The Inca Culture

The roots of the Inca culture date back to around the year 1200 A.D., but the period of the Inca empire started only in the 15th century. In under a hundred years, the Incas created a state that extended from the border zone of Columbia and Ecuador to the central parts of Chile. Circa nine million people lived in the area. The short golden age of the Inca state ended when the Spanish troops led by Francisco Pizarro arrived in Peru in the year 1532 and subjugated the central areas of the Inca state.

The success of the Inca state was largely based on an extensive network of roads and a functioning system of administration. The road network made it possible to move troops quickly, and messengers placed along it could deliver the message from one end of the state to another very fast. Also the ritualistic exchange of gifts between the Inca ruler and local chieftains was important. With the help of gifts and strategic marriages the Inca ruler made even the remotest chieftains his subjects and relatives.

With the capital Cusco as its centre, the Inca empire was divided into four administrative areas. The state was ruled by the Inca king. On the next level of the hierarchy were the prominent persons of Cusco and the leaders of the bigger ethnic groups subjugated by the Inca state. Numerically, the population was divided into units of 10 000, 1 000, 100 and 10 of men of working age and their families. The units had their own leaders. The numerical division of the male population was above all needed for the organization of the system of work taxation.

The main deity of the Inca people was the sun god Inti, besides which creator god Viracocha and moon, stars, lightning and rainbow were worshipped. Mainly llamas were sacrificed to gods and numerous sacred places of nature in religious rituals. Human sacrifices were rather rare.

A man holding a quipu (knotted string). Quipus were used to prepare tax and inventory lists, and perhaps also for the registration of historical events. There was a specialist profession for the knotting and interpreting of the quipus. The drawing is by Guaman Poma, an Indian-born chronicler.

An aryballo jar with a long spout and pair of handles is one of the most typical Inca vessel shapes. Aryballos of various sizes are known from small to huge, over 1 m tall. The aryballos were probably used to hold maize, corn beer, and water. © Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú - Instituto Nacional de Cultura del Perú, Lima, Peru (Cat. 291)


Machu Picchu, located a few days' journey from the Inca capital Cusco, is the most famous of the Inca sites and one of the best preserved. © Antti Korpisaari


The preserved stone walls of Coricancha, the main temple of Cusco, are among the most impressive examples of the world-famous Inca architecture. © Antti Korpisaari