About 500 years before the coming of the Spaniards is the date generally assigned to the institution of the great Inca Empire.
Manco Capac and his spouse, Mama Oello Huaco, then descended from the heights of the Andes and established themselves on the island of Titicaca. They claimed to be heavenly messengers from the court of the Sun, the great God of the Indians. The word Inca means Child of the Sun. The people received them with open arms, and they became all-powerful. Then little by little they extended their empire till it comprehended not only Peru but Quito also.
This vast dominion they administered in a manner that compels admiration. Proper cultivation of the land was insisted on, and, because the chief need was moisture, the rivers were diverted by means of aqueducts. Terraces were cut out of the mountain sides to carry these irrigating canals, and walls were constructed to keep the water from escaping.
Eventually they built Cuzco, which was looked upon as the capital of the empire and regarded with special veneration. Here may yet be seen the remains of the great Temple of the Sun. 20,000 men, it is said, were employed for fifty years on this magnificent structure. Manco Capac’s successors were deeply imbued with his wise ideas and under their fostering care the empire prospered exceedingly.
In the middle of the fifteenth century Topa Yupanqui, 11th Inca, grandfather of Atahualpa, led his armies across the desert of Atacama and extended the Inca Empire to the banks of the river Maule. His son, Huayna Capac, the best and most famous of the Inca chiefs, founded Quito.
One lawful wife, his Coya, or Queen, was permitted to the reigning monarch, and the sceptre descended to the issue of this union, but his entourage also included many concubines. As the representative of the Sun, the Emperor was also considered the Head of the Priesthood. He wore robes woven of vicuña wool and richly ornamented with emeralds. The court etiquette was very strict, not even the proudest noble being permitted to enter the Imperial presence without first removing his sandals. He had, in addition, to shoulder a burden in token of homage.
The Emperor used to travel sumptuously when he moved about from city to city, in a sedan chair ablaze with gold and emeralds. At convenient intervals he had rest houses erected along the principal roads. To this day they are known as tambos. They occurred most frequently on the royal highway that runs from Quito to Cuzco, and the remains of some may yet be seen.
The Royal palaces were magnificently constructed of stone, or porphyry, to withstand the convulsions of Nature to which this territory is subject. On the internal walls were carved all manner of figures, birds, beasts, flowers, and so forth, ornamented with precious stones.
One is enabled to form some idea of the scope of these ancient buildings by viewing the remains of the old palace of Callo, in Colombia. They form a square, each side measuring thirty yards and more. Eight rooms, or divisions, are still traceable, and four doorways, similar to those met with in Egypt. Perhaps they would be better described as gates. In each wall are several niches.
The favourite residence of the Incas was, however, situated at Yucay fifty miles distant from Cuzco, in a lovely valley, sheltered by the mountains and Sierras.
Wise men were deputed to look after the welfare of the heir to the throne, and it was their duty to see he was instructed in the art of kingship. His school companions were the sons of Inca nobles, each of whom was of the blood royal. A fringe of vicuña wool, bound round his forehead, distinguished the Prince from his young companions.
The Incas had an Order something akin to our ancient Order of Knighthood. When they had attained the age of sixteen years, the pupils of the military school were called upon to publicly prove their proficiency in wrestling, boxing, and running, to fast for days on end, and finally to take part in a series of sham fights that extended over thirty days. At the conclusion, those candidates deemed worthy were presented to the Emperor, who pierced their ears with a golden bodkin. One of the highest nobles in the land then anointed the candidate’s feet, bound on the distinctive footwear of the Order, and placed the sash in position round the loins.
When an Inca died, his entrails were deposited in the temple of Tampo, twenty-five miles from Cuzco. The body was embalmed and placed in the Temple of the Sun. Often gold and silver and costly jewels were buried in the tomb; and sometimes the royal concubines sacrificed their lives, to show their sense of loss.
The Inca territory was divided into three portions, one for the Sun, one for the reigning monarch, and one for the people.
Every man was required to marry at a certain age. He was then given so much land. Annually this grant was revised according as his family had increased or diminished. For each child an additional portion was granted, a boy being entitled to twice as much as a girl. All the common people had to work on the land. First they had to cultivate what belonged to the Sun; next that of the sick, the widows’ and orphans’ portions and those belonging to soldiers engaged on service. When these tasks had been accomplished, they were at liberty to attend to their own land, and, so that they should not idle over that, they had last of all to put the Inca’s land into proper fettle. The flocks of llamas were allocated in the same way. Only the males were killed, and grievous penalties attached to the killing of any female llama.
Every year the llamas were sheared; the clip was stored in public buildings, and distributed to each family according to their need. The womenfolk were instructed in the art of spinning and weaving. To-day the self-same methods are in vogue with the Indians of Peru and Bolivia.
All the mines were considered to belong to the reigning monarch, and were worked for his benefit, by skilled miners, who laboured in shifts. Out of the revenue accruing from this source the Inca furnished relief to the sick and poor all over his dominions.
Inventories were taken at frequent intervals in each district, of the various natural products, likewise a register of births and deaths. Copies were periodically forwarded to Cuzco.
Gambling and rash speculation were discouraged. Theft, adultery, and murder were punished by death, and rebellions were drastically repressed.
Under the enlightened rule of the Incas the people of Peru prospered exceedingly, and were content for a period of 500 years. Then the great Huayna Capac died. He was succeeded by his eldest son Huascar. Five years elapsed, and then Atahualpa, Huascar’s youngest brother, quarrelled with him and tried to wrest the kingdom from his hands. His initial enterprise proved a failure. His adherents were defeated, and he, himself, cast into prison at Tomebamba. Escaping thence he gathered round him a considerable body of men, and gave battle to his brother about sixty miles from the mighty Chimborazo mountain. Victory on this occasion rested with his arms, and again subsequently at Cuzco, where the final, decisive battle of the Civil War took place.
Atahualpa’s treatment of his brother and his followers was characterized by great cruelty. He ruthlessly slew the common people, and encompassed the death of the nobles who favoured Huascar’s cause by a despicable subterfuge.