While the Incan Empire only lasted for around a hundred years, the Incan culture spread and stretched over 2500 miles through the Andes Mountains, down the South American coast from Ecuador to central Chile. The Incan culture influenced over twelve million people from various cultures, backgrounds and different languages.
Their Gods, Stories and Myths
The Incans had a number of gods that they prayed to and worshiped. Because the sky and nature were important parts of the Incan culture, their gods reflected this. Mountaintops and mountain passes were also especially important to the Incans, as people would stop and make little offerings to their local gods before continuing on. Mountain tops were considered sacred places were messages and prayers to the gods could be heard.
In Incan culture, Inti was the sun god. He was married to the moon goddess. Mama Kilya, who was the mother of all the Inca people. Ilyap’a was the god of rain. The Incan story went that he took water from the Milky Way, which the Incans believed was a river in the sky. This water was kept in a jug by his sister, and Ilyap’a would smash with a lightning bolt when he wanted it to rain on Earth.
The Incans also believed that they were created by a god called Viracocha, who travelled the world, teaching people how to live. As is common in mythical creation stories, the Incans believed that Viracocha wasn’t happy with his first attempt at creating humans, so he destroyed them all in a flood, in which only one man and one woman survived. Viracocha then set them into the world and called up the sun, moon and stars from the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca.
Viracocha gave the leader of the Incas, a man named Manco Capac, a headdress and battle axe to acknowledge his royal status. Manco Capac was responsible for the creation of the city Cuzco in Peru, where the Incans first began, and creating the Incan people and dynasty after he married his sister. The Incans leaders used to use this story to claim that they had divine origins as descendants of Manco Capac. Incan rulers would often claim that they were descendents from the Sun god, or any of the other main gods.
The Incan Empire
The Incans were not scholars, so no written records of their culture were ever recorded, as they passed their facts, stories and knowledge down through the generations verbally. However, what knowledge we have on the Incans was recorded by the Spanish, who kept detailed documents about the Incas and the Incan culture at the time of the Spanish conquest over them.
The Incan empire was built up from the Incans travelling around and conquering groups of people, which they then forced to move around and continually settle in new places. This helped prevent rebellion by splitting up ethnic groups. The Incans built a sophisticated road system through the Andes Mountains (which would later be used by their Spanish conquerors) to connect and strengthen their military presence throughout the region.
The Incans would also offer gifts to form diplomatic unions, or to impress less advanced civilisations. Cloth was considered a magnificent gift, as the Incans were skilled weavers. They would also allow local leaders to remain in power, as well as keep their old religions, just with some Incan rituals incorporated in. The children of noble familes were sent to the capital Cuzco for training and skilled jobs.
The official religion of the Incans was Sun worship, with the god Inti being the most powerful of all. Built in the capital Cuzco, the Temple of the Sun had walls made of gold, and in the gardens were statues of animals cased in gold and silver. Thousands of women, who were known as the ‘Virgins of the Sun’ lived in Cuzco and served both Inti and the royal family. They were selected for their skills in weaving and for their beauty, and taken from their villages around the age of eight. These women were responsible for making extravagant clothes, food and alcohol for festivals, as well as sleeping with the emperor whenever he demanded it.
In some cases, children were also chosen as sacrifices to the gods. It was considered an honour to have your child chosen as a sacrifice, as it tied your family closer to the Incan nation and the Incan way of life, as well as put you in good favour with the gods. It was also believed that the sacrificed child would go on to become a deity themselves.
The children were sacrifice on high mountaintops to be nearer to the gods and the sky. They were dressed in the finest clothes and also wore detailed, expensive jewellery pieces. The children were sacrificed as gifts or messengers to the gods. The remains of these sacrificed children have been studied and found that they were killed by either being buried alive, strangled, or hit on the head. However, they don’t appear to have suffered, leading experts to guess that they were probably drugged during the sacrificial ritual, as well as dazed and confused by the high altitude.
The End of the Incans
The Incan Empire Falls
In the search for wealth and gold, the Spanish conquered the Incans in 1532. The story goes that Francisco Pizarro lead his army of 168 men to meet the Incan King Atahuallpa and his 80,000 South American Indians to attempt to discuss some sort of negotiation. The Spanish had promised the Incans not to harm them, however, the Incan King Atahuallpa apparently threw a Bible on the ground, which angered the Spanish, and they attached, surprising the unarmed Incans, who were not expecting a battle.
While they were ridiculously outnumbered, the Spanish had far superior technology and weaponry in the form of steel weapons and horses, and were able to kill thousands of Indians and capture Atahuallpa. The Spanish held him as their hostage, collected their gold ransom, and then killed him anyway, which basically ended the Incan empire and culture.
If you have enjoyed reading about Incan culture, why not learn about the Aztec culture?