The Inca imperial army on the march (Source unknown – please inform me if you know the copyright owner of this artwork)
The Inca Empire was the most extensive pre-Columbian state of America, including the western 2/3rds of the area of modern Peru, western (mountainous) Bolivia, most of Ecuador, northern Chile and northwestern Argentina. It comprised an area of 1,000,000 sq. km. and a population of around 6,000,000-20,000,000 around AD 1520, according to various modern estimates. At the same time, the plateau of Mexico had 25,000,000 inhabitants, of whom the 2/3rds (about 16,000,000) were subjects of the Aztecs. The Incan army numbered 100,000-200,000 warriors in normal conditions but in an a state of emergency many more could be mobilized. The Inca state is known in western sources and in modern historiography as the “Empire of the Incas”, but its inhabitants called it “Tawantinsuyu”, meaning the “Land of Four quarters’. This term meant the administrative division of the state into four districts/regions: the “Chinchasuyu” (North), the “Collasuyu” (South), the “Cuntisuyu” (West) and the “Antisuyu” (East). The Inca capital Cuzco, in modern Peru, was the “imperial” metropolis of South America. The Inca empire included over 150 subjugated tribes who spoke at least twenty different languages, which belonged to four major ethno-linguistic families and some lesser. The central region of the state was inhabited by the Quechua peoples (ethno-linguistic group) while the Aymara peoples lived in the south of them. The Peruvian coast was inhabited by the tribes of the Chimu Group. In the territories north of the Quechua lived the almost primitive tribes Uru. During the rule of the Incas, they tried to impose their own Quechua language as the universal language of their empire in order to achieve greater consistency, resulting in “quechuanizing” many subjugated peoples. This is the reason of the striking modern distribution of 10,000,000 Quechua-speaking Indians from northern Ecuador to northwestern Argentina. The dispersion of the Aymara is also great. The chronology of the reign of the Inca emperors before Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (1438-1471) is highly questionable and practically impossible to restore.
The proto-Incas were a scant of number Quechua clan, descended from the village Paqari Tampu, 25 Km south of Cuzco. Paqari Tampu was the real cradle of the Incas, before they conquer Cuzco. When they had set up their vast empire, the name “Inca” defined only a few thousand people: the royal family, the descendants of the original Inca clan (proto-Incas) and some nobles of the vassal tribes. These vassal nobles were named “Inca” by the original Incas, for reasons of political expediency. The millions of the subject inhabitants of the empire were not considered as “Incas”. Even the common people of Cuzco were not considered as Incas, maintaining their tribal name: “Quechua”.
The historical restoration of the military history of the Incas before the reign of Pachacuti Yupanqui is difficult, because the local oral traditions (which were recorded later) include many mythological elements. However, the latter are traceable and the scholars had achieved a satisfactory restoration of the events of the original Inca expansion (a subject of an article to be published soon in this site). The writings of the Spanish chroniclers Pedro de Cieza de León, Bernardino de Sahagún and others, are important sources for the historical tradition of the Incas.
An Inca golden mask, symbolizing the sun. It was one of the Inca imperial symbols.
Nations/tribes of the Inca imperial army
The following list includes the major peoples/tribes of the Inca empire in 1525, which provided troops to the imperial army. The Canari and the Chachapoya were considered hard fighters. The fighting methods and tactics differed considerably from tribe to tribe, so the individual tribal corpses of the imperial army were specialized in different weapons. For example, the Huanca were mostly slingers, the Anti and the Chuncho were archers, the Canchi used poisoned darts, etc. Generally speaking, the majority of the imperial soldiers (warriors) were mace-bearers and spear-bearers. In 1525 the military dresses of the soldiers/warriors were more uniform. The individual tribal corpses were discriminated by a distinctive symbol on the helmet of their warriors or by the characteristic headdress of their tribe.
Cuzco (native Quechua of Cuzco)
(1) De Cieza de Leon, Pedro: THE INCAS, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1959.
(2) Metraux Alfred: THE HISTORY OF THE INCAS, Pantheon Books, New York, 1969.
(3) Davies N.: THE ANCIENT KINGDOMS OF PERU, Penguin Books, London 1999.