The Inca Civilization

Originating in the 1200s and flourishing and establishing the Inca Empire in the 1400s, the Inca were an important civilization in Peru and South America.

Why is the Inca Important to History?

Originating high up in the mountains of Peru, the Inca originated in the 12th century. Although the Inca’s history is fascinating, by the 1400s-1533, the Inca Empire was one of the world’s largest and most well-established empires. It controlled much of the land surrounding the Andes mountains on the western coast of South America.

Due to their construction of impressive architecture, military strength, developed road networks, farming innovation, and fine materials, some of which are still in use today, the Inca is one of the most impressive and important civilizations in history. At its peak, the Inca Empire consisted of 12 million inhabitants.

Who were the Inca?

The Inca’s history begins with a small tribe in Cuzco, Peru. The native South American Incas took over neighboring tribes under their ruler, Pachachuti Yupanqui, believed to be the son of the sun god, in 1438. As they continued to do this, the Inca civilization began to grow, possessing more land and consisting of more and more people. Eventually, the Inca Empire flourished and included millions of people. The Inca civilization spread across the modern-day countries of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and northwest Argentina. The Inca spoke the language of Quechua.

The Inca Creation Story

Central to the Inca’s history, they believed in many origin myths for their people. For example, the main Inca creation story tells of their creation by the sun god, Inti.

Inti, the sun god, rose from Lake Titicaca. Inti was so bright that nothing else in the sky could be seen except for him. The night sky was empty, so he made the moon, the stars, and the planets. The moon, Mama Kilya, was beautiful, and Inti made her his wife. Together, they were the rulers of the heavens and Earth.

Inti made the first humans from the stone of a huge rock. The first humans could not survive because they didn’t know anything about the Earth and how to live on it. Inti and Mama Kilya had a son, Manco Capc, and a daughter, Mama Ocllo. Sun and Moon felt sorry for the humans, so they sent their children to help the humans and to live with them.

Inti and Mama Kilya’s son taught men how to farm and showed them how to plow fields and how build houses. Their daughter taught the women how to weave and prepare and cook food. The two children had an important lesson from Inti: “Teach the humans to be kind and fair. I will provide light and warmth every day without fail, but make sure they never forget their creators.”

Manco Capac was the first Inca. He and his sister-wife Mama Ocllo became the first rulers over the Inca. Time passed, and they decided they would embark on a journey to discover the best place for the Inca to settle. Each time they stopped, the son stuck his golden rod into the ground; this marked a home for his people to build a city.

When they reached the valley of Huanacauri, the son placed the golden rod into the ground, and it disappeared. Manco Capac decided that this would be where the first temple should be built, and the people would settle here. This temple would be The Temple of the Sun. The son and his wife wanted more people to join them, so he traveled north, and she traveled south to recruit followers by spreading the message of Inti.

The Inca Empire

What was life like in the Inca Empire?

The Inca Empire consisted of several people who held various societal positions. The majority of Inca people were commoners and farmers. These people would provide food and build and maintain the roads for the empire. A smaller number of people were royals. Inca royalty lived a more luxurious lifestyle and wore elaborate clothing. Finally, the Sapa Inca was the most important person in the Inca Empire. This was the emperor, who was in charge of the empire and believed to be a god in the eyes of the Incas.

As the Incas lived high up in the mountains, they established terrace farming. This impressive invention involved building steps of land on the sides of mountains. Pipes were also used to carry water to and from these terraces.

The Incas dried and stored their food to ensure they had enough to feed the people. This allowed them to preserve their food and ensure they had enough to eat during the cold winters. The three most common foods were quinoa, potatoes, and corn.

What did the Inca invent?

The Inca are important in history due to their inventions. These inventions allowed them to grow into a flourishing empire that became the largest South America had ever seen. Along with terrace farming, the Inca built many roads to connect their empire and trade. The Inca also invented the quipus, one of the most significant inventions in the Inca’s history. As there was no written language, this tool was made from different colored strings, allowing the Inca to count the items they’d collected more efficiently. A person would become a trained quipus reader and be able to use the color of the strings and the distances between the knots to record several things. The Inca also invented a calendar.


The Inca developed a system of recording information called the quipu, similar to ancient writing systems. The quipu is a fascinating recording device. They are made from strings, and the Inca used them to keep records. This helped them see who owed what and to consider dates and planning.

Our earliest evidence for this ancient Inca writing system comes from the first millennium CE. Quipus became important to the rulers of the Inca Empire, who ruled the largest empire in America before European colonization with a sophisticated administration. They helped the Inca maintain reliable information about their people and their storehouses.

Inca Religion

For the Inca, religion played a role in all aspects of life, and they were believed to control the natural world. The Inca worshipped the Sun, Moon, stars, and planets, and a different god represented each. This included Inti, the sun god. Inti was the most important god, and each Inca emperor was considered a descendant of Inti. The Temple of the Sun, a grand temple covered in gold, was dedicated to Inti. The Inca believed that the people and the emperor’s lives were in Inti’s hands. The most important Incan festival was held in June to honor Inti.

Other Inca gods include Mama Kilya, the Moon goddess; Viracocha, the creator god; and Illapa, the god of thunder. Each of these gods also had temples dedicated to them where the Inca would worship, with Mama Kilya being one of the most important gods as she controlled the calendar.

How did the Inca worship their gods?

The Inca constructed grand temples and religious sites where they would hold events and ceremonies. Here, the Inca would also pray and often make sacrifices to the gods. This included sacrificing animals, goods, and sometimes humans.

Ancestors and older generations were also an important part of the Inca civilization. Tombs were built where the dead would be buried, and these tombs would be re-opened so that offerings could continue being given to the deceased. The Inca also mummified important members of society. The mummified bodies would also be buried in tombs or caves higher up in the mountains.

What is the Most Important Inca Site? Machu Picchu

How do we know so much about the Inca’s history? Incan ruins are scattered throughout Peru and allow us to see first-hand the impressive architectural structures built by the Inca. Machu Picchu is a site of Incan ruins located North of Cusco, Peru. Located high up in the Andes mountains (8000 feet above sea level), Machu Picchu is just one example of the Incas advanced architecture formed from stone.

It is estimated that people lived at Machu Picchu from the mid 15th-16th century. Excavated by archaeologists upon its discovery in the 20th century, its purpose is not completely known. However, the building structure has led some to suggest that Machu Picchu could have been a royal palace for the emperor Pachacuti.

One of the Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist attractions. However, it is because of the preservation of archaeological sites like Machu Picchu that we’re able to learn so much about the Inca civilization.

Why did the Inca Leave Machu Picchu?

No one quite knows why the site was abandoned. However, it’s believed that life may have become too difficult to live there due to its height. In addition, the conflict between the Inca also led to the decline of its empire. And finally, the invasion of Spanish explorers also led to the death and destruction of the Inca, so it’s believed the site was likely abandoned around the same time.

Why did the Inca Empire Fall?

A significant event in the Inca’s history, the fall of the Inca Empire, resulted from a range of factors. One reason the empire fell was due to civil war. The conflict between the Incas was caused by disputes over who would become the next Sapa Inca. This fighting led to many Incas deaths and divided the empire.

The main cause of the Inca Empire’s fall was the arrival of Spanish conquistadors. Around the same time the civil war ended, Spanish colonizers led by Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro arrived in Cuzco. Impressed by the fine materials and jewels held by the Inca, they stole these items, and over the next 50 years, Spanish explorers captured Incan cities. Unfortunately, the Spanish colonizers also brought diseases such as smallpox, which killed most people in the Inca Empire. Finally, in 1572, the Spanish conquerors killed the last Inca emperor.

Do Incas Still Exist?

While the Inca Empire was destroyed and the civilization mostly wiped out by death and disease in the 1500s, distant descendants of the Inca still live in modern-day Peru and continue to speak the Inca language of Quechua.

Inca History Facts

  • The Inca built over 18,000 miles of roads in Peru.
  • The Inca didn’t write, so they used the quipus to record things.
  • The Inca postal system was advanced, as they didn’t write this system involved telling one person the message and relaying it to the next
  • Their buildings were built from tightly fit stone that was resistant to earthquakes.
  • It’s believed the Inca may have performed skull surgeries.
  • The Inca believed in reincarnation and the three realms: the Upper World, the Middle World, and the Underworld.
  • The Inca considered pointy skulls beautiful. So the royal families wrapped bandages and boards on their children’s heads to make them grow in one direction.
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