 years, they raided and, whenever possible, imposed tribute on neighboring peoples. Until the middle of the 15th century, however, the Inca undertook no major imperialistic expansion orpolitical consolidation, their farthest advance prior to this time apparently being southward about 32 km (about 20 mi) from Cuzco in the reign of the sixth ruler, Inca Roca (fl. late 14th cent.).
The first Inca to undertake a truly imperialist campaign was the eighth ruler, Viracocha Inca (fl. early 15th cent.), who, late in his reign, extended the empire about 40 km (about 25 mi) around Cuzco.Thereafter, in a period of about 30 years, the Incan domain was systematically enlarged and unified more than a thousandfold by two remarkable men. The first was Viracocha’s son, Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (c. 1391–1471), ranked by some historians with the greatest conquerors and rulers of all time; the second was Pachacuti’s equally capable son, Topa Inca Yupanqui (c. 1420–93). The empire reachedits greatest extent, however, in the reign (c. 1493–1525) of Topa’s son, Huayna Capac. At this time Inca controlled territory stretched more than 3023 km (more than 2500 mi) north to south; from east to west it extended about 805 km (about 500 mi); and it encompassed an area roughly equal in size to the present-day Atlantic Coast states of the U.S. Scholars estimate that between 3.5 million to 16million Indians of varying tribal backgrounds inhabited this immense region.
The death of Huayna Capac in 1525, before he could name his successor, divided the empire. Two of his sons, the half brothers Huáscar and Atahualpa, each desired the throne, and the ensuing bitter struggle between them, which ended in 1532 with the capture of Huáscar, seriously weakened the empire. At this critical momentthe Spanish adventurer and explorer Francisco Pizarro arrived on the coast with firearms and a force of about 180 men. Unopposed by the Inca, who assumed the fair-skinned Spaniards were returning Incan demigods, Pizarro and his tiny band gained control of the vast, highly centralized Incan state simply by making Atahualpa, its head, a prisoner in his own house. Now fearful that Pizarro woulddepose him in favor of Huáscar, Atahualpa ordered his former rival executed. Next he offered the Spaniards a roomful of gold as the price of his ransom. On Aug. 29, 1533, even as an extensive store of gold ornaments was being amassed from all parts of the empire, Pizarro had Atahualpa strangled to death.
Pizarro then allowed Manco Capac (1500?–44), a brother of Huáscar, to assume the throne. Severalyears later, though, Manco led a revolt against the Spaniards; he was defeated, forced to take refuge in the mountains, and there assassinated by fellow refugees. By now the empire was fast disintegrating. The last pretender to the Inca throne, Tupac Amaru (c. 1540–72), youngest son of Manco Capac and last of the male line, was beheaded by the Spaniards; with his death Incan history becomes partof the history of Peru. At the height of their power the Inca achieved a political and governmental system unsurpassed by any other Indian nation of the western hemisphere. The Incan state, an agriculturally based theocracy rigidly organized along socialistic lines, was dominated by the all-powerful, semidivine Inca. Beneath the Inca, in descending order of rank and power, were the royal family...