Reign of Topa Inca

Topa Inca’s conquests added to the extensive and thriving empire conquered by his father, Pachacuti, and solidified Incan control over the empire’s subject peoples.

Summary of Event

In the early 1400’, the Inca Inca Empire controlled the region around Cuzco, Peru, only. Their expansion over much of western South America began with the accession of the ninth king, Pachacuti, in 1438, who led forty thousand inhabitants of the Cuzco region on a spectacular course of conquest. Using superior tactical leadership and recruiting soldiers from conquered groups, Pachacuti built an empire that ultimately included some ten million subjects. Pachacuti
Topa Inca
Huayna Capac

In 1463, he gave control of the army to his younger son, Topa Inca, who continued the northern expansion of Incan territory, while Pachacuti concentrated on organizing the empire more efficiently and rebuilding the capital city of Cuzco. When Topa Inca assumed the throne in 1471, his realm stretched along the Andean highlands from modern Ecuador south to Lake Titicaca on the Chilean border. Topa Inca added to his domain the coastal regions of Peru, the northern half of Chile, and portions of Bolivia and northwest Argentina. Huayna Capac, Topa Inca’s son, added jungle territory to the Incan realm.

Rulers were given the title “Inca.” The word also designated the inhabitants of the Cuzco valley who claimed descent from the original settlers. The name was extended to neighboring tribes adopted by the Incas, who spoke the same Quechua and were early allies. Loosely applied, the term “Incan” expanded to cover the subject peoples of the Incan state, although they were actually a very diverse collection of more than one hundred tribes and kingdoms, speaking many languages, and considered inferior by the original Incas.

To unite their 1,800-mile-long empire, the Incas built two main highways, one along the coast and the other in the highlands, with many transverse roads. Well-constructed bridges carried the roads over intervening rivers, permitting rapid movement of the army and easy transportation of tribute to Cuzco. The Inca possessed neither the wheel nor draft animals; the roads carried foot traffic and llamas bearing merchandise. Fish could be brought to Cuzco from the coast in two days, arriving fresh enough to eat—after the Spanish conquest, horses and wagons took a week to make the same trip.

The Inca were outstanding engineers and architects Architecture;Inca Empire
Engineering;Inca Empire . They constructed elaborate road and bridge systems and erected monumental public buildings by fitting together huge stones seamlessly without the use of mortar. Carefully built stone walls testified to the importance of a building and to the high status of its occupants. Many walls demonstrated the skills of their builders by remaining intact more than four hundred years in an earthquake-prone region. The Incas built terraced fields on mountain slopes, supplying water through intricate irrigation canals. Acreage under cultivation and the quantity of food produced increased, easily supporting the Incan army and large governmental and religious organizations.

The Inca had no coinage and no concept of money. Their vestigial trade consisted of bartering surplus goods. Wealth meant controlling the labor of subordinates and possessing land and livestock. Subject people were not taxed, but owed labor service, which might consist of working on roads or public buildings, cultivating state and temple lands, transporting goods, or serving in the army. The Incas claimed all land as property of the king and divided their conquests by reserving one-third for the state, one-third to support the religious establishment, and allotting the rest to the people.

Agriculture Agriculture;Inca Empire was the main economic activity. Depending on altitude and the suitability of the soil, a variety of native plants were grown, including white and sweet potatoes, tomatoes, chili peppers, squash, and many kinds of beans. The major crop, however, was corn, which was used directly and also fermented into corn beer, and consumed with meals and during ritual ceremonies. The main domesticated animals were llamas, valued as pack animals primarily but also sometimes eaten, and alpacas raised for their wool. In addition, ducks and guinea pigs augmented the Incan diet.

Incan society was stratified into rigid hierarchical lines. At its pinnacle sat the Inca, claiming divine status as a direct descendant of the Sun god. The eldest son did not necessarily inherit the throne; the king designated the son he thought most capable as his successor. Each ruler built palaces for his wives, concubines, and children, endowing the group with extensive fields. The descendants of a deceased king were charged with conserving his mummy, carrying out family rituals, and occasionally showing the mummy to the people while reciting his great deeds. Ranking directly below the royal Incas were the descendants of the first settlers of Cuzco, who were not subject to any labor requirement and were assigned servants from among the conquered people. Next in status were the Incas-by-privilege—inhabitants of areas near Cuzco who were early allies of the Incas. They were exempt from labor requirements and often served with the Incas-by-blood as administrators in the imperial bureaucracy. The Incas recruited promising members from conquered peoples to be leaders of villages and small administrative districts. They formed a lower nobility, a status inherited by their descendants.

Ordinary people of the conquered tribes made up the lowest, but largest, segment of the population. Extended families, consisting of several generations, lived in one-room, rectangular, adobe houses with thatched roofs. Nearby were homes of kinfolk, sometimes arranged within a walled compound. Each family was assigned land to raise its own food; kin groups joined together to carry out required work on state and temple lands. Skilled workers crafted graceful pottery, wove cotton and alpaca wool into cloth, and produced bronze tools and utensils.

The Incas did not possess a written language. To record information concerning their vast empire, the Incas depended on the quipu, a set of strings with knots tied at various positions to indicate numbers. The strings hung from a main cord, and their location indicated the object recorded. A skilled group of labor-exempt workers constructed and interpreted the quipus. Modern scholars have decoded the numerical quipus and shown that they used a decimal system and employed the concept of zero. Incas also recorded the genealogies and life histories of the kings on quipus, but no scholar has yet deciphered any literary quipu.

The principal deity of the Incas was the Sun god, claimed as the direct ancestor of the royal line. Religion;Inca Empire The Incas did not force subject people to abandon their own gods, but insisted they accept the superior position of Incan deities. Incan religious structures were called Houses of the Sun, but they also contained images and altars dedicated to other gods. Important deities included a thunder or weather god, a moon goddess, and a creator god.

The Incas attributed supernatural powers to specific places and objects. A hierarchy of priests and priestesses devoted themselves full-time to temple rituals, supported by produce from one-third of the empire’s land. Rituals almost always involved some form of sacrifice. Corn beer might be poured in front of the altar, food or cloth might be burned, guinea pigs or llamas might be slaughtered. Even the poorest Incan inhabitant could participate in such rituals; tearing out an eyelash in honor of the Sun was an acceptable sacrifice. In times of natural catastrophes, famines, and plagues, or when celebrating a king’s coronation, human sacrifices were offered—usually children ten to fifteen years old.


When Topa Inca died in 1493, he left his son Huayna Capac a powerful and solidly established kingdom whose permanence seemed assured and whose expansion appeared unstoppable. In the short span of fifty-five years, Pachacuti and Topa Inca had created one of history’s greatest empires. Wealth poured into Cuzco, providing a magnificent lifestyle for the Incan nobility and supplying the material basis for expectations of endless growth. Although restless subject peoples occasionally rebelled, the Incan armies defeated every insurgency. The Incan system of government molded the Andean Indians into a dominant Incan image. Quechua replaced the many indigenous languages spoken before the Incan arrival. Sacrificing to the Incan gods seemed much more useful than appealing to previously worshiped deities.

With hindsight, one can see that the empire had grown close to its natural limits. Topa Inca had ended his southward drive when the cost of conquering the fiercely resistant Araucanian Indians greatly exceeded any prospective benefit. Huayna Capac pushed into northern and eastern jungle areas, but made slow progress and found material rewards elusive. No one, however, could have foreseen the catastrophic threat to the Incan future posed by the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean, one year before Topa Inca died, and the subsequent conquest of the Inca by Francisco Pizarro in 1533.

Further Reading

  • Julien, Catherine. Reading Inca History. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000. A detailed examination of Inca sources of information, analyzed to determine how much historical reality they contain.
  • Malpass, Michael A. Daily Life in the Inca Empire. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Describes the cultural, political, economic, and religious practices of the Incas.
  • Minelli, Laura Laurencich. The Inca World: The Development of Pre-Columbian Peru, A.D. 1000-1534. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999. Lavishly illustrated examination of the historical, cultural, and material world of the Incas.
  • Rostworowski de Diez Canseco, María. History of the Inca Realm. Translated by Harry B. Iceland. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. A premier authority on Inca history and society.

1493-1525: Reign of Huayna Capac

1525-1532: Huáscar and Atahualpa Share Inca Rule

1532-1537: Pizarro Conquers the Incas in Peru