Inca Civilization

The Inca Empire or Inka Empire (Quechua: Tawantinsuyu) was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.The administrative, political and military center of the empire was located in Cusco in modern-day Peru. The Inca civilization arose from the highlands of Peru sometime in the early 13th century.

From 1438 to 1533, the Incas used a variety of methods, from conquest to peaceful assimilation, to incorporate a large portion of western South America, centered on the Andean mountain ranges, including, besides Peru, large parts of modern Ecuador, western and south central Bolivia, northwest Argentina, north and central Chile, and a small part of southern Colombia into a state comparable to the historical empires of Eurasia.

The official language of the empire was Quechua, although hundreds of local languages and dialects of Quechua were spoken. The Inca referred to their empire as Tawantinsuyu which can be translated as The Four Regions or The Four United Provinces.

There were many local forms of worship, most of them concerning local sacred "Huacas", but the Inca leadership encouraged the worship of Inti—the sun god—and imposed its sovereignty above other cults such as that of Pachamama. The Incas considered their King, the Sapa Inca, to be the "child of the sun."


The Inca referred to their empire as Tawantinsuyu, "four parts together". In Quechua, the term Tawantin is a group of four things (tawa "four" with the suffix -ntin which names a group). Suyu means "region" or "province". The empire was divided into four suyus, whose corners met at the capital, Cusco (Qosqo). The name Tawantinsuyu was, therefore, a descriptive term indicating a union of provinces. The Spanish transliterated the name as Tahuatinsuyo or Tahuatinsuyu which is often still used today.

The term Inka means ruler, or lord, in Quechua, and was used to refer to the ruling class or the ruling family in the empire. The Spanish adopted the term (transliterated as Inca in Spanish) as an ethnic term referring to all subjects of the empire rather than simply the ruling class. As such the name Imperio inca (Inca Empire) referred to the nation that they encountered, and subsequently conquered.


Andean civilization probably began c. 9500 BP. Based in the highlands of Peru, an area now referred to as the punas, the ancestors of the Incas probably began as a nomadic herding people. Geographical conditions resulted in a distinctive physical development characterized by a small stature and stocky build. Men averaged 1.57 m (5'2") and women averaged 1.45 m (4'9"). Because of the high altitudes, they had unique lung developments with almost one third greater capacity than other humans. The Incas had slower heart rates, blood volume of about 2 l (four pints) more than other humans, and double the amount of hemoglobin which transfers oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Archaeologists have found traces of permanent habitation as high as 5,300 m (17,400 ft) above sea level in the temperate zone of the high altiplanos. While the Conquistadors may have been a little taller, the Inca surely had the advantage of coping with the extraordinary altitude. It seems that civilizations in this area before the Inca have left no written record, and therefore the Inca seem to appear from nowhere, but the Inca were a product of the past. They borrowed architecture, ceramics, and their empire-state government from previous cultures.

In the Lake Titikaka region, Tiwanaku is recognized by Andean scholars as one of the most important precursors to the Inca Empire, flourishing as the ritual and administrative capital of a major state power for approximately 500 years.